Tuesday, March 31, 2015

2015-16 Preview: Mid Majors, Part II

Horizon League


The Horizon League was strong at the top, but not quite strong enough to realistically be in the bubble hunt. Both Valparaiso and Green Bay lacked the premier win that would have made them viable on Selection Sunday. Valparaiso earned the outright league title, which earned them the Horizon League title game on their home court, which they won over Green Bay. And they took Maryland down to the final possession in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64, but lost by three. Green Bay earned a 5 seed in the NIT, where they went down meekly at Illinois State. In the end, the only Horizon League team to actually win a postseason game was Cleveland State, who beat Western Michigan in the first round of the CIT before losing to NJIT.

Valparaiso will contend for a conference title again next season. They're not without losses, as they graduate two starters, including Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez. But they return star big man Alec Peters (16.8 ppg, 58.7 eFG%, 6.7 rpg) and a backcourt led by Darien Walker and point guard Keith Carter, who missed around six weeks with an injury. And of course, Carter only got the starting point guard job after Lexus Williams (6.5 ppg and 2.4 apg in 2013-14) tore his acl preseason, and Williams should be back next season. The front court is hit hard by those two graduations, but they do add 6'7" Shane Hammink (1.6 ppg and 1.4 rpg over two seasons at LSU) and have an up-and-comer in 6'8" David Skara (5.4 ppg and 3.2 rpg as a true freshman). They also add a talented 6'11" recruit in Derrik Smits, the son of Rik Smits.

Green Bay is hit harder by graduations, losing Horizon League Player of the Year Kiefer Sykes, who has a good chance to have a long NBA career. They also lose two front court starters in Greg Mays and Alfonzo McKinnie. They do return shooting guard Carrington Love and talented front court scorer Jordan Fouse, as well as a talented prospect in Daeshon Francis (4.5 ppg in 13.5 mpg with a 62.1 FG% as a true freshman). But with no big additions, it's hard to see how they don't take a step back next season.

The team that started the season incredibly slowly but came on strong was Cleveland State. They went just 6-8 in non-conference play, but actually finished second in the Horizon in efficiency margin in conference play (ahead of Valparaiso). They lose a couple of starters to graduation, including point guard (and 49% three-point shooter) Charlie Lee. They are also losing leading-scorer Trey Lewis (15.8 ppg, 40.5 3P%, 54.2 eFG%) to transfer. That said, they have one more season of star big man Anton Grady, who will likely duel with Alec Peters for Horizon League Player of the Year next season. Their backcourt should be fine even without Trey Lewis. Kaza Keane can handle the point, with Andre Yates a capable shooting guard. They will look for increased production from Terrell Hales, who was effective in limited minutes as a true freshman, and also add 6'1" Myles Hamilton, who averaged 6.0 ppg and 2.4 apg over two seasons at Kennesaw State. Meanwhile, their front court will add 6'9" Jonothan Janssen, a 2014 recruit who took a redshirt. They also add 6'7" Jeron Rogers as their top 2015 recruit.

Oakland, like Cleveland State, improved dramatically as the year went on. They started 4-10 before going 11-5 in conference play. They lose two starters, including leading rebounder Corey Petros (8.2 per game). They do return star Kahlil Felder, though, who led the team in both points and assists (18.1 ppg, 7.6 apg), as well as a young core built around redshirt freshmen Nick Daniels and Jalen Hayes. They also add three transfers from the Big 12. First they add 6'9" Percy Gibson and 6'4" Sherron Dorsey-Walker from Iowa State. Gibson averaged 4.0 ppg and 2.1 rpg over three seasons at Iowa State, while Sherron Dorsey-Walker was averaging 3.0 ppg and 1.3 rpg in three games for Iowa State this past season before leaving (meaning he'll have to sit out the fall semester before being eligible). They also look likely to add 6'4" Martez Walker, who averaged 4.7 ppg and 2.3 rpg as a freshman at Texas in 2013-14 before leaving over a domestic assault. Their top 2015 recruit is 6'10" Brad Brechting.

Milwaukee was ineligible for the postseason this past season, but they were solidly in the middle of the pack, and head into next season losing just one player from their regular rotation, though it's starting point guard John McWhorter. They return star big man Matt Tiby, and have a nice young backcourt duo in Akeem Springs and Cody Wichmann. And they have a potential point guard for the future in Justin Jordan, who was effective off the bench as a true freshman. They also get back 6'6" Austin Arians, who averaged 11.1 ppg and 3.5 rpg as a sophomore but had to miss this past season because of an injury. Their biggest problem this past season was a lack of size, both defensively and on the glass. 6'10" JJ Panoske should get increased playing time, as should 6'9" Brett Prahl, who was effective defensively but not offensively as a redshirt freshman this past season. Milwaukee adds 6'7" Scotty Tyler, who averaged 2.0 ppg and 1.4 rpg as a freshman at Idaho State in 2013-14.

If there's a team outside the Top 4 to make a run at the top of the league next season, however, I'd bet on Detroit. They lose two starters, including leading scorer Juwan Howard, Jr, but they have a really nice young core led by Horizon Freshman of the Year Paris Bass (12.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg. 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.1 bpg) and shooting guard Matthew Grant. They also return their best shooter, Anton Wilson (8.5 ppg, 41.8 3P%). Jaleel Hogan is a 6'6" forward who looked good off the bench as a true freshman as well.

That said, it's hard to see how programs like Milwaukee or Detroit that were so far behind Valparaiso this past season can catch up with them when they're likely to be even better next season. In the end, here's how I see the top of the league playing out:

1. Valparaiso
2. Oakland
3. Cleveland State
4. Detroit
5. Milwaukee

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Other than Manhattan fans, every other fan of the MAAC was rooting for Iona to win the conference title game against the Jaspers. But Manhattan pulled it out, and while Iona probably was heading for a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Manhattan ended up in the 16/16 game with Kentucky waiting. Manhattan proceeded to lose that game to Hampton also. Iona ended up a 6 seed in the NIT, where they lost their opening game at Rhode Island. The only MAAC team that ended up winning a postseason game was Canisius, who beat Dartmouth and Bowling Green in the CIT before falling to NJIT.

Last season, Steve Masiello used an NCAA Tournament appearance to jump to a bigger school. After that blew up in his face he had to return to Manhattan with his tail between his legs. Will he jump again? Perhaps. His team loses three of their top five minute earners, including star Emmy Andujar (16.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.0 spg). They still return top end talent, though, in 6'10" former Maryland transfer Ashton Pankey and shooting guard Shane Richards (13.2 ppg, 38.0 3P%). Tyler Wilson should slide in as a capable starting point guard next season. They will hope to get back 6'4" Samson Usilo, a highly touted 2014 recruit who missed the season with injury (and should receive a redshirt). They need more size, and should get it. 6'10" Jermaine Lawrence missed a bunch of time and should be back. They will hope to get bigger contributions from 6'9" Zane Waterman, who showed some flashes as a true freshman. In addition, their 2015 recruiting class has two bigs, led by 6'8" Vincent Eze.

Iona loses MAAC Player of the Year David Laury (19.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 bpg), but everybody else from their regular rotation returns. Point guards AJ English and Ibn Muhammad, along with sharpshooter Isaiah Williams (13.4 ppg, 44.2 3P%, 66.4 eFG%, 6.1 rpg), will all be seniors next season. Iona also has the MAAC Freshman of the Year in Schadrac Casimir (14.4 ppg, 42.1 3P%). As explosive as their offense was, Iona's defense was often non-existent, particularly on the interior. They finished 8th in the MAAC in both defensive block percentage and DR%. 6'10" Ryden Hines will likely see more playing time next season, and they also get a key addition is 6'9" Taylor Bessick, who averaged 6.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg as a sophomore at James Madison in 2013-14.

By efficiency margin in conference play, and in the standings themselves, the second best team in the MAAC was Rider. They lose two starters to graduation, the most important being 7-footer Matt Lopez (12.3 ppg, 58.4 FG%, 7.7 rpg). They return a solid backcourt starting duo of Teddy Okereafor and Jimmie Taylor. 6'3" Zedric Sadler was Rider's top scorer off the bench, and he'll be back as well. Rider is desperately in need of a big guy for next season, though. Shawn Valentine, Xavier Lundy and Kahlil Thomas are all listed at 6'7" and all played this past season, but all three are really wings, and none of them is a strong rebounder or paint defender. 6'9" Kenny Grant was a highly touted recruit (by MAAC standards) in 2014, but he played only sparingly as a true freshman. It appears they still have one scholarship available, and will need to get another big there to have a real chance to win the league.

Canisius had their inevitable rebuilding season after losing four starters, including Billy Baron, but they were still able to muster the fourth best efficiency margin in MAAC play. They lose leading rebounder Josiah Heath and sixth man Jeremiah Williams, but return leading-scorer Zach Lewis, alongside a pair of talented wings (Jamal Reynolds and Phil Valenti), and shooting guard Kassius Robertson, who was only a freshman. They need a true point guard, as Jan Grzelinski struggled badly as a true freshman and saw his minutes cut significantly as the season went along. Raven Owen, a 2014 recruit who took a redshirt season, could be an option there. They seem to lack the top end talent that Iona and Manhattan have, however.

Quinnipiac loses four starters, including leading-scorer Zaid Hearst and MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Ousmane Drame, so they're unlikely to contend next season. Monmouth loses three of their top five minute earners as well, including leading rebounder Brice Kofane, but they are in far better shape for next season than Quinnipiac. They return starting point guard (and leading scorer) Justin Robinson and a good slashing wing scorer in Deon Jones. They will also get back Josh James, who averaged 8.4 ppg and 3.2 apg as a freshman in 2013-14 but missed most of 2014-15 with an injury, as well as 6'8" Greg Noack, who played sparingly as a freshman but then missed all of 2014-15 with an injury. They also have some key additions, led by 6'3" Je'lon Hornbeak, who averaged 5.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg and 2.1 apg in two seasons at Oklahoma. Also, they hope to finally add 6'5" Micah Seaborn, their top 2014 recruit, who had to miss the season over academic issues. So if you're looking for a sleeper to win the league next season, Monmouth has to be your team.

