Sunday, November 30, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Old Dominion Upsets VCU, Harvard Defeats UMass, George Mason's Buzzer Beater, And More

The All-America candidate nobody is talking about.
New Bracket Projection There is no change to the Field of 68 in my newest bracket projection, though plenty of teams moved up or down a seed line or two. As I talk about in the projection, however, I do think that there are more contenders near the top of the bracket than you might think.

Old Dominion Upsets VCU At this point, we all know the formula every time VCU has a bad result. They never end up forcing enough turnovers, and if it's a particularly bad result (like this one) there is also an outside shooting disparity. On cue, VCU forced only 12 turnovers (including just 5 steals), and shot just 32% behind the arc compared to 53% for Old Dominion (and VCU was actually just 23% on threes before Melvin Johnson and Treveon Graham combined to hit three straight in the psuedo-garbage time of the final 30 seconds).

Over the past four seasons, VCU is 64-5 when forcing turnovers on at least 25% of their opponent's positions, but just 22-22 when they don't. This season, they're at 4-0 when forcing turnovers on at least 25% of their opponent's positions, vs 0-2 when they don't. They were at 18.5% here. It's a very simple formula. It's basically the only statistic you have to keep track of when watching VCU games.

VCU plays a tough game on the road against Illinois State next, but after that is their real test, at home against Virginia. The Cavaliers have been good at taking care of the ball under Tony Bennett, but VCU really needs to get that victory. The Atlantic Ten is down this season, and it's not going to be as easy as usual for VCU to collect quality wins in conference play.

Old Dominion is now 5-1 with wins over VCU, LSU and Richmond along with just a loss to Illinois State. It's a reasonably impressive resume thus far, though also a fairly small sample size to see whether these results are a fluke or something real. They have a reasonably tough test upcoming on the road at George Mason on Wednesday.

Harvard Defeats UMass This game had a really good finish. Neither team led by more than three points in the final 17 minutes. And on the final possession, UMass had the time to set up a nice three-point look for Trey Davis at the buzzer that would have won the game but that just rolled off the rim.

Cady Lalanne faced intense pressure all game long, and committed 6 turnovers despite his 13 points and 13 rebounds. UMass is now 5-2, without a bad loss but without any good wins either. They still get to play on the road at Providence and BYU, but winning both of those games is unlikely, so they're likely going to enter Atlantic Ten play with a lot of work left to do.

Wesley Saunders is quietly putting up All-America-type numbers for Harvard so far this season. With 27 points (on 10-for-13 shooting), 3 rebounds and 3 assists here, he's now at 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game on the season. And he's doing it efficiently, with a 57.3 eFG%, 83.3 FT% and a 2.2-to-1 A/TO ratio. Harvard's loss to Holy Cross is going to make it very hard for them to compete for an at-large bid (remember, Harvard has to lose at least twice in Ivy League to fail to earn the auto bid), but they're the heavy favorite to win the Ivy League. The top competition is looking weaker than it appeared preseason.

George Mason's Remarkable Buzzer Beater The Manhattan/George Mason game won't end up playing into any team's at-large chances, but it featured one of the most remarkable buzzer beating victories that you'll ever see. That's Jalen Jenkins of George Mason hitting the 75 footer at the buzzer for the one point victory.

Cincinnati Loses To Ole Miss This was a "Just one of those days" games for Cincinnati. They shot 2-for-19 behind the arc and finished with a 32.1 eFG%. They dominated the glass (a 50.0 OR%), so if they just could hit a jump shot they would have won... but they couldn't.

Mick Cronin has never really had a team that shot the ball well at Cincinnati, but the last four seasons or so he's had an elite defense. So far this season, Cincy's defense has been good, but not great. They allowed 1.17 PPP here, but also gave up 0.99 PPP to NC Central, 0.97 PPP to Middle Tennessee and 0.94 PPP to Morehead State. That's okay... but not what they were last season. They have some newcomers who have the chance to develop into explosive scorers someday (Farad Cobb, Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark have all shown flashes), but for now their offense just isn't good. And their defense isn't playing well enough to make up for it.

Mississippi now has back-to-back wins over Creighton and Cincinnati, and they're starting to put that terrible Charleston Southern loss in the rearview mirror. Which is the real Ole Miss team? We don't know yet. They play TCU next, and then head on the road to Oregon next Sunday. The SEC is so wide open, that it's easy for Ole Miss to make a run near the top of the league if these Creighton and Cincinnati performances are a sign of things to come.

Referee Knocked Out I don't think I've ever seen this before, but it happened to referee Rick Crawford on the opening tip of Vanderbilt/La Salle. He ended up having to be removed on a stretcher.

Rutgers Scores 26 Points Virginia was always going to win this game easily, and so the result wasn't a surprise. We also knew that Rutgers would struggle to score against Tony Bennett's defense. But 26 points? A 25.0 eFG%? 0.48 PPP? Well, all we can do is put those stats in perspective:

The 26 points tied Savannah State (against Louisville) for the fewest by a Division I team so far this season. The 25.0 eFG% was the second worst by a major conference team, ahead of just Kansas's 22.3% against Kentucky. Four teams have done worse than 0.48 PPP in a game so far this season, but all from small conferences. The next worst scoring performance by a major conference team was Auburn's 0.56 PPP in their 53-35 loss to Tulsa.

W-15 BP68

The media very much wants us to believe that the top four or five teams are really separating themselves, but I'm not sure that's really the case. Certainly, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Arizona have all looked impressive so far. But it would be a mistake to pretend that teams like Villanova, Virginia, Kansas or Texas couldn't end up being just as good. Even teams like Gonzaga and Louisville have to be in that conversation.

A lot of perception early in the season comes from the early tournaments. So Wisconsin, for example, took a very strong field at the Battle 4 Atlantis. And they looked great, of course. But just because Louisville hasn't been on a big stage early on this season doesn't mean that they won't be later in the season. They're in the ACC now, after all, and still have to play Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and the other big boys. It's a long season.

The Field of 68 here has the same 68 teams I projected last week, though many teams did slide a seed line or two.

As we head into the early and middle portions of December, we will begin the slowest part of the season schedule. I wouldn't expect too much movement in my projected bracket during this stretch. But we're only around a month from the power conferences opening up conference play, and that's when the fun really gets started.

Remember, this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection, and not a measure of where teams are if the season ended now.

