Big East Perspective and Butler Preview vs. Providence

A large portion of the Big East conference play has come and gone.  Unfortunately, I have not been graced with the free time to cover the conference as I would have liked.  That said, I’m looking forward to giving more in depth views and perspectives of not only the Big East but also the landscape of all college basketball when the calendar turns to March.

The Big East continues to be a difficult task for any team to play through.  According to kenpom, as a conference, the Big East ranks 3rd in tempo, 3rd in turnover percentage, 2nd in effective field goal percentage, 3rd in assists per field goals made, 3rd in 3-point percentage, 3rd in 2-point percentage, and 1st in free throw percentage.  It’s been fun seeing scores come through week in and week out because every team is getting to the basket and scoring at a high clip.  The stats above are all areas that influence offense.  Which such high numbers, the defenses must not be as stout as coaches would like, but there’s time to improve.  As we enter the final four or five games for Big East teams, here are the current standings:

  1. Xavier (24-3, 12-2)  Xavier needs to win at home against Villanova and avoid a loss in their last three games to Providence, Georgetown, or DePaul to claim the Big East regular season title.  The Musketeers have all the pieces to make a Final Four run, but here’s another way to look at it: Xavier has 10 wins by 7 points or less this season.  If the ball rolls out rather than in, we may be looking at a team that isn’t on the one seed line at the moment.

2. Villanova (23-3, 10-3)  The Wildcats are in an odd position at this point in the year having lost to Providence, Butler, and last place St. John’s.  Their defensive efficiency is great, but not the elite level we’ve come to know in recent years.  It’s time for Villanova to respond because their one seed may be slipping.

3. Creighton (19-7, 8-5)  Creighton losing Martin Krampelj was a hit to their squad, yet the team has responded positively by beating the teams they should have and pushing Xavier to the end at home.  Creighton moves the ball very well and because of that, they frequently get open looks within 3 feet of the basket (See highlights when they hosted Butler earlier this season).  The Blue Jays currently rank 2nd in the NCAA in 2-point percentage.

4. Providence (17-9, 8-5)  The Friars pulled off a welcome upset against Villanova and claim stake to fourth place in the conference at this point.  The Friars have a tough close to the end of the season where Kenpom has them in what should be a battle each game.  If things fall their way, Providence will be as high as a three seed in the Big East tournament.  However, if things play out, they could be playing

5. Butler (17-10, 7-7)  The Bulldogs are frustrating to watch.  So much talent to compete at a high level, yet the team possesses Jekyll and Hyde characteristics.  I discuss more of the perspective of these inconsistent showings from game to game below.  The Bulldogs need to win out the rest of the season and win a game in the Big East tournament.

6. Seton Hall (17-9, 6-7)  The Pirate’s record is a head scratcher.  With a team that has experience on it’s side that is combined with talent, it’s a wonder how they have not won a few more games down the stretch.  I’m concerned that this is now a Seton Hall team that can be an upset for a midmajor squad in the NCAA tournament.

7. Marquette (14-11, 5-8)  The Golden Eagles can light up the scoreboard quickly.  With as quick they can score, they can fall cold.  Their defense is not elite nor great.  I don’t see Marquette doing much the rest of the season.  It will be a win if they win one game in the Big East tournament come March.

8. Georgetown (15-10, 5-9)  Georgetown seems to have made improvements as they have played with confidence as of late.  We can go a few avenues with the narrative on the Hoyas.  Looking at how they have fared since their double overtime win at home against St. John’s, they lost by one to DePaul, then by eight at Creighton, by five at Xavier in overtime, and by four at Providence.  In three of those losses, Georgetown had opportunities where the ball didn’t fall their way.  Close wins against Seton Hall and at Butler give Georgetown confidence as they look to stay hot through the remainder of the season.  They shot a blistering 68% in the first half at Butler and still ended at 64% for the game.

9. DePaul (10-15, 3-10)  DePaul seems to have most of the pieces.  I watched them play in the new Wintrust Arena and it is a beautiful, modern take on a home for a basketball team.  With the addition of Max Strus, DePaul has been in many more games than they have in previous seasons.  They have not been able to finish games off, or this would be a different narrative being written.

10. St. John’s (14-13, 3-11)  St. John’s looked like it was on its way to one of the worst outings in Big East play, but then Duke stopped by Madison Square Garden where Shamorie Ponds and the Red Storm dropped then #4 Duke.  To demonstrate it wasn’t a fluke, Ponds and Co went to then #1 Villanova and upended the Wildcats.  Maintaining their winning streak, St. John’s beat Marquette and DePaul.  Heading into the final few weeks, the Johnnies have an outside shot at winning out and somehow finishing 7-11.  I don’t think it will happen, but as the hottest team in the league, it’s tough to pick against them.

