Thursday, November 26, 2015

Morning News: Kansas Had A Very Nice Day, Texas A&M Impresses, Tory Miller Bit A Guy, And More

"I just got lei'd this morning" was an actual line Bill Walton spoke during this broadcast.

Kansas Had A Very Nice Day Wayne Selden was the star as Kansas won the Maui Invitational over Vanderbilt. Selden poured in 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and had plays like this:
Vanderbilt will feel that they missed a gigantic opportunity against a short-handed Kansas team, but I think they have to come out of this Maui Invitational feeling that they proved that their high preseason ranking was deserved. The Commodores are explosive on both sides of the ball, and are even a dark horse contender to Kentucky. And if anything, they only lost this game because their 3P% defense regressed (Kansas hit 8-for-16 here, after Vanderbilt had an unsustainable 19.5 3P% against coming into the game).

But for Kansas, this game ended what was a fantastic day for the fan base, in large part because...

Cheick Diallo Ruled Eligible For all the sturm und drang over the Cheick Diallo eligibility debate, it's going to turn out to mean basically nothing. Kansas did pick up a loss to Michigan State, but they played like a Top 5 team in the nation despite no Diallo and despite missing Brannen Greene with a suspension. In the end, if they win sweep the Big 12 titles in March, a loss or two in November simply will not matter. And in my opinion, Kansas is now (with the addition of Diallo) the best team in the nation.

Texas A&M Impresses Texas is probably an NCAA Tournament team, but Texas A&M was never really in difficulty here. They had a small to mid-sized lead for almost the entire game. It was hard for either team to get into their offense with the quick whistles (56 fouls were called and the teams combined to make more free throws than field goals), but Anthony Collins did impress and covered for a mostly quiet Alex Caruso.

The Aggies are now 5-0, though this is their first win against a non-cupcake. If they play this well the rest of the season then they'll contend for second place in the SEC, though one game in the Bahamas isn't proof of anything. They'll take a step up in talent against Gonzaga later today, and then should have one more quality opponent in the Bahamas.

Texas will play Washington in the Bahamas later today, fewer than two weeks after playing them in China, which is kind of weird. Regardless, Texas needs a win to avoid dropping to 1-3. They have talent, and Shaka Smart will have this team playing better later in the season, but they can't fall too far behind the curve in non-conference play.

Tory Miller Did What? Colorado's Tory Miller, uh, bit a guy:

UConn Stifles Michigan The Wolverines could not get their offense going in the Bahamas. They hit a putrid 24% of their jump shots, finishing with a 39.3 eFG%. The fact that Michigan rarely commits turnovers meant that they still managed to score 0.92 PPP, but the Wolverines don't have the defense to win many games when they're scoring less than a point per possession. Daniel Hamilton was the best player on both ends of the court for UConn, finishing with 16 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals.

It's still early this season, but UConn and Cincinnati do appear to be separating themselves from the rest of the field in the AAC. Picking a favorite this early on will be difficult, but this is a different type of UConn team than we've seen in recent vintages. There is no Kemba Walker or Ryan Boatright type player to carry them late in games, but this is also a much deeper team than Kevin Ollie has ever had. They easily go ten men deep.

As for Michigan, there's no huge shame in losing to UConn or Xavier, but it means that they are 0-2 against non-cupcakes, and it also means that they're in the consolation bracket in the Bahamas, stuck playing a bad Charlotte team later today. John Beilein's team does not yet seem to be showing significant improvement over last season, despite returning their entire regular rotation.

Indiana Falls To UNLV This probably wasn't as big of an upset as most people thought it was. I currently have UNLV projected as an at-large team, while Indiana's #13 ranking was clearly too high. Still, Indiana was a mess here. They were a white hot 11-for-20 on threes and still only scored 0.95 PPP. How did they pull that off? Turnovers on 30% of possessions and a brutal 10-for-24 shooting on layups did them in. As for UNLV, Patrick McCaw (20 points, 6 assists, 5 steals) is a fun player who can become a really good player if his outside shot gets more consistent.

Indiana fans are panicking, but their team is not as bad as they've looked in Maui. They're still a Tournament-quality team, and they're still in the mix for a Top 4 finish in the Big Ten. UNLV, meanwhile, is not just building their at-large resume but also throwing their hat in the ring to be a contender in the Mountain West this season. The conference is wide open.

UCLA Drops To Wake Forest UCLA's shaky start to the season continued here. They did beat UNLV by 2 points, but they lost to Monmouth, were smoked by Kansas, and now lost to a Wake Forest team that is unlikely to make a postseason tournament. What they struggled with in a big way here was Wake Forest's size in the paint. The Demon Deacons have several different strong shot blockers, and though they only blocked 4 shots here, UCLA finished an ugly 19-for-40 on layups.

As for Wake Forest, earning a 2-1 record in Maui is really nice, though it remains to be seen just how impressive these wins over Indiana and UCLA will look at the end of the season. Mixed with a blowout loss to Vanderbilt, a loss to Richmond, and narrow wins over UMBC and Bucknell, and I don't really see the argument for why Wake Forest is playing like a bubble team yet. They should improve whenever Codi Miller-McIntyre gets back, though. They have an underrated and tricky game coming up on Monday at Rutgers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Morning News: Another Ohio St Loss, Another Ben Simmons Wasted Performance, Smashed Backboard, And More

It was just that kind of day for UCLA.
Ohio State Loses Again So maybe that Texas-Arlington win over Ohio State wasn't as much of a fluke as we thought it was? Texas-Arlington went on to beat Memphis, while Ohio State looked awful again here. This marks the first time Ohio State has lost consecutive home non-conference games since 1963. The biggest thing you notice watching them is a bit of a cliche, but they simply have nobody who can get to the rim and score. JaQuan Lyle is the one Buckeye player capable of getting to the rim, but he isn't much of a scorer or shooter. None of the other players demand the ball, create their own offense, or do much of anything at all. This young Buckeyes team will get better as the season goes along, but there's only so large of a hole they can dig out of during Big Ten play to earn an at-large bid.

Louisiana Tech is no cupcake. They are a contender in Conference USA, and could also get themselves into contention for the first at-large bid for the conference since 2012. It's going to take a gaudy won-loss record to earn an at-large bid out of Conference USA, but 4-0 with a win over Ohio State is a good start.

Another Big Ben Simmons Performance In A Loss LSU does have Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor coming later this season, but these games in November still count, and Ben Simmons continues to have to do everything himself. He had another monster game (14 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 blocks, 3 steals), though he again was afraid to shoot (just 1-for-6 from the field). For the season, Simmons is hitting 18% of his jump shots and 77% of his shots at the rim, so his play is understandable. Both teams had plenty of chance to win this game, but NC State just happened to make more plays in overtime. The Wolfpack were led by a 20 point, 7 rebounds, 7 assists performance from Anthony Barber.

LSU doesn't play another "quality" opponent until SEC play, though they do have some tricky games (including road games at Houston and College of Charleston). This means that LSU will likely pick up another bad loss or two (or more) without a quality win. In other words, LSU is going to have to do significant work in the SEC to make the NCAA Tournament. It's impossible to see how they get in unless they get to 11-7 or better in conference play.

NC State picks up their first win of the season against a likely RPI Top 100 opponent. They have an interesting opportunity on December 1st with Michigan coming to PNC Arena.

Hulk Go Smash The UMass-Lowell/Wheelock game probably won't have any NCAA Tournament implications (Wheelock College is a Division III school, in case you're wondering). But it did feature a backboard smash courtesy of Dontavious Smith:
Kansas Annihilates UCLA The final score doesn't do this dominance justice. Kansas actually led by as many as 29 points in the first half. The final stats in this game don't even really matter since the entire second half was "garbage time". However, what has impressed about Kansas so far in Maui has been how efficient the offense has been even without Cheick Diallo and Brannen Greene. They have so many guys who can shoot, and so many who can get to the line. They're not the best team in the country right now, but Diallo and Greene would (in my opinion) make them that.

As for UCLA, they weren't going to get many chances for a resume-building win like a shorthanded Kansas team on a neutral court. Still, they do have Kentucky, North Carolina, and Gonzaga coming up, so they will have multiple shots at a big win.

