2017 – 2018 Season Preview and November Update

It’s a few weeks overdue, but the season is still young.  I won’t edit the 2000 words I had written up.  Unfortunately, I got busy and had to delay the publishing of this write up.  Everything you read below was written before the first game tipped off this season.

It’s so exciting to be previewing college basketball this season!  After a long break from covering the sport, it’s nice to be writing about my favorite sport.  A few events ushered college basketball fans to change the preview of the season because of what has been revealed about a few high-level programs.  I won’t go into much detail in this post, but will refer to those events and the influence it has on a few programs in a later post.

I will continue to share the fastest and slowest games of the week or month, oddities of the game, and trends that are revealed over the course of the season by way of statistical evaluation.  That will be shown through examples of college basketball as a whole, or in smaller sample sizes.

Favorites to Cut Down the Nets

It seems like the usual suspects make this list.

Michigan State – Tom Izzo did not know his forward, Miles Bridges, was returning for a sophomore campaign.  Loading talent with a roster returning from a tournament team last season, Sparty has the make of a team that can make a deep run.  Here’s the catch.  Last season was the first time I can remember where the Spartans were in jeopardy of making it to the NCAA tournament.  They finished surprisingly at 20-15.

Duke – Surprise? HA! Well, actually, yes.  This may come as a surprise because they will not be so star-studded this season.  Of course, with Coach K at the helm, and his first legitimate point guard, Trevon Duval, in three years, excitement is brewing to see how far this team can traverse during the month of March.

Kansas – Set for another run at the top of the Big 12, the Jayhawks look primed for a deep run into the tournament.  If recent history is any tell though, they may have a difficult time making it to the second weekend.

Dark Horses to Challenge Contenders

Minnesota – One of the nice surprises last season was the resurgence of the Golden Gophers.  After a solid non-conference last season (albeit a cakewalk for most of it), Minnesota began the Big 10 conference with a 3-1 record, the only blemish coming to Michigan State in a 1 point overtime loss.  They seemed to fall apart with five straight losses and, halfway through the conference season, were 3-6.  Things seemed to click and they ended the season on a 8-1 record and won their first game against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament.  I think Minnesota is a top 4 Big 10 team this year and can make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

Wichita State – The Shockers bring back everyone that made it to the NCAA tournament last season.  The heavily under-seeded Shockers lost in a Round of 32 match-up against Kentucky.  The transition to the American Athletic Conference already sees the Shockers as the favorite to win the regular season.  If seeded appropriately, this team has potential to be a 2 or 3 seed.

Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish has senior leadership and talent on their roster.  They possess qualities that resemble a team that has the opportunity to make a deep run.  They will have a possible meeting with Wichita State in an early season tournament before the Thanksgiving holiday.  They will also duel with Michigan State in the Big 10/ACC challenge.

Cinderellas

Saint Bonaventure – Picked second to finish behind heavily favored Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Bonnies bring back a core group that lose to Rhode Island in the A-10 Conference last season.  A team that won 20 games will be tough to handle, especially with VCU and Dayton falling off a bit. Remember the name Jaylen Adams.  The Bonnies go as he goes.

Northwestern – The Wildcats bring back a majority of the group that made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.  Aaron Falzon is a nice addition to help with the perimeter shooting.  Northwestern was close to beating Gonzaga.  If they get a favorable draw, they could easily find themselves in the second weekend.

Seton Hall – This team is dangerous.  Their core three, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carrington, will contribute each game with points and invaluable leadership.  Not to mention senior forward, Ismael Sanogo, and sophomore guard, Eron Gordon, this team has the look of one that can surprise people and make a deep run if things are clicking come tournament time.

Players to Watch

Michael Porter Jr. – Most may have not heard his name because this is his freshman season.  He is already projected as the #1 pick in the 2018 draft by numerous analysts.  So what’s the excitement about?  His 6-foot-10 build is something amazing considering how well he can handle the ball.

Bennie Boatwright – Averaged just over 15 points per game during the regular season.  His ability to step out and shoot from 3 point range is just one of tools he possesses as a 6-foot-10 Forward to stretch any opponent defense.

Mike Daum – I wrote about him last year as he looked to help lead South Dakota State back to the tournament.  He averaged just over 25 points per game last season and looks to continue to own a large portion of scoring responsibility this season.  In fact, Daum scored 51 points against the Fort Wayne Mastadons last season, the highest output by an individual last season.  He 25.1 points per game ranked 2nd, behind Marcus Keene’s 30 points per game.  Daum will be fun to watch this year.  Oh, did I mention he’s on pace to finish in the top 5 of the all time NCAA career scoring?  He’s currently ahead of Doug McDermott when comparing where Doug was and Daum is now.

Angel Delgado – Many analysts and fans are comparing Delgado to Caleb Swanigan, a comparison that I think is deserving heading into the season.  Delgado is joined by high-level players Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodreiguez.  With the style this team plays, they will score in bunches and Delgado has a legitimate opportunity each game to produce a double-double.

Kamar Baldwin – It is inevitable that a Butler player shows up on this list (because I watch each game).  Baldwin was impressive in his freshman season for the Bulldogs.  His role changes a bit after the departure of Coach Holtmann and the roster changes from departing seniors.  Just a flavor of what Baldwin is capable of, see the important play he made at the end of the game to seal the win for the Bulldogs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hicCp4CUNIQ

Coaching Changes of Note

Chris Holtmann – Holtmann departed Butler in June earlier this year.  He has a rebuilding project in front of him at Ohio State, taking over the head coaching responsibilities from another former Butler coach, Thad Matta.  I wonder if Butler has been thanked by these other schools…

LaVall Jordan – Jordan departs Wisconsin-Milwaukee after one season.  He inherits a unique situation in that he played and coached at Butler.  This is a team that lost a lot of senior leadership, yet still has great talent with the youth that was recruited.  I’m curious to see how the system he wants to implement applies with the players on the roster.  Change is difficult and it will be telling early on how this team will fare this season.

Archie Miller – Out goes Tom Crean (probably 3 or 4 years too late) and in steps Miller with a fine track record to boast.  Indiana looks like it is going to experience a down year, which is relative because in these years, IU seems to play really well with high caliber teams, and then lose a couple cakewalk games.  Miller will have the Hoosiers in a rhythm eventually though.

Patrick Ewing – John Thompson III’s time at Georgetown is over and in to take over is Ewing.  It’s no question the guy could play, but how well will he be able to coach the Hoyas?  I think going into the season with low expectations will allow for pleasant surprises this season.

Brad Underwood – In a surprising move, Underwood left Oklahoma State after only one year to take over at Illinois, a job in which John Groce had recruited a top-15 class.  Underwood had an odd time in the Big 12 conference, but ended up having a nice season come together.  It will be interesting to see how his season pans out in the Big 10.

Brian Gregory – 13 years as a head coach at Dayton and Georgia Tech helped Gregory land a coaching job at South Florida.  After being fired in 2016, he spent one year being a special assistant to Tom Izzo.

Pat Kelsey – You don’t hear about this too often.  After being lured away to become the coach at Massachusetts, Kelsey went back to Winthrop.  So odd.

Early Season Tournaments and Other Things to Look Forward to

It’s been discussed more frequently in the past few years that for teams in the power conferences to fill a slate of home games, they need to bring in teams that typically have no chance at winning the game once they agree to visit the host school.  That’s why we see match-ups like West Virginia vs. Morgan State, Duke vs. Southern, or Baylor vs. Alcorn State.  The argument from most college basketball fans is that this is not good for the game.  I agree with that argument because those games lack excitement barring the crowd-wowing alley-oop.  As much as we may not like when our team is in a battle throughout the entirety of a game, it makes it that much more memorable.  As far as potentially great games early in the season, we can look no further than the early season tournaments.

Notre Dame vs. Wichita State (Maui Invitational) – I don’t think the Shockers possess as much of the consistency as we are led to believe.  Mike Brey tends to be successful in these scenarios so I’ll go with Notre Dame in this one.

Michigan State vs. North Carolina (PK80) – Well, when you turn 80 years old, you go watch a lot of college basketball as a gift, yeah?  We have the possible match-up of Sparty vs. the TarHeels.  Both teams are equitable on offense, but Sparty has a better defense coming into this season.  I’m going with Michigan State here.

Duke vs. Florida (PK80) – The Florida offense loves to move the ball quickly.  Their high point totals are a product of such movement.  Duke’s challenge will be defense.  If they get in a tough bind or dig too large of deficit for themselves, Florida can pick them off and snag a resume building win.  I’m going with the Gators.

Arizona vs. Villanova – Nova is going to Nova.  Jay Wright has found a groove for what type of player works in his system.  It’s evidence by his domination of the Big East since the conference was realigned.  Oh, and he won a National Championship a couple years ago.  Arizona has all the hype heading into the season, but I feel the negative attention from the FBI probe may be a significant distraction.  I’m going with Villanova in this matchup.

There’s another match-up that I don’t anticipate the teams playing for the tournament championship, but does pose an interesting story line.  As fate would have it, Butler and Ohio State are in the same bracket in the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon.  Chris Holtmann is the current coach at Ohio State and formerly the head coach at Butler.  When he left Butler, he brought along the supporting coaching staff.  That crew would be pitted against the players they coached and recruited to Butler.  It’d be an interesting game because the veterans know the system that Holtmann runs and Holtmann knows the tendencies of his former players.  I doubt either side shares ill will toward the other.

Here is my perspective on what happened now that some time has passed:

It’s a difficult decision to make and one that warrants grace and understanding once a choice has been made.  Of course it’s difficult to swallow when a successful coach departs a school’s team that you have an affinity for.  Criticizing a person’s choice from the sidelines is easy because we aren’t part of the process.  As far as human nature goes, it’s easy to judge another based on their choice.  We can’t control people though, and in a way, that’s a beautiful relief from us.  I’m hopeful both programs are successful with their new changes.  Of course it makes it difficult to root for Ohio State because I’ve never enjoyed watching them play, but knowing Holtmann is on the sideline with the rest of the former Butler coaches makes it ever-so-slightly easier to watch a game of theirs every once in a while.

