Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2013-14 and What We Learned or Not

It's pretty remarkable UConn now has 4 titles in the last 15 years. That's as many titles as Duke, more than Kansas, Louisville & Michigan State. Only UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina have more. When Kevin Ollie took the job, my first reaction was UConn had seen its best days. I suppose its possible this is still the case since key players were Calhoun recruits but with a National Championship in his back pocket and his NBA pedigree, I think Ollie and UConn will continue to be a force. Whatever the case, by Monday night, UConn was playing as good as anyone had all season. I can't think of another backcourt in the nation that could have handled Napier and Boatright.

As for Kentucky, it took them a while to figure things out but they played very well in March. They definitely had their share of luck but the level at which they played was quite high from Wichita State on. John Calipari's March record is pretty good at Kentucky. The 2011 team made the Final 4 as a 4-seed knocking off Ohio State, KenPom #1 along the way. I'm not sure having Willie Cauley-Stein would have mattered but not having him didn't help. Sounds like a good chunk of his players are NBA bound. Don't cry. They have a great class in 2014, too.

This season was a return to parity. Not to take anything away from the teams in the Final 4, but none would have matched some previous champs. Florida was the best team entering the tournament but lacked NBA talent. Arizona would have been interesting had Brandon Ashley stayed healthy but they, like Florida, lacked a dynamic offense. Both were efficient but hardly explosive. Louisville was a very good team by the end of the year but couldn't match Kentucky's overall talent, blowing a late lead in the Sweet 16. Other conference champs all had major flaws. Michigan was a dynamic offense with a questionable defense. Virginia was the polar opposite. Kansas was uber-talented similar to Kentucky. The Joel Embiid injury dampened their chances but even with him, they were prone to inconsistency. By the end of the year, the Kentucky youngsters looked like a better "team". Villanova, like Florida lacked NBA talent and couldn't matchup against the UConn guards.

The ACC was a mess this season. Duke couldn't guard and UNC was inconsistent, plagued early by personnel issues. Virginia rose to the top and was impressive in doing so. Syracuse won a lot of close games early to jump out to an early #1 ranking. By time Dayton knocked them out, Syracuse was a team reeling. Pitt did Pitt things. Computer loved bit never as good as what the numbers said. The rest of the conference was mediocre or awful. Adding Louisville helps for next season. Duke and Carolina should be much better in 2015.

The A-10 rode Dayton to the Elite 8 and have some young coaching stars in Shaka Smart and Archie Miller. St. Louis will take a step back. The conference will be fun again in 2015. Keep an eye on Rhode Island next season.

The first year of the new Big East was uneven as pre-season favorites Georgetown and Marquette struggled. Creighton will definitely fall back in 2015. Seton Hall should take a leap and Providence loses Bryce Cotton but gets Kris Dunn back. Villanova looks to be the only top-25 team for next year. As of today, the conference has a lot of talent scheduled to come in next year.

The Big 12 had a great season but a bad March, not sending any teams to the Elite 8 and only 2 to the Sweet 16. Kansas will remain the alpha dog. Can anyone knock them off next season? Iowa State loses Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane but still have a lot of talent in Ames. Don't count them out. I like Texas a lot in 2015, too. West Virginia will be a team to watch early along with Oklahoma.

The Big 10 was statistically the best conference but I thought they were a bit overrated. They got their top 3 teams to the Elite 8 so they certainly showed their strength. Barring some unforeseen decisions, Wisconsin will be atop 5 team. Michigan shapes up as the second best team, assuming GR3 comes back. The conference will take a step back as Ohio State and Michigan State figure to be lesser teams. In fact Nebraska may open in the top 3. Northwestern may be the surprise team. Maryland joins and could be a tourney team but lost 3 players to transfers yesterday. Odd happenings there.

