Thursday, December 18, 2014

Morning News: Cincinnati Outlasts San Diego St, Dayton Dismissals, NC State/Tennessee, Demetrius Treadwell, And More

Nobody scowls at refs better than Mick Cronin. He was right, too. It wasn't a foul.
Cincinnati Outlasts San Diego State This was the ugly game we all knew it would be, and it also almost ended in controversial fashion, as San Diego State only got this game to overtime on what seemed like a pretty clearly blown foul call. Of course, unless you were a Cincinnati fan it was totally worth it for Mick Cronin making Mick Cronin Faces and chasing the refs around the court (see the picture I took and posted above). San Diego State had been 18-1 in overtime games over the last ten seasons, which is a remarkable run of luck, but meaningless for their next overtime. They got sloppy here and ended up losing the period by nine.

The announcers kept insisting that Cincinnati needed this game more since they hadn't yet beaten anybody any good, but I don't know if that was true. Cincinnati gets VCU at home on Saturday and they still have NC State, SMU (at least twice) and UConn (at least twice) ahead. The Mountain West only really has Colorado State as a likely RPI Top 50 team, so San Diego State has to do their damage in non-conference play if they're going to be in contention for a 2-4 seed. Assuming that they beat their remaining cupcakes, San Diego State will finish non-conference play 10-3 with wins over Utah, BYU and Pittsburgh to go with a potentially iffy loss to Cincinnati. It's fine, but they honestly look more headed to something like a 5 seed than a 2 seed.

This is a really key stretch for Cincinnati. Home games against teams like San Diego St and VCU are RPI and resume-building gold. They took care of San Diego State, and now really have a chance to elevate their resume by taking out VCU.

Dayton Boots Devon Scott And Jalen Robinson Due to a dorm robbery they committed, Scott and Robinson are dismissed from Dayton University and will not play for the basketball team again. Scott, at least, was a behavior problem before he showed up. Scott had started every game and was averaging 9.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while Robinson was averaging 3.2 points and 2.4 rebounds off the bench. And Dayton now has just eight scholarship players available. So a season that looked very promising preseason looks to be spiraling out of control.

NC State Holds Off Tennessee One good thing you have to say about this Tennessee team is that they keep fighting. This isn't the first time they've found themselves down by a lot of points, and they trailed by 17 points midway through the second half here, but they fought back to actually make it kind of competitive in the final 90 seconds.

But Tennessee's defense is a mess. They allowed 1.32 PPP here, and are allowing 1.09 PPP for the season (300th best in the nation). Ralston Turner led the way for NC State, scoring 33 points on 9-for-18 shooting. This was their chance to salvage their non-conference slate. Instead they enter SEC play with a whole lot of work to do to earn an at-large bid. They have to go at least 11-7 in conference play to realistically have an at-large chance.

NC State is the sneaky at-large contender that nobody is talking about. They have a loss to Wofford and no impressive wins (Tennessee, Richmond and Boise State are their best), but the computers like them. They're up close to 40th in both Sagarin and Pomeroy, though it's a bit iffy since it's come against a soft schedule. They've got their toughest (and most meaningful) game of the season thus far up next, when they take on West Virginia in Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Demetrius Treadwell Gone From Akron Akron's star had been suspended since before the season started, and now he's no longer even enrolled in the school. Amazingly, Akron's season hasn't been completely sunk by the loss of their best player. They're not the favorite in the MAC, certainly, but they're playing well enough to be in the mix. It'll be interesting to see if Treadwell can get his off-court situation together to be successful at another school.

Creighton's James Milliken Suspended Indefinitely Milliken committed an unspecified "violation of team rules", but he might be gone from Creighton for a while. The junior had been averaging 5.7 points in 17.2 minutes per game off the bench. Even though he certainly wasn't one of their best players, Creighton was probably going to need most everything to go right to earn an at-large bid the way things were going, so this is a situation to monitor.

Branden Dawson Injured This injury happened late last night, so we don't have any concrete timetables, but it does seem very likely that Dawson will miss some games with an injured wrist. Up next are just a couple of cupcakes, but the Spartans kick off Big Ten play on December 30th. Dawson is their most dynamic offensive big, and also their leading rebounder, so it would be significant if he has to miss some Big Ten games.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Morning News: Alabama Collapses, Northern Arizona Stuns St. Mary's, Luke Fischer's Debut, And Sherron Dorsey-Walker

Dick Vitale showed up in Wichita for a WSU/Alabama game on a Tuesday.
I think that program has arrived.

Wichita St Overcomes Alabama Late Alabama held a small lead for almost this entire game, and they opened it up to an 11 point lead with under 6 minutes to go. But down the stretch, Alabama went 0-for-4 from the field with 4 turnovers, allowing Wichita State to go on an 11-0 run to tie up the game.  And then, after Levi Randolph got fouled and hit 1-of-2 at the line, the Alabama defense totally fell apart and allowed Fred VanVleet to find Darius Carter for an easy basket, and then VanVleet's defense was a big reason why Alabama couldn't get a decent shot on the other end of the court.

This is the type of game that has become far too common in recent years for Alabama. They seemed to have this game in hand but just melted down late. Some of those turnovers were just absolutely unforced and dumb. And this team isn't bad, but they needed a win like this to put themselves into the bubble mix. In the end, it's just another missed opportunity during the Anthony Grant era.

Wichita State can't afford more than two or three losses all season long if they're going to earn a 1 or 2 seed in March. The Missouri Valley just doesn't offer enough quality victories. So this is the type of loss that could have easily lost them a full seed line if they hadn't come back.

Northern Arizona Stuns Saint Mary's This certainly came out of nowhere. Northern Arizona entered this game 1-5 against the Pomeroy Top 250. I couldn't find an official Vegas spread, but Pomeroy had it at 13 points and Sagarin had it at 14. And even when Northern Arizona led late in the first half and early into the second half it felt inevitable that St. Mary's would come back. But St. Mary's just struggled, and even after they went up by 4 with a minute to go, they were undone in the final minute by Quinton Upshur. He hit a three, and then when St. Mary's had one final chance to win the game in the closing seconds it was Upshur who stripped Aaron Bright and went the other way for the game-winning layup.

Kris Yanku's contested score, followed by Quinton Upshur's strip and score for the win.

St. Mary's already had something of a long shot for an at-large bid. Unless they won at St. John's on Friday they were going to have to be really dominant in conference play to get one. But perhaps they were looking ahead a little too much to that St. John's game. Now, they're going to need a couple of quality wins to wipe this loss away, including most likely at least one win over Gonzaga.

Luke Fischer Era Starts Well At Marquette This Marquette roster is light on depth and talent but all season long we'd talked about the talent coming in the form of Luke Fischer and their 2015 recruiting class. Their 2015 recruiting class won't arrive this season, of course, but Luke Fischer's season debut came last night. The Indiana transfer was immediately impressive, pouring in 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting with 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. And they annihilated a decent Arizona State team here, leading by as many as 21 points in the second half before cruising to the finish.

Is Marquette really going to be this much better the rest of the way? Well, don't overreact to single game samples. Fischer won't shoot 82% from the field the rest of the way, most likely. But this is an encouraging start. Unfortunately, they only play cupcakes until they open Big East play at DePaul on December 31st.

Arizona State is now 6-4, and while this is their worst loss they also don't have a single win over a likely RPI Top 100 opponent. They're not a bad team, but they're nowhere near the Tournament bubble either. They have an interesting home game in a couple of weeks against Harvard, so keep your eyes on that one.

Sherron Dorsey-Walker To Transfer Dorsey-Walker hadn't gotten on the floor much during his 1.5 seasons with Iowa State, so it's not a stunner that he's going to transfer out to try to find more playing time elsewhere. This shouldn't impact Iowa State too much this season, but he could be a valuable addition for a mid-major next season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Morning News: Tom Izzo's Accordion, Tyler Haws' Ankle, North Florida's Technical, And Gary Payton(s) Triple Double(s)

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It's a quiet night of hoops, which is why Tom Izzo playing the accordion is leading off the post. Just a little bit of news to get to:

Clarity On Tyler Haws The timetable still seems a little vague on Tyler Haws, but it does seem like he will likely miss close to two weeks. It's certainly bad timing for this, with home games against Stanford, UMass and Gonzaga coming up next. The real test will be if he can make it on the court for that Gonzaga game, on December 27th. That's a game they really need to win if they're going to make a compelling at-large case. They still don't have a win against a likely RPI Top 50 opponent.

North Florida Loses In Creative Fashion Somebody on North Florida dunked the ball during the final 20 minutes of warmups, which is a technical foul. It's an obscure rule, but it does seem to happen a few times during each season. Tennessee Tech hit both free throws, and then won the game by two points. Now, blaming a two point loss on those two free throws is a bit of a stretch, since obviously the game is played differently based on what the score is. But that said, whoever was the guy who dunked the ball has got to be feeling pretty stupid right now.