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


2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. Virginia
2. Texas

3. North Carolina
3. Louisville

4. Oklahoma
4. Utah

5. Michigan
5. Ohio State
5. Iowa
5. Florida

6. Iowa State
6. West Virginia
6. Stanford

7. Pittsburgh
7. SMU
7. Syracuse
7. Georgetown

8. Dayton
8. Illinois
8. Northern Iowa
8. Oklahoma State

9. Maryland
9. Cincinnati
9. Xavier

10. Miami-Florida
10. Colorado State
10. Michigan State
10. Butler

11. Nebraska
11. Colorado
11. Arkansas

12. Proidence
12. Creighton
12. BYU
12. Tennessee





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Tulsa, NC State, Notre Dame, Rhode Island, Richmond, St. John's, Minnesota, Purdue, Baylor, Kansas State, California, Oregon, Saint Mary's

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Houston, Temple, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, George Washington, UMass, Seton Hall, Indiana, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Green Bay, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona State, Washington, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas A&M

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Boston College, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Davidson, Duquesne, Marquette, Northwestern, Penn State, TCU, Texas Tech, UC-Irvine, Old Dominion, Western Michigan, Evansville, Illinois State, Missouri State, Boise State, Oregon State, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Morning News: Wisconsin Wins, Florida Goes Cold Again, Butler Finishes Strong, Dez Wells Out, And More

Bring on Duke
Wisconsin Wins The Battle 4 Atlantis This was a very competitive first half, with Bo Ryan doing the ever-hated #Autobench, keeping star Frank Kaminsky on the bench for the final 14:28 of the first half. Kaminsky committed just one foul in the second half, which isn't a surprise since he's only committing 2.7 fouls per 40 minutes this season. But regardless, Wisconsin looked much sharper in the second half, again getting a really balanced offensive effort. The Badgers also looked very good defensively here, bottling up Buddy Hield (9 points on 2-for-11 shooting) and forcing 21 turnovers (including 12 steals).

What we've learned about Wisconsin in the Bahamas is that they basically have a seven man starting lineup. There is just no drop-off when they go to Duje Dukan or Bronson Koenig, as each was a hero for a half in this tournament. You can't count on stopping one or two Badgers stars and expecting to beat them. That game coming up against Duke should be awesome.

Oklahoma impressed in a big way in this Tournament, even with the loss here. I'm not sure if they'll get moved back into the Top 25 on Monday, but in my opinion they're one of the 25 best teams in the nation. Their remaining non-conference schedule is pretty soft, but they'll enter Big 12 play as one of the real contenders for the conference title.

Florida Goes Cold Again Florida's shooting has been fairly awful this season. Their eFG% has been 40.6% or worse in four straight games, including a 37.7 eFG% here. To put that in perspective, their eFG% was under 42% just once all of last season, in their Final Four loss to UConn. For the season, their 2P% (44.1%), 3P% (29.5%) and eFG% (44.1%) are all outside the Top 230 in the nation. Billy Donovan has called his team "streaky" with their shooting, but that is always just a euphemism for "bad".

The Gators will get better. Eli Carter is still not fully healthy, and he sat on the bench for most of this one. Their defense is still very strong, and they still should be a fairly good team. But at this point, are they even Kentucky's top challenger in the SEC? It might be Arkansas.

North Carolina has done a good job fixing the rebounding problems that plagued them against Butler. Kennedy Meeks continues to impress as his new, thinner self (18 points and 13 rebounds here). The Tar Heels have interesting games coming up against Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio State. The Iowa game is up next, in Chapel Hill for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Butler Finishes Strong In The Bahamas Butler didn't win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they may end up getting more out of it than any other team. They finish with resume-building wins over North Carolina and Georgetown, with only a loss against a very good and underrated Oklahoma team that I expect to spend most of the season in the Top 25. They're playing very strong defense, they're a menace on the glass, and they have multiple players who can create their own offense. The player I was most impressed with here was Kam Woods (5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals), who did the dirty work in the paint against this physical Georgetown team.

This game, of course, is not a "conference game" despite these teams being in the same conference. But these two teams just might be the top contenders to Villanova in the Big East (obviously Providence and Xavier have to be in that discussion as well), so this was an early chance for these squads to feel each other out. These teams will play next on January 17th, at Georgetown.

Georgetown went 1-2 in the three games in the Bahamas, but I think their fans have to come out of this feeling better about their team. There's no shame in close losses to Butler or Wisconsin, and they got a victory over Florida. They look like a Tournament team, for sure. That said, they could use another quality victory before Big East play. They'll have a great chance on December 10th, when they get Kansas at home.

Dez Wells Out With Fractured Wrist Maryland's best player will miss the next four weeks or so. The big concern for the Terps is going to be offensive playmaking. Dez Wells not only leads the team in points (16.2) and assists (2.6) per game, but he's absolutely dominated their shot taking. He's had a 35.3 shot percentage this year, when nobody else on the team is even above 25%.

The good news, I suppose, is that Maryland is mostly playing cupcakes over the next month. Their home game with Virginia on December 3rd  is the only big game that Wells will miss for certain. The road game at Oklahoma State on December 21st will be a question mark.

Ole Miss Upsets Creighton As I say so often early in the season: This is why you don't overreact to a single game. What makes this result so perplexing for Creighton is that they collected that nice win over Oklahoma without really shooting that well behind the arc, yet here against Mississippi they actually shot really well (13-for-31 behind the arc, along with 4-for-8 on two-point jumpers). But their perimeter defense was just not good. They got sliced and diced by Jarvis Summers (23 points) and Ladarius White (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting). In all, Mississippi ended up with 1.15 PPP.

Creighton's one remaining chance to get a quality win before conference play will come on the road at Nebraska on December 7th, though they've got some other tricky games as well (vs Middle Tennessee, at Tulsa, vs St. Mary's).

Mississippi is now 4-1, with this nice win, but that season-opening loss to Charleston Southern is a resume killer. Besides, one good result isn't particularly good evidence that Ole Miss is a bubble or Tournament quality team anyway. We'll see how they look later today against Cincinnati.

Gonzaga Escapes The Garden St. John's made a late rally in this game. Down by 15 points with 9 minutes left, they actually earned two consecutive possessions in the final minute with their deficit down to just 3 points. But while there were no obviously "blown" referee calls, it felt down the stretch like Gonzaga was getting the 50-50 calls, including a charge on D'Angelo Harrison on the last real Johnnies chance.

The controversial late charging call against D'Angelo Harrison

This is a huge missed opportunity for St. John's, who are likely to be in the vicinity of the bubble this season. They do have their win over Minnesota, and they'll get a chance on the road at Syracuse on December 6th, but realistically they're probably going to need to get to at least 10-8 in Big East play to go the tourney.

Mark Few has to be happy with how balanced the Gonzaga attack was here, even if it wasn't a great overall team performance. Kevin Pangos played the role of distributor, collecting more assists (9) than attempted shots (8). Domantas Sabonis had a big double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) off the bench. The Zags are now 6-0, with road games against Arizona and UCLA still ahead before they start WCC play. The Arizona game is up first, on December 6th.

Kansas Bounces Back Kansas is slowly get the taste out of their mouth from that horrible performance against Kentucky. Thumping an underrated Rhode Island team was impressive, but well below the radar of the media and casual fans. This relatively comfortable win over Tennessee helps also. Next they'll get Michigan State, which will be their real chance to move the needle.

Perry Ellis led the way for Kansas with 24 points and 13 rebounds, but this was also a coming out game for Cliff Alexander, who had a career-high 16 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Steady play from Frank Mason III (4-for-6 shooting, 7 assists, 3 turnovers) also was important.

