Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part III

With a busier part of the year for work, I have not been able to look closely at the next few teams Butler will play in the next ten days.  I have had the time to look at Northern Illinois, however, and this could be a closer game than Bulldog fans may initially anticipate.

Northern Illinois, 2017-2018 Record: 13-19 ; series record Butler leads 5-3   Last meeting: February 2, 1997

Kenpom Ranking: 148

Background

The Huskies come into Hinkle Fieldhouse this afternoon toting an effective offense and lackluster defense.  As bad as Butler has been to start the season with perimeter defense, Northern Illinois has been worse, allowing their opponents nearly 40% from beyond the 3-point arc.  Opponents look like they are having their way inside too because the Huskies are allowing over 52% made on 2-point baskets one month into the season.  As poor as the Huskies are at defending the three pointer, their ability to score from beyond the arc is on the opposite end of the shooting spectrum.  Northern Illinois shoots nearly 42% from three, yet they don’t take many threes.

Players to watch

Northern Illinois touts a veteran team composed of mostly juniors and seniors.  Eugene German is the go-to guy that takes about one-third of the Huskies shots each game.  German does turn the ball over, about one in every five times he possess the ball.  Levi Bradley is another large contributor for Northern Illinois.  Bradley handles the ball well and he adds another dimension for the Huskies because of his ability to shoot the perimeter.  Currently, Bradley shoots above 50% from beyond the arc.  An interesting visit from the nation’s leading efficiency ranked player (according to Kenpom.com) in sophomore Rod Henry-Hayes will be a treat.  He is ranked so high because he has not turned the ball over and, to this point in the season, has made most of the three pointers he has taken.  In fact, Northern Illinois boasts three of the most efficient players in the nation.  German currently ranks eleventh for players who are used on at least 28% of possessions during a game.

Expected Outcome

Northern Illinois plays at a lethargic tempo, working their half-court offense a majority of their possessions.  German, when provided the opportunity, will take shots from beyond the arc.  Although the Huskies shoot threes at a successful clip, three-point baskets don’t make up a large portion of how they score.  Butler’s perimeter defense has improved over the past month, however that is in large part due to playing below average teams.  The Huskies have three players averaging double figures.  Eugene German leads Northern Illinois with 21.8 points per game.  In two of his last three games, he has scored 30 and 33 points.  Limiting German and Levi Bradley will be keys to Butler’s success.

In their most recent game, the Bulldogs outplayed Brown in the first half with what looked like an uptempo offense.  It seemed clear the message from the coaching staff was to speed the offense up and get shots off quicker in the shot clock.  By halftime, the Bulldogs had grown their lead 36-17.  A couple positives in the result were the seven turnovers and thirteen assists on twenty-four made baskets.  Keeping the number of turnovers in single-digits is a great sign of growth.  Hopefully the Bulldogs continue great play today against the visiting Huskies, a slightly more formidable opponent than Brown.  I have the Bulldogs winning at home 75-67.

Advertisements

Early Season Basketball Tournaments

As fans, we were treated to a terrific opening few days of college basketball.  The unexpected upsets of Baylor and Wichita State to the obliteration that Duke laid on Kentucky made for one of the most memorable opening days of college basketball.  That was followed up by exciting games played throughout the week like Buffalo going on the road to West Virginia and winning in overtime.  The loss the Mountaineers incurred was the first home opening loss since the 1989 season.

The growth of early season tournaments in college basketball has rocketed in the past decade.  In quick succession of beginning the season, teams have only played a few games before they ship off to various destinations to compete in early season basketball tournaments.   It seems that this time of year has now becoming saturated with an outlandish number of tournaments.  In this write up, attention will be given to tournaments that have more at stake for the participating teams.  Tournaments where teams that are likely to make the NCAA tournament or those that I anticipate to be on the bubble will be discussed below.

Listed below are just a few of bracketed early season tournaments.  There are an equal amount of non-bracketed early season tournaments as well.  As far as previewing the tournaments, I have mentioned the dates games are played and the location.  For a majority of the tournaments, agreements were made that some teams participating will visit schools that are actually traveling to the tournament site.  Therefore, I have not listed every team that is participating in the actual tournament, only the teams that are traveling to the tournament site.