Butler Basketball Update

Success and failure seem to stem from the ability to make shots.  The Bulldogs are shooting just over 40% on mid-range jumpshots according to Haslemetrics.  That isn’t a poor number, as it slots the Bulldogs at 63rd in the country.  However, the decision making as of late has not been great.  Questionable decisions from Kamar Baldwin and Kelan Martin have seen them dribble into traffic to make a play rather than pass.  Their dribbling turns generally turns into taking a contested shot only to see the ball hit the rim and the defense grab a rebound for a quick outlet pass.  Both players have combined for 13 turnovers in the last 3 games.  Another telling number is Baldwin and Martin were a combined 1-13 on three-pointers against the Hoyas; the team 5-22.  Knowing that they are part of something larger, The Butler Way, will hopefully reinforce the “Team over self” narrative and reintroduce the idea of passing the ball effectively over the course of the regular season.

The Bulldogs lacked fire and, I’d say even go as far as to say, valor in their most recent outing at home against Georgetown.  They played to not lose instead of playing to win.  There was an observed hesitant approach to the game plan which made Butler look like they were a step behind on most plays.  If the Bulldogs wish to see successful play here on out, they will need to play with an edge.

There are a few players that have had large swings of productivity over the course of the season.  Tyler Wideman, Nate Fowler, and Paul Jorgensen can all play at a high level and have shown they are capable of doing so at different points during the season.  Before Paul scored a few off balance layups in the game against Georgetown, he had grown a three game shooting stretch to just 3 – 20 (15%).  I feel like understanding yourself as a player would translate to taking smart shots.  I think Paul is taking good shots, but the ones he is taking look rushed.  Fowler, a tall center for the Bulldogs, seems to find a way to make shots more difficult than they need to be.  At some point, he needs to go to the hoop strong with two hands and put the ball through the hoop without giving the entire Bulldog fan base a heart attack.  Finally, Tyler Wideman is a stud, but the lack of involvement is concerning.  Yes, Butler plays smaller in the middle.  However, Tyler possesses immense power where he should feel comfortable going up strong, taking the hit, and ultimately earning a trip to the free throw line.  Each of the three players I just spoke of are great guys.  I have faith that the coaching staff and players figure this out while they find their mojo again.

I need to be fair.  Butler currently ranks 8th in the nation in free throw percentage, hitting at 78%.  Butler has not been shooting that well compared to the entire nation since 2007 when they finished 13th.  They are highly efficient on offense, with a comprehensive effective field goal percentage of 54.3%.  The Bulldogs keep most opponents off the glass, limiting offensive rebounds on less than 25% of their opponents possessions.

Preview Against Providence

On Saturday, Butler hosts the Providence Friars in the second of two meetings during regular season play.  The Friars won the first game at the Dunkin’ Donuts center.

Expect Butler to come out of the locker room and play with an edge.  In the midst of a three game losing streak, the Bulldogs will look to end the slide and beat a good Providence team that I expect to make the tournament.  Beyond just the emotion that can play a role in this game, Butler has a much more efficient offense than Providence does.  Both teams seem to be equal on defense.  One of the keys is Butler limiting the amount of fouls allowing the Friars to get to the line.  Kyron Cartwright moves so quickly and sees the floor so well that it will be a tough ask to slow him down.

Both teams share an impressive statistic.  Both have beat Villanova this year.  Butler did so at home on December 30th and Providence more recently at home on February 14th.

Advertisements

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

College Basketball Week in Review

Early season tournaments provide insight into which teams seem to be formidable and other teams that seem to be a bit weaker than originally thought. I’m only going to mention Duke briefly in this because they are not a weak team. We haven’t seen three of their best players on the court yet and they sit at a 6-1 record currently. Those three missing and a roughed up Grayson Allen have left the Blue Devils looking weaker than expected. Once they are at full strength, they’ll be dangerous. I expect some growing pains, however. As a squad of five on the floor, you grow accustom to how each person plays. There will be pretty plays as well as a fair share of ugly, ugly plays.

Michigan State seems to be waffling on this edge of good and great.  Unfortunately, the schedule Sparty has endured since the season began is bringing critics to say they are okay and average.  I’m not surprised of their result up to this point. What is surprising is how they haven’t really been in many games in which I thought they’d vie for a win. Tom Izzo has taken responsibility for scheduling, but a lot of it comes down to the players on the court too. Eron Harris doesn’t seem to have stepped up to the level of what is expected of him.  I was speaking with my mom recently and she mentioned that Harris is in his senior season.  This baffled me because I remember him transitioning from high school to college!  My hope is that he owns his leadership role and that translates to a better production on the court, influencing his teammates around him.