If there's a team from the bottom half of the league to return to the top half next season, it's a Siena squad that underperformed preseason expectations badly (they were picked 2nd by the media). A primary reason was the loss to injury of 6'8" Brett Bisping, who averaged 11.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg in 2013-14, and leading shot-blocker Imoh Silas. Both will appeal for medical redshirts, and both are expected back next season. They lose Evan Hymes and leading-scorer Rob Poole to graduation now, but return starting point guard Marquis Wright, big man (and leading rebounder) Javion Ogunyemi, and wing Lavon Long. But their real problem this past season was interior defense and rebounding, and the return of Bisping and Silas should remedy that. 6'9" Willem Brandwijk, if he can play well enough offensively, could earn significant minutes in his sophomore season as well. 6'8" 2015 recruit Evan Fisher could also play a key role.

The MAAC should be stronger next season from top to bottom, and even if they feature upsets in the MAAC tournament again I still doubt we'll see them back as a 16 seed again. Here's how I see the top half of the league playing out:

1. Iona
2. Monmouth
3. Siena
4. Canisius
5. Manhattan
6. Rider

Mid-American Conference


The MAC got stronger this past season, and was arguably the best it's been from top to bottom in over a decade, though the league still has not earned an at-large bid since 1999. Buffalo earned a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was a popular 12/5 upset pick, but they came up short against West Virginia. Central Michigan only earned a 6 seed to the NIT, where they lost their first round game at Louisiana Tech. In the end, the best postseason run for a MAC team was Kent State making the quarterfinals of the CIT, where they lost in overtime to Northern Arizona. So can the MAC take the next step next season to seriously contend for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, or to at least earn an at-large bid or two to the NIT?

Well, Buffalo actually got some at-large hype before winning the MAC tournament, but the reality is that it was coming from people in the media who couldn't see past an obviously fraudulent RPI. They had parlayed road losses at Kentucky and Wisconsin, in addition to other smart scheduling, to take a resume that might not have even earned an at-large bid to the NIT and put its RPI into the Top 30. That said, Buffalo was better than their resume. They were a tough, physical team that got after the offensive glass (1st in the MAC in OR%) and overwhelmed athletically inferior opponents. It's probably not going to be too much longer until Bobby Hurley gets snapped up by a larger program, but at the time this post is going live he is still set to coach Buffalo next season, and his team has a chance to be even better next season.

Buffalo loses Xavier Ford and Will Regan off their front line, but they return their top four minute earners, including MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss (17.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and a pair of quality point guards (Shannon Evans and Lamonte Bearden). They add 6'4" Torian Graham, who was once a true blue chip high school recruit but has bounced around the NCAA and Juco levels due primarily to academic problems. If Graham can play, he's still a big time basketball talent. Their biggest need is probably front court depth behind Justin Moss. 6'10" Ikenna Smart, a talented 2014 recruit who took a redshirt season, will be an option there. So is 6'8" 2015 recruit Nick Perkins.

Central Michigan won the MAC regular season title after going just 3-15 in MAC play in 2013-14, behind Keno Davis, who was awarded MAC Coach of the Year for his accomplishment. And they are set to return their top nine minute earners, led by primary playmaker Chris Fowler and the absurdly efficient 6'8" John Simons (12.3 ppg, 45.5 3P%, 68.5 eFG%, 6.5 rpg). 6'4" Josh Kozinski is another really efficient perimeter option. For Central Michigan to take their game to next level, they need to get better defensively, particularly in the paint and on the glass. They were just 9th in the MAC in OR% and DR%, and were 11th in 2P% defense. Keno Davis already started to deal with that problem in his 2014 recruiting class. 6'9" DaRohn Scott and 6'11" Luke Meyer were both effective in short bursts as true freshmen this past season. 7-footer Milos Cabarkapa is more of a project, but could see extended play next season. The Chippewas don't have any significant additions, but they don't need any significant additions to contend for the MAC title next season.

Kent State, Bowling Green and Toledo all lose three starters. Bowling Green's losses including star Richaun Holmes, who led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots and also won MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Toledo's losses include Julius Brown (who led the team in points and assists) and big man JD Weatherspoon (who led the team in rebounds). Kent State's losses include point guard Derek Jackson and second-leading scorer Devareaux Manley. Of those three teams, though, Kent State is definitely the one best primed to still be strong next season. They return star Jimmy Hall (15.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) as well as a couple of quality bigs in Chris Ortiz and Khaliq Spicer. Throw in 6'10" Juco transfer Marvin Jones and that's a lot of big bodies. Kent State's hole in terms of returning experience is in the backcourt, but that should be allayed by additions. First, they should get back 5'11" Kellon Thomas (6.5 ppg and 1.9 apg as a sophomore in 2013-14), who missed almost the entire 2014-15 season with injury. They also add 6'4" Xavier Pollard, who averaged 14.7 ppg and 3.8 apg as a junior at Maine in 2013-14, as well as 6'2" Deon Edwin, who played sparingly as a freshman at Southern Miss in 2012-13. They also pick up a pair of nice 2015 backcourt recruits in Jalen Avery and Devon Andrews. All things considered, Kent State could actually be better next season.

Akron is a team that was definitely better than their resume this past season, suffering from a 4-7 record in conference games decided by six points or fewer. They lose one starter in combo guard Nyles Evans, as well as shooting guard Deji Ibitayo, but this was a very balanced team. 11 different players earned at least nine minutes per game, and no player scored more than 10 points per game. Their top returner is Noah Robotham, who led the team in points and assists per game as a true freshman. Other key returners include 6'11" Pat Forsythe, 6'7" sharpshooter Reggie McAdams (7.0 ppg, 41.1 3P%) and point guard Antino Jackson. Their biggest need is a true point guard to reduce turnovers, and they hope to partially address that with their top 2015 recruit, 6'1" Josh Williams.

If there's one other team that contends near the top of the MAC next season, Western Michigan seems most likely. They lose two starters, including leading-scorer David Brown, but return perhaps their best all-around player in Connar Tava (12.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.3 apg) and wing Tucker Haymond. They also have a nice young core for the future in combo guard Thomas Wilder and 6'10" big man Drake LaMont, who both averaged over 20 minutes per game as true freshmen. Of their bench players, 6'8" rising-junior Kellen McCormick seems the most likely to break out next season. They need interior defense more than anything else, and have a couple of key additions to address that. First, 6'11" Khadim Dieng, a 2014 recruit who took a redhsirt season. Their 2015 recruiting class is led by 6'11" Seth Dugan (Scout: 31 C). So if those young bigs develop, the Broncos have a chance to be loaded with size next season.

In the end, here's how I see the top half of the MAC playing out (ignoring division membership):

1. Buffalo
2. Central Michigan
3. Kent State
4. Akron
5. Western Michigan

Monday, March 30, 2015

2015-16 Conference Previews

This post will contain, below, links to all of my 2015-16 conference previews. It will be pinned to the upper right corner of this page, so it can be easily referenced.

At the time this post initially goes live, most of the conferences below will not be filled in. They'll be posted in order, beginning with the small conferences and ending with the ACC. The last conference preview will be posted no later than April 13th.

Here are a few notes that should hopefully answer all of your questions:

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1) I try to do my best to include every important graduation, transfer (in and out), recruit, and otherwise returning player (such as players who missed the season with injury). I will inevitably miss some news, so I welcome the constructive criticism/fact checking. But please keep it constructive.

2) Computer ratings are all through Selection Sunday. They include all conference tournament action, but do not include any postseason tournament action (NCAA, NIT, CBI or CIT).

3) As not all decisions about early entry to the NBA Draft are yet known, I will have to make some guesses about some players. I will note that wherever possible in my previews

4) Leagues are broken down into the six major conferences, the mid-majors and the small conferences. In the past some people have gotten offended by where their favorite league is. But inevitably, I'm going to want to spend more time on the ACC than the SWAC. Sorry.

5) For significant high school recruits, I will include their Scout and/or Rivals ratings wherever possible.

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If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask. But without further ado, here are my complete 2015-16 conference previews:

American Athletic
America East
ACC
Atlantic Sun
Atlantic Ten
Big East
Big Sky
Big South
Big Ten
Big 12
Big West
Colonial
Conference USA
Horizon
Ivy League
MAAC
MAC
MEAC
Missouri Valley
Mountain West
Northeast
Ohio Valley
Pac-12
Patriot League
SEC
Southern
Southland
SWAC
Summit
Sun Belt
WCC
WAC

2015-16 Preview: One-Bid Conferences, Part III

Big West Conference


This past season had the chance to be really special for the Big West, but it was unfortunately derailed by a couple of key injuries. UC Irvine lost Mamadou Ndiaye for about half of the season, and also lost Luke Nelson for a while. UC Santa Barbara star Alan Williams missed a few weeks, and even when he came back was not quite himself. It was painful watching him suffer through the Big West tournament when he was clearly hurting. With those two teams sidelined, there was an opportunity for UC Davis to steal the regular season title behind Big West Player of the Year Corey Hawkins. UC Irvine got healthy at the end of the season, however, and played well in winning the Big West tournament. They were given a 13 seed, and their game against Louisville in the Round of 64 came down to the final possession. UC Davis earned the auto bid to the NIT, where they lost their first round game at Stanford. The only other Big West team to go to a postseason tournament was UC Santa Barbara, who lost by 4 to Oral Roberts in the first round of the CBI. So a season that started with a lot of talent and promise ended with zero postseason wins for the entire league.