I look at potential match ups, likely results, and dark horses to win each tournament below.  You will also see a link you may click on that will take you directly to the tournament bracket.

Gildan Charleston Classic

Thurs-Friday and Sunday, Nov. 15-16 and 18 in Charleston, South Carolina. Bracket

Teams participating: Alabama, Appalachian State, Ball State, Davidson, Northeastern, Purdue, Virginia Tech, Wichita State.

As far as quarterfinal games that are of interest, the Alabama/Northeastern final may be a surprise.  Northeastern has a solid squad.  Their season opening loss at home to Boston University does raise some question marks.

Virginia Tech should handle a Ball State team that may surprise some people in the Mid American Conference this year.  The Hokies match up well against both Alabama and Northeastern and I see them moving onto the final against Purdue.

The possible match up between Purdue and Wichita State in the semifinals could be interesting.  However, with the way Wichita State has started the year, I will be surprised if they hang around with Purdue.

Ultimately, the Boilermakers have more play-makers than Virginia Tech does, and with Carsen Edwards leading Purdue, it will be a tough ask to slow him and his supporting offensive cast down.

Favorite to win: Purdue

Dark Horse: Northeastern

U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

Friday – Monday, November 16-19 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands  Bracket

Teams Participating: Eastern Kentucky, Kansas State, Kennesaw State, Missouri, Old Dominion, Oregon State, Penn, Northern Iowa

There is a clear favorite in this field and it is Kansas State.  Missouri and Old Dominion are the two teams that could challenge Kansas State, but I think that those two teams are a tier below.  Northern Iowa is in a down year, and the likes of Eastern Kentucky, Kennesaw State, Penn, and Oregon State are weak teams.

I think a semi final game between Old Dominion and Missouri would turn out to be a close game with the winner advancing to the final against Kansas State.

Favorite to win: Kansas State

Dark horse to win: Old Dominion

Cayman Islands Classic

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 George Town, Grand Cayman  Bracket

Teams Participating: Akron, Boise State, Clemson, Creighton, Georgia, Georgia State, Illinois State, St. Bonaventure

The two teams that are favorites heading into this tournament are Clemson and Creighton.  I anticipate both teams meeting each other in the winners bracket final.  There are a couple opportunities for Clemson or Creighton to slip up to their competition though.  If Clemson meets Illinois State in the semifinal, the Redbirds have a good chance of beating Clemson.  Likewise, Georgia State may sneak up on Creighton depending on how well the Panthers prepare for that game.  (It also means they beat St. Bonaventure).  Creighton shouldn’t struggle against either team due to their length and pace of play.

Favorite to win: Clemson

Dark horse: Illinois State

Maui Invitational

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 in Lahaina, Hawaii   Bracket

Teams Participating: Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, South Dakota State, Xavier

This should turn out to be an exciting few days of games.  In fact, regardless of who wins or loses games, every match up should be entertaining.  We’ll get a great look at what the Xavier Musketeers look like during this three day stretch.  Their opening game against Auburn will be a great test.  The winner of that game will likely play Duke in the semi-final.

Duke has demonstrated their value after their throttling of Kentucky on opening night.  Their semifinal opponent, whomever they play, will want to keep the game close.  That’s really all they can do at this point until trends develop in what coaches can find in Duke to attack their weak areas.

I think Gonzaga has an easy time with Illinois and meets Iowa State in the semi-final after the cyclones take care of a fumbling Arizona squad.

Duke shouldn’t struggle with either Xavier nor Auburn.  One of Duke’s strengths is their uncanny ability to finish in transition.  It will be unwise for either opponent to try and up their tempo.  I think Duke moves on to meet Gonzaga in the final.  Gonzaga, at least for mid-west and east coast college basketball fans, quietly put together another strong squad worthy of being ranked in the top 10.  Mark Few prepares his teams well for each opponent.  I think if Gonzaga and Duke play in the final, Gonzaga will give Duke more of a challenge for the full 40 minutes.

