Saturday, November 30, 2013

Morning News: Villanova Upsets Kansas, Arizona Beats Duke, San Diego St Knocks Off Creighton

Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart celebrate the win over Kansas

Villanova Upsets Kansas This 63-59 upset is a huge result for Villanova, but let's not pretend that Villanova is TCU. This won't look like as big of a shocker in February as it does now. I've been very high on Villanova since April, and had them as a 6 seed in the Tournament even before this win. It's a really deep roster that plays strong defensively and has a whole bunch of guys who can beat their man off the dribble and get to the rim. They might not have the shooters to make a serious run at the Big East title, but they're a team that should easily get in the Tournament as an at-large team.

Kansas fans shouldn't freak out too much about this loss. First of all, keep in mind that it's a long season. Last season the Jayhawks lost to an atrocious TCU team and still earned a 1 seed. Second of all, they got some nice performances from new faces. Andrew Wiggins didn't have his best game of the season by any means, but this was something of a breakout game for Joel Embiid and Frank Mason. With so many freshmen in key roles, Kansas is the type of team that should see significant improvement between November and March.

Arizona Pulls Away From Duke Late This seemed like a tough match-up for Duke coming in. They are always stronger on the perimeter than in the paint, but that's exaggerated more this season than any other in recent memory. Jabari Parker is really their only regular rotation player that is a strong interior defender. And this Arizona team has a ton of length and size in their front court. In the first half of this game, though, Arizona was actually out-trebounded and out-worked in the paint. But in the final ten minutes of the game, Arizona enforced their dominance down low.

In the battle of the freshmen, I actually thought both Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker played really well, despite the postgame criticism. Gordon is such a quiet stat stuffer. You don't think he's got any stats, and then you look at the boxscore and see that he's got a bunch of rebounds, assists and blocks that you don't even remember. He almost seems like more of a "glue guy" than anything, although the perception that he doesn't look for his shot is false (he has a 23.2% shot rate).

As for Parker, he was getting a ton of criticism after the game for his 7-for-21 shooting performance. But to me, that's nonsense. Sometimes you take a great shot and it just happens to miss, and sometimes you hit a circus shot. Everybody occasionally has a bad shooting day. But Parker was physically dominant, and the best player on the floor for either team.

San Diego State Knocks Off Creighton San Diego State is a squad that could potentially be scary as this season goes along. They have really good athletes that play strong defense, but they also have some good outside shooters. As a whole, their offense is not particularly strong (1.08 PPP), but as a 42.9% three-point shooting team they have the ability to get streaky and pile up points on occasion. And that's what happened here, as they hit 8-for-16 behind the arc en route to an 86-80 upset of Creighton. Is San Diego State a Tournament team? Let's not go there yet. But this win is a huge scalp for their at-large resume.

As for Creighton, they continue to be who we thought they'd be. They can score almost at will, but they can't stop a nose bleed, to quote the great Bart Scott. San Diego State's 3-point and FT shooting were a bit fluky here, but that will happen from time to time. And this is why, as good as Creighton is, I don't think they can be regarded as the Big East favorite. They're just not going to be consistent enough to go 14-4 or 15-3 in Big East play.

Game Of The Day: Drexel 85, Alabama 83, 3OT This was the game of the day. Kind of. It wasn't the best played game, and the fans at Madison Square Garden were so eager to get to the Arizona/Duke game that they were loudly cheering for whichever team happened to be winning. In an accidentally cruel moment, the crowd loudly cheered when Jimmie Taylor missed a free throw with Alabama down by 2 in the final few seconds of the third overtime. In the end, Alabama leaves Madison Square Garden empty handed and looking a piece or two short of an at-large team, while Drexel looks like a team that actually could take a run at an at-large bid themselves. Certainly they look like the favorites in the Colonial.

Florida Holds Off Florida State's Upset Bid The Gators had a lot more trouble in this win over Florida State than they thought they would. Though really, they played better than the score would suggest. The Gators simply were ice cold from the field for much of the day, and had to make up for it on the glass (a 45.7 OR% compared to a 33.3 OR% for the Seminoles). Scottie Wilbekin struggled with his shot (2-for-12 from the field), but still played well (8 assists, 5 steals) in his first game against a quality opponent since returning.

The Gators remain a hard team to figure out because they have not yet had their full roster active at the same time. But even with all of the personnel issues, they've still played like a Top 15-20 team, which means that they can be really strong if they ever get fully healthy and off of suspensions. As for the Seminoles, they have two losses all season, and they came to Michigan and Florida by a combined three points. So while they're not likely a contender in a wide open ACC, they're definitely playing like an NCAA Tournament team. They are for real.

Oklahoma State Escapes Butler In An Ugly Finish Both of these teams struggled to execute in the final couple of minutes of Oklahoma State's 69-67 win over Butler. In the final 4 minutes, Oklahoma State had 8 possessions and scored a grand total of one point. Marcus Smart personally had a pair of turnovers and went 0-for-3 at the free throw line (including missing the front end of a 1-and-1) during that stretch. But they held onto the one point win because Butler went completely scoreless over their own final five possessions.

Considering the poor game that Kellen Dunham had (3-for-14 from the field), Butler showed a lot of toughness coming back in this game. They continue to be really well coached and awfully tough, and are going to be a competitive team in the Big East all season long. Their depth might cost them an NCAA Tournament bid, but they'll be a bubble team at the very least. Missing out a huge scalp here could end up being crucial in that regard.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Morning News: Creighton Smokes Arizona St, Purdue Hangs Tough & America Meets Kellen Dunham


I hope you all enjoyed Turkey Day with your families. In between all the food and football and naps were some good college basketball games. Let's talk about some of them:

Creighton Smokes Arizona State Creighton shoots the ball so well on an average night that when they're "hot" they're almost unstoppable. They defeated Arizona State by 28 late last night, and the game was never competitive. They led 24-9 by the second tv timeout, and never looked back. In a year where the Big East doesn't appear to have a dominant team, this is the type of performance that will get some to argue for Creighton as the conference favorite. I'm not ready to go there yet, but they're obviously a contender, and they're going to be a really scary team to see in your draw in March.

As for the Sun Devils, there's no reason for panic. Jahii Carson struggled and Creighton shot the lights out. Sometimes it's just not your night. But this loss pretty much guarantees that they'll leave the Wooden Legacy without a quality win. They'll play Charleston on Saturday followed by either Miami (Fl) or Cal State Fullerton on Sunday. None of those potential wins will move the needle in March, but if they can take care of business and avoid a bad loss then they'll still enter the Pac-12 regular season in good shape to make a run at an at-large bid.

Purdue Hangs In Tough Against Oklahoma State Marcus Smart had 30 points and Oklahoma State got a nice win over undefeated Purdue. But that's not news. Smart has been vastly improved over last season and it seems pretty clear that Oklahoma State is a Top Ten team. We knew they were good. This game was about a Purdue squad that looked awfully feisty, even after falling behind by 24 points.

Last season was all about rebuilding the Purdue roster, and they were awfully young. They're still very young, but they returned everybody other than DJ Byrd, and have supplemented the roster with a deep recruiting class, led by Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott and Jay Simpson. That depth showed up yesterday, as 11 different players earned at least 9 minutes. Matt Painter has a lot of options if things aren't working.

Is Purdue a Tournament team? They look like a bubble team. They will play Washington State later today, and then will have one more game in Orlando before coming home to play Boston College next week. The Boilermakers aren't supposed to beat Oklahoma State, but if they're going to go Dancing I'd like to see them take care of business over the next week.

Kellen Dunham, Meet America. America, Meet Kellen Dunham. Butler players not named Kellen Dunham or Khyle Marshall scored a combined 14 points in this game. But that was enough for a good 76-69 win over Washington State. Kellen Dunham, in particular, was a star. He had 32 points, including 6-for-9 behind the arc. And after Washington State took a three point lead with approximately 3:30 to go, Dunham personally outscored Wazzu 11-4 down the stretch, including three monster three-pointers. Considering the fact that Dunham was more or less a complementary player last season, this game on national television during Thanksgiving was the first exposure a lot of casual fans had to him. And we should see a lot more of him as this season goes along.

Iowa Escapes Xavier... Barely The Iowa Hawkeyes trailed Xavier by 14 points with around 14 minutes to go, but Roy Devyn Marble (30 points) led them back to a hard-fought overtime victory. And this was a battle, with guys wearing down and keeling over with cramps. The best player for each team (Semaj Christon for Xavier and Marble for Iowa) were simultaneously stuck on the sidelines for an extended period of time late.