UC Davis had a magical season, but it came up just short, and it probably won't be repeated next season. They lose four of their top six minute earners, including Big West Player of the Year Corey Hawkins (20.9 ppg, 48.5 3P%, 61.3 eFG%, 4.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.4 spg). UC Irvine, on the other hand, is much more likely to repeat their success. Just getting guys like 7'6" Mamadou Ndiaye (10.5 ppg, 63.4 FG%, 5.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg) healthy will make them better. They lose leading scorer and rebounder Will Davis (12.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.0 bpg) and sharpshooter Travis Souza (7.4 ppg, 46.2 3P%). They should have plenty of backcourt talent, led by Luke Nelson (10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.0 apg), but they return no front court players aside from Ndiaye that earned more than 12 minutes per game this past season. 7'2" Ioannis Dimakopoulos has shown defensive flashes, but not much else so far. 6'9" 2014 recruit Jonathan Galloway took a redshirt this past season, and he will be an option next season. 6'6" Brandon Smith is their top rated 2015 recruit, who could provide them the wing scoring option they didn't have this past season. Another 2015 recruit to keep an eye on is 5'11" point guard Max Hazard.

UC Santa Barbara loses analytics-favorite Alan Williams (17.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.8 bpg). They also lose combo guard Zalmico Harmon (6.2 ppg, 36.5 3P%, 3.5 apg). They should be fine in the backcourt, though, returning proven Big West players like Michael Bryson (13.9 ppg, 36.0 3P%, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 apg) and Gabe Vincent (10.1 ppg, 41.6 3P% and 2.1 apg as a true freshman). Their top 2015 recruit, Grant Trott, is also a point guard. The front court has a gaping hole, though. Their top returner is probably 6'8" Mitch Brewe (3.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg), and they don't have any top young prospects. If UCSB takes a significant step back, it will be because they couldn't find front court talent.

I don't know what criteria Coach of the Year awards are given out on, and neither does anybody else, but there was no coach in the nation whose team exceeded talent and expectations like Benjy Taylor at Hawaii. The fact that he didn't even win Coach of the Year in his own conference is hilarious. Just before the season started, off-court problems forced head coach Gib Arnold and one of his assistants out, while their best player (Isaac Fotu) was declared academically ineligible and went to go play pro basketball. They were expected to be an absolute door mat in the Big West, yet they improved dramatically as the season went along, finishing third in the league in efficiency margin and getting all the way to the Big West title game. NCAA sanctions could still be coming, but if they're not, Hawaii loses only Garrett Nevels (10.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg) from their entire roster. Their backcourt is led by Roderick Bobbitt (8.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.9 spg) and the up-and-coming Isaac Fleming (9.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg and 2.1 apg as a true freshman). They also return a strong defensive front court of 6'11" Stefan Jovanovic, 6'11" Stefan Jankovic and 6'7" Mike Thomas (a combined 3.2 blocks in a combined 55.6 minutes per game). So they should be improved, though they still lack the high end talent that a team like UC Irvine will have.

The only other team to finish .500 or better in Big West play was Long Beach State. They lose four starters, including star playmaker Michael Caffey (16.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.8 spg) and big man David Samuels (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg). That said, they add three significant transfers: Nick Faust (9.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 2.0 apg as a junior at Maryland in 2013-14), Roschon Prince (4.2 ppg and 2.7 rpg as a freshman at USC in 2013-14) and Gabe Levin (11.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a freshman at Loyola-Marymount in 2013-14). So this will be a totally rebuilt Long Beach State roster with arguably just as much raw talent as this past season.

You can make a solid argument that Long Beach State will be the most talented Big West team next season, and Dan Monson has had a lot of success plugging in a steady stream of transfers there. But it's asking a lot for all of these pieces to work together, and they have to replace almost all of their production from a team that was only +0.03 PPP in conference play anyway. Hawaii definitely has a real chance to compete if NCAA sanctions don't come down on them. But to me, the preseason favorite has to be a UC-Irvine team that was (when healthy) probably the best team in the league this past season and which has a good chance of being even better next season.


Colonial Athletic Association


The Colonial was hit hard by conference realignment, but there are signs of hope. The 2014-15 season was a stronger one from top-to-bottom in the league than 2013-14, and with a lot of young teams near the top of the standings the league should be even stronger next season, though they're still quite a bit away from having at-large bid contenders again. William & Mary came awfully close to finally breaking through into the NCAA Tournament (they are one of five programs to fail to make every single NCAA Tournament), but they fell in the CAA title game to Northeastern. Northeastern was only given a 14 seed, but they gave Notre Dame a heck of a fight in the Round of 64, taking that game down to the final seconds. William & Mary headed off to the NIT, where they got a 7 seed and lost a tough 3 point game at Tulsa in the first round. Competitive losses in the postseason was certainly the trend for the CAA. Hofstra lost by four points to Vermont in the CBI, while James Madison lost by a single point to USC Upstate in the CIT. The only team whose postseason loss didn't come down to the final minute was UNC-Wilmington, who were smoked by a really good Sam Houston State team in the first round of the CIT.

Even though Northeastern was the 3 seed in the CAA tournament, they were part of a four-way tie for the regular season title, and by efficiency margin they were the second best team in league play behind William & Mary. After taking the tournament, they were actually rated by Pomeroy the best team in the league. However, they do lose star Scott Eatherton (14.7 ppg, 60.4 eFG%, 6.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg), as well as sixth man Reggie Spencer. They do get one more season of David Walker (13.4 ppg, 39.2 3P%, 3.5 rpg, 3.6 apg), as well as 6'8" Quincy Ford (10.4 ppg, 37.4 3P%, 5.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.1 bpg). Ford is their only proven big man returner, however, which means that they're going to expect a lot from 6'9" recruit Jeremy Miller, who decommitted from Boston College after Steve Donahue was fired. Another key addition is 6'11" Sajon Ford, the younger brother of Quincy Ford. Their other pressing need is at point guard, where they don't really have one, though they did sign one in their 2015 class in Donnell Gresham.

There's no reason that William & Mary shouldn't expect to make another run at that NCAA Tournament spot next season. They lose CAA Player of the Year Marcus Thornton (20.0 ppg, 40.2 3P%, 2.8 rpg, 2.9 apg), which is significant, but they return their next five top minute earners, including CAA Defensive Player of the Year Terry Tarpey (11.8 ppg, 58.0 eFG%, 8.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.3 bpg). A key addition is 6'2" David Cohn, who averaged 3.9 ppg as a freshman at Colorado State in 2013-14. Their big need for next year is interior scoring, which makes 6'9" Jack Whitman (2.3 ppg with a 55.6 eFG% in 11.5 mpg as a redshirt freshman) an intriguing prospect.

By the Sagarin PREDICTOR, the best team in the conference was actually Hofstra, who were third in the conference in efficiency margin. They lose Dion Nesmith (11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 apg), but return four starters, including the super inside-outside combo of Juan'ya Green (17.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.5 apg, 1.4 spg) and Ameen Tanksley (16.2 ppg, 39.8 3P%, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 spg). Their big need is interior defense, and they hope to address that with 6'10" Ibrahim Djambo, who played 9.2 minutes per game for Clemson in 2013-14. 6'10" Andre Walker, their star 2014 recruit who didn't play much as a true freshman is also a big man prospect to watch out for. Their 2015 recruiting class is led by 6'1" shooting guard Justin Wright-Foreman.

UNC-Wilmington loses three starters to graduation, so if another team that finished over .500 in conference play this past season is going to take the next step it's most likely going to be James Madison. The Dukes didn't have a single senior on their roster this past season, and were powered by 41.0% three-point shooting in conference play. That outside shooting attack was led by Ron Curry (13.9 ppg, 42.2 3P%, 3.8 rpg, 4.3 apg) and 6'7" wing Jackson Kent (10.3 ppg, 42.0 3P%, 3.6 rpg). They also have an athletic big man in 6'8" Yohanny Dalembert (11.4 ppg, 57.8 FG%, 6.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg). A key addition is 6'4" Devontae Morgan, who played sparingly in two seasons at Butler. This past season was derailed by the dismissal of star Andre Nation early on, but they improved significantly as the season went on and should definitely be CAA contenders next season, particularly if they can improve their perimeter defense in the offseason.

You can make a solid case for Northeastern, William & Mary, Hofstra and James Madison being the preseason favorite for next season. Both Northeastern and William & Mary are losing their best players, however, and James Madison has some clear flaws without obvious improvements coming in. Hofstra has made dramatic improvements in two seasons of Joe Mihalich, who is (in my opinion) the best coach in the conference. They have young and incoming players who can help address all of their significant weaknesses, and should be significantly improved next season. In my opinion, Hofstra is the early favorite.

Ivy League


The Ivy League's best team, Harvard, didn't quite have the season that many expected preseason. Their offense struggled, dropping from 1.12 PPP in conference play in 2013-14 to 1.05 PPP. They needed Yale to lose a buzzerbeater to Dartmouth to back into an Ivy League playoff, which they escaped from narrowly. That said, Harvard was still a good team. They gave North Carolina all they could handle in the Round of 64, giving themselves a shot to take the lead in the final seconds. And the real story in the Ivy League the last decade has been how much better the rest of the league has gotten. Other than Brown and Penn this past season, there were no door mats. Every team was pretty good. Yale won at UConn and almost won at Providence before being screwed out of an NIT/CBI appearance. Even a team like Columbia that was missing its best player and destined for a 5-9 Ivy season hung with Kentucky into the second half and beat Hofstra, Bucknell, Colgate and a bunch of other solid mid-majors.

It's possible that next season could finally be the year that Harvard's domination of the Ivy League ends. They lose star Wesley Saunders (16.3 ppg, 43.1 3P%, 6.1 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.8 spg) and Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Steve Moundou-Missi (9.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg), as well as two key bench pieces. That said, they return a very capable point guard in Siyani Chambers (9.8 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.5 spg) and a good shooting guard in Corbin Miller (8.3 ppg, 35.0 3P%). Their defensive replacement for Moundou-Missi will likely be 6'9" Zena Edosomwan (4.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg and 0.7 bpg in 12.2 mpg). But if offense, and particularly shooting, were their problems, they are hit hard by losing their only particularly efficient shooter and scorer in Saunders. They have a solid prospect in 6'4" rising-sophomore Andre Chatfield, and their 2015 recruiting class is led by 6'0" combo guard Tommy McCarthy. Tommy Amaker will need significant growth from those players to get this team back to where it was this past season.