Favorite to win: Duke

Dark horse: Auburn

Battle 4 Atlantis

Wednesday-Friday, November 21-23 in Paradise Island Bahamas    Bracket

Teams Participating: Butler, Dayton, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, Virginia, Wisconsin

The first game between Florida and Oklahoma looks to be closer than anticipated prior to the season beginning.  I mention that because of the drubbing Florida State put on Florida.  The Gators are comprised of a talented group of players, but they looked lost against Florida State.  If Oklahoma keeps the game close, they’ll likely face Wisconsin in the semi-final.

The Wisconsin Badgers will tip off against Stanford in the second quarterfinal of the day.  The Badgers look to Ethan Happ as their leader with strong offensive and defensive play this season.  They shouldn’t struggle with a weaker Stanford team.

Butler and Dayton square off in the first evening quarterfinal game.  Dayton had an up and down year last year, not winning nor losing more than two consecutive games in a row.  With LaVall Jordan at the helm of a Butler Bulldogs squad that looks to continue their success from last year, this will be an interesting game.

In the last quarterfinal of the day Virginia and Middle Tennessee will play what should be a decided outcome by halftime.  Virginia seems to be in midseason form already with allowing few points, yet not putting many points up themselves.  I see Virginia moving on to play Butler.

In the first semi final game of the winners side of the bracket, I think Wisconsin has a more put-together team at the moment which sees them advance to the final.

In the second semi final game on the winners side, I think Virginia moves on.  Butler’s experience with their coach and on court savvy to attack the zone defense is too much to overcome.  It will be a learning experience that they can take advantage of.  If they do win, it will be because they made a large percentage of the 3-pointers they shot and they didn’t settle for long 2-point jump shots.

I think Oklahoma beats Stanford in the semi final on the losers side of the bracket, and Dayton beats Middle Tennessee State.

Finally, I think Stanford leaves without a win and loses to MTSU and Dayton beats Oklahoma.

I believe the overall winner will be Virginia after a close game with Wisconsin.  Tony Bennett has developed a system that works so well with the players he recruits that he will consistently have a high winning percentage every season.

Favorite to win: Virginia

Dark horse to win: Wisconsin

NIT Season Tip-Off

Wednesday and Friday, November 21 and 23, in Brooklyn, New York    Bracket

Teams Participating: Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee

The match up between Louisville and Tennessee should be great.  With Louisville still feeling the after effects of the FBI probe, recent sanctions, and introduction of new head coach, Chris Mack, it’s amazing to think that the Cardinals can still compete.  This will be a “down year” relatively speaking, but they will play teams tough during the entirety of the game.  I think Tennessee wins by single digits.

In the second game, Kansas is heavily favored to beat Marquette.  The Jayhawks will give Marquette trouble with their height, length, and their guard play.  However, Marquette is set to have one of their most successful seasons in years.  If the Golden Eagles are hitting their threes, win the rebounding battle, and play the transition game well, I think they will play Tennessee in the final.  That isn’t likely so I have Kansas moving on.

Favorite to win: Kansas

Dark horse to win: Marquette

Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational

Thursday and Friday, November 22-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada    Dates and Game Times

Teams Participating: Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas, UCLA

I couldn’t locate a bracket, but did find game times.  UNC and Texas will play in the first game followed by UCLA and Michigan State.  Winners of both games will play each other.  Losers will play against each other.  Michigan State showed some resolve against a deep Kansas team during their Champions Classic game.  Indy native, Kris Wilkes has put up impressive numbers for the Bruins.  I think that the Tom Izzo led Spartans triumph and take on North Carolina in the second game.

Texas saw a wonderful story unfold in seeing Andrew Jones return to the court after being diagnosed with and then beating leukemia.  Shaka Smart needs results as the coach of the Longhorns.  He’s muddled in the Big12 Conference the past few years.  I don’t see him beating North Carolina in their first game, however.  Texas is likely to depart Las Vegas with two losses.

In the championship, I expect a close game, one that the Tar Heels eventually win by single digits.  The key for the Spartans is to remain out of foul trouble.

Favorite to win: North Carolina

Dark Horse: UCLA

Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part I

As the Butler Bulldogs prepare for the 2018-2019 season, I will be sharing information on their non-conference opponents.  The opponents Butler will play during the non-conference portion of the season will each be given background, a brief overview of players to watch, miscellaneous information, and then conclude with an educated guess on the outcome of the game.

