Thursday, October 29, 2009

AP Poll Is Out Also

I forgot to mention that the AP Poll is out today as well. It's pretty similar to the Coaches Poll, which I spoke about a few hours ago. Kansas is the overwhelming #1, with the same teams making up the rest of the Top Five and Top Ten. This poll gives 28 votes to South Carolina, and none to USC, which backs up the theory that the "USC" in the Coaches Poll was indeed meant for South Carolina. Once again, it's hard to fathom anybody with any clue about college basketball that would pick USC as a Tournament team, let alone a Top 25 team.

We've again got nonsensical teams getting a few Top 25 votes, although they're different from the Coaches Poll. In the case of the AP, they've got Western Kentucky, VCU, Old Dominion and Holy Cross each picking up Top 25 votes, even though there's not a sliver of a chance that the people who voted for them would bet on them straight up again Maryland or Vanderbilt (two teams that failed make the Top 25, but did receive plenty of votes).

Of the teams I pointed out that received zero votes in the Coaches Poll yet showed up in my BP65 (Virginia, Baylor, Wisconsin, Arizona State and Cincinnati), none of them received votes in the AP poll either.

In other words, while the AP is usually slightly more accurate than the Coaches Poll (simply because the voters care more), it's still got most of the same silliness.

First Top 25 Poll Is Out

The first Coaches Poll of the season is out. You can compare it with my most recent BP65 here. I'm not going to quibble too much with the top of the rankings. Everybody knew Kansas would be the preseason #1, and I agree with North Carolina, Kentucky and Villanova as the highest ranked teams in the ACC, SEC and Big East respectively. I continue to think that Michigan State is a bit overrated because Goran Suton was so much more important than just his stats, but I still do consider them a competitor to win the Big Ten.

Probably the most interesting thing with the poll is the truly bizarre 22 votes for USC. Gary Parrish of CBS makes a point that may be facetious, but might also be true: could those votes have been for South Carolina? "South Carolina" does get one vote as well, and I wouldn't put South Carolina in the Top 25 either (right now I see them as a bubble team that ends up in the NIT), but at least one can make an educated argument for South Carolina in the Top 25. As Parrish says, "there is no way anybody who knows anything about college basketball could put Southern California on a Top 25 ballot". I totally agree, and went fairly deeply into the current status of USC (West) basketball here. Those of us that don't live in the southeast tend to forget that to a lot of folks down there "USC" means "South Carolina." Is it possible that whoever tallied the votes saw "USC" and "South Carolina" and mistakenly thought those were different schools?

I hope so. Because if anybody gave Southern Cal a Top 25 vote then they should have their voting privileges revoked.

That said, there are always a lot of silly votes in the first Top 25 votes of the season, in both college basketball and football. Cornell? Creighton? San Diego State? Why do voters feel the need to stick their favorite local team into 25th spot in their poll when they know without a doubt that those teams are not among the 25 best in the nation?

Maryland, Illinois and Vanderbilt were all teams that failed to make the Top 25, and teams that folks could have (and did) vote for. How many points would Maryland give in Las Vegas against Cornell on a neutral court right now? 12? 15? What about some of the teams that didn't even get a single vote in the Top 25? 55 teams received at least one vote in the Coaches Poll, yet Virginia (an 11 seed in my most recent BP65), Cincinnati (an 8 seed), Wisconsin (a 7 seed), Baylor (a 10 seed) and Arizona State (a 10 seed) received a grand total of zero votes. That's a joke.

Now, I don't have any of those five teams I just listed as one of the Top 25 teams in the country, so I wouldn't have voted for any of them. But if 35 or 40 teams are getting votes, then those five teams deserve some of them. Would any of those people who voted for Creighton bet on them to beat Baylor tomorrow? Unlikely.

I understand that the coaches (or more realistically, random athletic department officials) don't really take these polls seriously, so they see no problem with throwing a couple of votes to teams that they like at the end of their Top 25. But then stop letting them vote. There are plenty of people who know how to rank teams. Let's get some of them some press, and let's stop giving so much press to votes cast by people who don't care and don't pay attention to any team outside their conference.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Could UCLA Be A Bubble Team?

UCLA has made the news the last week or two with a ridiculous series of small injuries. They're now up to six injured players. The most recent injured player, J'Mison Morgan, should be back before the first regular season game. In fact, there's a decent chance that all six players will be back before their first regular season game. But I'm still worried, because in some ways little injuries are worse than big injuries, as silly as that sounds.

