Saturday, November 22, 2014

Morning News: Texas Wins Without Taylor, Syracuse Escapes Iowa, UConn Handles Dayton, Danuel House And More

Cornell's heartbreaking loss to Penn State last night

Texas Wins Despite Losing Taylor The Isaiah Taylor injury was presented last night as a possible "day to day" injury, but it now looks like he'll be out for four to six weeks. That should have caused a problem against California, with their lack of backcourt depth, but Texas owned the paint to the point that California barely even dribbled the ball in there during the first half. The Longhorns blocked 9 shots, had a 47.6 OR% (compared to 32.4% for California), committed ten fewer fouls and held Cal to 32.7% two-point shooting. When Cal finally attacked the paint in the second half, more often than not it was an out-of-control drive by a careening Tyrone Wallace.

Texas will play UConn next weekend, but the real interesting game coming up is the Kentucky match-up on December 5th. It's a shame that Isaiah Taylor will miss it, but it will be fascinating to watch the two huge front lines go up against each other.

Syracuse Escapes Iowa Syracuse opened up a 15 point lead with under 12 minutes left in this game, but Iowa actually got back in this game with defense, holding the Orange without a made field goal for more than six minutes (a stretch during which Syracuse had four turnovers). Just like the California game, Syracuse just didn't get very much from their perimeter options. Unlike the California game, Rakeem Christmas was able to minimize his foul trouble. He still picked up four fouls, but he managed to play 33 minutes, giving Syracuse a strong paint scoring option inside, as well as a defensive weapon. The other breakout star for Syracuse here was 6'10" freshman Chris McCullough, who poured in 20 points while controlling the paint with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks.

Iowa's offense was disjointed all game here. It was better than the Texas game, but not much better. They did turn more to Jarrod Uthoff as the game wore on, and it paid off. Uthoff finished with 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting. But Iowa's backcourt players just haven't seemed to have gotten any better with another year of seasoning. For now, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff are going to have to run a lot of the offense themselves.

Iowa has a tough road game coming up at North Carolina for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. If they don't pull the upset there, their final chance for a quality non-conference win will be their rivalry game against Iowa State on December 12th. This is not at all the way the Hawkeyes expected to start the season.

UConn Handles Dayton The story coming out of this game for UConn is probably Amida Brimah and his defensive control of the paint. He had five blocks by himself. But as good as he was defensively, the real story for me is that Ryan Boatright got more help from his teammates. When UConn was struggling with Bryant and College of Charleston, there were way too many possessions where the other four UConn players on the court just stood around and waited for Boatright to do something. The breakout player here was Rodney Purvis, the NC State transfer, who poured in 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

Yesterday, I mused about the possibility of a one-bid AAC. As I said then, it's not likely, but not impossible either. With this nice win, UConn does seem to be looking more like a relatively safe Tournament team, but so far they're the only one in the AAC. SMU might look more like the Top 25 team we expected when Markus Kennedy returns.

Dayton is a team that seems good enough to make an at-large run, but with the loss here their schedule is not particularly conducive to building a resume. Their only remaining non-conference game against a likely at-large team is a road game at Arkansas on December 13th.

Texas A&M Gets A Waiver For Danuel House The 6'7" transfer from Houston will immediately be an important piece for Texas A&M. This surprise eligibility makes the team a whole lot better in a season where it really might matter. Kentucky is obviously the best in the SEC, but right now the rest of the SEC is a big jumble. Is there really a good reason why Texas A&M couldn't be the third or fourth best team in the SEC and earn an at-large bid? They lost to Dayton, but that will not likely be a "bad" loss, and they won again last night. I doubt they'd have earned an at-large bid this season without House... but with him, it's a whole new ballgame.

Hawaii Knocks Off Pittsburgh This one happened in the middle of the night, finishing after 2AM eastern time. Pittsburgh was doing what many teams do on their way to the Maui Invitational, which is to pick up a warm-up game on the west coast or in Hawaii itself. But as often happens to these teams, they don't show up and play at their best. And the big problem for Pittsburgh here was interior defense, which has historically been a strength for Jamie Dixon's program. But there's no Talib Zanna anymore, and they were outscored in the paint 38-24, allowing Hawaii to shoot 64.5% on two-pointers.

This is the type of loss that is going to be an anchor on Pittsburgh's resume all season long. This is not a good Hawaii team, at all. Hawaii just fired their head coach, and they have a real chance to finish outside the RPI Top 200. Very few at-large or bubble teams will have a loss this bad all season long.

Kansas State Falls To Long Beach State This was a very frustrating shooting night for Kansas State. Including both two-pointers and three-pointers, the Wildcats shot 11-for-46 (23.9%) on jump shots. They finished with just 0.90 PPP. Recall that last season, the Wildcats tended to lose only when their offense let them down, because the defense was always there. They were 3-8 when scoring fewer than 0.970 PPP, as opposed to 17-5 in all other games.

Kansas State simply does not have a go-to scorer this season. Offense is going to be a significant grind for them all season long. It goes without saying that a player like Angel Rodriguez would be helpful. They will try to bounce back next week at the Maui Invitational, where they'll open against Purdue on Monday.

Long Beach State is now just 1-2 against Division I opponents, but this is a nice win, and the two losses came on the road to good opponents (BYU and Xavier). So while the Big West looks like a two team race between UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State has to at least be in the conversation. 

Gardner Webb Upsets Clemson Clemon's season is off to an awful start. And after their offense failed them in the loss to Winthrop, it was surprising to see their defense letting them down against Gardner Webb. Now, to be specific, it was actually Clemson "Chris Webber'ing" themselves and calling a timeout they didn't have that cost them the win in the final seconds here. But poor defense is why they were in a situation where it came down to the final possession to begin with. Gardner Webb didn't even shoot particularly well (a 45.5 eFG%), but they had 18 assists to only 7 turnovers, leading to 1.13 PPP. To put that in perspective, Clemson only allowed four different teams to crack 1.13 PPP against them last season: North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia and Pittsburgh. None of those programs is quite like Gardner Webb.

Clemson has an easy schedule coming up, and at this point they just have to get back on the right track by beating teams they're supposed to beat. But they were supposed to beat Winthrop and Gardner Webb also, and it didn't work out.

Gardner Webb, meanwhile, is off to a solid start, with this win to go with a win over College of Charleston, and only a competitive road loss at LSU. The Big South as a whole is playing better than it was last season, but Gardner Webb obviously has to be in the conversation at the top of the league.

Iona Upsets Wake Forest Iona wanted to bounce back after the tough loss at Wofford, and they did it by hanging on to a late lead here. They actually led for double digits for much of the season half, but a late Wake Forest run nearly pulled this one out. Iona struggled with the Wake Forest height, with David Laury getting shut down and with Wake Forest controlling the glass (a 51.2 OR% vs a 35.0 OR% for Iona). The Gaels won primarily due to strong 13-for-33 three-point shooting. AJ English hit 6-for-12 behind the arc en route to 27 points, while Isaiah Williams hit 4-for-8 himself.

Wake Forest, as much as their fans don't want to admit it, was improving significantly each year under Jeff Bzdelik, but the Danny Manning era is off to a choppy start. Certainly they lost a little bit of talent, but this loss comes on the back of a blowout loss at Arkansas. The Demon Deacons will get Minnesota on their homecourt for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but with a loss there they'll probably end non-conference play without a quality win.

Iona's next quality opponent will be Arkansas, on the road on November 30th. They will open MAAC play on December 7th, at Monmouth.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Morning News: Iowa Loses Ugly, California Dispatches Syracuse, Indiana Beats SMU, And More

We feel you, Jim.
Iowa Loses Ugly Vs Texas It's certainly not unheard of for Fran McCaffery teams to struggle defensively, but it's been a while since we've seen them look this bad offensively. In a sense, with the gigantic Texas front line, this game reminded me of the Kansas debacle against Kentucky on Tuesday. Iowa has a tendency to shoot too many two-point jumpers normally, and they varied between unwilling and unable to score in the paint here. Texas outscored Iowa 36-16 in the paint, and the Longhorns shot 50% on two-pointers compared to just 30% for Iowa.

As I always stress with early season games, you should not overreact. Iowa's offense isn't likely to be this bad again (their 0.85 PPP were their fewest since April 4th, 2013). They'll have to wait only one day for another chance for a good win, with a game tonight against Syracuse. Texas also will play tonight, of course, against California. The concern for them, as well as they played against Iowa, was the late fall by Isaiah Taylor. It's unclear if the wrist injury will keep him from playing tonight, but if it does then Texas's lack of backcourt depth will really be put to the test. Maybe they should run the offense through Connor Lammert?