Yale came agonizingly close to their first NCAA Tournament since 1962. And they do lose three seniors, including point guard Javier Duran (14.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.9 apg), but they do return Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears (14.3 ppg, 51.9 eFG%, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 2.4 bpg). They also return a good combo guard in Jack Montague (8.3 ppg, 41.0 3P%, 2.0 apg), who can probably slide over and handle point guard next season. Their big need for next season is more front court depth after losing starters Matt Townsend and Armani Cotton, as well as Greg Kelley off the bench. 6'9" rising-junior Sam Downey seems the best prospect. 6'6" Eric Anderson, who played sparingly as a true freshman in 2014-15, is also an option. James Jones has a big 2015 recruiting class coming in, but with no obvious standouts.

The top team in the Ivy League that wasn't Harvard or Yale was Princeton, and the Tigers should be better next season as they lose just one regular in shooting guard Clay Wilson (6.7 ppg, 39.6 3P%). Top returners include 6'8" Hans Brase (11.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.1 apg) and Amir Bell (8.8 ppg, 53.4 eFG% and 2.5 apg as a true freshman). A significant need is more size to defend the glass and protect the paint. 6'10" Alec Brennan was a highly touted 2014 recruit who didn't play much as a true freshman but could provide that next season. Their top incoming recruit appears to be 6'7" wing Noah Bramlage. The Tigers have a good chance to get back into the Top 100 of the computer ratings next season, but they might not be good enough to catch up to Harvard.

Both Cornell and Dartmouth had surprisingly good seasons, though both are hit hard by graduations. Cornell loses three starters, including star Shonn Miller (18.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg). Dartmouth loses two starters, including star big man Gabas Maldunas (11.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.9 bpg), though they do have Ivy League Freshman of the Year Miles Wright (7.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.4 spg). But if I'm going to pick another team to challenge Harvard it is Columbia. They were my dark horse a year ago, but lost star Alex Rosenberg to an injury, which forced him to drop out of school for a year since the Ivy League doesn't allow redshirts. But he should return next season, along with Maodo Lo (18.4 ppg, 43.1 3P%, 4.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.5 spg). They lose two starters, including big man Corey Osetkowski (7.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg), but they have several bigs who can fill his shoes, including rising-junior Jeff Coby (5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 0.7 bpg in 17.0 mpg). They also have a nice shooting guard in Kyle Castlin (10.3 ppg, 37.5 3P% and 4.2 rpg as a true freshman). Columbia also could be getting a big addition in 6'0" point guard CJ Davis, who was a big get for their 2014 recruiting class but took a year of prep school instead, but as of the most recent news is still planning on playing for Columbia next season.

Columbia is the wild card next season because of the Alex Rosenberg and CJ Davis situations. If those two players are on the roster next season, Columbia suddenly becomes the most talented team in the Ivy League not named Harvard. Yale can't be counted out since they return the Ivy Player of the Year, but realistically they have to be expected to take a step back with so many losses. Princeton could end up Harvard's top challenger, though they are still depending on the development of several different young players who haven't done much yet. So that brings us back full circle to Harvard, the team that has won the last four Ivy League titles. And despite major losses, they still have the highest level talent in the league. The safe prediction is to say that Harvard has to be the preseason favorite unless another team provides a really compelling alternative, and I don't think we have one of those this season. Harvard remains the favorite.


 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference


When you're a small conference like the MEAC, the path to a reasonable NCAA Tournament seed and a realistic path to the Round of 32 is to have one dominant team. And the MEAC had that here, with an NC Central team that came up short against elite teams out-of-conference, but went 24-6 in the regular season and annihilated the league by 0.25 PPP in conference play. Unfortunately for the league, Delaware State knocked NC Central off in the MEAC semifinals, and the league ended up with Hampton as their champion. They did get a 16/16 play-in game win out of it, but then were crushed by Kentucky in the Round of 64.

NC Central has dominated the MEAC the past two seasons, but they were the single oldest team in the country this past season (via Pomeroy's Experience metric). They started four seniors, all of whom finished on the MEAC's first or second all-conference team. That includes star big man Jordan Parks (15.6 ppg, 66.0 FG%, 8.3 rpg) and point guard Nimrod Hilliard (12.0 ppg, 6.3 apg). They return starter Dante Holmes (10.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg), but nobody else who is really proven. They do add 6'0" Dajuan Graf, who averaged 3.6 ppg and 1.7 apg in two seasons at Florida Gulf Coast. But there are no other significant additions, so it's hard to see how they don't take a huge step back next season.

Hampton had a great run in the MEAC tournament, but it kind of came out of nowhere. They lost 9 of their final 13 regular season games. That said, they could be better next season. They lose just Quinton Chievous (10.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Their other four starters were juniors, which means that they'll provide a very experienced senior core next season, led by leading-scorer Dwight Meikle (13.0 ppg, 53.2 eFG%, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and point guard Deron Powers (10.1 ppg, 3.8 apg). Their big need for the future is shooting, as they were just 11th in the MEAC in both 3P% and FT%. They have no major additions, but if they can shoot the ball better there's no reason that they can't compete for another MEAC title.

The second best team in the conference but whichever computer metric you prefer (or efficiency margin) was either Norfolk State or Maryland-Eastern Shore. UMES is hit hard by graduations, though, losing three starters, including point guard Ishaq Pitt (5.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.2 apg). Norfolk State is in better shape. They lose two starters, including point guard Jamel Fuentes (3.1 ppg, 4.2 apg), but return stars Jeff Short (19.1 ppg, 38.2 3P%, 4.2 rpg, 1.9 apg) and 6'9" RaShid Gaston (15.5 ppg, 62.6 FG%, 9.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg). Also, for a team that already had good paint defense, they add another good prospect in their top 2015 recruit, 6'10" Moses Toriola.

The two remaining MEAC teams that weren't rated 320th or worse in the computers were Howard and Delaware State. Delaware State was the team that took out NC Central in the MEAC semifinals, and they also earned a bid to the CBI. That said, they got smoked by Radford by 21 points, and lose five of their top six minute earners, including MEAC Player of the Year Kendall Gray (11.7 ppg, 54.9 FG%, 11.8 rpg, 2.8 bpg). Howard is in better shape, losing a starter and sixth man, though that includes leading-rebounder James Carlton (15.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg). Their big issue, however, is offensive efficiency. They were dead last in the conference in turnover rate, in large part because James Daniel (16.1 ppg, 41.4 eFG%, 2.6 apg, 3.4 tpg) dominated the ball. Daniel will have to play under more control for this team to truly contend for a conference title.

NC Central is due to take a significant step back, and the odds are that they won't win another conference title. Several teams have a chance to step up and steal the league, including a repeat performance by Hampton. That said, the team with the fewest flaws and holes looks to be Norfolk State. The Spartans return three proven explosive scorers and can lock down the paint defensively. They're not likely to be good enough to get off the 15 or 16 seed line in March, 2016, but for now I think Norfolk State is the early favorite.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Elite 8 (Day 2) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

It's going to be pretty hard for today to live up to yesterday. Two great games that were really well played. The teams themselves simply aren't as good today.

Some quick thoughts on yesterday: Arizona should hold their heads up high. They played incredibly well, and would have beaten just about any other team other than Wisconsin shooting out of their minds in the second half. If a team is going to shoot 10-for-12 behind the arc in a half you just have to shake your head and move on. There's nothing you can do about that.

As for Kentucky's two-point escape against Notre Dame, the Irish will go back and wonder why they got away from their offense late and went with Jerian Grant Hero Ball. But this will whet our appetite for Kentucky's Final Four games, where we're not going to see a couple teams get steamrolled. The Wildcats will be tested seriously again.

One note on the 2015-16 previews: I will release the first one Monday evening and will try to post at least one conference every day, rolling them all out over the next two weeks. But they might be a little bit out of order, because I have to wait for teams to finish their seasons. So the first bunch of previews rolled out on Monday will likely be "One Bid Conferences, Part III". Part I is waiting for Louisiana-Monroe to finish, while Part II is waiting on Tennessee-Martin. But my goal is still to have every conference released and my full bracket projection posted by Friday, April 10th.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Yesterday ATS: 2-0-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 36-26-0 (58%)
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4 (63%)
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2 (46%)
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1 (61%)
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3 (58%)

Michigan State (-2.5) over Louisville: Michigan State being a narrow favorite isn't a surprise here. Pomeroy has Michigan State the slightly better team while Sagarin gives the narrow edge to Louisville, and the Spartans in particular have been playing their best ball down the stretch. Michigan State defensively will pose a test for a Louisville offense that hasn't ever really been particularly good. The Spartans led the Big Ten in blocked shot percentage and were second in 2P% defense, which means that Louisville is going to have to continue to hit jumpers. Louisville's offense has been atypically sharp the last couple of games, out-shooting both Northern Iowa and North Carolina State, but there's no reason to think that hot shooting should continue here.

Offensively, Michigan State is going to try to get out in transition off of defensive rebounds. Louisville has a tendency to commit fouls (12th in the ACC in defensive FTRate), and the Spartans are going to aggressively attack the paint. If they are able to have an advantage in second chance and fast break points, Louisville will have to out-shoot them. And despite two straight games with hot shooting, Louisville has been a worse outside shooting team than Michigan State overall this season.

Gonzaga (+2.5) over Duke: Both of these teams are going to struggle to stop the other on offense. Gonzaga has three big guys who can all defend Jahlil Okafor in different ways, though I still expect to see a bunch of double-teams. But the Zags don't have the perimeter defenders that Utah has, and Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook will both have more room to operate. And the same time, this Duke defense isn't that good... or at least they weren't good all season long. They've held all three tourney opponents so far to under 0.90 PPP, though that has had more to do with awful outside shooting by San Diego State and Utah more than anything else. The Zags have a significantly more explosive offense than what Duke has seen so far, and they shoot the outside ball better (40.3% on threes).

If you're looking for an "x-factor" in this game, I think it's got to be Domantas Sabonis. Duke's perimeter defense is very strong, but they are not great on the glass (7th in the ACC in DR%) and get very small very quickly if Jahlil Okafor gets in foul trouble. Sabonis is a very aggressive offensive rebounder, and he could cause Duke match-up problems.

