Sunday, October 31, 2010

Previewing Saturday, November 13th

This is a continuation of my opening week previews. To see the days I've already previewed please click here and here. Here are three key games to pay attention to on the first Saturday of the regular season:

Harvard at George Mason, 5PM: Tommy Amaker has been making noise every since he arrived at Harvard in 2007. They lost star Jeremy Lin to graduation, but their five best scorers last season other than Lin were all freshmen and sophomores, because of the strength of Amaker's 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes. And his 2010 class is strong as well. Working with the players he inherited, Amaker went 8-22 in 2007-08, but then took the team to 14-14 in 2008-09 and 21-8 last season. This season they are finally primed to win an Ivy League title. This game will give us an early sense of just how dangerous they'll be. As for George Mason, they're an interesting team to keep an eye on as well. They played very poorly out-of-conference last season, but then went 12-6 and finished in a tie for third place in the Colonial. They improved so quickly because they were so young, and they return every player that earned more than 13 minutes per game last season, including all five starters. I picked them to finish third in the CAA preseason, but there's no reason that they can't make a run at the bubble. An opening night home loss against Harvard would really damage those chances.

San Diego State at Long Beach State (7PM): San Diego State is a team that has gotten a lot of hype preseason, picked by many to win the Mountain West and to make a Sweet 16 run. They return all five starters from last season, and will again have a very formidable front line. But the concern for them last season was shooting. They were atrocious at shooting behind the arc and at the free throw line, which makes them really vulnerable against teams large enough to keep them out of the paint. It will be interesting to see if they've improved their shooting over the offseason. I'm not quite as high on San Diego State in general, but I have picked them to earn an at-large bid, and it would certainly be disappointing to lose to Long Beach State. But it wouldn't be that shocking to see them lose to Long Beach State, a team that will contend for the Big West (I picked them to win the conference title). The key for Long Beach State will be getting star post player TJ Robinson (15.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season) going against the big Aztecs front line.

Southern Illinois at #16 Illinois (8PM): I already talked about Illinois's first couple of games here, but the fact is that this will be the Illini's first real test. Southern Illinois finished near the basement of the Missouri Valley last season, but they return almost everybody and should be far improved in 2010-11. They actually have as many explosive offensive weapons as they did during their glory days last decade, but their defense has been on a steady decline. This very talented Illinois team will be a good early test for their re-vamped defense. For Illinois, this is a game where they just need to take care of business - they have a great homecourt advantage, and they are the far more talented team anyway. Also, this might be the first time that we get a real good sense of how Bruce Weber is going to rotate his talent (and he does have a ton of talent). Since the first two Illinois games are against weak opponents, Weber might shake up his rotation a bit in those games.

Previewing Friday, November 12th

Friday, November 12th (12 days from today) will be the first full day of the regular season. To see my preview of the previous four days of the regular season, when Coaches vs Cancer games will be played, please click here. Here are some key games on November 12th to keep an eye on:

Iona vs Kent State, 5PM: If you're a Kent State fan you are going to want to watch this game just so that you can meet your team. By my count they have eight players that didn't play last season. They have three new freshmen recruits, three new Juco recruits, and two players that were at the school but didn't play last season (Justin Manns redshrited, Robert Johnson was an academic non-qualifier). All of this new blood is coming in because they lost five of the seven players that earned more than 15 minutes per game last season. So it will be a total changing of the guard for a program that was the best in the MAC last season. We'll get an early sense of how far they're falling back against an underrated Iona team. I picked Iona to win the MAAC, and it's because they return all five starters from a team that was pretty dangerous last season. They lost head coach Kevin Willard to Seton Hall, but everybody is saying that they have a great replacement in Tim Cluess (I have to take their word for it, because I don't follow D-II basketball). Neither of these times is likely to contend for an at-large bid, so this will simply be an early look at both squads.

#21 Georgetown vs Old Dominion, 7PM: A very nice match-up. Old Dominion is the favorite to win the CAA, and has a chance to be even better than last season. They will again be very strong defensively and on the boards, so the question mark will be replacing Gerald Lee, who was by far the best scorer on the team. As for Georgetown, they begin life without Greg Monroe, but all is not lost. For one, this team was a lot better than their record last season, and just kept finding creative ways to lose close games. Second of all, it was a trio that led Georgetown last season, and Austin Freeman and Chris Wright both return. Each night it was a different player from that trio that led. Jason Clark and Julian Vaughn are the other returning starters, and Hollis Thompson is another key returner. Nate Lubick and Markel Starks are their two strongest recruits. As good as Old Dominion is, Georgetown has a real chance to win the Big East title, and if they are going to do that then they need to take care of Old Dominion, particularly as retribution for Old Dominion's upset back in December.

Northern Iowa at #13 Syracuse, 7PM: It's a "year after" season for a Northern Iowa team that had so much Tournament success last season, but lost three starters (Jordan Egleseder, Adam Koch and Ali Farokhmanesh) to graduation and won't be nearly as good. Syracuse loses Arinze Onuaku, Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson from a team that was incredibly thin last season, but they're reloading rather than rebuilding with a recruiting class led by super-frosh Fab Melo. Shooting guard Dion Waiters and swing forward CJ Fair also are very strong recruits. And Syracuse does return four very strong players in Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. Also look for Mookie Jones to make a leap. A strong win here will emphasize Syracuse as a serious contender to win the Big East.

Southern Miss at South Florida, 7PM: Neither of these teams has a really good chance of making the Tournament, but both have a chance to make some noise so it will be interesting to see each of them getting started. Southern Miss is one of my sleepers. They spent most of last season inside the Sagarin and Pomeroy Top 100, and return all five players that earned at least 20 minutes per game last season. I picked them to finish fourth in Conference USA, but they are good enough to make a run at the title if the Memphis situation really falls apart. For South Florida, they need to find somebody to score with Dominique Jones gone. Look for them to move the ball inside with Jarrid Famous and Augustus Gilcrhist. The backcourt is going to be a big question mark. Anthony Crater is the best returner, and their top recruit is point guard Lavonte Dority. Both players will have to perform really well for South Florida to get back to the bubble this season.

Seton Hall at #22 Temple, 7:30PM: Our first chance to look at a Temple team picked by many to win a very strong Atlantic Ten (I picked them second, behind Xavier). They were successful last season by playing very sound basketball. They were extremely strong defensively (second in the nation in effective field goal percentage against, and seventh overall in Pomeroy defensive efficiency), and were very strong at not turning the ball (21st in offensive turnover percentage) over and defensive rebounding (17th in defensive rebounding percentage). That's the formula for winning games when you don't have overwhelming offensive scorers. But if Temple is going to go to the next level and seriously contend for Sweet 16s and more in the NCAA Tournament, they'll need to find an offensive spark. As for Seton Hall, they open the season with a wonderful chance for a resume-building win. I look for them to be on the bubble with so much talent back from a team that nearly made the NCAA Tournament last season. They return five players that earned at least 20 minutes per game last season, including star scorer Jeremy Hazell. They also have a solid recruiting class and the upgraded at coach with former Iona head man Kevin Willard replacing the volatile Bobby Gonzalez.