Valparaiso Shuts Down Oregon State Oregon State is a Tournament-quality team, yet Valparaiso won this game despite a poor shooting day both from outside (4-for-16 on threes as a team) and from star Alec Peters (3-for-12). They did it with suffocating defense, holding Oregon State to 0.86 PPP, despite a stat-stuffing 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 steals from Gary Payton III. Valparaiso's defense has been great all season long (Pomeroy currently ranks it 6th in the nation).

Valparaiso is a team that would be good enough to earn an at-large bid in a tougher league. Unfortunately, it will be almost impossible for them to pull it off out of the Horizon League when their best non-conference wins will be over Oregon State and Rhode Island. The Selection Committee just does not properly value road games. Via the Sagarin ratings, a road game at Horizon League foe Milwaukee is approximately equal to home games against Georgetown, Wisconsin, or Florida State. We can be damn sure the Selection Committee won't see it that way, though. A home win over Georgetown would be an RPI Top 50 "quality win", while a loss to Milwaukee will be an RPI 100+ "bad loss".

Oregon State, in contrast, will get plenty of chances to pick up quality victories in conference play. They still look like a team destined to be in the bubble mix in February and March.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Morning News: Ben Simmons And LSU Fall, Wake Forest Upsets Indiana, UT-Arlington Pulls Another Upset, And More

I, for one, welcome our new UT-Arlington overlords.

Ben Simmons And LSU Fall Too much is going to be made of Ben Simmons, but we did see both the good and the bad of him here. The good is that he's an athletic freak, pouring in 21 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 assists. The bad is that he not only struggles to shoot, but has no confidence in his shot. Marquette was playing off of him all game, begging him to shoot, and he refused. It's why the fact that he passed up a chance for the game-winning jumper on the final possession was no surprise - he had passed up that shot all game long. In the end, however, the difference in this game was that Simmons's teammates just aren't very good. Marquette did everything they could to blow this game, committing 22 turnovers, shooting 58% at the free throw line, and looking completely out of sorts of offense, but LSU just isn't a very good team, as good as Simmons is.

LSU's Top 25 ranking was just a function of Simmons hype. They are very likely a bubble-quality team, and aren't doing their bubble hopes much help with a really soft non-conference schedule. They will play NC State later today and then Wake Forest on December 29th, but that's it for likely RPI Top 100 opponents before SEC play. LSU does add Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor soon, so they will get better, but they're likely going to need something like an 11-7 SEC record to make the NCAA Tournament.

As for Marquette, I'm not sure how much this win really means. They didn't play particularly well, and have looked shaky in their other games as well (a loss to Belmont, a blowout loss to Iowa, and an OT win over IUPUI). They have two talented young big men in Luke Fischer and Henry Ellenson, but they're going to need to better perimeter play to make a run at a postseason tournament.

Wake Forest Upsets Indiana So the Big Ten has been secretly mediocre to start this season, huh? Michigan State, Purdue, and Iowa are the only Big Ten teams that have really impressed in the early going. Indiana here was undone by some putrid defense, particularly off the pick-and-roll. Star freshman Thomas Bryant often looked totally lost all game, including the play on which Bryant Crawford hit the game-winner. Overall, Wake Forest finished the game on a 19-6 run.
B. Crawford made Layup. - ESPN Video
Bryant Crawford's game winner

Wake Forest scored on 25 layups/dunks, finishing with a ridiculous 52-to-32 advantage in points in the paint. Tom Crean is going to have to make some adjustments to fix that, perhaps a zone. We know that this Indiana offense is tremendously explosive, and when they're hot from outside their defense won't matter, but when they get bogged down in tight games they're going to need to find a way to get a stop to contend in the Big Ten.

UT-Arlington Pulls Another Upset Three days after knocking off Ohio State, Texas-Arlington proved it wasn't a fluke by taking out Memphis. And amazingly, they did it despite ugly 5-for-28 shooting behind the arc. They won with the same pressing defense that caused Ohio State problems, forcing 10 steals and holding Memphis to just 36% shooting on two-pointers.

Memphis is scoring just 0.98 PPP this season despite an awfully soft schedule. As long as their offense is unable to shoot the ball (they are hitting just 21% of their threes thus far), they're going to struggle to even be in the bubble mix in February and March. As for UT-Arlington, an at-large bid isn't a realistic possibility out of the Sun Belt, but they are making a very strong case that they should replace Georgia State as the conference favorite.

UCLA Hangs On Late UNLV charged hard late, scoring on their final three possessions, including a pair of Patrick McCaw three-pointers, but UCLA hit ten consecutive free throws down the stretch to hang on by the skin of their teeth. For the game, UCLA shot an absurd 23-for-24 at the free throw line. Aside from free throws, UCLA was led by big man Thomas Welch (20 points on 9-for-12 shooting, with 8 rebounds).

This win for UCLA is about a lot more than just this win. It means that later today they get a shot at a significantly short-handed Kansas team in Maui, which will be perhaps their best chance all season at a resume-building win. UNLV is stuck playing Chaminade, and is going to have trouble getting anything out of this trip to Maui now. And throw in the relative weakness of the Mountain West Conference this season, and UNLV just made their task of building an at-large quality resume significantly harder.

Illinois Upsets Chicago State At The Buzzer Okay, that's kind of a joke. It wasn't technically an upset. But Illinois did finally get some joy out of this miserable season with this beautifully drawn up final play and the buzzer beater by Jalen Coleman-Lands. Watch it below:

UMass Smokes Clemson This game was over early. UMass was up 39-16 at one point, and led by 26 points midway through the second half before taking their foot off the gas pedal. To be fair to Clemson, they weren't outplayed by as much as the score might suggest. The difference was white hot Massachusetts outside shooting (16-for-31 on threes). But it's never a good sign when a team loses to their first opponent of the season with a pulse.

UMass entered this game 3-0, though all three games were against opponents ranked 200th or worse by Pomeroy, and two of the three were close in the final minute. But fluky shooting aside, this was still an impressive performance. The Minutemen have one of the most explosive backcourts in the country, so it's not inconceivable that they could get into the at-large picture out of a strong Atlantic Ten.

Kansas State Routs Missouri This result probably is more about Missouri not being any good than about Kansas State being a good team, but this is still an impressive thrashing by Kansas State. The Wildcats led 31-14 at halftime and then by 20+ for almost the entire second half. Their defense completely stifled Missouri. The 0.65 PPP was the fewest that Kansas State had allowed vs a power conference team since holding Rutgers to 0.61 PPP on November 15, 2006.

Kansas State moves to 4-0 for the season. It's come against a soft schedule, but there's still something to be said for taking care of business. We'll have a much better idea of where they stand as a team when they take a step up in competition and play North Carolina later today.

Arizona State Upsets NC State It's been a rough start to the season for NC State, now 0-2 in games against non-cupcakes. The star for Arizona State was Savon Goodman, who had 7 offensive rebounds as the Sun Devils rebounded 42% of their own misses. He also scored 21 points. As a whole, the Sun Devils simply had easier shots to make, as they finished with a 17-to-10 advantage in layups/dunks.

For Arizona State, this win helps to remove the bad taste from that loss to Sacramento State on the opening night of the season. A November upset can be easily forgotten by March, but a single strong result is not a trend. Bobby Hurley's team is going to need to show this level of performance consistently to contend for a postseason berth.

South Carolina Defeats Tulsa In a game between two potential bubble teams, it was South Carolina's hot outside shooting (7-for-14 on threes) which was the difference.  Shaq Harrison did his best to carry Tulsa, forcing himself to the foul line 16 times and finishing with 20 points, but it wasn't quite enough. South Carolina is quietly 5-0 with wins over a pair of likely RPI Top 100 opponents in Tulsa and Hofstra. Frank Martin teams have a tendency to be inconsistent, but so far they've played like a Tournament team.