Gary Payton(s) Triple Doubles(s) Two players in Oregon State have recorded triple doubles. Gary Payton did it in 1988, and his son Gary Payton II did it last night.  Gary Payton II, of course, has been the biggest roster addition to Oregon State this season, joining new head coach Wayne Tinkle, who I believe is a significant upgrade over Craig Robinson. Don't expect Oregon State anywhere near the Tournament bubble this season, but the program does appear to be trending in the right direction.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Morning News: Tennessee Upsets Butler, Wofford Beats NC State At The Buzzer, Semi Ojeleye, And Penn St/George Washington

Sorry, NC State, but it was the right call.
Tennessee Upsets Butler Tennessee was down by 12 points early in the second half of this game, but they outscored Butler 42-18 the rest of the way. Butler had 9 turnovers to just 6 made baskets in the second half, while the Vols had a 63.0 eFG%. Butler just seemed lackadaisical, and not a single one of their key players looked good in that second half. Even Alex Barlow, who led Butler with 16 points, shot just 1-for-6 from the field in the second half.

This was Butler's first game against a competitive opponent in the contiguous 48 states. But it doesn't wipe away the good work they did in the Bahamas, where they knocked off North Carolina and Georgetown. They'll play Indiana in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, and also have a potentially dangerous game against Belmont before starting Big East play.

Tennessee started the season 2-3 with a loss to Marquette, but Donnie Tyndall got better play out of them in December, knocking off Kansas State and Butler in consecutive game. A road game at NC State on Wednesday is their final competitive non-conference game.

Wofford Beats NC State At The Buzzer Down by a point with 6.3 seconds to go, Wofford ran a beautiful out of bounds play to get a layup for Justin Gordon. But the real story was what happened afterward, when Trevor Lacey hit what seemed to be a miraculous game-winner for NC State. Fans celebrated, but the play went to review. And what made this play controversial is that from the clock on the tv screen he seemed to get the shot off just before it turned to 0.0... but that clock is not official. From the rear view, which you can see below this paragraph, it's clear that the red light around the backboard came on while the ball was still in his hands. And it's the red light that is official. As much as Karl Hess drives us all nuts, he got this call right.

The reality is that Wofford is no cupcake. This is an upset, but Wofford could realistically finish the season in the RPI Top 100. They are (in my opinion) the favorite in the Southern Conference. But it's still a problem for an NC State team that doesn't have a win yet over a likely NCAA Tournament opponent. They now head into a key stretch, with four consecutive games against Tournament/bubble quality teams: Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana Tech and Cincinnati. They really need to win three of four to be in good position for an at-large bid heading into ACC play.

Semi Ojeleye Leaves Duke Once a blue chip recruit, Ojeleye had struggled to see the court for Duke. Now in his sophomore season, he was averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.5 minutes per game, and even those stats are deceptive. He did almost all of his work against cupcake opponents. In their three games against quality opponents (Michigan State, Stanford and Wisconsin) he played a total of two minutes and failed to score. But no team besides Kentucky has more McDonald's All-Americans than Duke, so this doesn't mean Ojeleye isn't still a talented player who can produce for another team. He'll be a much sought-after transfer with 2.5 years of eligibility left.

Penn State Upsets George Washington This performance from Penn State kind of came out of nowhere. It wasn't a huge upset for them to win (George Washington only was a 2.5 point favorite), but Penn State took them to the woodshed. Pat Chambers teams consistently have lacked talent at Penn State, but they always play hard, particularly at home. They rebounded 44% of their own misses, blocked 11 shots, forced 7 steals, and held George Washington to 0.84 PPP.

Penn State is now 10-1, but this is their first win over a team likely to finish in the RPI Top 100, and six of their ten wins came by six points or less. So in other words, don't expect them to be anywhere near the bubble. That 10-1 record doesn't mean much. But they're feisty enough that they should pick up a big upset or two in conference play, like they do every year.

Before this game, George Washington had slid into the Top 50 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but you always have to be skeptical of early season computer ratings for teams that have faced soft schedules. The Colonials had not beaten a team likely to finish in the RPI Top 100. This is their worst loss, so their resume isn't too bad, but they have to prove that they can beat Top 50 opponents. Unfortunately, they probably won't get a chance again until they face VCU on January 27th.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Kentucky Smokes UNC, Arizona Embarrasses Michigan, Kansas Escapes Utah, VCU Wins A Wild One, And Much More

Sam Thompson made everybody lose their mind in Columbus.

New Bracket Projection The biggest change in the new bracket is St. John's moving into the field and Colorado dropping out. For those wondering why Michigan is still in there, just scroll down to my Arizona/Michigan recap below.

Kentucky Smokes North Carolina North Carolina matches up poorly with Kentucky in terms of personnel, and so the only way they were even going to have a chance to win this game was if they shot out of their minds on jump shots. Instead, it was Kentucky going wild and hitting 7-for-15 behind the arc to turn this one into a rout. North Carolina finished 6-for-13 behind the arc, but they did most of their damage after the game was already decided, and simply reduced the final margin. They hit only a single three-pointer in the first half.

Kentucky might get a tougher test from UCLA next Saturday, but probably not too much tougher. All of this is just an appetizer to the monster game at Louisville on December 27th.

North Carolina will look better against teams that they match up better against, but I'm still not a believer that they're in the top tier in the ACC. In my view, Louisville, Virginia and Duke are all among the ten best teams in the country, and those are the three true contenders. UNC also didn't get help from the ACC schedule makers, as they have a relatively difficult conference strength of schedule.

Arizona Embarrasses Michigan Michigan has now lost three straight games for the first time since the 2010-11 season, and all three losses have been bad. They had the historic loss to NJIT, the upset loss to Eastern Michigan, and now this absolute throttling by Arizona. Michigan couldn't hit a jump shot, hitting an ugly 7-for-26 on threes, while Arizona dominated inside with a 42 to 16 advantage in paint scoring.

One of the keys to projecting future performance by teams is trying to determine what is real and what is not. This has been a horrific three game stretch for Michigan, and as early as we are in the season that's a significant part of their overall season performance. As such, the computers are not high on them. Pomeroy has them at 56th while Sagarin has them 110th (the ratings can vary a bit early in the season, but they'll converge by mid-January). If they keep up this level of play they won't make the NCAA Tournament.

But is this real? At this point, I think the answer is "no". The NJIT game had fluky shooting (NJIT shot 11-for-17 on threes) while Michigan couldn't hit anything against Eastern Michigan (4-for-21 on threes). And this was just an everything-that-could-go-wrong-went-wrong game against Arizona. Is it reasonable to think Michigan is going to see performances like this the rest of the season? I don't think so. They looked fine early in the season beating teams like Oregon and Syracuse, and preseason projections based on who they lost and who they added suggested that they were a borderline Top 25 team. The odds are that their level of performance will regress back to the mean. But obviously that regression has to come before the Wolverines dig too deep of a hole.

Kansas Escapes Utah This game looked like a rout early on. Kansas went on a 33-7 run late in the first half and led by as many as 21 points early in the second half. But their offense went into a shell, and Utah clawed all the way back to actually grab a two point lead late. Kansas hit eight straight free throws in the final three minutes to pull this game out. Despite the Kansas win, Utah's Delon Wright (23 points on 9-for-13 shooting with 4 assists and 4 steals) was the best player on the court for either team.

Delon Wright torching the Kansas defense. 

Kansas definitely hasn't seen the production from the young players that they expected thus far. Bill Self seemed to lack confidence in Cliff Alexander down the stretch here, for example. But there's no denying that the team as a whole has looked impressive lately. They just defeated Michigan State, Florida, Georgetown and Utah in succession. By Pomeroy, Kansas has the toughest non-conference strength of schedule in the nation for any Power 5 team (North Carolina is the only team remotely close). Considering the fact that the Big 12 is probably the best league in the nation, Kansas is basically a lock to finish the season with the nation's #1 SOS. One thing to keep an eye on going forward is the Devonte' Graham injury, which looks like it will sideline him for at least a month.

Utah has seen three straight games be decided on the final possession and they took two of them. They'll look for a more relaxing stretch before Pac-12 game, with only a road game at UNLV being potential trouble. A three point loss in a quasi-road game at Kansas certainly doesn't change Utah's position as likely the top contender to Arizona in the Pac-12.

VCU Wins A Wild One Over Northern Iowa This game was drunk. #HAVOC always generates sloppy, fun games, but both regulation and the first overtime ended in bizarre ways. In regulation it was Matt Bohannon hitting an incredible three-pointer for Northern Iowa, but UNI then totally botching their final possession with a chance to win. In the first overtime, Jordan Burgess took one of the dumbest shots of the season, taking a contested layup when all he had to do was dribble and get fouled, allowing yet another clutch Matt Bohannon three to send the game to overtime (this time it was VCU totally botching the final offensive possession). In the second overtime, Northern Iowa went scoreless for four straight possessions, and VCU hit enough free throws down the stretch to hang on.