Tennessee has had two shots at Tournament quality teams so far this season and lost both by double digits, but it's still early. They'll only play Marquette next, but they still have home games against Kansas State and Butler ahead in the next couple of weeks. But the SEC is not looking good this season, so the Vols really don't want to enter conference play without something good on their resume.

Illinois Beats Baylor Baylor had been off to a quick 5-0 start, including a thumping of Memphis, but it never means much until you measure yourself against a Tournament-quality opponent. Illinois shot an ugly 1-for-11 behind the arc in the first half, but looked sharper in the second half (5-for-12) while also shutting down Baylor (37.9 eFG% in the second half, 38.2% for the game). Rayvonte Rice was the best player for either team, finishing with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals.

Baylor's offense has been predicated in a big way this season (as it often has been under Scott Drew) on offensive rebounds. They collected 47.5% of their misses against Memphis, but only 35.9% here against Illinois. When they only get one shot per possession, they don't have the scorers to conduct offense efficiently. And that's going to be a problem against the big front lines in the Big 12. They have a soft remaining non-conference schedule, so they'll enter Big 12 play with a good W/L record but with a lot still to prove.

The Illini are off to a quick 6-0 start, though this is their first win over a team with a pulse. They take a step up in difficulty next, when they go on the road to face Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. A week later they'll face Villanova in Madison Square Garden.

UTEP Upsets Xavier UTEP did an excellent job of avoiding two-point jump shots here. They hit 8-for-20 behind the arc while 17 of their 18 made two-pointers came in the paint. They also earned a 26-to-15 advantage in free throws attempted. CJ Cooper led the way, scoring 22 points with 4-for-7 shooting on threes.

Dee Davis didn't play poorly (12 points and 5 assists), but he isn't yet the explosive offensive creator that Semaj Christon was, or that Tu Holloway or Jordan Crawford was before that. This Xavier team is not going to be relying on a single perimeter creator, but instead on their very talented front line. Trevon Bluiett, in particular, has been impressive. The Musketeers will try to bounce back against Long Beach State, but are going to enter Big East play without a win over a likely NCAA Tournament opponent. If they're going to earn an at-large bid, they'll have to earn it in conference play.

UTEP is now 4-0, though three of the four wins have come by six points or less, and Xavier was easily their toughest opponent so far. Their one chance to earn some national buzz and to really build a Tournament resume will come on December 19th, when Arizona comes to town.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Morning News: Wisconsin/Georgetown, UNC Crushes UCLA, Butler's Shooting Woes, And Florida Struggles

Hopefully you were still conscious enough after this to enjoy some basketball.
Wisconsin And Georgetown Put On A Show This was one of the best games so far this season. It was really hard fought and competitive, and was tight for basically the entire 40 minutes. Even in a loss, Georgetown impressed in a big way. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (29 points on 11-for-18 shooting, including 5-for-6 behind the arc) was the best player on the court for either team. And with this performance coming after the win over Florida, Georgetown is beginning to establish themselves as a serious Big East contender.

"Woo! We won!... Ow."

As for Wisconsin, I think their relatively poor performance here is encouraging. They got basically nothing from their starting lineup in the second half, got an invisible game from star Frank Kaminsky (1-for-8 shooting with 4 rebounds), had their starting backcourt on the bench with foul trouble (Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson played just 39 minutes combined), and committed a shocking number of dumb turnovers (their 23.3 TO% was their worst since March 16th, 2013), and still beat a very good Georgetown team. They showed their depth of scoring options off the bench, particularly Bronson Koenig (14 points on 6-for-10 shooting with 4 assists). So even on a day where just about everything went wrong, they were still a really good and competitive team. They're going to be awfully hard to take down this season.

North Carolina Crushes UCLA The Tar Heels put on a performance here that was night-and-day relative to their debacle against Butler. There was clearly an emphasis on rebounding here, and they did win the rebounding battle. They also forced 13 steals, leading to a gigantic 31-to-6 advantage in fast break points. Marcus Paige led the way with 21 points, 5 assists and 3 steals.

The difference between these two North Carolina performances is why you don't overreact to a single game, particularly in early season tournaments played outside the contiguous 48 states. Which of these two North Carolina performances is closer to the real North Carolina? Maybe their game against Florida will be the tiebreaker.

UCLA unfortunately has to play UAB later today, which means that they'll get nothing useful out of this trip to the Bahamas. They also still have Gonzaga and Kentucky ahead. Beating Kentucky on a neutral court seems unlikely, so the home game at Gonzaga will likely be UCLA's only real chance for a quality non-conference win. The Pac-12 hasn't looked great in the early going this season, so if UCLA fails to do anything in the non-conference they'll likely have to get to 11-7 in conference play just to go Dancing.

Butler's Shooting Woes This was an ugly game for both teams, but particularly for Butler. Butler finished 6-for-33 on jump shots, including 4-for-23 behind the arc, finishing with a 27.1 eFG%. To put that in perspective, that's Butler's worst eFG% in a game since their loss in the 2011 National Title game to UConn. It was also, at the time the game was played, the worst second worst shooting performance this season by any team from one of the six power conferences, ahead of only Kansas's disastrous performance against Kentucky (later last night, Butler's shooting performance managed to also get outdone by Washington State in their 28 point loss to UC-Santa Barbara).

Oklahoma was 2-for-17 behind the arc as well, but they shot 67% on two-pointers by getting the ball into the paint against Butler's undersized front line. Kam Woods is Butler's only real paint defender, and he struggled with foul trouble for much of the game.

I think a lot of people panicked about Oklahoma after that loss to Creighton. But the reality is, you should never draw conclusions about a team after a single game, and it's not like a road game at Creighton is going to be a walk in the park for anybody. The fact is that the Sooners deserve to be in the Big 12 title discussion with Kansas and Texas (and perhaps also Iowa State). And they'll get a chance to really start the hype going if they can knock off Wisconsin later this afternoon.

Butler can't dwell on this loss. If they can get a win later today against Georgetown then this trip to the Bahamas will still end up a big success. Their remaining non-conference schedule is not particularly impressive, but the Big East is getting a lot more media respect than it got last season, so the Bulldogs will get plenty of chances to build their resume in conference play.

Florida Struggles The Gators won here, but it was very ugly. This UAB team, which had looked pretty bad all season long, led for much of the second half, until past the under-4 timeout. Florida ended up winning primarily because a lid got put on UAB's rim in the final minutes. Over the final six minutes they shot 0-for-6 from the field, scoring 2 points on 8 possessions.

The Gators were a little shorthanded here, as Eli Carter rested his injury, but that was it, and they had their full regular rotation on the court for the Georgetown game that they lost. As always, you don't want to overreact to what happens at these early season tournaments, so Florida could still end up a good team, but so far they're playing like a borderline Top 25 team at best.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Morning News: Georgetown Wins A Thriller, Butler Defeats North Carolina, Arizona Wins Ugly, And More

Lookin' good, Chris Obekpa.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody. We've got a great day of games ahead, so hopefully you'll have some time in between courses of food to get in front of the television.