In the end, the reason why I like Gonzaga over Duke is because they have more options. There is no one person whose foul trouble would cripple Gonzaga the way that foul trouble for Jahlil Okafor would cripple Duke. If this game is up tempo or slow, decided by rebounding or outside shooting, Gonzaga will be comfortable. That is why this is the best Gonzaga team we've ever seen. They go ten deep, with multiple options at every position. And it's why I think they're the favorite here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Elite 8 (Day 1) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

We had one of the craziest gambling moments last night that I can remember. With Duke leading Utah by five and the clock running out, the players on both teams pretty much stopped playing and the refs chose to do the thing that they often do at that point, which is to just swallow their whistle and let the clock run out. At one point, a Utah player grabbed for the ball, causing either a foul, held ball or travel to happen, and the refs let it go. But then, after the clock ran out, they decided that a foul had actually happened with 0.7 seconds to go and called the players back onto the floor, giving Duke the chance for a cover. That is, frankly, bad reffing. If you're going to call a foul, you have to call whatever happened a few seconds earlier first.

We'll cleanse our palettes with what should be two fantastic games today. As I said yesterday, the Wisconsin/Arizona game is arguably the greatest Elite 8 game ever put together. It's the first time since the 2008 title game that two of the top three Pomeroy teams will have played in the NCAA Tournament, making it a higher quality game than even the last six national title games. And it's the first time in history that a pair of 34 win teams have met outside the Final Four. Throw in the fact that it's a rematch of a classic from last season, with almost all of the same players back, and you can't draw it up much better than that.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Yesterday ATS: 1-3-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 34-26-0 (57%)
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4 (63%)
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2 (46%)
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1 (61%)
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3 (58%)

Wisconsin (+1) over Arizona: This is a hard game to call, as both of these teams match up well against each other. Both play excellent interior defense and protect the glass. Arizona is a more aggressive offensive rebounding team and draws more fouls, but Wisconsin led the nation in defensive FTRate and was 4th in DR%. To me, the difference in this game is in the depth of scoring options, and in the Frank Kaminsky/Kaleb Tarczewski matchup. Tarczewski was built to handle a guy like Matt Stainbrook, but Kaminsky will force him away from the hoop and drive on him. I wouldn't be surprised to see Brandon Ashley getting a lot of the work against Kaminsky for that reason, though that would make Arizona a significantly smaller team, and I'm not totally sure Ashley is big enough to defend Kaminsky in the paint.

If Arizona wins, it will likely be because Stanley Johnson had a monster game, particularly with outside jump shooting. Johnson has been the only reliable shooter in Arizona's starting lineup. That match-up with Sam Dekker, who was Wisconsin's best player against North Carolina, will be a crucial one for Arizona to win. But I think Arizona's defense, as great as it is, isn't the precise type of defense you'd build to stop Wisconsin's explosive offense. Arizona led the nation in DR% but was just 8th in the Pac-12 in defensive FTRate. Wisconsin rarely attacks the offensive glass, but they will draw fouls (4th in the Big Ten in FTRate) and hit at a 76.5% clip at the line. So unless Stanley Johnson is the best player on the court, I think the edge has to go to Wisconsin.

Notre Dame (+11) over Kentucky: It goes without saying that Kentucky is going to dominate the paint here. Even Northeastern managed to push around Notre Dame in the paint whenever Zach Auguste was off the court. Notre Dame has just one player in their starting lineup over 6'5" while Kentucky doesn't have a single starter under 6'6". That said, Kentucky has been winning games in this tournament by shutting down teams offensively. Cincinnati is the only team to even crack a putrid 33% effective field goal percentage against Kentucky in three tourney games so far. In comparison, the Irish have only had an eFG% under 42% a single time all season long. Kentucky's defensive length, of course, is something the Irish haven't seen this season. Even Virginia specializes most at preventing easy baskets around the rim, and will be happy to give you long two-point jump shots. Kentucky, on the other hand, led the nation by allowing just 28% shooting this season on mid-range jump shots.

But if the Irish can hit their threes, and they usually do, then Kentucky is going to have to hit shots at some point. For all their dominance, and as much as announcers talk about what great outside shooters Kentucky has, they've only hit threes at better than a 36% clip twice in their last 16 games. Certainly if Kentucky is forced to score by playing volleyball on the backboard while the Irish are hitting outside shots on the other end, it's going to be hard for Kentucky to pull away by 20-30 points like they did against West Virginia and Cincinnati.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sweet 16 (Day 2) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

This half of the bracket doesn't have the top end quality teams that the other half of the bracket has (the top three teams, according to both Sagarin and Pomeroy, are Kentucky, Arizona and Wisconsin), but we should have some exciting finishes tonight. Other than Gonzaga/UCLA, the other three games are extremely even.

One note on that forthcoming Wisconsin/Arizona that I looked up this morning is that it will be the first time since the 2008 title game that two of the top three Pomeroy teams will play each other in the NCAA Tournament. And of course, unless Notre Dame pulls the huge upset, we'll get a repeat scenario in the Final Four. I also believe, to the best of my knowledge, that Wisconsin/Arizona will be the first time two 34+ win teams met outside the Final Four.

The past few seasons of college basketball have seen a ton of parity, and the result has been some low seeds making the Final Four, but this year we have some really elite, great teams, and the result is a much chalkier bracket.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Yesterday ATS: 2-2-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 33-23-0 (59%)
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4 (63%)
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2 (46%)
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1 (61%)
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3 (58%)

Gonzaga (-8.5) over UCLA: This is a fair line, so I don't feel too strongly about it. But Gonzaga has the advantage at basically every position, and is one of the few teams actually bigger and stronger than UCLA is. Also, Gonzaga has a significant outside advantage against a UCLA team that doesn't shoot threes well (though they did against SMU), doesn't defend threes well, and doesn't draw a ton of fouls by attacking the paint from the perimeter. Unless they have another 50% three-point shooting day like they did against SMU, I don't see how UCLA can have a realistic chance to win this game.

North Carolina State (+2.5) over Louisville: The one thing that NC State really does well is block shots and defend the paint. They led the ACC in defensive block percentage and were 2nd in 2P% against. Yet if there's one thing Louisville can't do it's shoot. And while Louisville likes to force turnovers and get out in transition, NC State was solid at preventing that as well. The Wolfpack were 5th in the ACC in turnover rate. And while NC State isn't a good shooting team either, they can get after the offensive glass and get some easy putbacks. So this game has all the makings of a low-scoring toss-up, and I'll take the points.

Utah (+5) over Duke: This line is ridiculous. Pomeroy has the spread at 1 and Sagarin has it at 2. Utah's defense is superb, and they feature a pair of 7-footers who are capable of defending Jahlil Okafor, while also sporting one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation. Delon Wright can defend Justise Winslow, while the rest of the team excels at preventing three-pointers. Of course, Duke's defense is well built to handle Utah as well. They led the ACC in defensive 3PA/FGA and Utah's offense relies heavily on threes (they led the Pac-12 in 3PA/FGA and 3P%). But with a Vegas line with this much of a "public" spread, the smart play is always to fade the public.

Oklahoma (+1.5) over Michigan State: Speaking of "public" spreads, both Sagarin and Pomeroy actually have Oklahoma as a 1 point favorite here. Also, while the announcers will hammer the idea that Michigan State is a great defensive team, the reality is that they were better offensively than defensively this season (Pomeroy actually rates Duke's defense a bit better than Michigan State's). Their path to victory here is a clear one: Dominating the glass. Oklahoma had the best defense in the Big 12, and Michigan State is going to struggle to generate offense, but the Spartans were top three in the Big Ten in both OR% and DR% while Oklahoma was 8th and 7th, respectively, in the Big 12. If they don't dominate the glass, Oklahoma has the defensive intensity and speed to turn the Spartans over and score in transition. Also, if it comes down to free throws in the final minute, I'd rather bet on Oklahoma's 74% to Michigan State's 63%, which almost cost the Spartans that win over Georgia.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sweet 16 (Day 1) Open Thread + Picking The Lines

Sometimes we have some weird teams in the Sweet 16, but not this year. Other than maybe UCLA and North Carolina State, all 16 teams playing are legitimately among the 25 best in the nation. And with UCLA and NC State playing Friday, our lineup for Thursday night's games is spectacular. I only wish we had the type of staggered start times that we had last week, because inevitably we're going to have two competitive games tonight ending at close to the same time.

While most attention will probably be on the marquee Wisconsin/North Carolina game in the first pair of games and The Kentucky Show in the second pair of games, don't sleep on the interesting Wichita State/Notre Dame contrast in styles or the Sean Miller Bowl between Xavier and Arizona.

As a side note, since many have asked, I have had to push back the start of releasing my 2015-16 conference previews because of so many small conference teams still alive in the CBI and CIT. I've actually written the majority of the conference previews, but am now pushing back the release of the first one until Monday, and might end up posting them out of order. Have no fear, though, because within the next two weeks or so I will finish and release all of them. I'm aiming to release my preseason bracket projection on Friday, April 10th.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Yesterday ATS: 5-3-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 31-21-0 (60%)
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4 (63%)
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2 (46%)
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1 (61%)
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3 (58%)

Wichita State (-2) over Notre Dame: Wichita State is actually favored in this game, and deservedly so. Of course, their win over Kansas closed as a PK in Vegas, yet it didn't stop the announcers and the media from running with the "plucky underdog" narrative. As always, Notre Dame is a tough team to predict because so much of their success is predicated on hitting outside shots. If they get hot from behind the arc they'll likely win this game. Wichita State's perimeter defense led the Missouri Valley in defensive 3PA/FGA, though Indiana was able to torch them, so the Irish could as well. In my opinion, this game comes down to the paint, where Wichita State should be the better rebounding team and the better defensive team. I think they have more ways to win, and wouldn't worry about laying two points.