Top 25 and 5

1.Michigan State

2. Duke

3. Arizona

4. Kansas

5. Duke

6. Wichita State

7. Kentucky

8. Villanova

9. Florida

10. Virginia

11. West Virginia

12. USC

13. North Carolina

14. Cincinnati

15. Northwestern

16. Miami

17. Minnesota

18. UCLA

19. Seton Hall

20. Purdue

21. Louisville

22. Notre Dame

23. Saint Mary’s

24. Gonzaga

25. Alabama

26. Rhode Island

27. Texas A&M

28. Missouri

29. TCU

30. Texas

 

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Bracket Reveal and Projections

We have finally arrived at a favorite time of the year for myself and other college basketball fans.  The bracket has been revealed and now it’s time to get the ink and project the results for the field of 68!  Just as I did last year, I will walk through my predictions of who will win matchups every round.  I will also include possible matchups that would be a lot of fun to watch.  So, are there any sleepers in this field?  Who has the easiest path?  Hopefully this helps you when you sit down to fill out your bracket!  My record predicting each game last year was 40-23 where I incorrectly guessed the entire Final Four and Championship games.  Take my insight with a grain of salt, I guess, but it’s always fun to attempt to predict the unpredictable!

Before listing my decisions for each matchup, I will review some helpful tips when selecting your bracket.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 19 of the 32 champions have been a 1 seed.  I’m not sure how much influence this actually has, but 7 of the last 10 have come from the top seed line.  Of course we love the upsets, it is what makes the tournament exciting and surprising, but a 1 seed has never lost against a 16 seed.  It’s rare for all four 1 seeds to reach the final four though.  It has happened once, in 2008.  On five occasions, 3 number 1 seeds have made it to the final weekend.

Take into account the more recent games (usually the last 8-10 games played).  A team can get better or worse over the course of a season (see IU).  Recency is a factor in helping predict how a team will play in the NCAA tournament.

Pay attention to how many times a coach has been to the tournament and their results.

Here’s something to consider.  Previous winners have had a Kenpom defensive efficiency at or below 90.9.  Only 7 teams possess that going into the tournament.  One of the teams, Georgia Tech, is playing in the NIT.  The other 6 teams are: Virginia, Gonzaga, Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisville.  Historically, teams have a top 3 offensive efficiency.  None of the 6 teams listed have that.  The closest is Gonzaga, which may be inflated.

First Four

Tuesday, March 14th

Game 1: Mount St. Mary’s vs. New Orleans – Mount Saint Mary’s began their season 1-11.  New Orleans nearly cut the Division I sports program about six years ago as a latent response to Hurricane Katrina.  New Orleans has had an incredibly inspiring season, especially coming off a 20 loss season the previous year.  Both teams have a horrendous turnover percentage.  This game will most likely be ugly because of that, with little flow.  New Orleans is a slight favorite and I pick them to move on.

Game 2: Kansas State vs. Wake Forest – This is a curious matchup.  Wake Forest has one of the most efficient offenses in the nation.  Unfortunately, they have an average defense paired with it.  Kansas State has both a good offense and defense.  Unfortunately, I think Kansas State wins this down-to-the-wire game.  I want Wake to win, but Kansas State’s defense helps them win.

Wednesday, March 15th

Game 3: Providence vs. USC – In a random coincidence, we get to experience last year’s round of 64 matchup.  Last year, Providence responded to a late USC basket by scoring a game winner to move on to the round of 32.  USC looked strong earlier in the season and began to play flat during the Pac 12 conference play.  The Trojans did almost pick off UCLA in the Pac 12 tournament, though.  I think the Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock are great players, but they are too heavily relied on for production.  Because of that, I have USC moving on.

Game 4: UC-Davis vs. North Carolina Central – This is a toss up, in my opinion.  It could be foolish to say this, but the experience for NC Central (this is the 2nd time they are in the tournament in the last four years) should help in defeating UC Davis.

West Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Gonzaga vs. South Dakota State – Gonzaga has incredible balance on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.  I expect this game to be relatively easy for the Bulldogs and I pick them to move on to the next round.

8 vs. 9 – Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt – Northwestern makes it to their first tournament.  They have all of the pieces to get their first win too.  I think Northwestern’s story continues for one more game.

5 vs. 12 – Notre Dame vs. Princeton – As much fun as it is to pick a 12 seed to beat a 5 seed, I think Princeton did not get a favorable draw.  I think Notre Dame wins this matchup.  A good portion of the Fighting Irish starters have been to the Elite Eight two years in a row.  Might this be a third trip?

4 vs. 13 – West Virginia vs. Bucknell – West Virginia plays incredible defense.  If they can get Bucknell to maintain their incredible pace in the game, West Virginia should have no problem winning this game.

6 vs. 11- Maryland vs. Xavier – This is one of my first picks for an upset.  Both teams have lost a starter.  If Xavier doesn’t cough up the ball, the Musketeers should be up

3 vs. 14 – Florida State vs. Florida Gulf Coast – Florida Gulf Coast does not have the same personnel that they did when they made their sweet sixteen run.  FSU has length and scoring ability which gives them the win.

7 vs. 10 – Saint Mary’s vs. VCU – Saint Mary’s owns just 2 top-50 wins this season and were gifted a 7 seed.  They lost to UT-Arlington at home, a team I thought would make it to the tournament by winning their conference tournament.  Are we undervaluing Saint Mary’s?  I don’t think VCU can handle Saint Mary’s consistency though in their ability to shoot the ball well.  I’m picking Saint Mary’s in this one.

2 vs. 15 – Arizona vs. North Dakota -Arizona is solid on the offense and defense.  One of my favorite players to watch this year was Lauri Markkanen, a 7-foot freshman that can post up and shoot 3-pointers well.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Gonzaga vs. Northwestern – I don’t think Northwestern has an for Gonzaga’s big man, Karnowski.  Bulldogs move on.

5 vs. 4 – Notre Dame vs. West Virginia – This matchup is tough to pick an outright winner.  West Virginia has great defense and has demonstrated throughout the season that they can hang tough with their opponent.  They cause the most turnovers in the country as well.  In each of their losses, West Virginia has not been defeated by double digits.  Notre Dame leads the country in free throw percentage at nearly an 80% clip.  They also don’t turn the ball over, giving up just under 14% of their possessions to the opposing team.  The key will be turnovers and rebounding.  West Virginia crashes the glass well on offense and struggles to grab defensive rebounds.  Notre Dame is average in both of those areas.  I feel Notre Dame is the slight underdog, but I’m willing to push my luck with the Irish to make it to the Sweet 16.

11 vs. 3 – Xavier vs. Florida State – Xavier may squeak by Maryland by virtue of having experience against tougher opponents, but I think the Musketeers run ends against FSU.  Xavier closed the season going 4-6, with three of their wins against DePaul.  Missing key players will make it difficult to pick X over FSU.  Florida State moves on.

7 vs. 2 – Saint Mary’s vs. Arizona – Saint Mary’s plays beautiful basketball.  They share the ball well, but I think Arizona’s size and ability are at a higher level than Saint Mary’s.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 5 – Gonzaga vs. Notre Dame – I think Gonzaga’s first real test comes against Notre Dame, a team that will be vying for their third straight Elite Eight appearance.  It’s tough to read Gonzaga at this point because of the way their season has played out.  They did challenge themselves in the nonconference.  It’s tough to decide if their numbers are inflated because of their conference.  They are a great basketball team.  They are second in the nation in effective offense field goal percentage and first in the nation in effective defense field goal percentage.  That’s where I think their numbers may be inflated.  I think they beat Notre Dame, but it’s close.

3 vs. 2 – Florida State vs. Arizona – Arizona has been more consistent than Florida State recently and I think that, coupled with ability to play their game will ends FSU’s run. I have the Wildcats moving on.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Gonzaga vs. Arizona – This is a rematch from earlier in the year.  Gonzaga won the first game by single digits and I think the outcome is the same.  Bulldogs move on.

South Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – North Carolina vs. Texas Southern – North Carolina’s size and experience will be able to handle Texas Southern.  Tar Heels movin on.

8 vs. 9 – Arkansas vs. Seton Hall – I think Angel Delgado is just one of the major differences in this game that helps Seton Hall win this game.

5 vs. 12 – Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee – I would have picked Minnesota to win as a 5 seed if they weren’t playing Middle Tennessee.  However, life isn’t fair and they are playing Middle Tennessee.  Blue Raiders pull off the upset and move on.

4 vs. 13 – Butler vs. Winthrop – The Bulldogs don’t possess such extremes as Jekyll and Hyde characteristics, but they do have some bad losses and some of the best wins in the nation this year.  This team can lose in the first round or make it to the Final Four.  I really hope it’s the second option.

6 vs. 11 -Cincinnati vs. Kansas State – Cincinnati can actually score this year with Mick Cronin’s team still playing great defense. I think the Bearcats move on.

3 vs. 14 – UCLA vs. Kent State – As much as UCLA can shoot well, their defense is abysmal.  They seem to be daring other teams to shoot the ball as well as them.  It will hurt them eventually, but not against Kent State.

7 vs. 10 – Dayton vs. Wichita State – Wichita State, for the second year in a row, was underseeded big time.  Wichita State is a 6 point favorite (at the moment) to beat the Flyers.  I’m picking the Shockers.

2 vs. 15 – Kentucky vs. Northern Kentucky – Kentucky recruits future NBA players.  Northern Kentucky does not.  I hope Kentucky loses, but I have them winning.

Round of 32

1 vs. 9 – North Carolina vs. Seton Hall – Not much to really say here. I think the Tar Heels trounce over Seton Hall.

12 vs. 4 – Middle Tennessee vs. Butler – Butler should be able to handle Middle Tennessee on a short schedule.  Chris Holtmann has proved to possess fantastic coaching ability.  I’m curious to see how the transfers and freshman, Kamar Baldwin, handle a tournament atmosphere.  The key for the Bulldogs in this game will be closing the game out, something they struggled to do at the end of the season.

11 vs. 3 – Cincinnati vs. UCLA – I think Cincinnati plays fantastic defense, but UCLA has too many options to run up the score on the Bearcats.  UCLA moves on.