Wofford at Minnesota, 8PM: Minnesota will be a very talented team, but they had Top 25 talent last season and limped into one of the last spots of the NCAA Tournament. And they'll be without star playmaker Lawrence Westbrook. Look for Devoe Joseph and Al Nolen to pick up a lot of those backcourt playmaking duties. Minnesota has another strong recruiting class, but without the type of star they've had in their last couple of classes. So don't look for freshmen to make a huge impact. And they open with a very tough opponent in Wofford, a team that dominated the SoCon and nearly won an NCAA Tournament game last season. They lose two key starters, but return Noah Dahlman, their best player. If Minnesota comes out sleep walking they'll end up with a loss.

Fresno State at BYU, 9PM: The Mountain West Conference looks to be very tight at the top again, with BYU, UNLV, San Diego State and Utah again being a step ahead of everybody else. So this will be a good chance to check out one of those teams against a quality opponent. Jimmer Fredette is back, and will make some preseason All-American teams, but the loss of Michael Loyd, Jr is very underrated. His athleticism helped open up the floor for Fredette, and defenses will try to key more on him now that they won't have to worry about Loyd. Another underrated loss is Tyler Haws, a tremendous shooter (and possibly the next coming of Jimmer) who will be off on his mormon mission and will miss the season. Jackson Emery will need to play really well to make up for the lack of backcourt depth. Fresno State will have to move on without star Paul George, who left early and was picked 10th in the NBA Draft. They also will have to make do without Mychal Ladd, their top three point shooter last season, who decided to transfer to Washington State. Greg Smith will have to anchor the frontcourt now, and Steven Shepp will be a solid backcourt starter. But they will not be nearly as good as they were last season, and I would expect BYU to handle them rather easily.

Previewing Monday, November 8th Through Thursday, November 11th

This is the first of several posts previewing the early days of the regular season. I'm going to be talking about games that are good to keep an eye on, either because of potential resume implications, or simply because it will be a good chance to check out a new coach or new player.

I'm combining the first four days of the regular season into one post, because there will only be eight games played over those days, all part of Coaches vs Cancer. Illinois, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Texas will each play two games before heading off to the final round of the tournament the following weekend (Coaches vs Cancer is one of a growing number of early season tournaments that fixes the bracket so that the four best teams make the semifinals no matter what).

Tuesday, November 8th:

#4 Pittsburgh vs Rhode Island, 7PM Eastern Time (ESPNU): This is the first game of the entire season, so you'll want to watch it for that reason alone. Also, Rhode Island will provide stiffer competition than Pittsburgh will receive on November 10th, when they play Illinois-Chicago. Pittsburgh is a team that many believe is the favorite in the Big East, and is potentially a Final Four contender. Even without Nasir Robinson, they should win this game fairly easily. It will also be a chance to get a first look at Pitt's top recruit, swing forward JJ Moore. For Rhode Island, this will be a chance for them to try to impress, even if they are very unlikely to win. They don't have a particularly strong recruiting class, so I'll be looking at how their returners have improved. Delroy James is a guy who I really like, but the rest of the team has a lot of question marks. Even Will Martell has never been as good as I had thought he would be when I considered his size. A strong performance here, even in a loss, will help propel them into the following week when they'll play College of Charleston and Toledo (both games will be played in Toledo). If Rhode Island is going to be a bubble team this season, those are the type of games they have to win.

Wednesday, November 10th:

Maryland vs Charleston, 7PM (ESPNU): Maryland opens up against Seattle on November 8th, but Charleston is the more formidable opponent. Seattle is improving rapidly under Cameron Dollar, and they will probably be moving into a conference sometime soon, but until then it's just impossible to build a competitive team as a basketball independent. Charleston, on the other hand, is a team I expect to seriously contend for the Southern Conference title. I believe they'll be one of the 100 best teams in the nation, and they could very well win this game outright. Maryland will be very different from last season. Not only did star Grievis Vasquez graduate, but Landon Milbourne is gone as well. Vasquez was the best player Maryland has had since their National Championship team, and the Terps have to prove to me that they can compete to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season. Their top newcomer is swing forward Mychal Parker. Look for shooting guard Terrell Stoglin to make an immediate impact as well.

#16 Illinois vs Toledo, 8PM: Illinois opens against UC-Irvine on November 8th. Honestly, neither game is much of a test. Last season UC-Irvine finished near the bottom of the Big West and Toledo finished in dead last in the MAC. I do think Toledo will be more interesting because the MAC is a conference that gets superior talent than the Big West, and Toledo is a program that generally is near the top of the conference and only struggled last season because they were extremely young. They should be a lot better this season. Either way, it will be good to check out an Illinois team that is one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis, Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson will all be back. I'm most interested in Richardson, who showed real exposive flashes as a freshman in 2009-10, and his improvement during the offseason could be a real key for the Illini (I don't need to watch this game to know what Demetri McCamey is going to bring to the table, for example). Illinois also has three very good recruits: McDonald's All-American small forward Jerome Richmond, 7-foot center Meyers Leonard and shooting guard Crandall Head. It will be interesting to see how Bruce Weber handles so much talent.

#25 Texas vs Louisiana Tech, 9PM (ESPNU): Texas opens on November 8th against Navy, but Louisiana Tech will be far stiffer competition. They lose a lot from a team that finished 23-10 with an RPI of 78 in 2009-10, but I've said that I believe they actually have a real chance to have a stronger finish in a weakened WAC in 2010-11. It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs, a team that shot the ball poorly last season, will deal with the far more athletic Texas team. This will be a great chance to look at a Texas team that I've been saying is very underrated. Also be sure to check out their two super-freshmen: Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. It will be particularly interesting to see how Rick Barnes uses Joseph considering how much elite talent they have returning at guard. Joseph needs to play, but how do they sit Dogus Balbay or J'Covan Brown? I can't see Barnes playing all three at the same time because it would make the team extremely small, and would force them to sit some of their frontcourt talent (Jordan Hamilton, Alexis Wangmene and Gary Johnson are the three key frontcourt returners). Personally, I would probably start Balbay with Joseph, because that would allow a fresh J'Covan Brown to play the point whenever Balbay is on the bench. Corey Joseph is listed as a point guard, but true freshmen point guards always go through a lot of growing pains (as J'Covan Brown learned himself last season), and I'd feel better not giving Joseph the pressure of handling the point by himself.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jelan Kendrick Mess At Memphis

Memphis is a team that, like, Kentucky, was completely wiped out and needed to be refreshed by a star-studded recruiting class. Memphis lost five players from their seven man rotation last season, returning only Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman. Angel Garcia, D.J Stephens and Drew Barham are the only other scholarship players returning.

The star of the 2010 recruiting class is Will Barton, a true super-frosh and a possible one-and-done player (he's projected now as a late second rounder for 2011, but that stock will move up if he exceeds expectations as a freshman). Joe Jackson is the #2 recruit, a point guard who will lead the backcourt with Barton. Tarik Black is the best frontcourt recruit.

But most experts agree that in terms of raw talent, no Memphis recruit is superior to Jelan Kendrick. He's extremely athletic and long, and he has great natural handle of the ball. But the one catch with him is mental - he's a head case. Reports are that he's been getting in arguments (verbal, and possibly physical) with just about everybody in practice. And he's currently away from the team indefinitely. Head coach Josh Pastner insists it's a mutual decision, but Gary Parrish is standing by his report that the absence is less than mutual. And even though Memphis fans are keeping their head in the sand about this and angrily defending Pastner's explanation (if you click on the link to Parrish's article you'll see about 300 Memphis fans calling Parrish an idiot), it's just not plausible. Obviously Pastner doesn't want a kid like that around his team until he grows up, and what egotistical freshman basketball player ever voluntarily asked to leave a team so he can mature?