Tulsa's win over Wichita State more than balanced out this loss, but the margin of error between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT will not be huge for Tulsa this season. They'll want to build up as strong of a resume as they can before AAC play starts, because we learned last season what the Selection Committee thinks of the AAC, and it's not good.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Morning News: Duke Escapes Georgetown, Miami Holds Off Butler, Purdue Pulls Away From Florida, Wisconsin/VCU, And More

Duke was one of three ACC schools to win a tournament title yesterday.
Duke Escapes Georgetown Georgetown gave Duke all they could handle here. Duke had made 9 of 10 free throws over the final 1:10, but back-to-back Georgetown threes forced Derryck Thornton to the line for a pair of key free throws with five seconds left. He missed both, and Isaac Copeland got a clean three-point look at the buzzer that he just happened to miss. Grayson Allen was, again, the star for Duke. He poured in 32 points and is now averaging 29 points per game over Duke's four wins compared to just 6 points in that loss to Kentucky.

This Duke team has demonstrated this past week that they do have significant flaws. Their defense is shaky, and their offense gets bogged down when Grayson Allen isn't creating. But the reason why they are still likely a Top 10 team in the country is because of their depth of talent. The fact that they had a 5-star recruit like Chase Jeter (who didn't even play against VCU on Friday) come off the bench to give them a few great minutes of energy to turn the game around in the first half is the type of luxury that only a small handful of teams have.

Georgetown has now lost their three games by a combined 8 points. A home game against Syracuse in a couple of weeks is their last chance to beat a quality opponent in non-conference play, so they're not going to have a great Tournament resume when Big East play tips off, but they certainly look like a Tournament-quality team. They should do well in Big East play.

Miami Holds Off Butler Miami looked fantastic early in this game, pulling out to a 19 point first half lead. But Butler has one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, which means that they're never out of a game. They scored 1.31 PPP in the second half behind an absurd 20 points from Kellen Dunham (Dunham had 23 points for the game, with 5-for-8 shooting behind the arc). Butler pulled within four points with three minutes to go, but Miami hit 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch to hold out for the win.

This result means more about Miami than Butler. The Hurricanes were coming off a 24 point domination of Utah, as well as blowouts of their earlier opponents. Take computer ratings with a spoonful of salt in November, but they currently sit 10th in Pomeroy and 11th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. It's too early to say that they're a true ACC contender, but it's also too early to say that they aren't.

Butler, meanwhile, has a very tough game coming up on December 2nd at Cincinnati. it will be interesting to see how their explosive offense does against the elite Cincinnati defense. So far this season, Butler is scoring 1.28 PPP while Cincinnati is allowing 0.70 PPP. Something's got to give.

Purdue Pulls Away From Florida Florida kept this game close in the first half, but Purdue took over midway through the second half and ended up with the comfortable victory. True freshman Caleb Swanigan was inconsistent, but he was physically dominant, though the underrated key to Purdue's early season success continues to be the development of Isaac Haas (11 points on 5-for-6 shooting here).

Purdue moves to a dominant 5-0 to start the season and has slid inside the Top 10 of the Pomeroy ratings, which is best in the Big Ten. Computer ratings need to be viewed skeptically this early in the season, but it's fair to ask: Is Purdue the best team in the Big Ten? At this point I'd answer "no", because I think it's Michigan State, but it's a fair question, and one where reasonable minds can disagree. The good news is that Purdue still has several quality opponents before Big Ten play, so we will learn more about how good they really are. Butler, Vanderbilt, and Pittsburgh are all on the schedule before they open Big Ten play at Wisconsin on December 29th.

As for Florida, there's no shame in a neutral court loss to Purdue. This has been their only game against a Tournament-quality team, though, so the post-Billy Donovan Gators still are a bit of a mystery. One bright spot has been the energetic John Egbunu (19 points and 7 rebounds here).

Wisconsin Tops VCU At The Buzzer In a one point game there are a million little things that can make the difference. After shooting 4-for-5 on threes in the first half, VCU went 0-for-8 in the second half. They also shot just 17-for-29 at the line. Wisconsin suffered from a combination of VCU's pressure and a tight whistle to end up with 20 turnovers and 21 fouls, both uncharacteristic from the team that led the entire nation in offensive turnover rate and defensive FTRate last season. But the game came down to Bronson Koenig scoring on a beautiful spin move in the final seconds.
The good news for VCU is that the Atlantic Ten looks strong this season. They'll have plenty of options for RPI Top 50 wins in conference play. They certainly seem like the type of squad that is going to end up on the bubble in February and March, so these close losses to Duke and Wisconsin definitely hurt, but aren't crippling.

This young Wisconsin team is going to continue to improve as the season goes along. They're likely a Tournament team, but they're going to have to get significantly better by January if they are going to contend for one of the top two or three spots in the Big Ten.

Ge'Lawn Guyn Takes Out Georgia Tech East Tennessee State had not held a lead since midway through the first half before Ge'Lawn Guyn hit a rainbow three-pointer to knock out the Yellow Jackets with 0.9 seconds left. He was the star all game as well, pouring in 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting, with 7 rebounds. Georgia Tech got a nice game from Marcus Georges-Hunt, who had 20 points (including a monster dunk with 24 seconds left that looked like it might seal the win), but they were let down by a defense that hasn't been nearly as good this season as last season. East Tennessee State scored 18 of their 21 made two-pointers from inside the paint and scored 1.11 PPP overall.
Ge'lawn Guyn's game winner

A single bad loss hardly ends a season, but Georgia Tech isn't showing signs of a team likely to seriously contend for an at-large bid in March. And the question that will arise if they fail to make it for the sixth straight season will be whether Brian Gregory has to go. And this decision is complicated by the fact that they are still paying Paul Hewitt's buyout. In my opinion, Georgia Tech is still showing some forward momentum (the program was in awful shape when Gregory took over), so I don't think they should pull the plug quite yet. But whatever my opinion is, Brian Gregory's seat is definitely getting warmer on the Georgia Tech bench.

Saint Mary's Routs Stanford Stanford has had a shaky start to their season, though this game was entirely about jump shooting. Saint Mary's hit 59% of their jump shots, including 9-for-16 behind the arc. Stanford hit just 18% of their jump shots. It's almost impossible to beat a quality team with that type of shooting differential. Saint Mary's was led by 11-for-15 shooting from Joe Rahon.

Power 5 conference teams are not eliminated from at-large contention in November, but at this point Stanford doesn't look like a team capable of contending for an at-large bid. And with Villanova coming up next (part of the NIT Season Tip-Off), Stanford is likely going to drop below .500 for at least a little while.

Saint Mary's was expected to be in a rebuilding season, with no seniors on the roster and with a lot of playing time going to freshmen like Kyle Clark. But this performance suggests that maybe they'll be a little bit more competitive in WCC play than was expected preseason. Perhaps an NIT bid will be possible.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Morning News: Down Goes #1, Illinois Falls Again, San Diego St Is Upset, And Dayton/William & Mary

Buzz Williams honored Frank Beamer's final home game as Virginia Tech head coach.
New Bracket Projection I made two changes to my projected bracket this week. Iowa moved in as an at-large team, replacing Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Bucknell replaced Lehigh as the new Patriot League favorite.

Down Goes #1 This wasn't anywhere near the upset that the media is making it out to be. Vegas had the spread at 6.5 points and Pomeroy gave Northern Iowa a 30% chance of the win. Why? Because it's hard to win on the road against a bubble-quality team (which Northern Iowa probably is), particularly when your best player is out injured. It's why top tier Power 5 teams really should never schedule road games against quality mid-majors until the Selection Committee starts properly valuing the difficulty of homecourt advantage (which won't happen anytime soon).

Why did North Carolina lose this game? I honestly don't think Marcus Paige was a big factor. The Tar Heels still had 17 assists on 26 made baskets with only 12 turnovers. What really held them back offensively was ice cold 5-for-18 shooting behind the arc. The bigger problem for the Tar Heels was defensively, where 11 of Northern Iowa's 24 made baskets were layups or dunks. The Panthers scored 1.06 PPP, which is the most that a non-Power 5 opponent has scored in a non-conference regular season game against North Carolina since Belmont scored 1.14 PPP in a win over the Tar Heels on November 17th, 2013. Wes Washpun led the way with 21 points and 8 assists.

In the end, there's no reason for North Carolina fans to panic. If Marcus Paige comes back and they win the ACC then nobody will remember what happened in November. But the defensive shortcomings could be the difference between winning or losing the ACC if they aren't cleaned up. As for Northern Iowa, a single game isn't convincing evidence that they're more than a bubble team, but if they do end up on the bubble in March then a win over North Carolina is going to look awfully nice on their resume.