Even with their losses, Florida will be among the favorites in the SEC along with Kentucky. I like Georgia next year as a team to watch. Auburn will be interesting, too with Bruce Pearl there. He should get some players late to make them competetive. Tennessee saved their season late but will be hard pressed to repeat that in 2015. It'll also probably be a make or break season in Missouri and Arkansas.

Arizona won the Pac-12 and will be favored again in 2015. UCLA won't be far behind and I really like Utah next year. Utah was pretty unlucky in 2014 and were a victim of a terrible non-con schedule. Stanford should build on their Sweet 16. Johnny Dawkins has a real nice class coming in. Oregon a times, was as good as anyone in the west but also played as bad as anyone in the west. They should be in the mix as well.

Finally, the American Athletic claims this seasons National Champ in UConn. They lose Louisville and Cincinnati loses 3 key contributors. The favorite in 2014 will be SMU. Larry Brown came up short in 2014 but won't next season. Memphis will be gooad as well but the natives are getting restless with Josh Pastner. He'll have to get to the 2nd weekend sooner than later. Kelvin Sampson returns to college hoops with Houston. They'll be interesting next year. South Florida hired Orlando Antigua after the Steve Masiello fiasco. Not sure that's a big difference. They won't be a contender next year but don't be surprised if they are in a year or two.

Way too early Final 4 for 2015 in Indianapolis:

1. Duke
2. North Carolina
3. Arizona
4. SMU

Congrats to UConn! Time for 2014-15 yet?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

And the End

Tomorrow night, either UConn or Kentucky, 7 & 8 seeds respectively will be crowned the new national champions of college basketball.

Brian and I not agree neither of these teams are really 7 and 8 seeds. Both teams have NBA players and are supremely talented. Both also had some bad, blowout losses during the course of the season. UConn has been damn impressive in the run to the title game. Arguably, their toughest game was the opener against St. Joe's. Kentucky has played 4 thrillers, a run that has undoubtedly left its faithful emotionally spent.

Whoever wins this game will join 2011 UConn as the least likely champion of the KenPom era.  Kentucky enters 9th (6th AdjO, 44th AdjD).  UConm enters 10th (37th AdjO, 10th Adj D). Here is what past champs have looked like.

2013: Louisville, 1st (4th AdjO, 3rd AdjD)
2012: Kentucky, 1st (2,8)
2011: UConn, 9th (18,13) - OSU, 1st
2010: Duke, 1st (1,8)
2009: UNC, 1st (1,21)
2008: Kansas, 1st (2,1)
2007: Florida, 1st (1,17)
2006: Florida, 1st (3,6)
2005: UNC, 2nd (2,12) - Illinois, 1st
2004: UConn, 2nd (9,5) - Duke, 1st
2003: Syracuse, 5th (14,13) - Pitt, 1st

Really, it could be argued by the numbers this would be the weakest champ of them all but there is so much talent on these teams, that argument seems ridiculous. Both teams simply found their way late in the season where we didn't have a dominant team.

Arizona and Florida took turns at 1 & 2 on KP for most of the season. Arizona had bad luck losing Brandon Ashley and Florida was very good but short on NBA talent. Both would have been deserving champions but wouldn't have been among the best of recent memory. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised teams as talented as UConn and Kentucky made their way through the field.

UConn beat a good Villanova team and an undermanned Iowa State team. Their last two wins have been impressive, beating two teams who many saw as potential champs.

Kentucky's gamut has been impressive as well. Kentucky's last 4 wins were all over teams capable of winning it all, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan & Wisconsin. All were classic games that will live on in Kentucky lore for generations. You may not like them, but if you weren't entertained, find a new game.

As for this game, it's a toss up on KenPom. Kentucky is a 1-pt favorite after being dogs in its last 4 games. That's how crazy this season has been. 

My pick? No idea. I'll just say:

Kentucky 70 UConn 69

Note?  I've picked against UConn the last two rounds. Congrats, UConn

Friday, April 4, 2014

FINAL FOUR PICKS

FLORIDA vs. UCONN -

I jumped on the Florida bandwagon late. Brian pegged them early but I had questions about exactly who would be on the roster. I've been calling them the eventual champs since December and will stick with that.