Creighton may be the team that has had the best start to this young season. With their 7-foot freshman center, Justin Patton, playing beyond expectations, the Bluejays have dominated teams. Add to that a backcourt that plays fast and flows freely, a fast, unrelenting performance by Creighton is now the expectation whenever they take the floor. I was curious about how Creighton would transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. I predicted that it would fair well with a future NBA pick in Doug McDermott. After he left, how that squad faired would be telling about recruiting. Well, I would say that Creighton has blown expectations out of the water. In each of the first six games they have played this season, the Bluejays have eclipsed 80 points. The only time they didn’t was against a defensive-minded Wisconsin Badger team in which Creighton put up 79 points in a game that had 66 possessions. Creighton will have an incredible resume by the time tournament time comes around and should be vying for a mid-single digit seed.

Mid-Major Roundup

Every few weeks, I’ll post brief updates on how mid-major teams are faring over the course of the season as they look to make a bid for the NCAA tournament. I haven’t posted about mid-majors since the beginning of the season, but here are a few that have made some noise from the beginning of the season until now.

Apparently not everyone had heard of the rebranded Fort Wayne Mastodons (formerly IPFW Mastodons), but they have arguably one of the biggest upsets of the season to date. In an odd twist, the Indiana Hoosiers took their talents to Fort Wayne, Indiana to broaden their viewership of those that may not make it down to Bloomington for the Indiana Classic. Indiana desired to demonstrate their guile and strength on opponents for decades, paying helpless opponents to visit while onlookers witnessed incredible feats of scoring. IU, once undefeated in their own showcase (not surprising if you schedule teams that barely win games over the course of a season), lost to Fort Wayne. And it was great. Anunoby was sick and the Hoosiers didn’t have the best shooting night, but the resolve of the Mastodons, after being pushed, provided for an exciting early season game and upset of a powerhouse of a college basketball program.

 

       Rhode Island has started this season in a strong fashion, compiling a 5-1 record with their one blemish a 10 point loss to Duke. Their most impressive win came against Cincinnati on November 19th. After trailing most of the game and down 11 points with 18:39 left, Rhode Island clawed their way back and won a hard fought game by 5. Their schedule doesn’t let up with road games at Valparaiso, at Providence, home against Old Dominion, and at Houston. This stretch could be telling how the Rams will fair when Atlantic 10 play begins. I’m hoping the Rams weather this stretch with a 3-1 record at worst and dominate the A-10.

Butler Bulldogs Update:

The Butler Bulldogs were active this past week, participating in an early season tournament again over the Thanksgiving holiday. Andrew Chrabascz was named tournament MVP as he played to his second career double-double against Vanderbilt in the first game on Thanksgiving. In the championship game, the Bulldogs beat Arizona for the first time in program history. The last time the two played was back on March 21, 2001 during the second round of the NCAA tournament. Both teams played during that 2000-2001 season as well. Both teams had some great players. From Arizona: Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas, and Luke Walton. From Butler, Lavall Jordan (currently the head basketball coach for the UW-Milwaukee Panthers), Darnell Archey (record holder for most consecutive free throws made in Division I), Brandon Miller (former Butler Head Coach), and the late Joel Cornette (dunking over IU to beat them in 2001). Since 2001, Butler has made it to an in-season tournament final 9 times. In those finals of early season tournaments, the Bulldogs have won 6 times and lost 3 times.  In the last few years, Butler has weathered three coaching changes, but still brings its best effort against the top teams each year.

Listed below are Butler’s results versus non-conference teams ranked in the top 10 since 2012.

2012: W, #9 North Carolina; W, #1 Indiana

2013: L, #5 Oklahoma State; W, #8 Gonzaga

2014: W, #5 North Carolina

2015: W, #9 Purdue

2016: W, #8 Arizona

Someone had asked about “trap games” for the Bulldogs before conference play begins. The upcoming schedule for Butler isn’t a walk in the park. With an away game at Utah this Monday, Butler will have played 6 games in 13 days. That is not an easy way to begin a non-conference schedule, and I expected the Bulldogs to have at least 1 loss by this point going into their game against Utah. I would consider the game at Indiana State a trap game for the Bulldogs on December 7th. Indiana State lost their three games in their early season tournament, but they were all lost in the final possessions of those games. The Sycamores are a tough team to beat, especially when ISU is playing at home against a ranked, in-state opponent.  This will be the 129th meeting between Butler and Indiana State.  Butler currently holds a 4 game win streak dating back to 2007.  I fully expect the Sycamores to be challenging Butler when they play in about a week.