Northern Iowa entered this game 9-0, but without a win over a likely RPI Top 50 opponent. Their final chance in non-conference play will come next Saturday against Iowa. They will get two shots at Wichita State in conference play, but it's going to be difficult for them to earn an at-large bid without a very gaudy won-loss record. They're going to have fewer RPI Top 50 wins than most other potential bubble teams.

VCU's best win before this game came over Oregon and they had a loss to Old Dominion, so with the Atlantic Ten down they really needed to take care of business here. Their final chance for a quality non-conference win will come next Saturday at Cincinnati.

Tyler Haws Injured We should know later today what the actual extent of the injury is, but I'd be surprised if Haws doesn't miss at least a few games.  With Stanford, UMass and Gonzaga coming up next, it's a really bad time for it, too. BYU fans can't expect to get a break from the Selection Committee if their star misses significant time. Despite all you hear about the "Kenyon Martin Precedent" in the media, the reason why everybody cites a 15 year old case is because they can't come up with a more recent example. History says that injuries to stars are ignored.

Oklahoma State Annihilates Memphis Things are getting rough for Josh Pastner in Memphis. They came into this game 0-3 against non-cupcakes this season, and were just destroyed from the opening tip. They never seem to have a clue on offense (37.7 eFG% and 23 turnovers for 0.77 PPP here). In years past, they could make up for sloppy offense with pure talent, but they no longer are stocked with future-NBA players. Josh Pastner's seat has to be getting toasty, and it's just going to get warmer if the Tigers aren't at least in the vicinity of the Tournament bubble in February.

Gonzaga Handles UCLA Gonzaga was led by Kyle Wiltjer (24 points on 9-for-13 shooting), but actually had most of their success around the paint. UCLA's defense just could not handle Byron Wesley or Kyle Dranginis on the perimeter, and got torched for 65% two-point shooting and 1.26 PPP. Even though the score disparity was never huge, Dick Vitale spent the entire second half talking about Kentucky basketball and musical acts he had seen because it just never felt like a real game.

The Zags will enter conference play with wins over St. John's, UCLA, SMU and Georgia along with (assuming they don't lose to any cupcakes upcoming) just a loss to Arizona. It's a good performance, but it's going to be hard for them to get a 1 seed on Selection Sunday unless they win out. More likely they're headed for a 2 or 3 seed.

UCLA has faced three Pomeroy Top 75 teams and lost to all of them. They have a chance to totally change the course of their season by knocking off Kentucky on Saturday. Without that, they're going to have to go at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play to earn an at-large bid.

Oregon Upsets Illinois Oregon entered this game 0-3 against non-cupcakes this season, but they stole a win in a virtual road game vs Illinois. Down the stretch they made 9 straight free throws as well as 5-for-7 from the field. Rayvonte Rice (29 points on 9-for-16 shooting) did everything he could to keep Illinois in this game, but it wasn't enough. The Illini have other players capable of putting up points efficiently, but none of them showed up here.

This was Oregon's final chance to get something out of non-conference play. They have tricky home games against UC-Santa Barbara and UC-Irvine coming up, but if they can survive those then they'll end up surviving non-conference play without too much damage done, despite the poor start to the season. If Illinois can beat Missouri next Saturday then the Illini should head into Big Ten play 10-2 with a win over Baylor and no bad losses. It's a reasonable resume, and a 10-8 Big Ten record should send them Dancing.

Nebraska Wins Ugly Over Cincinnati I can't emphasize the word "ugly" enough for this game. The offensive execution, particularly down the stretch, was awful. To pick an example, Nebraska's final full possession at the end of regulation involved dribbling for 30 seconds and ending up with a 28 foot off-balance three-pointer from Terran Petteway. Cincinnati took the ball out under their basket with more than 4 seconds to go and threw it all the way to the other side of the court without touching anybody. Nebraska got the ball back under their own basket but in more than four seconds couldn't get a shot off.

In the end, Nebraska won with 0.75 PPP, In four games against Pomeroy Top 150 opponents, they're scoring 0.84 PPP, and a change has to happen. Standing around and watching Terran Petteway play hero ball and take horrible shots just isn't working. It was practically a blessing in disguise when Petteway fouled out of this one, because it allowed players like Shavon Shields to have more of an impact offensively.

Cincinnati is 0-2 against likely RPI Top 100 opponents, and is heading into potentially an even uglier game against San Diego State on Tuesday. The first to 45 points will win that one. The AAC isn't going to offer a lot of opportunities for quality wins, so they really have to take care of business against the Aztecs.

St. Mary's Knocks Off Creighton The WCC was desperate for some quality non-conference wins, and St. Mary's (potentially) delivered one here. I say "potentially" because we're not quite sure yet if Creighton is actually good. They did beat Oklahoma and won at Nebraska, but also dropped games to Tulsa and Ole Miss and needed double overtime to escape South Dakota. They don't look like an RPI Top 50 team now, and that's what St. Mary's needs.

The fact is that a road game against a team like Creighton is much more difficult than a home game against a team just inside the RPI Top 50, but the reality is that the RPI and the Selection Committee do not take that into account very much. There's a bias toward teams that can get home games against teams in the 30-50 RPI range, which St. Mary's can't get outside of conference play. And that's why the Gaels, even after this win, still have quite the uphill battle to earn an at-large bid.

Arkansas Routs Dayton If anything, this game wasn't as close as the final score. Arkansas got out to a 20 point lead early in the second half and then just cruised in the rest of the way. And what made this game particularly impressive was that it wasn't done in the usual Mike-Anderson-At-Home style, by turning their opponent over and getting a bunch of easy buckets in transition. In fact, they only had 9 steals, and only 2 fast break points all game long. Instead they were efficient offensively, assisting on 67% of their made baskets and hitting 53% of their two-point attempts.

Arkansas heads off to Cupcake City until SEC play opens, so barring a stunning upset they'll finish non-conference play 11-2 with wins over SMU and Dayton to go with a loss to Clemson. With the SEC not looking particularly impressive, the Razorbacks probably need to go 11-7 in conference play to feel confident about an at-large bid. At 10-8 or 9-9 they'll have work to do in the SEC tournament.

Dayton's offense has struggled against quality opponents this season. All three games against Pomeroy Top 100 opponents have resulted in under 1 PPP. They went 1-2 in those games, defeating only Texas A&M. They have a key stretch coming up around Christmas when they play at home against Georgia Tech and Ole Miss. They'll be a small favorite in both games, and they need to take care of business in both to be on pace for an at-large bid when they enter Atlantic Ten play.

W-13 BP68

There is just one change to the Field of 68 this week, which is St. John's moving in and Colorado dropping out. Providence is hanging on precariously to the final at-large spot, and needs to start playing better or they will drop out also.

One team that didn't drop out of this bracket, though they'll drop out of any "If the season ended now" brackets, is Michigan. There's no question that their last three games have been a debacle, but I'm keeping them in my projected bracket. For the full explanation, wait for the Arizona/Michigan recap in the "Morning News" post that will come in the morning.

The other projections should be fairly straightforward, but remember that you can always click on the tags on the upper left hand side of the page to see any recent times I've talked about a team you're confused about. Hopefully my reasoning is clear. If not, don't hesitate to leave a constructive comment.

Remember, this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday:

1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
1. DUKE (ACC)
1. ARIZONA (PAC-12)

2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
2. Virginia
2. Texas

3. Louisville
3. GONZAGA (WCC)
3. North Carolina
3. Oklahoma

4. SAN DIEGO STATE (MOUNTAIN WEST)
4. Utah
4. Ohio State
4. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)

5. Iowa State
5. Florida
5. VCU (ATLANTIC TEN)
5. Georgetown

6. Iowa
6. UCONN (AAC)
6. Oklahoma State
6. SMU

7. Northern Iowa
7. West Virginia
7. Maryland
7. Stanford

8. Illinois
8. Miami-Florida
8. Michigan State
8. Dayton

9. Syracuse
9. UCLA
9. Pittsburgh
9. Butler

10. Michigan
10. Xavier
10. Colorado State
10. Arkansas

11. HARVARD (IVY)
11. Notre Dame
11. Nebraska
11. Baylor

12. Cincinnati
12. BYU
12. St. John's
12. Providence
12. TOLEDO (MAC)
12. UC SANTA BARBARA (BIG WEST)

13. UTEP (CONFERENCE USA)
13. GREEN BAY (HORIZON)
13. IONA (MAAC)
13. NORTHEASTERN (COLONIAL)

14. GEORGIA STATE (SUN BELT)
14. EASTERN WASHINGTON (BIG SKY)
14. MURRAY STATE (OVC)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)

15. DENVER (SUMMIT)
15. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (SOUTHLAND)
15. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
15. AMERICAN UNIVERSITY (PATRIOT)

16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. WOFFORD (SOCON)
16. STONY BROOK (AMERICA EAST)
16. HIGH POINT (BIG SOUTH)
16. ST. FRANCIS-BROOKLYN (NEC)
16. ALABAMA STATE (SWAC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
NC State, George Washington, Creighton, Seton Hall, Minnesota, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee

Other teams with a decent shot, but that need to improve their resume:
Houston, Memphis, Tulsa, Georgia Tech, UMass, Richmond, Rhode Island, Indiana, Purdue, Kansas State, TCU, Louisiana Tech, Boise State, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona State, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Saint Mary's

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on, but that need to dramatically improve their resume:
Temple, Tulane, Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Davidson, St. Bonaventure, Marquette, Northwestern, Penn State,Texas Tech, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Evansville, Illinois State, UNLV, Oregon State, Mississippi State

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Morning News: Iowa St Upsets Iowa, Aaron Thomas Ineligible, Dominic Woodson Leaves, and Southern Miss Transfers

Naz Long led all scorers with 21 points, including 5-for-9 behind the arc.
Iowa State Upsets Iowa Iowa State would have been an underdog in this game even with a full roster, but with Bryce Dejean-Jones out of the lineup due to suspension this was really a great opportunity for Iowa to build on their North Carolina win. Instead, Iowa State blitzed the Hawkeyes with an 18-0 run early in the second half that blew this game open.