In the end, trying to draw too much meaning from who wins a game like this is always a mistake. The fact that Iowa fought back in a game like this is great for them, even if they had ended up falling in overtime - it doesn't matter in that respect. But this game matters for resumes, with Iowa picking up their first quality win of the season. At the same time, this is a tough loss for Xavier's resume. The Musketeers have a good chance of being stuck on the bubble in February, and a win over Iowa would have really helped.

UTEP Upsets Tennessee After Tim Floyd and Andy Enfield got into a slight disagreement at a pre-Battle 4 Atlantis reception, a lot of people (including me) were looking forward to a potential UTEP/USC match-up Sadly, it is not to be, as USC lost their opener while UTEP won theirs. They'll get a rematch with Xavier later today, having lost to them back on November 12th. Considering that they'll play either USC or Wake Forest in their final game, the Xavier match-up is their last chance for a quality win before leaving the Bahamas. As a likely bubble team in February, this Xavier game could play a significant role in whether they end up going Dancing or not.

As for UTEP, it's pretty clear what their model is this season. They are going to try to overwhelm teams with their size. They probably aren't good enough in the backcourt to make a serious run at an at-large bid, but they can change some minds in that regard if they can upset Iowa later today. Certainly they'll want to steal one more win in the Bahamas to make up for those two early season losses to New Mexico State.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Turkey Day NIT Recap

Jabari Parker is good at basketball, you guys.

 In the place of the daily Morning News post, you're getting a "Happy Turkey Day NIT Recap".

What's that? It's called Jeff was at the NIT last night with family and has a lot of Thanksgiving-related activities and didn't have time to watch any of any of the other games last night. So rather than talk about games he hasn't seen, he's going to give you his scouting report from the two games last night. Alright? Alright.

Before getting to the games, though, let me wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful for the wonderful things that you have. Including Jabari Parker. More on him in a moment.

#4 Arizona 66, Drexel 62
Arizona obviously came into this game absolutely asleep and passive. They just weren't active at all the first few minutes. Even while they were down 19, though, it never really felt like they would lose. Even if they kept playing poorly, those shooting percentages were inevitably going to even up. But that passive play seemed to infect Aaron Gordon, who looked like the freshman he was. Aaron Gordon's raw physical talent is obvious, but he was invisible all game. On offense, he was content to jog through the key, never looking for the ball or asking for it. That was in stark contrast to Jabari Parker later in the night who would physically push himself near the paint, yell for the ball, and attack the rim. Again... more on him in a minute.

The thing about Arizona is, Gordon isn't their best player. Nick Johnson is. And he led the Wildcats offense in the second half, while the Drexel backcourt duo of Chris Fouch and Franz Massenat started to slow down and miss the shots they had been hitting in the first half.

What I came out of this game thinking most of all about Arizona is that they have a lot of untapped potential. Gordon will be better another day, and guys like Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both look physically like really good players who just have to figure some things out. This Arizona team is clearly very good, even if they didn't really play that well here.

As for Drexel, you can go far in college basketball with a backcourt duo like Fouch and Massenat. But their front court is not particularly good, and that injury to Damion Lee certainly looked serious, though the severity hasn't been officially determined by doctors yet. The Dragons are clearly a contender to win the Colonial, but they're a player or two away from being an at-large contender.

#6 Duke 74, Alabama 64
Did I mention Jabari Parker? He was absolutely dominant in this game on both ends of the floor.  He scored in all sorts of ways in the paint, on the block and at the top of the key, with turn around jumpers, layups and everything in between. He certainly gets the superstar treatment from the refs, drawing a bunch of ticky-tack fouls, but there's absolutely no question in my mind that he could start for an NBA team right now.

Aside from Parker, the bigger picture from Duke was defense. Their defense had been fairly atrocious this season, allowing 1.39 PPP to Vermont, 1.25 to Kansas, 1.09 to Davidson and 1.02 to East Carolina. But they shut down Alabama with 0.85 PPP here, and even that is inflated by the transition baskets Alabama got once they started pressing and turning Duke over. Parker was strong in the paint, and the Duke perimeter defense mostly shut Alabama from getting into the paint to begin with. Is this a one-off performance against an Alabama team that has struggled to score in the half court this season? Maybe. But it might be a sign that Duke is finally turning into the halfway decent defensively team that they need to be to seriously contend for a 1 seed in March.

As for tor Alabama, their deficiencies were on full display here. They lack shooters and they lack ball handlers (Bama is 315th in the nation in turnover rate and 345th in A/FGM ratio), and so they couldn't hit a jump shot to save their lives and struggled to penetrate a previously soft Duke defense. Things started to turn around midway through the second half when they turned up the press and started getting buckets in transition, which made me wonder why they didn't start doing that earlier. Casual fans often see a press work for a few plays in the final minute of a game and wonder why teams don't just press all game when in reality it wouldn't work nearly as well for 40 minutes. But this Alabama team is different. Besides the fact that the press worked for the final ten minutes of this game, Anthony Grant's teams have historically had strong presses and been effective at turning teams over. And with as utterly ineffective as their half court half court game was, they needed some sort of jolt.

In the end, I think this Alabama team is a bubble team. They scream 9-9 or 10-8 SEC team. And the concern is that they're going to have to find a way to win a game like this, to beat a team like Kentucky or Florida to get that quality win for their resume to avoid the NIT. At this point, I'd bet against it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Morning News: Wisconsin Beats St Louis & Arkansas Crushes Minnesota. Also, Syracuse, Baylor, Pitt & Wichita St Win.

Traevon Jackson demonstrating the Wisconsin defense that had been lacking a lot to begin this season prior to last night.

Best Game: #10 Wisconsin 63, Saint Louis 57 St. Louis came into this game safely in the Top 25 in both Sagarin and Pomeroy, and both of these teams are always well-coached and tough, so this game was always going to be a good one, even on that weird Cancun court. And this game was a bit chippy, and a big ugly at times, but in the end Wisconsin had a deserved win. And this was yet another quality win for the Badgers, who have also beaten Florida, St. John's and Green Bay so far in November.

What made this win particularly nice for Wisconsin is that it came despite some uncharacteristically poor shooting (57% at the free throw line and only 4 made 3-pointers). The Badgers have a lot of good shooters, but they proved here that they can beat a quality opponent even if their shots aren't all falling. As for St. Louis, I liked their resilience and toughness to come back after trailing by 15 midway through the second half to make this one a game. There's no question that they are an NCAA Tournament team with a good chance to win a game or two once they get there.

Arkansas Crushes Minnesota Early in the season, it can be hard to tell which results are meaningful are which aren't. Each result can make you re-think the earlier results. And this 87-73 victory by Arkansas over Minnesota is one of those games. The Gophers fell relatively easily, struggling again with rebounding and defense (1.19 PPP allowed). It's the type of result that makes you wonder whether Minnesota is an NCAA Tournament team, and whether Syracuse's win was as impressive as it looked a day earlier. At this point, it's hard to know either way. But Minnesota is going to leave Maui without getting anything from the tournament, and they'll be really motivated to beat Florida State next week. A loss there would leave them without a quality victory prior to Big Ten play, and with an uphill battle just to go Dancing

Meanwhile, this is a nice early season scalp for Arkansas. The fact that they are so reliant on forcing turnovers means that they're likely to be inconsistent this season, but this is the type of performance that makes you think they might just get themselves on the bubble as well.

Syracuse Defeats Undermanned California The Cal Bears got a tough blow just prior to tip when they found out that Richard Solomon would miss the game after getting hit in the eye the day before. Considering how dependent the Syracuse offense is on offensive rebounds and scoring in the paint, Solomon was going to be crucial for Cal. Throw in foul trouble for Cal's entire front court, and they were undermanned all game long. 7-foot freshman Kameron Rooks, who is a gangly mess of arms and legs, had to play for long stretches of the game simply because Cal didn't have any other bigs.

Because Cal was so shorthanded, it's a little hard to tell what to make of this game. Syracuse is obviously overrated at #8 in the polls, but they might still be a pretty good team that can challenge for an ACC title. Is California an NCAA Tournament team? I lean toward "yes", but they have more to prove for me to feel confident about that answer. We'll learn a lot more about both of these teams later today.

Baylor Escapes Dayton Baylor took a 1-0 lead on the opening possession of this game. Their next lead came at 67-66, which also happened to be the final score. It was Cory Jefferson who had the offensive put back to put Baylor ahead to stay. It looked like Dayton might win at the buzzer, but a Devin Oliver tip-in attempt rolled around the rim and out. A heartbreaking loss for a Dayton team looking for a signature win for their at-large resume. And despite looking very flawed in both games in Maui, Baylor has earned a spot in the title game. It should be a great game against Syracuse.