Because the suspension is internal, Josh Pastner could decide tomorrow to let Kendrick back on the team. But most likely this is going to be a long term problem. And there are already rumors that Kendrick might just leave the program.

It's a mess for a Memphis team that has high hopes again. I know that many fans think they're a Top 15 team already. But let's remember that they had those same expectations last year, and it blew up on them. There are just so many question marks when you're relying so heavily on freshmen. Particularly freshmen with problems.

If Kendrick doesn't return then Memphis goes from a heavy favorite to win Conference USA to a team in a dogfight with UTEP and UAB. And don't sleep on Tulsa, Southern Miss or UCF either (see my full 2010-11 Conference USA preview here). But at this point we can only speculate. We just have to see how this plays out.

Pitt Loses Robinson, Iowa Loses Gatens

There's pretty big injury news out of Iowa as Matt Gatens has torn a tendon in his hand and is out indefinitely. Nobody is reporting an approximate length on the injury yet, but injuries like this typically take multiple months to recover from. Gatens, the team's top scroer last season, is a disastrous loss for an Iowa team that already was at a huge talent disadvantage compared to the rest of the Big Ten.

This was always going to be a rebuilding year for Iowa under newly hired coach Fran McCaffery (formerly at Siena). They're very young, and McCaffery is going to use this year to develop his youngsters and to put together a quality 2011 recruiting class that can help the program begin to move up the Big Ten standings. Even with a healthy Gatens, most people (including myself) picked Iowa to finish in dead last in the Big Ten.

And because of that, if Gatens is due to miss more than about eight weeks I think they should seriously consider redshirting him so they can have an extra year of him when he'll be able to help them achieve greater goals than they have a shot at this season.


Pittsburgh's Nasir Robinson also has suffered an injury. In his case it's a knee injury that will likely cost him six weeks. In some sense, this isn't as big of a deal as the Gatens injury. Robinson was only the team's sixth leading scorer last season, and he should be back in plenty of time for the start of Big East play.

But while Iowa is just hoping to win ten games all season, Pitt is a serious contender for the Big East title and a 1 seed in the Tournament. And they have some tough tests their early schedule. They open the season against Rhode Island in less than two weeks, and then have to play Maryland and either Illinois or Texas at Coaches vs Cancer. Robinson will be questionable for a December match-up against Tennessee, and a setback could even make him questionable for the Big East opener against UConn on December 27th.

Robinson isn't a star, but he did start last season and was one of the team's best offensive rebounders. Assuming Robinson is back in six weeks, I doubt his absence will cost them more than one win (if any) and it won't impact in any way their chances of winning the Big East. But it's something to keep an eye on.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Sun Belt Tries To Take Itself To The Next Level

There's an interesting story today out of the Sun Belt Conference, and it's that the conference has gotten together and developed a strategic plan to life the profile of the conference. The goal is to lift conference attendances across the board, and get the conference to repeatedly have seasons like 2008, when the conference earned two NCAA Tournament bids and got one team (Western Kentucky) to the Sweet 16.

One thing that's bizarre about the plan is its constant references to the RPI, and scheduling tougher teams to raise the RPI of the conference to get more teams into the NCAA Tournament. As I've talked about many, many times, the RPI just doesn't matter anymore. If you read my analysis of the computer models from 2009 and 2010, you'll see that the RPI is a horrible predictor of NCAA appearances. And it's important to understand that, because the RPI can be rigged by coaches. The RPI rewards for scheduling more than performance. If you schedule a bunch of really good teams and lose every game you will end up with an improved RPI, but it won't get you into the Tournament because the Selection Committee won't fall for that.

That said, scheduling tougher teams will improve the conference for a few other reasons. It will raise attendances, it will help prepare teams for the NCAA Tournament, and if you play enough of those you'll eventually learn how to win some.

I talked about the development of the Sun Belt about a year ago. What I mentioned then was that there is a niche that the Sun Belt can fill. The players who just aren't quite good enough to play regularly for elite teams in the northeast, midwest, mountain west or pacific west, there are obvious mid-major teams for them to play for. But in the southeast? It's not clear. There just aren't many good mid-major teams in the southeast. There just isn't a WCC or Atlantic Ten or Missouri Valley in the southeast Any conference that can fill that niche will have access to the best players that don't quite make the SEC. Playing better opposition, and playing to bigger crowds, will help bring kids in.

To me, the prime competition for the Sun Belt is the Southern Conference. If we put the six BCS conferences, along with the Mountain West, Atlantic Ten and Missouri Valley in the upper echelon of college basketball, the next tier is the WCC, WAC, Colonial, Conference USA, MAAC and Horizon. The MAC has faded in and out of that tier over the past few years. And the Southern Conference is poised for a really big year in 2010-11, and could join that tier for at least one season. Both Davidson and Charleston are going to be very good, and the conference could potentially have four teams in the RPI Top 100.

But longterm, there's no reason the Sun Belt can't move to a higher level. Having FBS football is a big plus for recruits, they've got some high profile coaches (Mike Jarvis, Isiah Thomas, John Brady), and if they really can build up the size of the crowds and bring in some big opponents then the conference definitely has room to grow.

But hopefully they realize that building their conference RPI isn't going to help.

Xavier Loses Brad Redford For Season

Xavier has now been hit by the injury bug as Brad Redford will be out for the season after tearing his ACL. Redford only played 13 minutes per game last season, but he was the team's best three-point shooter, hitting at a 42.5% clip.

Three point shooting is very important for Xavier, because they still play the same style of basketball as they did under Sean Miller. They are extremely athletic, and feature quick forwards and long guards that can all attack the rim. But to make that most effective they need shooters that can spread the defense out. With Jordan Crawford gone to the NBA, and now Redford lost to injury, the team is now short on shooters.

Dante Jackson is a very good outside shooter (he shot at a 40% clip last season, and actually hit more total threes than Redford because he was on the floor more), but after him the team has no proven shooters. Terrell Holloway likes to launch threes, but he has been pretty inefficient at them in the past (no higher than 32.7% in either of his two season). One player who needs to step up is Mark Lyons, who shot well as a redshirt freshman in 2009-10, and should get more time on the floor in 2010-11.

The Brad Redford injury isn't a disaster for Xavier. They're still probably the favorite to win the Atlantic Ten, and are very likely to return to the NCAA Tournament. But it's a problem that needs to be solved.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Top 25 Poll Out: Texas Is Underrated

The first AP poll of the year isn't out yet, but the USA Today/ESPN poll is, and the full rankings are here. You can compare what those voters thought to what I am thinking, with my most recent BP68 posted here. For the most part, those voters almost entirely agree with me, which is actually a little disconcerting. In past years I've found a bunch of teams that were very under- or over-ranked, and the official preseason polls tend to be fairly awful. So having so many teams ranked so similarly bothers me. That said, I do see one team that is way off, and that's Texas.