Illinois Falls Again In defense of Illinois, they are shorthanded. Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate are all out hurt. But Abrams is done for the season, while Nunn and Tate are both going to remain out for a significant period of time. And these results for Illinois are just flat out ugly. They are 1-3 with losses to North Florida and Chattanooga, with the one win coming narrowly at home over North Dakota State. They don't even look like a Top 100 team, let alone a team that can compete for an NCAA or NIT bid.

Chattanooga, meanwhile, already has victories over Georgia and Illinois, and looks like the clear favorite in the Southern Conference. Those wins aren't going to set the college basketball world on fire, but they could be the wins to push them to something like a 14 seed in March.

San Diego State Is Upset San Diego State scored 1.10 PPP against Utah, but other than that game they have been a mess. Their offense was just bad here. They committed 16 turnovers and had an ugly 34.8 eFG%. Overall this season they are turning the ball over on 22% of possessions and have a 45.5 eFG%, with just 0.94 PPP against a relatively soft schedule.

San Diego State should improve, in large part because their inconsistent backcourt is very young. Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley (a combined 3-for-13 shooting with 3 assists and 6 turnovers here) will eventually adjust and play better. The problem is that with the Mountain West down, San Diego State has to build their Tournament resume in non-conference play. They'll get a chance for a quality win or two in Las Vegas next week, and they'll also get Kansas at home on December 22nd, but that could be it for potential RPI Top 50 victories.

Dayton Defeats William & Mary Dayton newcomer Charles Cooke took over in the second half, pouring in 18 point by himself. As a team, Dayton hit 69% of their two-pointers, scoring 20 points in the paint and 1.33 PPP overall. This William & Mary team had already won at NC State this season and looks like a Top 100 squad, so this is a solid victory for the Flyers.

Dayton moves to 3-0 on the season, but are going to take a significant step up in quality of opponent next week, starting with Iowa. The Atlantic Ten will be a multi-bid league this season, but Dayton will not want to enter conference play without a quality win or two.

W-16 BP68

Watching the college football poll/playoff debate makes me thankful that the college basketball system is so superior to football. We don't have to pretend that Northern Iowa is better than North Carolina just because "They won head to head! They proved it on the field! They're better!". #CollegeFootballTwitter is enough to make your head hurt.

College basketball fans generally understand that your resume is who you beat and who you lost to, and that's all that matters in the end. Of course, the season has a long way to go, so the fact that Northern Iowa's resume is superior to North Carolina's at the moment is not really relevant. By the end of the season, with Marcus Paige back, I still think the Tar Heels have to be considered the ACC favorite.

In the end, I moved just two new teams into the projected bracket this week: Iowa and Bucknell. Iowa replaces Oklahoma State, while Bucknell replaces Lehigh as the new Patriot League favorite.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday 2016:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Virginia

3. Maryland
3. Oklahoma
3. Duke
3. Iowa State

4. Purdue
4. Baylor
4. Texas

5. Indiana
5. Xavier
5. Cincinnati

6. Oregon
6. Miami-Florida

7. Texas A&M
7. California
7. Louisville
7. Notre Dame

8. Michigan
8. Utah
8. Vanderbilt
8. West Virginia

9. Pittsburgh
9. Dayton
9. Wisconsin
9. Butler

10. LSU
10. Providence
10. Georgetown

11. Ohio State
11. Tulsa
11. Iowa
11. NC State
11. BYU

12. Florida State
12. UNLV





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Syracuse, George Washington, Rhode Island, Oklahoma State, Old Dominion, Northern Iowa, Boise State, Oregon State, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Temple, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Creighton, Marquette, Seton Hall, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, TCU, William & Mary, UTEP, Akron, Evansville, Illinois State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Colorado, USC, Stanford, Washington, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Saint Mary's

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Vermont, Houston, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, St. John's, Nebraska, Penn State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Hawaii, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Oakland, Yale, Buffalo, Kent State, Loyola-Chicago, Fresno State, Utah State, Wyoming, Murray State, North Dakota State, Washington State, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, Pepperdine

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Morning News: Bad Day For The Big Ten. Also, Miami Routs Utah, Duke Tops VCU, And More.

"Wasn't this game supposed to be easy?"
Miami Routs Utah Utah was outplayed across the board here. Miami outrebounded Utah, they forced more turnovers (a 23-to-4 advantage in points off turnovers), they shot better, they scored more points in the paint... It was just a nightmare game all around for Utah. I think if there's one area that is more of a concern for Utah than any other it's their defense, which was so strong last season (rated 6th best in the nation by Pomeroy). This season they are allowing an ugly 1.10 PPP. Jacob Poeltl is still a dominant interior force, but Utah's perimeter defense has been very shaky. This Miami team is good, so a loss isn't the end of the world, but Utah's defense will have to be better for them to contend in the Pac-12.

As for Miami, you don't want to react to a small sample size, but there's no question that thus far they've played like a Top 25 team. If they can knock off Butler in the Puerto Rico title game on Sunday then they really might start getting some dark horse buzz in the ACC.

Xavier Takes Down Michigan Xavier took the lead late in the first half here and never let it go. They exploited a Michigan defense that was very porous, particularly in the paint. Xavier had a monster 34-to-14 scoring advantage in the paint, led by 15 points and 9 boards from Jalen Reynolds. Michigan got 29 points from Caris LeVert, but it wasn't enough to overcome the 1.25 PPP that Xavier scored.

The good news for Michigan is that this probably is not how bad they really are. Every team is going to have some bad days, and this was a bad day for Michigan. Fans should never panic over single game performances. That said, this Michigan team is simply not getting good production from their young big men, and if they have to play small (as they did here) then they are going to be over-powered by the bigger teams in the Big Ten. Players like Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal (a combined 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 7 fouls here) simply have to play better.

Meanwhile, this Xavier team might just be good enough to contend for the Big East title. The same skepticism of not overreacting to 40 minute sample sizes applies to them, too, but I already had Xavier projected as a 5 seed. We'll see how they look in Orlando next week.

Georgetown Outshoots Wisconsin Sometimes basketball is easy to analyze. It doesn't matter what you do if you don't make shots.  And here, Georgetown got hot while Wisconsin was ice cold. Georgetown hit 40% of their jump shots, including 50% behind the arc. Wisconsin, in contrast, hit just 22% of their jump shots. Reggie Cameron was the catalyst for Georgetown, knocking down 4-for-6 behind the arc. Wisconsin, in contrast, got a putrid 2-for-12 shooting performance from Bronson Koenig.

Wisconsin will have an interesting test in the consolation game on Sunday against VCU. Historically, Bo Ryan teams would have been krypton to VCU's press because of the lack of mistakes, but this Wisconsin team is so young and raw. They're not your typical Bo Ryan team at all. Georgetown, meanwhile, will get a chance in the 2k Classic title game to steal a big win over Duke. After that game, Syracuse is their only remaining quality opponent before Big East play tips off.

Duke Holds Off VCU VCU absolutely had their chances to win this game. Their tempo and pressure caused significant problems for Duke. Superfrosh Brandon Ingram (8 points and 5 rebounds), in particular, seems unsettled. Duke was able to settle down in the second half by going with a smaller, more mobile lineup. While Grayson Allen was the star (30 points on 9-for-15 shooting), I was really impressed by Derryck Thornton's ball handling. As a young player, he held out against VCU well.
Everything was going in for Grayson Allen

VCU fans will feel unjustly done by the reffing (Duke had a 27-14 advantage in foul calls), and it certainly did seem like Duke got the lion's share of the iffy calls. But VCU had chances to hit big shots in the second half and just missed. They finished just 26% on jump shots for the game. VCU will attempt to collect their first quality win of the season on Sunday when they take on Wisconsin.

George Mason Pulls Another Upset Coming off a win over Ole Miss, Dave Paulsen's squad collected another nice win here. Once again, shooting was a factor, as George Mason hit 46% of their three-pointers, including 5-for-7 from Jaire Grayer. But at the same time, they got another nice game from Shevon Thompson (20 points and 17 rebounds), and will get a chance to pull a staggering upset if they can knock out Virginia in the Charleston Classic title game on Sunday.