In researching the teams, I find joy in exploring the details that I learn about different squads and how they arrived to their current state.  Expect between two to four opponents to be evaluated with each post before the regular season tip off for the Bulldogs on November 10!

I am excited about what lies ahead for the 2018-2019 college basketball season as a whole and for the Butler squad led by LaVall Jordan in his second year as head coach at Butler.  I attended the exhibition games the past two weekends and will briefly share a few takeaways.

First, as is custom to notice, veteran players look trimmer, especially rising sophomores with their appearance being drastically different.  Jerald Butler and Joey Brunk shed some pounds and it shows in their speed and overall athleticism.

Although it was an exhibition game against a Division II team that is coming off a 7-21 campaign last season, these games are important to see how a team meshes on the floor.  Junior, Kamar Baldwin, inherits a leadership role and will likely be a primary scorer night in and night out.  Sean McDermott looked great, hitting 3-4 from 3 point range (Butler was 8-25 for the game).

Butler had 19 assists and 5 turnovers, both promising numbers.  Something I was concerned about was stagnant play and lack of sharing the ball.  Although a small sample size, it is promising to see the Bulldogs assist on 19 of their 40 made baskets.  This will be a number to strive for as Butler begins their season.  Seeing the turnover number in single digits will generally indicate smart play.  There will be off nights, but to hope for and see these numbers is a great start for the Bulldogs.

In their second exhibition game against Southern Indiana, the Bulldogs struggled to find a flow early, which is good.  That may be an odd take for a fan, but to continue to grow, they need that experience going into the season.  After falling behind 11-2 early in the game, Butler methodically made their way back and ultimately topped the Screaming Eagles 79-58.  I will take the positive spin on this result in that the leading scorer for the game was Paul Jorgensen with 24 points.  Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott were a collective 4-18 from the floor.  Those numbers will not be sufficient especially when Big East conference play begins.  With a defense that needs more time to practice, Butler will need to have difficult situations in which they can learn from.  The Bulldogs defesnive shell was spread thin by ball movement and accurate 3-point shooting early against Southern Indiana.  I am confident Butler will develop and grow as a team.  There will be lessons to learn in the first two months of the season, but for now, the Bulldogs prepare for Miami of Ohio on November 10th.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

A quick note about the records against opponents:  I have found information regarding Butler’s record against their opponents on sports-reference.com.  The information provided goes back to the 1938-1939 season. The numbers will not be entirely accurate based on the history of results that occurred prior to that season.  I appreciate the database having great depth in the records they share publicly.  Thanks to Ken Pomeroy for another year with his ranking system he shares with college basketball fans.  The Kenpom Rating that is shared in this post is current when the post is shared.  Those numbers are malleable and will shift throughout the season.

Game 1: Miami Ohio  2017-2018 Record: 16-18; series record Butler leads 6-1 Last meeting: March 14, 2006, Butler 53 – Miami Ohio 52

Current Kenpom Rating: 183

Background

The Bulldogs tipoff the regular season against the Miami Ohio RedHawks, coached by Jack Owens.  After finishing last season in MAC East conference play at 8-10, Miami looks to improve in the 2018-2019 campaign.  Miami does not boast seniority on their roster.  With two redshirt seniors and one junior, a younger rotation of players can be expected to take the floor.

Players to Watch

Redhawks Sophomore guard, Nike Sibande, earned MAC Freshman of the Year awards to go along with All-MAC Honorable Mention and made the All-MAC Freshman team.  Sibande has connections with the Indianapolis area, calling the city home and having attended Crispus Attucks High School.  Sibande averaged 15.1 points per game over the season, scoring in double figures in 28 of the 34 games played.  He hit 77 three-point baskets, the third most in Miami history.  He is an expected starter in Butler’s home opener.

Abdoulaye Harouna is expected to provide on-court leadership for Miami as he comes off a redshirt season.  Something interesting about Harouna is that he was born in December 1992, making him quite an older college basketball player than most that take to the hardwood this season.

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Benjamin Litteken, was a basketball manager last season for the RedHawks.