Obviously a major injury like an ACL tear is a horrible thing to happen to a player. But those tend to be fluke plays that strike at random, and there's nothing you can do about them. Little injuries on the other hand... everybody has little injuries. If you're a Division I athlete, you're going to have minor injuries just about all the time, and generally you can play through them. Occasionally a minor injury takes down a player for a few weeks, such as Tyler Hansbrough's shin injury last fall, but when a team has six of these at the same time it's a sign that there's a cultural problem at the school. Sure, there's some chance that six players really just did have fluke injuries in a short period of time, but there's also a chance that there is a lack of leadership and cohesion.

The fact is that this is probably the weakest senior class that UCLA has had in a long time. James Keefe has been a real disappointment (even one year ago UCLA fans had him pegged as the next Kevin Love), and Nikola Dragovic and Michael Roll are both role players. All three of these guys would be quality reserves on an elite team, but do you really see any team starting those three players winning the Pac-10? Not a chance. And the junior class at UCLA? It doesn't exist: they have no scholarship juniors.

Ben Howland is going to have to rely heavily on his young players. Drew Gooden, Malcolm Lee, J'Mison Morgan and Jerime Anderson were all big recruits in 2008, and all got some time on the floor last year off the bench. The 2009 recruiting class also includes a couple of blue chippers: Mike Moser and Tyler Honeycutt. Anthony Stover, Brendan Lane and Reeves Nelson are the other 2009-10 freshmen, although I wouldn't bet on those three getting a lot of playing time.

That adds up to six freshmen and sophomores who are blue chip talents and can all play extended time. Those six, along with Keefe, Dragovic and Roll, will probably make up the nine man rotation. But who is the leader? Who is the star? UCLA under Ben Howland has always had not just blue chip recruits, but elite NBA Lottery Pick talent. I don't see where that is right now.

And when you've got six very young player who will get extended time, they need leadership. Keefe, Dragovic and Roll haven't proved it on the floor, so maybe they are struggling to keep this team together and positive. The six small injuries thus far certainly are not a good sign.

Right now I've still got UCLA as a seven seed, but we won't have any sense of how accurate that is until their first exhibition game on November 4th. If one of these young players doesn't step up and become the next Darren Collison or Alfred Aboya, it's not out of the question that UCLA will fall all the way to the bubble.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Post-Midnight Madness BP65

As promised, here is the new BP65. The next BP65 will be out by noon eastern time on Sunday, November 15th.

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Texas
2. West Virginia

3. Tennessee
3. Minnesota
3. Clemson
3. Ohio State

4. Maryland
4. Michigan State
4. California
4. Louisville

5. Georgia Tech
5. Oklahoma
5. Duke

6. Mississippi State
6. Vanderbilt
6. Wake Forest
6. UConn

7. Texas A&M
7. Wisconsin

8. Cincinnati
8. Florida
8. Michigan
8. Missouri

9. BYU (MWC)
9. Georgetown

10. Baylor
10. Arizona State

11. Virginia
11. Oklahoma State
11. UNLV

12. Boston College
12. Illinois
12. Pittsburgh
12. Syracuse





Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
NC State, Virginia Tech, Duquesne, Xavier, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Northwestern, Penn State, Kansas State, UTEP, Tulsa, Wright State, Niagara, Bradley, Creighton, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Portland, Saint Mary's, Nevada, New Mexico State

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Florida State, Miami (Fl), La Salle, St. Joseph's, Saint Louis, Marquette, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, Indiana, Nebraska, George Mason, Old Dominion, UAB, UCF, Valparaiso, Rider, Akron, Ohio, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, New Mexico, TCU, Wyoming, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Davidson, North Texas, Troy, Santa Clara, Boise State, Fresno State

Friday, October 16, 2009

Midnight Madness + Upcoming Schedule

Midnight Madness is going on as I type this post. ESPN has a general sum up of the evening thus far here. I enjoyed most the hero's welcome that John Calipari got at Kentucky. It's enjoyable, because the only question is whether we'll be juxtaposing this with Kentucky fans disavowing Calipari when his inevitable scandal happens.

Anyway, as I said here, Midnight Madness is somewhat overrated. Rarely ever does anything happen. So I'll talk instead about the upcoming schedule:

The next BP65 is the next event for this website, which will come out in the next few days (next Friday at the very latest). The next BP65 after that will be the W-17 BP65 (yes, only 17 weeks to Selection Sunday), and that will be out on Sunday, November 15th.

Exhibition games begin about a week from now for some teams. I give vague dates because I haven't been able to get exhibition schedules for all of the teams. I'll probably comment on a few exhibition games, but in general they just aren't that important.

The first games that count will be at the Coaches vs Cancer Classic. That tournament begins on November 9th, which is three weeks from this coming Monday. I'll have some previews of the early regular season games as we get closer to them.