As for Oklahoma State, the "don't overreact to a 40 minute sample size" thing applies here, too. But this is an Oklahoma State team I wasn't high on preseason. Being without Phil Forte was obviously a big factor, but their offense didn't look great with him this season either, and the Cowboys defense and rebounding both look shaky. And if the Tournament bubble is where they find themselves in March, this loss to George Mason could end up being very important. The good news is that their upcoming schedule is pretty soft, so they will have some time to get Forte healthy before Big 12 play ramps up.

UT-Arlington Stuns Ohio State We've seen some weird upsets in the early going this season, but this is one of the stranger ones. What makes it particularly bizarre is that UT-Arlington didn't have a goofy shooting day. In fact, they hit just 26% behind the arc. Ohio State gave away a lot of points at the free throw line (48%), but UT-Arlington outrebounded them (a 42.9 OR% compare to a 31.7% for Ohio State) and kept turnovers even.

Ohio State is young, and they seemed to really struggle with the UT-Arlington press. They'll play better as the season goes along, but at this point it's hard to have any confidence in Ohio State as a contender in the Big Ten. They look more like a bubble team than a Top 25 team. That said, JaQuan Lyle and Daniel Giddens have both showed flashes of real talent early on in their freshman seasons, and if they can figure out how to play more consistently then the Buckeyes could improve significantly as the season progresses.

Brannen Greene Suspended With Cheick Diallo's situation still unresolved, Kansas is suddenly looking short-handed. Greene averaged just 5.7 points per game last season, but he has the ability to really light it up from deep (he hit 40% behind the arc last season). But if he's not going to behave off the court, as it seems he isn't, Bill Self has to get him under control. The non-cupcake games affected will be their games in Maui next week. In the end, if Greene and Diallo are both playing for this team during Big 12 play then none of this matters, but for the time being it certainly has Kansas fans on edge.

Hofstra Upsets Florida State Joe Mihalich has done an incredible job building up Hofstra out of utter rubble into the Colonial preseason favorite (the media picked them, as did I). And that's why this upset probably wasn't as much of an upset as most fans think it was. Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a rough day at the office (4-for-14 from the field), while Florida State had nobody who could slow down Brian Bernardi (24 points on 8-for-10 shooting).

Is it possible Hofstra is good enough to make a run at an at-large bid? It's probably a bit earlier to suggest something like that. The Colonial hasn't had an at-large team in five years, back when George Mason and VCU were in the league. But Hofstra has proven that they're good enough to scare their Round of 64 opponent if they can earn the CAA's auto bid.

Florida State fans shouldn't panic over a single game, but in the early going their returners have not shown any real improvement over last season. Malik Beasley has been a good newcomer, but the Seminoles have struggled as a team, particularly on the defensive end. They need to beat DePaul later today or else the warning lights will really start to fire.

Butler Survives Temple Butler's offense was basically unstoppable against cupcakes to start the season, but their shooting disappeared against Temple.  They hit just 23% of their jump shots on the day. What was impressive was that it kind of didn't matter. Butler just got to the rim, poured in 15 layups and dunks, and still ending up with 1.14 PPP. There's no question that they are going to be one of the most explosive offenses in the country this season.

A few questions remain about Butler, however. First, how well will these offensive stats hold up once the level of competition gets ramped up? How well will their defense hold up? And will their lack of depth prove a problem? Butler played only seven players here, and only six scored. They are certainly going to be very vulnerable if any of their key players gets hurt. So only time will tell if they are able to contend near the top of the Big East or not.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Morning News: Iowa Annihilates Marquette, Stanford's Defense Falters, George Mason Upsets Ole Miss, And More

Iowa Annihilates Marquette The 28 point loss for Marquette was their worst ever in the Bradley Center, yet somehow the final score doesn't even totally indicate how lopsided this game was. They trailed by 27 points at halftime, and the second half was just played in cruise control. It's not even worth analyzing the stats in this game since it never really was a game.

For Marquette, this second season for Steve Wojciechowski was not supposed to be a finished product (they still are a very young team), but the team was supposed to be improved. They are just not playing well at all so far this season, in any of their three games. As for Iowa, this was their first game against a non-cupcake and they certainly impressed. The question is whether this is their true talent level or just a fluke. We'll get a much better idea next week when they play in Orlando.

Stanford's Defense Falters Again Stanford has had a shaky start to their season, needing an overtime to beat a mediocre Green Bay team at home, and they were run out of the building here.  SMU had a big 46-34 scoring advantage in the paint and scored 1.31 PPP. Take computer ratings for what they're worth early in the season, but Pomeroy rates Stanford's defense only 128th best in the nation right now. They've got a tricky stretch coming up, with a road game at Saint Mary's and then Villanova in Brooklyn. They'll need to play better just to get a split in those two games.

SMU has nothing to play for this season officially, but they are a very talented roster, and it will be interesting to see how they continue to play as the season goes along. I'd be interested to see how the Selection Committee treats the other top teams in the AAC if SMU is the regular season champion.

George Mason Upsets Mississippi Dave Paulsen inherited a rough situation at the once dominant mid-major program George Mason, but it's hard to imagine that he's not a coaching upgrade over Paul Hewitt. They opened this season with losses to Colgate and Mercer, but this season isn't going to be about results, it's going to be about progress. And while they were inconsistent and made mistakes here, George Mason pulled off a really nice upset.

The silver lining for Ole Miss is that they were probably the better team here. What doomed them (despite an 18-to-4 turnover advantage) was jump shooting. George Mason hit 40% of theirs while Mississippi hit a putrid 24% of theirs. But the fact is that a Tournament team shouldn't be in a position to lose to a team like George Mason, and Mississippi probably is not a Tournament team.

Arizona Holds Off Boise State Arizona was expected to win this game, and they did, but what stood out here was just how well Boise State played in defeat.  This game was played at a high level, and in particular Boise State managed to outplay the Arizona front line. James Webb III went for 27 points and 9 rebounds while Nick Duncan poured in 21 points of his own. In fact, Boise State might have pulled off the upset if Arizona hadn't out-shot them (48% on three-pointers vs 33% for Boise State). Boise State suffered a tough opening night loss at Montana, but if they continue to play like this then they could definitely get themselves into the at-large picture.

Seton Hall Falls To Long Beach State Kevin Willard might be coaching for his job, and this is not the start to his season that he wanted. The struggles for Seton Hall have tended to come when Isaiah Whitehead dominates the ball too much, and that happened here. He scored 21 points but on only 7-for-18 shooting. If you recall last season, Seton Hall actually played better ball without him, though that team had Sterling Gibbs to lean on. With Gibbs gone, Kevin Williard has to live and die with Whitehead.

The star for Long Beach State was Nick Faust (yes, the former Maryland player), who poured in 16 points. And with this win coming off of a win over BYU, Long Beach State is making a good case that they were underrated preseason. The media picked UC-Irvine as the Big West favorite (as did I) and only placed Long Beach State fourth. At this point, they're as good of a contender as any.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Morning News: Providence Survives, Akron Defeats Arkansas, Giants Collide, And Richmond/Wake Forest

I can definitely watch these two guys go at it again.
Providence Survives At The Buzzer Illinois had approximately 17 shots in the final 10 seconds of this game (I might be exaggerating slightly), but none of them went in and Providence managed to survive a heart-stopping finale. The Illini did manage to reasonably contain Kris Dunn (10 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists), but their offense sputtered, as it likely is to continue to do for much of this season without Tracy Abrams. The Illini are desperately looking for something good to happen to them this season, but so far they haven't been able to catch a break.
Illinois/Providence final seconds

I'm not quite sure how impressive home wins over Harvard and Illinois are this season, and what that really says about Providence. Are they a Tournament team? It's way too early to tell. We should get a much better idea of where this team is next week when they play at the Wooden Legacy tournament.

Akron Defeats Arkansas There was a lid on the basket for Arkansas in this game, as they hit just 30% of their jump shots. It's why they outscored Akron 32-to-20 in the paint and still lost the game by 8. We have seen this from Mike Anderson teams in the past, however, when they aren't getting easy baskets off of turnovers or offensive rebounds. They forced only 12 turnovers here, in what was an ugly defensive performance overall. The 1.28 PPP they allowed were their most allowed in a game since way back on January 17th.