Look, I understand why people are down on Texas. Texas finished last year with an RPI of 35th, and they earned an 8 seed in the Tournament and were dispatched in the first round by 9 seed Wake Forest. They then lost Dexter Pittman, Damion James and Justin Mason to graduation, plus Avery Bradley to the NBA. And they only brought in two freshmen, meaning that by my calculation they're actually short two scholarship players. So I understand many people ranking them in the 20s. But here's why I disagree:

First of all, Texas was way better last year than people realize. At the end of the season, even after that loss to Wake Forest, they were ranked the 18th best team in the country by Pomeroy, and were ranked 9th by Sagarin. They started the season 17-0 and were ranked #1 in the country, before they lost two very close road games in hostile environments against good teams (Kansas State and UConn), and they just seemed to lose every close game the rest of the season.

The biggest reason last season fell apart was injuries. The Dogus Balbay injury was the toughest. He is a tremendous offensive creator and distributor, and he was their lockdown perimeter defender. He's totally unknown to casual fans because he's a foreign player with a funny name, but in my opinion he's one of the best players in the Big 12. They lost that Tournament game because Wake Forest guard Ishmael Smith absolutely torched them, including the game winning shot with two seconds remaining - that wouldn't have happened with Balbay out there. Guard Varez Ward was also knocked out with injury. Those two losses turned Texas into a very thin backcourt, and forced J'Covan Brown to play point guard, a position that he looked very unnatural playing at first. By the end of the season Brown was actually a pretty decent point guard, and that experience will really help him this season when he is playing alongside Balbay. The loss of Avery Bradley is overrated because he was drafted high, but he was drafted high on potential. He was actually a fairly inefficient player as a freshman at Texas.

With Balbay, Brown, Jai Lucas and star recruit Cory Joseph, Texas will have a very strong backcourt - much stronger than they had last year. The loss of Dexter Pittman and Damion James hurts, but those two were always a bit overrated. Their size is going to be missed, but they weren't very efficient ball players. They were poor defensive rebounders for their size, and it showed up in Texas's stats. The Longhorns were the 80th ranked defensive rebounding team last season according to Pomeroy, which is shocking. They gave up 19 offensive rebounds in that loss to Wake Forest, while collecting only 23 defensive rebounds. It was only the scoring of J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton off the bench that even kept Texas in that game.

Jordan Hamilton, Gary Johnson and Alexis Wangmene are all athletic forwards that return, and they are actually more sound defensive rebounders than the two outgoing stars. And don't forget super-frosh Tristan Thompson, who at 6'9" has the height to play in the paint. They will miss the behemoth size of Dexter Pittman, but they will be quicker, more athletic and better with the ball.

I think Texas is a Top Ten team, and they actually have fewer questions than the other three teams contending for the Big 12 title. Kansas still has to get Josh Selby eligible and probably lost even more talent from last season than Texas, Baylor has to deal with the LaceDarius Dunn mess, and Kansas State is going to have to prove that they can handle the sky high expectations in Manhattan. It's a big mistake to underestimate to the Longhorns

UVA's Sammy Zeglinski Will Be Out 8 Weeks

Sammy Zeglinski has had his surgery, and they're now saying that he will be out for eight weeks. I talked about the Zeglinski injury just a few days ago, and you can see my thoughts here.

Obviously, losing Zeglinski makes Virginia not as good of a team. They'll probably lose an extra out-of-conference game or two. But as I said in the afore-linked post, Virginia fans really shouldn't worry about that. They are not going to go to the postseason this year anyway. And having Zeglinski out will allow Tony Bennett more flexibility to work in his freshmen, particularly point guard Billy Baron, who was going to be stuck behind Zeglinski on the depth chart.

Tony Bennett completely blew up the team, and his very deep 2010 recruiting class is going to be the base for the team going forward. With Zeglinski out it will be easier for him to see what his freshmen have, and he'll have Zeglinski back in time for them to try to win some ACC games, where they will be fighting to not finish in last place.

If you're not trying to build an at-large resume, and Virginia is not, then out-of-conference games are first and foremost about developing your team. If they lose an extra game or two, but discover that Billy Baron stars with his extended playing time, then the Zeglinski injury will ironically do more good than harm for Virginia's future.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Post-Midnight Madness BP68

This will be the last BP68 before the W-17 BP68, which will come out on Sunday, November 14th (17 months before Selection Sunday). There have been quite a few movers since the last BP68, which is here.

Purdue drops because of the Robbie Hummel injury, of course. North Carolina also has to drop a couple of spots because Will Graves was kicked off the team. I never particularly liked Graves, who was always a bit of a knucklehead on the court, but with the Wear Twins gone his loss really makes the team thin in the frontcourt. Baylor has to drop because of the LaceDarius Dunn incident, although not too far since there's still a decent chance that Baylor brings him back before they play any important games.

In my last BP68 I had Michigan State #1 overall, with Duke #2. This time I'm flipping those two teams. Michigan State has some injury problems that will test their depth. In addition, the ACC is really falling into place for Duke. The conference will be deep, but I don't see how any team seriously contends with Duke. The Blue Devils could easily go 14-2 or 15-1 in conference play. Michigan State has much more competition in the Big Ten. Purdue will be tough at home, even with the Robbie Hummel injury. The Spartans will be challenged for the Big Ten title by Ohio State, another team they have to visit during the regular season. They also have to head to Illinois and Wisconsin, two teams that could end up in the Top 25, and probably the two teams with the strongest home court advantages in the Big Ten. Even if Michigan State wins the conference they might do it with a 14-4 or 13-5 record, and that's why I give Duke the edge on the #1 overall seed in the Tournament.

One other thing to take into account with the BP68 is trying to narrow down the format. What we know is that they will make a field of 68, and there will be four first round games. Two of those games will pit the last four at-large teams against each other, and the other two games will pit the last four auto-bid teams. That latter games are easy - there will be six 16 seeds. But let's say that the last two at-large teams get an 11 and 12 seed. In that case, does the second-to-last at-large team get a 12 seed, and the last at-large team gets an 11 seed? That's what seems to make the most sense, but it's a little tough to project when the worst at-large team could be getting an 11 seed. In the bracket below, the final two at-large spots are both 12 seeds, so I'm just going to put in six 12 seeds. If it turns out that I'm wrong, I'll change the format on the fly, as all bracketologists will have to.

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

1. TEXAS (BIG 12)

2. Kansas State
2. Ohio State

3. Georgetown
3. Kansas
3. Kentucky
3. Syracuse

4. Florida
4. BYU (MWC)
4. North Carolina

5. Purdue
5. Virginia Tech

6. Baylor
6. Illinois
6. Texas A&M

7. New Mexico
7. Wisconsin
7. Villanova

8. Temple
8. Arizona State

9. Louisville
9. San Diego State
9. Oklahoma State
9. Missouri

10. West Virginia
10. UTEP
10. Vanderbilt
10. Clemson

11. Marquette
11. California
11. Miami (Fl)
11. Florida State

12. Maryland
12. Northwestern
12. Mississippi
12. UConn
12. Boston College
12. St. John's

13. OHIO (MAC)




Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
NC State, Dayton, Saint Louis, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Minnesota, VCU, Creighton, South Carolina, Saint Mary's

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Duquesne, Richmond, Indiana, George Mason, UAB, Fairfield, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, Arizona, UCLA, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi State, New Mexico State

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Charlotte, Rhode Island, Cincinnati, South Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Northeastern, Central Florida, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Cleveland State, Wright State, Princeton, St. Peter's, Siena, Akron, Kent State, Bradley, Southern Illinois, Utah, Oregon, Stanford, Washington State, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Portland, Fresno State, Nevada

Robbie Hummel Pledges To Be Back In 2011-12

While the official news won't come for a few days, it's already being reported that Robbie Hummel is planning to get a medical redshirt and return for one last year in 2011-12. I've already talked about Hummel's devastating ACL injury that will keep him out for the entire season, and will likely dash Purdue's Final Four chances.

