Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Case for the Big XII

It wasn't an unrealistic argument last year to claim the Big XII was the best conference in the nation. Then the tournament happened.  Fair or not, perceptions are made in March.

As we turn towards this season, KenPom released his pre-season rankings and the Big XII placed 5 teams in his top 25.  Kansas at 4, Texas at 19, OSU at 21, Baylor at 24 and Iowa State at 25. The B1G has 4 teams in the top 15 and 10! in the top 40. OU shows up at 28, so the Big XII does have 1/5 the top 30. KState is at 31, too.

West Virginia figures to linger on the bubble. Texas Tech and TCU bring up the rear. The B1G is better but they're closer than people think. 

Ultimately, a big March would help the conference. That said, it should be wildly competetive with high level hoops


Conference Preview #4

Now we get to the meat of the Tournament. Coming in at 4th is the Big 12. Conference bids are escalating and there’s some heft to them. No top 3 seed and a bunch of 9-12 seeds. The Big 12 is looking solid with at least 4 single digit seeds and 1 or 2 on the fence. I like the look of one team this year to make some big noise out of this conference and it’s not the team that you are accustom to seeing.

League Champion: Texas Myles Turner is a stud. Read that again. STUD. Everybody is talking about Jahlil Okafor at Duke and he will be special but in my mind he’s 1B to Turner’s 1A when it comes to Freshmen. Texas returns most of its roster from last year’s turnaround and I think they take the next step this year. I’m picking them to win the Big 12 and nail down a top 2 seed

At-Large: Kansas Out goes 1 great recruiting class, in comes the next. 3 big time players leave but each has a compliment coming in to replace them. This team will be led however by Perry Ellis and Wayne Seldon. If they can provide leadership and motivation to the next group Kansas will be right on Texas’s heels. I see a 3 seed coming their way.

At-Large: Iowa State Take what I said about Kansas’s recruiting class and replace it with transfers and you have Iowa State’s method for success. Georges Niang returns and will be an All American. If the transfers mesh well this could be a top seed team as well.

At-Large: Oklahoma Another team that returns most of its lineup from last year’s run and gun team. They will go as far as Buddy Hield and their defense allow. A few tweaks here and there and they have a potential to solidify a top 6 seed and avenge last year’s upset to North Dakota State

At-Large: Kansas State Bruce Weber has done a terrific job at K-State and although I don’t think they have the talent to compliment the top 4 in the conference I do think they have enough to beat on the TCU’s and Texas Tech’s to get enough wins to grab a 10 or 11 seed.

Also Considered: Oklahoma State

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

SEC Rising

The SEC has arguably the nation's best team in Kentucky and a Final 4 sleeper in Florida (stay eligible, Chris Walker). The rest is pretty blah to use a scientific term. But the future is bright.

In the last two years, teams in the SEC have hired some top notch coaches. On top of that, the league has seen very solid recruiting at LSU and Texas A&M. 

When I looked at coaching hires last spring, I thought the SEC did a great job. Donnie Tyndall at Tennessee, Kim Anderson at Missouri and Bruce Pearl at Auburn are all guys that can succeed at those spots.

Johnny Jones has LSU pointed in the right direction and has been doing a great job in recruiting. Same with Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M whose hire of Rick Stansbury as an assistant is already paying off. Even Vandy, off two down  seasons should be better and have been doing solid work in recruiting.

It won't be this year, but in a year or two, the SEC can be the deepest league in the nation

Conference Preview #5

Coming in 5th place is the very confusing SEC. They want you to believe they aren’t just a football conference but results prove otherwise. Yes, last year they had two Final Four participants, but it looks like those are the only locks this year as well. It’s very top heavy and not much separates teams 3 through 8. It’s going to be a strange year again for the SEC.

League Champion: Kentucky I’m not going into detail on this team. On paper they have the best roster in college. The only question is how they mesh and how they split up the minutes. I’m considering taking them as my preseason #1 but too many egos can ruin a team.

At-Large: Florida Yes, they lost 4 starters from last year’s Final Four run but they still return the best 3 point shooter in the land and a bunch of valuable reserves. I look for Chris Walker to have a huge year. Watch out for Duke transfer, Alex Murphy (Erik’s younger brother) as well.

At-Large: Arkansas Here’s where the SEC falls apart. The Hogs have some talent, but not a ton. They need to feast on the bottom half of this league and bulk up their wins because Kentucky is going undefeated in the SEC. It’s going to have to be a gaudy record or bust for them.