Fastest and Slowest Games of the Week

It’s time for the fun stories to show themselves in this week’s fastest and slowest games of the week!

Fastest Games of the Week

  1. Utah Valley 114 vs. BYU 101, 96 Possessions – The Citadel was knocked off the top spot for fastest game of the week!  It was the first time that BYU has given up this many points in regulation since they gave up 118 points to Arizona in 1974.
  2. San Diego 96 vs. Bethune-Cookman 91 (3OT), 92 Possessions – The Citadel was knocked off the top spot for fastest game of the week, but it didn’t happen until this game went to triple overtime!  Here is the best part, Bethune-Cookman was down 18 at halftime.  Each team scored the reciprocal of the first half score (San Diego led 41-23)
  3. Iowa State 130 vs. The Citadel 63, 91 Possessions – It wasn’t a matter if, but how much Iowa State would score above the 100-point marker.  I’m not 100% sure, but I believe Iowa State has the highest point total this season up to now
  4. Arizona St. 127 vs. The Citadel 110, 91 Possessions – At least The Citadel is consistent. I had to put this game in just to demonstrate the fact that more possessions does not always equal more points.  In the game listed above, The Citadel played in a game with 91 possessions, however they only put up 63 points.  In this game, they played the same number of possessions, but were able to put up 47 more points.  Hopefully this gives ASU confidence when traveling to Kentucky!

Slowest Games of the Week

  1. Virginia 63 vs. Providence 52, 53 Possessions – Virginia will be tough to beat when it becomes this efficient on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  Providence has, to this point, given Virginia all they could handle.
  2. Virginia 62 vs. Yale 38, 56 Possessions – Tied for the slowest game of the week, Yale struggled to score more than 40 points, scoring only 38, the lowest output for any team this young season.
  3. Mercer 58 vs. Radford 47, 56 Possessions – Plainly put, this was a very boring game.  The halftime score was 27-14, in Mercer’s favor.

I wanted to put a plug in for Virginia and their defense.  They haven’t played the most difficult schedule by any means, but what they have done to opponents is incredible.  They have held opponents to point totals of 51, 32, 38, 34, 41, and 52.

ACC/Big 10 Challenge

This challenge began in 1999 and was dominated for the first 10 years by the ACC.  I use dominated loosely because they have won on numerous occasions 6-5.  As this year’s challenge gets underway, I am picking which teams I think will win each matchup (I will be honest since the first two games have already been played yesterday).  Teams I predict to win are bolded and italicized.

Monday, November 28th

Florida State vs. Minnesota

Wake Forest vs. Northwestern

Tuesday, November 29th

Pittsburgh vs. Maryland

Georgia Tech vs. Penn State

Syracuse vs. Wisconsin

Notre Dame vs. Iowa

NC State vs. Illinois

Duke vs. Michigan State

Wednesday, November 30th

Louisville vs. Purdue

Virginia Tech vs. Michigan

Miami vs. Rutgers

North Carolina vs. Indiana

Virginia vs. Ohio State

Clemson vs. Nebraska

Overall, I have this year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge resulting in a 7-7 tie.  As I mentioned earlier, the ACC won the first 10 challenges.  Since then, the Big Ten has won 5 times and the 2 have ended in a tie.

Early Season Basketball Tournaments

College basketball is in full swing and with Thanksgiving coming up, that must only mean one thing – the early season tournaments have arrived!  In this post, I will be exploring the potential matchups (or reviewing previous ones already played), expected winners and dark horse winners for most, but not all of the tournaments.

Tire Pros Invitational

November 17-18, 20: Lake Buena Vista, Florida (Bracket)

In the most magical place in the world, (according to family, most people of the western world, and especially the creator of the destination) Disney World hosts a solid group of basketball teams, especially with Xavier, Oklahoma, and Northern Iowa as favorites.  I have Xavier as the favorite and was surprised to see Missouri hang tough with the Musketeers through to the end.  A gaffe in decision making allowed Xavier to escape by 1 point.  Northern Iowa blowing out Arizona wasn’t surprising.  I figured they could take care of an Oklahoma team that, while missing Buddy Hield, still possesses great leadership and an ability to score the ball.  Davidson will be a team to watch carefully, especially come conference time.  I would consider them a middle of the pack A10 team that, if they are able to stay in some close games, could build a strong resume.