Georgetown Wins A Thriller The story pregame was the health of Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter and whether they would play at all, but both Gators players actually played effective over approximately 30 minutes. The problem, instead, was in the paint, where they had nobody who could physically handle Josh Smith. Chris Walker has been maddeningly ineffective, and didn't even play late in regulation or overtime. It was again the walk-on Jacob Kurtz who had to eat significant minutes for the Gators.

Eli Carter had a chance to win this one in regulation, but was rejected just before the buzzer by a fantastic LJ Peak block. In overtime, the two teams combined to hit seven of the last eight shots from the field, including D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera's clutch game winner.  Smith-Rivera also collected all three of his assists in that overtime period.

Obviously you don't want to draw conclusions about teams or conferences from one point overtime results, but this result also impacts the upcoming schedules for both teams. Georgetown now gets a shot at Wisconsin while Florida is stuck playing a bad UAB team. If Georgetown can somehow pull that upset, they'll move from marginal NCAA Tournament team to Big East title contender in fewer than 48 hours. The Gators, on the other hand, have to take heart from last season's team, which also struggled in non-conference play before pulling things together in SEC play.

Butler Defeats North Carolina How does Butler defeat North Carolina? Well, poor North Carolina shooting (4-for-16 on threes) helped, but the real answer was rebounding. North Carolina was overly aggressive on defense all day and constantly put themselves out of position for weak side rebounds, allowing Butler to collect 29 offensive rebounds for a 52.7 OR%. To put that in perspective, only two Division I teams all of last season managed to bring down 30 or more offensive rebounds against a Division I opponent. The only team to rebound more than 50% of their misses against North Carolina last season was Duke, and they did it at Cameron Indoor.

It's easy to say that this game means that Butler was significantly underrated... except for two things. First of all, we already knew this team was talented. I had them in my most recent bracket projection as a 12 seed. But more importantly, I think this result was more about North Carolina playing poorly than anything else. The Tar Heels need to prove that this performance was a fluke, or that #5 ranking will look really silly later in the season.

Both of these two teams will play their second game later today. Butler will take on Oklahoma while North Carolina will face UCLA.

Arizona Wins Ugly Over San Diego State This is the type of San Diego State game we're going to get used to this season, but this also might be something of a typical Arizona game as well. The Wildcats are a good offensive team, but they lack an explosive go-to scorer, and when the San Diego State defense clamped down they didn't have anywhere to turn. Stanley Johnson led the team with 18 points, but he was 4-for-14 from the field and did most of his damage at the line.

This game degenerated down the stretch. In the final nine minutes, San Diego State committed as many turnovers (3) as made field goals. Before Trey Kell hit his goofy four-point play, the Aztecs had scored a total of three points over the previous 12 possessions.

San Diego State needed this win a lot more than Arizona did. This is almost certainly their last chance for a win over a Top Ten team before Selection Sunday. In a down Mountain West, they're going to need an incredibly gaudy won-loss record to be in the discussion for a 1 or 2 seed on Selection Sunday. The margin of error will be much larger for an Arizona squad that can afford to lose a few Pac-12 games without putting their 1 seed seriously at risk.

Oklahoma Grinds Out A Win Over UCLA Oklahoma won this game despite an odd pairing of statistics. Oklahoma was the jump shot happy team, launching 44 jumpers and hitting only 25% of them. UCLA, in comparison, launched only 28 jump shots and outscored Oklahoma 38-to-20 in the paint. But when Oklahoma got in the lane they got to the line, and they hit their free throws at a higher clip, ending up with a 14 point advantage there. And that was enough to deliver them the win.

This was the first competitive game of the season for either team, so it's a mistake to draw any real conclusions about either team from it. Oklahoma will face Butler next while UCLA will face North Carolina. And, of course, both of these teams will have one additional game to play before leaving the Bahamas. So we'll know a lot more about these two teams in a couple of days.

Cameron Biedscheid To Iona It's been a long road for Cameron Biedscheid. He averaged 6.2 points in 17.4 minutes per game as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2012-13. He then redshirted the 2013-14 season, but decided midway through to transfer to Missouri, expecting to be eligible for the second semester of the 2014-15 season. But before the season started he transferred again, and now he's heading to Iona, where he'll appeal for a waiver to still play at the end of the fall semester. If he does gain that eligibility, Iona will immediately become the heavy favorite in the MAAC. I already had them as the conference favorite in my most recent bracket projection. Even if he isn't allowed to play this season, he'll be a big weapon for the next two seasons for the Gaels.

BYU Loses A Hearbreaker Between their fast tempo, their explosive offense and their poor defense, BYU is a lock to lead the nation in crazy, fun basketball games. In regulation, Tyler Haws managed to get himself a really good look for the win but it just didn't fall. BYU's offense fell apart in overtime, though, committing more turnovers (2) than made field goals (1). A boneheaded turnover by Rapheal Davis allowed BYU to tie the game late, but AJ Hammons hit a hook shot for the win.

Chase Fischer's fluke shooting from the day before (10-for-13 behind the arc) crashed back to Earth here (2-for-11 behind the arc), but Tyler Haws (32 points on 9-for-19 shooting) was the best player on the court for either team. Purdue got a more balanced effort, including a breakout game from freshman Vince Edwards (25 points on 7-for-9 shooting, with 9 rebounds).

BYU lost a pair of heartbreakers in Maui, and they'll leave the tournament with only a useless win over Chaminade. They still have Utah, Stanford and UMass ahead, but their resume is going to be shaky at best heading into conference play. They're going to need a gaudy WCC record to earn an at-large bid. Purdue, on the other hand, really comes out of Maui looking like a Tournament team. With the Big Ten so wide open, though, Purdue could realistically find themselves anywhere between 3rd and 10th in the final conference standings, so their season is going to be difficult to project.

Minnesota Collapses Late The Gophers seemed to have this game in hand. They led by nine points at halftime, and had somewhere between a five and ten point lead for most of the second half. But in the final 12 minutes of the game, Minnesota shot a horrendous 2-for-19 from the field, with six turnovers. St. John's wasn't exactly an offensive juggernaut either, but ever so slowly they pulled ahead in this game. Minnesota didn't just shoot poorly in this game either, by the way. They also allowed St. John's to pick off 15 steals.

Hey, now!

Minnesota is not a team with a huge margin for error this season. They're a bubble team at best, and a win over St. John's could have potentially turned into an RPI Top 50 win. But instead, it's a missed opportunity. They'll play Georgia next, but then will not play another likely RPI Top 100 opponent until conference play. A lack of quality non-conference wins means that the Gophers probably need to get to at least 10-8 in Big Ten play to go Dancing, and that's going to be really difficult for them.

The Johnnies are now 4-0, but this was their first game against a team with a pulse. They'll get a much stiffer opponent next in Gonzaga. A win against the Zags is the type of result that could vastly change the trajectory of their season.

Pittsburgh Smokes Kansas State This game was competitive in the first half. Pitt only led by three points at halftime. In the second half, Pitt had a 73.9 eFG%, compared to a 28.3 eFG% for Kansas State. Things rolled out of control quickly. Kansas State finished the game with an abysmal 34.8 eFG%, their worst shooting performance since December 29th, 2012.