The fact is that this wasn't much of an upset. Arkansas was a 6.5 point favorite in Vegas, but the computer ratings had the spread even closer, with these two teams almost even. Pomeroy actually rated Akron the better team (though computer ratings, of course, have large margins of error this early in the season). Akron is definitely looking like a serious contender in the MAC. Arkansas, in contrast, is not yet playing like an NCAA Tournament team. Their defense has just been brutal, even if you consider that their 3P% allowed (42.5% so far) has been unlucky and will regress.

Giants Collide UCF vs UC-Irvine wasn't a game with likely NCAA Tournament implications, but it did feature a 7'6" vs 7'6" match-up between Mamadou Ndiaye and UCF's new Tacko Fall. And when the two men went up against each other, Fall was the winner:

Ndiaye had the last laugh, though. His free throw with 1:49 left in overtime proved to be the game winner. UC-Irvine was my preseason pick to win the Big West Conference, and a quick 3-0 start to the season has hardly disabused me of that notion, but they will be in a competitive race with teams like Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii.

Richmond Tops Wake Forest Wake Forest had escaped with narrow wins over UMBC and Cornell, but Richmond is better than either of those. The Spiders really caused troubles defensively for Wake Forest, forcing 11 steals and finishing with a 20-to-6 turnover advantage. The Atlantic Ten has looked strong in the early going this season, but this Richmond performance at least puts them in the discussion of the top tier teams in the conference, perhaps not quite at the level of Dayton, VCU, George Washington, Rhode Island, or Davidson, but right behind them.

For Wake Forest, the fact is that they're not at full strength right now. Cornelius Hudson (7.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last season) is suspended while Codi Miller-McIntyre (a team-high 14.5 points per game last season) is out injured. The good news for them is that the ACC is so well-respected and deep that they will be able to make an iffy non-conference performance disappear if they can get their full roster together and play well in ACC play.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Morning News: Efficient Kentucky, Denzel Valentine's Triple Double, Maryland/Georgetown, Wichita State Goes Down, And More

It was Valentine's Day for Michigan State last night
Kentucky Looks Very Efficient In Dispatching Duke Watching Tyler Ulis dominate Duke was a reminder of just how silly it was that he had to sit on the bench late in games last season in lieu of the Harrison twins. He's such an efficiency monster. He had 18 points, 6 assists and just 1 turnover here, while Kentucky as a whole committed just 9 turnovers. It was that efficiency which allowed them to overcome significant foul trouble for Skal Labissiere and Marcus Lee (both players fouled out after a combined 35 minutes played). Kentucky looked great defensively as well, completely shutting down Grayson Allen (6 points on 2-for-11 shooting). Duke got possibly a career-best performance from Marshall Plumlee (12 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks) but it didn't matter. This game was never really in too much doubt.
Jamal Murray was the Kentucky freshman with the biggest impact vs Duke.

This is the type of game that matters for resumes in March, but we shouldn't overreact to it. Duke is going to play better another day. You can't panic because you lost a game to Kentucky. The good news for them is that they go right back to Madison Square Garden this weekend to face VCU and then either Wisconsin or Georgetown.

Denzel Valentine's Triple Double Powers Michigan State Kansas fans will surely bemoan the absence of the still-suspended Cheick Diallo, and maybe he would have made the difference in this game, but the story was Denzel Valentine. Valentine had a 29 point/12 rebound/12 assist triple double, ending up responsible for 22 of the 28 made baskets that the Spartans had. And perhaps the most impressive stat? Just 1 turnover. While Valentine stole the show, this game was also a coming-out performance for freshman Matt McQuaid, who poured in 9 points, including a pair of big three-pointers in the second half. This is an awfully deep Michigan State roster.

As for Kansas, the reality is that they probably need Cheick Diallo to win the Big 12 and earn a 1 seed. But the good news is that if Diallo becomes eligible and they win the Big 12, they'll likely get that 1 seed. What happened here will be a distant, long-gone memory by March.

Maryland Holds Off Feisty Georgetown Maryland went 12-1 in games decided by six points or fewer last season, a run of luck that can't possibly continue this season, and why I think they were overrated preseason. However, they're off to a 1-0 start in such games this season, as they held off a ferocious D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera down the stretch. Maryland scored on their final nine possessions to pull this one out. While Georgetown put all five starters in double-figures, Maryland rode Melo Trimble's 24 points (including a ridiculous 13-for-18 at the free throw line). Whether Maryland could have a 32-to-12 advantage in free throw attempts in a road game is a good question, but this Maryland team does do a great job of forcing contact, so they'll be spending a lot of time at the line this season.

Georgetown, despite the loss, at least proved that the loss to Radford was likely a fluke. This was a significant missed opportunity, but they will get a chance on Friday to collect a big win over Wisconsin at Madison Square Garden. One player who really stood out in this game was 7-footer Bradley Hayes, who barely played last season but outplayed the highly touted Diamond Stone here.

Wichita State Goes Down Fred VanVleet was clearly not himself physically in this game. His ankle was bothering him, and he finished with just 3-for-10 shooting and 3 assists. VanVleet will heal, but the concern here is two-fold. First, Wichita State's depth was not impressive. Established stars Ron Baker and Anton Grady did their parts, but nobody else on the roster made an impression. They are going to need more bench production. Second, Wichita State's margin for error is so small in the Missouri Valley Conference, and they need to collect their quality wins when they can if they're going to earn a good seed on Selection Sunday. Tulsa has a good chance to end up in the RPI Top 50.

Speaking of Tulsa, this is a great way for Frank Haith to get his second season underway. Tulsa returns their entire starting lineup from last season, and seven of their top eight minute earners this season are seniors. This is their chance to get to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since 2003. And less than a week into the season they already have a big scalp.

Dayton Smokes Alabama Dayton was a 10 point favorite and they've been the better program in recent years, but this was still an awfully impressive domination. They led by 16 points at halftime and quickly pushed the lead over 30 points by midway through the second half. And they did it without fluky shooting (Dayton was a reasonable 9-for-21 on threes). They were just better in every facet of the game, from paint scoring to rebounding to turnovers.

Dayton was considered a likely NCAA Tournament team preseason, and this result certainly backs that up. The competition will get tougher next week, though, as they'll take on Iowa on November 26th. As for Alabama, this is actually a fairly experienced team, but not a team that has a lot of experience winning. Avery Johnson deserves some time to get his own recruits in place. This season might be rough for his team.

Jalan West Done For The Season In a crushing blow to Northwestern State's hopes in the Southland, Jalan West is done for the season with a torn ACL. West averaged 20.0 points and 7.7 assists per game last season while also making the Southland All-Defensive team. Without him, Northwestern State's chances of realistically challenging Stephen F. Austin appear over. So far, Northwestern State has had to play one game this season without West, and they lost to an NAIA team. The question now is whether West asks for a medical redshirt to come back next season (which he'll surely get if he asks for it) or if he goes to play professionally overseas or in the D-League.

Valparaiso Wins Again Coming on the back of an impressive 25 point demolition of Iona, Valparaiso picked up a quality win on the road here at Rhode Island. It's too early to take computer ratings seriously, but Valparaiso is playing like the type of team that could make an at-large run. They have balanced scoring and a strong defense (0.83 PPP allowed so far this season), so there's no one easy way to beat them. As always, it's incredibly tough to earn an at-large bid out of a league like the Horizon, but Valparaiso is doing the right things so far.

Rhode Island's dream season has turned into a nightmare. After losing EC Matthews for the season, they lose this game in a heartbreaker. On the last play of the game they got exactly what they wanted - a wide open three-pointer for sharpshooter Four McGlynn - it just didn't fall. They will lick their wounds against Cleveland State on Saturday and then hope to finally collect their first nice win of the season in Cancun.

Oklahoma Tops Memphis Oklahoma wasn't supposed to have this much trouble with Memphis,  but the Tigers exploited their lack of front court depth, finishing with a 23-15 offensive rebounding advantage and a 38-34 advantage in paint points. What Oklahoma does have a lot of, however, is Buddy Hield, who might be the best player in the nation. Hield put his team on his back, pouring in 30 points (on 9-for-19 shooting), along with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. In the end, a road win at Memphis is a good performance, but a real weakness in Oklahoma was exposed here, and we will see whether Lon Kruger can find a solution.