So posting will still be somewhat light for the next couple of weeks. The regular season of (nearly) daily posting will begin some time during the first week of November. Should be a great season ahead. And I look forward to great discussions with all of you as the season progresses.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Labels Will Stay For Now

As I said in this post 11 days ago, I've begun adding labels to my posts. There is a tag cloud now on the right side of the page where people can click on their favorite team and find what I've written about that team. I can't label everything in my posts, because google limits me to ten tags per post. So during the conference previews, for example, I've got to just choose whichever teams I mention the most in the post - although the conferences previewed are always mentioned in the labels. All of the BP65 posts are just labeled as "BP65". So if you click on your team, your conference and "BP65", you should find just about every time I talk about your team for more than a sentence.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to go through the effort of putting labels on old posts, but it seems to be going fairly successfully so far. The number of page views per user has increased since the labels were added from about 1.5 to about 1.8-1.9. So that's a good reason to keep them.

It's a hassle going back and putting labels on old posts. I've worked my way back to February of 2008, and I'll keep working backwards as I have the time.

Andy Katz On Mike Jarvis

Andy Katz has an interesting new piece on former St. John's coach Mike Jarvis, who is entering his second year at Florida Atlantic. Because FAU was a terrible team last season I hadn't even noticed that Jarvis was the coach. You never know with optimistic coaches who love to spin their recruiting classes, but Jarvis seems to be very confident in his very young team. He thinks that FAU could contend for a Sun Belt title in 2010-11, even though I doubt they'll be able to compete with Western Kentucky or Florida International.

Still, it's interesting to see how aggressively several Sun Belt teams are trying to improve their programs, and to attract better talent. If you think about it, there's no reason that the Sun Belt can't be one of the better mid-majors. The best players on the west coast who don't make the Pac 10 tend to go to the WAC or WCC. Players from the midwest who don't make the Big Ten or Big 12 head over to the Mountain West, Horizon or Missouri Valley. Players in the northeast that miss out on the ACC and Big East can go to the Atlantic Ten, Colonial or MAAC. And obviously Conference USA picks up players from all over the eastern half of the country. But if you think about it, there really is not a good mid-major conference from the south and southeast. Conference USA can argue that it covers some of that ground, but it really doesn't do justice to all of the good athletes that come out of that part of the country that don't go to SEC schools.

There's no reason that the Sun Belt can't eventually begin to attract the best of the players not good enough to make SEC teams. Western Kentucky has already done a great job at cleaning up the state of Kentucky after Louisville, Memphis and the University of Kentucky get first pick. Maybe FIU and FAU can continue the trend of the strengthening of the Sun Belt.

It's something to think about if the Sun Belt continues the positive arc it's been on the past couple of years.

Monday, October 12, 2009

More On Arizona

Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn checks in today with an article on Arizona that mirrors a lot of what I said a couple of days ago. He has a little bit of background on the recruiting of players like Kyryl Natyazhko and Solomon Hill. But the general theme is the same one I talked about, that Sean Miller has done an excellent job of recruiting, and will have this team loaded sooner rather than later.

That said, Winn doesn't get into one issue that I talked about, and whose importance can be gleaned by a quick glance at Wildcats message boards, which is the fact that they've now been to 25 straight NCAA Tournaments. The all-time record is held by the North Carolina Tar Heels, who went to 27 straight from 1975 through 2001. Since it seems pretty obvious that the team will be better in 2010-11 and 2011-12 than in 2009-10, the one thing stopping Arizona from breaking that record will be this coming season. Can they keep the streak alive?

I've talked about this a few times (here and here, for example). They have lined up an out-of-conference schedule that will either be somewhat difficult or very difficult depending on how the Maui Invitational works out (they open against Wisconsin, then play Colorado or Gonzaga in their second game, and then Maryland, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati or Chaminade in their third game). In addition to that tournament, they also play UNLV, NC State and BYU at home, as well as a road game at Oklahoma. So they'll end up playing somewhere between three and seven teams from the RPI Top 100 out-of-conference, which is good. In several of the last few seasons Arizona has made the Dance because of a tough schedule that led to good computer numbers.

That said, at this point I'm leaning slightly against a Tournament appearance this season. I love the athleticism and the talent that is being recruited, but they just need too much to fall into place. All of the players need to learn a new system, they need to find a way to rebound even while going small (since they're going to be extremely thin in the frontcourt), and they've got to win with a very young team with no clear elite talents (like they had in Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill last year). I would not count this Arizona team out, and I'd be shocked if they're not at least on the Bubble as we head into February, but they've got to prove something to me to get into the BP65. Right now they're on the outside looking in.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Power Of Analysts

I've always been intrigued the tremendous impact that television analysts have on viewer opinions despite the fact that what they say is almost 100% trite or false. It's easy for me to talk about specific examples of extreme stupidity by studio analysts (a couple of examples here and here), because I can see them myself. It's harder for me to know just how much of an effect these analysts have on average fans.