This result doesn't cancel out the Hawaii loss for Pittsburgh, but it helps. They have a very important road game at Indiana on December 12th, because after that they won't face another likely Tournament team until conference play.

Kansas State has been a solid team so far this season, but they're now just 3-3, with a loss to Long Beach State a more important result than the win over Purdue. They'll play some decent teams the rest of non-conference play (Tennessee, Texas A&M and Georgia), but nothing that will really move the needle. They'll need to pick up their big scalps in conference play, and they'll need to get to at least 9-9 in conference play to have a good at-large chance.

Oklahoma State Impresses Oklahoma State came into this game a mystery, having blown out the cupcakes they were supposed to, but having not played a decent team yet. But they whipped a fairly good Tulsa team here, leading by 25 points late before cruising in for a 15 point victory. Le'Bryan Nash led the way with 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting.

Oklahoma State only has one non-conference game against a likely NCAA Tournament team: at home against Maryland on December 21st. The weak schedule is going to mean that the biggest unknown for this team entering conference play will be size and rebounding, a problem in every other Travis Ford season. Can the Cowboys finally handle a front line like Texas? We won't know for a while. But this team is good. Don't sleep on them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Morning News: Villanova Wins A Thriller, Maryland Upsets Iowa St, San Diego St Suffocates Pitt, And More

Chase Fischer hit 9 three-pointers last night... in the first half.
Villanova Wins A Thriller The finish to this one was late, but thrilling. Caris LeVert had scored to put Michigan ahead by a point, and with under 20 seconds to go it was Villanova's JayVaughn Pinkston who drove to the basket and hit a shot. Then, on the other end of the floor, Pinkston had a spectacular block of Zak Irvin to seal the win. As fun as that finish was, it's a good reminder why you don't draw conclusions from close basketball games. While there wasn't an obvious charge on Pinkston's shot or a foul on his block, any ref could have called it, and probably would have called it if the game was in Ann Arbor. It was close on both ends of the court, and the refs just let it play out. But even if the refs had decided to call a foul on that Pinkston block, it was still an incredibly athletic play. Enjoy it below:

Villanova entered the season as the favorite in the Big East, and in Brooklyn the past two days they proved on the court that the hype was justified. They look like the clear best team, and a potential contender for a 1 or 2 seed in March if they can sweep the Big East conference titles. One potentially tricky game coming up will be on the road at La Salle on December 3rd.

Michigan didn't look like a great team after a close win over Oregon and a close loss to Villanova, but they do look like a Top 25 team with a lot of balance, and a lot of different ways they can beat you. It's basically a typical John Beilein team aside from not quite as many strong outside shooters as Beilein has had in the past. But the Big Ten this year is wide open after Wisconsin at the top, and there isn't any good reason why Michigan can't finish as high as second. They still have games against Syracuse, Arizona and SMU before conference play also.

Maryland Upsets Iowa State Maryland's defense deserves a lot of credit here, but Iowa State also just had a horrific shooting day. The Cyclones shot 6-for-26 on threes and 1-for-12 on two-point jumpers. Iowa State finished with a 34.4 eFG%. To put that in perspective, it's their second worst shooting day in the last four seasons, surpassed only slightly by a 34.3 eFG% in their 77-70 loss to Kansas last season.

Maryland again had a balanced scoring attack, led by Dez Wells (14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists). Melo Trimble (11 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) occasionally makes freshman mistakes, but you can see the talent and potential that he has. The Terps are now 5-0 and looking fairly clearly like a Tournament team. The next step is trying to contend near the top of the Big Ten, which is wide open after Wisconsin at the top. They get a huge opportunity at home against Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to really emerge as a top contender to the Badgers.

Iowa State has two non-conference games remaining against likely NCAA Tournament teams, taking on Arkansas at home on December 4th, and playing at Iowa on December 12th. Iowa State is a pretty good team, but I believe they were overrated preseason due to their luck in close games last season, and their split in Kansas City doesn't move the needle there. If they're going to be a contender for first or second place in the Big 12, you'd like to see that level of basketball against Arkansas and Iowa.

San Diego St Suffocates Pittsburgh Jamie Dixon teams are always good offensively, but San Diego State's defense choked the life out of them late last night in Maui. Pitt shot an ugly 9-for-24 on layups and dunks, with San Diego State's 10 blocked shots the primary reason why. San Diego State had a huge 38-to-20 advantage on points in the paint. Pitt's 42.5 eFG% and 0.93 PPP were both season lows. In fact, only twice all of last season did Pitt both shoot and score worse than that in the same game.

San Diego State has a massive opportunity against Arizona in the Maui Invitational title game. The Mountain West is not particularly strong this season, so if the Aztecs are going to earn a 1 or 2 seed in March they need to collect several big wins in non-conference play. They won't face a better team in the regular season than Arizona. This will be their best chance to build their resume.

Pittsburgh will finish out their Maui experience against Kansas State. They have yet to collect a quality win and have a bad loss to Hawaii, so they need a bounce back win. And that's particularly true since they don't play another likely Tournament team until ACC play (a road game at Indiana is the closest).

VCU Bounces Back Coming off a disappointing thumping at the hands of Villanova, VCU took care of business against Oregon. The two teams actually each had the identical number of turnovers here (20), but VCU had a 26-to-10 advantage in points off turnovers, which led to a 36-to-16 advantage in scoring in the paint. That was the difference here. Briante Weber, by the way, really deserves to start getting some All-America buzz. He had 11 points, 10 assists and 4 steals here, to raise his season averages to 11.0 ppg, 6.0 apg, 4.8 rpg and 4.3 spg.

VCU has a tricky couple of games coming up, on the road at Old Dominion and Illinois State. Those are problematic games, because they are very easy to lose, but you don't get any real credit for winning. But if they do survive, they'll have the chance to add to their resume in a big way on December 6th, when they take on Virginia.

Oregon went 0-2 in the Legends Classic, but they arguably come out looking better than they did going in. With all of the off court turmoil, this Oregon team had the potential to really be a disaster. But even though they don't look like a Tournament team, they at least were competitive in both of these games, and should hang around at least somewhere in the vicinity of the bubble for most of the season.

SMU Loses Again This was a game SMU really had to have, and they almost managed to pull it off. Arkansas had a 19 point lead midway through the second half, but a 29-18 run closed it down to eight, and SMU even got within five points a few times down the stretch. And they came that close despite getting almost nothing from star Nic Moore (10 points on 1-for-6 shooting, with 6 assists and 5 turnovers).

SMU will get Markus Kennedy back in time for their next remaining quality opponent (at Michigan, on December 20th), but that will also mark their last chance to earn a quality non-conference win. With a loss there, even if they avoid upsets by the likes of Wyoming and UC-Santa Barbara, it's going to be an uphill battle to earn an at-large bid out of the AAC.