I would have thought that Hummel could have gotten drafted after this season, but I can imagine NBA scouts being wary of a player with so many injuries. This most recent injury is particularly devastating to his chances because it's a re-tearing of the same ACL that knocked him out of the end of the 2009-10 season, meaning that it is probably susceptible to even more tears in the future.

One other thing to keep in mind is that it is incredibly discouraging to do so much work to return from injury only to see it dashed by another, and to put in another year of lonesome rehabilitation is much easier to promise than to execute. We saw Kevin Coble of Northwestern decide just a few months ago that he'd rather turn down the redshirt and graduate than suffer through more rehabilitation.

If Hummel can come back and can stay healthy, then obviously that's a boon for Purdue's chances in 2010-11. They will only lose two to graduation in 2011, but those two will be JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Johnson is probably my pick for preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, and along with Moore those two make (in my opinion) the clear best inside-outside duo in the Big Ten. Matt Painter has two strong 2011 recruits coming in with swing forward Jacob Lawson and power forward Donnie Hale. But even if those two live up to expectations, it's going to take big improvements by Purdue's more experienced returners to make up for the loss of Johnson and Moore.

If Hummel does make it back for 2011-12 then Purdue will likely be a Top 25 team again. But it won't change the fact that a healthy Hummel in 2010-11 would have made Purdue a real contender for a National Championship.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Virginia Loses Sammy Zeglinski To Knee Surgery

Virginia's Sammy Zeglinski will miss an indeterminate amount of time after injuring his left knee. He will have surgery and they will determine during his rehab how quickly he can come back. He's not the only casualty so far for the Cavaliers, as true freshman forward James Johnson sprained his ankle. Johnson's injury, however, appears to be minor. He shouldn't miss any games at all.

In some sense, losing Zeglinski is a big deal. He started every game for them last season, led the team in assists, was third on the team in points scored, and is the best returning outside shooter. Virginia won't be nearly as good without him.

The thing is, this injury can be something of a blessing in disguise. Even though it makes the team worse this season, this wasn't going to be a successful year for them anyway. Tony Bennett has completely blown up the team he inherited - with four players leaving for the exits and a huge recruiting class coming in.

Tony Bennett is not just one of the best young coaches in college basketball - he's one of the best coaches period. But he coaches a very specific style, and it requires a very specific type of player, and his new recruits reflect that philosophy. The Zeglinski injury will give more playing time to some of these young players to see just what they're made of. Shooting guard K.T. Harrell is the highest rated recruit in the class, but Billy Barron might be the player that Virginia fans are most excited about. And as a point guard, Barron's minutes were going to be stunted with Zeglinski in front of him on the depth chart.

The way Bennett coaches, his team will be pesky all year. They'll play hard-nosed, intense basketball, and they'll keep games low scoring. But when the dust settles they're going to be far outside of postseason contention, even with a fully healthy squad. This season will be about Bennett getting to see what his young kids can do against intra-conference opposition so he'll be able to evaluate just what changes need to be made to make the team competitive in the ACC again. And I don't think it will take him too long to get his team there.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Robbie Hummel Tears His ACL Again

Heartbreaking news out of Purdue as Robbie Hummel has torn his ACL. Recall that last season also blew up for Purdue after Hummel tore an ACL, in late February. Hummel's career will always be a what-could-have-been for Purdue fans, because he's been so incredibly good when healthy, yet has so rarely been healthy.

Purdue will have a great backcourt this year, but their frontcourt will go through a dramatic transformation without Hummel. Everybody has been talking about the dramatic progress that JaJuan Johnson has made this offseason, particularly in terms of body strength, and he was already one of the best players in the Big Ten last season. He's a legitimate contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. But after that?

I had mentioned back in April's Big Ten 2010-11 preview just how badly Purdue's lack of depth in the frontcourt was exposed the last time Hummel tore his ACL. After Johnson, their only returners over 6'5" will be Patrick Bade and Sandi Marcius, both 2009 recruits. Bade was lightly used in '09, and Marcius redshirted the entire season after breaking a bone in his foot during the preseason. Neither player is a blue-chipper, nor is Purdue's lone 2010 frontcourt recruit, Travis Carroll.

Obviously, Purdue will play a lot with D.J. Byrd and Kelsey Barlow at the three spot. They have a very big backcourt, even by Big Ten standards, and can get away with three guards on the floor. But one of those young big men is going to have to develop or they're going to have a big hole in their starting lineup. And you have to wonder if JaJuan Johnson's offensive efficiency will be affected by how much helping he'll have to do on defense in the paint.

Purdue was a team projected by many to be a legitimate Final Four threat. I gave Michigan State the slight nod over them in the Big Ten, but made them the highest rated non-conference champion in my most recent BP68. They will fall quite a bit back when my new BP68 comes out this week. Purdue has to now drop behind Ohio State, meaning that they'll finish no higher than third in the Big Ten. And a team like Illinois or Wisconsin could even give them a run for that spot.

It's sad to see Hummel's playing career so derailed by injuries. I viewed him as the poor man's Larry Bird when he first showed up on campus, with his rare combination of rebounding, passing and shooting touch. It's a shame that we'll never see if he really could have been one of the all-time Big Ten greats.

Friday, October 15, 2010

St. Louis Loses Its Two Best Players To Mysterious Circumstances

The news out of Saint Louis continues to be very vague, with internet rumors ruling the day, but whatever has happened it's definitely bad for what looked to be the best Saint Louis team in over a decade.

The story busted into the mainstream two days ago when St. Louis offhandedly mentioned that Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, their top two scorers (and arguably their two best overall players) from last season were not enrolled in the school. ESPN printed a very vague story that didn't give any information at all about what happened. A much better take on the story is here, with additional quotes from Willie Reed's father about what happened in another publication.

What's known is that the two players were accused of sexually assaulting a girl back in the spring. The police ended up not filing charges, but the school has decided to suspend both players for two months. According to the quotes in the stories, it sounds as if Mitchell hopes to be back in January, but Reed will be gone for good.

Saint Louis is a team that entered this season with a very promising future. Rick Majerus is in his third year at the helm, and he completely blew up the team when he showed up in town. Last year's team had zero juniors or seniors on the roster, yet Majerus took them to 11-5 in a very strong Atlantic Ten, and if it wasn't for a poor out-of-conference performance they would have been a really plausible at-large team. They went to the CBI instead, and finished runner up.

With everybody back, along with a couple of very good recruits, this was expected to be a big year for them. I said in my A-10 preview that "I don't think there's any question that at the very least Saint Louis will be a bubble team next season." If neither Mitchell or Reed comes back they could still be an at-large team, but it also wouldn't be too shocking to see them not improve over last season.