How much of this was Iowa State playing better and how much was the shooting disparity? It's a bit of both. Iowa State opened the second half shooting 10-for-11 with four three-pointers (a 109.1% effective field goal percentage), and obviously that's fairly fluky, but even if you control for season expectations on three-point shooting Iowa State still deserved to win by nearly ten points. The difference primarily was that Iowa State had an easier time getting to the rim while Iowa rushed too many long two-point jumpers (a constant problem under Fran McCaffery).

As I say all the time, there's no reason to overreact to fluky shooting percentages. Iowa wasn't outplayed by as much as the final score. But shooting has definitely been a problem for them this season. For example, Josh Oglesby shot 40% (31-for-77) on threes last season but is only shooting 23% (11-for-48) this season. Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White have also seen their shooting drop off. Iowa's not at real risk of missing the NCAA Tournament, but their shooting is going to have to turn around to finish higher than around fifth in the Big Ten.

Is Iowa State a contender to win the Big 12? Certainly they played like it here. Even if you take out the fluky shooting, their offense moved the ball incredibly well, and they are so dangerous in transition. We saw this same type of efficient, deadly offense when they eviscerated the Arkansas press last week.

Florida State's Aaron Thomas Ineligible I'm not sure how much hope Florida State fans had for their team to earn an at-large bid after opening the season 4-4 with losses against all four Pomeroy Top 100 opponents faced, but even reaching .500 is going to be an uphill battle after losing leading scorer Aaron Thomas (14.8 points per game). He will be done for the rest of the season. At this point, the rest of this season has to be about developing young guys with promise like Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Phil Cofer and Robbie Berwick. Even the NIT is unlikely.

Dominic Woodson Leaves Tennessee Dominic Woodson has struggled to find his place in college basketball. He has plenty of talent, but after barely getting on the court at Memphis as a freshman he didn't do much this season as a sophomore at Tennessee and missed time with academic concerns. Now he's leaving the Tennessee program altogether. Obviously we all hope he figures things out eventually. But considering how little he was contributing, this shouldn't have a significant impact on Tennessee going forward. The only real problem will be big man depth against taller opponents.

Dallas Anglin And Shadell Millinghaus Leave Southern Miss Millinghaus was a starter while Anglin was a significant contributor off the bench. The two combined for more than 14 points per game and were the only two regulars shooting better than 40% behind the arc. This hurts the team this season, of course, but this was a total rebuilding season anyway. They lost their head coach and their entire starting lineup from last year's squad. Doc Sadler, the new head coach, deserves a few years to put together the type of team he wants, and it's not unusual to see a few transfers during the first season of a new coach.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Morning News: Alex Poythress Done, Bryce Dejean-Jones Arrested, Eastern Washington/San Francisco, And Cullen Neal


Alex Poythress Tears His ACL This is a really unfortunate injury for Kentucky. While there's obviously no team that can absorb a loss like this more than Kentucky with their 37 McDonald's All-Americans, Poythress was unique in his skills. He was their only real pure wing, and their most versatile defender. They could have absorbed an injury to, say, Andrew Harrison much more than Poythress.

It will be interesting to see if Derek Willis moves into a "platoon" now. The reason I think he will is because Calipari is about nothing more than marketing himself and his program, and he got a staggering amount of buzz about the platoons (even though other coaches had done it before). You can't watch a MAC team play an AAC team on ESPNU without one of the announcers going into a digression about Kentucky's platoons. I think Calipari will want to keep that buzz going. Besides, they probably already printed a bunch more white and blue shirts for the students to switch in and out of during games.

Is Kentucky still the nation's best team? Maybe. It's too early to tell. The gap between them and Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona, Louisville and a handful of others was smaller than most people realized. But that said, even if Kentucky is now slightly worse than one of those teams, they will remain the top team in my projected bracket for now. Why? They have easily the least competition to sweep their conference titles of any of those other 1 seed contenders. So they still have the clearest path to that 1 seed.

Bryce Dejean-Jones Arrested, Suspended For now, the marijuana charges appear to have been dropped, so Dejean-Jones isn't at immediate risk of a big legal problem. But even though he might escape with just a one game suspension, it's an important game on the road at Iowa tonight. Iowa State is ranked higher in the human polls, but most computer ratings have Iowa as the slightly better team and the Hawkeyes will be at home, so this was going to be an uphill battle even with Dejean-Jones in the lineup. He was easily Iowa State's leading scorer, pouring in 17.1 per game with a filthy 63.5 eFG%.

Eastern Washington Beats San Francisco It was a really slow night of college basketball, so this was actually the best game on the docket. I feel like I need to talk about some game from last night so it's not just injuries and arrests, and Eastern Washington has been my Big Sky favorite since the preseason. I love how many threes they take and how many shooters they have. It's not a formula for avoiding upsets (they surely will suffer some during the season), but it's a formula for a high variance team that will scare the hell out of a 3 or 4 seed when they're seeded together on Selection Sunday.

Eastern Washington did their thing here, launching 25 threes and hitting 48% of them. Ognjen Miljkovic led the way with 20 points with 4-for-7 three-point shooting, and Venky Jois continued to stuff the stat sheet with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks (he's at 21.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game for the season).

San Francisco might not finish in the RPI Top 100, but road wins against borderline Top 100 teams are the most underrated wins in college basketball. To use the Sagarin ratings as a guide, a road game at San Francisco (#71) is equivalent to a home game against Butler (#14). So this win is no joke. They'll get a chance on Sunday to turn the heads of more casual fans by winning at Washington.


Cullen Neal Could Be Done For The Season Neal was New Mexico's primary scoring option (he scored 26 and 23 points in the two full games he played in this season), but his ankle injury could cost him the rest of the season. That all said, this could possibly be a blessing in disguise for a New Mexico program that wasn't going anywhere this season anyway. If Neal can get a medical redshirt (which isn't assured, but seems somewhat likely) then Neal will get an extra year to play when the rest of the roster will presumably be stronger. There's no reason for Neal to rush back to play in a handful of games after New Mexico has already been eliminated from serious at-large contention.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Morning News: Kansas Beats Georgetown, Incarnate Word Stuns Nebraska, Tulsa Loses To SE Oklahoma State, And More

Just as we all expected, this was the hero of Kansas/Georgetown.
Kansas Beats Georgetown This was a really well played game that was tight the entire way. Joshua Smith was a menace for Georgetown, scoring 20 points (on 8-for-13 shooting) and occupying much of the Kansas defense all night. The hero for Kansas was an unexpected one: Brannen Greene, who led the team with 19 points and was 5-for-5 behind the arc, including a killer one with around 2:30 to go after Georgetown had pulled within 2 points.

Kansas can't expect that 10-for-17 three-point shooting to be sustainable, but this is an awfully nice road victory, and they've now won three consecutive games against Pomeroy Top 25 opponents (Michigan State and Florida were the other two). They can complete this big stretch in their schedule by taking out Utah on Saturday.

Georgetown is now 1-3 against likely RPI Top 100 opponents, but they feel like a sleeping giant. Those three losses have all been by six points or less, and all came against likely Tournament teams. And it feels like they have so many good, new pieces that are still trying to find a way to fit together. This has the feel of a team that will be significantly better in March. Villanova is, of course, the heavy Big East favorite, but Georgetown remains their top challenger (in my opinion).

Incarnate Word Stuns Nebraska We always see goofy upsets in college basketball during the middle of December, when kids are focused on final exams, but things are just getting nuts in the Big Ten. Incarnate Word is honestly even less established than NJIT. This is only their second season in Division I basketball. And before this game they hadn't beaten a team in the RPI Top 200, let alone a team in Nebraska that has a good chance to finish in the Top 50.

Nebraska gave this game away, of course. In the final 30 seconds they fouled a three-point shooter twice, as well as a couple of turnovers, including a terrible pass by Terran Petteway out of bounds that set up Kyle Hittle for the game-winning jumper.

Kyle Hittle's game winner.