10 vs. 2 – Wichita State vs. Kentucky – I take a huge risk in this game.  The Shockers are good this year.  They are really good.  They have slowly cracked the top 10 in Kenpom’s ratings.  I have Wichita State winning in this surprising round of 32 matchup.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 – North Carolina vs. Butler – This is where Butler needs two consecutive, solid halves of basketball.  If the Bulldogs can do that, they have a great chance of taking down UNC.  I won’t believe it until I see it and I have North Carolina moving on.  The encouraging thing in this game is knowing that UNC lost to Georgia Tech.

3 vs. 10 – UCLA vs. Wichita State – Going out on a whim and deciding this is where UCLA runs into trouble with a fantastic defense.  Wichita State guards the 3 point arc well and even better inside the arc.  That’s why I take the Shockers.

Elite 8

1 vs. 10 – North Carolina vs. Wichita State – UNC wins and moves onto the Final Four.  Wichita State keeps it close until the end, but I think UNC wins.

East Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 -Villanova vs. NC Central – Villanova is too consistent in doing everything well to falter against NC Central.  Count how many shot fakes the Wildcats take – that may be the most interesting stat in the game.

8 vs. 9 – Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech – I think the Badgers take this matchup.  Virginia Tech has a great 3 point shooting team, and that will keep them in this game, but the Badgers have a trustworthy defense that should be able to handle the Hokies.  The concerning number for the Badgers is that they are 4-4 in their last 8 games.  That could spell trouble later on.

5 vs. 12 -Virginia vs. UNC-Wilmington – According to Kenpom, Virginia has the best defense in the land.  However, the Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation coupled with a low turnover percentage.  That bodes well for them to pull off this upset.  I don’t see the upset happening, though, moving the Cavaliers onto the round of 32.

4 vs. 13 – Florida vs. East Tennessee State – East Tennessee State probably has the best player on the court in this game in Tj Cromer.  The one thing keeping me from picking this upset is that ETSU turns the ball over on nearly 20% of their possessions.  If they take care of the ball, don’t be surprised if ETSU keeps dancing their way to the round of 32.

6 vs. 11 – SMU vs. USC – SMU hasn’t lost since January 12th in a 2 point loss to Cincinnati.  Before that, they hadn’t lost since dropping a game to Boise State.  These two teams met earlier this season, but SMU seems to be the team that improved and figured out their identity best.  The concerning thing to note about the Mustangs is that they typically use a 6-man rotation.  Pony up, Mustangs are moving on.

3 vs. 14 – Baylor vs. New Mexico State – Last year, Baylor had to explain how they were outrebounded by Yale (who was the best rebounding team in the nation).  This year, Baylor has actually become even worse in corralling missed opponents’ shots.  This could be another upset, more surprising though than Yale.  I think Baylor holds on and gets to flaunt their neon jersey for another game.

7 vs. 10 – South Carolina vs. Marquette – I think Marquette can do some damage against South Carolina.  They are a dangerous 3 point shooting team.  Their freshman point guard, Markus Howard, leads a dangerous Golden Eagles Squad that is underseeded.  Marquette moves on.

2 vs. 15 – Duke vs. Troy – Hmm…Duke.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Villanova vs. Wisconsin – Villanova begins to run into some issues in this matchup.  Villanova is incredibly efficient on offense as well as defense.  I think Wisconsin puts up a great fight, but ultimately falls to Nova.

5 vs. 13 – Virginia vs. ETSU – I think Virginia has the talent and coaching to get them past ETSU.  I wish had I more to write about for this matchup, but I don’t.

6 vs. 3 – SMU vs. Baylor – Baylor’s struggles rebounding are a large hindrance to them.  I think SMU’s personnel can take on and beat Baylor.  Ponies moving on.

10 vs. 2 – Marquette vs. Duke – This game could be a problem for Duke, mainly because of the high firepower of Marquette from beyond the 3 point line.  Duke has such incredible talent though.  I think the Blue Devils enter into a shooting contest and come out on top.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 5 -Villanova vs. Virginia – This is a rematch from a great game that was played on January 29th where Villanova eeked out a close victory.

6 vs. 2 – SMU vs. Duke – If SMU had more than a 6 man rotation, I would think they would have a strong chance at beating Duke.  Unfortunately, they don’t and I have Duke moving on.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Villanova vs. Duke – What’s better than having the top two teams playing at Madison Square Garden?  I think Duke’s struggles on defense are the end to their run and Villanova moves on.  Keep watching Brunson’s shot fakes!

Midwest Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Kansas vs. UC Davis – Kansas won their 13th regular season championship in a row this year and earned itself a 1 seed for the 6th time during Bill Self’s tenure.  Kansas has made it to the final four just once when being a 1 seed.  They don’t struggle against UC Davis thought.

8 vs. 9 – Miami vs. Michigan State – Michigan State played their way into the tournament, not barely, but not in a convincing way.  The Spartans are young and I think they can make a deep run…in a couple years.  I believe Miami will win this game.

5 vs. 12 – Iowa State vs. Nevada – This is another close game on paper.  Nevada has an outstanding backcourt.  Unfortunately, so does Iowa State.  I believe that the Cyclones move on.

4 vs. 13 – Purdue vs. Vermont – Vermont has some great shooters and play makers.  No one on the roster is taller than 6’8″.  Had the Catamounts had a different draw, I may have been higher on them to win a game, but they drew a team that can make the sweet sixteen.  Boilermakers role and Swanigan has himself a game!

6 vs. 11 – Creighton vs. Rhode Island – This is a complex matchup.  Creighton lost their star point guard.  However, that hasn’t stopped the Bluejays from shooting the ball early in the shot clock.  It’s no secret that Creighton likes to run.  Their rebounding is average to abysmal however.  Rhode Island has found itself producing at a high level in the last few weeks.  They play sound defense and they are beginning to look like the team I thought they would all season.  I think the Rams have a great chance to win this matchup.  I’m taking Rhode Island.

3 vs. 14 – Oregon vs. Iona – The Gaels of Iona like to run and that is not a good formula when playing Oregon.  There will be many highlights in this game, but highlights don’t equate to winning.  The Ducks move on.

7 vs. 10 – Michigan vs. Oklahoma State – This game is a coin flip.  Michigan has been on a tear as of recent and that’s the encouragement I needed to have the Wolverines move on.

2 vs. 15 – Louisville vs. Jacksonville State – A Jacksonville State team that is prone to a large amount of turnovers is exactly what Louisville needs to demonstrate superiority in this game.  Louisville moves on.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Kansas vs. Miami – Kansas has struggled in the tournament and I really wish I could understand why.  I think Miami has the ability to hang with Kansas and win.

5 vs. 4 – Iowa State vs. Purdue – Iowa State likes to push.  Purdue kind of likes to push.  I think this matchup is a slight edge to the Boilermakers.  Purdue moves on.

11 vs. 3 – Rhode Island vs. Oregon – Oregon lost a key piece in their rotation that really hurts them.  Their best nonconference win was Valparaiso.  I think Rhode Island is playing like a top 25 team at the right time.  I have Rhode Island moving on.

7 vs. 2 – Michigan vs. Louisville – It’s so hard to pick against Michigan right now, but I think Louisville’s defense is too tough to overcome.  Cardinals are moving on.

Sweet 16

8 vs. 4 – Miami vs. Purdue – I think this is a very close game, but the Boilermakers size and shot making wins it for them.

11 vs. 2 – Rhode Island vs. Louisville – Rhode Island runs into a brick wall and loses to a very disciplined Louisville team.

Elite 8

4 vs. 2 – Purdue vs. Louisville – Purdue won’t be able to handle Louisville’s defense and the Cardinals move on.

Final Four

1 vs. 1 – Villanova vs. Gonzaga – I think both teams play great basketball on both defense and offense.  Gonzaga’s size gives them an advantage and they knock out the reigning national champs.

1 vs. 2 – UNC vs. Louisville – These two teams played only once during the season and UNC won by 9 at home.  I think Louisville outplays UNC and moves on to the National Championship.

Championship

1 vs. 2 Gonzaga vs. Louisville – Gonzaga may actually be for real and their offensive efficiency helps them outscore Louisville!

After looking at this post briefly, I have no idea how I ended up with three 1 seeds in the Final Four.  I don’t like that at all.  Truthfully, I don’t think that will happen, but crazier things have happened!  Happy bracketing and enjoy the NCAA Tournament!

End of the Season – Conference Tournaments and Butler Updates

As we greet this Monday morning, each Division I men’s basketball team has wrapped up their regular season.  With each team seeded in their conference tournament, upsets will surely ensue.  This past week, North Carolina Central, the favorite to win their conference tournament, concluded their season with a loss to North Carolina A&T, a team that had not beaten a division I opponent all season.  As I’ve mentioned before, conference tournaments are more exciting than the NCAA tournament due to the unforeseen upsets.  The upset can remove a top seed that was destined to make the NCAA tournament and go toe-to-toe with a more recognized brand name in the college basketball world.  It’s an exciting month for college basketball, and it’s just getting started.  A few teams have even punched their ticket into the NCAA tournament already!

At this point, Jacksonville State, Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State, and Winthrop have all won the auto-bid to the NCAA tournament.  Today, we will see who joins the aforementioned teams from the Colonial, MAAC, and Southern conferences.  In the Colonial matchup, the top seed UNC-Wilmington plays against the 2-seed College of Charleston.

In the MAAC, Monmouth suffered an eerily, disappointing result similar to last year.  As the top seed, they lost to Siena, the host site for their tournament, in the semifinals.  Siena will play Iona for a chance to represent the MAAC in the NCAA tournament this year.

The Southern Conference will see top seed UNC-Greensboro take on 3-seed East Tenneessee State.  This game will be competitive!  UNC-Greensboro owns bragging rights for sweeping ETSU during the regular season, however, the Spartans won those matchups by 4 and 6 points.