That said, they do have options to fill the gaps. Kyle Cassity and Christian Salecich both started last year in the backcourt along with Mitchell, and can both score and handle the ball (though neither is a strong outside shooter, which will leave the team starving for somebody who can stretch the floor offensively). Without Mitchell, a lot of ball handling pressure will fall on Jordair Jett, a very good recruit who is going to have to hit the ground running. But if Mitchell does keep his word and comes back, they should be fine in the backcourt. The frontcourt is more of an issue because Reed was the team's top rebounder in addition to being a very good scorer. The team doesn't have a lot of size coming back if he really is gone for good, but they do have a very good recruit in Rob Loe, a 6'11" center out of New Zealand. While many players that tall need a year or two to adjust to high level NCAA basketball (since players that tall often don't have to handle the ball well or shoot well in order to dominate in high school), the scouting report on Loe is that he already has a nice all-around game and should be ready to play a big role immediately.

If we trust the word of the players, and Kwamain Mitchell does come back, I do think Saint Louis is still more likely than not going to make the NCAA Tournament. The only way they will miss out will be if Rob Loe is more of a developmental project than expected and the team is too small to bang with the best teams in the Atlantic Ten. But the conference should be very strong this season, and even a fourth or fifth place conference finish should still be enough to earn a Tournament bid. I do still think that they'll be at least a bubble team.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Andy Staples Shouldn't Be Allowed To Vote In Polls

Sports Illustrated used to be the gold standard of sports writing. It's amazing how many great writers they've had over the years. But as with all magazines, they're struggling in the age of the Internet, and their writing quality has really gone down hill. And Andy Staples wrote a horrendous article for them today (read it here), which was so bad that I feel the need to tear it apart.

It's one thing for a writer to be wrong, but it's another for them to be wrong while simultaneously being so self-righteous about it. Andy Staples writes about a problem he calls a "disgrace" by some people who have "shamed" their alma maters. He says that people have "kill[ed] our credibility". What's he so furious about? Alabama being ranked ahead of South Carolina in the AP college football poll.

I already wrote about this a few days ago, and I'm going to recommend Staples read this essay that I wrote. The essence is, head-to-head is meaningful, but not the be-all end-all. Upsets happen. And the thing is, people know this. In the same article, Staples gives his own Top 25 rankings. He does put South Carolina ahead of Alabama... yet he also puts USC ahead of Washington even though Washington has beaten USC. Heck, he has Virginia Tech listed but leaves out James Madison. How is that fair? It took me about five minutes to find to his AP voting record from last year. It turns out he put a 10-3 Georgia Tech team 12th, and didn't rank at all a 9-4 Miami team that beat Georgia Tech 33-17 earlier in the season. Any time Team A beats Team B which beats Team C that beat Team A, which happens anytime sample sizes get large enough, we see the idiocy of the ideology that any team must be ranked behind any team in loses to.

As I've written many times, it's because deep down the voters understand what I'm saying. They understand that upsets happen, and they're supposed to be ranking teams by how good they are. Yet while they understand that fact, they somehow turn their minds off when two teams that are close in quality to each other play. They get all self-righteous about it: If Team A beats Team B then by golly Team A must be better!.... unless we already know Team B is better, of course.

And in this case, almost everybody agrees Alabama is far better than South Carolina. Sagarin still ranks Alabama the second best team in the country, while South Carolina is back in 12th. If those two teams played again on a neutral field, Alabama would be favored by 5-to-7 points.

I don't want to linger on this issue too long, but I do need to quote what might be the dumbest paragraph I've ever read from a Sports Illustrated writer:

The poll forces us into a lot of silly hypotheticals. Would Boise State beat Ohio State on a neutral field? Who really knows? Sometimes, though, we have actual on-field results to inform our voting. We don't have to wonder what would happen if Alabama and South Carolina played. We know.

Unbelievable. In the first three sentences he is saying that he shouldn't be allowed to vote. If he has no idea whether Ohio State is better than Boise State, why exactly is he qualified to vote on that, again? We only need to come up with 60 voters for the AP Poll in the entire country... they couldn't find somebody else? And in the latter part of the paragraph, he appears to be asserting that if Alabama and South Carolina played again, the exact same game would happen. That's a pretty bizarre claim. In fact, if those two teams played again we can take a pretty good guess what will happen: Alabama will win, because they're the better team. Even great teams sometimes lose to inferior teams, so South Carolina might win again, but almost every expert would pick Bama.

If Andy Staples really wants to dispute that last paragraph, I have a bet for him. There will be thousands of different match-ups that will happen twice during the college basketball season. For example, Duke and North Carolina will play twice in the regular season. Andy is free to pick any of those match-ups. I will bet him that when those two teams play a second time, the final score will be different from the first game. Any amount of money, Andy. Come on, we already know what happens when those two teams play!

I apologize to those who feel like I harp on this issue too much, but hey, we're in the silly season right now! It will be a couple more weeks before we even have exhibition games. Once the season gets going I'll be back on task. But with not much in the way of college basketball news today, I couldn't resist tearing apart that Andy Staples article.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mississippi State Tries To Outsmart The Schedulers

In an expected move, Mississippi State has added another game to their out-of-conference schedule, adding a December 29th game against Saint Mary's in Las Vegas. This was expected because of the Dee Bost suspension announced a couple of weeks ago. Some quick math on the suspension led to the calculation that Bost would return on January 13th, for Mississippi State's second SEC game. By scheduling an additional out-of-conference game, it means that Bost will fulfill his suspension in time for their SEC opener against Alabama.

Obviously Mississippi State will be worried about every single game this season. They are likely going to be a bubble team, and the difference between a 10-6 or 11-5 record in the awful SEC West could mean the difference between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.

That said, I don't see any writer pointing out that this is a move that can backfire. Alabama is not going to be good this season, and Mississippi State should be able to take care of business at home even without Bost, particularly since Renardo Sidney should be finally comfortable in the lineup by then (his suspension, which caused him to miss all of last season, will allow him back into the lineup for their December 18th game against Virginia Tech). So they probably won't need Bost to win the game.

In addition, Saint Mary's is going to be a good team. Maybe not as good as last season, but definitely bubble quality. And Mississippi State is going to be playing the game in Las Vegas while heading back home from the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. So they're asking these kids to play games in Hawaii, then fly to Las Vegas and play a game there, all without stopping at home, and all during Christmas break. It's asking a lot of any athletes to perform near their best in that situation. I'll see how these teams play in November and December in the run up to the game, but if I had to bet right now I'd make Saint Mary's the slight favorite. And a loss for Mississippi State there would more than wipe out a win over Alabama on their resume.

It's for that reason that I thought Mississippi State might just try to schedule a cupcake in December so that they could get Bost back without risking another loss. We'll have to see if their gamble pays off.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wake Forest Releases Tony Woods

Tony Woods has been released by Wake Forest, just a few weeks after assaulting the mother of his child. This incident actually happened before the LaceDarius Dunn incident (which I have spoken about here and here), but didn't get as much press because Woods isn't in the same class as Dunn as a player.

Woods was part of Wake Forest's big 2008 recruiting class, the last that Skip Prosser put together before passing away. Woods hasn't been the player that fellow '08 recruit Al-Farouq Aminu is, but he was actually going to be one of the key returners on a Wake Forest team that had already lost a ton since last season, in addition to fired head coach Dino Gaudio.