Championship Game: Nov. 20th, approx. 7:30p.m. (ESPN 2)

Favorite to win: Xavier Musketeers

Dark horse: Northern Iowa Panthers

 

Gildan Charleston Classic

November 17-18, 20: Charleston, South Carolina (Bracket)

Turning to a tournament with an elite team and handful of mid to low level teams, don’t be surprised with Villanova taking this one.  UCF should be able to take a couple wins to play against Villanova in the championship.  UCF’s height will create major problems for Villanova.  I would take Villanova’s experience over UCF’s height, however.

Championship Game: Nov. 20th, approx. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN 2)

Favorite to win: Villanova Wildcats

Dark horse: University of Central Florida Knights

 

U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

November 18-21: St. Thomas, V.I. (Bracket)

In a place I’d rather be right now, the Creighton Bluejays are my favorites to win this tournament.  After a convincing home win against Wisconsin, the Bluejays should be able to handle their opponents, although they do have good competition among them.  It’s unfortunate to see NC State play Creighton before the final game, but I would have say that Montana could surprise some people.  The Griz have been on the cusp of great wins in the last couple of years and are due for a great result.  This is a good opportunity to do that.  Ole Miss can put up points and I have them as my dark horse to look for.

Championship Game: November 21st: 8:30p.m. (CBSSN)

Favorite to win: Creighton Bluejays

Dark horse: Ole Miss Runnin’ Rebels

Hall of Fame Tip-Off

November 19-20: Uncasville, Connecticut (Bracket)

I was slightly confused by this bracket layout, but after investigating, it made more sense to me, slightly.  There are two brackets – the Naismith bracket seems to have better caliber teams including Duke, Penn State, Cincinnati, and Rhode Island.  The Springfield bracket has teams that wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the teams listed prior.  The Springfield teams include Marist, Brown, Grand Canyon, and Albany.  Of those teams, I would pick Grand Canyon because they have the ability to put up points quickly.  In the Naismith bracket, I have Duke as the favorite, but Rhode Island could be the dangerous team.  As I wrote in my previous post, Rhode Island has a strong team this year that could bust some brackets come March.  I just watched the Rams overcome a 12 point deficit to Cincinnati.  The Bearcats possess a strong defense and efficient offense that can cause problems for any team.

Naismith Championship: November 20th, 1p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite to win: Duke Blue Devils

Dark horse: Rhode Island Rams

Springfield Championship: Nov. 20th, 8:30p.m. (ESPN3)

Favorite to win: Grand Canyon Antelopes

Dark horse: Albany Great Danes

Maui Invitational

November 21-23: Lahaina, Hawaii (Bracket)

This deep field will not have a shortage of great games.  With Wisconsin, Oregon, and Georgetown headlining the tournament (the last seems to be questionable now with an awful loss to Central Arkansas at home), My choice as the favorite is North Carolina.  The Badgers will slow teams down and play at their pace, but it will have to hang tough with some strong offensive firepower, especially North Carolina.  With a few new faces in the rotation, Nigel Hayes and company will be tested.  I think the final is Wisconsin vs. UNC with the Tar Heels taking it.  I want to put a plug in for the most disappointing team in NCAA at the moment is also in this field.  Will the Connecticut Huskies be able to turn things around in Maui and upset a few teams?

Games to watch:

November 21st, 4:30p.m. – Georgetown vs. Oregon

Potential and Exciting Matchups

November 22nd, 8p.m. – Wisconsin vs. Oregon/ Wisconsin vs. Georgetown

November 23rd, 9:30p.m. – Oregon vs. North Carolina/ Wisconsin vs. North Carolina

Championship Game: Nov. 23rd, 10:00p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite to win: North Carolina Tar Heels

Dark horse: Wisconsin Badgers

Battle 4 Atlantis

November 23-25: Paradise Island, Bahamas (Bracket)

Headlining this tournament are the likes of Baylor, Michigan State, Wichita State, and Louisville.  A talented and young St. John’s team will push the pace and increase the number of possessions.  Their youth and length will breed upset or disaster most likely.  Wichita State has been impressive in their wins this season, having only blowouts to account for on their unblemished record.  Their opponents would seem to be gutter teams, but they beat a Long Beach State team that was touted as a tough team to beat.

Games to watch:

November 23rd, 7p.m. – Michigan State vs. St. John’s

If the Red Storm can make their 3’s, this will be a much closer game than Sparty would like.  I see the Spartans moving on though.