Arkansas came into this game 3-0, but without having proven much. Two wins came over cupcakes, while the third came at home against Wake Forest. After playing another cupcake, they have a pretty tough four game stretch upcoming (vs Iona, at Iowa State, at Clemson, vs Dayton).  A 3-1 record over that stretch would be sufficient to keep them on pace for an at-large bid.

Missouri #Autobenches Themselves One of the biggest mistakes that college basketball coaches make is the #Autobench - automatically keeping anybody important with two fouls on the bench until halftime. It's completely arbitrary, and based on the false idea that possessions near the ends of games are vastly more important than possessions in the middle. Kim Anderson did it to Missouri here, putting several starters on the bench for big chunks of the first half, including star Montaque Gill-Caesar sitting the final 8:58 of the half. And by halftime Purdue had a 25 point lead and the game was over. Thankfully, Gill-Caesar didn't pick up a single foul in the second half, so he was rested and good to go in the final few minutes with Purdue winning by 20+. Of course, the fact that the second half was very even between these two teams means even more frustration for Missouri fans, who have to wonder what could have happened if Kim Anderson had pushed all of his poker chips to the center of the table instead of surrendering the game in the first half.

Purdue fans, of course, witnessed the other side of the #Autobench the day before, when AJ Hammons picked up two fouls in the first 1:04 of the first half, and sat the final 18:56 while Kansas State was able to open up a 15 point halftime lead. Purdue was able to pull back within five points with three minutes left in that one, which made the benching of AJ Hammons even more frustrating.

Purdue will get a chance to make Maui a success today by beating BYU. The Boilermakers are a team that, for now at least, has to be considered a serious at-large bid contender. Missouri, on the other hand, is not. They're now 2-3 overall, with a loss to UMKC and no wins over likely RPI Top 100 opponents. And they're going to get nothing out of Maui, where they only get to play Chaminade today. With a tough remaining non-conference schedule, I'll be surprised if Missouri finishes above .500 this season.

Arizona Escapes Kansas State This game must have been extraordinarily frustrating for Kansas State fans. Their team was basically one or two possessions down for the entire second half, and just could not get over the hump. When they pulled within two points on a Marcus Foster jumper with around 2:30 to go, the Wildcats had three consecutive possessions with a chance to tie or take the lead and failed to score each time. Finally, after neither team had scored for more than two minutes, Stanley Johnson got to the line and hit a pair of free throws to put the game out of reach.

Marcus Foster was spectacular in this game. Despite having Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tracking him for most of the night, he led all scorers with 23 points, including 6-for-9 behind the arc. The concern for the Wildcats, and what is going to keep them from competing near the top of the Big 12 with teams like Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, is the lack of a second scoring option. They are a sound and strong defensive team, like Bruce Weber teams always are, but when Foster isn't scoring they just don't really have a way to put points on the board efficiently.

Kansas State finishes Maui against Pittsburgh, which might actually be their best chance for a win over a Tournament team before conference play starts. They did beat a Purdue team that should end up on the bubble, and they will also take on potential bubble teams Tennessee and Texas A&M, but none of those teams really is a sure thing. As strong as the Big 12 this season, Kansas State doesn't want to enter conference play on the outside of the Field of 68 looking in.

Arizona, meanwhile, will play in the Maui title game that we all wanted, against San Diego State. It should be a great game to watch.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Morning News: San Diego St/BYU Controversy, Villanova Runs Over VCU, Eastern Washington Beats Indiana, And Much More

Believe it or not, Savannah State did not come back to win this game.
San Diego State Wins Controversial Finish In any game that goes two overtimes, it's always the case that both teams had a chance to win, so you don't want to draw too many "this team is better because they won" conclusions. But the crazy end to the first overtime period is where the controversy came from that is going to keep BYU fans angry for a few days. First, down by 3 points, San Diego State's Aqueel Quinn had his three-pointer blocked. He caught the ball with both feet well inside the three-point line and managed to walk behind the three-point line without dribbling and hit a three to tie up the game. Then, BYU decided to go right back to the other side of the floor to score without calling timeout, but Tyler Haws was mugged - repeatedly - by Trey Kell, including getting thrown to the ground and then grabbed again when he tried to get up. But the refs didn't pay attention, and Kyle Collinsworth ended up taking the final shot and missing.

In the end, this is a huge missed opportunity for BYU to build a tourney resume, particularly since they're now stuck playing Chaminade in their second game, and either Missouri or Purdue in their third game. Their only remaining chances to get non-conference wins over teams with a decent chance to make the NCAA Tournament are Utah, Stanford and UMass. The Utah game will be up first, on December 10th.

Only BYU can make San Diego State's defense look mediocre, while also making San Diego State's offense look pretty good. In general, expect more of the ugly, low scoring games from the Aztecs. But this win and a win over Utah are an excellent start to the season. I don't think they're yet a contender for a 1 or 2 seed, though. Their shooting is just too poor so far (26.3 3P%, 44.1 eFG%), and they're going to end losing some games by really ugly scores. The Mountain West just isn't that strong this season, and so they're going to pick up a couple of bad losses without too many opportunities for quality wins.

Villanova Runs Away From VCU VCU is a team that can be streaky in games. Neither their half court offense or half court defense are particularly good, so if their opponents avoid turnovers and prevent fast break opportunities, VCU will get in trouble against any decent team. But at the same time, VCU can start turning teams over on 25-30% of possessions and run over just about any team in the nation. Here? It was the former. Villanova committed only 9 turnovers. Only once in all of last season did VCU force turnovers in fewer than the 14.8% of possessions that they did here. Villanova actually had a 12-2 advantage in fast break points.

This result is a big missed opportunity for VCU's resume, but I don't think it tells us too much about them. When they only get two fast break points in a game, they're probably going to lose. Particularly when they shoot only 2-for-17 on threes. They will get a chance to bounce back tonight, though, taking on Oregon.

It was important for Villanova to get something out of the Legend's Classic, and they now have. It's unclear just how the Big East will be viewed in March. There isn't another obvious Top 25 team in the conference, so if Villanova wants to make a run at a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it will really help to have these quality non-conference scalps on their resume.

Eastern Washington Upsets Indiana Eastern Washington had just lost to an SMU team that had lost to Indiana, so naturally they completed the transitive property circle by beating Indiana here. On one hand, this isn't the huge upset that it might seem. Indiana is down this year, and this is a very strong Eastern Washington team. I think that by March the Indiana win over SMU will be more surprising than the Eastern Washington win over Indiana.

But that said, the way this game was won is odd and should be disconcerting to Indiana. Eastern Washington is a high variance team because they usually chuck a ton of threes and have the ability to get hot (they actually came into this game leading the entire nation in 3PA/FGA ratio). But here? The Eagles only attempted 16 three-pointers, hitting only six. They shot 57% on two-pointers instead, kept the turnovers even, and outrebounded an Indiana team that is small and is likely going to struggle on the glass in Big Ten play. This would have been an easier loss to swallow for Indiana if Eastern Washington had just gone nuts behind the arc but the Hoosiers had outplayed them in the other aspects of the game.