The numbers favor the Gators pretty heavily. UConn certainly has a chance to win this game. Anytime you have Shabazz Napier, you have a chance. DeAndre Daniels has been a stud the last few weeks and the Huskies size can be a problem for the Gators.

UConn makes 77% of their free throws. Florida makes 67%.  Numbers to know. 

The Pick: Florida 68 UConn 63

WISCONSIN vs. KENTUCKY-

For the sake of America, it sounds like Wisconsin better win. Well, at least according to local radio personalities. College is for college students, damnit!

This is basically a toss-up by the numbers with Wisconsin a slight favorite. You'll probably hear talk about tempo but Kentucky only averages about 1.5 more possession per game. Both teams will run given the chance but can perform in the half court.

Kentucky is slightly better on defense and rebounding while Wisconsin is a better offense. Kentucky is average at protecting the ball and can't give away possessions. Kentucky has also shot over its head from 3 in the tournament. For most of the season, they didn't rely heavily on the 3. Is it fool's gold and will they rely too heavily on it against Wisconsin?  Wisconsin is vulnerable inside. Kentucky can't get jump shot happy.

Wisconsin's defense has been much better in the tournament. Kentucky's offense has been much better. Fascinating matchup for the soul of America.

The Pick: Wisconsin 71 Kentucky 66

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Road to Wojo

On Friday of the opening week of the tournament, Buzz Williams announced he was leaving Marquette to take the Virginia Tech. Most knowledgeable Eagle fans knew this day was coming sooner than later. For a variety of reasons, Buzz Williams was no longer happy at Marquette. He had won whatever power struggles there were with the school administration. AD Larry Williams had quit admist stories of a strained relationship but Buzz still wasn't happy. His team was his team. All players at Marquette were his players he had recruited, including this year's highly regarded class. All of this was not enough for Buzz Williams. Fair enough. An unhappy coach isn't going to end well for him or the school he is at. The sooner a resolution can be reached, the better for all. We'll come back to some Buzz stuff at the end.

As for how Marquette landed on Steve Wojciehowski, here's what I have gathered from social media and national media. As soon as it was announced Buzz was leaving, Ben Howland's name surfaced from local and national media. As far as I can gather, this was a one-sided attraction and Marquette never seriously considered Howland, perhaps only as a fall back candidate. There's a problem with him abd I don't know what it is. Some outlets thought he was the guy at Washington State only to see Ernie Kent get the job. A few on the west coast speculate he might be in play for California but every national guy seems to believe it'll be a young assistant or younger head coach from a mid-major. Wake Forest was rumored for him, too, but it looks like they're thinking Danny Manning or someone similar to him. I have to wonder if Howland is going to need to take a mid-major job at this point.

Next up was Shaka Smart and the fiasco that was last Monday. I wrote last Sunday, Smart was a "dream" candidate who wasn't coming to Marquette. Then twitter blew up on Monday morning after 24/7's Jerry Meyer reported he heard Smart and Marquette was "likely to happen and happen soon." I'll admit, I was floored. Meyer isn't a coaching search go-to-guy but he is connected. Later that morning Jim Ganzer, who runs brewcityball.com as a pay for info site that covers all Milwaukee area related basketball news said he was predicting Smart to Marquette. WTMJ radio personality Doug Russell fueled the fire reporting something may happen soon without naming names. Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel did the same.