Wake Forest lost three starters to graduation, and a fourth (Aminu) to the NBA. The only returning starter is C.J. Harris, an athletic scoring guard who is great at getting to the rim. With Woods gone, 6'7" swingman Ari Stewart is the only other returner who earned double digit minutes per game last season. The man expected to replace Woods will probably be Ty Walker, another '08 recruit who is a 7-footer still struggling to add the strength needed to bang in the paint in the ACC. 6'4" Gary Clark is the other good returner.

Wake Forest does have a very deep recruiting class coming in. None are super-freshmen, but shooting guard J.T. Terrell and swingman Travis McKie are both among the top 75 recruits in the nation. Point guard Tony Chennault might be the most important freshman, though, because he's going to be the only point guard on the roster and will be expected to do a lot of the ball handling duties.

But Jeff Bzdelik knew that this was going to be a bit of a rebuilding job when he took it. And even though I've questioned whether Bzdelik's coaching style is going to be popular in the ACC, he is a good coach and he's off to a good start by hanging onto Dino Gaudio's 2010 recruiting class. Wake Forest will struggle in the ACC this year, and they're at best a bubble team. They probably weren't going to make the NCAA Tournament in 2011 anyway, but losing Tony Woods doesn't help the cause.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Alabama Football and Top 25 Inanity

Regular readers of this blog know that if there's one thing I consistently harp on it's the idiocy of Top 25 polls. The voters are completely irrational about how they rank teams - contradicting themselves constantly. I've talked about this over and over again. But I've been watching college football all day today, and for those that are living in a cave you might not have heard that #1 Alabama lost on the road at #19 South Carolina. And we're repeating the idiocy we go through every single year, and I'm going to try to not repeat what I said almost four years ago to the day about a very similar situation.

To recap the conventional wisdom you will hear from every "expert" on television today, Alabama "deserves to drop" somewhere near the back of the Top Ten, because they have to be dropped behind the top undefeated teams. And the debate is now whether a one-loss SEC champion (should Alabama win out) win a National Title game spot over an undefeated team from another conference (analysts will talk about two Pac-10 teams, two Big Ten teams and a Big 12 team all with a good chance to go undefeated).

Let's talk about these points one after the other, and reveal the idiocy and hypocrisy:

Alabama should be moved below some undefeated teams, but not others:

There's this bizarre obsession in college football with the number of losses a team has - that a one-loss team should be behind an undefeated team. This, of course, encourages teams to play cupcake schedules - which most of them do. I have a weird idea that teams should be ranked by how good they are. And basically everybody agrees that Alabama is the best team in the country. Even after the loss today, many of the computer polls will still have Alabama #1. So shouldn't Alabama stay #1? If you truly believe that one or two other teams are better than Alabama, then go ahead and rank those teams ahead, but Alabama shouldn't drop some arbitrary number of spots just because of the mere fact that they lost a game.

If the argument is that we should have a NASCAR or ATP/WTA style points system, rather than just ranking teams by how good they are, then fine. But if you're going to do that then you have to rank every undefeated team ahead of Alabama. Voters will tell you that they will keep Alabama ranked ahead of undefeated Michigan State because Alabama "is the better team" - yet they'll simutaneously rank Alabama behind Boise State, even though Alabama would be at least a five point favorite on a neutral field against Boise State and almost none of those "experts" would pick Boise State to win that hypothetical game. Pick something and be consistent, guys. You can't rank Alabama ahead of Michigan State but behind Boise State if you think Alabama is better than both of them.

Can a one-loss SEC Champion make the National Title game over an undefeated team from another conference?

Again, I have the wild-eyed theory that we should have the two best teams in the National Title game. If Alabama wins every remaining game (including the SEC Championship Game) I'll bet you dollars to donuts that they are by far the #1 team in every computer rating (and I'm talking about real computer rating systems, not the lame ones used by the BCS which do not take into account the scores of games, inevitably leading them to overrate undefeated teams and to punish teams that have hard schedules and lose to good opponents). So if you're putting teams into the title game by how good they are, then of course Alabama should get in.

If we want to go to the NASCAR/ATP/WTA points system, and want to put undefeated teams ahead of one-loss teams just because they're undefeated, then you have to be consistent with that. Every undefeated team has to get in over one-loss Alabama. The voters will put a 12-1 Alabama over a 12-0 Boise State, and tell us it's because Alabama is better and their loss was just due to a tougher schedule. Yet simultaneously they'll tell us that an undefeated Oregon team has to get in over a one-loss Alabama team because they went undefeated and did everything they could, and you can't put a one-loss team in over them. It's pure contradiction.

Of course, this is a stupid discussion to begin with:

I've talked about this in the past, but every October college football analysts freak out about the possibility of five or six undefeated teams at the end of the season fighting for National Title game spots. We always have a bunch of teams that start at 5-0 or 6-0, and we all look at the schedules of those teams and say "Gosh darnit, those teams could go the distance! They don't have any tough teams left!" And what happens every year? Those teams lose. Only once in the entire BCS era have we had even three major conference undefeated. More often than not we have zero undefeated BCS conference teams at the end of the season. So there's no reason to panic that Oregon, Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Michigan State and a slew of SEC teams are still undefeated. The odds are that they'll all lose at least one game apiece.

Why do so many teams get upset? It's basic statistics. An elite team playing a middle-of-the-pack team in conference generally has at most an 80% chance of winning a game. That's a huge gap. Even the best NFL teams only beat an average NFL team about 75% of the time. In Major League Baseball it's about 60%. So if you have a team that has six games left where they have an 80% chance of winning each game, you intuitively expect that team to win each game, because a loss in any of those games would be a pretty shocking upset. Yet if that team has six games remaining, even with an 80% chance of winning each game, they only have a 26% chance of going undefeated. It's not intuitive, but it's reality.

If you have seven undefeated teams that each have six games remaining, and all of them have an 80% chance of winning each game, the odds of all seven going undefeated is 0.0085%. That's less than a one-in-10,000. So why are we spending hours wasting our time debating such a remote possibility?

So the next time you see somebody on television debating whether an undefeated Nebraska and Ohio State will earn a National Title spot over a 12-1 Alabama team when all of them have at least six games left to play, put the mute button on. Don't waste your brain power thinking about such an inane and unlikely scenario.

Friday, October 08, 2010

North Carolina Boots Will Graves

Will Graves appears to be gone from North Carolina for good after he was dismissed for breaking team rules. Keeping in mind the agent scandal involving North Carolina's football team, some people immediately thought that Graves was related to that, but Roy Williams has assured the media that it was something else. And it's not too shocking, because Graves has always been a knucklehead, including getting suspended from the team once before.

I've always been down on Will Graves. Last season I was like a broken record saying that Dexter Strickland should be starting over Graves, who I viewed as an out-of-control player who never thought before acting (see here and here for examples). And let's recall that North Carolina was just mentally weak last season, putting in possibly the most disappointing season of any team in the decade when you consider results compared to talent. Getting rid of Graves could be more of a plus than a minus in that department.

But that said, this opens up North Carolina as potentially a very thin frontcourt with the loss of the Wear twins to transfer. There probably isn't another team in the nation with three frontcourt players as talented as Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes. But after those three? Justin Knox, the transfer from Alabama, is the only other forward on the roster. It's possible that incoming freshman Reggie Bullock can play some small forward because of his height (6'6"), but he's only 185 pounds and he'll probably get pushed around by bigger teams, the same way that John Henson was as a freshman. Considering the injury history of Tyler Zeller, this isn't where North Carolina wants to be.