California Dispatches Syracuse California grabbed a 12 point lead at halftime, and Syracuse proceeded to commit a turnover on five of their first seven second half possessions. And from there, the hole the Orange dug was just too large to get out of.

California was really well prepared for the Syracuse zone, attacking it all game and finishing with 20 assists on 26 made baskets. Syracuse, on the other hand, was hamstrung by foul trouble for Rakeem Christmas, who ended up fouling out with only 8 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes. With Christmas on the bench, the Syracuse offense really lacked weapons. Kaleb Joseph should be the primary playmaker, but he hasn't been good enough. The Syracuse offense wasn't even particularly potent against Hampton.

Syracuse will have a chance to bounce back tonight against Iowa. After that, their next quality opponent will be Michigan, who they'll face in Ann Arbor on December 2nd. Meanwhile, California will try to prove this offensive performance wasn't a fluke when they take on a Texas team tonight that looked awfully impressive against Iowa.

Indiana Beats SMU While SMU worked hard to get the ball into the paint on every possession in this game, Indiana was happy to just launch jump shots all game and pray. SMU finished with 19 layups and dunks, compared to just 6 for Indiana. SMU had 42 points in the paint, compared to just 14 for Indiana. But the Hoosiers took 57% of their shots behind the arc, hitting 36% of them, and they also managed to commit only seven turnovers (Yogi Ferrell deserves a lot of credit for that latter stat), and it was enough to escape with the victory.

Obviously SMU is going to be a different team after Markus Kennedy gets back at the end of the fall semester, but he'll only be on the court for the Michigan game before conference play. He'll miss the Arkansas game, SMU's only other remaining quality non-conference opponent. Despite the Top 25 ranking, SMU's closer to being a bubble team than their fans probably want to admit. And while it's unlikely, is it really that implausible that the AAC ends up a 1-bid league this year? Which AAC team looks like a certain Tourney team right now?

As always, don't overreact to a single game, but this is a very nice win for Indiana. You have to wonder how well they'll be able to get away with a lack of post presence in Big Ten play, but Yogi Ferrell looks fantastic and this is the type of win that could matter on Selection Sunday if they can get themselves onto the bubble.

Conference Play Is Underway Wait. What? The MAAC seems to do this every year, and I don't get it. But congratulations to Niagara for being the first team in the nation to win a conference game this season. It seems goofy to make teams play conference games this early considering how different many teams look in January relative to November. St. Peter's was without Desi Washington due to injury, too (Washington was second on the team with 13.5 points per game last season). But so it goes. Both of these teams will play another conference game in early December, before continuing conference play in early January.

Miami Validates Their Florida Win The Miami Hurricanes had no letdown from their Florida win here, taking Drexel to the woodshed. The 11-for-21 three-point shooting certainly helped, but they also had 15 assists to just 9 turnovers, and held Drexel to an ugly 37.3 eFG%. Angel Rodriguez again was all over the place, finishing with 15 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.

The Hurricanes will take on a short-handed Akron team tonight, and then will take on either Charlotte or South Carolina on Sunday. After that, they've got a fairly reasonable schedule, including home games against Illinois and Green Bay. In late December, the Hurricanes could find themselves undefeated with pretty solid computer numbers.

Drexel is perhaps the most disappointing team in the country so far. They had high expectations in the Colonial preseason, but are off to an ugly 0-3 start. They take on another reeling team, USC, tonight. A loss there could really send this season into a death spiral and make it tough for them to even get back to a .500 record.

Villanova Struggles Villanova managed to avoid the ugly loss, but only barely, and perhaps only due to a couple of big referee calls. With just over a minute to go, with the game tied, Bucknell's DJ MacLeay seemed to get hacked, but didn't get the call, and on the other end a really soft foul got called when Daniel Ochefu went up. If those calls get reversed, Villanova fans might be in panic mode. The story of this game, without question, was Bucknell's Chris Hass. Despite Villanova doing everything they could to even deny him the ball, he finished with 32 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-6 behind the arc and 11-for-12 at the line.

Villanova is often a team that gets overly reliant on three-point shooting, and their 5-for-22 shooting here was ugly. As always, there's no reason to overreact to a single game, but Villanova takes a step up in talent on Monday when they take on VCU.

This is a moral victory for Bucknell in the end, but it's an encouraging performance with the Patriot League looking so wide open. Chris Hass didn't even make first team All-Patriot League preseason, and I'm thinking that looks like a mistake.

Charlotte Wins A Wild Game Over Penn State Charlotte had a chance to foul up three late in regulation but passed, and John Johnson hit the three for Penn State to send the game into overtime. Both teams had chances to win in overtime, but Charlotte's 8-for-10 free throw shooting in the second overtime period put this one away.

This game was expected to be competitive (Penn State was only a four point favorite in Vegas), not because Charlotte is expected to be elite but because Penn State once again just isn't a particularly talented team. They're certainly nowhere near "Rutgers-bad", but it's hard to see them being particularly competitive in the Big Ten. It's going to be another season where they steal a couple of big upsets at home but end up nowhere near .500 in conference play by the end of the season

This is a good win for Charlotte but, as is always the case this early in the season, a big win needs validation with a second win to prove it's not a fluke. Charlotte takes on South Carolina tonight. Conference USA is wide open if Charlotte can build on this win.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Morning News: Creighton Stuns Oklahoma, Arizona Struggles, Wisconsin Rolls, And Arkansas Crushes Wake Forest

So this happened.

Creighton Stuns Oklahoma This game looked like it was going to be a rout. Oklahoma led by 18 points early in the second half. But a 21-2 run by Creighton totally turned this game around, in front of a raucous crowd in Omaha. This was a jump shooting game all night, with 101 of the 118 shots being jumpers. And this game turned around when the shooting turned around. After Oklahoma took that 18 point lead, Creighton hit six of their next seven three-pointers. Over the same stretch, Oklahoma missed five in a row.

Creighton's Toby Hegner got doused with beer on one of the goofier plays of the season.

In the end, Creighton only hit 8-for-26 from behind the arc, but that makes this win even more impressive. Not only did they collect a massive win to start off the post-Doug McDermott era, but they did it without fluky/goofy outside shooting. They played sound defensively, forcing Oklahoma away from the basket. The Sooners shot only 36.8% on two-pointers.

Oklahoma will get a quick chance for redemption. They head out next week to the Battle 4 Atlantis, which has a filthy good field. They'll open against UCLA, and then will play either North Carolina or Butler in their second game.

Arizona Struggles With UC Irvine The final score of this game is very deceptive. UC Irvine grabbed a lead late in the first half, and held it for the majority of the second half. But a 15-0 Arizona run (during which UC Irvine had five turnovers) blew this game open, and led to the big gap in the final score. In the end, UC Irvine's undoing was a lack of perimeter scoring options. When things started to fall apart late in the second half, they had nobody to turn to in order to get a bucket.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had a nasty posterization of 7'6" Mamadou Ndiaye

UC Irvine is expected to be in a strong race with UC Santa Barbara for the top spot in the Big West. They weren't able to get a quality non-conference opponent onto their court this season, but this won't be their last chance for a good scalp away from home. Their next chance will be Sunday, at St. Mary's.

Should Arizona fans be concerned about their play in this game? Not yet. Every team is going to have some down games. Heck, Kentucky just went through this with Buffalo. So unless this becomes a regular occurrence, there's not a reason for Wildcat fans to worry.

Wisconsin Crushes Green Bay After annihilating a pair of cupcakes, Wisconsin took a step up in competition against Green Bay, a team projected by many to be the favorite in the Horizon League, with a future NBA player in Kiefer Sykes. And they crushed them. Wisconsin's offense is really good, and their front line is ridiculous. Frank Kaminsky had a dominant 20 points, 15 rebounds and 7 blocks, while Nigel Hayes hit a pair of threes en route to 25 points and 11 rebounds. And Sam Dekker is kind of good, too.

Wisconsin steps up in competition again next week, when they head out to the Battle 4 Atlantis. They're going to score on everybody, but what I want to see when they take on Top 25 competition for the first time this season will be their defense. Kiefer Sykes (20 points on 9-for-18 shooting) was able to carve up the Badgers defense here. Wisconsin is going to go as far as their defense takes them.

Green Bay didn't play poorly here, aside from their 2-for-12 three-point shooting. They just ran into a buzzsaw. They'll get a couple of games ahead against Georgia State, along with a game against Miami (Fl), as well as perhaps a game against UC Irvine (depending on how things go in Las Vegas). But in the end, their season will be defined by how they do in conference play.