I talked earlier in the season about why I thought Nebraska was overrated preseason. They should never have been ranked in the Top 25. But they at least be a Tournament team, and right now they don't look like anything of the sort. They're 0-2 against the Pomeroy Top 100 and now have a bad loss to Incarnate Word. A home game against Cincinnati on Saturday is their last real non-conference test. Even with a win there and a 10-8 Big Ten record they still could end up in the NIT.

Tulsa Loses To SE Oklahoma State Speaking of bad losses by potential bubble teams, SE Oklahoma State isn't even a Division I team. Heck, they weren't even a >.500 Division II team, and they had never in their history knocked off a Division I opponent. Tulsa almost salvaged this game with a furious finish. They trailed by 12 with under 2:30 to go, but a 16-6 run pulled them within 2 points with five seconds left. Shaquille Harrison had a shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, but missed.

Tulsa beat Creighton, but they also lost to Oral Roberts and now here to SE Oklahoma State. This loss won't drop their RPI, but with the AAC looking weak they're going to have to finish with a really nice conference won-loss record to earn an at-large bid. Nothing less than 12-6 will get them in, I don't think. They will get a chance for a huge win at home on Saturday, against Oklahoma.

Utah Hangs On Against BYU We knew this game was going to be intense and fun, but we also thought there wouldn't be much defense. But Utah has more size than most people realize, and they made it very difficult for BYU to score the type of 5-to-8 foot shots that they love. BYU finished just 9-for-36 on two-point jumpers (they're making 45% of their two-point jumpers for the season), and they scored just 0.90 PPP, their first game under 1 PPP all season.

BYU has lost nine straight games when failing to score 1 PPP, with their last win coming over Pepperdine on January 31st, 2013. It's not a surprise that a team known for not playing defense doesn't win if they don't score a lot of points, but that's still quite an amazingly long streak. More importantly, BYU has come up short in all three games against Pomeroy Top 50 opponents so far this season. With only Gonzaga looking like a big scalp to be collected in WCC play, it's just going to be really tough for them to prove that they're a Tournament team.

Utah was so much better than their resume last season due to horrible luck in close games. But with two consecutive close victories (over Wichita State and BYU) they are getting attention as a real contender in the Pac-12. They've got a chance to really put themselves on the national map if they can knock off Kansas in Kansas City on December 13th.

Colorado State Beats Colorado Colorado State's bandwagon still has a few seats left, if you want to get on. The Rams are 9-0, and none of the wins are over Top 25 opponents, but they have beaten UTEP, Colorado, Georgia State and UCSB. At this point I have them projected as a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they need to avoid any bad losses to stay there. They have a couple of tricky road games upcoming, at Denver and New Mexico State. But if they can survive those and get to 12-6 in conference play (which will get them to 25 wins total)? I think that has to get them an at-large bid.

Colorado is off to a brutal start this season, with losses in all three games vs Pomeroy Top 100 opponents. And it's hard to blame luck on this early start, because their shooting stats aren't particularly out of whack. They just haven't played well. But the season is long, and plenty of teams in recent memory have washed away a poor non-conference performance by doing well in conference play. So there's still time for the Buffaloes to turn this around, but Tad Boyle has to figure out how to get their offense playing more efficiently.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Morning News: Michigan... Sigh. Also, Louisville Handles Indiana, Shaqquan Aaron, Marquette Transfers, And Villanova/Illinois

Welp.

Michigan... Sigh. Coming off that historic loss to NJIT, surely Michigan would take care of Eastern Michigan? Yet while it was NJIT's fluky good shooting that won that game, Michigan cost themselves with atrocious three-point shooting here (4-for-21 behind the arc). Michigan's 0.70 PPP  represented their worst offensive efficiency in nearly five years. And they've definitely played far better defenses in the last five years than Eastern Michigan.

Now, allow me to walk Michigan fans off the ledge a little bit. First of all, while the NJIT upset was a historic disaster, Eastern Michigan isn't remotely in that same class. They're a solid team that will be in the mix to win the MAC. They could actually finish the season inside the RPI Top 100 (though it's not likely). And the shooting has been fluky in each of these two games. Michigan is better than these two performances. But these losses will look awful on their resume all season long, and they're going to need some big scalps to make up for them. A road upset at Arizona on Saturday, while unlikely, would represent that kind of season-changing victory.

Eastern Michigan has been a steadily improving program under Rob Murphy, and they do look like a legitimate contender in the MAC this season. They came into this game off of a respectable nine point loss at Dayton. They'll get a chance to name themselves Kings of Michigan if they can somehow knock off Michigan State next Wednesday.

Louisville Handles Indiana Indiana managed to keep this game close for most of the way, and they actually led by four points early in the second half, but Louisville had far too much of a physical advantage. In particular, Montrezl Harrell (21 points, 11 rebounds, 1 block) and Mangok Mathiang (6 points, 3 rebounds, 4 blocks) were a menace in the paint, with ferocious dunks, angry blocks and more than a healthy dose of taunting and preening. Indiana is a relatively small team that struggles in the paint, and they wilted under the pressure.

This won't be on Indiana's season-ending highlight tape.

Indiana played fairly well in this game, so they shouldn't come out of this 20 points loss feeling badly about their performance. Their 0.96 PPP were easily the most Louisville's defense had allowed so far this season (the previous high was Minnesota's 0.87 PPP). It's the fewest Indiana has scored this season, but six of Louisville's eight opponents have been held to a season low in offensive efficiency. Their defense is just scary good. The Hoosiers have a key test against Butler in Bankers Life Field House on December 20th. If they want to start getting at-large bid buzz they need a big win like that.

Louisville is now 8-0 and headed off to Cupcake City until their monster game against Kentucky on December 27th, when the two most athletic and physical defenses in the nation will go head-to-head. And they've got additional good news in that...

Shaqquan Aaron Cleared To Play For Louisville His eligibility had been in question all season long, but he will play his first game on December 20th. By several recruiting services, Aaron was actually the top rated recruit in Louisville's 2014 class, so he'll immediately join the rotation as a serious contributor. Louisville has plenty of size, but Aaron is a true wing, which is one area that the team lacks options.

Marquette Loses Two Via Transfer Deonte Burton is the big name leaving, as John Dawson really hadn't gotten on the floor yet in his career. But Burton was scoring 6.4 points in 16.1 minutes per game off the bench, and is a heck of an athlete who looks to have a bright future. There has been a huge exodus of players since Buzz Williams left, which isn't a total shock. Wojciechowski is building the program how he wants to with the type of players he wants, and Buzz Williams guys don't necessarily fit that well. By next season, which will only be Wojo's second in charge of the program, there are going to be no more than three Buzz Williams players left.

For the short term, Marquette is down to just seven players who have seen the court this season. They'll get better and deeper when Luke Fischer becomes eligible, but they're still not going to have a lot of options. Realistically, though, they weren't going to be on the bubble even with Deonte Burton.

Villanova Pulls Away From Illinois The final score in this one is a bit deceptive. Villanova's lead was only three points in the final seven minutes. They closed the game on a 15-4 run. However, it did feel like Villanova kept the Illini at arm's length all game long. They dominated the paint, scoring 42 points there and hitting 60% of their two-pointers for the game. Daniel Ochefu (12 points on 6-for-10 shooting) was particularly unstoppable when he tried to be.

Villanova is quietly 9-0 with wins over VCU, Illinois and Michigan, and they can build on that with a home game against Syracuse on December 20th. As the heavy favorite in the Big East, they've got to be considered a serious contender for a 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Illinois is a solid team, but they're inconsistent on the offensive end, and it's been offensive deficiencies that have caused them to come up short against Miami and Villanova. I'd still expect them to make the NCAA Tournament, but they're not going to win consistently enough to contend for one of the top few places in the Big Ten. Their next game is Saturday, against Oregon in the United Center.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Morning News: Brown Upsets Providence, SMU Escapes UCSB, Gaines Injured, And Florida Annihilates Yale

Leland King (#2) led Brown with 16 points.
Brown Upsets Providence When Yale knocked off UConn, I stressed that this Yale team is actually pretty good and that it wasn't as big of an upset as the media was making it out to be. That's not the case for this Brown team, which came in to this game 0-4 against the Pomeroy Top 150. But this was just a bizarre shooting day, where Brown shot 19% on two-point jumpers but 44% on three-point jumpers. Providence was a brutal 4-for-19 behind the arc, and in the tail end of the game they really seemed to panic, just forcing up terrible shots. Providence had a massive size advantage, but a 36-26 advantage in the paint just wasn't big enough.

Providence has really tailed off after getting out to a 6-0 start that included a win over Notre Dame. Their big loss to Kentucky was excusable, but now they've lost to Boston College and Brown, two teams very likely to finish outside the RPI Top 100. This Providence team is just too talented not to start playing better basketball, but they're running out of time to salvage the non-conference portion of their season.

Brown isn't going to contend for the Ivy League title, but this is a great win for a program that hasn't had many in recent seasons. Their last RPI Top 100 win came on February 19th, 2011, against Princeton. Their last RPI Top 100 non-conference win came on January 4th, 2008, against American University.