Pittsburgh Takes Stanford To The Woodshed Pitt took a 17 point lead in the first half and absolutely cruised to a 21 point victory over Stanford. Pitt came into this game without a win over a quality opponent, but they had looked really good, absolutely destroying every team they had played. They have owned the paint all season, and Lamar Patterson seemed to spend his entire night getting in there at will (24 points, including 11 free throw attempts).

I plan on breaking down the ACC race at some point soon, but the question has to be asked seriously if Pittsburgh is the best team. That seems like a dumb thing to say, but it really isn't. You can make a pretty good case that they're the most complete team in the ACC, and the team playing the best basketball right now.

BYU's Shot Escapes Them Vs Wichita State BYU shot the ball well early on, hitting 7 of their first 13 shots (including 3-for-4 behind the arc) to take a 19-6 lead. But after that they laid nothing but bricks the rest of the night. They hit only 2 of their final 16 attempts behind the arc and finished with a 35.3 eFG% en route to a 75-62 loss to Wichita State. This is the concern for BYU. Without a good defense, they are reliant on hot shooting from outside. They often get it, but if they don't then they're going to struggle. And when you need a certain number of quality wins to earn an at-large bid, you just cannot afford to throw away a win against a quality opponent like Wichita State.

Wichita State is a difficult team to figure out. After a miracle run to the Final Four last season, it seemed inevitable that they were going to be significantly overranked to start this season. But how overranked? It was impossible to know as they hadn't really played anybody. But with some impressive blowouts of not-terrible teams (Tulsa, DePaul, etc) and this win, it's looking like maybe they're not really so overrated at all. The biggest reason for their improvement is the massive jump by Ron Baker, who is perhaps the most improved player in the entire country so far. He actually had a bad day shooting here (2-for-11 behind the arc), but he still led all scorers with 23 points because he's not just a shooter. He was able to attack the lane and ended up 11-for-11 at the free throw line. They have a fascinating game lined up on Sunday at St. Louis.

Rutgers. Sigh. Rutgers obviously isn't any good this season, and they're only going to get mentions in Morning News posts if they pull a big upset or if they have a truly awful performance. And last night they suffered the latter, falling to a Fairleigh Dickinson team that came in ranked 349th in Pomeroy (out of 351). Fairleigh Dickinson came into this game 0-5 against Division I opponents. Their only opponent ranked in the Pomeroy Top 200 (Arizona) beat them by a cool 50 points. So, yeah... Rutgers. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Morning News: Bachynski Blocks Marquette, Dayton Upsets Gonzaga, Syracuse Breaks Out Vs Minny

Jordan Bachynski blocks Derrick Wilson's shot to seal the win for Arizona State

Game Of The Night: Arizona State 79, #25 Marquette 77 This was a fantastic game that went back and forth throughout the second half. In the end, Marquette covered the 7 point spread (in other words, this wasn't an "upset") in a fantastic finish. After Arizona State botched their late-game clock management, Marquette had a chance to win in the final ten seconds that missed. Jermaine Marshall hit 1 of 2 at the free throw line, giving Marquette one final chance to tie... a chance that was swatted away at the buzzer by Jordan Bachynski's 7th block of the night.

What stood out in this game was Marquette's offense, which came out of nowhere. Their offense had been putrid to start the season, only breaking 0.88 PPP once - against the worst team in Division I (Grambling State). But here? 1.22 PPP, featuring 17 offensive rebounds to only 4 turnovers. I had been skeptical that their offense really was as bad as it had looked to start the season, which is why I still had Marquette as a 6 seed in my most recent bracket despite the computer ratings having them significantly worse. What's the real Marquette offense? Any conclusions at this point would just be guesses.

As for Arizona State, Marshall and Bachynski both had breakout games, and Jahii Carson remains great, but depth is going to be a concern for them. If either Carson or Bachynski had gotten a fourth foul midway through the second half here and had to come out, the Sun Devils probably would have lost the game. So expect this Arizona State team to be fairly inconsistent this season. They scream "bubble team".

Dayton Upsets Gonzaga Gonzaga seemed to have this game in hand, leading by as many as 16 points, but Dayton's offense scored 56 points in the second half and hit 6 consecutive free throws in the final 25 seconds to seal an 84-79 victory. In Gonzaga's defense here a little bit, they had some terrible foul trouble, with Sam Dower, Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski all fouling out. But as I keep saying, in this new era of reffing this is going to happen to teams often. Unless you're a team that just never fouls, you're going to need to have the depth to overcome a couple guys fouling out when the reffing gets tight. And at the same time, Dayton is no Cleveland State. They are a team I have as an at-large team in my most recent bracket projection. This is a huge resume-building win for them, and they'll get a chance for another big scalp tonight, against Baylor.

Syracuse Offense Breaks Out Against Minnesota The Syracuse offensive woes weren't quite at Marquette levels, but there were many reasons for concern. This Orange roster just lacks offensive playmakers. They came into this game ranked 55th in Pomeroy adjusted offensive efficiency. You can take computer numbers for what they're worth in late November, but if that holds up it would be the worst Syracuse offense in 7 seasons. But they found their offense here, scoring 1.15 PPP against a pretty good Minnesota defense. The key was getting to the line, where they hit 82%.

Minnesota was undone late in this game with sloppy play. They committed 19 turnovers, with several coming in the final couple of minutes as they let this big win slip out of their fingers. They had not had ball handling problems earlier this season (they came in with a 13.5% turnover rate), so you have to wonder if the bigger stage against the bigger opponent did them in. I still think Minnesota is pretty solidly in the NCAA Tournament, but they could realistically drop to the bubble, so this is a tough missed opportunity. They'll need to try to salvage something from this trip to Maui.

Kentucky Struggles With Cleveland State Kentucky's offense was a mess in this game. They simply could not hit a shot to save their collective lives, finishing with a 38.7 eFG% only after a furious finish (it was below 30% most of the night) in their 7 point win. And while I don't think the reffing was the reason they won this game, there's no question that every close call went Kentucky's way late. So all in all, this was a very discouraging game for Kentucky. But in a few weeks it'll be forgotten. Kentucky is going to have some close games this season, and some of those close games will end up as losses. That's true for every team. The Wildcats will be glad that this clunker still ended up a victory.

Game You Didn't See But Should Know About: Maryland 56, Providence 52 This was not the prettiest game of the night. Providence had a 29.7 eFG%, but still had multiple chances in the final minute to tie up the game. Regardless, this was an important game for both teams. Both teams are likely to end up on the bubble in February, and Bubble Battles always matter, even in November. Maryland, in particular, needed a win after a bad loss to Oregon State. A loss would have dropped them to 3-3 on the season with a road game at Ohio State looming. They're still going to need to take care of the rest of their non-conference slate (not including that OSU game) to be in a good position for an at-large bid entering ACC play.

Providence is now 6-1, but without any wins over likely RPI Top 50 opponents. They'll get a shot at Kentucky at Barclay's Center next week, but unless they pull that upset their last chance for a quality win prior to Big East play will be December 28th when they go on the road to UMass.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Morning News: Charlotte Stuns Michigan & UNC Knocks Off Louisville. Also Talking Georgetown, Duke, Harvard, Florida.

The final moments of Charlotte's stunning upset of Michigan

Result Of The Night: Charlotte 63, #14 Michigan 61 There's no question about this being the result of the night. Charlotte came into this game 4-1 with a win over Kansas State and a loss to College of Charleston - not exactly the greatest resume. And I think this result tells us more about Michigan than Charlotte, namely that Michigan lacks secondary scoring options. Nik Stauskas played well, and continues to be tremendous for the Wolverines, but he got absolutely no help from the rest of the roster.

Mitch McGary is proving that as good as he is, he's not as good as he looked in last year's NCAA Tournament, and he was overhyped preseason. He's a big body who can be tough on the glass, but he's not much of a scorer. Because the Wolverines lack an inside scorer, they are very much a jump shooting team. 41.4% of their field goal attempts are beyond the arc (35th most in the country) and they are well below the national average in both 2P% and FT rate. When those shots go in, they'll look good. But they hit only 28% behind the arc in the loss to Iowa State and only 22% here. Inconsistent offense is going to be a big part of Michigan's season.

As for Charlotte, this strong week puts them firmly among the favorites in Conference USA, but I don't think they should be considered a real at-large big contender at this point. They need more than an upset or two to be taken seriously as a realistic Top 50 team.