Arkansas Crushes Wake Forest Wake Forest took a step up in talent after beating up a pair of cupcakes... and it didn't go well. They trailed by 20 points late in the first half, and by as many as 35 points in the second half. To have a blowout this bad, basically everything has to go wrong. Wake Forest shot 1-for-18 behind the arc, while Arkansas forced 13 steals. Probably the most amazing stat is that nobody on Arkansas scored more than 11 points. Six different players finished with either ten or eleven points.

As I always warn after results like this early in the season: Do not overreact. It's just one game. Wake Forest could come out on Friday and wipe the floor with Iona and get right back on a good path. Of course, if they lose to Iona also, this season could go into a tailspin pretty quickly.

Arkansas was a team I thought would be an at-large team preseason, but Mike Anderson didn't do a good job putting together a non-conference schedule. The only realistic RPI Top 50 team coming to their home court will be Dayton. They'll also head on the road to face Iowa State and SMU. The SMU game is coming up on Tuesday. With SMU short-handed, that's a very winnable game for the Razorbacks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Morning News: Historic Kansas Futility, Duke Handles Michigan St, Wichita St Crushes Memphis, Manhattan's Buzzer Beater, And More

Stephen F. Austin fans sum up how we all feel about ESPN's 24 Hour Tip-Off Marathon

Historic Kansas Futility The offensive performance for Kansas in this game was staggeringly bad, and obviously Kentucky was the dominant reason why. Kansas finished with 0.68 PPP, which is their worst offensive efficiency in well over a decade, and the fewest by any Power 5 team in a game so far this year. It's the fewest points they've scored in a game (40) since January 20th, 1982.  Their 22.3 eFG% is the second lowest by any Division I team so far this season. And to put that shooting futility into perspective, the previous worst shooting performance Kansas had in the last ten years was a 32.0 eFG% in their loss to TCU a couple of years ago. But the stat that stands out more than any other was the 3-for-23 that Kansas was on layups and dunks. I don't know a good way to look up historic layup/dunk stats, but in my life I can't recall ever seeing a team do that poorly.

Obviously, Kentucky's defense deserves a ton of credit coming off a very sloppy, lazy defensive performance against Buffalo. They had as many blocks (11) as Kansas had made field goals, and they must have redirected at least a dozen more shots. They absolutely dominated the paint. And it goes without saying that the way to try to score on Kentucky is to spread the floor with outside shooters, and to have perimeter creators who can beat their man off the dribble and force Kentucky's defense to rotate. Right now, Kansas doesn't have either.

Let's not overreact to this game too much. Kentucky just lost a half to Buffalo, of course. They'll have nights where they look like this, and they'll have nights where they look much worse. Small sample sizes are small sample sizes. There's a bit more concern for Kansas, because the problem we saw here (perimeter offense) is a problem that we knew they'd have preseason. They just don't have much proven talent out there. This will be worth keeping an eye on next week when they head out to Orlando.

Duke Handles Michigan State Michigan State looked shaky against Navy, and they didn't do much to allay those worries here. Once again, their go-to scorer and creator was Travis Trice (15 points and 8 assists), and they saw very little production from their bench (10 points and 8 rebounds in 59 minutes). They're going to need to find more balanced scoring, and also more of a defensive presence, if they're going to contend near the top of the Big Ten. They'll head next week to Orlando, where they'll see their next quality opponent.

Duke's offense was sharp here, led by the dominant Jahlil Okafor (17 points on 8-for-10 shooting). Perhaps the player who stood out most, though, was Justise Winslow, who continues to impress with his talent but who also continues to take way too many bad shots (he finished 4-for-11 here, with 9 free throw attempts). When he eventually learns to play within himself, he's going to be an awfully good player. That said, Duke's interior defense is once again iffy. Michigan State finished 62.5% on two-pointers, including 16-for-22 on layups and dunks. If they eventually want to topple Kentucky, they're going to need to find more of a paint presence.

Wichita State Crushes Memphis As I explained last week, do not draw conclusions from the results of exhibitions. But as I also explained, there's just no reason to think Memphis is going to be a particularly good team this season, or even a Tournament team. And they didn't look like a Tournament team here, getting absolutely run off the court by Wichita State. The final score is, if anything, a bit deceptive, as Memphis finished the game on a 10-2 run in garbage time.

Wichita State, interestingly, played well without getting a huge game from their preseason All-American, Fred VanVleet (15 points on 5-for-14 shooting and 3 assists). Ron Baker led the way with 21 points and 6 assists. The Shockers have a really good team yet again, and they're serious about earning a good seed on Selection Sunday. They still have yet to face Utah, Saint Louis, Seton Hall and Alabama before heading off to the Diamond Head Classic.

Memphis heads out to Las Vegas next week, where they'll play Baylor in the first game and then either Illinois or Indiana State in the second game. Memphis has to win at least one of those two games or the NCAA Tournament will become a difficult task. It's going to be hard to climb uphill in a mediocre AAC.

Manhattan's Buzzer Beating Dunk In the end, Manhattan lost to UMass in overtime. But the way they got to overtime is one of the most well-executed end-of-game plays you'll ever see:

Ohio State Eases Past Marquette Marquette is going to be better after Luke Fischer becomes eligible (after the fall semester ends), and they're going to be a lot better when their 2015 recruiting class shows up. But until then, they're going to get blown off the court by quality opponents. The final score was actually deceptively close here, as Marquette closed the game on a 12-3 run in garbage time. Marquette did get nice play out of Steve Taylor (20 points on 9-for-14 shooting), but that was it.

Marquette's next chance for a quality win will come in Orlando next week. After that they'll have home games against Wisconsin and Arizona State. But there's a decent chance that by the time they're midway through their Big East schedule that their at-large bid chances will already have been dashed.

The question for Ohio State is just how meaningful this win is. This early in the season, wins have to be calibrated. It's possible that this is a really good win, but it's also possible that Marquette just stinks. Unfortunately, quality opponents are a bit few and far between for Ohio State in non-conference play this season. They'll have a big time game at Louisville on December 2nd, but other than that will not play a quality opponent until they take on North Carolina on December 20th. They'll play plenty of quality opponents in Big Ten play, of course, but the Buckeyes might still be a bit of a mystery when conference play gets underway.

San Diego State Wins Ugly Over Utah This game was not exactly a shooting clinic. Utah ended up finishing up with a 38.0 eFG% and 0.82 PPP, while San Diego State's 0.88 PPP came with a 35.7 eFG%. The fact that San Diego State shot a little bit worse but scored a little bit more makes sense when you consider that they finished with 7 fewer blocked shots but 8 more steals. The most impressive individual defensive presence in this game was probably a Ute, freshman Jakob Poeltl. The 7-footer finished with 7 blocks and 12 rebounds.

Utah had historically bad luck in close games last season (1-8 in games decided by four points or less), and an early four point loss might worry fans that "more of the same" is on the way. But, first of all, winning or losing close games is much more about luck than "clutch". And second of all, San Diego State was pretty clearly the better team here. They led by around 4-8 points almost the entire second half. Utah got close enough in the final minute to foul intentionally, but it never really felt like they had a good chance to win.

Utah has mostly cupcakes ahead, but a real key game to look for will be December 3rd, at home against Wichita State. That's a real chance for the Utes to shift the narrative about them against quality opponents and in competitive games. San Diego State has one more cupcake before they head out to the Maui Invitational, where they'll open with BYU.

Northeastern Upsets Florida State The Seminoles are not a great offensive team, so it wouldn't be a shocker if they got upset by a bad team in a low scoring, ugly affair. But what was stunning about this result was that it was actually high scoring. Both teams finished with more than 1.05 PPP. Northeastern's 9-for-15 three-point shooting was fluky, but they were also an impressive 14-for-26 on layups and dunks against the massive Florida State front line, which only finished with 4 blocks. 7'3" Boris Bojanovsky, for example, managed to play 23 minutes while collecting a single block and only four rebounds. That's just not good enough.

Florida State heads to the Mohegan Sun this weekend to play Providence and UMass, where they'll have a chance to right the ship. They don't have many more quality non-conference opponents, and it's going to be tough sledding for this team to get over .500 in a deep ACC this season.

At least in the early going, Northeastern is playing like the strongest team in the Colonial. It's been a while since that league made a serious run at an at-large bid, but if Northeastern can continue to up their game then they do have UMass, Harvard, Saint Mary's and Richmond still ahead.