A member of Marquette TV tweeted a coach was hired and Marquette was having a 5:00PM presser which sent local TV stations into a frenzy as they raced to the Al McGuire Center to cover this presser where they expected Marquette to hire Shaka Smart. Alas, Marquette simply released a statement announcing the team banquet. Ganzer doubled down early that evening tweeting "Done Deal. Shaka Smart to Marquette." Asked who his source was, Ganzer tweeted, "I'm the source". Fox 6 reported a done deal as well leading their broadcast at 9:00PM with the news. Problem was, it wasn't true. The next day, deadspin.com ran the clips of Milwaukee news reporting a story that never happened. It wasn't Marquette's fault local news was so sloppy and unprofessional but they got lumped in with it.

National media started reporting the next day that no deal was struck or imminent or likely for that matter. Marquette announced its new President, Michael Lovell on Wednesday leading some to speculate Smart needed reassurance of some stability in Milwaukee since Marquette was without a President or AD. There were rumors the new President and other MUBB reps flew to Richmond on Thursday to try and land Smart. By Thursday afternoon, the national media was reporting Smart had informed Marquette he was staying at VCU. That afternoon, acting AD Bill Cords held a press conference basically saying nothing.

Whether Marquette and Shaka Smart were ever close to striking a deal, we'll never know (I highly doubt it). But whatever the case, I'm sure Smart was their 1st target. It didn't work out and reports surfaced Marquette was interested in talking to Tennessee's Cuonzo Martin. Jason King of Bleacher Report first reported that possibility as the Smart saga was happening.

Martin was on the hot seat before his Sweet 16 run this March. He met with Marquette officials on Sunday, that much we know. Tennessee people seemed pretty sure yesterday Martin was ready to bolt. Current Vol AD, Dave Hart had not hired Martin and many fans, 36,000 signed a petition to get rid of him. He had reason to leave and with a buyout that was cut in half today, he seemed the guy. Then late last night, Andy Katz of ESPN and Gary Parrish of CBS reported Martin had withdrawn his name from consideration.

The reality was, Martin didn't withdraw. Marquette had made the decision to hire Steve Wojciehowski of Duke and informed Martin they were going in a different direction. This is pure conjecture on my part but allows Martin to save face in Knoxville and if he doesn't get a raise this year, I'll stand by that.

Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA's best beat writer, reported Sunday that Marquette had targeted Wojo as a possible candidate. He interviewed yesterday and according to painttouches.com, blew the doors off his interview impressing everyone who was part of the interview process. And he is now Marquette's new head coach.

It was widely believed Marquette prefered an experienced coach and given their pursuit of Shaka Smart, this is probably true. Same with the interest in Cuonzo Martin. Ultimately, they ended up with who could be the best coach for Marquette which is what matters. Wojo is 37 years old but with a world of experience. He has been the Associate Head Coach at Duke since 2008, coaching Duke big men until Jeff Capel returned when he began working with the Duke backcourt. He has been on Duke's staff since 2000, joining them after playing a year in Poland! We won't know if he has the recruiting chops sans Coach K but Duke recruits against blue bloods so I think we can say he'll be comfortable doing it. He does have a NBA pedigree as well, having assisted Coach K on the last 2 Olympic teams and gets rave reviews from Jerry Colangelo who recommended him to Marquette. As with any new coach, x's and o's are hard to gauge but Coach K had stepped back in recent years allowing his assistants to do a large chunk of the day-to-day stuff. The one name associated with him that will likely be on his staff is Chris Carrawell who is an assistant in the d-league.

I'm on board with this hire far more than I was with Buzz Williams. This gives me pause since Buzz did an incredible job at Marquette, maintaining and exceeding in some ways what Tom Crean had built. For what Marquette fans think of Tom Crean, what he accomplished in Milwaukee should not be forgotten. New facilities, a Final 4, leading Marquette into the Big East, etc. Ultimately, Wojo will be simply judged on wins and losses and the talent he gets to Marquette and develops. I'm cautiously optimistic.