Wisconsin (-6.5) over North Carolina: This line is consistent with the computers, and there are some questionable injury situations here, as Wisconsin seems likely to get starting point guard Traevon Jackson back for the first time in two months (though likely only for a few minutes off the bench) while North Carolina is hoping that Kennedy Meeks can play after injuring his knee against Arkansas. But in my opinion, that stuff doesn't matter. Wisconsin is a nightmare match-up for a North Carolina team that relies on scoring in transition and on second chance offense. They led the ACC in OR% and were 30th in the nation in % of initial FGAs taken in transition while they were dead last in the ACC in 3PA/FGA. Wisconsin led the Big Ten in DR% and is always strong at transition defense. If North Carolina is stuck generating their offense from two-point jump shots out of their half court offense, there's just no way that they keep up with the Badgers offense.

West Virginia (+13) over Kentucky: We know how West Virginia wins games, by generating turnovers and offensive rebounds. They have the worst eFG% of any team that earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, so they're not going to out-shoot anybody. Kentucky's defensive rebounding is a liability, of course. They are just 197th in the nation in DR% and allowed Cincinnati to rebound 45% of their misses in the Round of 32. At the same time, Kentucky's ball handling has gotten much better throughout the season. They have committed turnovers on 15% or fewer of their offensive possessions in 7 of their last 9 games after only doing it in 6 of the previous 17. But if West Virginia can make this an uptempo game dominated by the backcourts, that's not how Kentucky likes to play. It will make it much more difficult for Kentucky's best player, Karl Towns, to have an impact, and John Calipari might be forced to play Tyler Ullis over one of the Harrison twins much more than he normally likes. The Mountaineers will need a fluky good shooting day to actually win this game outright, but I'll take the points.

Xavier (+11.5) over Arizona: Nobody is giving Xavier a chance in this game, probably in large part because of the media pushing hard on the "Big East sucks" narrative. But Xavier is currently 22nd in both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR right now, so they're no joke. The concern for Xavier in this game, of course, is handling Arizona's size inside. The Wildcats led the Pac-12 in both offensive and defensive 2P%, as well as OR%, DR% and FTRate. Xavier is one of the biggest teams in the country, though. And while they don't block many shots, they can physically hold their ground, and both Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds have the ability to get the Arizona front line in foul trouble. Arizona looked great against Ohio State, but that was in large part because Gabe York had the game of his life (5-for-9 behind the arc) off the bench. In my opinion, Arizona doesn't have an obvious mismatch in this game, and so I'd rather take the 11.5 points.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day 6 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

Most sports narratives follow a pattern, and that pattern is easy to predict if you've followed the narratives in the recent past. A classic example of this is in college football, where the last place SEC team knocking off the first place SEC team is evidence of the league's depth, while the last placed Big Ten or Big 12 team knocking off the first place team in the league is evidence of how weak the league is. In reality, two teams from the same conference playing each other says almost nothing about the league's strength, and you'll see basically no change in conference computer ratings, but if you want to believe a narrative, then you will make the results fit that narrative.

In college basketball, when we talk about which conference is best, in the media and with casual fans this always becomes a contest for which conference has the best teams at the top. When comparing whether the Big East or ACC is better, nobody is asking whether DePaul is better than Virginia Tech, even though they should. It should still matter if those road games in conference play include dangerous teams like Kansas State and TCU rather than floor mats like Virginia Tech and Boston College. But since we don't care, we create a bias toward conferences with a lot of teams, as well as conferences that are top heavy. If your league has ten teams where almost all of them are good (like the Big East or Big 12), you will necessarily be underrated, while if your league has 15 teams and is extremely top heavy (like the ACC), you are necessarily going to be overrated.

Remember, I say every year that you cannot judge coaches, teams or programs by results in the NCAA Tournament. They are single game samples, and weird things happen. If "the better team" won every game then the tourney would be extremely boring. All you'd need to do is figure out which were the best teams and you'd know the result of every game in advance.

Now, we understand that previous paragraph when we want to. In years when Michigan State goes down early, we say "Gosh, you don't often see Tom Izzo teams upset early", and forget about it. When Georgetown goes down early we say "LOL, you can set your watch by JTIII teams going down early, amirite?"

Similarly, when UAB knocked off Iowa State, nobody used that as evidence that Iowa State didn't deserve their 3 seed, that UAB was better than Iowa State, or that Conference USA was better than the Big 12. We knew that would be stupid. But then when North Carolina State upset Villanova, we got this sentiment all across the media:
Of course, NC State is a high variance team. They beat Duke by 12, and won on the road at North Carolina and Louisville, while also losing to Wofford, Wake Forest and Boston College. If NC State knocked off Duke in the NCAA Tournament, nobody would feel the need to rewrite the narrative of Duke's entire season to prove that they actually sucked all along. But why should NC State beating Villanova prove that NC State is better than Villanova or that the ACC is better than the Big East when the same isn't true about UAB and Iowa State? Because when a result fits the narrative we want, we plop the result into that narrative, and when the result doesn't fit the narrative we let it pass.


Is NC State better than Villanova? No. Not even close. Villanova just happened to have a nightmare game at a terrible time (though despite their second worst shooting performance of the season they still had a shot to win in the final 30 seconds). Villanova outscored the Big East by 0.21 PPP while NC State outscored the ACC by 0.04 PPP. You can argue that the ACC was better than the Big East, but you can argue just as well that the Big East was stronger than the ACC. And hell, we'd have had to rewrite that whole narrative if Butler had knocked off the ACC tourney champ about an hour later. And did we forget that the team which finished 6th in the 10 team Big East league is still alive in the Sweet 16? All of those latter points would have come up if the media wanted to promote a "Big East > ACC narrative". But the media was driving the ACC bandwagon all season long, so they're going to find the pieces to fit into that.

Is the ACC the best conference this year? No, it's certainly not. The Big 12 was the best, by a landslide. Is the ACC the second best conference? You can make the case, though Sagarin and Pomeroy still both have the Big East second, with the Big Ten and ACC ever so slightly behind. It's close enough that you can make the case for the ACC being second. But please, if you want to argue that the ACC is better than the Big East, don't use NCAA Tournament W/L record. That's an asinine way to judge a bunch of teams that each played over 30 different games.

So enjoy the games today, and enjoy them specifically because the worse team from the worse conference can win over a 40 minute sample size of basketball. If the best team always won, the sport would be so boring that none of you would be bothering to read a blog post about it right now.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Let's get to the games:

Yesterday ATS: 6-2-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 26-18-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Virginia (-4.5) over Michigan State: This is a fair line. Both of these teams match up well against each other, and there are no obvious mismatches. I give Virginia the edge, though, because Justin Anderson was a different player against Belmont than he was in the ACC tournament. He finally looks close to 100%, and a full strength Virginia team is probably the second best team in the nation. Michigan State is going to need all of their outside shooters to shoot well to pull this upset.

San Diego State (+9.5) over Duke: This is a very "public" line. San Diego State's offense is not good, but their defense is built to stop Duke. They have the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 6'10" Skylar Spencer, and they were second in the Mountain West in defensive 3PA/FGA. In other words, they can leave Spencer on Jahlil Okafor and lock down on Duke's perimeter scorers. If Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones get hot from deep then the Aztecs won't be able to keep up, but I think there's a pretty good chance of San Diego State keeping this a low-scoring slog.

Wichita State (+1.5) over Kansas: I picked this upset in my bracket, for reasons described here.

Oklahoma (-4.5) over Dayton: If you think this is going to be a pseudo-home game for Dayton in Columbus, you might want to ride them here, but I'm concerned about a very undersized and thin Dayton team against a tough, physical Oklahoma defense. You might remember that I said the same thing about Providence's size, but I also said that if Dayton won the game it would be because they used their superior speed to cause problems for a foul-prone Providence team. And they had a 30-to-7 advantage in free throw attempts. Oklahoma isn't foul prone, though. They are much more quick defensively, and were 21st in the nation in defensive FTRate. Dayton's going to have to hit outside shots to win here.

Gonzaga (-6.5) over Iowa: Iowa completely dominated the paint against a totally undersized Davidson team. Gonzaga, however, is one of the few teams in the country that is actually taller and bigger than Iowa. The test for Gonzaga will be keeping a quick, aggressive Iowa front line off the glass. But if they can, they're the more efficient offensive team. Iowa tends to settle against two-point jump shots, while Gonzaga runs all of their offense through the paint. The 6.5 point spread is fair, but I don't think you can take the points unless you really think this game is even, and I don't.

Oregon (+12) over Wisconsin: These two teams played a classic in the Round of 32 last season, perhaps the best game in the NCAA Tournament. This year, Wisconsin is better and Oregon is worse, so I wouldn't expect this one to come down to the final possession again. But Joseph Young will pose a test for a Wisconsin defense that is vulnerable to speedy, penetrating guards, particularly if Frank Kaminsky gets in foul trouble. And even if Wisconsin wins this one easily, they could allow a late backdoor cover, as they did in the Round of 64 against Coastal Carolina. So I like the 12 points.

West Virginia (+1) over Maryland: With this line, just pick who you think is going to win the game. I took West Virginia in my bracket, for reasons explained here.

Northern Iowa (-2.5) over Louisville: I picked Northern Iowa to win this game for reasons detailed here, and unless a game is a total toss-up I wouldn't worry about a spread as small as 2.5 points.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Day 5 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

After a day like Thursday, it was kind of inevitable that we'd have a day like Friday, which was just about the chalkiest day we've ever seen. Both UC-Irvine and Valparaiso came extremely close to upsets, and Buffalo was close as well, but none of them quite pulled it off.