Stephen F Austin Loses In Agonizing Fashion This Stephen F Austin/Northern Iowa game sums up why the ESPN 24 hour marathon is great. It was two mid-major teams tipping at 9am eastern time, and it was high intensity, and really close and competitive the entire way. And in the end, this is how it was decided:

While both Stephen F Austin and Northern Iowa are currently in my projected bracket, the reality is that Stephen F Austin needed this win more, and that's what makes this loss so agonizing for them. While the Missouri Valley isn't exactly the Big Ten, Northern Iowa will have more opportunities to build up their strength of schedule than Stephen F Austin will in the Southland. And perhaps more importantly, Northern Iowa represents the best opponent Stephen F. Austin will get at home this season. Their other quality non-conference opponents (Xavier, Baylor and Memphis) will all face them on their own home courts. This was SFA's best chance for an RPI Top 100 win, and it didn't happen.

VCU Survives Toledo This wasn't a great VCU performance by any means, but Toledo is a good team, and at the end of the day VCU comes out of this game with a solid win over a team likely to finish in the RPI Top 100 (and perhaps the RPI Top 50). #Havoc was certainly in operation, as VCU forced 16 steals. The concern, as it often is, is VCU's half court defense (they allowed 1.44 PPP on possessions that did not end in turnovers). Also, a slight concern is just how dependent they are on Briante Weber, who at 18 points, 9 steals, 8 rebounds and 7 assists came fairly close to the first ever DI-vs-DI quadruple double (Tennessee-Martin's Lester Hudson had the only quadruple double in Division I history back in 2007, but it came against non-Division I Central Baptist College). VCU has other shooters, but Weber so far looks like their only true offensive creator or defensive weapon.

Toledo gets something of a moral victory out of this game. They had a real chance to win a road game at a very good VCU team. As they only really played a seven man rotation, it's possible that they wore out a bit. Nathan Boothe deserves attention for the quick start he has had to the season. He led Toledo with 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting here, along with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Morning News: Miami Upsets Florida, Gonzaga Smokes SMU, NCAA Tourney Fixes, Colorado Wipes Out Auburn, And More

Angel Rodriguez hits the three to knock off Florida

24 Hours Of Hoops is underway. I hope you're not too sleep deprived. Let's talk about some of the action from last night, as well as very early this morning:

Miami Upsets Florida Florida seemed to absolutely have this game in hand, leading by 14 points with just over eight minutes to go. But the Gators turned into a jump shooting team late, and Angel Rodriguez (yes, the Kansas State transfer) took over down the stretch. Rodriguez scored the final 11 points for Miami, including the clutch three-pointer to give them the lead they'd never give up. Florida had one final chance after the Rodriguez three, but Eli Carter got out of control and committed an offensive foul (a good call by the ref, in my opinion).

Florida was short-handed, of course. Dorian Finney-Smith is out with an injury and Chris Walker is suspended, forcing the Gators to basically only operate a two-man bench. The bad news for Florida is that in March nobody is going to care. Nobody will remember that they were short-handed for that loss in mid-November. Their resume will be their resume. The good news is, they'll have plenty of chances ahead to shore up that resume. Beat Kentucky and win the SEC and nobody will care that Florida lost this game.

For Miami, this game is why I don't understand people who act like the NCAA regular season is meaningless. Coming into this game I had Miami as one of the last teams in the tourney field. A scalp like Florida could mean all the difference for getting into the Big Dance.

Gonzaga Smokes SMU This game was still kind of competitive at halftime, but SMU never really had a chance. And yes, this could have been a great game if Markus Kennedy and Emmanuel Mudiay were available, but they're not. At least Kennedy will be back after the semester ends. But Kevin Pangos always seems to get hot in a November game like this, and he blew this game wide open with 5-for-8 shooting behind the arc. Domantas Sabonis, the son of Arvydas Sabonis, had a nice national television debut with 13 points and 9 rebounds.

The problem for SMU as long as Markus Kennedy is out is that Nic Moore is their only real explosive scorer. He was kept in check here (10 points on 3-for-9 shooting, with 5 assists), and SMU had nowhere else to turn. Things will certainly look a lot better when Markus Kennedy is back. But until then, the Mustangs need to find a way to beat a quality non-conference opponent. Last season they were a better team than at least a dozen teams that earned at-large bids, but they were undone because they had zero non-conference achievements. To get to the NCAA Tournament this season, they need to do something out of conference. They head on the road to face a reeling Indiana team on Thursday.

NCAA Fixes Some Tourney Problems Two of the most annoying things to fans of the NCAA Tournament are going to be fixed. First, we're going back to calling the Round of 64 the "First Round" and the Round of 32 the "Second Round" in 2016. Also, for at least a few years, we won't have any games in football stadiums aside from the Final Four. Basketball games are better in basketball arenas. I think we all can applaud these two changes.

Colorado Wipes Out Auburn Auburn was actually in this game for a half, only trailing by two points early in the second half. But Colorado finished a brutal 48-19 run. At one point, Auburn didn't score a point for more than seven minutes. One can maybe give some credit to the altitude here, as it has been shown that teams at high altitude do have a slightly better homecourt advantage than teams that don't, but really I think this was just a talent differential. Bruce Pearl has a really nice recruiting class coming in next season, but he doesn't have much to work with right now.

Colorado's defense was pretty good last season, but it's at another level so far. They held Auburn to 0.83 PPP after holding Drexel to 0.71 PPP on Friday. This seemed like an NCAA Tournament team preseason, and they certainly look like one now. The question is how this defense looks against Tournament-level competition, and unfortunately we might not know for a while. If you believe in Georgia or Colorado State (I believe in the latter a lot more than the former) then those games are on Colorado's early December schedule. After that, we'll have to wait until the Diamond Head Classic around Christmas.

Florida Gulf Coast Beats UC Santa Barbara Both of these teams were preseason picks by me to win their respective leagues. Neither has much chance to contend for an at-large bid, but results like this could definitely play a role in seeding on Selection Sunday. Also, it gives us a chance to gauge each team against a similar quality opponent. It's also, of course, a chance to watch the stat stuffing Alan Williams, who finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds for UCSB. In overtime, though, it was Brett Comer taking over with six points and one assist. In the end, you never want to draw real conclusions from an overtime game, but this Florida Gulf Coast team is looking more feisty than they perhaps seemed to be preseason.

Winthrop Upsets Clemson Clemson will certainly feel like this win was in their grasp. They earned a significant free throw advantage (39 to 25) and Landry Nnoko dominated the paint (5 blocks), leading to Winthrop shooting a putrid 8-for-19 on layups and dunks. But Clemson's backcourt lacks a real scorer, and they finished with twice as many turnovers (16) as assists (8), and shot only 3-for-13 behind the arc.

The elite defense and putrid offense is a reminder of what Clemson was last season, of course, when Pomeroy ranked them the 20th best defense in the nation while they finished only 13th in the ACC in offensive efficiency. Last year's team went to the NIT, and a loss to Winthrop certainly doesn't put them on good pace for a tourney bid this season. They'll get a chance to bounce back right away, if they can, with a trip to the Virgin Islands starting with a game against Gardner Webb on Friday.

Meanwhile, Winthrop has to put themselves in the Big South conversation with this win. With this win to go with Charleston Southern's win over Ole Miss, it's a better start to the season for a conference that was pretty poor last season.

Iowa State Impresses I wasn't nearly as high on this Georgia State team preseason as others, who were a bit too blinded by big names like Kevin Ware and Ryan Harrow. But Iowa State was shorthanded here, playing without the suspended Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas, and they still whipped Georgia State. Bryce Dejean-Jones made a good impression (15 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), but the real star was Monte Morris, who had 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting and also led all players with 9 assists. The Cyclones finished with 23 assists on 29 made shots.

So how good is this Iowa State team really? They'll take a step up in competition next week at the CBE Classic, where they'll open with Alabama on Monday and then will face either Maryland or Arizona State the following day.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Morning News: Kentucky Struggles, Holy Cross Upsets Harvard, Demetrius Treadwell Suspended, And Much More


Buffalo's Justin Moss absolutely posterized Willie Cauley-Stein

Kentucky Struggles Against Buffalo Kentucky ended up winning this game by 19 points, but the final score is deceptive. Buffalo led by five points at halftime, and this one was tight all the way until the final ten minutes of the game. Kentucky finished the game on a 20-5 run, to give the illusion that they played better than they did. The much-talked about platoon system had to go by the wayside when Karl Towns picked up his third foul late in the first half. But although we might see it again I think this game demonstrated one of the big problems with it: minutes are too balanced.