The Hoosiers have an interesting game coming up on December 2nd, at home against Pittsburgh. A win there will suggest that the Eastern Washington loss was a fluke. But a loss will be more evidence that it was actually the upset of SMU that was the fluke.

Sterling Gibbs Scores 40 Whatever LaDontae Henton can do, Sterling Gibbs can do better. Gibbs was impossibly hot in this game, shooting 7-for-9 behind the arc and 13-for-13 at the line. And Seton Hall needed it all, as they only escaped Illinois State by four points here. And this was the title at the Paradise Jam for Seton Hall, but it wasn't exactly a loaded field. Illinois State was easily the best opponent Seton Hall faced.

Michigan Beats Oregon This game was closer than most expected. And Michigan's struggles were primarily on the defensive glass, where they actually entered this game #1 in the nation (a 90.0% defensive rebounding rate). Here, Oregon had 18 offensive rebounds (compared to just 7 for Michigan), which allowed them to score 34 of their 63 points in the paint. Caris LeVert couldn't find his shot all day (3-for-13), but he did take a leadership role and force himself to the line (11-for-13) and he managed to finish with a solid 18 points.

This was the first game for either of these two teams against foes likely to finish in the RPI Top 100. So it's worth keeping an eye on both of these teams tonight, when Michigan takes on Villanova and Oregon takes on VCU, to see whether this result is a fluke or a sign of things to come for each of these teams.

A real concern for Oregon tonight will be Dwayne Benjamin, who suffered what looked like an ankle injury late. Dana Altman is playing an eight man regular rotation this season, and that depth will be tested against #HAVOC, particularly if Benjamin can't go.

Maryland Escapes Hot-Shooting Arizona State Arizona State shot a very impressive 14-for-27 (52%) behind the arc here. Maryland, in comparison, shot only 38% on all jump shots combined (including two-pointers). But Maryland is a big, physical team, while Arizona State isn't. And the Terps dominated the glass (a 41.9 OR% vs a 22.2% OR% for Arizona State) and the paint (42 to 20 point advantaget).

This was a breakout game for freshman Melo Trimble (31 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 4-6 for behind the arc). This victory sets the Terps up for a big opportunity against Iowa State in the final game of the CBE Classic. The Cyclones are a much more physical team than Arizona State, and a much better defensive rebounding squad, and they should also have most of the crowd on their side. So it'll be an uphill battle for the Maryland.

Arizona State will play Alabama next. After that, they have the misfortune that a couple of the teams on their schedule (UNLV and Marquette) are playing well below their normal standards and might not end up as RPI Top 100 opponents. So the last real chances for the Sun Devils to collect quality victories before conference play will come against Texas A&M and Harvard.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Morning News: West Virginia Over UConn, LaDontae Henton's 38, Florida St's Jump Shooting, And Cullen Neal Injured

The newly eligible Danuel House welcomed himself to his new teammates with a bang.

West Virginia Defeats UConn The UConn Huskies were "shorthanded", kind of. Four players were suspended for the game for breaking team rules, but two were unused walk-ons, one was the already-injured Omar Calhoun, and one was the lightly used Rakim Lubin. So the suspensions weren't why they lost - horrible shooting was. The Huskies went 3-for-17 behind the arc, only hit 50% at the line, and ended up throwing in 19 turnovers once they had to force offense more.

Juwan Staten was the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, and this is the first time so far this season that he's really looked like that type of player. His 21 points were a game and season high, and he also tied for the team lead with three assists. And this marks a good win for a West Virginia team that entered this game 4-0 on the season, but without a particularly impressive result. West Virginia has a relatively soft non-conference schedule, so they're going to enter conference play with a very strong W-L record. But they needed a quality win, and now they have one.

This is not a result for UConn fans to panic about. West Virginia will likely finish in the RPI Top 50, so this won't be a "bad" loss. And the Huskies have a chance to bounce right back with a shorthanded Texas team coming to Storrs on Sunday.

LaDontae Henton Goes For 38 Very few people pay attention to college basketball on an NFL Sunday, but LaDontae Henton's performance deserves attention. Henton poured in 38 points on 14-for-19 shooting, including 4-for-8 behind the arc. And he did it despite Notre Dame even breaking out of their usual match-up zone to try to do everything they could to shut Henton down. And on Providence's final offensive possession, it was Henton drawing contact and hitting a couple of free throws to give the Friars the one point victory.

Notre Dame has to be really disappointed to lose this game considering how well they played. Jerian Grant had 20 points and 6 assists, as all five starters scored in double digits. It's certainly not good for their Tournament resume either. But watching this entire game in person, I actually felt more confident after watching it that the Irish were a Tournament quality team. Their lack of bench depth is a problem, of course, but their starting lineup is so strong and balanced. They get a huge chance to bounce back from this loss on December 3rd, when they'll take on Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

This win after the thumping of Florida State finishes off a very strong and successful weekend for Providence hoops. I moved them into my bracket projection over the weekend, and that was even before this victory. They don't need to win that road game at Kentucky coming up, but the key going forward will be not going backward with bad losses.

Florida State's Jump Shooting Fails Them If The Seminoles had a single player capable of hitting a jump shot, they would have beaten UMass. They shot 16% on jump shots for the game, hitting just four shots all game long outside the paint. The starting lineup aside from Xavier Rathan-Mayes shot 3-for-19 from the field. Although I guess the bright spot for the Seminoles has to be that freshmen Rathan-Mayes and Phil Cofer (8 points and 12 rebounds) both had breakout games. So there's hope for the future. But for this season, the Florida State offense is just too disjointed. If you can't hit a shot, the opposition can just pack the paint against you, which is all UMass had to do here.

Cady Lalanne only finished with 14 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks, but he anchored and directed the UMass defense, and the team is clearly so much better when he is on the floor. This is a nice win for them, but this was also an ideal opponent for them. The Minutemen seem to lack the explosive offensive players required to beat Top 25 quality teams. They have a really fascinating week and a half coming up, with a home game against Northeastern followed by a road game at Harvard and a road game at LSU. All three of those games would be fairly good wins for the Minutemen, and all are also very losable.

Cullen Neal Injured Cullen Neal isn't just the coach's son, he's also leading New Mexico with 17.0 points per game. But he's going to be out injured for a while now, though the precise time table isn't known yet. New Mexico had a rough time in Puerto Rico, losing to Texas A&M and Boston College while only beating a bad George Mason team. Throw in an injury to Arthur Edwards as well, and their at-large hopes are already starting to slip away.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Duke Handles Stanford, Wyoming Whips Colorado, Rhode Island "Upsets" Nebraska, And More

Larry Nance, Jr puts Josh Scott on a poster.
New Bracket Projection It's that time of the week. There were three changes to the Field of 68 this week, with Creighton, Providence and Northeastern moving in, and with Kansas State, Richmond and Drexel dropping out.

Duke Handles Stanford Duke's defense impressed in the Barclay's Center here. They only blocked three shots officially, but they redirected at least a dozen others in the paint. Stanford finished only 8-for-25 on layups and dunks, and 40% on two-pointers in total. Paint defense has been the achilles heel for Duke for several years now, and so this was a very encouraging effort. It wasn't just defense for Duke, either. Quinn Cook was 4-for-9 behind the arc to lead the Blue Devils with 18 points.