Butler Update

The Bulldogs finished their season with a loss at home to Seton Hall.  The Pirates look to be in the mix for making the tournament this year, potentially being part of seven teams from the Big East to be invited to the NCAA tournament.  It’s unusual for Butler to lose games where they go on scoring runs of 15-0 and 10-0, yet Seton Hall kept the game close and eventually Desi Rodriquez took over, making difficult shots to put the Pirates in a position to pull off a great upset.

butler-vs-seton-hall
Butler and Seton Hall players shake hands prior to their afternoon tip-off on Saturday, March 4th.  Seton Hall beat Butler 70-64. (Photo Credit: me)
For Butler going forward, quick starts to games will be their friend.  If the Bulldogs can find good, efficient shots early in a game, it will force the opponent to adjust their defense.  The ever-evolving adjustments during a game requires the mental capacity to identify and communicate, something people take for granted.

Before the season, Butler was picked to finish sixth in the Big East.  The Bulldogs, used to embodying the role of underdog, played their way to second place at the conclusion of the regular season.  A lot of the success the team saw during the season came from transfers and current players meshing well and humbling themselves, placing the importance of the team before the individual self.  The result was arguably one of the best seasons a Butler basketball team has put together.  It’s always difficult to watch seniors talk to the crowd on Senior Day because they voice how special it’s been to play at Butler.

butler-senior-day-jpg-exporting
Butler seniors are joined by their families and significant others as they address the crowd on Senior Day. (Photo credit: me)
I enjoy watching each player because they possess a unique skill set that meshes well.  Beyond their ability to play collegiate basketball at a high level, each of the seniors seem like great guys.  They are well spoken, reflective, and driven.

Moving forward, the Bulldogs will play the winner of the 7/10 matchup between 7-seed Xavier and 10-seed DePaul.  Xavier is reeling as of late and are at risk of losing an invitation to the NCAA tournament.  I think Xavier beats DePaul in a game closer than they would like.  That would pit them against Butler on Thursday, March 9th at 7pm.  Butler is still looking for their first win in the Big East tournament since joining the conference in 2013.

For me, it will be reassuring to see the Bulldogs make it to the Big East final, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  It’s important to focus on the next game.  Good luck to all Big East teams competing at Madison Square Garden!

Selection Sunday Team Seeding Predictions

As we sit just a week and a half away from teams picked to participate in the NCAA tournament, I wanted to share where I thought teams currently sit in their seeding.  That means, if the season ended today, this is where I think teams would be seeded.  Naturally, as teams complete the regular season and participate in their respective conference tournaments, seeding will change.  Expect another update this Sunday at the earliest.

Seed update as of 3/2/17:

The 1’s: Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga

The 2’s: Oregon, Louisville, Baylor, Kentucky

The 3’s: Florida, Butler, Arizona, UCLA

The 4’s: Florida State, Purdue, Duke, West Virginia

The 5’s: Virginia, Notre Dame, SMU, Cincinnati

The 6’s: St. Mary’s, Minnesota, Creighton, Wisconsin

The 7’s: Iowa State, Dayton, South Carolina, Oklahoma State

The 8’s: Miami (FL), Michigan, Maryland, Virginia Tech

The 9’s: VCU, Northwestern, Arkansas, Michigan State

The 10’s: USC, Wichita State, Xavier,  Seton Hall

The 11’s: Providence, Marquette, Middle Tennessee, Syracuse, California, Illinois State

The 12’s: Nevada, Vanderbilt, NC-Wilmington, Vermont

The 13’s: Valparaiso, Princeton, UT-Arlington, Monmouth

The 14’s: Akron, Belmont, East Tennessee State, Bucknell

The 15’s: Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast, CSU Bakersfield, South Dakota

The 16’s: North Carolina, Central, North Dakota, Texas Southern, New Orleans, Mount St. Mary’s, UC Irvine

Conference Update #2

As we shift into the latter portion of conference games, I want to take a moment to view the landscape of a few conferences that have seeding implications for impending conference tournaments.  Before I do this, I want to speak to one of the more interesting Butler basketball games I have attended.  Yesterday evening, Butler hosted St. John’s in what I’d consider to be a more bizarre college basketball game.

I was curious about how long Butler games typically last, so I decided to time this game from tipoff to the final whistle.  In all, it took 2 hours, 14 minutes to complete the game.  Tipoff didn’t occur until about 8:45pm for what had been a scheduled 8:30pm tip.  Butler won the game 110-86, giving the Bulldogs their first Big East game scoring 1oo or more points in a game.  A decent portion of those points were scored from the charity stripe.  In what seemed to be the longest regulation game this year, a total of 53 fouls were called (included 3 technical fouls) and 77 free throw attempts were taken.  Butler was 29-of-40 from the free throw line and St. John’s 27-of-37.

The numbers above aren’t breathtaking, but if you watched the game, there was little flow for a majority of the second half.  Some of the loudest cheers from the crowd were from put-back dunks by Tyler Wideman.  There was one play which fresman, Kamar Baldwin, drove hard to the basket, went up for a contested dunk.  The ball bounced up off the rim and Wideman followed up the missed dunk by Baldwin with a put-back dunk of his own.  Unfortunately, those points were waived off because Baldwin had been fouled on his shot attempt.

Fans naturally headed towards the exit earlier than usual because of the late start time.  Those that stayed were treated with one of the loudest cheers I’ve heard in Hinkle with it filled halfway.  That estimation may be generous – I don’t know, I was tired and ready to fall asleep.  Walk-on, Steven Bennett, (who was recently given a scholarship in his final season suiting up in a Butler jersey) received chants from the student section, lovingly called The Dawg Pound.  “We want Bennett” and, “Steven, Steven…” echoed among the rafters from the under-4 timeout until the announcer called, “One minute to go”.  As Bennett rose from his seat on the bench, took his warm-ups off and jogged to the scorer’s table, loud cheers from fans all throughout the arena continued to rain down.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.  Butler had possession of the ball with about a 7 second difference between the shot and game clock.  Bennett received a pass just beyond the right elbow, dribbled, picked up his dribble and frantically looked to pass the ball.  The man defending him, backed away  and gave Bennett enough room to take a jumper from the elbow.  As the ball fell through the hoop and was caught the net, you would have thought Bennett had beaten the best team in the nation on a last second shot.  It was fun seeing him shed a smile and his teammates support him in a positive manner.  He had scored his first basket of the season.

With other games played in the Big East last night, there was some shifting in conference standings.  Xavier lost to Providence and Creighton lost to Seton Hall.  With Butler’s win, the Bulldogs have sole possession of second place, 3 games behind Villanova. Creighton and Xavier are tied at 8-5 in the conference with the tie-breaker going to Creighton.

Last night, Butler played to win rather than not to lose.  There was a game-plan that the Bulldogs executed well.  I think they played too fast at times, but St. John’s seemed to find a way to play out of control, a style which they have identified with often this season.  In the recent stretch when the Bulldogs lost 3 of 4 games, I became concerned with what Butler’s identity was as a whole team.  So often through the 2000’s and early 2010’s, Butler squads were defined by their stubborn defense and high resiliency, not letting them beat themselves.  With the new rule changes on foul calls, Butler’s perimeter defense has declined because of how tightly calls are made around the 3-point arc.

I think the realistic perspective for Butler in their final four regular season games is that they achieve a 2-2 record.  They host DePaul this Sunday, travel to Xavier and Villanova, and conclude with a home game against Seton Hall.  It would be a huge confidence boost to win one of the away games, but Butler’s recent record playing at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati is not great.  I arbitrarily picked the 2013-2014 season as the furthest I would go for research for the sake of recency.  I think the further back you go when investigating trends in head-to-head matchups, the less weight games have at painting an expectation of what to expect when the teams play soon.  In the last three games the Bulldogs have played at Xavier, they have lost by 11 (2014), 17 (2015), and 19 points (2016).  In their past 8 matchups, including home and away games, and the Big East Tournament, Butler owns just 2 wins.  The ebb and flow in college basketball trends is never ending, which gives continual hope that some day, Butler will put together a long stretch of success against Xavier.  Will this be the beginning of that new winning trend?  I can only be positive and hope it is so.

Big Ten

The Big Ten Conference is in a down year.  The bright spots are from Wisconsin, Maryland, Purdue, and Northwestern.  Northwestern gets a nod at being a bright spot because I think it has done enough to solidify their first invitation to the NCAA tournament.  They currently sit in 4th with an 8-5 conference record.

Maryland has been an interesting team to observe over the season because they didn’t play a comparably tough non-conference schedule.  The teams they did beat that garner more attention because of brand name of the school were home games, games Maryland should win.  I still don’t think the Terrapins are a team that can really make noise in March.  They have a top 50 offense and top 50 defense, but I don’t see them winning after the Round of 64.  If they win out the rest of the regular season and play decently in the Big Ten Tournament, my opinion will change, but for now, I don’t think Maryland is going to do much in the tournament.

At the moment, I think Caleb Swanigan is the favorite to win player of the year.  His consistency in scoring and rebounding has been a key in the Boilermaker’s success.  Moving forward, the concerns for Purdue that need to be addressed are their ability in reducing the amount of turnovers each game.  If they can take care of the ball, they are a good pick to take into the second weekend of the tournament (depending on how they matchup).  One thing to note is in each of their five losses, they have never lost by double-digits.

ACC

I don’t know what to make of this year’s ACC.  The body of work as a conference, as a whole, has been je ne sais pas (French for “I don’t know what”.  Yes, the teams that currently sit in the top half are the ones I expected to be there, but there have been glaring blips, in my opinion, over the course of the season.  To be fair, the beginning of the season is a bit more volatile when it comes to upsets.

Duke is steadily developing into the team that I thought it could be, but I still think they have underperformed compared to the expectation placed upon them at the beginning of the season.  Their win against Virginia was important for them moving forward.  In the past four seasons, Duke is the only ACC team with a winning record against Virginia – a statistic that is complimentary to both teams.

I think the most surprising team has been Georgia Tech.  Their offense isn’t horrendous, but it doesn’t work well.  They have an incredibly efficient defense which is what has helped them to a 6-7 conference record, boasting wins over North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Florida State.