The ten guys in the "platoon" are all averaging between 16 and 24.5 minutes per game this season. All but Towns (who was in serious foul trouble all game) played between 18 and 26 minutes here. But they're not all the same player. Marcus Lee, in particular, has been ineffective. But he has to play as much as Tyler Ullis, who has looked really good off the bench. In fact, Ullis appears to run the offense better than either of the Harrison twins, who are in the starting platoon. Kentucky would be better off working Ullis into the starting rotation, or at least giving him and some of their other best players more minutes, while reducing the minutes for Marcus Lee and Devin Booker.

Kentucky's defense was lazy and slow in the first half of this game, but much better in the second half. This Kentucky team is still really good, but John Calipari is going to have to earn his salary figuring out how to manage the minutes and egos of so many athletic, hyped players. Basically, the problems we all knew would exist preseason have not yet been solved. But it's just November, after all.

Holy Cross Upsets Harvard Harvard didn't impress anybody in their regular season opener by struggling with MIT (they actually trailed midway through the first half), and they followed this up with a rough one point loss to Holy Cross. The problem for them, without question, has been a disjointed offense. They committed 24 turnovers here after committing 15 against MIT. After grabbing a two point lead with three minutes to go in this game, they committed turnovers on their next three possessions, relinquishing a lead they'd never get back. The real stunner was Siyani Chambers, who was so good as a freshman but has plateaued. He played all 40 minutes here and finished with 1 point on 0-for-3 shooting from the field, with 6 assists and 9 turnovers. Gross.

Harvard has one more cupcake next week (Florida Atlantic) before heading into a crucial stretch where they play home games against Houston, UMass and Northeastern. If they don't play well in that stretch, their at-large hopes (and the hopes of a two-bid Ivy League) could be dead by early December.

I have American University as the favorite in the Patriot League, but with Holy Cross as their top contender. It remains to be seen how much this result has to do with Holy Cross playing well versus how much has to do with Harvard playing poorly, but this is a good start for the Crusaders.

Demetrius Treadwell Suspended Indefinitely The Akron star violated some sort of unspecified team or school rule. And while Akron wasn't the preseason favorite in the MAC, they were considered one of the contenders, and Treadwell was their best player and also preseason first team All-MAC. So unless his violation was minor enough that he can return soon, this suspension absolutely could sink Akron's season.

UMass Beats Boston College This game actually started well for Boston College. Despite being five point underdogs, they opened up a 13 point lead and led by eight at halftime. But in the first six minutes of the second half, UMass forced six turnovers and got out on a 21-5 run. They finished with a ten point advantage in fast break points and a staggering 46 free throw attempts to 27 for Boston College. The Golden Eagles became a jump shooting team, launching 18 more shots behind the arc than their opponents, and hitting only 24% of them.

It's only fair to give Jim Christian some time to get his players used to his new system, but it's looking like it will be a pretty bumpy start to his tenure. UMass, meanwhile, is off to a solid start after beating Siena on Friday night. They'll play Manhattan on Tuesday, and then head to the Mohegan Sun to take on Notre Dame and Florida State. If they can win two or more of those three games, they might start moving into some projected tourney brackets.

Wisconsin Cruises Again There's not much to say about the two cupcake demolitions Wisconsin has performed to start this season other than that they are who we thought they were. They pass well, they shoot well, and they have really nice depth, particularly in the front court. Sam Dekker looks bigger and more physical, and Nigel Hayes is showing an increased shooting range. I think we all could have agreed before the season started that Wisconsin has the highest floor of any team in the nation. Barring catastrophic injuries, this Wisconsin team is a guarantee to be Top 10 in the nation and a Big Ten title contender. We all knew that. But the question is, can they take the step up (particularly defensively) to be the best team in the country. And games against Chattanooga and Northern Kentucky just won't answer that.

Wisconsin-Green Bay will be a test on Wednesday, but their first premier opponent will come in the Bahamas, where they'll open against UAB, but will potentially play Florida in their second game, and perhaps North Carolina, Oklahoma or UCLA in their third game. We know Wisconsin can score. The question is whether they can defend elite teams better than they did last season, when they were only 7th in Big Ten play in defensive efficiency.

Arizona Wins Despite Sloppiness I don't think Arizona fans will be particularly excited about this win over Cal State Northridge. They were never at risk of losing, but the final score was where it was because Arizona was just too sloppy offensively. 18 turnovers to 17 assists is not a good ratio against an opponent like this. That said, there were bright signs, particularly freshman Stanley Johnson (17 points on 7-for-10 shooting). TJ McConnell also played well (7 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds), but that's not exactly a surprise.

Certainly there's no reason to panic over one sloppy game. And the good news is that Arizona has a slew of quality opponents coming up. They will face a dangerous UC-Irvine opponent on Wednesday, and then the following week head out for the Maui Invitational.

Rutgers Offense Stinks Against George Washington This was just an ugly performance for Rutgers in their season opener. They shot 22% on three-pointers, 21% on two-point jumpers, and committed 16 turnovers, leading to 0.76 PPP. To put that in perspective, that's the second worst offensive performance by a Power 5 team so far this season (Washington State scored 0.71 PPP in their loss at UTEP). If we're looking for a mitigating factor, there is the fact that Kadeem Jack is still out injured and should be back soon. Also, the lone bright spot was freshman DJ Foreman, who poured in 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting off the bench.

But this Rutgers team looks bad, and their easiest Big Ten regular season game will be their opener, at home against Northwestern. After that they'll likely be a significant underdog in every remaining game. The odds are still against a team going 0-18, because that's really hard to do, but if Rutgers falls to Northwestern then the "0-18 Watch" will definitely get fired up. As for George Washington, the question remains whether this performance was particularly impressive or if Rutgers is just a really bad team. We'll get a better idea on Friday, when George Washington goes on the road to face Florida. They don't need to win that game, but a close, competitive game would be nice validation of this thumping of Rutgers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, LJ Peak, Tashawn Thomas, USC Loses, And Duke Rolls

LJ Peak's 23 points were the most a Georgetown freshman has had in a debut during JTIII's tenure

New Bracket Projection We're 17 weeks from Selection Sunday, so it's time for a new bracket projection. For obvious reasons, there were no significant changes from my last projection. The only change to the Field of 68 is Iona replacing Siena as the MAAC favorite. These will continue to be posted weekly, after the conclusion of the Saturday set of games. When we get to around February or so I'll start doing midweek bracket projections as well.

LJ Peak's Impressive Debut In yesterday's Morning News post there were so many games to talk about that I didn't have time to discuss individual players whose teams dominated cupcakes. There was no time for Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Arizona or others. But yesterday was a much lighter college basketball schedule. So let's talk about LJ Peak. John Thompson III rarely ever has true freshmen start, so you knew he thought highly of Peak to put him in the starting lineup. But he put on a show, going 9-for-9 from the field and leading all scorers with 23 points.

Despite Peak's play, Georgetown can't really feel too good about this result. Josh Smith looks thinner, but he was not particularly effective. And in particular, the Hoyas felt Smith's deficiencies on the glass, where they were badly outworked by St. Francis. St. Francis had 22 offensive rebounds, finishing with a 41.5 OR% compared to Georgetown's 28.1 OR%. Georgetown's defense is going to struggle badly in Big East play if this doesn't get fixed.

Tashawn Thomas Cleared For Oklahoma Thomas scored 15.4 points per game for Houston last season, and was a significant transfer addition for Oklahoma. His size will help ease the pressure on Oklahoma's 2014 recruiting class, which was focused on bigs. The front line was clearly Oklahoma's biggest offseason need. Kansas is the favorite in the Big 12, and Texas is considered the top challenger, but Oklahoma has to at least be in that conversation now.

USC Loses To Portland State Andy Enfield's second season at USC is starting on a sour note, just like his first season did. It's not a particular surprise that their go-to playmaker is star 2014 recruit Jordan McLaughlin (19 points and 6 assists). This is a roster with a lot of new pieces, as was needed after four of the top six minute earners left from a team that went 2-16 in Pac-12 play. The biggest concern for the Trojans in this first game is probably not a huge surprise for a team heavy with young players: turnovers (their top seven minute earners were freshmen or sophomores). They had 23 turnovers here, good for an ugly 32.3% turnover rate. Enfield keeps landing strong recruiting classes, but at some point it has to translate into at least decent performance on the court. This looks like a Pac-12 bottom feeder again.