North Carolina Knocks Off Louisville This win for North Carolina was, in a lot of ways, a coming out game for Marcus Paige and Kennedy Meeks. Paige has been playing significantly better than last season, though he hadn't yet done it on a stage this large. Paige has had to take on more of a scoring load with PJ Hairston out, but has somehow drastically increased his scoring efficiency as well. Last season he took 16.3% of his team's shots while on the floor, with a 44.0 eFG%. This season? He's taken 25.1% of his team's shots while on the floor, with a 66.4 eFG%. Kennedy Meeks, meanwhile, is just a fun player to watch. He's a big boy, but he's smooth with the ball, and he finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists to go with Paige's career-high 32.

As good as Marcus Paige was, though, he was outplayed by the superb and continually underrated Russ Smith (a career-high 36 points). The difference in this game was not Paige, but interior play and transition offense/defense. Louisville's front line was all in foul trouble, and they were significantly outplayed, and Louisville's transition defense was horrible. It felt like North Carolina had at least a dozen easy transition dunks and layups in the second half alone.

This win makes an argument that North Carolina could be a pretty good team if they ever get PJ Hairston back. Even without him, they're looking like a borderline Top 25 team, which is a lot better than they were looking against Belmont and Richmond. But I don't think we should overreact to this game too much. This was Louisville's first game all season against an opponent with a pulse after winning a national title last season, and it looked like it. They were lazy and sloppy, with the transition defense being a glaring example. It's hard to fathom a Rick Pitino team being this bad defensively two games in a row. Louisville will severely miss Gorgui Dieng, but they still have a bunch of good individual defensive players. There's no way their defense is really this bad.

Georgetown Bounces Back This Georgetown/VCU game was just ugly all around. The two teams combined for 43 turnovers, 61 fouls, 84 free throw attempts and only 43 made shots from the field. In the end, it shows up as a nice win on Georgetown's resume, and another very frustrating offensive night for VCU. VCU's defense has been strong this season, but their shooting has totally escaped them in their two losses. They had a 32.7 eFG% in the loss to Florida State, and a 41.1 eFG% here.

The thing is that this team has quality shooters, they're just not getting shots for the right people. For example, Treveon Graham (23% behind the arc) has taken more threes than Rob Brandneberg (44%). The Rams have a tough road game at Belmont coming up next weekend, but otherwise will not have any chance for a big scalp prior to Atlantic Ten play. They're going to have to earn their at-large bid against conference opponents.

Harvard's Resume Takes A Big Blow There's been a lot of Harvard hype in the media this year, but even if the roster isn't quite as good as some in the media make it out to be (and I do think they're being overrated by Seth Davis and others), the problem that really concerns me is their schedule. It's just terribly weak. Other than the Alaska Shoot-Out, the only likely RPI Top 100 teams they play are Colorado, Boston College and UConn. They just can't afford to blow a chance for a quality win, but they blew a chance here. After leading by 12 at halftime, they lost by 8. Considering the fact that the only way they fail to win an automatic bid to the Tournament will be if they lose at least two Ivy League games, Harvard's at-large margin of error is getting awfully small.

Meanwhile, this is a nice win for Colorado after the season-opening loss for Baylor. They're likely to be a bubble team in February, and every quality win helps. With games coming up against Kansas and Oklahoma State, they have a great chance to steal a big scalp prior to opening up Pac-12 play.

Duke's Defense Struggles Again In Vermont Scare Duke held on for the one point win over Vermont, but it's a worrying performance. They scored a lot, and they're going to score a lot every game. They have some great offensive weapons. But their defense, particularly their interior defense, is not good. And they have been torched repeatedly by quality and semi-quality opponents. They allowed 1.09 PPP to Davidson, 1.26 PPP to Kansas and 1.39 PPP here. Vermont's 68.5 eFG% is the single worst shooting defense performance by Duke since an 89-77 loss to Geogetown on January 30th, 2010. Coach K is going to have to think seriously about switching up his rotation to get some more defense-oriented big men in the regular rotation, even if it means fewer minutes for scorers like Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson.

Florida Gets Back Scottie Wilbekin Florida has suffered with injuries and suspensions this season, never getting anything particularly close to a full roster. They got a little bit closer, however, as Scottie Wilbekin was reinstated from suspension. It comes just in time, as Kasey Hill (who had been filling in at point guard) suffered an ankle injury and will be out for around a month. In fact, I'm sure there are some Florida State fans and others who think that this reinstatement is a bit too convenient, though I'll leave that issue aside for this post. For now, let's see if Wilbekin can avoid any more suspensions and be the point guard he was last season.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Morning News: New Bracket, Feisty Oklahoma, Toledo As A Sleeper, And Rutgers Struggles

Julius Brown has led Toledo to a 5-0 record to start the season

New Bracket Projection My weekly bracket projection is posted here. Four teams moved into the bracket: two teams as at-larges (Iowa State and Florida State) and two teams as automatic bids (Drexel and Bryant). The four teams that left the BP68 were La Salle, UNLV, Towson and Mt St Mary's.

I'll give my typical warning not to get too worked up if your team is a 12 seed nor is just narrowly out of the field at this point. There just isn't a big difference. These teams need to play more games to start separating themselves. There is no real "bubble" until January at the earliest.

Feisty Performance From Oklahoma I'm sure Oklahoma wanted to beat Michigan State, but they really impressed in their 87-76 loss. They led by 9 points early and then suffered a brutal 34-9 run to finish the half. But instead of rolling over and dying, they competed in the second half, pulling within five points with two minutes to go. Cameron Clark has really improved since last year, and is scoring points in bunches (32 points last night to pull his season average up to 18.2). Ryan Spangler, the transfer from Gonzaga, has also been very effective.

Unfortunately, their strength of schedule is pretty weak until Big 12 play, so we won't see too much more of this team for a while. The Sooners will likely be 11-2 or 12-1, but without any big scalps. They're going to have the classic bubble resume. A 10-8 Big 12 record with a win or two over the big boys at the top of the standings will get them Dancing. Feels kind of early to talk about that kind of stuff, but there we go.

Sleeper Team: Toledo I suppose it's a slow day in college basketball when I'm talking about a Toledo/Detroit game, but hey... it was a slow day in college basketball. It's an excuse to talk about a Toledo team that has really impressed early on this season. They were my preseason pick to win the MAC, but they're outperforming even those expectations. The story is an offense that has been filthy, scoring at least 1.1 PPP in every single game so far. And it's a balanced offense, with a lot of different ways to beat you (although point guard Julius Brown is the engine that makes it go).

Toledo is now 5-0, with wins on the road or on neutral courts against Boston College, Stony Brook and Detroit. I don't think they should be considered a serious contender for an at-large bid anytime soon, but they're a team that could be a scary 12 or 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Rutgers Struggles... Badly Rutgers actually led William & Mary by 9 at halftime, but then started the second half suffering a staggering 20-0 run that they never recovered from. In the end, they lost by 10. Coming off losses to UAB and Drexel, Rutgers is 3-3 overall and looking like they'll finish near the basement of the AAC.

It's not a huge shock that Rutgers is struggling, but there's no obvious help on the horizon. They don't have any big recruits coming in, and they're heading to the basement of the Big Ten (most likely) next season. If Rutgers is ever going to drag themselves up to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, they're going to have to upgrade the talent level. Either Eddie Jordan will have to use the coming move to the Big Ten as a carrot to draw recruits or else Rutgers is going to have to use the piles of Big Ten Network cash to hire a better coach.

W-16 BP68

Turkey Week is always one of the best college basketball weeks of the season. With all of these tournaments we get a lot of afternoon games (and even some late morning games), as well as games well past midnight. And with many of us at home during the day who aren't normally able to just sit on our couch in the afternoon, we get to watch all of it.

There have been some relatively significant changes to the bracket projection this week, though again they're toward the bottom of the bracket. Two at-large teams have changed, with Iowa State and Florida State coming in while La Salle and UNLV were dropped out. In addition, Drexel moves in as the new Colonial favorite, replacing Towson, and Bryant replaces Mt. St. Mary's as the NEC favorite.

Of the bigger conferences, the most confusing right now is the Big East. I'm hoping to put together a Big East breakdown in the next few days, where I go through the top contenders and what their odds are. But really, nobody has played well so far. Georgetown has already had a putrid loss, and while I thought Marquette was significantly overrated preseason I didn't think they'd be this bad. Right now I'm keeping Marquette well above where the computers say they are, because it's hard for me to believe that their offense really could be this bad. I also enjoy going from being a Marquette hater to Marquette lover in about ten days.