SMU Escapes UC-Santa Barbara These two teams each have a single dominant star, neither of whom did much of anything in the second half. SMU's Nic Moore suffered a knee injury early in the second half, and after spending some time trying to get it loose on a stationary bike he gave up and spent the rest of the game icing it on the bench. Meanwhile, UCSB's Alan Williams spent the entire game foul trouble and fouled out with just 9 points and 8 rebounds.

Gabe Vincent hit the three late in the regulation for UCSB to send them into overtime (overcoming a 14 point second half deficit), but SMU grabbed an early lead in overtime and hit their free throws down the stretch. SMU really needed this victory, because the idea that they're going to get a pass from the Selection Committee for missing Markus Kennedy during non-conference play is a myth. They have to stand on their own resume, and a loss here would have dropped them to 5-4 with their best win coming over Wyoming. It's still not much, but they can salvage something from non-conference play if they can knock off Michigan on December 20th.

UCSB is just 4-4, but they're better than their record. They lost this game and the Florida Gulf Coast game in overtime, while they lost to Colorado State by 2 points and only lost at Kansas by 10. They're not going to be a serious at-large contender, but at this point (in my opinion) they're the narrow Big West favorite over UC-Irvine and Long Beach State.

Kenny Gaines Injured The junior had started six games this season for Georgia and was tied for second on the team with 11.3 points per game. The good news for Georgia is that they have two weeks for the end of the semester and final exams before they play again, on December 21st. The bad news is that Gaines may not be back after that (his timetable seems fluid at this point), and their first game back is a potentially key game against Seton Hall. If Georgia is going to get themselves onto the Tournament bubble, they need to win home games against other potential bubble teams.

Florida Annihilates Yale This was, quietly, one of the most impressive wins by any team all season long. Yale came into this game having won 8 of 9, including a win at UConn, with only a 6 point loss at Providence. They had slid into the Top 80 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. But Florida just could not miss a shot here, shooting 10-for-19 behind the arc. Their 72.4 eFG% was their best shooting day since March 25th, 2008. Their 1.44 PPP were their most since March 16th, 2007.

Yale is a good team, but they were going to need an off day from Florida to pull the upset. This was obviously the opposite of a Florida off day. And the problem for Yale is that the margin for error on an at-large bid out of the Ivy League is just so small. They have a chance to take the Ivy League auto bid, of course, but they'll need a win over Harvard and to almost win out every other game to have any at-large chance. Remember that Ivy League teams must lose a minimum of two conference games to fail to earn the auto bid.

You don't want to overreact to a fluky shooting day like this for Florida, but it comes just three days after a solid performance in a tough, close loss to Kansas, and they're still getting their full roster together. Eli Carter should be back in the lineup soon, and Alex Murphy will be eligible soon as well. It would be a mistake to completely give up on Florida challenging Kentucky in the SEC.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Morning News: Washington Upsets San Diego St, Arkansas Falls To Clemson, Creighton/Nebraska, Jamari Traylor And Georgia/Colorado

Are Nebraska fans seeing a bit too much of this?
Washington Upsets San Diego State We're used to the San Diego State model by now. Their offense is mediocre but their defense is great, and overall it's a really good team that can take out any opponent on any given day. But the problem is that the Mountain West is down and they're going to be playing a whole lot of mediocre teams, and when you're a mediocre offense you're sometimes going to be a terrible offense. And here, San Diego State was a terrible offense. They shot 6-for-42 (14%) on jump shots, including 2-for-15 (13%) on three-pointers. In all they had a 22.2 eFG% and 0.65 PPP.

To put that offensive futility in perspective, that's San Diego State's worst shooting performance in more than 15 years (I could only search back through the 1997-98 season). The 0.65 PPP was their worst since they scored 0.58 PPP in an 86-38 loss to Utah on February 11th, 1999. Washington's defense did hold USC to just 0.59 PPP in a game three seasons ago, though that was the USC team that went 6-25 overall, so it's not quite the same thing as doing it to a top team like San Diego State.

This loss now really brings San Diego State's schedule into play. They have wins over Utah, BYU and Pittsburgh, which is okay, but it's possible that they won't play another RPI Top 50 opponent the rest of the way. They're going to finish the season with a softer set of wins than any other team competing for a 2, 3 or 4 seed. One potential Top 50 opponent coming up is Cincinnati, who they'll face on the road on December 17th.

Washington came into this game 6-0, but without a win that would resonate with casual fans (though a neutral court victory over UTEP is pretty solid). Now they have one. The question with teams in this situation always is whether they blow this opportunity right away, or whether they build on this success. Their next game will be on Sunday against a feisty Eastern Washington team.

Arkansas Falls To Clemson In Clemson's previous three home games they lost to Rutgers and Winthrop and had a three point win over High Point. And while Arkansas played poorly here (6-for-21 three-point shooting and just 4 fast break points), they still seemed to have the game in hand late. They led by six points in the final minute, but committed turnovers on their three final possessions, including a Donte Grantham steal that led to a Jaron Blossomgame layup to send the game to overtime.

Arkansas will drop out of the Top 25 today (leaving Kentucky, presumably, as the only SEC team in), but they really should never have been ranked to begin with. When they beat SMU it looked like a better win than it was. This Arkansas team just isn't good enough to be much more than a bubble team, and Clemson could potentially represent an RPI 100+ loss (they'll be borderline). Historically, Mike Anderson teams have been significantly better at home than on the road, so they'll try to bounce back at home on Saturday against Dayton.

This is a nice win for Clemson, but it doesn't come close to wiping away three losses to likely RPI 100+ opponents. They'll face Auburn on Sunday, and then South Carolina on the road the following Friday. After that it'll be just Cupcake City until ACC play.

Creighton Beats Nebraska This Nebraska rivalry game has turned into a really fun annual game. But this was a really disappointing night for Nebraska, and part of a frustrating season. They simply have not progressed offensively since last season. Terran Petteway is a good player, but he's not good enough to play hero ball, which is what he does far too often. Here he scored 21 points, but it came on 8-for-20 shooting. For the season he is taking 35.2% of his team's shots while on the court, which is third highest among all power conference teams (Colorado's Askia Booker and Maryland's Dez Wells are higher), yet his eFG% is under 50%. They have other offensive weapons, and need to do a better job of getting them involved.

Both Nebraska and Creighton look likely to be bubble teams all season long, so these are the types of games that can be crucial on Selection Sunday. Both teams have one competitive non-conference game left, and both have it on Saturday. Nebraska will face Cincinnati and Creighton will face St. Mary's.

Kansas's Jamari Traylor Arrested Traylor had started two games this season for Kansas, though he had lost his starting spot and had seen his minutes reduced over the past couple of weeks with the emergence of Cliff Alexander. If nothing else, a loss of Traylor for a significant suspension would hurt the depth for Kansas, but I wouldn't expect Traylor to be booted out of the program altogether. I'd expect to see him back on the court in no more than a few weeks.

Georgia Upsets Colorado Colorado doesn't shoot the ball particularly well in general, but this was easily their worst shooting day of the season thus far, hitting 2-for-17 behind the arc (their previous worst had been 4-for-15 in their loss to Wyoming). Particularly down the stretch, things just got desperate as they tried to get back in the game. They missed all four threes that they attempted in the final minute. Georgia's not a bad team, and if you can't hit a jump shot then they'll beat you.

Colorado has lost both games that they've played so far against Pomeroy Top 100 opponents. Their next chance will be on Wednesday against a dangerous Colorado State team. It will also be their last chance to get something positive out of non-conference play.

Georgia has this win to go with a loss to Georgia Tech, which isn't particularly impressive, but the computers like them. They've climbed into the Top 50 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Computer numbers need to be looked at skeptically this early in the season, but they have to at least be considered a realistic bubble team. With the SEC down, you don't have to be that good to finish 12-6. Heck, Georgia went 12-6 in the SEC last season with a very mediocre team. Last season, their non-conference performance was awful and it killed their bubble hopes. So far this season they're off to a better start.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Arizona/Gonzaga Thriller, NJIT's Upset Of The Decade, Green Bay Over Miami, And More

Wait, what just happened here?
Yesterday was our first truly full day of Saturday college basketball, so there were a ton of important results. Out of necessity (and mercy for my readers) the game recaps are going to be shorter than they are the rest of the week:

New Bracket Projection There were three changes to the BP68 this week. Notre Dame, Baylor and Green Bay all moved into the Field of 68, while Tennessee, Creighton and Cleveland St dropped out. That, plus the other seed movement and some explanation from me is at that link.


Arizona Wins A Thriller Arizona is single-handedly destroying 1 seed hopes around the west coast. They took out San Diego State, and now they took out Gonzaga. And this is a heartbreaker for the Zags because it's their only game all season against a team likely to be in the Top 25 in March. And they had every chance in this game, which they led by around 2-to-4 points for almost the entire second half. In my opinion, Gonzaga got robbed on their final possession of regulation, where Domanatas Sabonis was absolutely trucked from behind by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson while going for an offensive rebound for a few seconds to go. But referee calls and pure randomness always dominate in very close games like this.