Mid-American (East)

I wanted to touch on the East portion of the Mid-American Conference (there is a West half as well) because of how close first and last are.  The current standings are as follows with wins listed as the first number and losses as the second number:

1.Ball State   7-6

2.Central Michigan 6-7

3.Northern Illinois  6-7

4.Toledo 6-7

5.Western Michigan 6-7

6.Eastern Michigan 5-8

I don’t know the odds that 6 teams would be within 2 games of each other after playing 13 conference games, but one thing seems to be consistent with this group of teams – they are average.  Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene has had an exceptional season to this point though.  He recently broke Dan Majerle’s scoring record at Central Michigan for the most points scored in a single season.  Keene currently sits at 775 points.  He has scored at least 40 points in a game 5 times.  His highest point total came against Miami – Ohio last month where he poured in 50 points.  The two teams faced each other again less than a week ago on February 11th where Miami-Ohio’s game plan was most likely to keep Keene from shooting the ball.  He took 6 fewer shots than in that game and was held to a season low of 12 points.  I wonder how often the same player has their season high and low for points scored in a game.  Keene currently sits in a tie for 91st overall for points scored in a single season since the 1992-1993 season.

Missouri Valley

Since the last update I gave, Illinois State was leading with an unscathed conference record with Wichita State owing its one loss to Illinois State.  The teams are currently tied for first at 14-1.  Here is what I find most fascinating about this conference to this point in the year that hasn’t received attention at all: Northern Iowa, entered conference play with a disappointing  non-conference record of 5-6.  They proceeded to lose their first five conference games, dropping them to 0-5.  Since their abysmal start to conference play, the Panthers have won 9 of their last 10 games, slotting them into third place at the moment.

 

Anticipate the next few posts to be related to the NCAA tournament, specifically the make up of a potential champion and identifying potential Cinderella’s in the tournament.

Conference Update #1

I did not plan on such a large gap between posts about the beginning of conference play and the first update of how teams are faring against their conference foes.  For that, I apologize!  As conference play progresses, I will give updates at random times throughout the rest of the season (although I’d like to have more consistency in updating conference play, the only promise I can make is that updates will be random).  With some teams already halfway through their conference schedules, there is a lot to touch on.

Nearly all coaches comments on their perspective of conference play falls on a spectrum of similarity.  Descriptions vary slightly from conference play described as difficult, a bear, an animal, or a beast.

The casual basketball fan may or may not know how difficult it really is to win on the road. It’s easier to win at home verses a top 30 team than on the road at a top 70 team.  Understanding this is necessary in trying to comprehend outcomes within conferences play.  Elite teams tend to lose a few times and teams recessed in the basement of their league pull off some surprising wins.  And so “the norm” of college basketball becomes the crazy or unexpected. And college basketball fans like that – or so it seems.

We have been treated to some fascinating trends up to this point of the season. In the Missouri Valley, Northern Iowa, a team that has garnered attention in recent years for their postseason play, started 0-5 in the conference!  In the ACC, Georgia Tech, who was projected to lose all but 1 or 2 games, took down North Carolina by double digits. A couple weeks later, the Yellow Jackets dismantled a touted Florida State squad, a team that had just completed a 6 game stretch against ranked teams at 5-1.  As I type this, Georgia Tech handed Notre Dame a loss.  Show of hands that had Notre Dame winning their first 5 ACC games?  Duke currently sits in 9th in the ACC and is projected by Kenpom.com to finish 9-9 in the ACC.  I figured Duke would struggle once the injured players were transitioning into the playing rotation, but I didn’t think Duke would look so…average.

Surprises have come elsewhere in other conferences.  Butler was picked to finish 6th in the Big East and currently holds the tiebreaker over Villanova for 1st.  Creighton sustained a significant blow in losing the soul of their team, Mo Watson.  Creighton seems to be searching for a new identity.  They have enough time to adjust the pieces, but they have to figure it out fast because there are a couple teams jumping at the bit to leap them in the standings.  Marquette has quietly made noise (if such a thing could happen) in the conference.  Last week, the Golden Eagles took down both Creighton and Villanova.  Their 16-4 scoring advantage to finish the game against Villanova created one of the most exciting games of the year to this point in the season.

Arizona has quietly run the table in the Pac-12 up to now, placing them at the top of their conference.  Oregon joins them as the other undefeated team in the Pac-12, a fortuitous last second 3-pointer at home helped the Ducks beat UCLA.  The Bruins have an outstanding offense.  I haven’t watched many of their games, but I have seen an offensive firepower that is scary good.  Unfortunately, I don’t see UCLA winning the championship because their defense is average at best.

Maryland currently sits atop the Big Ten and Northwestern in third.  The bigger surprise here, in my opinion, is Maryland.  A lot of that lies in what the Indiana Hoosiers have not done, playing to a 4-4 record thus far in the conference.  I think Minnesota is a lost cause at this point in the season.  Of all the teams in the NCAA, I think I’ve seen the Golden Gophers play most behind watching the Butler Bulldogs play.  Minnesota is a good team, but they will have to win out the rest of the season and make a deep Big Ten run to make the tournament in my opinion.  As of right now, I don’t think Indiana makes the tournament with the recent way they have been playing.  Tom Crean needs to right that ship fast.

In the mid-major conferences, leagues that are likely only to send one team to the NCAA tournament, some teams are facing challenges by opponents that some weren’t expecting much resistance.

In the Southern Conference, I figured Chattanooga would be the dominant team.  To be fair, they are in second place.  Yet they share second with both Furman and East Tennessee State.  All three of those teams sit a 6-2 in the conference standings with UNC Greensboro at 7-2. In fact, ETSU is the current favorite to win the regular season.  It will be fun to observe how this conference shakes out prior to the conference tournament beginning.

It’s a similar story in the Patriot League where Bucknell sits in first at 8-1, but close behind are three teams tied for second at 6-3.  Of the teams tied for second (Lehigh, Navy, and Boston), I think Lehigh has the greatest chance at taking Bucknell’s spot in the NCAA tournament this year.

Butler Update:

It has been some time since I have provided an update on Butler.  The Bulldogs currently sit atop the Big East standings, tied with Villanova.  They are 7-2 in the conference and 18-3 overall.  To this point in the season, I think it is fair to say that the Bulldogs have overachieved.  After losing their first league game at St. John’s, Butler has been Butler – they have found ways to win.  They overcame what seemed like insurmountable deficits to Xavier (9 points), Marquette (18 points), and DePaul (20 points).  To be fair, the Xavier deficit turned around quickly, but it could have become ugly.  I’m not sure how to explain the Marquette game.  The Golden Eagles are so talented at spreading the floor and their 3-point shooting was incredible.  Butler got lucky winning that one.  If anything, I think the DePaul game represents the Butler season and the title would be a famous line from one of my favorite movies, That Thing You Do.  In one scene of the movie, the rhythm guitarist turns to the drummer and says, “How did we get here?”  I think you could say that about Butler for a number of reasons.

The reality going into the season was that the Bulldogs lost two impactful players in Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham.  Added to that loss was the addition of seven new players to the roster.  Kethan Savage and Avery Woodson are transfers as is Tyler Lewis, however, Lewis has a year under his belt playing in the Butler system.  Sean McDermott is a redshirt freshman with Joey Brunk, Henry Baddley, and Kamar Baldwin playing as true freshman.  Coach Chris Holtmann has admitted he did not know what to expect with this group of players, and sometimes, not having expectations is the best way to approach things.

The Bulldogs have beaten Northwestern, Arizona, Utah, Indiana (when it was decent), Cincinnati, Villanova, Xavier, and Marquette (a team that should be considered for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament).  The Bulldogs are a NCAA best 14-1 against the top 100 RPI.  They are currently 5-0 against conference leading teams (Vermont, Bucknell, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Villanova).

It’s easy for me to sit at a laptop and say “Of course this is what Butler needs to do to improve”.  If for some reason a Butler player or coach were to read this, they should know I am incredibly proud of their body of work and how they carry themselves.  I’m not able to play the game like them, and I’m thankful I get to watch a team be so successful and compete at a high level.

Once Martin breaks through his shooting slump and the last few pieces are put together, these Dawgs will be dangerous.  It’s pretty goofy to me that in such an odd season for the Dawgs, some amateur bracketologists have Butler as high as a 1 seed.  At the moment, I don’t see Butler having higher than a 3 seed, which typing seems weird because I’ve been in the frame of mind that Butler historically doesn’t deserve higher than 7 seed.  It will be fun to see what the Bulldogs do through to the end of the regular season.  All they have to do is focus on what they can improve on day-to-day and continue being Butler.  It usually works out for them in the end.

Expect another post at some point this week!  I’m planning to go see IUPUI play against North Dakota State on February 1st.  NDSU is currently in first place in the Summit League.  Until next time, I hope everyone continues to enjoy the beautiful game!

 

Conference Season Begins

As teams close out the first part of their season and prepare for conference play in their respective conferences, I share who my favorites are to win each conference and who can expect to challenge for the top spot.

America East

The Vermont Catamounts are quietly putting together a solid campaign.  The Albany Great Danes are the most likely to push Vermont and end up stealing their spot in the tournament come March.

American Athletic

The AAC has been disappointing this year and that’s an understatement. The only threat to make noise in the tournament is a tough Cincinatti team. Most other teams in the conference fall into the middle to low tier when comparing them to other major conferences. The biggest challenger to the Bearcats is SMU. After having one of the best records and not going to the tournament due to serving NCAA violations, SMU can be the second best team to make the tournament.

Atlantic 10

This conference is always so interesting as it can produce a wide range of tournament berths from year to year. The Dayton Flyers are my favorite, but it will be a close race to the top with the likes of Rhode Island, VCU, and even Davidson. Dark horses to challenge the top contenders are St. Bonaventure and La Salle. My top 6 is any variation from these teams, but I expect Dayton and Rhode Island to vie for the top spot.