Justise Winslow is kind of athletic.

It's too early in the season to say with too much confidence which team is the best in the nation. I'd argue for Kentucky, but Duke has to be in that conversation, along with Wisconsin and a few others. The Blue Devils have done nothing to dissuade any of us of the idea that they're a National Championship contender. One of the early season tests between these top teams will come in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, when Duke will head to Madison to face Wisconsin.

Stanford struggled with a lack of depth here, particularly in the paint after Stefan Nastic got into foul trouble. But most teams Stanford faces will not have players like Jahlil Okafor, and so this loss shouldn't be too discouraging for the Cardinal. For the next few weeks they have to take care of games they're supposed to win, before they head on the road the week of Christmas to face BYU and Texas.

Wyoming Whips Colorado This was actually a two point game at halftime. But in the second half, Josh Adams single-handedly outscored the Buffaloes 10-9. Colorado shot a staggering 2-for-20 from the field in the second half. For the game, Colorado was unable to get the ball in the paint, scoring just three layups and dunks (compared to 11 for Wyoming). A big part of that was Larry Nance, Jr, who had a stat-stuffing, 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals and 4 assists. Derek Cooke, Jr had no blocks here, but he also is a big body who protected the paint and redirected shots.

The question for Colorado is how big of an outlier this result is. Their two previous games had been dominations of Drexel and Auburn, neither of whom is particularly good. And it's not like Colorado's offense was great in those games anyway, which they dominated with defense. A key game coming up in a couple of weeks is their road match-up at Georgia.

Wyoming hadn't played any team but a cupcake prior to this one. They've got a couple of cupcakes up next, so their first chance to validate this win will be next Saturday, against a solid New Mexico State team.

Rhode Island "Upsets" Nebraska Rhode Island fans celebrated by storming the court with this win, which you could understand considering the fact that Rhode Island had lost 26 straight games against ranked opponents, going back to December 21st, 1998, when Lamar Odom was on the roster. That said, the Vegas spread was only 1 or 1.5 points, and one could make a good case that Rhode Island actually should have been favored. Nebraska is a weak Top 25 team that (in my opinion) was overrated preseason. Rhode Island, at the same time, is a legitimate at-large bid contender.

I believe this qualifies as the first court-storming of the season.

EC Matthews was the best player on the court for either team, finishing with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Nebraska, on the other hand, got a very underwhelming performance from star Terran Petteway (15 points on 5-for-18 shooting, with 8 turnovers).

Rhode Island has a chance to really start the hype machine by beating Kansas in the Old Spice Classic, but even a loss there followed by a couple of wins in the Consolation Bracket would build on this nice early season win. Nebraska will have plenty of chances to recover from this game as well. Tim Miles has built a solid non-conference schedule. Up next, after a couple of cupcakes, is a road game at Florida State.

Marquette Falls To Nebraska-Omaha Obviously Marquette has brighter days ahead, but this season is going to keep getting worse until Luke Fischer shows up in mid-December. Certainly Marquette shot poorly here (6-for-27 behind the arc), but their defensive effort here was just bad. Nebraska-Omaha poured in 1.26 PPP, featuring 64% two-point shooting and 87% free throw shooting.

Without a lot of scoring talent right now, Marquette has to play good defense to beat good opponents. Their next serious test will be Georgia Tech, in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic. In their second game they'll face either Michigan State or Rider.

Notre Dame Slices Up UMass This UMass defense was coming off strong performances against Manhattan and Boston College, particularly in the paint. But Notre Dame destroyed them here, particularly after Cady Lalanne had to go to the bench with foul trouble in the second half. They shot 65% on two-pointers, led by a dominant Jerian Grant (24 points, including 9-for-10 on two-pointers, with 8 assists).

Notre Dame is 4-0, but this is their first win over a decent team. Their game later today against Providence will be a good chance to validate this performance. UMass will also play later today, against a reeling Florida State team.

Providence Rocks Florida State This was a disaster for Florida State in every facet of the game. They didn't shoot well (4-for-26 on all jump shots), they didn't handle the ball well (15 turnovers to only 6 assists), they were outrebounded (a 30.3 OR% vs a 37.9 OR% for Providence) and they couldn't get a stop (Providence scored 1.27 PPP). That's what it takes to lose by 26 points.

It's unclear why Florida State is off to such a terrible start. The bigs certainly have not advanced the way that was expected, including Kiel Turpin's struggle to stay healthy. And they're at risk of dropping to 1-3 overall if they fall to UMass later today.

This was the first game Providence has played this season against a decent opponent. LaDontae Henton led all scorers with 24 points, but the real story for the Friars early on this season has been Kris Dunn finally becoming effective in his third season in the program. He finished with 15 points and 9 assists here, and is now averaging 7.7 assists per game. The test will be if they can maintain this level of performance against a Notre Dame team that is looking strong in the early going this season.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

W-16 BP68

If there's one thing that I try to stress repeatedly this early in the season, it's not to overreact to individual games. Every March there are some November results that look incredibly bizarre. And so because of that, I'm not going to jerk my bracket projections around after every result.

That's not to say that results from the last week didn't move teams around, of course. In fact, there are three changes to my projected Field of 68. I have Creighton, Providence and Northeastern moving in (Northeastern being the Colonial auto-bid), with Richmond, Kansas State and Drexel dropping out.

But at the same time, I'm not going to panic and drop teams way down the bracket over one or two bad games (I'm looking at you, Florida). We still have 16 weeks until Selection Sunday.

Remember, this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection, and not a measure of where teams are if the season ended now.

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


2. North Carolina
2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. Virginia

3. Texas

4. Oklahoma
4. Louisville
4. Florida
4. Utah

5. Michigan
5. Ohio State
5. Iowa

6. Iowa State
6. Stanford
6. West Virginia

7. Pittsburgh
7. SMU
7. Syracuse
7. Dayton

8. Xavier
8. Cincinnati
8. Georgetown

9. Colorado
9. Illinois
9. Northern Iowa
9. Nebraska

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

11. Miami-Florida
11. Michigan State
11. Tennessee

12. Arkansas
12. Butler
12. Creighton
12. Providence





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Tulsa, Clemson, Notre Dame, Rhode Island, Richmond, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Baylor, Kansas State, California, Oregon, Georgia, Saint Mary's

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Houston, Temple, Florida State, Georgia Tech, NC State, Wake Forest, George Washington, UMass, St. John's, Seton Hall, Northwestern, UC-Irvine, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, Green Bay, Western Michigan, Illinois State, Missouri State, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona State, Washington, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas A&M, San Francisco

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Boston College, Virginia Tech, Duquesne, Saint Louis, Marquette, Penn State, Texas Tech, Delaware, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Boise State, Fresno State, Oregon State, Washington State, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Portland, San Diego

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

Cornell's heartbreaking loss to Penn State last night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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