Arizona certainly had their referee calls that they didn't like also (including the three foul shots at the end of overtime due to contact initiated by Byron Wesley kicking his own legs out, though the ball didn't lie on those free throws), but they have certainly had a heart-pounding start to the season. All three games against likely RPI Top 100 opponents have been decided by four points or less, and all have been excellent basketball games.

The Zags will now basically need to win out to earn a 1 seed, though they still should hang in the 2-4 seed range all season long. This is a really good team, even if the media is going to continue running with the dumb "can't beat elite teams" narrative. Arizona, on the other hand, has done the non-conference work that they need for a 1 seed already. Avoid any more bad losses and sweep the Pac-12 titles and they'll earn one on Selection Sunday.

NJIT Pulls The Upset Of The Decade The upset of the century? Michigan was a 24.5 point favorite, and the last team to lose as such a large favorite was Kentucky as a 26 point favorite against Gardner Webb on November 7th, 2007, though that game deserves an asterisk because that Kentucky team turned out to be not any good. We're already almost a month into the season and Michigan had already beaten Syracuse and Oregon, with just a 5 point loss in Brooklyn against a really good Villanova team. NJIT, on the other hand, had never even played a Top 25 team before. Their best win (via RPI) in history had been over #193 Rider on November 14th, 2006.

We all feel your pain, Sad Michigan Fan.

So how did Michigan get outplayed by a team like NJIT? Well, they didn't. NJIT just shot out of their freaking minds, hitting 11-for-17 behind the arc and finishing with a 70.7 eFG%. But this is why upsets happen - something you're going to shoot really poorly or your opponent will get white hot, and unless you dominate sufficiently the other factors of the game then you are going to lose.

This loss is going to be an anchor on Michigan's resume all season long. They still should be good enough that they won't have to worry about this loss costing them a Tournament appearance, but it will cost them two to three seed lines most likely.

Green Bay Upsets Miami Green Bay was embarrassed in their last outing, losing by 24 points to Georgia State. But we knew that this was a good team that plays really tough defense along with the best player in the nation that casual fans don't know about - Keifer Sykes. Sykes only had 18 points here, but he hit seven consecutive clutch free throws in the final 90 seconds to put the game away. And Green Bay's defense completely shut down Angel Rodriguez (2-for-15 shooting, 3 assists) and held Miami to 0.81 PPP.

This was a game Green Bay had to have. It's their last game against a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, and it keeps alive their long shot hopes for an at-large bid. In the end, though, they're probably going to have to take the Horizon League. For Miami, this was something of a regression game after such a great start to the season. But there's never any reason to panic about a team after one bad game. The larger sample size still says that this is a borderline Top 25 quality team.

Virginia Handles VCU This really shouldn't have been a surprise. VCU needs to turn teams over to win, and without turnovers they not only fail to score efficiently but their defense tends to struggle as well. Virginia tends to be very good with the ball, and even a season-high 16 turnovers weren't nearly enough here. Tony Bennett teams always play good transition defense, and they held VCU to just 4 fast break points. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, shot a 75.6 eFG%.

Virginia shouldn't be too tested again (except perhaps by Harvard) before opening ACC play. Their ACC schedule is also back-loaded, so it might be a while before we figure out whether Virginia, Duke or Louisville has the early upper hand in the ACC race. VCU, on the other hand, is at real risk of falling onto the Tournament bubble in a relatively weak Atlantic Ten. They have a very important game coming up next Saturday against a strong Northern Iowa team. That's one that they will really need to take care of business in.

North Florida Upsets Purdue So it's not quite NJIT over Michigan, but this is a bad, embarrassing result for Purdue. And just like Michigan, Purdue was undone by a wide shooting disparity. North Florida shot 10-for-22 behind the arc while Purdue was 4-for-19. That doesn't excuse this performance, of course. And for a team with a real chance to finish on the bubble, RPI 100+ losses can be crushing. The Boilers still have a road game at Vanderbilt and a neutral court game against Notre Dame, but even with wins in both games they'll still enter Big Ten play staring up at the Field of 68.

It's worth noting that North Florida, while not a Top 100 team, is in contention near the top of the Atlantic Sun. It's easy to think that Florida Gulf Coast is going to run away with that league, but North Florida showed here that they have to be in that conversation as well.

Wisconsin Takes Care Of Business Coming off allowing the best shooting day by a road team in the history of the Kohl Center, Wisconsin was clearly motivated to put on a strong defensive performance. They suffocated Marquette, who shot hit only 23% of their two-pointers, including just 2 fast break points and 0 second-chance points. Wisconsin shot an ugly 8-for-30 on threes, but they did enough damage on the glass and in the paint to hold onto a relatively comfortable win.

Despite losing, Marquette kept this game respectable, which is going to be a theme for them this season. Wojciechowski doesn't have a lot to work with right now, but they're playing hard and they're playing well enough to keep these games close against good teams. A .500 record in Big East play is still pretty unlikely, though.

After a difficult run of games, Wisconsin's schedule will ease up for the rest of December. A road game at California on December 22nd is their only real remaining test before Big Ten play.

Is Syracuse A Bubble Team? You wouldn't think that the Johnnies are a team built to take on a zone like Syracuse. D'Angelo Harrison was able to do damage by attacking from the perimeter, but the real difference in this game was uncharacteristic shooting from St. John's (9-for-16 behind the arc). Syracuse has now lost three of four games this season against quality opponents, primarily due to the total dearth of perimeter offensive options. Rakeem Christmas is playing really well, but when he's on the bench their offense grinds to a halt. It would be a mistake to count them among the bubble teams quite yet, but they're getting there.

St. John's quietly has this victory along with a win over Minnesota, with only a close loss to Gonzaga. Take computer ratings for what they're worth early on, but their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 14th. Is St. John's really this good? I think they're due for a little regression, unfortunately. Their defense has been their strength, yet they're among the Top 30 in the nation in both defensive 3P% and FT%, both of which are highly luck-based. But they have a couple quality wins, and if they can avoid any bad losses in non-conference play they'll be in good shape to earn an at-large bid if they can get to 10-8 in Big East play.

Paint Your Charge Circle Idaho was assessed a technical foul against UC-Davis for not having their charge circle painted. You can see the refs staring at the problem below. But I see a few problems here. This was Idaho's fourth home game of the season, and the technical wasn't assessed in this game until midway through the first half. So... did nobody notice this before? Was it removed before the game? If so, why didn't the refs notice it during warmups or during the first half hour or so after the opening tip? The public wants to know.
South Carolina Annihilates Oklahoma State Oklahoma State came into this game popular in the computers (they were up to 15th in Pomeroy), but only because they had destroyed bad opponents. And there is value is destroying bad opponents, but the margin of error on computer ratings is pretty big until you show it against a quality opponent. And against their toughest opponent of the season, their offense fell apart. They had a 28.5 eFG%, including 12-for-53 (23%) on jump shots. The 0.70 PPP was their worst offensive performance since February 13th, 2006.

This defensive performance wasn't a fluke from South Carolina. Just one of their eight opponents so far has managed to crack 1 PPP (Baylor), and the 0.87 PPP allowed for the season is 18th best in the nation. So despite a bad offense, is South Carolina actually a bubble quality team? Probably not. Certainly we need to see them play this well more than once. Unfortunately, they have almost two weeks off before their next game, against Clemson.

Tennessee Escapes Kansas State Marcus Foster had a relatively quiet day... until the final minute. With 1 minute left in the game he had just 11 points, but in the final 57 seconds he hit four three-pointers, with the last one coming with just 0.2 seconds left. Tennessee managed to inbound the ball and run the final 0.2 seconds off to preserve their one point victory.

Coming off an ugly loss to Marquette, Tennessee managed to grab their first victory over a team likely to finish in the RPI Top 100. They'll get a chance to really claw their way back to the bubble next Sunday when they take on Butler. Kansas State is now just 4-4 after playing uncharacteristically poor defense. Bruce Weber has had a defense ranked in the Top 60 in the nation by Pomeroy for each of the past 11 seasons, but right now his team is hanging outside the Top 100. Five of eight opponents have scored more than 1 PPP. After a couple of cupcakes, their next competitive game will be on December 20th, against Texas A&M in Kansas City.

W-14 BP68

There was quite a bit of churn around the bubble over the past week. I had been looking for reasons to drop Creighton and Tennessee out of the bracket, and finally found replacements. Notre Dame and Baylor will be moving into the bracket to replace those two.

One other change to the Field of 68 this week is Green Bay moving in as the new favorite in the Horizon League, replacing Cleveland State.

That said, if you're a regular reader you know that I'm not going to overreact to results near the top of the bracket with teams like Wisconsin and Duke. One big reason to keep Wisconsin as a more likely 1 seed than Duke, even if you believe Duke is a slightly better team, is that Wisconsin has significantly less competition for their conference title. Louisville and Virginia certainly seem like better teams than any Big Ten squad that Wisconsin will have to contend with.