Anyway, please remember that this is a projection of Selection Sunday and not a list of where teams would be seeded if the season ended now. There is a difference.

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Ohio State
2. Florida

3. Oklahoma State
3. Wisconsin

4. Creighton
4. Iowa
4. UConn

5. St. Louis
5. Michigan
5. Virginia

6. Marquette
6. Pittsburgh
6. Villanova

7. Indiana
7. North Carolina
7. Syracuse
7. Memphis

8. Boise State
8. Baylor
8. Notre Dame

9. Minnesota
9. Iowa State
9. Stanford

10. BYU
10. UMass
10. Cincinnati
10. Colorado

11. Tennessee
11. Oregon
11. Butler
11. Florida State

12. Purdue
12. Dayton
12. Maryland
12. Texas





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
SMU, Boston College, Clemson, La Salle, Providence, St. John's, Xavier, Illinois, Oklahoma, Indiana State, UNLV, San Diego State, Utah State, Arizona State, California, Alabama, Missouri, Ole Miss, St. Mary's

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Houston, Georgia Tech, George Washington, Richmond, St. Joseph's, Kansas State, West Virginia, Southern Miss, UTEP, Wright State, Northern Iowa, Fresno State, Washington State, Arkansas, LSU, Vanderbilt, Denver

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Central Florida, South Florida, Temple, Miami (Fl), NC State, Wake Forest, George Mason, Rhode Island, DePaul, Seton Hall, Montana, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Towson, Charlotte, Middle Tennessee, UAB, Iona, Ohio, Evansville, Missouri State, Colorado State, Oregon State, Utah, Washington, Bucknell, South Carolina, Texas A&M

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Andy Enfield's Honeymoon

USC head coach Andy Enfield made a lot of noise this past week with his interview in Men's Journal. He threw insults at Tim Floyd, Steve Alford and others. Some of it is basically the stuff that coaches are supposed to say behind closed doors to recruits but don't say in public, but a lot mirrors the general media narrative.

Enfield, of course, was the darling of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, when his Florida Gulf Coast squad made a shock Sweet 16 run. He took over FGCU and in one year took them to the Sweet 16, so the media narrative goes, and therefore he's going to rapidly turn around USC. His argument against Alford ("I've made it to one Sweet Sixteen in two years, and he's made it to one Sweet Sixteen in 18 years.") is the same one that has been repeated over and over again in the media.

The thing is, it's a nonsense argument. As I pointed out during FGCU's run, their run was great fun precisely because it was such an irrational fluke event. That Florida Gulf Coast team was improved over the season before, but they were also a 15 seed. To argue that Florida Gulf Coast was better than, say, Georgetown, simply because they won head-to-head and went further in the NCAA Tournament is laughable.

In the end, what matters to fans and what hangs banners up is NCAA Tournament success, but if you want to know how good a team is and how well a coach built a program, you look at the full sample size. A regular season title in a major conference is a much more significant and difficult achievement than a Sweet 16 run because you can't just get hot for a few minutes and pull an upset or two. You have to be really good for 16 or 18 games. And as I wrote a few weeks ago, the myth that Steve Alford is a coach who wins in the regular season but can't win in the NCAA Tournament is wildly overblown.

As I said at the time:

If your coach turns from being a terrible hire to a great hire in two games, you have a bad metric for determining a great hire.

To briefly defend Enfield, a coach taking over a program that has struggled for a while often has to be a little bit brash in order to get others to take them seriously and to draw recruits. But if the whole logic of hiring Enfield was to land those great recruits, where are they? He has one four-star recruit for next season (point guard Jordan McLaughlin), but so far that's it for big acquisitions.

As USC struggles this season (and I think they're a borderline Top 100 team at best), the new car smell is going to start to wear off. By next season, Enfield is going to have to start delivering wins, or these types of media puff pieces will disappear.

Morning News: Oh, Bruce Weber. Talking UConn/Indiana, Michigan/FSU And UMass/New Mexico.

Kansas State fans agree with you, Bruce.

Game Of The Night: #18 UConn 59, Indiana 58 There were approximately 750 lead changes in this game, which at times turned into a fascinating duel between Yogi Ferrell and Shabazz Napier. Ferrell's shooting stroke has really improved since last season, and with Noah Vonleh in foul trouble he was basically Indiana's entire offense. Meanwhile, Shabazz did what Shabazz does: combine ankle breaking/jaw dropping crossover moves with idiotic turnovers. It's always fun, even if it's not always efficient. Napier had 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting here, but also had 7 turnovers.

While a one point victory doesn't say a lot about one team versus the either, it felt like this game should have had a bigger margin. UConn had been a really good shooting team this season (47.8% on threes entering this game), but they were ice cold much of the night. Indiana, as expected, struggled with UConn's big front line. In the end, I think these teams were who we thought they were. UConn didn't let Indiana off the hook, though.

Florida State's Defense Impresses Again Florida State fans are understandably upset after their gut-punch overtime loss to Michigan. But the silver lining is that the FSU defense again looked strong. Remember that Florida State's defense was pretty miserable last season, finishing only 10th in the ACC in defensive efficiency. But after being the most consistently dominant defense in the nation from 2008 through 2012, Leonard Hamilton appears to be putting the pieces together for his next defensive juggernaut.

The key, as it was from 2008 to 2012, is size and shot blocking in the paint. Players like Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo have taken on expanded roles and have made Florida State's defense formidable again. That said... they've got a ways to go to be as good as the 2010-2011 teams, and they still lack a go-to scorer on offense. Florida State is missing Michael Snaer more than Michigan is missing Trey Burke.

Speaking of Burke and Michigan, I've talked recently about how Michigan was lacking a go-to scorer. It appears they've found one - Nik Stauskas. Stauskas has really improved his aggressiveness and ball handling, and has looked like the best offensive player in the Big Ten so far this season. It's looking awfully dumb that the Big Ten put two Michigan players on their preseason All-Big Ten first team and neither of them was Stauskas.

UMass Looking Like A Tourney Team New Mexico just got run off the floor in the second half by UMass in this 81-65 loss. Even 32 points from Alex Kirk were not enough as Kendall Williams was bottled up (13 points, 7 turnovers) and UMass again dominated the offensive glass. The Minutemen have been really efficient offensively (1.11 PPP against a tough schedule), and are now 5-0 with wins over New Mexico, Boston College, LSU and Nebraska. At this point, they certainly look like a Tournament team.

New Mexico has underwhelmed at the Charleston Classic. They needed a miracle to get past UAB in double overtime and then lost here. They will get one more game, but it will be against Davidson, so even a big win won't really matter much (Davidson just got smoked by Clemson by 31 points). The good news is that they have a tough schedule with plenty of quality opponents even before they get into Mountain West play (Kansas, Cincinnati and Marquette). The bad news is that their defense isn't yet playing well enough to win any of those games.

Oh, Bruce Weber Apparently the cure for Georgetown's troubles was a game against Kansas State. This game was never competitive as the Hoyas cruised to a 90-63 victory. I've joked about this before, but Bruce Weber should follow Frank Martin everywhere... for a year. Martin is a great recruiter, but despite his famous on-court scowls he's a terrible game manager. His teams are always sloppy and fundamentally un-sound. When Bruce Weber showed up last season he did what he always does - he reduced turnovers, improved rebounding, took away threes defensively, etc. Frank Martin's players over-performed with Weber as their coach.

But we all remember how the Bruce Weber era went at Illinois, and the process was sped up at Kansas State with the transfer out of Angel Rodriguez. Weber just doesn't have a team with enough talent, and they've been brutal in the early going this season, falling to Northern Colorado and Charlotte and getting wiped away here. They are now 2-3 overall, and have plummeted out of the Top 100 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR.

Georgetown will get a good test tomorrow against VCU, in their final game in Puerto Rico. I'm willing to believe that the Northeastern loss was a fluke, but Georgetown will have to play well more than once to convince me. Ball handling has been mediocre for JTIII's team so far this season (turnovers on 18.0% of possessions), and poor ball handling can destroy a team facing #HAVOC.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Morning News: Alex Williams & Noah Vonleh, Florida State By 18 Over VCU, Northeastern Upsets Georgetown

Alex Williams sends the New Mexico/UAB into overtime with this spectacular buzzer beater

Best Game: #19 New Mexico 97, UAB 94, 2OT No question here. This game had a spectacular finish to both regulation and overtime. The shot of the night was Kendall Williams at the end of the regulation, nailing a three to send the game to the first overtime. Alex Kirk's three wasn't quite as spectacular, but it sent the game to a second overtime. And it wasn't just those two shots, as Williams and Kirk were basically playing a two-man game in key possessions late. As fun as this game was, though, it doesn't mean much in the long run. New Mexico avoided a pretty terrible upset. They will be immediately looking forward to their quality opponent later today: UMass.