Expected Outcome

The result of this game should not be close.  My take is Butler shoots a high percentage from the field and wins by at least 20 points.  Butler continues to field a squad with the tallest players peaking at about 6’11” or 6’10”.  It’s worked in the past, but it forces their bigs to be quick and finish at the rim with a higher iq play frequently.  On defense, the bigs again need to be smart with positioning, but also quick to shift laterally, blocking an easy lane to the basket for the opponent.

Game 2 Detroit 2017-2018 Record: 8-24 ; series record Butler leads 42-26    Last meeting: February 4, 2012, Detroit 65 – Butler 61

Current Kenpom Rating: 333

At the end of last season, Detroit’s former head coach, Bacari Alexadner, had capped off a two year stint with a record of 16-47.  The abysmal result forced the Titans into finding a coach to turn the program around.  They did so in hiring Mike Davis, the former head coach of Texas Southern and Indiana.  Through the offseason, the roster changed and much is not expected from Davis’s first year as he hopes to build the Detroit program as he did at Texas Southern.

Players to Watch

Junior Cole Long played limited minutes last season, but is one of the few players that comes back to the rebuilt team.  He fills the stat sheet with hustle plays rather than points.

Senior guard, Josh McFolley, will be the go-to scorer for the Titans. He played in all 32 games last year and averaged 11.1 points.  He scored 20+ points in 4 games and 30+ points in 2 games last season.  His career high is 34 points against Wisconsin Green Bay.

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Detroit’s outlook this season is bleak. According to Kenpom.com, the Titans are favored to win just one game.  Another handful of games are considered tossups.  That is due to the massive turnover of players.  It could be unfair to Detroit to say they are a weak team, but because they don’t have much playing experience together as a team with their coach, it is expected that the results of winning games won’t show themselves frequently this year.  Add to the mix 5 freshman and a number of transfers, this could turn into a season of overachieving or sitting in the cellar of the Horizon League.

Freshman Antoine Davis is the son of head coach Mike Davis.

Derrien King, a grad student, is playing for his fourth college basketball team after spending time at Santa Monica College, Washington State, Angelo State, and now Detroit.  He did not play a game while at Angelo State.

Expected Outcome

Just as in game one of the season, I expect Butler to use this game as another opportunity to get more minutes for younger guys once the lead has ballooned significantly.  I think the Bulldogs win by 20-30 points in this contest as they gear up for Ole Miss.

Game 3 Ole Miss 2017-2018 Record: 12-20; series record – will be first meeting.

Current Kenpom Rating: 94

Mississippi visits Hinkle Fieldhouse this November for the first time.  However, their new coach, Kermit Davis Jr., is no stranger to the Bulldogs.  He previously coached against Butler when he was the head coach of Middle Tennessee in the 2017 NCAA Tournament Round of 64.

Davis brings a different offensive and defensive system to the Rebels.  What once was a more run-and-gun offense will likely transition into advantageous cuts to the basket, a scheme that saw success for Davis at Middle Tennessee.  The last three years at Middle Tennessee, Davis’s teams trended toward the bottom in three pointers attempted on offense, attempting 33.6% of all shots as three-pointers last season.  The defense will likely have a different look as Davis employs a 1-3-1 zone frequently.

Players to Watch

Redshirt Junior Dominik Olejniczak will cause trouble for Butler.  He stands seven feet tall and can body up down on the low block as well as provide okay passing for teammates cutting to the basket.

Bruce Stevens, a junior, is tall, has shown he can shoot the ball well, but historically has been inconsistent.  Once rated the sixth best junior college basketball player by JUCOrecruiting.com, Stevens may provide an issue for the Bulldogs if he can hit the three ball.

Expected Outcome

Those different looks on defense will require Butler to adjust – something they have not historically been great at. Mississippi played four games abroad in Canada in August.  From what I gathered, players that were retained from last year’s team mentioned how the offense flows better and that it’s easier to get to the basket.  Butler will need to have solid communication and interior defense if they want to win this game.  I think it’s a much closer game than they had against their first two opponents of the season.  Butler 79-Ole Miss 71

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Ole Miss will attempt to get back to the NCAA tournament this season after alternating in and out since the 2013 season.

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.

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