Early season tournaments provide insight into which teams seem to be formidable and other teams that seem to be a bit weaker than originally thought. I’m only going to mention Duke briefly in this because they are not a weak team. We haven’t seen three of their best players on the court yet and they sit at a 6-1 record currently. Those three missing and a roughed up Grayson Allen have left the Blue Devils looking weaker than expected. Once they are at full strength, they’ll be dangerous. I expect some growing pains, however. As a squad of five on the floor, you grow accustom to how each person plays. There will be pretty plays as well as a fair share of ugly, ugly plays.
Michigan State seems to be waffling on this edge of good and great. Unfortunately, the schedule Sparty has endured since the season began is bringing critics to say they are okay and average. I’m not surprised of their result up to this point. What is surprising is how they haven’t really been in many games in which I thought they’d vie for a win. Tom Izzo has taken responsibility for scheduling, but a lot of it comes down to the players on the court too. Eron Harris doesn’t seem to have stepped up to the level of what is expected of him. I was speaking with my mom recently and she mentioned that Harris is in his senior season. This baffled me because I remember him transitioning from high school to college! My hope is that he owns his leadership role and that translates to a better production on the court, influencing his teammates around him.
Creighton may be the team that has had the best start to this young season. With their 7-foot freshman center, Justin Patton, playing beyond expectations, the Bluejays have dominated teams. Add to that a backcourt that plays fast and flows freely, a fast, unrelenting performance by Creighton is now the expectation whenever they take the floor. I was curious about how Creighton would transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. I predicted that it would fair well with a future NBA pick in Doug McDermott. After he left, how that squad faired would be telling about recruiting. Well, I would say that Creighton has blown expectations out of the water. In each of the first six games they have played this season, the Bluejays have eclipsed 80 points. The only time they didn’t was against a defensive-minded Wisconsin Badger team in which Creighton put up 79 points in a game that had 66 possessions. Creighton will have an incredible resume by the time tournament time comes around and should be vying for a mid-single digit seed.
Every few weeks, I’ll post brief updates on how mid-major teams are faring over the course of the season as they look to make a bid for the NCAA tournament. I haven’t posted about mid-majors since the beginning of the season, but here are a few that have made some noise from the beginning of the season until now.
Apparently not everyone had heard of the rebranded Fort Wayne Mastodons (formerly IPFW Mastodons), but they have arguably one of the biggest upsets of the season to date. In an odd twist, the Indiana Hoosiers took their talents to Fort Wayne, Indiana to broaden their viewership of those that may not make it down to Bloomington for the Indiana Classic. Indiana desired to demonstrate their guile and strength on opponents for decades, paying helpless opponents to visit while onlookers witnessed incredible feats of scoring. IU, once undefeated in their own showcase (not surprising if you schedule teams that barely win games over the course of a season), lost to Fort Wayne. And it was great. Anunoby was sick and the Hoosiers didn’t have the best shooting night, but the resolve of the Mastodons, after being pushed, provided for an exciting early season game and upset of a powerhouse of a college basketball program.
Rhode Island has started this season in a strong fashion, compiling a 5-1 record with their one blemish a 10 point loss to Duke. Their most impressive win came against Cincinnati on November 19th. After trailing most of the game and down 11 points with 18:39 left, Rhode Island clawed their way back and won a hard fought game by 5. Their schedule doesn’t let up with road games at Valparaiso, at Providence, home against Old Dominion, and at Houston. This stretch could be telling how the Rams will fair when Atlantic 10 play begins. I’m hoping the Rams weather this stretch with a 3-1 record at worst and dominate the A-10.
Butler Bulldogs Update:
The Butler Bulldogs were active this past week, participating in an early season tournament again over the Thanksgiving holiday. Andrew Chrabascz was named tournament MVP as he played to his second career double-double against Vanderbilt in the first game on Thanksgiving. In the championship game, the Bulldogs beat Arizona for the first time in program history. The last time the two played was back on March 21, 2001 during the second round of the NCAA tournament. Both teams played during that 2000-2001 season as well. Both teams had some great players. From Arizona: Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas, and Luke Walton. From Butler, Lavall Jordan (currently the head basketball coach for the UW-Milwaukee Panthers), Darnell Archey (record holder for most consecutive free throws made in Division I), Brandon Miller (former Butler Head Coach), and the late Joel Cornette (dunking over IU to beat them in 2001). Since 2001, Butler has made it to an in-season tournament final 9 times. In those finals of early season tournaments, the Bulldogs have won 6 times and lost 3 times. In the last few years, Butler has weathered three coaching changes, but still brings its best effort against the top teams each year.