ACC

Oh the ACC…I honestly believe there is a better chance for a 4-way tie for first than an outright winner.  Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and North Carolina, I think, end up in a tie for first place at the conclusion of conference play.  I think Duke has the better players out of those four teams which would give them edge, if they figure out how to play together.  Since introducing the three stellar freshman to the floor, Duke has struggled somewhat.  Grayson Allen is a major distraction to the team and I think has a negative effect as Duke transitions into conference play.  His actions and how he carries himself seem more isolating than anything.  I believe the ACC has the potential to send 8 or 9 teams to the NCAA tournament with the final conference standings projected as follows:

  1. Duke
  2. North Carolina
  3. Virginia
  4. Louisville
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Clemson
  7. Florida State
  8. Virginia Tech
  9. Miami FL
  10. Syracuse
  11. Wake Forest
  12. Pittsburgh
  13. NC State
  14. Georgia Tech
  15. Boston College

Atlantic Sun

I have Florida Gulf Coast is the favorite to win this one-bid league.  I don’t see any team challenging FGCU for the bid to the NCAA tournament unless a major upset occurs in the conference tournament.

Big 12

This is a very tough choice to make, mainly because I don’t want to pick against history. Kansas has won the regular season title 12 straight years.  I’d love to pick Kansas to win because they are so consistent during the regular season. They will have a strong challenge from West Virginia.  The Mountaineers are slightly more efficient in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.  I’m excited to watch their matchups when they play each other.  Baylor has a legitimate chance to make some noise based on their body of work early in the season.  I don’t foresee other teams in this conference finishing in the top 3, but I do think the Big 12 sends at least 5 or 6 teams to the tournament.

Big East

The Villanova Wildcats are the favorite to win the Big East this year. It won’t come easy due to the upper half of the conference playing very well. Creighton has been the dark horse to this point, with an unexpected, yet impressive, undefeated non-conference. The Blue Jays issues will be on the defensive end, as they aren’t as efficient in protecting the rim as Butler, Xavier, Providence, or Villanova. Expect Villanova to be pushed in games against Xavier, Creighton, and Butler. Butler is still looking for their first win over Villanova – January 4th at Hinkle Fieldhouse is their best opportunity this year.

Final standings

  1. Villanova
  2. Creighton
  3. Butler
  4. Xavier
  5. Marquette
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Providence
  8. Georgetown
  9. St. John’s
  10. DePaul

Big Sky

This is an odd conference to try and predict.  The most efficient team on offense in the conference is almost the least efficient on defense (and in the nation).  That title belongs to Eastern Washington.  Because of that, I see them finishing in the middle of the pack in their conference.  North Dakota is my favorite to win this conference and they will feel pressure from both Weber State and Montana to become conference champions.

Big South

I see the Big South as a horse race between Winthrop and UNC Asheville.  I think UNC Asheville has the edge in this race, but we’ll see how that prediction holds through conference play.

Big Ten

The Big Ten will be fun this year mainly from the state of Indiana perspective because both Indiana and Purdue have great opportunities to win.  However, throw in the Wisconsin Badgers into that mix to win the conference.  I give Wisconsin a slight edge to win out, but both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers will be nipping at the heels of the Badgers.

Final Standings

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Indiana
  3. Purdue
  4. Michigan
  5. Northwestern
  6. Minnesota
  7. Maryland
  8. Ohio State
  9. Michigan State
  10. Illinois
  11. Iowa
  12. Nebraska
  13. Rutgers
  14. Penn State

Big West

There’s not much to say here.  This is a bad conference and Long Beach State has not lived up to its darling, upset minded projection assigned to them at the beginning of the season.  I think they end up winning the conference, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if UC Irvine claims that crown as they have the best defense in the league.

Colonial Athletic Association

This will be a fun conference to follow over the conference season.  UNC Wilmington should win the regular season title with some distance between them and second place.  This conference does include Northeastern, the team that has won at Connecticut, Vermont, Michigan State, and Oakland.  Vermont and Oakland will vie for a conference championship.  I’m curious to see how Northeastern’s conference play pans out.

Conference USA

Conference USA is another odd study in which it may be tough to choose an absolute winner.  I think the favorite to pick is Middle Tennessee.  They have pushed themselves in non-conference play and play relatively efficient basketball on both offense and defense compared to other teams in their league.  It will be a tight race for second if teams don’t beat Middle Tennessee.  Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech, Rice, and Marshall all have legitimate chances at snagging the 2 seed when the conference tournament begins.  How they acquire it will be interesting.  Old Dominion is horrific on offense, but nearly compensate because they have such a great defense. Marshall can expect to be in most games because they run the floor and have a large number of possessions each game.  Louisiana Tech has a balanced team on offense and defense, it is just less efficient than Middle Tennessee is.  Rice is the opposite of Old Dominion.  They have an efficient offense and an abysmal defense.

Horizon League

The Horizon League is another conference with a two team race to win the conference.  Valparaiso and Oakland will be the two teams to beat.  I think Valparaiso wins the regular season with Oakland close behind.

Ivy League

Expectations have changed for the Ivy League this year since having aspirations of sending two teams to the tournament to begin the season. The Princeton Tigers are my favorite to win the conference and automatic bid. The closest challenger is Yale and has a decent shot if they can beat Princeton head-to-head.

MAAC

Monmouth doesn’t get snubbed this year as they dominate their conference.  I expect them to beat decent competition from Iona and Siena to make it to the tournament, a place they should have been last year as well.

Mid-American

In the MAC East Division, I have Akron winning the division over Ohio.  In the MAC West Division, it should be a tighter race between Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo.  I think Eastern Michigan wins the West Division because they take care of the ball better, match each of the offenses well to those two teams, and have a better defense.

MEAC

This is a bad conference and the only inkling of goodness that comes from this conference is North Carolina Central’s average defensive efficiency.  Because the teams in this conference are so bad, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them finish within a game of .500 and North Carolina Central “runs away” from the rest of the pack because they don’t play as poorly as the other teams.

Missouri Valley

Loyola Chicago has really impressed and surprised me this year.  They are my dark horse to win the conference, but Wichita State is my favorite.  The Shockers have fallen off a bit in my opinion, but I think they beat out Illinois State for the conference.  I really would like to see Loyola do well. Northern Iowa also seems to have fallen off a bit as well.  Is the MVC losing some of its oomph?

Mountain West

The Mountain West should be fun this year.  After reviewing numbers from Ken Pomeroy’s website, I’ve found that a team with a more potent offense than a stingy defense tends to be the winner in a game.  If this is true, Nevada has the upper hand over San Diego State.  SDSU hasn’t produced like they have in recent years and I would expect Nevada to take this conference, albeit in a very tight race.

Northeast

This is another conference where each team is mostly bad and that will result in a lot of teams at or within 1 game of .500.  Two teams that will duke it out are Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s.  Both teams have poor records right now, but will end up with winning records after beating up their conference foes.

Ohio Valley

Ah, the Ohio Valley.  This will be fun because in the East Division, there will be a fun race to follow between ever-present Belmont and up and coming Tennessee State.  I think Belmont wins out because they have better offensive firepower.  In the West Division, Murray State is my favorite to win with UT-Martin as a possible option to knock Murray State out of the 1 seed for their division.

Pac 12

I can’t wait to see how this conference pans out this year.  There are promising teams that haven’t been relevant in a while from the Pac 12.  UCLA is my favorite to win the league, replacing Arizona from my original choice.  Arizona doesn’t seem to have found their identity due in large part to injuries.  I think Arizona, Oregon, and USC give UCLA good competition, but it’s hard to beat a team that is so efficient and fast paced every time they take the floor.  My dark horse for the Pac 12 is Colorado.

Patriot League

Remember, last year, when Holy Cross finished ninth in the conference and won 4 straight away games to earn the bid for the NCAA tournament?  I don’t expect most to remember.  Those are the stories I love about college basketball.  I don’t think it will happen again in this conference for a long time (but boy I hope I’m wrong).  This will be a fun conference to watch because Lehigh, Bucknell, and even Boston has a chance to win this conference.  I think Lehigh and Bucknell are more consistent teams and eventually Lehigh wins the conference.

SEC

Amazingly, the SEC only sent 3 teams to the tournament last year: Kentucky, Texas A&M, and an undeserved Vanderbilt team.  This year, I think the conference can send 5 teams – Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, and possibly Arkansas.  Here’s how I see the SEC standings at the conclusion of the regular season.

  1. Kentucky
  2. Florida
  3. South Carolina
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Arkansas
  6. Georgia
  7. Tennessee
  8. Vanderbilt
  9. LSU
  10. Auburn
  11. Mississippi
  12. Alabama
  13. Mississippi State
  14. Missouri

Southern

There are two very good teams that can be dangerous to play in the tournament should either get there in March.  This conference is, yet again, a two team race to the top between Chattanooga and East Tennessee State.  I think Chattanooga wins the conference with ETSU finishing second.

Southland

Stephen F. Austin’s reign as the dominant team in the Southland Conference has come to an end.  At one point, the Lumberjacks had compiled an outrageous 69-3 conference record over a 3 year period.  Unfortunately, there is not a real replacement as Sam Houston State looks the most promising to win the conference.

SWAC

On Ken Pomeroy’s standings, the SWAC ranks as the worst league.  I think Texas Southern has the best opportunity to win the conference due to them having the “best” offense compared to their conference opponents.  Their current record would lead you to think otherwise as they sit at 4 wins to 9 losses.  However, knowing that two of their conference opponents are currently winless and the rest don’t have more than 3 or 4 wins, they won’t have much trouble.

Sunbelt

It is fun to see this conference doing so well.  The top 5 or 6 teams have the capability to win on any night regardless of who they play during conference play.  This is the same conference that sent RJ Hunter and his father into the tournament that took down 3 seeded Baylor and gave Xavier a good scare.  It’s the same conference that sent Little Rock to the tournament and took down 5 seeded Purdue in double overtime.  This year, I’m most impressed with UT-Arlington.  I think they win the conference with Georgia State, Little Rock, and Louisiana Lafayette fighting for 2nd place.

Summit

My favorite to win the Summit this year is Fort Wayne.  Their closest competition is IUPUI and North Dakota State.  The Summit League tends to have some great matchups.  I had a blog post in early November that included a player to watch, Mike Daum.  He plays for South Dakota State, a team that has a decent offense, but they are abysmal on defense.  I’m disappointed in how their season has panned out and don’t expect much from them in conference play.