Potential and Exciting Matchups:

November 24th, 2:30p.m. – Wichita State vs. Louisville

Favorite to win: Michigan State

Dark horse: Wichita State

Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational

November 24-25: Las Vegas (No Bracket Available)

A similar format to the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament, there are separate brackets, a Hosts’ bracket and a Visitors’ bracket.  The Hosts’ bracket includes Arizona, Butler, Santa Clara, and Vanderbilt.  The Visitors’ bracket includes Bucknell, Norfolk State, Northern Colorado, and Sacred Heart.  Arizona comes in as a heavy favorite to make it to the final as they play Santa Clara in the semifinal.  If Santa Clara wants to upset Arizona, they’ll have to go back a few years, recruit different players, make a lot of 3’s in the game and play incredible defense.  As the first part is impossible to do, they will have to rely solely on grit and play a slow paced game.  I see Butler joining Arizona in the final, beating a Vanderbilt team with a new, yet intelligent coach.  Bryce Drew will look to build off a fresh start with the same intensity from his players to take on the best teams.

Games to Watch:

November 24th, 8p.m. – Vanderbilt vs. Butler

Potential and Exciting Matchup:

November 25th, 10:30p.m. – Arizona vs. Butler

Favorite to win: Arizona

Dark horse: Vanderbilt

There are many more tournaments, both bracketed and non-bracketed.  However, I covered ones that will most likely get the most coverage.  Also, I don’t have a lot of time to cover others because of life’s responsibilities.  I do enjoy writing about college basketball and plan to do it more frequently this year.  Inspired by Ken Pomeroy, a statistician that many players and coaches across college basketball use.  He provides incredible scope and detail into the fun and unexplored intricacies of the sport of college basketball.

Least Likely Wins

To date, the least likely win of the season comes from Arkansas State.  Their foe: the Georgetown Hoyas.  Kenpom’s formula for chance of winning a game gave Arkansas State a 2% chance of winning.  In fact, depending on where you look, Georgetown was a 22 or 23 point favorite to win that game.  At one point, Arkansas State was up by 23 points.

Fastest and Slowest Games of the Week

Something I will track week to week throughout the 2016-2017 college basketball season are the fastest and slowest games.  Games between Division I teams are the only ones that will be considered in this research.  Numbers will come from Ken Pomeroy’s website.  Usually depending on timing, I am striving to get this information out either on Saturday or Sunday.  These numbers will date back a bit further to the start of the season, Friday, November 11th.

Fastest Games of the Week

Iowa State 113 vs. Savannah State 71, 97 possessions

The Citadel 116 vs. Stetson 112, 93 possessions

Slowest Games of the Week

South Carolina 81 vs. Holy Cross 49, 56 possessions

Syracuse 90 vs. Holy Cross 46, 56 possessions

In an impressive feat, Holy Cross claims two of the lowest scoring point totals of the season in the two slowest games of the season thus far. Holy Cross is allowing their two opponents 70.4% shooting and over half of their opponents are grabbing missed shots at a clip of 51%.  Basically, you could throw a ball up at the rim 10 times, and you can be confident your teammate will come down with it 5 times.  To be fair, Holy Cross’s two opponents have incredible length.  Ironically, Holy Cross had more offensive rebounds than Syracuse, holding a 16-15 advantage.

Butler Bulldogs

As I mentioned last year when I began this blog, my passion for college basketball was fueled by a variety of people and experiences.  My shared experiences with my grandfather at Hinkle Fieldhouse watching the Butler Bulldogs over a period of fifteen-plus years cemented my passion and support for the Bulldogs and the sport of college basketball in general.  I will provide my own thoughts which will definitely vary from others because we are all entitled to our own opinions.

I’m encouraged and impressed with Tyler Lewis’s leadership on the court.  He has maintained his push the pace style, yet has improved his passing and decision making to begin this season.  The addition of Kamar Bladwin at the point guard position provides depth and an athletic complement to Kelan Martin when both are on the floor.  Baldwin’s intensity on defense allows for transition points for himself and others on the floor.  I anticipate Baldwin playing a major role for the Bulldogs as the season progresses.  Andrew Chrabascz is probably one of the most fun players to watch mainly because of his reactions to plays.  His intensity on the court from one play to the next provides encouragement to others.  He knows when he is in the wrong and quickly wants to make it right.  His desire to create space in the lane for his shots will continue to be rewarded throughout the season.  Maybe not in points, but he can increase the number of assists by finding the extra pass to a player cutting to the basket.

The Bulldogs will play Norfolk State on Monday this week and then travel to Las Vegas to take on Vanderbilt in the semifinal of their tournament on November 24th.  The Dawgs will play either Santa Clara or Arizona the following day.  I expect Butler to handle Norfolk State easily.  I think the Bulldogs will play a close game with Vanderbilt before winning by double digits and then keep it close with Arizona before falling.  Once the Bulldogs find their identity this season, they will be tough to beat.