Duke Rolls Over Another Cupcake Nobody expected Presbyterian or Fairfield to provide any resistance to Duke, and they didn't, but these two games did give a chance for America to check out this very young and very talented Duke roster. Jahlil Okafor (scoring 18 ppg) has done nothing to dissuade the preseason hype he earned, while Amile Jefferson has shown a lot of aggressiveness on the glass (9.5 rpg so far, compared to 6.9 last season). One player who was surprisingly aggressive was Justise Winslow. The true freshman has taken 22 shots in 41 minutes of playing time so far this season.

One thing that stands out for Duke so far as a team is that their shooting has been very sharp - 47.2% behind the arc and 73.1% at the line. How sustainable is that? It's too early to tell. Duke's first opponent with a pulse will be Michigan State, on Tuesday.

W-17 BP68

We've made it to the regular season bracket projections. For those new to my website this season, I will put these out after every weekend from now through Selection Sunday. Look for them to be posted either late Saturday night (after the day's games have finished) or early Sunday morning. Once we get to around the start of February, I will start having mid-week bracket projections as well.

Most teams have only played a single game, and some haven't played a game at all yet, so there aren't too many changes since my last bracket. While a few teams shifted around, the only team to move into the Field of 68 is Iona, who are the new MAAC favorites, replacing Siena.

Since these projections below are mostly based on preseason previews, you should feel free to click on the team tags on the upper left part of this page to see why I feel how I feel about your team.

Remember, this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection, 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. North Carolina
2. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
2. Virginia

3. Texas
3. VCU (ATLANTIC TEN)
3. SAN DIEGO STATE (MOUNTAIN WEST)
3. Oklahoma

4. GONZAGA (WCC)
4. Florida
4. Louisville
4. Utah

5. Michigan
5. Ohio State
5. Iowa
5. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)

6. Iowa State
6. Dayton
6. Colorado
6. SMU (AAC)

7. Pittsburgh
7. Stanford
7. West Virginia
7. UConn

8. Xavier
8. Nebraska
8. Syracuse
8. UCLA

9. Cincinnati
9. Georgetown
9. Illinois
9. Northern Iowa

10. BYU
10. Maryland
10. Oklahoma State
10. Colorado State

11. Richmond
11. Tennessee
11. Michigan State
11. HARVARD (IVY)

12. Arkansas
12. Miami-Florida
12. Butler
12. Kansas State
12. TOLEDO (MAC)
12. UC SANTA BARBARA (BIG WEST)

13. UTEP (CONFERENCE USA)
13. IONA (MAAC)
13. CLEVELAND STATE (HORIZON)
13. DREXEL (COLONIAL)

14. MURRAY STATE (OVC)
14. DENVER (SUMMIT)
14. GEORGIA STATE (SUN BELT)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)

15. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)
15. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (SOUTHLAND)
15. EASTERN WASHINGTON (BIG SKY)
15. AMERICAN UNIVERSITY (PATRIOT)

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

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Tulsa, Clemson, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Creighton, Providence, Minnesota, Purdue, Baylor, Illinois State, UNLV, California, Oregon, Georgia, Saint Mary's

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Houston, Temple, Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, NC State, Virginia Tech, George Washington, UMass, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Indiana, Northwestern, UC-Irvine, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Green Bay, Western Michigan, Missouri State, Fresno State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Texas A&M, San Francisco

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Duquesne, Saint Louis, Penn State, Texas Tech, Delaware, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Princeton, Siena, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Southern Illinois, Boise State, Wyoming, Oregon State, Washington State, LSU, Mississippi, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Portland, San Diego  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Morning News: Season Begins, Pitino Bowl, VCU Over Tennessee, SEC Debacles, Michigan St Struggles, And Much More

Eastern Washington and Texas Southern tipped the season off at 11am eastern time (8am local!)

The season got underway with a flurry on Friday night. With so much action, and not wanting to make this a 20,000 word post, I'm only going to talk about games with meaningful scores and/or results. A lot of elite teams and players got underway with blowouts over cupcakes (Duke, Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, et cetera), and I want to talk about those teams... but it'll have to wait for another day. I'll go out on a limb and guess that we'll all have plenty of time to discuss those players and teams over the next five months.

Let's get to the action:

Season Gets Underway In Cheney, Washington Maybe not the greatest game we'll see all year, but it's fun to have college basketball back in our lives. This was also an opportunity to watch a fun Eastern Washington team that has a real chance to win the Big Sky. I picked them preseason as the narrow favorite over Weber State, while the media leaned the other direction.

Across the two halves we got a taste of both sides of Eastern Washington. In the first half their lack of size kept them off the glass and from scoring in the paint (only a single two-point field goal), but in the second half they went nuts behind the arc, which opened things up for Venky Jois inside. Tyler Harvey, who led the Big Sky in three-pointers made last season, was 7-for-10 behind the arc. It's obviously way too early to really focus on this, but Eastern Washington is the type of team that as a 13 or 14 seed could be a scary NCAA Tourney opponent, particularly one that isn't explosive offensively. When EWU is on, they can put up points in buckets.

Louisville Overwhelms Minnesota In the Pitino Bowl, it never really felt like Minnesota had a chance. They hung in, only down by around ten points all night, but just couldn't handle Louisville's pressure. The Cardinals ended up forcing 11 steals, starting fast breaks that mostly actually turned into free throw attempts. And there were a lot of free throws attempts - 75 in all, if we include both teams.

Throw in the odd location (Puerto Rico), the odd court (play had to be stopped many times to wipe moisture off the court) and all of the fouls, and it would be a mistake to draw too many conclusions from this game. Probably the one observation we can make is that Montrez Harrell is going to be an All-American candidate. He had 30 points, but the big change he has made relative to last season is extending his range, including 3-for-4 behind the arc. Minnesota doesn't want moral victories, but they played pretty well. Andre Hollins (22 points) looked sharp. We'll get a better look at them when they play in the NIT during Thanksgiving week.

Quick First Half Leads VCU Over Tennessee VCU hit 7-for-15 behind the arc in the first half of this game, and anytime they do that they're going to annihilate just about any team in the country. Tennessee was, unsurprisingly, down by 18 at the half. But things returned to reality in the second (VCU was just 4-for-14 behind the arc), and Tennessee actually pulled within eight points a few times before the Rams pulled away late. We expect VCU to be a very strong team this year, but Tennessee looks like a bubble team, and this is the type of premier win they really could have used.

There was a scary moment in this game when JeQuan Lewis fell to the ground for VCU, slammed his head on the ground, and appeared to have some kind of seizure. At this point, we just have to wait to hear if Lewis is going to have to miss some games. VCU's point guard depth becomes a problem if Lewis can't go for any significant length of time.

Ole Miss Goes Down To Charleston Southern Ugly, embarrassing November losses for SEC teams are a November tradition unlike any other. This one marks Charleston Southern's second win over a Power Five team ever. It was decided on a Cedrick Bowen put back dunk with 0.1 seconds left in overtime, which actually had to go to replay review before being upheld. Certainly this win makes Charleston Southern look more like a serious contender in the Big South Conference. But the real story is how bad Ole Miss looked here. They did nothing well, and didn't even have an individual player look good. They got out-rebounded, shot 20% on threes, had a 34.9 eFG%, committed 17 turnovers... it was just ugly all around. The Rebels weren't expected to be a Tourney team, but they're not looking like a team that will even come close.

Cedrick Bowen's put-back dunk with 0.1 seconds left doomed Ole Miss

Kim Anderson's Debut Goes Poorly Missouri's offense was an absolute mess in Kim Anderson's home opener as Missouri head coach.  They finished with 0.86 PPP, including 17 turnovers and 5-for-23 shooting behind the arc. And it was particularly ugly down the stretch. Not including a meaningless layup in the final seconds, the stats for Missouri in the final two minutes were 1-for-6 from the field with a pair of turnovers. Even their lone bright spot, freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar's team-leading 21 points, came on inefficient 9-for-23 shooting.

As for UMKC, it looks like New Mexico State will again be the class of the WAC, but this result potentially makes the case that the Kangaroos should be considered the second best team in the league. We'll have to see with more games how much of this was UMKC playing well and how much of it was Missouri just being terrible.

Georgia Falls To Georgia Tech At least this SEC loss wasn't particularly embarrassing, though it's still a really disappointing start to Georgia's season against their intrastate rival. Georgia Tech got two big performances of note. First, Charles Mitchell poured in 20 points and 9 rebounds. Remember that Mitchell transferred in from Maryland and was allowed by the NCAA to play right away. He'll be a monster on the glass all season long. Also, Quinton Stephens, who only played 12.8 minutes per game for the Yellow Jackets as a freshman, led all scorers with 22 points. It's only one game, but Georgia Tech doesn't look like an ACC bottom feeder so far.