Remember, this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams are if the season ended now.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday:

1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
1. DUKE (ACC)
1. ARIZONA (PAC-12)

2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
2. Virginia
2. Texas

3. Louisville
3. SAN DIEGO STATE (MOUNTAIN WEST)
3. GONZAGA (WCC)
3. North Carolina

4. Oklahoma
4. Utah
4. Ohio State
4. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)

5. VCU (ATLANTIC TEN)
5. Iowa
5. Iowa State
5. Florida

6. Michigan
6. UCONN (AAC)
6. Georgetown
6. Illinois

7. SMU
7. West Virginia
7. Northern Iowa
7. Dayton

8. Stanford
8. Oklahoma State
8. Syracuse
8. Maryland

9. Pittsburgh
9. UCLA
9. Miami-Florida
9. Michigan State

10. Butler
10. Cincinnati
10. Xavier
10. Colorado State

11. Nebraska
11. Colorado
11. HARVARD (IVY)
11. Arkansas

12. BYU
12. Notre Dame
12. Providence
12. Baylor
12. TOLEDO (MAC)
12. UC SANTA BARBARA (BIG WEST)

13. UTEP (CONFERENCE USA)
13. GREEN BAY (HORIZON)
13. IONA (MAAC)
13. NORTHEASTERN (COLONIAL)

14. GEORGIA STATE (SUN BELT)
14. MURRAY STATE (OVC)
14. EASTERN WASHINGTON (BIG SKY)
14. DENVER (SUMMIT)

15. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
15. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
15. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (SOUTHLAND)
15. AMERICAN UNIVERSITY (PATRIOT)

16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. WOFFORD (SOCON)
16. STONY BROOK (AMERICA EAST)
16. HIGH POINT (BIG SOUTH)
16. ST. FRANCIS-BROOKLYN (NEC)
16. ALABAMA STATE (SWAC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Tulsa, NC State, Rhode Island, Creighton, St. John's, Seton Hall, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Tennessee

Other teams with a decent shot, but that need to improve their resume:
Houston, Memphis, Florida State, Georgia Tech, George Washington, UMass, Richmond, Indiana, Purdue, Kansas State, TCU, Louisiana Tech, Boise State, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona State, Washington, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Saint Mary's

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on, but that need to dramatically improve their resume:
Temple, Tulane, Boston College, Clemson, Davidson, Duquesne, St. Bonaventure, Marquette, Northwestern, Penn State,Texas Tech, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Evansville, Illinois State, UNLV, Oregon State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Portland

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Morning News: Kentucky/Texas, Florida/Kansas, Yale Upsets UConn, Boston College Over Providence, And SMU/Wyoming

The paint was not a place for the meek in Lexington last night.
Kentucky Holds Off Texas The final score of this game was deceptive, as it was tight almost the entire way. Texas was still within five points with under 90 seconds to go. The Longhorns hung in this game by controlling the glass (a 45.7 OR% compared to a 31.6 OR% for Kentucky). But without Isaiah Taylor they struggled with ball control when Kentucky turned up the defensive pressure, finishing with 22 turnovers (to just 8 for Kentucky).

Offensively, Kentucky needs to get used to seeing the type of zone that Texas ran here. They don't shoot the ball well and they don't pass the ball that well either. The risk with zoning Kentucky is that they can annihilate you on the glass. Texas has the size to handle Kentucky's bigs, but not many other teams do. Meanwhile, Kentucky's defense is the best in the country, and it's a team-wide effort. The tv broadcast was focusing all on Willie Cauley-Stein because of his 5 steals and 3 blocks, but counting stats are a bad way to judge defense, and Cauley-Stein actually struggled quite a bit one-on-one. It's their length and athleticism on the perimeter that really drives opponents nuts more than anything.

Texas has a fairly soft remaining non-conference schedule. Their toughest game will be at home against Stanford. But they've already got wins over Iowa, UConn and Cal, which will be good enough for a 1 seed if they can sweep the Big 12 titles.

Kentucky's next realistic chance for a loss will be North Carolina on December 13th, though UNC is really the absolutely wrong type of a team to try to beat Kentucky. That road game at Louisville on December 27th is going to be Kentucky's toughest test before the NCAA Tournament.

Florida Falls Apart Late Florida seemed to have this game completely under control. They led by 17 points early in the second half when it all fell apart, and Kansas went on a 41-13 run. Florida went more than seven minutes without a made basket (2 points over 14 possessions). In all, over that 41-13 run, Florida shot 6-for-25 from the field (a 28.0 eFG%) with 7 turnovers. When their offense is at its worst, throughout the recent Billy Donovan era, it's when they get way too satisfied launching long two-point jumpers, and that was the case here as well.

Kansas looks to have righted the ship now, with that horrible Kentucky performance well in the past. They now have wins over Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee and Rhode Island in their last four games, and they have a chance to continue this roll against Georgetown and Utah. Considering the strength of the Big 12, Kansas is going to have a killer SOS this season. At this point, they're probably the favorite to finish with the #1 RPI SOS. They'll have every chance to earn a 1 seed if they can take the Big 12.

Last season, Florida was short several players early in the season and got off to a choppy start before getting really good in February and March. Obviously Gators fans are hoping for more of the season this season. Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith have both missed significant time with injuries, while Chris Walker has taken a lot of time to figure his game out at the college level (though he did have a mini-breakout game here with 12 points and 5 rebounds). Alex Murphy is on his way via midseason transfer as well. So they're going to get better. And despite being 3-4 overall, all four losses have come against likely RPI Top 50 opponents. So this still could be a good Gators team, if all of these pieces eventually come together. Though assuming it all will come together is obviously a mistake.

Yale Upsets UConn If you're capable of performing exorcisms, UConn's athletic department would like you to work on the far right corner of their court, because Jack Montague hit the game-winning three pointer just inches from where Jonathan Holmes did it in UConn's previous game, five days earlier. The Huskies have now dropped three straight games, with the latter two at home. And amazingly, this loss came despite Yale shooting 3-for-21 on threes and 4-for-18 on two-point jumpers. Weirdly, Yale won this game by dominating the glass (13-to-1 offensive rebounding advantage).

Jack Montague's game winner

It's going to be easy to panic about UConn after three straight losses, but there are mitigating factors here. For one, these are all good teams - even Yale has a very good chance to finish in the RPI Top 100. The media is acting like this is a far bigger upset than it really is. Second, Ryan Boatright was clearly not physically 100% here, partially hobbled by his ankle and shooting just 3-for-9 from the field. Third, UConn's had a horrendous shooting stretch, hitting below 20% on their threes in each of these three losses. That's obviously not going to keep up.

The concern for UConn is that the AAC is not good this season. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate the WCC as better than the AAC, and (until SMU snuck into the Pomeroy Top 50 with their win over Wyoming last night) UConn was the only Top 50 AAC team in either rating. So the Huskies are going to have to collect a quality win away from home in non-conference play (Duke, Florida or Stanford) to avoid a real risk of being on the bubble in March.

With Princeton falling off badly and with Columbia losing their best player for the season, Yale is the one remaining contender to Harvard in the Ivy League, and they do look like a real challenger. This win comes just one week after a tough six point loss at Providence. An at-large bid for the Ivy League doesn't seem realistic, but it wouldn't be the weirdest thing that ever happened if Yale stole the Ivy League title.

Boston College Upsets Providence LaDontae Henton has been a scoring monster this season, but Boston College completely shut him down here, holding him to 4-for-16 shooting. While Kris Dunn played well (24 points, 6 assists, 4 steals), Olivier Hanlan (24 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) was the best player for either team.

This Boston College team doesn't have a lot of talent, but the fact that Jim Christian was able to keep Olivier Hanlan from leaving the program has at least made this a competitive team. They're going to steal some quality wins in ACC play, even if they're unlikely to get too close to the bubble.

As well as Providence has played to start this season, they're still looking like a bubble team at best. This loss more than balances out the win over Notre Dame. They've got tricky games coming up in the next couple of weeks against Rhode Island and UMass before their next chance for a real quality victory, against Miami.

SMU Pulls Away From Wyoming Wyoming started the season 7-0 and looking strong, and they had a real chance to start building some at-large bid hype with a win here over SMU. And they had a four point lead with under nine minutes to go before it all fell apart. They went more than seven minutes without making a basket from the field, a period during which they committed five turnovers. SMU went on a 20-4 run that put the game out of reach.

Wyoming's next competitive game, and their final before conference play, will be at California on December 10th. They are a weird team to watch because of how slow they play and how little they try for things like offensive rebounds, but they're an awfully good shooting team and they're going to win a lot of games in Mountain West play. Don't give up on them as an at-large contender quite yet.

I talked in the Yale/UConn recap about how down the rest of the AAC is. SMU does know that they have Markus Kennedy on the way, but their fans know all too well how easily they can be punished for failing to do anything in non-conference play. It still is unclear if Kennedy will be eligible for the Michigan game on December 20th, but that is their one remaining chance for a quality non-conference win.