 

Conference Tournaments

Conference tournaments in college basketball are arguably more exciting than the actual NCAA tournament itself.  That may be true for most schools in the country.  Think about this: in the last 20 years, only 11 of the 351 college basketball programs have cut down the nets in April.  If you want a number, that’s 3% of the nation possessing the championship for the last 2 decades.

Conference tournaments become an important and realistic goal for most teams in the body of college basketball.  In this post, I will list my favorites to win each of the thirty-two conference tournaments.  It’s really thirty-one because the Ivy League does not play a tournament at the conclusion of the season.  This could change in the near future as I’ve heard rumors that a tournament may be in the works in the next few years.  As I’m writing this, some conferences tournaments have already begun and some of the favorites I will list have already been knocked out!  I will remain honest in my decisions before tournaments started because, come on, who really predicted that Holy Cross would beat Bucknell in double overtime inside Bucknell’s own home and then beat Army, at Army?

In most conferences, teams play each other twice.  It’s difficult to hide deficiencies when playing a team for a third time in a season.  Successful teams have a coach that understands the strengths of the team and caters to those strengths during a game.  That’s not the only factor in being successful, but it is an important variable.

I’ll look like an idiot putting UT-Martin down to win the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament because I just looked at the updated bracket for the OVC.  UT-Martin was the 2 seed in this tournament and safely made it to the final.  On the other half of the bracket, Austin Peay created upset after upset by reaching the final to play UT-Martin.  Austin Peay beat Tennessee Tech on March 2nd, Tennessee State on March 3rd, and Belmont, the 1 seed, on March 4th just to get to the final.  It’s tough to play two games in a three day span, but they played four games in four days!  Austin Peay got hot at the right time.  In fact, they hadn’t won more than three games in a row this season.  After winning the Ohio Valley, they’ve won six games in a row.  Now, are they realistically going to win a game in the NCAA tournament? Probably not.  This is what makes the month of March exciting though.  It was probably predictable that the upset on Belmont was possible because of how the Bruins finished the season.  After winning nine games in a row, which included a win over a very good Valparaiso team, Belmont finished the season 4-4.  All four of those losses came to mediocre teams.  That’s not to say Belmont was going to lose from the tipoff.  The game went to overtime and the Bruins lost by one point, 97-96.

Winning streaks for teams is a good tool to use when predicting how a team will do in the NCAA tournament.  I use this when making picks in the NCAA tournament.  Not all winning streaks are created equal though.  (If a team like Duke wins 10 games against awful competition, that’s less impressive of a winning streak than a mid-major winning 10 games against highly competitive, brand name teams.)  If teams are on a winning streak, I’m more inclined to pick them.  Back in the 2009-2010 season, Butler was 8-4 after losing at UAB in December.  The Bulldogs did not lose a game the rest of the season and entered the National Championship game on a 25 game win streak.  Teams that mesh well tend to make it to the second weekend and further.  If you’re going to fill out a bracket this year, be sure to look for my post on tips when filling out a bracket!

 

Enough of theory and trends!  Here are my favorites for each of the 32 conference tournaments:

ACC: Virginia                                                                       America East: Stony Brook

American: SMU                                                                   A10: Dayton

Atlantic Sun: North Florida                                            Big 12: Kansas

Big East: Xavier                                                                  Big Sky: Montana

Big South: Winthrop                                                        Big Ten: Michigan State

Big West: Hawaii                                                               Colonial: Hofstra

Conference USA: Middle Tennessee                           Horizon League: Valpo

Ivy League: Yale                                                                MAAC: Monmouth

MAC: Akron                                                                        MEAC: Norfolk State

Missouri Valley: Wichita State                                    Mountain West: Fresno State

Northeast: Fairleigh Dickinson                                  Ohio Valley: UT-Martin

Pac-12: Utah                                                                     Patriot League: Bucknell

SEC: Vanderbilt                                                               Southern: Chattanooga

Southland:  Stephen F. Austin                                   Summit League: IPFW

Sun Belt: Arkansas-Little Rock                                 SWAC: Alcorn State

WAC: New Mexico State                                               West Coast: St. Mary’s

 

Preseason Ranking

After the college basketball season wraps up each year, I enjoy looking back at the preseason rankings and comparing them to how teams finished.  It can be humorous to see how hilariously wrong we were about some teams being ranked too high and others far too low.