This is an ugly start to the season for Georgia, but there's no reason to overreact. For one thing, Georgia Tech isn't exactly Charleston Southern or UMKC, and they played well. Georgia will feel like if they had shot the ball well (instead they were only 5-for-20 on threes and 4-for-14 on two-point jumpers) they would have won. So let's wait for a larger sample size before counting them out.

Michigan State Struggles The Spartans escaped with the win over Navy, but only just. It was a three point game in the final 25 seconds, and the Spartans ended up hanging on by only five. You obviously don't want to overreact to a single game, but this kind of game is exactly why I was so confused at Michigan State being ranked preseason. The logic appears to be "Meh, Tom Izzo will figure it out", but this is the least talented team he's had in years. Their go-to scorer is Travis Trice, who averaged a full 7.3 points per game (in over 22 minutes per game) last season. They lost a ton since last season, and none of the newcomers had much of an impact. We'll get a better idea of where Michigan State stands against Duke on Tuesday, but the way the Blue Devils looked in their opener, don't be stunned if the Spartans get run off the floor.

Paul Hewitt In Trouble? George Mason has gotten weaker every season of the Paul Hewitt tenure, and this loss to Cornell is an embarrassing way to open the season. In George Mason's defense, this result was due to fluky shooting more than anything. Cornell finished 9-for-18 behind the arc, with a 54.3 eFG%. In comparison, George Mason was just 7-for-27 behind the arc, with a 36.0 eFG%. That said, this is a Cornell team that went 2-26 last season. There's no excuse to lose to them, even with fluky shooting. Not sure anybody could be surprised if Hewitt is fired after this season (or during it).

Iona Tops Cleveland State This was an interesting chance to get a look at two teams that will contend for conference titles. I took Cleveland State to win the Horizon preseason. In the MAAC, I gave the narrow edge to Siena over Iona, but with the loss of Imoh Silas things might change. And this was an impressive way for Iona to start their regular season, led by Isaiah Williams (18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists). This isn't a "bad" loss for Cleveland State, on the road at a good Iona team. So there's no reason to think they're not still the Horizon favorite.

Houston Wins At Murray State The Kelvin Sampson era if off to a nice start in Houston, with a road upset of a strong Murray State team. It's a very different Houston roster from last season, with so many transfers in and out, so it might take a while to get a good feel for this team. Their top scorer was Devonta Pollard (transfer from Alabama) while another key transfer (Cavon Baker, from a junior college after previously playing sparingly at Florida Atlantic) poured in 14. As for Murray State, this is going to be a very frustrating loss to open the season. They fell by only three points after a 6-for-25 performance behind the arc, after shooting a strong 37.6% behind the arc last season. They head into another tough game next, on the road at Middle Tennessee.

UTEP Crushes Washington State This score was a fair representation of how much the UTEP defense dominated this game. To put Wazzu's 0.70 PPP in perspective, they had the worst offense in the Pac-12 last season and only had scored fewer than 0.70 PPP once - on the road at Arizona. Nothing looked good for them, from a 40.7 eFG% to the 22 turnovers. This is a really good sign for a UTEP team that I picked as the Conference USA favorite (though the league gave the narrow edge to Louisiana Tech). UTEP doesn't appear to have a dominant scorer, but 6'8" Vince Hunter looked like a man among boys here (14 points, 16 rebounds). He was a force as a freshman, and now looks to be even stronger as a sophomore.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Morning News: Markus Kennedy, Signing Day, Memphis Loses, Imoh Silas, And Adonis De La Rosa

"You're not drawing conclusions about teams from the results of exhibitions, are you?"

The regular season starts tomorrow. Seriously.

Time for one last preseason Morning News post:

Markus Kennedy To Miss The Fall Semester This is another significant blow for an SMU team that had such high hopes for this season a few months ago. The loss of Emmanuel Mudiay was a big hit, but still kept them looking like a borderline Top 25 team. But now they're going to be without star big man Markus Kennedy for the fall semester. He'll be back for the AAC regular season, but in the AAC (and particularly for SMU) it is crucial to get quality non-conference wins. Remember, last season SMU was sacrificed by the tourney Selection Committee specifically because their non-conference schedule was a joke.

Signing Day I don't want to talk about signing day too much, particularly since nearly all of the big signings were already known ahead of time, and also because most of the Top 50 recruits haven't decided yet. There are a few particularly noteworthy schools, though. Ben Simmons (the #1 recruit in the country according to some recruiting services) to LSU was already known, but it's still good to make it official, and it's a huge coup for a program that has made just three NCAA Tournament appearances in the last decade, with none since 2009.

Also, Steve Wojciechowski has landed a recruiting class that is rated by some services as one of the five best in the nation in his first season at Marquette. Obviously we've seen coaches show up at new programs and land one huge recruiting class and then never succeed on the basketball court, so this only means so much, but it's a really nice start to Wojo's tenure there. Finally, Arizona deserves mention for having the #1 ranked class so far by Scout, Rivals and ESPN. So they're going to be ready to reload immediately next season.

Memphis Loses An Exhibition I write about this every year, but DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO EXHIBITION RESULTS. Just don't. In the last seven seasons alone, three different teams have lost exhibition games and then gone on to earn a five seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, including that Syracuse team that lost to Le Moyne in an exhibition and then went on to earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tourney. In exhibitions, coaches often try weird lineups, they give extra playing time to guys at the end of the bench (including true freshmen considering a redshirt), and they often try odd strategies. It's a chance to mess around in a game that doesn't matter.

Now that all said... I'm down on Memphis this season. Not because of an exhibition result, of course. But in my most recent bracket projection I had them on the outside looking in. The good thing is, we'll get a good (real) data point very soon. Memphis will play Wichita State on Tuesday.

Siena senior Imoh Silas To Miss The Season A torn ACL could end Imoh Silas's career at Siena. He has one year of eligibility left, but he will graduate this spring, and has the option of taking his final year of eligibility somewhere else if he wants to. Silas actually started 32 of 38 games last season for Siena, though he only averaged 16.9 minutes per game, primarily due to early foul trouble.

Siena is my preseason favorite in the MAAC, and obviously this is a significant blow. They return their entire regular rotation from last season, so they will have plenty of depth, including two returning bigs from their starting lineup (Brett Bisping and Lavon Long), but don't be surprised if Iona is my new MAAC favorite when I put a new bracket projection out on Sunday.

Adonis De La Rosa Ineligible At St. John's There's a chance De La Rosa will be allowed to return to St. John's later this season, but for now he's ineligible. And this, of course, comes just days after Keith Thomas was declared ineligible. It's been a discouraging offseason for St. John's, and this coming season is going to be a significant uphill battle just to make the NCAA Tournament. Be prepared for another season of announcers and writers talking about how "talented" St. John's is, which is code for "lots of African Americans who look like they should be good at basketball", but there might not be a whole lot of winning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Morning News: Jordan Goodman Out, Leslee Smith Returning?, And Donnie Tyndall Problems

Does this really look like the face of somebody who could break NCAA rules?

Just three days until the regular season kicks off! While we wait, let's get to some news from the past few days:

Jordan Goodman Out Until December The Juco transfer to New Mexico is now 6'10" and is expected to play a significant role for New Mexico this season. But he's still recovering from offseason knee surgery, and is now not expected back before the start of December. In my offseason projections, I did not have New Mexico as a tourney team. A major impact from a Juco transfer like Goodman is the type of thing that can turn things around for the Lobos. But having him potentially miss all of their key non-conference contests is not a help.

Leslee Smith Could Return? When Nebraska forward Leslee Smith tore his ACL, it was announced as an injury that would cost him the season. But now there's buzz about him potentially returning as early as January. Normally players would just bank the redshirt year, but Smith already took a redshirt year, and an appeal for a sixth year of eligibility would be far from a sure thing. So even if he can only play for two or three months, it would make sense for him to try to get back and play. Particularly with a Nebraska team that has a good chance of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.

Donnie Tyndall Investigation Impacting Recruiting? Southern Miss is under investigation for potential violations while Donnie Tyndall was there. Nothing has been proven yet, but this creates two potential problems for Tennessee, who hired Tyndall during the offseason. For one thing, this is pretty awkward after the Bruce Pearl situation. Second, this could be impacting recruiting.Top 100 recruit Chris Clarke decommitted from Tennessee just hours after the Tyndall news broke, and only a week after originally committing. It's certainly plausible that the potential violations are not why Clarke decommitted, and Tennessee's two other 2015 commits say that they're sticking with their original decision, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Morning News: Tom Crean Troubles, Alex Rosenberg, Shaqquan Aaron, And Title Odds

"Coach Crean, your thoughts on how the last week has gone?"