Strangest Score: Florida State 85, #10 VCU 67 I have a feeling that this score will look as odd in March as it does now. VCU actually forced a turnover on 29.4% of possessions (they averaged 28.5% last season), but that probably wasn't enough. Florida State has ball handling problems, and VCU should have eaten them alive more than they did.

The dirty secret of #HAVOC is that if you don't turn the ball over against VCU, you're probably going to score. The nature of their press means that they're in terrible position for half court defense and they always allow opponents to shoot well from the field. What made this game a particular blowout was that VCU was horrific on offense. Despite 14 steals, VCU only had a 32.7 eFG%, which was their second worst shooting performance of the century (a 32.2 eFG% against Georgia State on January 4th, 2012 was their only shooting performance worse than this one since 1999).

In other words, don't totally panic about this result. VCU's defense wasn't good, and their offense was as bad as it will be all season. This was a fluke result. But you knew that already. Still, this is a great win for a Florida State team that moves to 4-0 and has a chance to really make waves if they can knock off Michigan later today.

Biggest Upset: Northeastern 63, Georgetown 56 Florida State over VCU was a pretty big upset, and the scoring margin was a bigger surprise than Northeastern by 7, but in terms of pure wins and losses I think this was the biggest upset of the night. And this result kind of snuck up on everybody. Georgetown led by 14 points in the second half, but their offense just shut down and they stopped hitting shots. In the final four minutes they had eight possessions and scored precisely two points.

Certainly this is going to give the Hoyas Vietnam-style flashbacks to some of those horrible offensive performances last season. JTIII will have to rally the troops for the Kansas State game. If they get past that one they'll probably get VCU, and a chance to salvage something out of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

That Other Freshman: Noah Vonleh He's not going to get the press that Parker, Wiggins, Randle and Gordon are going to get, mostly because his teammates aren't as good, but Noah Vonleh has been spectacular in the early going so far. He basically fouled out Washington's entire front line (and the Huskies have a thin rotation to begin with), finishing with 18 points and 9 rebounds en route to a 102-84 win. And as far as Indiana goes, this was also a coming out game for Troy Williams, who led the Hoosiers with 22 points and looked super athletic.

While the freshmen looked good, I think this win is a little overrated for Indiana. Washington looks like a good team when you watch them on the floor - they have a good name and the uniforms of a good team. But they're not a good team. Stony Brook is better than Washington. What Indiana fears is a team with a deep, good front court that can limit opportunities in the paint and turn the Hoosiers into a jump shooting team. As we saw in the LIU game, Indiana just lacks outside shooters, and their offense will grind to a halt if they're not getting layups. I'll be curious to see what they do later today against UConn, and how they handle DeAndre Daniels and the Huskies front court.

The Best 1-4 Team In The Country: Boston College After a 72-70 loss to UConn, Boston College falls to a disappointing 1-4 start. And certainly they haven't played as well as I thought they would. But at the same time, Boston College is really not that bad of a team. The loss to Toledo is bad, but their other three losses have been away from home against teams that are either Tournament teams or bubble teams (UConn, UMass and Providence), and they've been an unfortunate 1-3 in games decided by 3 points or less or in overtime.

Considering their strength of schedule, it's going to be tough for BC to get a good enough won-loss record to make a run at an at-large bid, but don't be surprised if they take down a few big scalps this season. Meanwhile, UConn escapes to set up a big match-up with Indiana tonight. You might want to tune in.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Morning News: Iowa State Stuns BYU, NC Central Beats NC State, Dayton Wins Bubble Battle

Dean Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freeman yesterday. Tar Heels fans celebrated by rooting for NC Central

We're in that down time in between 24 Hours of Hoops and Thanksgiving week. Just not a ton of good games. Tonight will be a bit better, but in general we're in a holding pattern as we wait for some great Thanksgiving week tournaments. There were a few games worth getting into:

Iowa State Stuns BYU Iowa State is ranked and BYU isn't, but this was one of the more stunning upsets of the early part of this season. BYU was a 7 point favorite in Vegas, and that line probably should have been larger. Iowa State was coming off a huge win and was playing at altitude, which is the perfect formula for a letdown game. And then with a pair of foul outs and a flagrant ejection, they were down three starters for the final couple of minutes (though they did still have Georges Niang, their best player).

This is just a single loss, but there have to be worries in Provo about this BYU team. They're a fun team that can put up points in bunches, but that was also true of last year's team that went 10-6 in the WCC and played in the NIT. Defense and rebounding remain problems, and they settle for too many long two-point jumpers. They're going to need more than one quality win in non-conference play with the relatively soft SOS in WCC play, so count this as a big missed opportunity..

NC Central Deservedly Beats NC State It's hard to say that NC Central got lucky in their win over NC State. If these two teams switched uniforms, you probably really wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. There was no real difference in athleticism or skill. The only player who stood out was TJ Warren, and he fouled out with a few minutes left in regulation. NC Central was also money at the line, finishing 41-for-45. This is a big win for the MEAC, and puts NC Central firmly among the favorites there, But at the same time, it's not that big of a win. NC State is going to finish near the ACC basement.

Dayton Wins A Bubble Battle Over Georgia Tech Dayton and Georgia Tech both look like bubble teams in the early going, and so this was an important win for Dayton. This was a classic letdown game for Georgia Tech after their big rivalry win over Georgia. The Yellow Jackets were just terribly sloppy, allowing Dayton to force a staggering 17 steals. Daniel Miller had 20 points and 7 rebounds for Georgia Tech, but for the most part their size advantage was neutralized by the up-and-down nature of this game (73 possessions). Devin Oliver and Jordan Sibert had 20 points apiece for Dayton. The Flyers now head to Maui, where they'll get a chance to really build up an at-large resume. They open with Gonzaga on Monday.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Morning News: Marcus Smart Torches Memphis, Butler Tops Vanderbilt, Jahii Carson Leads Arizona St Over UNLV

Memphis players watched a lot of this last night

Marcus Smart And Oklahoma State Crush Memphis This game was never competitive. Marcus Smart had 24 points in the first 12 minutes of the game, and Oklahoma State was off to the races. The thing with Smart has always been shot selection. He's obviously a great defender and a great NBA prospect, but his offensive efficiency last season was very mediocre simply because he forced a lot of terrible shots. But Memphis has always had trouble dealing with the dribble drive under Josh Pastner, and Smart was like a hot knife through butter, finishing with 39 points.

There are two things to remember about this game before overreacting. First, Memphis is not the 11th best team in the country. I had them as a 7 seed in my most recent bracket. Oklahoma State was a 9 point favorite and was supposed to win. Second, this is just one game. Play this game again and it's likely much closer. Every team is going to have ups and downs throughout the season. But I'm definitely looking forward to OSU playing at the Old Spice Classic next week.

Game Of The Night: Butler 85, Vanderbilt 77, OT This was a fun game. Butler shot the lights out in the first half and looked to be running away with a double-digit victory, but Vanderbilt fought back in the second half. Eric McClellan, the transfer from Tulsa, was absolutely unstoppable. Butler tried several of their best defenders, but he ended up leading all scorers with 29 points. Every time they needed a basket, McClellen put his head down, drove to the basket, and either made the shot or got fouled.

Butler's offense is definitely lacking options without Roosevelt Jones. Khyle Marshall is trying to be a lot more aggressive in order to provide a second option besides Kellen Dunham. In my most recent bracket, I had Butler narrowly in the NCAA Tournament and Vanderbilt narrowly out. I don't think this game changes any of that. Vanderbilt has to play better to be an at-large team, but it's not out of the question. For Butler, this is a nice win, but it probably won't matter once February rolls around. Big East play is what will matter for them.

Best Performance: Jahii Carson It was a night of scoring outbursts. But while Marcus Smart had 39 points over a ranked opponent and Frank Kaminsky scored 43 for Wisconsin, it's unlikely that those two made the difference in whether their team won or lost. Both teams happened to win in blowouts. But Jahii Carson had 40 points for Arizona State in a really competitive six point road victory over UNLV, and he was unstoppable. As a team, Arizona State had 18 assists to only 7 turnovers, and got the type of victory that will make people pay attention to a program that hasn't been in contention for an at-large bid since James Harden left.