One of the downsides of all of the upsets on Thursdaay is that we have a somewhat weaker set of games today. Instead of Iowa State/UCLA we get UAB/UCLA, for example. In contrast, incredible games like Virginia/Michigan State and Kansas/Wichita State are set up for Sunday. But we've got some excellent games to look forward to today anyway. Arizona/Ohio State in particular could be really high-quality basketball. Utah/Georgetown could be a a very close, physical game. Butler/Notre Dame will be a real contrast in styles. And of course, we all want to see if Cincinnati can play Kentucky close.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Let's get to the games:

Yesterday ATS: 9-7-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 20-16-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

UCLA (-6) over UAB: Somehow, UAB held Iowa State to a 41.5 eFG% and 0.86 PPP, both of which were lows for Iowa State since January 3rd. And I say "somehow", because I don't think it's anything special that UAB did. Pomeroy rates them just the 101st best defense in the nation. Iowa State was just out of sorts, not hitting shots, and having an all-around nightmare game. UAB is still a team that can't shoot the ball and relies on offensive rebounds and free throws, going up against a huge UCLA team that led the Pac-12 in defensive FTRate. The way to beat UCLA is over the top, as they were 2nd-to-last in the Pac-12 in defensive 3PA/FGA, yet UAB was dead last in conference USA in offensive 3PA/FGA.

Cincinnati (+16.5) over Kentucky: The trend we're seeing so far this NCAA Tournament are ridiculous Kentucky lines, and there's no reason to expect that to change. The public loves them. But Cincinnati is a low-tempo, defensive, physical team that tends to play low scoring, close games. And they can get after the offensive glass, too. It would be stunning if Cincinnati actually pulled the upset, of course, but I doubt this game turns into a 25 point rout.

Arizona (-9) over Ohio State: This is a tough call against the spread. Ohio State is Arizona's toughest foe before the Elite 8, but they're also a team that has been fading a little bit down the stretch this season and that doesn't shoot the ball well. I'm nervous about a team whose offense depends so much on D'Angelo Russell and Shannon Scott attacking the rim from the perimeter against a defense as sound and athletic as Arizona. I'd recommend not betting on this game at all, but if I have to take a side I'll take the Wildcats.

Georgia State (+7.5) over Xavier: I think all of America, other than Xavier fans, will be rooting for Georgia State here. They're this year's Cinderella. But they're also a team that has a ton of talent and seemed to disappoint all season until they finally played against Baylor like we had expected to see back in November. And they could be getting back Ryan Harrow, also, who appears to be aiming for a return. Xavier is the much bigger team, but they're also slower. And Georgia State, despite being undersized, finished 19th in the nation in 2P% defense. There's a real chance that they could head to the Sweet 16.

Villanova (-9.5) over North Carolina State: One of the stories we're going to hear as we head into the Sweet 16 this week is "Villanova is for real". The Big East has been disrespected all season, and so Villanova's domination of the league was dismissed. But they are a true championship contender, as much as Duke or Wisconsin or Arizona is. They annihilated Lafayette, and I doubt they'll have too many troubles with an NC State team that, above all else, is strong defensively in the paint. Villanova will torch them from outside, and the Wolfpack aren't strong enough offensively to keep up.

Utah (-4.5) over Georgetown: Utah was the better team this season, which is why the spread is where it is. Utah's defense is one of the best in the country, and their offense is based on hitting threes (they led the Pac-12 in both 3P% and 3PA/FGA) playing against a Georgetown defense that is much stronger inside than on the perimeter. That said, Georgetown led the Big East in FTRate while Utah was just 9th in the Pac-12 in defensive FTRate. If Georgetown pulls the upset, it's going to be because the refs had a quick whistle and Utah got into foul trouble.

North Carolina (-4.5) over Arkansas: I wrote here why I believe North Carolina is the deserved favorite here. These teams match up well against each other, and we should see a fast-paced, high-scoring game. But unless Arkansas forces a ton of turnover, the Tar Heels should love the high tempo and have a layup line on offense.

Butler (+4.5) over Notre Dame: This is a very even game. Notre Dame is a great offense, but Butler quietly has one of the best defenses in the nation. Butler doesn't have any great shot blockers, but Kam Woods can go one-on-one with Zach Auguste, and they've got the strong perimeter defenders to limit Irish penetration. Also, even if Butler gets out-shot, they led the Big East in OR% while Notre Dame was 14th in DR%. We all saw against Northeastern how small the Irish get anytime Auguste is not on the floor. In my view, this is the type of game that could come down to the final 30 seconds, so I'll take the points.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Day 4 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

Well that was a hell of a day, huh?

While we all catch our breath after an incredible Thursday of games, and all deal with the dread that there's no way Friday can possibly live up to Thursday, I want to talk briefly about a couple of things.

First, please remember to never, ever draw conclusions about conferences, teams or coaches in the NCAA Tournament. There is scant evidence that over careers there are certain coaches who are "regular season coaches" or "NCAA Tournament coaches". That's just #HotTaek crap for sports radio and team message boards. And that's particularly true over single games. So stop trying to make a big deal out of the Big 12 suffering a couple of ugly losses.

The Georgia State win over Baylor was the moment of the tourney so far, and Iowa State inexplicably playing that poorly against UAB was the upset of the tourney so far, but of course we all know that if we line those games up again and play 100 times that the favorites are going to win at least 80% of the time. We only get one shot at these games, and yesterday we had crazy things happen, and that's precisely why the NCAA Tournament is so fun. There would be no point in letting a team like UAB in if they had to play a best-of-7 series against Iowa State. They'd have no chance.

But so keep that in mind when you see morons in the media count up the W/L records of each conference, as if that's meaningful. Hey, you know which conference has a better W/L record than the Big 12 in this year's tourney so far? The NEC.

That said, the Big 12 could be headed for just a little bit more pain today, as I think there's a reasonable chance that two of the four teams in action end up losing.

This day might not live up to yesterday, but I doubt it's going to be all chalk. I think there's a pretty good chance that we see another 13+ seed win a game, be it UC-Irvine, Valparaiso or New Mexico State.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Let's get to the games:

Yesterday ATS: 9-7-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 11-9-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

New Mexico State (+10.5) over Kansas: I spoke here about why I think New Mexico State is the strongest 15 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Since I wrote that, the spread has dropped from 12 to 10.5, but I think it's still good value. I'm not saying New Mexico State is going to win this game, but it absolutely would not be one of the biggest upsets in this year's Tournament if they did. They are bigger, particularly with Cliff Alexander gone. Kansas has struggled, more than anything, with size in the paint this season. And as I explained in the linked post, the metrics substantially underrated how good this New Mexico State team is.

Michigan State (-6.5) over Georgia: This game will be tough and physical, between two teams that like to control the paint. Michigan State is the better rebounding and paint defense team, but they're also more foul prone. If you think Charles Mann and Marcus Thornton are going to get the Spartans front line in foul trouble then pick them. But if they don't, and I think Michigan State has been much better at keeping their players out of foul trouble the past few weeks, Michigan State's superior skill should carry them through.

Northern Iowa (-6.5) over Wyoming: Wyoming could win this game outright, of course. Wyoming was a potential bubble team before Larry Nance, Jr got hurt, and they've been playing like it again since he got back. But even at their best they were never at Northern Iowa's level. This game will be low scoring and close, but Northern Iowa's defense is so versatile and efficient that they've been held below 0.98 PPP just once in a game since January 1st. Wyoming, in contrast, averaged just 0.97 PPP in Mountain West play. They're a defensive team first and foremost. But if we operate under the assumption that they're going to have to score at least 1 PPP to win this game, they're going to have to hit shots. Wyoming never crashes the glass (343rd in the nation in OR%) and Northern Iowa was 11th in the nation in defensive FTRate. So if you're picking Wyoming here, you're betting on them shooting significantly above their season average.

West Virginia (-4.5) over Buffalo: This seems like the most popular 12/5 upset, and it's certainly what the computers say. But I talked here about why I think Buffalo is a great match-up for West Virginia. I expect this one to be a rout.

Wichita State (-6) over Indiana: Once again, I explained here why I think this match-up is a total mismatch.

Belmont (+17) over Virginia: This is an awfully fair Vegas line, and I don't see how anybody can have a strong opinion on it. What works in Belmont's favor is that they love to chuck threes (4th in the nation in 3PA/FGA), which is the only type of shot they're likely going to be able to get against Virginia's defense anyway. If they aren't hitting their outside shots this game will be a rout, of course, but Belmont rolls out three regulars who attempted more than four three-pointers per game at a 38% or better clip, so they can hit shots and keep this one close. So since my stupid pick-every-line gimmick is forcing me to pick every game, I'll take the points, but I don't feel strongly about it.

UC-Irvine (+8) over Louisville: I don't think there's any Round of 64 match-up I'm looking forward to more than 7'6" Mamadou Ndiaye against Montrezl Harrell. But this is also a game where we could very realistically see a 13/4 upset. Louisville has basically three players who can score, so unless two or more of the three are on their game then all scoring is a slog. UC-Irvine, meanwhile, was the 3rd most efficient offense in the Big West with an outside shooting attack that hit 41% of their threes in conference play. I picked Louisville to win this game in my bracket, but I'd be surprised if they win this game easily.

Maryland (-4.5) over Valparaiso: This is a popular upset, and tightly so. Maryland is the weakest 4 seed and Valparaiso is a strong 13 seed. Pomeroy has the spread at only 2. What makes me nervous about taking Valparaiso is that their biggest strength is the paint. 6'9" Alec Peters is their best player, and their offense is heavily dependent on offensive rebounds. Maryland isn't a great defensive rebounding team, but they were fairly good (6th best in the Big Ten), and more importantly they are massive. Five of the ten guys in their regular rotation are 6'8" or larger. I think that they force Valparaiso to hit outside shots to beat them.

Oregon (-1.5) over Oklahoma State: With a spread this small, just pick the winner. I explained here why I think Oregon is the favorite.

Duke (-22.5) over Robert Morris: As always, these are tough games to pick against the spread. Duke could dominate this game for 30 minutes and then allow a backdoor cover. But I just don't see how Robert Morris stays competitive in this game with an undersized team that can't rebound well and was 9th in the NEC in defensive 3PA/FGA. If Robert Morris does cover, it's because they shoot their threes better than Duke does.

Iowa (-2) over Davidson: Davidson's offense is great, but the reason why I took Iowa in this game is because Davidson has one starter over 6'4" and he's 6'7". Iowa is so much bigger than they are that I really don't know how Davidson defends guys like Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff. And Adam Woodbury and Gabriel Olaseni should have a field day on the glass against a Davidson team that was 10th in the Atlantic Ten in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage.