Back in April I projected North Carolina to finish 2nd in the ACC, but that was before the departures of the Wear Twins and Graves. I still think North Carolina might be the second best team in the conference, just because there was quite a gap back to the rest of the conference. But Duke is now the heavy, heavy favorite to dominate the ACC. And North Carolina is a bad injury away from falling back into the middle of the pack of the ACC again.

Michigan State Loses Russell Byrd To Injury

Tough news for Michigan State as incoming freshman Russell Byrd has a foot injury and will likely need surgery. He'll possibly redshirt the entire season. Byrd was a pretty highly rated recruit ( rates him the 19th best shooting guard, ESPN rates him 20th, and rates him 115th overall), but he was only the second best shooting guard recruit for the Spartans (Keith Appling is a more explosive player, and more ready to go from Day One, while Byrd is considered a little bit more of a developmental project). And I had projected Michigan State to have the best backcourt in the nation anyway.

But Michigan State kicked Chris Allen off the team in August, and Korie Lucious just had arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Michigan State expects Lucious to be back by the start of the regular season, but you never know for sure with knee injuries. If Lucious is out longer, and Byrd is indeed gone for the season, Michigan State suddenly becomes very thin at the guard position.

Kalin Lucas is a serious contender not just for Big Ten Player of the Year (he's already won that award once before) but National Player of the Year. With Durrell Summers they'll make the best starting backcourt in the Big Ten. But after that? Lucious is a very good player who really grew into his own when Lucas was injured last season, but as long as he's hurt the only good backup guard will be Appling. Austin Thornton is a possibility, but he's not really quick enough to play guard against elite opponents. So the Byrd injury could make things tough early in the season, or at least until Lucious comes back.

When Lucas, Summers and Lucious are all healthy, Michigan State is going to have the best backcourt in the Big Ten. And they have a very strong frontcourt as well (Draymond Green is one of the most underrated players in the nation). But if Russell Byrd does lose the entire year to injury, the team does become very vulnerable to another injury to Lucas or Lucious. I still view Michigan State as the Big Ten favorite, and a legitimate National Championship contender, but we saw with Texas last season just how easily an elite team can be undone by too many backcourt injuries.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

LaceDarius Dunn Whitewash?

The LaceDarius Dunn story, which I spoke about yesterday, has started getting bizarre. Even as I was typing that post, rumors were already spreading that Dunn's girlfriend was backing off her story. While the original story was that Dunn punched her during an argument and broke her jaw, she began saying that actually it was all an accident. And now today, she's claiming her jaw wasn't even broken.

Obviously a girl like this is under extraordinary pressure to back off her story. She's being told by all of her friends that LaceDarius Dunn is the biggest star at Baylor, and she'll tank their season if she gets him kicked off the team. So she wouldn't be the first girlfriend to claim after the fact that actually she'd accidentally tripped or banged into a wall. But to claim the jaw isn't even broken?? Seeing as how the incident happened just two days ago, you'd think that a doctor could determine pretty quickly if she's lying about that or not. So either she's an idiot, or the police monumentally screwed this one up.

Scott Drew is punting on the story for now, saying that he's not going to take a stand on the issue until it's been resolved by police. And obviously that's the only stance he can take. And he's got time to figure this out, because La Salle (a team I'm projecting to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Ten) is the only team that has even a remote chance of knocking off Baylor before December. So they've got a full two months to resolve this without it affecting their season too much.

But Baylor needs to be really careful here. It's easy to forget just how little time has taken place since the Patrick Dennehy scandal. Dennehy was murdered by a former teammate back in 2003, but it was some time before the depth of the scandal became clear, with Baylor head coach Dave Bliss paying players, looking the other way at rampant drug use, and then urging his players to cover up for his misdeeds by lying to investigators about the dead Dennehy, accusing him of being a drug dealer. Even though the worst of the team's punishment by the NCAA took place during the 2005-06 season, Scott Drew got them back to the NCAA Tournament by 2008, and just two years later it already seems like the Dennehy scandal happened eons ago.

That can change. The last thing Baylor needs this season is controversy about bringing back Dunn too soon, leading to stories relating this team to the Dave Bliss era. Scott Drew should understand this, which is why Baylor fans shouldn't be too excited by some on the internet speculating that Dunn won't miss any playing time at all. Drew will be very cautious about bringing Dunn back, if he's even allowed back at all.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

LaceDarius Dunn Suspended: Possibly For The Season?

We're nearing the beginning of the regular season, and it's the Big 12 that has been in the news today. The Big 12 held its own preseason poll, and full results are here. They projected Kansas State first, followed by Kansas, Texas and Baylor. Missouri is quite a way back in fifth, and then Texas A&M. My preview, which I wrote back in April, is here. I certainly agree with the top four teams, which I projected would be a big step ahead of the rest of the conference. I put Texas on top instead of Kansas State, however, and I feel even better about that projection since Dominique Sutton left Kansas State. Texas is going to have a really strong back court, particularly with Dogus Balbay back, who in my opinion is one of the most underrated players in the country. He's a great ball handler and playmaker, and he's their premier perimeter defender. I think J'Covan Brown learned a lot from being thrust into the position of primary ball handler when Balbay got hurt, and he'll combine for a great starting duo. Obviously Texas is weaker in the paint, but I don't see any team in the Big 12 that is really strong in the paint, so they should be able to get away with this.

But the reason I'm writing this post is because the Big Four atop the Big 12 could be down to the Big Three, with Baylor's top scorer LaceDarius Dunn getting himself into big, big trouble. Obviously nothing has been proven in court yet, but it's alleged that he punched his girlfriend, breaking her jaw. He's been arrested for aggravated assault and has been suspended indefinitely. It certainly looks likely that he won't play this year. Dunn was not only Baylor's top scorer last season, but he was also their clutch scorer, and was expected to anchor the backcourt after the graduation of Tweety Carter.

Assuming Dunn is gone for the season, Baylor becomes frighteningly thin in the backcourt. A.J. Walton and Nolan Dennis both were big recruits who played well off the bench as true freshmen in 2009-10, but they are likely going to be the new starting backcourt in 2010-11. And after those two, it's slim pickings - the only player I like is Stargell Love, a strong recruit at point guard. Brady Heslip should be good, but he will probably miss the season on redshirt, even though he didn't suit up in a game for Boston College last season as a true freshman.

The frontcourt is very talented, but it's young. Perry Jones is the super-recruit, of course, and he'll join Anthony Jones, Cory Jefferson, Quincy Acy and Givon Crump. They also bring in J'Mison Morgan, a transfer from UCLA. The problem is, Quincy Acy is the only one of those who is efficient offensively, and with a thin backcourt it's going to be tough for them to properly distribute the ball. Baylor is going to struggle to score, and they're going to have to find a way to be efficient defensively after losing the blocking machine named Ekpe Udoh.

One of the biggest misconceptions of Baylor last season was that they were a defense-first team, because of Udoh. But while their defense was strong, they were actually rated third in the nation in offensive efficiency according to Pomeroy's ratings. There's no way they don't take a step back offensively now.

Baylor will still be a pretty good team. I think they're a Tournament team. But if Dunn doesn't play they won't finish higher than fourth in the Big 12, and they will more likely finish fifth or sixth.