West Coast

The West Coast Conference has been dominated by Gonzaga.  However, St. Mary’s, and BYU have taken turns closing the gap to Gonzaga over the past few seasons.  St. Mary’s has a legitimate chance to win the WCC this year, but it will require them to beat Gonzaga.  Their home loss to UT-Arlington is a bit concerning because St. Mary’s wasn’t really in contention to win for a majority of the game.  I think Gonzaga ultimately wins the conference, but St. Mary’s puts up a good fight and that both make the tournament this year.

WAC

I see three possible teams winning this conference: New Mexico State, Cal State Bakersfield, or Grand Canyon.  I never thought I would list the third candidate, but here I am!  Grand Canyon is a decent team and, having only been in Division 1 since the 2013-2014 season, its impressive work by Dan Majerle to lead the team to a 27-7 record last season.  They are on pace for another great year and will push the others for that automatic bid in March.  I think New Mexico State wins the conference, but Grand Canyon stays with them until the end.

 

Well, I’ll monitor the landscape of each conference and can’t wait to see how things change over the next three months!  I hope to see some unexpected teams turn their season around and challenge at the top.

College Basketball Week in Review December 4th-11th

Butler Bulldogs Update

The Butler Bulldogs traveled to Terre Haute, Indiana as the Indiana State Sycamores played host in what was a great game, well mostly.  Actually, Indiana State played a great game.  Butler looked lost, out-toughed and overwhelmed at times throughout the game.  In what I believed to be a trap game for the Dawgs, Indiana State took advantage of poor shooting from most of the Butler squad and came out with a hard fought win.  How teams respond to a loss is key in determining the psyche of a team – can they put it behind them, grow from the loss, and play their game?

Butler hosted the Cincinnati Bearcats in an anticipated rematch of last year’s buzzer beating Butler win on Cincinnati’s home court.  The Bearcats came to Hinkle with a top 25 ranking and a well traveled crowd of support.  I think Cincinnati fans were louder than Butler fans for a good portion of the game.  Both teams played a great game, showing resiliency and toughness on the court.

In a change to starting lineups, Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott were traded in for the likes of Kelan Martin and Avery Woodson.  That was most likely for defensive purposes, but I’m only the avid fan and may read too much into things.  The key to growth is addressing whatever the issue may be and trusting the process.  I appreciate Coach Holtmann’s rhetoric and position about growth as a team in this aspect (I appreciate and trust his decisions all the time).

As Butler prepares for the lead up to winter break, they will play Indiana at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, December 17th and then host Vermont on Wednesday, December 21st.

Mid-Major Roundup

It’s time to recount one of my favorite aspects of college basketball, the upset-minded teams that take down perennial powerhouse programs!

Florida Atlantic University was given little chance prior to tipoff as they traveled to Ohio State this past week.  In a game that seemed to surprise even the FAU players, attendees were treated to some “free” basketball as the game went to overtime.  Early in overtime, Ohio State grabbed a slight advantage.  FAU continued to hang around until, with one second remaining, Nick Rutherford drove the lane and hit the game winner.  With just a 3% chance of winning, FAU holds the 2nd least likely win to date this season.

UT Arlington still doesn’t seem to be registering on the radar for most following college basketball – at least not until they traveled to another mid-major school enjoying success this year.  UT Arlington defeated St. Mary’s as they traveled to California in what I expected to be a great matchup and would be telling how both of these teams will do as they progress through the season.  Watch out Conference USA, UT Arlington is looking to take on the conference and dance their way into the tournament this year.

Middle Tennessee picked up a nice win over power conference opponent Vanderbilt this week.  In fact, it was an emphatic 71-48 drubbing.  Vanderbilt seems to be demonstrating its consistency in continuing to not live up expectations.

Fastest and Slowest Games of the Week

Fastest games of the week

  1. Portland 90 vs. UT Rio Grande Valley 89 (2OT), 89 possessions – Down 13 with 6:53 left to play, Portland looked like it was prepared to sustain an upset from the visiting Vaqueros.  However, closing the game on a 16-6 run forced overtime.  Eventually, Gabe Taylor tipped in the winning basket with 2 seconds left to conclude Portland’s comeback.
  2. Central Michigan 107 vs. Green Bay 97, 89 possessions – For the amount of time I spend reading about college basketball, I never considered to look for who is the leading scorer this year.  Well, fortunately Central Michigan was part of the fastest games of the week so I could read about how Marcus Keene, the current leader in scoring this season for Division I basketball, poured in 40 points and handed out 11 assists in this high scoring game!
  3. Campbell 97 vs. The Citadel 91, 89 possessions – I’ve learned so much this week.  Did you know that Campbell is the Camels?  They trailed by 12 at halftime and used runs of 16-9, and 9-0 to move past The Citadel for a fast paced, high scoring affair.

Slowest games of the week

  1. Virginia 76 vs. Eastern Carolina 53, 56 possessions – After losing their first home game in nearly two years, former Indiana Mr. Basketball, Kyle Guy, led the three-point onslaught against visitors Eastern Carolina.  Their dominating win righted the ship for the Cavaliers as they prepare to close out non-conference play.
  2. Texas A&M 80 vs. Denver 58, 59 possessions – In a game in which 10 Aggies players played at least 11 minutes each, Texas A&M looks to finish non-conference play taking on Arizona.  I don’t expect Texas A&M to make much noise in the SEC this year, but they may be good for a few surprises along the way.
  3. Loyola Chicago 72 vs. Milwaukee 56, 59 possessions – The former Horizon League Ramblers shot 67.5 percent from the floor and cruised to a win over the Milwaukee Panthers.  Loyola has a great chance to enter conference play with double digit wins.

Games of the Week

Very little activity to look forward to this week as colleges are on the precipice of finals week.  As a result of waiting through the week, we will be gifted with some fantastic matchups on Saturday!  It would be a great day to relax and watch some hoops with friends or family!

Wednesday, December 14th

  1. Middle Tennessee vs. Belmont, 8:00p.m.

Saturday, December 17th

  1. Kentucky vs. North Carolina, 5:45p.m., CBS
  2. Indiana vs. Butler, 5:00p.m., Big Ten Network
  3. Notre Dame vs. Purdue, 2:00p.m., ESPN2
  4. UCLA vs. Ohio State, 3:00p.m., CBS
  5. Dayton vs. Northwestern, 7:00p.m., Big Ten Network
  6. Northern Iowa vs. Iowa 4:30p.m., ESPN3

Exploring the Makeup of a Champion – Part I

I’ve always been intrigued and inspired by the mystique of March Madness and the NCAA tournament.  Growing up, the concept of competitiveness was always present in my everyday life.  Having siblings younger than myself that were gifted athletically pushed me to work hard in the different sports I played.  I also felt that competitive nature in the classroom as I went through school.  Whether it was between siblings, friends, or with myself (I wasn’t the best student academically, which was humbling) I felt that desire to better myself (most of the time).

There’s something special about watching NCAA basketball tournament games.  I have a vivid memory of the first tournament game I watched.  When I was still a wee lad in the 5th grade of March 2001, I stayed after school with the rest of the guys in our grade to watch a video of what to expect as I transition into middle school.  After that video finished, we had extra time before we were dismissed, so the teachers turned on the NCAA tournament and it just so happened Butler was playing Wake Forest.  The Bulldogs were up big when we tuned into the game and they ended up winning that game 79-63.  My love for Butler began way before then, but witnessing a lower seeded team beat a higher seeded team with a group of people cheering loudly created a special memory.

Once my friends, family, and I began filling out brackets, it became an annual tradition to compete to have the best bracket.  As my interest grew in researching teams before making decisions on matchups in the tournament, I stumbled upon some incredibly detailed websites that explored how to choose a winning bracket or potential national champion.  Unfortunately, most of those sites aren’t maintained because the men were doing those as a hobby as well, like I am currently.  The detail in each site was incredible and forced me to think about things I never considered before.  In summary, that’s the roundabout, abridged version explaining my interest in exploring the makeup of a team based on their statistics.

To begin this exploration of what makes up a champion, I found the adjusted offensive efficiency data for each of the past champions dating back to the 2001-2002 season.  These numbers are available on Ken Pomeroy’s website.  I chose this season because that’s the furthest back the data goes.  After finding these numbers, I entered the data into a graph to represent a visual of the efficiency ratings.  These numbers are represented in the graph below.

untitled

Let me explain what the numbers mean in the graph above.  The x-axis is the year the championship was played.  The y-axis represents the adjusted offensive efficiency.  The numbers displayed on the line graph are the adjusted offensive efficiency numbers themselves.  The point on the graph with a number above it is the specific adjusted offensive efficiency of the team that won the national championship.  The number is the average for the entire season, not exclusively the championship game.

These adjusted numbers are much higher, in most cases, than what the team typically scored over the course of the season.  The number is representative of what each team would expect to score if they played one hundred possessions each game.  The likelihood of a team hitting the century mark in each game during the season is small.  The current teams that would even come close to that currently are The Citadel and revamped Savannah State. The numbers come from a formula created by Dean Oliver and tweaked by Ken Pomeroy.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a trend with the efficiency numbers and winning the championship.  The graph generally makes up and down fluctuations from year to year.  However, understanding the rankings relative to high achieving teams from year to year helps to resolve the variability of “high” and “low” offensive efficiency numbers.  Not all of these numbers are created equal.  Incredible variations create different numbers for all teams from year to year.  For example, when Duke won the 2015 title, they had the third most efficient offense in the nation that year at 122.5 points per 1oo possessions.  Florida (2007), North Carolina (2009), and Duke (2010) all led the nation in offensive efficiency, yet had numbers lower than the Blue Devils team that won it in 2015.  The closest of the three teams that led the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency was North Carolina in 2009 with a rating of 119.6.  Duke holds a 3 point advantage when comparing their efficiencies.  We must be careful in evaluating any trends and I think it would be foolish to find a trend or pattern because the volatility of a college basketball season.

I’m going to make a claim that to be considered to vie for a championship, a team must have an elite efficiency on offense, or at worst, on the fringe of being elite.  The rankings help develop a fuller picture of this.  The low-end efficiency for teams that have won since 2002 is 111.1, whereas the high-end reaches up to 122.5.  Where a team falls in the ranking of their efficiency on offense from year to year seems to be a determiner in their result for the tournament.