Off-Court Troubles For Indiana It hasn't been the best week for Indiana basketball. First, Emmitt Holt hit teammate Devin Davis with his car. Then, Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson were suspended for failing drug tests. Holt, Williams and Robinson were all given fake "four game suspensions" (fake because they'll include two exhibitions and two SWAC cupcakes, getting the kids back for Game #3 against SMU), but Davis will be in the hospital for a while and can't even think about playing basketball again anytime soon.

The vultures are out for Tom Crean over this, but we've seen this before. In reality, nobody really cares that much about these off-court problems. If Tom Crean was winning Big Ten titles, nobody would care at all. But I argued back in April that I thought Tom Crean might end up on the hot seat this season. The Hoosiers are unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament this season, and that would mark five times in seven seasons that Crean has missed the tourney. He has finished higher than fifth place in the Big Ten only once, and never made it past a Sweet 16. That is what the real problem is. But these off court issues will give the fans and boosters a good excuse for getting rid of Crean if this season really goes as poorly as it seems to be heading.

Alex Rosenberg To Miss The Season The Ivy League has some bizarre rules, namely due to the fact that Ivy League schools like to feel better than other sports leagues. One of these rules is that they effectively don't have the concept of a "redshirt". You are expected to show up on campus and use your four years of eligibility in four years. So that brings us to Columbia's best basketball player, Alex Rosenberg, who was due to miss around two months with an injury. Rather than only play half of his senior season he will take the year off. But because of Ivy League rules, he will actually have to withdraw from the school entirely, and so he will spend the year off campus and not taking any classes. The presumption is that he'll apply to come back to the school in 2015-16 and that the Ivy League will approve a waiver for him to play another year of basketball. But that process will have to play out next summer.

Columbia was a dark horse to challenge Harvard in the Ivy League, but this loss probably ends those hopes. On the plus side for Columbia, this should make them significantly better in 2015-16.

Shaqquan Aaron Not Yet Cleared Aaron is arguably Louisville's top recruit this season. He was #30 in the Rivals Top 150. Certainly Louisville has a very deep 2014 recruiting class, but they also lost three of five starters and need the infusion of talent. Rick Pitino is still saying publicly that he expects Aaron to be cleared, so there's no reason for Louisville fans to panic, but this is a story to keep an eye on with the regular season starting next week.

Preseason Title Odds For those curious, these are the preseason national title odds for college basketball. In the least surprising news, the Kentucky odds are ridiculously poor value. As a good rule of thumb, you should never bet on the favorites preseason for the national title, because there's just too much randomness in a one-and-done tournament. But with the Kentucky hype, the odds have come down to 2-to-1. The thing to remember is that, in general, the best team in the nation enters the NCAA Tournament with something around a 25% chance of winning it all. So even if Kentucky ends up the #1 team in the nation, they still should only be at around 3-to-1 or 7-to-2 odds in March. Before they've played a game and we know if injuries/suspension/weirdness happens? Anything less than 6-to-1 is a sucker bet.

If you want to look for value in preseason title odds, you need to get really good odds. You're buying a lottery ticket, so make sure it's worthwhile if it pays off. Utah at 100-to-1 or Syracuse at 50-to-1 are examples of possible lottery tickets potentially worth throwing a few bucks on.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Morning News: Conner Frankamp transfer, Keith Thomas Ineligible, Omar Calhoun Hurt, And More

Conner Frankamp's 12 points (4-for-7 on 3s) against Stanford nearly saved Kansas from tourney elimination.

Conner Frankamp Leaves Kansas This is a fairly stunning transfer with the season about to begin, particularly considering what a fan favorite Frankamp was after the scoring spark he provided off the bench as a freshman. It's also a concern for a Kansas team that already lost Naadir Tharpe to transfer, meaning that Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are the only Jayhawks who can play in the backcourt who got meaningful NCAA minutes last season. Mason was very streaky last season, and with Frankamp gone the only other point guard option for Kansas is true freshman Devonte Graham. If either Mason or Graham struggles or gets hurt, Kansas will have a ball handling problem.

The good news for Kansas is that their chief rival in the Big 12, Texas, also is very deep in the front court while lacking depth in their back court. We could see some awfully big lineups when those two teams match up. This also cracks the door open just a little bit wider for other Big 12 contenders like Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State.

Keith Thomas Ineligible For St. John's There has been an under-the-radar academic scandal at Westchester Community College that has actually caused the entire basketball program to be suspended. It's knocked out the eligibility of a bunch of their transfers to Division I schools. The latest to go down is Keith Thomas, an athletic 6'8" wing who was set to play for St. John's. The Johnnies are a team that has a whole lot of roster turnover, and they're now awfully thin in the front court. Don't be surprised to see a lot of lineups with four backcourt players and Chris Obekpa expected to handle the paint by himself.

Omar Calhoun Out For A Few Weeks With A Knee Injury This doesn't look too serious for UConn on its face, as Calhoun shouldn't miss more than a handful of games. But the once hyped recruit continues to struggle with injuries and setbacks, and UConn fans have to really wonder if he'll ever live up to his potential.

Drexel Loses Major Canady For The Season Drexel was my preseason favorite in the Colonial, but this is an injury that will hit their depth. Canady was raw as a freshman, but he was athletic and an offensive creator, and he played more minutes last season than any backcourt returner. It's a tough break for a program that lost Damion Lee for nearly all of last season. They can't catch an injury break, it seems.

Zack Lofton Booted From Minnesota The new transfer to Minnesota had averaged 11.3 points per game for Illinois State last season. This might be a loss that hurts the Gophers more in 2015-16 than in 2014-15, though. He wasn't going to start over Andre Hollins or Deandre Mathieu this coming season, but both of those two will be seniors. Richard Pitino is going to need significant production next season from a 2015 recruiting class that is very heavy on guards.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Morning News: Haka, Playoff, Sam Dekker, Javon Bess, Alex Rosenberg And More


The VCU band, the best band in college basketball, is going to be doing Haka dances at games this year. This is not a drill.

We're getting closer and closer to some real college basketball to talk about. Friday marks two weeks until the first regular season games. Some teams have already played exhibition games.

All I'll say about exhibitions is what I warn about every year. First of all, according to "sources" every player either lost 15 pounds or gained 15 pounds of muscle, and everybody looked awesome. Lots of fantastic dunks happen when nobody is playing real defense or competitive opponents. It doesn't mean much. But second of all, don't freak out if a good team loses an exhibition to a bad team. These games are not played or coached like actual competitive games. Back in 2009-10, Syracuse lost a preseason exhibition to Division II Le Moyne, and went on to earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. So sure, watch the exhibitions. It's nice to see those players in action again. But don't draw any strong conclusions from them.

One more note before getting to the actual college basketball news, I want to remind you that I broke down in gratuitous detail how the College Football Playoff Committee put their initial rankings out last night (Spoiler Alert: They copied the AP Poll, as I predicted two months ago).

On to the real news:

Sam Dekker Injures His Ankle For now, this doesn't seem like a significant issue for Wisconsin. They still hope to have him back for their regular season opener, though he's not yet back practicing. As a preseason contender for the All-American team and for Big Ten Player of the Year, expect Wisconsin to be cautious with him. The last thing they need is for an ankle injury to linger all season.

Javon Bess To Miss A Month Bess is widely considered the second best prospect in Michigan State's 2014 recruiting class, behind point guard Lourawls Nairn. He's not a true blue chipper, but probably good enough to play significant minutes off the bench as a true freshman. But this injury will not only cost him some regular season games, but could push him into a redshirt. There's always that balance with freshmen, where you have to ask just how few minutes you're willing to play a guy to burn a year of eligibility if he's not very likely to leave early for the NBA.

Columbia's Alex Rosenberg Out For Two Months Arguably the best player on Columbia's roster, this is a blow for the Lions as they enter this season with their best team in perhaps decades. They were primed to be a serious contender to Harvard in the Ivy League. But if he can come back before conference play starts (which isn't certain, but seems likely), it shouldn't be too big of a blow for the program.

Hawaii Fires Their Head Coach Gib Arnold's assistant is also being fired. Hawaii is in danger of NCAA punishments, and they weren't likely to seriously challenge in the Big West title race anyway. So whoever becomes the next head coach at Hawaii looks to have quite the mess to clean up.