Listed below are Butler’s results versus non-conference teams ranked in the top 10 since 2012.
2012: W, #9 North Carolina; W, #1 Indiana
2013: L, #5 Oklahoma State; W, #8 Gonzaga
2014: W, #5 North Carolina
2015: W, #9 Purdue
2016: W, #8 Arizona
Someone had asked about “trap games” for the Bulldogs before conference play begins. The upcoming schedule for Butler isn’t a walk in the park. With an away game at Utah this Monday, Butler will have played 6 games in 13 days. That is not an easy way to begin a non-conference schedule, and I expected the Bulldogs to have at least 1 loss by this point going into their game against Utah. I would consider the game at Indiana State a trap game for the Bulldogs on December 7th. Indiana State lost their three games in their early season tournament, but they were all lost in the final possessions of those games. The Sycamores are a tough team to beat, especially when ISU is playing at home against a ranked, in-state opponent. This will be the 129th meeting between Butler and Indiana State. Butler currently holds a 4 game win streak dating back to 2007. I fully expect the Sycamores to be challenging Butler when they play in about a week.
Fastest and Slowest Games of the Week
It’s time for the fun stories to show themselves in this week’s fastest and slowest games of the week!
Fastest Games of the Week
- Utah Valley 114 vs. BYU 101, 96 Possessions – The Citadel was knocked off the top spot for fastest game of the week! It was the first time that BYU has given up this many points in regulation since they gave up 118 points to Arizona in 1974.
- San Diego 96 vs. Bethune-Cookman 91 (3OT), 92 Possessions – The Citadel was knocked off the top spot for fastest game of the week, but it didn’t happen until this game went to triple overtime! Here is the best part, Bethune-Cookman was down 18 at halftime. Each team scored the reciprocal of the first half score (San Diego led 41-23)
- Iowa State 130 vs. The Citadel 63, 91 Possessions – It wasn’t a matter if, but how much Iowa State would score above the 100-point marker. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe Iowa State has the highest point total this season up to now
- Arizona St. 127 vs. The Citadel 110, 91 Possessions – At least The Citadel is consistent. I had to put this game in just to demonstrate the fact that more possessions does not always equal more points. In the game listed above, The Citadel played in a game with 91 possessions, however they only put up 63 points. In this game, they played the same number of possessions, but were able to put up 47 more points. Hopefully this gives ASU confidence when traveling to Kentucky!
Slowest Games of the Week
- Virginia 63 vs. Providence 52, 53 Possessions – Virginia will be tough to beat when it becomes this efficient on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Providence has, to this point, given Virginia all they could handle.
- Virginia 62 vs. Yale 38, 56 Possessions – Tied for the slowest game of the week, Yale struggled to score more than 40 points, scoring only 38, the lowest output for any team this young season.
- Mercer 58 vs. Radford 47, 56 Possessions – Plainly put, this was a very boring game. The halftime score was 27-14, in Mercer’s favor.
I wanted to put a plug in for Virginia and their defense. They haven’t played the most difficult schedule by any means, but what they have done to opponents is incredible. They have held opponents to point totals of 51, 32, 38, 34, 41, and 52.
ACC/Big 10 Challenge
This challenge began in 1999 and was dominated for the first 10 years by the ACC. I use dominated loosely because they have won on numerous occasions 6-5. As this year’s challenge gets underway, I am picking which teams I think will win each matchup (I will be honest since the first two games have already been played yesterday). Teams I predict to win are bolded and italicized.
Monday, November 28th
Florida State vs. Minnesota
Wake Forest vs. Northwestern
Tuesday, November 29th
Pittsburgh vs. Maryland
Georgia Tech vs. Penn State
Syracuse vs. Wisconsin
Notre Dame vs. Iowa
NC State vs. Illinois
Duke vs. Michigan State
Wednesday, November 30th
Louisville vs. Purdue
Virginia Tech vs. Michigan
Miami vs. Rutgers
North Carolina vs. Indiana
Virginia vs. Ohio State
Clemson vs. Nebraska
Overall, I have this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge resulting in a 7-7 tie. As I mentioned earlier, the ACC won the first 10 challenges. Since then, the Big Ten has won 5 times and the 2 have ended in a tie.