Of the previous fifteen champions, nearly all of them ranked in the top 7 in offensive efficiency in Kenpom numbers.  The only ones that didn’t were Syracuse (2003, 15th), Connecticut (2004, 10th), Connecticut (2011, 20th), and uh, Connecticut again (2014, 39th).  This is the first time I’ve actually named them out and I’m staggered to see that one team’s name came up three times!  That’s a fun coincidence.

Below is a frequency table for what a team’s adjusted offensive efficiency ranking was and how many times that team won it.

 

Rank     |      Frequency

1         |             3

2         |             3

3          |            3

4          |            1

7          |            1

10          |            1

15          |            1

20          |            1

39          |            1

There is a split between teams that were ranked first, second, or third in offensive efficiency ratings.  Each of those rankings won the championship three times each.  I plan on exploring the path teams took when they won the championship.  I’m curious to see if teams that had a significantly lower efficiency rating on offense had a favorable draw in later posts.  I expect to see the opponents they played had poor matchups or were lower in adjusted offensive efficiency.  Naturally there is more to the matchup, but after looking at numbers briefly, the team that is more efficient seems to win more often than not.

Be sure to check back for Part II in Exploring the Makeup of a Champion as I explore adjusted defensive efficiencies.  As I unpack the different layers to a college basketball team, the hope is that selecting a champion come tournament time is easier!

November Recap

There are 95 days until Selection Sunday which is more of a reminder of how the college basketball season flies by.  In this post, I will give my opinions on teams that have impressed so far and teams that have not lived up to expectations.  Also included in this post will the weekly recap of the week and, of course, the fastest and slowest games of the week.  Plus, games to watch when there is nothing else on television.

Teams that Enjoyed Success in November

When compiling this small list of teams that saw success in November, I thought of how expectations of a team prior to the beginning of the season can give way to an impression of disappointment or surprised joy over the course of a season.  That reaction is naturally dependent on a team’s results.  As I thought more about expectations, Power 5 schools, for the most part, have higher expectations than mid or lower tiered conferences.  A lot of that is based on the talent that a team brings in during the offseason, the amount of experience a team has, the coaching staff and their history of success, and a number of smaller details that create a team’s identity.  Team’s that have more success have a higher platform to fall from.  The opposite is true too – teams that didn’t fare well in previous years don’t have much to explore at the bottom and can create a surprised element of success for a person or fan base.  Enough background on my thought process, here’s the list for teams that had their stock rise in the month of November.

1. I’m going to argue that Baylor has played the toughest schedule wit the best results.  I don’t think they played the toughest schedule in the country (that belongs to Michigan State), but they have the best results from their tough schedule.  Owning wins over Oregon (Dillon Brooks was sitting out), VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, and now a dominating win over Xavier at home, Baylor exemplifies a tough team that can go toe to toe with almost any school in the country. Keep it up Bears, I hope your December treats you well.

2. Arkansas State gets a nod, not only because they beat Georgetown on their turf, but it sure did help.  They beat a tough Chattanooga team as well as a Lehigh team that shows promise to be strong in their conference play this year.  These Red Wolves would be a fun choice to take town a big time program later this season if they can make it to the tournament (unlikely though).

3. UT Arlington is a curious team to  look at.  They are efficient at their 2-point shots and guard the arc very well.  So well that they own a resume building win over Texas.  With their three losses this season to Minnesota, Florida Gulf Coast and a 4-point loss to Arkansas, UT Arlington has potential to provided some excitement come March.

Honorable Mentions: Grand Canyon, Utah Valley

Teams that Disappointed in November

1. Connecticut is slightly more disappointing than the next team I will mention on this list.  The Huskies were ranked 18th in the nation to begin this season.  My have the projections of what was supposed to be a great year vanished quickly.  Connecticut began the season with a few teams that should have been no more than a shrug on the shoulder.  Yet, the Huskies lost at home to both Wagner (currently 2-4 with horrendous losses) and Northeastern (currently 4-4 with their own horrendous losses).  UConn then traveled to Loyola Marymount where they struggled and eeked out a 65-62 win.  After going 1-2 in Maui, Connecticut returned home to host Boston University where they barely won 51-49.  Ouch.

2. The Texas Longhorns also began the season as a top 25 team, yet are struggling to put teams away.  Beating Incarnate Word by 5 points would be a red flag.  Losing to Northwestern, Colorado, and UT Arlington aren’t awful, but when Texas is favored in those games, along with Shaka Smart’s defense, something positive has to happen, right?

3. It’s fun to see where some teams are that lie toward the bottom of college basketball’s long list of Division I teams.  Sacramento State is creating an incredible resume of abysmal results.  Initially looking at their record, one would believe starting 2-6 would be expected, especially if it’s a school that doesn’t fair well when playing against schools that have more money for recruiting purposes.  Well those two wins have come against non-division I schools.  What’s worse is that most of their games that they are favored in the rest of the year, are really tossup games.  C’mon Hornets, represent that Big Sky Conference proudly!

Honorable Mention: Northern Iowa

Fastest and Slowest Games of the Week

Fastest Games of the Week

1.Oregon 128 vs. Savannah State 59, 90 possessions – In an article that Ken Pomeroy wrote up a couple weeks ago, he explored Horace Broadnoax’s change in philosophy for his team in the way it plays the beautiful game.  Once a slow paced, grind-out-a-loss, the coach has his team firing 3 pointers at a record pace this year.  It won’t be surprising to see Savannah State on here numerous times over the year.

2. West Virginia 108 vs. Manhattan 61, 87 possessions – I’m glad that this game was able to make it this week as a voluminous possession game.  West Virginia had 40 steals in this game, a number that is rarely touched.  I spent a decent amount of time scouring records online, and couldn’t find a number close to that.  It’s something I’m interested in finding, but I’m not sure it’s the most steals in a modern college basketball game.

3. Lipscomb 104 vs. Tennessee Tech 85, 84 possessions – Not much to say here, Lipscomb shot the ball well from all over the floor, making 14 of their 29 3-pointers.

Slowest Games of the Week

1 (Tie). Saint Mary’s 66 vs. Stanford 51, 58 possessions – Saint Mary’s is a team that is currently living up to their expectations of being efficient while demoralizing opponents.  They resemble an intelligent team posed to have a strong result in their conference.

1 (Tie). Holy Cross 55 vs. Albany 49, 58 possessions – This game was close until about a minute left in regulation.  Albany was down 2, but after Robert Champion made consecutive 3-pointers, that all but put the game away.

3 (Tie). New Orleans 70 vs. Washington State 54, 59 possessions – The last time New Orleans beat a Pac-12 opponent was 1998.  They won this game in convincing fashion, the Privateers won the rebound battle 36-20 and shot 53.7 percent from the floor.  This is a nice win to pocket against a Power 5 school, albeit, the Cougars were picked to finish last in their conference.

3 (Tie). Loyola Chicago 65 vs. San Diego State 59, 59 possessions – I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the Ramblers this year.  They have a much better resume to this point than I thought they would.  Taking down San Diego State, a team ranked 60th in Sagarin and 47th in kenpom is impressive.  I hope that this continues to build as they enter into conference play – they deserve to have some good results this year with the way they have started their year.

Butler’s Week

Butler was back in action at home on Saturday, hosting the Cental Arkansas Bears.  The Bulldogs did not look crisp.  They left talented shooter, Jordan Howard, open to take uncontested more often than not.  It wasn’t like someone could have gotten to him either.  On more than one occasion, Howard could have taken a dribble into his shot, thrown the ball up, and landed before a Butler player was on him.  Not all of the game was poor, however.  Avery Woodson continues to make contributions with his 3-point shooting. Kelan Martin was the first Butler player to score 30 points since…Kelan Martin scored 35 against Georgetown last February.

The Bulldogs will be tested twice this week when they visit Indiana State Wednesday and host Cincinnati Saturday.  Both games will be difficult to win and should provide greater insight into how resilient and grounded the Bulldogs are in their on-court philosophy.  The game against Indiana State should be closer than most would expect.  Indiana State guards the perimeter well, allowing their opponents to connect on less than 30% made 3-pointers so far this season.  They take care of the ball fairly well, averaging a turnover on less than one-fifth of their possessions.  They have lost their four games by a combined 10 points.

The game against Cincinnati is going to be a slow, grinding game.  Cincinnati has a high block percentage, and steal percentage.  Not to mention they don’t turn the ball over much either.  Ken Pomeroy’s rating has the Bearcats ranked 345th in tempo.  They are efficient in getting to the basket and have a high amount of offensive rebounds, grabbing nearly 40% of their missed shots.  The starting center, Kyle Washington, is a stud.  He owns a double-double this season and has scored in double figures every game thus far.  The home environment should be electric when the Bearcats visit.  Games like that are always fun to go to.  They’re reminiscent of the Butler-Xavier rivalry games.  Patience in finding a good shot will be key to Butler victory.  They will have to speed the Bearcats up, force turnovers and put points on the board.

Games of the Week

Based on my growing interest in the scope of following teams over the course of this season, I have begun to identify what I think would be fun, interesting, or exciting games to watch or read about when the contest is over.  This week, these are the following games to look for when you have nothing else to do or need something on in the background.

Tuesday, December 6th:

Princeton vs. California, 7:00 p.m. Fox Sports 1

Florida vs. Duke, 9:30p.m. ESPN

Wednesday, December 7th:

Xavier at Colorado, 9:00 p.m. Pac-12 Networks

Creighton at Nebraska, 9:00 p.m. Big Ten Networks

San Diego State at Grand Canyon, 7:00 p.m. ESPN 3

Thursday, December 8th:

UT Arlington at Saint Mary’s, 10:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 10th:

Rhode Island at Houston, 1:30p.m. ESPNU

Wisconsin at Marquette, 2:00p.m. Fox Sports 1

Cincinnati at Butler, 4:30p.m. Fox Sports 1

Michigan at UCLA, 8:00p.m. ESPN 2