At-Large: Georgia Basically see Arkansas. If they both make it they will be double digit seeds.

Also Considered: LSU

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Conference Preview #6

The 6th ranked conference is the now depleted Big East. I don’t imagine many teams making noise this year in the tournament and it wouldn’t surprise me if they only get 2-3 bids. However, I see Villanova as a dark horse top 5 team this year. For only losing one player from a 29 win team not many people are talking them up this fall. Before I post my preseason predictions I’m going to take a long hard look at this team as a possible Final Four team. Jay Wright has struggled a bit lately but I do think he’s a good coach. This could be a big year for them. As I look at the rest of the conference I see a big jumbled mess of average teams. It’s going to be a struggle to differentiate between team 2 and team 6.

League Champion: Villanova AS mentioned above, good coaching, a lot of returning players, and a week conference. They could challenge for a 1 seed at the end of it.

At-Large: Georgetown It’s been a long couple years for the Hoyas and I don’t see it turning around this year. Enough to get in but not enough to make any noise.

At-Large: Xavier A shade below Georgetown. I’m thinking of an 11 seed and an early round exist.

Also Considered: Providence, Butler, St. John’s

Monday, October 27, 2014

UMass

I agree with Brian on his A-10 preview. VCU, Dayton & George Washington are the class of the conference with the rest fighting for a possible 4th or 5th spot in the tournament. We'll get to Rhode Island in a bit.  I think St. Joe's, Richmond & La Salle are teams that could sneak in but if it'll be anyone, it'll be UMass.

UMass was an easy pick last year with Chaz Williams. It's not easy to replace a guy who did it all but it is possible the team could be more balanced without him. Jr. Trey Davis becomes the leader at point and on offense and he'll have big man Cody LaLanne to help.  LaLanne had a chance to be a double-double guy this year.

UMass brings in West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds to augment the backcourt along with Derrick Gordon, a solid defender. Keep an eye on Maxie Esho at forward. Like LaLanne, he could put up some positive numbers in the paint.

UMass jumps out of the gate with 3 tough games, playing Siena, BC, Manhattan, Notre Dame & Florida State at home or on neutral courts.  They also travel to Providence, LSU, BYU & Harvard before opening A-10 play. Shouldn't take long to figure out how good this team is and how much work they'll have to do in conference play.

As for Rhode Island, if you don't know the name E.C. Matthews, learn it. He'll be a big reason if Rhode Island gets back into dance consideration.

Conference Preview #7

Now we are starting to get into big boy territory. The Atlantic 10 sent 6 teams to the tournament last year and was able to get Dayton all the way to the Elite Eight (as I predicted). I think 6 bids will be a reach this year but 4 is not out of the question. St. Louis lost a lot of players while UMass lost their heart and soul in Chaz Williams. St. Joseph’s seems to be a question mark but I think everybody else from last year returns. The one team I’m watching out for this year is Rhode Island. They haven’t been to the tournament since the Lamar Odom years…I wonder what he’s up to? Dan Hurley has them pointed up but will he have enough this year?

League Champion: VCU It’s the same old story for VCU this year. They lose a couple players but recruit like a solid high major. Their defense will be tough and force a lot of turnovers but can they score enough to be a factor come March? The A-10 is strong enough that the league champion should still get a 5 or 6 seed. If that happens you can bet you’ll see VCU against the best low major as a 5-12 game. The committee will make sure of that.

At-Large: Dayton Just like last year I love this team. Archie Miller is a great coach and I’m guessing his time here is short. They will press VCU for the #1 seed in the A-10 tournament. I see a 6 or 7 seed for them

At-Large: George Washington They lost their leader, Maurice Creek, but return most everything else. Coach Mike Lonergan had success at Vermont and is now seeing the turnaround at George Washington. Expect to see him somewhere else in 2-3 years as well. Perhaps Boston College?

At-Large: Rhode Island I know Kurlinski is going to love this pick. They are a darkhorse that’s going to make a big turnaround this year. Dan Hurley is doing a masterful job and is years ahead of brother Bobby at Buffalo. I don’t see them having a lock of a at-large type of year but this team looks to be one of the play in game teams. Another coach who looks to be gone in a couple years. Seton Hall anybody?

Also Considered: St. Joseph’s