Meanwhile, coming after a loss to UC-Santa Barbara and a three point victory over Nebraska-Omaha, UNLV is a mess right now. We knew that they had a ton to replace from last season, but they have talented transfers (Roscoe Smith, Kevin Olekaibe and Deville Smith) to go with a solid recruiting class. They should be better than this. They have a week to get ready for their next quality opponent, Illinois.

Duke's Defense Struggles Again East Carolina came into this game against Duke 4-0 on the season, but it was as soft as 4-0 gets. They had beaten DI opponents by a combined three points, and their best win was over Pomeroy ranked #220 Norfolk State. But East Carolina fought all the way to the final minute before Duke pulled away late for a nine point win. The issue for Duke, yet again, is defense. This is the third time in five games that they've allowed at least 1.00 PPP, and the two times they've held an opponent under 1.00 PPP both came against cupcakes. They are doing a decent job denying threes, like Coach K teams always do, but their paint defense is a mess. We knew that they were going to be thin in the front court this season, and it's been on display defensively.

Rutgers Knocked Out Of The NIT The first of the NIT regional home teams was knocked out as Rutgers fell 70-59 to Drexel. This isn't really a big shocker as Rutgers was only favored by 1 point in Vegas. But the story here isn't Rutgers (who we already knew isn't good this season), it's Drexel. The Dragons have been efficient in the early going this season, and they are among the favorites in the Colonial and are even a somewhat long shot bubble team. They will likely have a lot of fans in New York City for the NIT, and it will be interesting to see if they can pull an upset.

La Salle Falls Again La Salle was supposed to be a bubble team this season, but they have not been playing well at all. Their 79-72 loss to Penn State last night comes after a loss to Manhattan and narrow victories over Quinnipiac and Siena. They aren't playing at all like a bubble team right now. The big problem has been defense, which has been really bad. They gave up 1.21 PPP here and are allowed 1.09 PPP for the season. That has to improve. Meanwhile, Penn State has bounced back from that Bucknell loss with a nice double-digit road victory at Pennsylvania and this home victory over La Salle. They're going to be near the basement of the Big Ten, but they're not going to be terrible. They'll be competitive at home.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Morning News: Syracuse Offense Struggles, SMU Gets A Reality Check, Southern Miss Wins At North Dakota St

Florida fans are getting a little bit sick of this.

Shooting (And The New Rules) If you missed it last night, I wrote a long post about shooting percentages and the new "Jay Bilas Rules". Read it here. Warning: Excel plots. Spoiler alert: The idea that shooting has gotten worse in recent years is a myth.

Syracuse Offense Struggles I've had some Syracuse fans angry at me for being down on their team (while they're ranked in the Top 10 in the human polls, I have them as a 7 seed), but their six point win over St. Francis (NY) represented my exact concern. Syracuse is going to have a good defense this season, but they lack offensive playmakers. They finished 35.6% on two-pointers in this game simply because they couldn't create good shots. One game isn't proof anything, of course. But this game represents the fear for the Orange this season.

SMU Gets A Reality Check At Arkansas Mike Anderson teams are always significantly better at home than on the road, and so a win over SMU is not a shocker by any means. But it's a little bit of a reality check after SMU's 31 point thumping of Rhode Island. They are improved, but they're a bubble team at best. Houston transfer Alandise Harris was the star for Arkansas, scoring 21 off the bench. SMU struggled with turnovers (18), though that's typical for road teams at Bud Walton Arena. Both of these squads are potentially intriguing bubble teams, so keep an eye on both of them during Thanksgiving week.

Southern Miss Gets An Impressive Road Win It was a game way off the casual sports fan radar. It wasn't even on tv for most of the country. But Southern Miss/North Dakota State looked like it would be a good game, and it lived up. In the end, Southern Miss walked away with a 70-69 road victory. The difference in the game was foul trouble for North Dakota State's front line, which allowed Southern Miss to own the paint offensively. This marks two straight tough losses for North Dakota State, coming off the road loss at St. Mary's. They're a very dangerous team, but it's extremely likely that they're going to need an auto bid to make the NCAA Tournament. Southern Miss, though, will really like what this win does for their RPI. I don't think they're a Tournament team, but it's definitely a real possibility.

More Florida Injury Woes Between suspensions and injuries, Florida has been awfully shorthanded all season long, and that problem is going to get worse before it gets better. Kasey Hill has a high ankle sprain and will likely be out for around a month. Hill had been the point guard and primary offensive playmaker for Florida with Scottie Wilbekin out. Now? Florida doesn't really have a point guard. I'd probably just run the offense through Casey Prather. Either way, the Gators are running out of time to get their roster together before SEC play tips off.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Can't Anybody Shoot Anymore?

I don't mind rule changes. I mind dishonest arguments for rule changes.

That, in a nutshell, sums up why I'm bothered by the justification for the new "Jay Bilas rules", which have forced refs to call significantly more fouls in order to artificially increase scoring. But more on that in a moment.

Let's talk about shooting. I had a debate with Mike DeCourcy today on twitter about shooting. He argued that shooting has gotten dramatically worse, and he blamed overly physical play for it. I was skeptical. After all, I wrote a long post back in January debunking the myths about college basketball quality of play dropping.
Mike argued that field goal percentages have dropped from 47.3% in 1988-89 to 43.3% last season. He argued that the three-point line couldn't be blamed, since it was instituted for the 1986-87 season. Both of those facts are correct, but they're misleading. Even though the three-pointer began in 1986-87, it took NCAA teams a full decade to use it nearly enough. The average NCAA team took only 9.2 threes per game in 1986-87, which increased to 11.8 in 1988-89, and nowadays is typically around 18-19.

What do shooting percentages look like historically? See the plot below, which has been normalized to the 1994-95 season:

As you can see, 3P%s were initially high, due to the fact that only sharpshooters took them. Over time, coaches realized the value of threes and started taking more of them, dropping the percentages. But shooting in all ways has been flat for quite some time.

What about two-pointers? I mean, that plot is a little bit hard to read if you want to separate out a few percentages. So let's look at 2P%s from 1980 (the beginning of Jay Bilas's "golden age of college basketball") to now. See a trend? I don't:

One of the common tropes is that players can't shoot anymore. I gave examples of it from two decades ago here. If you search through Lexis Nexus you can find a ton of articles from basically every season of college basketball whining that players can't shoot anymore. You'll hear announcers and read sportswriters talking about it all the time. But it's a myth. Shooting improved throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as Ye Olde Basketball turned into modern basketball, but shooting has been basically flat ever since the mid-70s.

Why does this myth persist? Two main reasons. First, we're a long way from the past. When we think of the 80s we think of highlights clips. When we think of 2013 we think of that ugly Ohio State/Marquette game on Saturday. When I was a kid I thought Larry Bird never missed a shot. But he missed a lot of shots. I just don't remember the misses. And that brings us to the other reason: irrational glorification of the past.

I've talked about this before, but humans simply have a habit of over-glorifying the past. We tend to think everything is getting worse even as everything is getting better. Ask the average American whether murders, crime, sexual assaults, teen pregnancies or drug usage have been increasing or decreasing nationwide the past two decades. The average American will be wrong on all of them.

And that brings me to the bigger issue here: the rule changes. We've heard all of the talking points. Scoring is down because defenses are more physical, teams are taking more charges, and offenses can't move the ball. These arguments are usually thrown in with assertions that players today are younger and less prepared for college basketball, are coached poorly due to the AAU circuits, and can't shoot anymore.

But here's the problem. Read this post again. Scoring has been down not because teams can't play offense anymore, but because tempo is down. In fact, offensive efficiency has been increasing over the years, and turnovers have been dropping dramatically. None of this makes sense with the narrative, does it? If players are sloppier, coaches are worse, players can't shoot, defenses can be more physical, and defenses can easily draw charges, offensive efficiency should be down and turnovers should be up.

In other words, excuse my french, but I call bullshit on the physicality narrative. I've seen Jay Bilas make his argument by showing a gliding Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler making a layup in the early 80s and then contrasting that with some guy last week getting hacked but not getting the call. Of course, I could easily show a video of a gliding layup from last week juxtaposed with some dude getting hacked and not getting a call in 1982. The plural of anecdote is not evidence.

The fact that everybody is wrong about shooting and offensive efficiency getting worse reminds us that human memories are terrible. We are unreliable witnesses and we over-glorify the past. Forgive me if I don't take it on memory that basketball was a golden age of free flowing offenses in the early 80s. In general, media sports narratives are wrong. And without evidence, I'm not going to believe this one either.