As for Memphis, Josh Pastner's seat will get very warm if he can't get his team back to the NCAA Tournament this season. This was a huge opportunity that they just couldn't finish off.

Villanova Rolls Nebraska Nebraska actually led this game by seven points at the under-8 timeout in the first half, but nothing much went right for the Cornhuskers after that. Villanova had a 65.0 eFG% in the second half and finished off what ended up an easy victory. After the past couple of years, however, fans and the media are going to be skeptical of Villanova's blowouts until they do it consistently against elite teams. Their first chance to do that this season will be December 10th, when they take on Oklahoma.

As for Nebraska, it's hard to know what to make of them so far. They blew out a cupcake and then got blown out by a team that has a good chance to be in the mix for a 1 seed on Selection Sunday. So we can say that Nebraska is somewhere between the best and worst team in the country... helpful, I know. If Nebraska is going to improve over next season it will need to happen offensively, and they scored just 0.89 PPP here. We'll see next week how they look in their second chance against a quality opponent.

Xavier Pulls Away From Missouri Xavier was able to show their depth during this victory. Missouri made it a strategy to not allow Jalen Reynolds to beat them, and so the Xavier star was held to 0 points on 0-for-2 shooting. Instead it was guys off the bench like James Farr (15 points and 14 rebounds) and JP Macura (16 points on 4-for-5 shooting) who carried the production load. Missouri did have an early second half lead, but a 31-15 run from Xavier put this one away.

We'll have a much better idea of where this Xavier team is on Friday, when they play at Michigan. They looked good here, but this Missouri team just might not be much of a test.

Colorado Escapes Auburn This is one of those games that is just difficult to judge in November. We know that Bruce Pearl has upgraded the talent level at Auburn, but it's hard to know just how close Pearl is to turning this into a Top 100 team. So is Colorado winning on the road at Auburn an impressive performance, or is it a shaky performance that Colorado needed hot outside shooting (8-for-15 on threes) to escape a bad Auburn team? At this point we just don't know.

One thing we do know is that George King has made a massive sophomore leap for the Buffaloes. He averaged 1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2013-14, but after taking a redshirt season in 2014-15 he is pouring in 20.5 points per game so far this season. If Colorado is going to make a serious at-large run, King's emergence will be a big reason why.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Morning News: Virginia Falls, Oregon Defeats Baylor, Utah Holds Off San DIego St, LIU Crazy Finish, And More

First court storming of the season!
Virginia Falls To George Washington Virginia is going to want the end of this game back. There were just a series of offensive mistakes, from bobbled dribbles to poor jump shots. They scored just once on their final four possessions and finished with just 1.00 PPP against a George Washington team that finished in 10th in defensive efficiency in A-10 play last season. Despite the media narrative, Virginia's offense was actually one of the best in the nation last season (Top 5 nationally before the Justin Anderson injury caused them to finish just 24th in Pomeroy adjusted offensive efficiency). They're going to need to stop settling for so many long jump shots, though. 69% of their shots in this game were jumpers, compared to just 51% for George Washington.

The fact is that this type of game is a nightmare game for a top tier Power 5 team. For Virginia, this is a game that they could easily lose (Vegas had the spread at only 6.5 points), yet they'd get basically zero credit for winning while a loss would look bad to the Selection Committee in March. Until the Selection Committee properly evaluates the difference between road and home games, road games against quality mid-majors are scheduling land mines. The fact is that this really isn't that bad of a loss for Virginia. George Washington is a bubble-quality team.

Oregon Defeats Baylor In The Wee Hours We're in the middle of ESPN's awesome 24 hour kickoff marathon, so this game didn't finish until close to 2 AM on the east coast, but perhaps Baylor will be able to blame "body clocks" for their lackluster performance. They struggled with Oregon's defensive pressure (18 turnovers, with Lester Munford finishing with 6 turnovers to 1 assist), and were also lazy defensively (allowing a 30-to-18 free throw advantage). Baylor's bench showed some fight late in the second half, going on an 11-2 run and eventually pulling as close as three points, but they couldn't execute when they had a chance to tie up the game.

In the end, games like this don't say much about these two teams. Baylor was only a 2 point favorite in Vegas, and so a narrow loss doesn't really change our projections. However, Oregon now has their first quality win of the season. As impressive as Baylor's 42 point blowout of Stephen F. Austin was on Friday night, the fact is that it won't impress the Selection Committee. Baylor's next chance for a quality win will come December 6th against Vanderbilt.

Utah Holds Off San Diego State Both of these teams were rated among the six best defenses in the nation by Pomeroy last season, but this game was an offensive show, with the two teams combining for 1.14 PPP. And while Utah appeared to be pulling away late, San Diego State would not give up, hitting four consecutive shots to pull within two points in the final 30 seconds. Utah was forced to hit nine of ten free throws down the stretch to finish the game off.

This is a good win for Utah that will give them confidence heading into Puerto Rico, but they're going to need to play better defense to live up to preseason expectations. As for San Diego State, this is a tough missed opportunity. The Mountain West isn't what it was a few years ago, so they need to collect big non-conference wins to have a strong resume on Selection Sunday.

LIU Stuns Loyola-Maryland At The Buzzer You probably weren't watching this game, but it had a hell of a finish. It's a reminder that even mid-November games with zero impact on the NCAA Tournament bracket can be a ton of fun.
BYU Loses To Long Beach State BYU gave this game away in so many ways. Among other things, they committed 24 turnovers and shot an awful 8-for-21 at the free throw line. And down the stretch, as Long Beach State kept giving them a chance to score a basket to take a lead, BYU kept failing. Long Beach State led by four points with 3:20 to go and proceeded to score just a single point on their final seven possessions, but BYU only scored four points themselves.  After Kyle Collinsworth corralled a rebound with around six seconds to go, he lost it to Nick Faust. Nick Faust then missed both free throws, but BYU failed not once but twice to inbound the ball without Long Beach State knocking it away, and the Cougars never got a shot off.

The silver lining for BYU fans is that they really can't play this poorly again. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Unfortunately, there isn't much margin for error for an at-large bid out of the WCC, and they can only afford two or three "bad" losses all season long. They've now got one already.

Georgia Tech Escapes Tennessee Georgia Tech went 3-14 last season in games decided by six points or fewer or in overtime, but they're off to a 1-0 start in such games this season. This was honestly an ugly game. Georgia Tech hit just 32% of their jump shots while Tennessee hit just 24% of theirs. There were a lot of bricks and a lot of long rebounds, leading to a combined 43 offensive rebounds. 40 of the 55 made baskets came in the paint. But in a game decided in the paint, Georgia Tech had the two most dominant physical performers in Charles Mitchell and Nick Jacobs. Tennessee is one of the smaller teams in the country, and that lack of size and length could cause them significant problems in SEC play.

Alex Robinson Leaving Texas A&M Alex Robinson averaged 5.2 points, 2.6 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game off the bench as a freshman last season. This is obviously a significant blow for a program that had an excellent chance to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2011. That said, the Aggies do have several other backcourt options this year, including the newly acquired Anthony Collins, and so the loss of Robinson might actually hurt them more next season than this season. Admon Gilder is now the only scholarship guard on the current team who will be back next season.

Southern Knocks Off Mississippi State The SWAC is off to its best start in perhaps two decades, with an SEC win coming right on the heels of an ACC win (Alabama State beat Virginia Tech). Mississippi State can't even blame fluky shooting here, as the difference was an ugly 19-to-8 turnover advantage for Southern. It's possible that Mississippi State was looking ahead to a game against Miami in Puerto Rico on Thursday, but that's no excuse for getting outplayed by a SWAC team. At this point, they look like one of the worst teams in the SEC yet again.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Morning News: Is Valparaiso A Bubble Team? Also, Cincinnati Annihilated Robert Morris, And AJ Hammons Is Out

Valparaiso did whatever they wanted against Iona
Is Valparaiso A Bubble Team? We knew coming into the season that Valparaiso was a heavy favorite in the Horizon League, but Iona was also the heavy favorite in the MAAC. I had picked them as my favorite, as had just about everybody else... And Valpo just stomped them here. Valparaiso led by as many as 21 points in the first half, in part because of 7-for-14 three-point shooting in the first half, but more because they shut down Iona's offense. The Gaels hit just 31% of their two-pointers, and finished with just 0.73 PPP overall. The 0.73 PPP were the worst offensive performance by Iona since they also had 0.73 PPP against Florida State on November 26, 2009.