Oklahoma (-13) over Albany: Albany is a team that had most of its success in the America East by physically dominating their opponents, with an offense built around 6'6" big man Sam Rowley. I don't think that's going to work against a physical, elite Oklahoma defense with multiple talented big men. When Oklahoma fails it's because their offense struggles to score, and they are certainly inconsistent at executing offensively, but Albany has a far softer defense than anything they saw in the Big 12.

Wisconsin (-19.5) over Coastal Carolina: Like most lines involving 1 seeds, this one is hard to guess. Coastal Carolina is a strong 16 seed, so it would be far from stunning if they pull a backdoor cover here. But with the 159th best defense in the country (according to Pomeroy), Wisconsin should have a field day offensively. It's also worth noting that Coastal Carolina got a lot of their success by leading the Big South in OR% and FTRate. Wisconsin was 4th and 1st in the nation defensively in those two metrics.

San Diego State (-4) over St. John's: I wrote here about why, with Chris Obekpa out, this game seems like a total mismatch.

Gonzaga (-18) over North Dakota State: I don't have a strong opinion on this line. Pomeroy only has the spread at 14 (though Sagarin has it at 19). My primary concern for North Dakota State keeping this game close is that they are very undersized. They play a seven man rotation, of whom only one is over 6'6". Gonzaga, in contrast, goes ten men deep, with three guys who are 6'10" or taller. The Zags had a tendency to totally stomp inferior opponents this season, and their overwhelming size was a chief reason why.

Providence (-3) over Dayton: With no regular over 6'6", Dayton is going to struggle with a Providence team that generates almost all of their offense in the paint (they generated just 19.2% of their offense from 3s in Big East play, which was least in the conference). They are also always at risk of foul trouble against a Providence team that draws a lot of them (remember that Dayton only plays seven guys, with only six scholarship players on their roster). And that's before we even get to Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton, two of the most explosive offensive players in the nation. If Dayton wins, it's because their quick perimeter scorers were able to get into the lane and draw fouls against a Providence team that was just 8th in the Big East in defensive FTRate.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day 3 Open Thread + Picking The Lines

The First Four games were lots of fun this year, but they were just the appetizers, of course. Today we start the real Field of 64. And yes, today should be a national holiday so we can all stay home and watch. If any of you ever become US President, make it happen.

Remember, if you still need to fill out your bracket, that my complete bracket breakdown is here. Below I've broken down all of today's games, and I'll have one of these tomorrow morning for tomorrow's games as well.

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment to this blog post, or tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond to everybody.

Let's get to the games:

Yesterday ATS:1-1-0
2015 Tournament ATS: 2-2-0
2014 Tournament ATS: 40-23-4
2013 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1
2012 Tournament ATS: 30-35-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3

Northeastern (+12) over Notre Dame: This is a very fair line, so it's hard to feel too strongly in either direction. But what's make Northeastern an interesting opponent for Notre Dame is that they are very good at defending the interior and not giving up easy baskets. They were 5th in the nation in defensive FTRate and 12th in DR%. The Irish aren't really a team that relies on free throws or offensive boards, of course, but it just emphasizes that this will game a game where the Irish have to hit their shots. If they go first-half-BYU-vs-Mississippi in this game and shoot out of their minds (and they can) then this will be a rout, but if the shots aren't falling then this could turn into a slog. Meanwhile, this Northeastern team can score, so they should be able to take advantage of a weak Irish defense. I'll take the points.

Iowa State (-14) over UAB: This big Vegas line is fair. This UAB team just is not that good, and probably deserved a 15 seed. The Selection Committee historically has a bias toward conference names when seeding 12-16 auto-bids, and I think the "Conference USA" name carried them to the 14 line. Also, UAB's offense was dead last in Conference USA in 3PA/FGA and 3rd to last in 2P%. So their offense comes from offensive rebounds and free throws (79.1% FT shooting in conference play). But Iowa State led the Big 12 in defensive FTRate and DR%. And the uptempo, aggressive attack by Iowa State tends to swamp vastly inferior teams. This has the feeling of a total rout.

Baylor (-9) over Georgia State: This is a fair line in the sense that Georgia State is a strong 14 seed. They have a significantly more talented starting lineup than you'd expect to see in a 14 seed out of the Sun Belt, including major conference quality players like Kevin Ware (formerly of Louisville), Ryan Harrow (formerly of Kentucky) and RJ Hunter (though Ryan Harrow is hurt and might not play in this game). But Georgia State has not played up to their talent. They are a team that do all of their offense in the paint, typically from their perimeter players driving for runners or layups. That will be a lot more difficult against Baylor than the typical Sun Belt foe. And Georgia State was dead last in the Sun Belt in defensive 3PA/FGA and second-to-last in DR%, playing right into the hands of the Big 12 leader in OR% and 3P%. Baylor shouldn't have much trouble.

Texas Southern (+23.5) over Arizona: Texas Southern isn't your typical SWAC winner, a conference almost always relegated to 16 seeds and (since they've existed) play-in games. They won at Michigan State and Kansas State and played close on the road at SMU, Tennessee, New Mexico State and Auburn. Their computer numbers have faded in SWAC play, but they'd have had to have outscored the league by around 0.25 PPP to maintain those numbers against such weak competition. That's not to say that they're going to win this game - they're not - but this game won't be as big of a physical mismatch as we often see in 2/15 games.

Butler (+1.5) over Texas: I picked Butler to win this game outright, for reasons laid out here.

UCLA (+4) over SMU: Once again, I picked this upset outright. My reasons are here.

Xavier (-3) over Mississippi: I think Xavier fans should have been rooting for Misssissippi to knock off BYU, because they're a softer opponent. Mississippi won't be able to get all of those offensive rebounds against Xavier's big front line, which was 2nd in the Big East in DR%. Also, we saw on Tuesday night how foul-prone Mississippi is (11th in the SEC in defensive FTRate), which plays into the hands of a Xavier team that hit 75% at the line in Big East play. I think this is a good match-up for the Musketeers.

Ohio State (-4) over VCU: The concern with picking VCU, as it always is, is forcing enough turnovers to win. This season they were 24-3 when forcing turnovers on at least 20% of possessions, but just 2-7 when they didn't. They haven't forced turnovers at anywhere near the same rate since losing Briante Weber, and Ohio State turned the ball over on just 16.8% of possessions in Big Ten play, with one of the best point guards in the nation. Unless the Buckeyes backcourt melts down under the defensive pressure, they should take care of business and win.

Villanova (-23) over Lafayette: Games like this are for the degenerate gamblers, because it's a total mismatch, and you're basically guessing whether Villanova keeps their foot on the pedal for 40 minutes or allows a backdoor cover. But this Villanova team tended to stomp inferior opponents this season. I think they do that here.

Purdue (PK) over Cincinnati: With a PK spread, you just pick the team you think is going to win. I picked Purdue to win here, basically because they've played better basketball over the last month. Neither team has a huge advantage over the other, and I expect this game to be low-scoring and close.

North Carolina (-10.5) over Harvard: Harvard is a very strong halfcourt defensive team, but their offense is bad. They scored just 1.05 PPP In Ivy League play and are rated the 172nd best offense in the nation by Pomeroy. If the Tar Heels are able to turn up the tempo and score in transition, as they generally can, then Harvard will not have the offensive firepower to keep up. Against Pomeroy Top 100 defenses this season, Harvard is averaging 0.87 PPP. The Tar Heels are the second best defense they will have seen all year. The best defense they played was Virginia, and the Cavaliers held them to 27 points.

Utah (-6.5) over Stephen F. Austin: This line is consistent with Pomeroy, which has it at six points, but Sagarin has the spread at close to 10. The reason is that it's hard to measure how good a team is that did all of its damage against bad opponents. The only teams in the Pomeroy Top 200 that Stephen F. Austin beat all season were Memphis and Sam Houston State. This is also a Stephen F. Austin team that relies on offensive rebounds (13th in the nation in OR%) and scoring in the paint (6th in the nation in 2P%). Utah's not a great defensive rebounding team, but they're not bad either, and they have a huge front line that was one of the most dominant paint defenses in the nation (4th in the nation in defensive 2P%). Stephen F. Austin pulled the 12/5 upset last season, but I don't think that they repeat it here.

NC State (-2) over LSU: I don't have strong feelings about this game, but I spoke here about why I had NC State as the narrow favorite in this game. A two point spread is too small to worry about. Pick who you think is going to win the game.

Hampton (+34.5) over Kentucky: This line opened at 31 points, which was lower than I expected, but it quickly rose. The public loves Kentucky. But that's why you should probably fade it. As a rule of thumb, you want to fade Kentucky in this Tournament, just because you're not going to get good value. Pomeroy only has the spread here at 28. Now, if Kentucky plays hard for 40 minutes, can they win this game by 45 points? Of course they can. But they probably won't.

Arkansas (-7.5) over Wofford: Wofford is a popular upset pick, but I think Arkansas should handle them relatively easily. Wofford likes slow tempo games (316th in the nation in adjusted tempo), and while they led the Southern Conference in offensive turnover rate, that's the type of stat that tends to break down for small conference teams when facing athletic, long power conference teams like Arkansas. They had significant turnover problems against teams like West Virginia, Stanford and Duke.

Georgetown (-7.5) over Eastern Washington: I wanted to pick Eastern Washington here. I've loved this team all season long. As I said on multiple occasions, they aren't the best auto-bid winner from a one-bid league, but they have the highest ceiling. They chuck up a lot of threes, and when they get hot they are almost unbeatable. That said, if their outside shots don't fall, they're going to get creamed. And this 7.5 point line screams "fade the public". Pomeroy has the line at 10 and Sagarin has it at 12. With the fact that JTIII has the "regular season coach" narrative on top of how popular this Eastern Washington team is, the public is just hammering Eastern Washington. History says that the upset everybody picks to happen in the Round of 64 never happens. When in doubt, fade the public.