Morning News: Iowa State "Upsets" Michigan, Belmont Stuns Carolina, Indiana St Builds Their Resume

Iowa State fans rush the court after beating Michigan

Iowa State "Upsets" Michigan Iowa State's 77-70 win over Michigan was a great game, even if it wasn't actually an upset. Iowa State was favored by 1 point in Vegas. The reason for the line, more than anything, is that Michigan is not the 7th best team in the country. They were overrated by the media preseason. I rated them as narrowly inside the Top 25, and if anything they might not even be that good. It was good to get Mitch McGary back, but McGary is going to struggle with foul trouble under the new rules, and Michigan desperately lacks a go-to playmaker on offense. The last couple of seasons they could turn to Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway, Jr to put their head down and make a big play in a big moment. During this game, they just didn't know where to go with the ball.

But I don't want to take away from Iowa State's performance, which was great. Georges Niang, in particular, is such an underrated player. He only had 10 points, but that included six straight in the final few minutes to firm up and basically seal the victory. Iowa State also was very happy to get Melvin Ejim, who was recovering from injury and was considered questionable to play - he ended up with 22 points. They have a very interesting road game at BYU on Wednesday. A perfect spot for a letdown game. If they can somehow escape with the win there, we might have to talk about the Cyclones not just as a Tournament team but as a serious contender for second or third place in the Big 12.

Belmont Stuns North Carolina This game had a fantastic finish, and by the end I'm sure that basically every non-North Carolina fan was rooting for Belmont. The reffing in this game was flat out embarrassing, with every close call (and some not-particularly-close calls) going the way of the Tar Heels. Belmont ended up with a staggering nine players in foul trouble, and the Tar Heels had a 48-to-22 free throw attempt advantage. The saving grace for Belmont was that UNC couldn't hit those free throws, ending up only 46% at the line for the game. JP Tokoto was a horrific 4-for-16 at the line. Belmont was also 15-for-37 behind the arc, including three from JJ Mann in the final 65 seconds (the final being the game winner).

This North Carolina team desperately misses PJ Hairston. Without him, their offense is a mess. James Michael McAdoo is not an efficient scorer, and there is too much pressure on Marcus Paige to score. Paige is a better fit as a distributor. Until Hairston comes back, North Carolina probably isn't a Top 25 team, honestly. As for Belmont, they're just fun to watch. They're not quite as good as they were the past three seasons, but they're still a team that will give a scare to a higher seed in the Round of 64 in March. Their spacing on offense and ball movement is a pleasure to watch.

Indiana State Builds Their Resume The Sycamores controlled their game against Notre Dame, leading by double digits nearly the entire second half. Basically, they just shot the ball better, finishing 55% behind the arc. Indiana State is a team I expected to be on the bubble this season, and this is the type of win that can make a big difference on Selection Sunday. Also, that one point loss on the road to Belmont doesn't look quite so bad anymore. The Irish are at risk of being on the bubble as well, though this probably won't end up being too bad of a loss (Indiana State should end up in the RPI Top 100), and they'll have plenty of opportunities for quality wins in the ACC.

Roberto Nelson Scores 30+... Again Roberto Nelson has been lighting up the scoreboard for Oregon State. 31 points for him here pushed his season average up to 30.3 ppg. And what really matters is that it came in a quality win, on the road at Maryland. It doesn't make up for the Coppin State loss, of course, and I still have no expectations that Oregon State is going to be particularly close to the bubble by the time the calendar rolls to February, but at least they proved here that they have the ability to be feisty against a quality opponent. As for Maryland, this is a bad loss. They are now 1-2 to start the season, with the only win coming against cannon fodder Abilene Christian. They will look to bounce back next week at the Paradise Jam.

Northwestern... Sigh. As I said on twitter, we might be saying "This ain't the year" earlier than usual this season for Northwestern. This loss to Illinois State is a bad loss. Illinois State might be better than expected this season, but they're still likely going to be outside the RPI Top 100. Northwestern has talented offensive players, but they're too dependent on jump shooting. And when the shots don't fall (5-for-18 behind the arc here), they're going to lose to any decent team they play. Northwestern fans will just have to hold out hope that the team is still figuring things out with so many players returning from serious injury.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Morning News: Ohio St Suffocates Marquette, Wisconsin Escapes Green Bay, Mercer Beats Seton Hall

Illinois students react to Cliff Alexander faking an Illinois decision before choosing Kansas instead

New Bracket Projection My first bracket projection of the regular season has been posted here. The most significant changes are at the tail end of the at-large portion of the field. In the end, I moved UMass and Minnesota in while dropping Boston College and Kansas State out. But you can make a good case for several other teams for those last few spots - Providence, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Missouri, St. Mary's and others. Within a few more weeks I'm sure we'll have more clarity.

The other team to move into the bracket is Wisconsin-Green Bay, who are back to being the Horizon League favorite over Wright State. They were actually my pick back in April, but I dropped them over the summer because of uncertainty over the abuse accusations around Brian Wardle. I have more about them further down this post.

Anyway, please check it out and feel encouraged to leave constructive criticism in the comments. I always enjoy the debate as long as it stays constructive.

Ohio State's Defense Dominates Marquette Too often we confuse bad offense with good defense. Ohio State's defense was just filthy here. And yes, Marquette struggled to shoot also (1-for-18 behind the arc), but they only hit 26% of their twos and finished with 20 turnovers. In all, Marquette had a 19.8 eFG% and scored 0.54 PPP. To put that in perspective, only two teams in Division I had worse shooting days than that last season, and only 18 had a worse scoring efficiency.

In the end, the truth is always somewhere in between this early in the season, and that's definitely true for Marquette. They were overrated preseason, and are a borderline Top 25 team at best. But at the same time, this game was just the worst of all possible worlds. They'll shoot better, most likely, every other game the rest of the season. There's no reason to panic. They're still a tourney team.

As for Ohio State, their defense is going to really, really good this season, but it was clear in the first half how much they missed DeShaun Thomas. They have some decent spot-up shooters, and Aaron Craft is a good point guard, but they lack an elite scorer. DeShaun Thomas was arguably the best scorer in the nation last season, even if he never got the credit. Buckeyes fans are going to miss him in a big way.

Wisconsin Wins Again, Though Green Bay Impresses If Wisconsin-Green Bay is as good as many expected them to be this season, they should have been able to give Wisconsin a tough time in the Resch Center. And they did. Wisconsin got everything they wanted here, escaping with a three point victory. The key was Alec Brown fouling out. Wisconsin was putting in a lot of effort to get him fouls all night, and it eventually paid off. That opened up the lane for Wisconsin to get key baskets late. The Badgers now have arguably the best set of wins in the country, with three victories over likely RPI Top 100 teams. They have flaws (particularly on the glass, due to their lack of height), but they look like they'll be in contention for a 3-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

As for Green Bay, I really liked what I saw from them. This performance moved them into my newest bracket projection. Keifer Sykes and Alec Brown are one of the best inside-outside combos of any mid-major. Green Bay was, originally, my pick to win the Horizon League this season. The abuse allegations around Brian Wardle caused me to lose my nerve during the summer and I moved Wright State into the spot as favorite. But all of that looks to be behind them, and this Green Bay team looks awfully impressive. Not only are they the Horizon favorite, but they have the potential to be a scary 12 or 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Best Game: Mercer 77, Seton Hall 74, 2OT Late in regulation and overtime, this game turned into a fantastic duel between Langston Hall and Fuquan Edwin. Hall scored 21 of his 24 points in the final four minutes of regulation and overtime. Edwin led all scorers with 35 points, including several spectacular dribble drives and scores to keep Seton Hall in this game. In the end, though, Mercer escaped with the three point victory. This season continues to be a struggle for Seton Hall, while Mercer looks strong in the Atlantic Sun. This win comes off a three point loss road loss at Texas. The Atlantic Sun has been really feisty so far this season, with several strong contenders, but Mercer remains my pick.

Creighton Looks like Last Year All Over Again Creighton had a fun 83-79 win at St. Joseph's. Their defense is a mess, and particularly with the graduation of Gregory Echenique they struggle to stop opponents in the paint. But at the same time, they have a fantastic set of shooters. Doug McDermott might be the best scorer in the country, Ethan Wragge is a three-point machine, and they have several other sharpshooters. So far they're hitting 47.3% behind the arc. A slow tempo is the only thing that is going to keep them from leading the nation in scoring.

After leading for much of the game, this will go down as a tough loss for St. Joe's. They have the weapons to make a run at an at-large bid, and an early season victory for Creighton would have been really nice for their resume. They won't have to wait long to redeem themselves, however, as they head off to the Old Spice Classic Thanksgiving week.