Preseason rankings seem to be a necessary tool to use in order to set a baseline (pun intended) for the beginning of the season and for reflection at the end of the season.  USA Today released their preseason Top-25 within the last few weeks.  I like to see how my own Top 25 compares to those that are published to a much broader audience.  Below, you will see two lists: the left being the AP Coaches Poll and then mine on the right.  I always like to include two more teams in mine, which, through simple math, adds up to 27 teams.  Remember, it’s all in good fun (at least for me).

AP Coaches Poll Top 25                                                          My Top 25(+2)

  1. (tie) North Carolina                                                         1. Duke

1. (tie) Kentucky                                                                  2. Kentucky

3. Maryland                                                                         3. North Carolina

4. Duke                                                                                 4. Maryland

5. Kansas                                                                             5. Kansas

6. Virginia                                                                            6. Villanova

7. Iowa State                                                                        7. Virginia

8. Oklahoma                                                                        8. Arizona

9. Villanova                                                                         9. Oklahoma

10. Arizona                                                                         10. Iowa State

11. Gonzaga                                                                         11. Wichita State

12. Wichita State                                                                12. Utah

13. Michigan State                                                             13. Gonzaga

14. California                                                                     14. Michigan State

15. Indiana                                                                         15. Wisconsin

16. Utah                                                                              16. Notre Dame

17. Wisconsin                                                                     17. Baylor

18. Notre Dame                                                                  18. Indiana

19. LSU                                                                                19. LSU

20. Vanderbilt                                                                    20. Cincinnati

21. Baylor                                                                            21. California

22. Butler                                                                            22. Butler

23. West Virginia                                                               23. Purdue

24. (tie) Connecticut                                                          24. Vanderbilt

24. (tie) Purdue                                                                  25. Connecticut

                                                                                          26. Georgetown

                                                                                          27. Miami (FL)

A note on why ties occur in the Coaches Poll:  The USA Today Coaches Poll is made up of 32 Division-I men’s college basketball coaches.  Points are assigned based on the order the teams are ranked.  When teams receive the same number of points, they are assigned a tie.

Games don’t actually end in a tie.  Connecticut and Syracuse tried their best though by going to 6 Overtimes during the 2009 Big East Tournament.

What are your thoughts on the polls above?  Are there any glaring issues?  Should there be other teams included? Leave a comment below!

Why I Write About College Basketball

In an attempt to maintain sanity within the realm of college basketball, I thought it would be a fun venture to write about one of my passions!  A quick back story as to why this even came to fruition:

Most would probably say that it makes sense I enjoy following college basketball, due to the glaring fact that I was born in Indiana.  I find it goofy being born in a certain area allows for generalizations to be made.  I own it though and have fully jumped into the lore that is college basketball.

Having said that, I was taken to numerous Butler men’s basketball games growing up in the mid-1990’s.  I was fortunate to have been born in an area rich in basketball fanaticism and history.  During my childhood, I found a fascination with taking on the role of the underdog.  That role is something that the Butler Bulldogs are quite used to.  I watched them accept and own that role of underdog as they began a quiet and calculated, yet exciting move into becoming a household name in the month of March.

My grandfather is the reason I love Butler basketball.  He had been a season ticket holder for a while before he invited me to go to a game with him.  As we spent time together at these games, I felt a shared connection with him that I have since felt with the rest of my family and close friends.  I was privileged to watch Butler have success from the late 1990’s to present day — mostly sitting next to my grandfather.

There isn’t one exact moment I can point to and say, “That is when I began to love college basketball.”  It was a love that developed over time.  It was through the shared experience with my grandfather, family, friends, and relative strangers even!  It was the smell of popcorn and the sound of live instruments from band playing during timeouts.  The setting was an influence.  There is nothing quite like watching a Butler game on an early Saturday afternoon with natural sunlight beaming through its large, cathedral-esque windows.

College basketball is what I look forward to most as the temperature drops and days grow shorter.  So, that’s why I chose to write about college basketball. By no means am I the expert on the sport.  It is something I enjoy watching and discussing.  I love the detailed statistical analysis.  Put numbers in front of me and I could look over them for hours.  I love the conversation and playful banter that comes with watching the sport. In recent years, I enjoy the parity in the sport.  It’s an exciting feeling to watch teams that weren’t given a chance at the beginning of a game walk off the court celebrating victory.

It was something I was born into — introduced by my parents and facilitated by my grandpa–I have come to love the game of college basketball and I want to share that passion.

So, you can expect updates every few weeks about the college basketball landscape.  To be honest, that most likely means recognizable names of colleges.  However, as the tournament in March draws near, I plan to look into teams that have a legitimate chance to receive a bid to the tournament.  Naturally, there will be Butler specific posts as I have an allegiance to their program.  The key for these updates is how much time I have on my hands to type up posts.  Until the next post!

Max