And all of this is why I've been fascinated by the new feature that CBS has on their pregame NFL show where they ask a question and give several (generally two, three or four) choices. They ask people to text in with their answer, and then ask two of the studio hosts to debate the choices. The texted-in answers change in real-time as the analysts speak. You can then watch how the opinions of viewers shift as the analysts speak.

If anything, it actually underestimates the impact of these analysts for two reason: 1) truly casual fans probably won't bother to text in their answer to some pregame question. 2) people can't take back votes that they entered before the analysts speak, meaning that some of the change of opinion will be washed out.

Despite that, you still see dramatic impacts on the results based on who is speaking. When Bill Cowher or Dan Marino speaks, you always see a clear increase in the voting for whichever opinion they're advocating. What was even more interesting was that every time Shannon Sharpe spoke (at least today, while I was thinking about writing this post), opinion actually broke against his opinion. In other words, even casual fans have figured out that sports television executives always try to throw one clown into their studio teams, and that their opinions should generally be ignored since they're just there for entertainment. For ESPN's College Gameday basketball crew, for example, the clown is Digger Phelps. I would bet that his effect is the same as Sharpe's - the public actually moves its opinion counter to whatever he says. Casual fans overrated the Big East last year not because of what Digger Phelps said, but because of Sportscenter studio analysts offhandedly saying things like "But since the Big East is the toughest conference in the nation..." Casual fans assumed that if such statements were said without debate that they must have been true!

It would be interesting to see such a feature during ESPN's Gameday this winter. My guess is that the response of fans would be similar to what I suggested here. For me, personally, Bob Knight is one of only three or four analysts on all channels and for all sports that occasionally shifts my opinion on something, because sometimes he is able to bring up something that I haven't thought about. But Bob Knight is a brilliant coach who also lived enough of a life before entering the broadcast booth that he hasn't been poisoned by ESPN-itis. Still, it would be interesting to see how many casual fans agree with me.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Arizona Continues To Load Up On Recruits

Sean Miller has always been very good at recruiting, and he's continued that at Arizona. He brought in a big boost for the upcoming season by taking Kevin Parrom, a recruit that had previously planned on joining Miller at Xavier. He has continued working his Xavier recruits for his 2010 class, grabbing combo forward Rod Odom. Miller has now taken it to another level, collecting elite swing man Daniel Bejerano, who had just recently decommitted from Texas.

This recruiting success makes Arizona look like they're in very good shape for a Tournament bid... in 2011. Nic Wise will be the only graduate, and they're unlikely to lose anybody early to the NBA Draft. The big time recruiting class that Miller is putting together will more than make up for the loss of Wise. The question is, can they continue their streak of 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances - the longest active, and only two short of the all-time record.

The way things are looking for 2009-10, Arizona might actually have too much talent at small forward. Jamelle Horne got 29 minutes per game last year at the position, but is now joined by a slew of freshmen: Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill and Derrick Williams. Jamelle Horne is an athletic freak, but he's more well known nationally for some completely boneheaded decisions he's made on the court. Don't be too surprised to see Parrom steal a starting position. The question is whether any of these four players has developed enough muscle to play power forward, or is capable of playing shooting guard. It would serve Arizona better if one could play power forward, because the team's backcourt is in much better condition than its frontcourt.

The starting backcourt from last season returns: Nic Wise and Kyle Fogg. The first guard off the bench will probably be Garland Jenkins. Lamont Jones is a decent recruit, and sophomore Brandon Lavender is a decent prospect as well. I've never really understood what Fogg brings to the table, but he's an all-around decent player. Wise is a quality point guard: he won't win any big awards, but he's good enough to handle the ball for a Tournament team.

The frontcourt is much more of a question mark with the departure of Jordan Hill. The only returner with playing experience over 6'6" is Alex Jacobson, who played all of 7 minutes per game last year. Kyryl Natyazhko is a highly touted 6'10" recruit, but he seems to be a little bit more of a prospect than an immediate contributor.

Expect to see a lot of smaller lineups from Arizona this coming season. A lineup of Wise, Fogg, Parrom, Horne and Natyazhko is probably the best they can do, and that's probably what Sean Miller will go with as much as he can. But Miller was well known for depending on a big bench and a big rotation at Xavier. Expect him to have a solid 9-10 player rotation by 2010 or 2011. But they're looking really quite thin for the coming season. Miller's going to have to focus on conditioning this fall, because he's going to have to squeeze a lot of minutes out of his guys.