The question coming out of this game is whether Valparaiso is a legitimate bubble team. Certainly it's too early to take the computer ratings too seriously, but Pomeroy has Valpo 28th and their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 45th. The problem is that the Horizon League will do them no favors. With the way the Selection Committee thinks, there will be no chances for "quality wins" and plenty of chances for "bad losses". They get Rhode Island on Tuesday, and then Oregon and Oregon State later this month, but other than that they won't have a realistic chance for an RPI Top 50 win. They're going to need a gaudy win-loss record to earn an at-large bid.

Cincinnati Annihilates Robert Morris Cincinnati beating Robert Morris isn't much of a story, but the score of this game makes you wake up and pay attention. Cincy hit 46% of their threes, which isn't really sustainable, but they also dominated the glass (a 16-to-6 offensive rebounding advantage) and forced a ridiculous 29 turnovers. We know Cincinnati can play defense, but they're scoring this year also, averaging 1.32 PPP over their first two games. You don't want to draw too many conclusions after just two games, but Cincy has looked the best of any AAC team thus far.

Mysterious AJ Hammons Situation AJ Hammons, who has been a double-digit scorer per game in all three of his Purdue seasons as well as a defensive rock, has not seen the floor for Purdue this season. And at this point, it's a mystery exactly why. Purdue is insisting that it's a team rule, and not an NCAA rule that he has broken, so he could return any game.

The good news for Purdue is that even without Hammons they've looked great so far. Caleb Swanigan looks like a star, and Isaac Haas looks like a Big Ten quality starter as well, so Hammons is almost a luxury item at this point. And Purdue insiders reading through the tea leaves think that Hammons will be able to return to the team soon. So most likely this will not be a significant problem for Purdue in the long run, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Morning News: Rashun Davis Buries Georgetown, EC Matthews Done, Butler Scores All Of The Points, And More

Rashun Davis stunned Georgetown

New Bracket Projection The first bracket projection of the regular season had three changes to the Field of 68: Oklahoma State, Tulsa, and Princeton move in, replacing Rhode Island, Illinois State, and Harvard. Overall, there weren't too many teams moving more than a seed line or two. You just don't want to overreact to single game sample sizes.

Rashun Davis Buries Georgetown Radford/Georgetown was close the entire way, with the two teams within a possession or two almost the entire way. Both had multiple chances to win the game, including a wide open Isaac Copeland jumper for the Hoyas at the end of the first overtime period. In the end, however, it was Radford's Rashun Davis dribbling the ball up in the final seconds of the second overtime and drilling the game-winning three, which you can see below:
The biggest worry for Georgetown here was defensively, particularly on the defensive glass (Radford had a 14-6 offensive rebounding advantage). The 1.01 PPP that Georgetown allowed don't seem like a lot, but Radford is not a good scoring team - the Hoyas defense was just consistently flat-flooted and mistake-prone. And for the Hoyas, they have a real risk of an ugly win/loss record to start this season, as Maryland, Wisconsin, and then either Duke or VCU make up their next three games.

EC Matthews Done For The Season This was the fear after his injury Friday night, and it's a crushing loss for a Rhode Island team that had an at-large quality roster. Dan Hurley still has a lot of talent to work with (including the new transfer Four McGlynn), so don't count them out of the at-large race quite yet, but it's going to be much more difficult without last season's leading scorer.

Butler Scores All Of The Points Citadel is a bad team that plays at a high tempo, so they're built to allow a lot of points, but this was ridiculous. The 144 points that Butler scored were not just a school record, but were the most by a Division I team since VMI scored scored 151 points against Central Penn on November 29, 2010, and the most by a Division I team against a Division I opponent since TCU scored 153 points against UT-Pan American on November 29, 1997. In the end this result doesn't really mean anything other than it was just crazy and bizarre.

NC State Loses Terry Henderson Things have gone from bad to worse for NC State. After losing their opener Friday night to William & Mary, they now lose Terry Henderson for 6-8 weeks, too. Henderson averaged 11.7 points per game two seasons ago with West Virginia, and he is a huge part of this Wolfpack team. The silver lining is that if NC State plays great in the ACC then their non-conference struggles won't really matter, but at this point I'd say that non-conference struggles look significantly more likely than playing great in the ACC.

Colorado State Defeats Northern Iowa Northern Iowa was a team I thought would be in the mix for an at-large bid. They certainly have the offensive talent, but their defense was utterly torched by Colorado State here. Colorado State's 1.18 PPP doesn't blow you away, but they did it despite not shooting the ball well. They hit just 30% behind the arc, and scored 18 of their 21 made two-pointers inside the paint. It was a team-wide effort, with five players scoring in double-digits but none with more than 16. Northern Iowa doesn't have much time now to prepare for an angry Stephen F. Austin team on Tuesday.

Providence Tops Harvard Most college basketball analysts sold their Harvard stock after Siyani Chambers was lost to a season-ending injury, and Harvard did nothing to assuage those concerns in their first game of the season against a Division I opponent. One player to keep an eye on for the future is Tommy McCarthy, their top 2015 recruit, who was active but couldn't get anything to work out (2-for-13 shooting, a game-high 7 assists, but with 4 turnovers).

Providence is going to be the Kris Dunn Show all season long. He took 26 of Providence's 68 shots while also finishing with 5 assists, 6 rebounds, and 8 steals. He's not always the most efficient player, but he'll definitely fill up a box score. Just how good Providence actually is will probably stay a mystery for a few more weeks, as their November schedule is fairly soft.

Virginia Tech Drops Their Opener Buzz Williams has upgraded the level of talent at Virginia Tech, but they're still a long way off from seriously contending in the ACC, and this loss to Alabama State is embarrassing. That said, this is a very young team, and they did get good production from a highly touted freshman class. Chris Clarke in particular (10 points on 3-for-4 shooting) looked nice off the bench. The Hokies will probably steal a few games in ACC play, but as deep as that league is this season it's going to be a real grind. As for Alabama State, by mere virtue of beating any Power 5 team they are in the mix in the always-terrible SWAC, but it will take more than this win to suggest that they'd be anything more than a 16 seed if they win the SWAC tournament.

W-17 BP68

The season just started, but today marks exactly 17 weeks until Selection Sunday, so it's time for the first of many weekly bracket projections.

The most important thing early in the season is to not overreact to single games. Remember that by March there will be very few November games that we really care about anymore. These games just don't matter that much in the grand scheme.

The most heartbreaking team to drop out of the Field of 68 is Rhode Island, after the season-ending injury to EC Matthews. Illinois State also drops out. Tulsa and Oklahoma State take their place. In addition, Princeton replaces Harvard as the Ivy League favorite.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday 2016:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Virginia
2. Maryland

3. Oklahoma
3. Duke
3. Iowa State

4. Purdue
4. Texas
4. Baylor

5. Indiana
5. Xavier

6. Oregon
6. Texas A&M
6. Cincinnati

7. California
7. Miami-Florida
7. Michigan
7. Utah

8. Louisville
8. Notre Dame
8. Wisconsin
8. Vanderbilt

9. Pittsburgh
9. West Virginia
9. Ohio State

10. LSU
10. Dayton
10. Providence
10. Georgetown

11. Butler
11. NC State
11. BYU
11. Florida State
11. UNLV

12. Oklahoma State
12. Tulsa





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Temple, Syracuse, George Washington, Rhode Island, Marquette, Illinois, Iowa, TCU, Old Dominion, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, Boise State, Oregon State, Stanford, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Clemson, Georgia Tech, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Creighton, Seton Hall, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, William & Mary, UTEP, Akron, Kent State, Evansville, Colorado State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Colorado, USC, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Pepperdine, Saint Mary's

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Vermont, Houston, Boston College, Virginia Tech, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, DePaul, St. John's, Nebraska, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Hawaii, James Madison, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Oakland, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Monmouth, Siena, Buffalo, Western Michigan, Loyola-Chicago, Fresno State, Utah State, Wyoming, Murray State, North Dakota State, Washington State, Missouri, Portland