Can Arizona get its 26th straight Tournament appearance? They can, although only time can tell. One thing we can say fairly confidently, however, is that if Arizona does get their 26th straight they'll be in excellent shape for number 27. Within a year or two, Arizona is going to be loaded.

Midnight Madness Schedule

Midnight Madness begins little less than 8 days from now, on the evening of Friday the 16th. Awful Announcing has the full list of schools that ESPN will have coverage of - a more detailed schedule is on, but for some reason is behind their Insider wall.

Most of the schools are what you'd expect: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UNC... the one curveball is North Dakota State. Seems like it might be a year late on NDSU, since they're very unlikely to repeat their success from the 2008-09 season (the graduation of Ben Woodside pretty much guarantees that). Still, it's always nice to remind people that they do play college basketball at schools not named Duke or Kentucky.

I've actually never found Midnight Madness itself too interesting. Very few schools go through the effort to make it worthwhile. If I watch at all it will probably be to see whether Tom Izzo has some fun with his entrance into the arena.

But for the most part, at least in my opinion, Midnight Madness is only exciting from the perspective of time: we'll know that games are just around the corner. The first exhibition games will actually begin only about one week after Midnight Madness. The first regular season game, of course, will be a Coaches vs Cancer match-up on November 9th. Only one month from now.

The season is almost here. Get ready.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Brady Morningstar Suspended

Kansas has made a lot of news over the past few weeks with the brawls between football and basketball players. I haven't posted on them because I only care about stories that affect basketball games, and nothing thus far has really affected any play on the court. Tyshawn Taylor did dislocate a finger while throwing a punch, but it's not expected to have much of an effect on his preparation for the season, and he will not miss any games because of it.

Now we have a Kansas player being suspended, although it has absolutely nothing to do with those brawls. Brady Morningstar has been suspended for fall semester games after being arrested for drunk driving.

Last year, Kansas generally played with three guards: Morningstar, Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor. Morningstar had 6.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 30.4 minutes per game, including 42% shooting from behind the arc. That said, the expectation was that Morningstar would actually lose playing time this coming season with super-duper recruit Xavier Henry coming in. At 6'6", Henry can play as a shooting guard or a swing forward. The expectation was for a starting backcourt of Collins and Taylor, with Henry starting at the 3. Morningstar would get about 20-25 minutes per game off the bench. As long as Morningstar is out this actually makes Kansas somewhat thin in the backcourt, with Xavier Henry probably going to have to play a lot of shooting guard. Also expect to see freshman Elijah Johnson - a highly rated recruit in his own right - getting a lot of time off the bench.

The loss of Morningstar for the fall games isn't too big of a deal on its own. Kansas will be the #1 team in the nation when the first polls come out, so even if a thin backcourt costs them one game in the fall, it will be long forgotten if Kansas runs away with the Big 12. But this is now yet another major problem for this program. Kansas has the most talented team in the nation - I don't think there's much doubt there - and so most likely team to keep them from winning a National Championship will be themselves. They're going to be getting a ton of hype, and everybody in the media will be telling them how great they are. It's an odd thing to say about a team that won the National Championship so recently, but Kansas is a very young team that doesn't necessarily have the senior experience that other recent teams have had to deal with this kind of hype (like North Carolina had last year).

If this is the last time this season that Kansas has a player arrested or suspended then I expect them to enter the NCAA Tournament as the #1 team overall and the favorite to take the National Championship. But right now it's not looking like this will be the last time.

Adding Labels

Now that we're down to less than two weeks until Midnight Madness, I'm running out of time to do some housekeeping before I'll be too busy with daily posting. I've done a few housekeeping activities this summer and early fall, and now I'm going to attempt one more: labels. I know that most other blogs added labels sometime around 2004, but I had avoided labels because with the number of players and teams that I talk about it would just be daunting to keep track of all of them.

So with that in mind, I'm going to try to be pretty conservative with these. I'll add labels for team names if I talk extensively about a team in a post, as well as for conferences if I can fit them (blogger seems to have a max of 10 labels - made up of a maximum of 200 characters - per post, which means that conference labels will get chopped off if they don't fit). The BP65 posts will, for the time being, just be labeled "BP65", since I can't possibly label the 100+ teams I generally mention.

We'll see how this goes, and if I don't like it then I'll trash it. But for the time being, you can read about your favorite team and/or conference by following the tag links on the right side of the page. At the very least, I'll get a good sense of whether I'm talking about one team or conference too much...