As for the current crop of players and recruits, early reports, mostly from FoxSport Wisconsin Andrew Gruman and painttouches.com (@painttouches on twitter) seem to indicate there will be little attrition from the current roster. The question marks were G Jajuan Johnson ( a top-50 recruit) and F Steve Taylor, Jr. As of now, it appears both will be back. I'd guess Taylor is pretty solid while Johnson is still a question. Paintouches.com has a great piece on Taylor's struggles in 2014 with playing time and the coaches

What happens with the recuits is still a question as Wojo hasn't talked to them as of this afternoon. They have 4 in the class. G Ahmed Hill of Georgia (highest ranked), F Marial Shayok, Seymour's F Sandy Cohen and Ohio C Satchel Pierce. The last 3 are expected to ask for their releases with paintouches.com reporting Pierce may follow Buzz to Virginia Tech. He's a bit of a project but given Marquette's lack of size for next year, would've been a nice option to have. Shayok was recuited by Virginia and Providence but the Friars are out since they're in the Big East. Cohen may still end up at Marquette but Minnesota is an option and UCLA might be interested as well.

A lot of Marquette fans will hold a grudge against Buzz which is fine. Like I said, though, him staying unhappily in Milwaukee wasn't a solution worth exploring. Buzz has said he knew he was leaving a while back which basically means he quit on this season and his team. Quotes from the players today indicate they weren't terribly disappointed that he left. That's to be expected and some of it is certainly resentment over being left by the coach that recruited them. A fresh start was needed after a disappointing year.

As for Buzz, let me link you to this great story and you can decide what you think of Buzz Williams.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Deciphering Your Badger Final 4 Week

A lot of us are unfamiliar with the type of basketball Wisconsin plays, so let me define the terms that will be used to describe them in the week leading up to their tip-off in the Final Four.

FUNDAMENTAL BASKETBALL: Fundamental basketball can be interchanged with, "doing it the right way". Fundamental basketball includes playing something called "defense". Most teams can't play defense because they don't play defense on the playground. On offense, this means "extra passes" and "good shots".

UNSELFISH: Unlike 99% of the teams in the tournament, Wisconsin is one of the few, probably the only, that plays unselfish. Most teams don't share the ball or play help defense. Aaron Craft is unselfish.

GRITTY: Arguably the only team that will dive for a loose ball left in the tournament. That type of effort is "unselfish". Scrappy is another term that can be interchanged or out hustles.

HARD WORKING: Nobody outworks the Badgers on the court or in the classroom. Most teams are lazy in practice and the weight room and most teams have players that skip classes and have tutors do their work for them because they are not hard working.

HIGH MOTOR: The Badgers are always working because they have high motors. You won't see any Florida Gators being accused of having high motors. Sometimes "has a lot of heart" is used in its place.

SNEAKY ATHLETIC: The Badgers have guys that can run fast and jump high but you wouldn't expect it. "Deceptive speed" is similar in meaning. "Faster than he appears" is another option.

SOMEONE YOU'D LOVE YOUR DAUGHTER TO DATE: They have no clue how to navigate a major metropolitan city. Free of tattoos. Wear their hats straight with the brims properly bent. Enjoy Darius Rucker.

Hopefully this well help you

Saturday, March 29, 2014

SUNDAY ELITE 8

EAST 

Michigan State vs. UConn- KenPom has Sparty as a 2-pt. favorite in this game. Between the two, UConn has looked more impressive in the last two games playing with confidence and swagger. They haven't played a team nearly as physically and intimidating as the Spartans. If you watch Sparty, though, you see if you're patient, you can attack them and get good looks. UConn has the best overall player in Shabbaz Napier but I think his career ends at MSG.

The Pick: Michigan State 68 UConn 62


MIDWEST

Kentucky vs. Michigan - According to KenPom, this is basically a pick 'em game but that doesn't take into account no Willie Cauley-Stein. You'll have a good idea how this game goes based on Michigan 3-pt shooting. If they're making them, Kentucky will have a tough time winning. They simply can't match that firepower. I thought Tennessee would give Michigan more trouble in the paint but Michigan got a great night out of Jordan Morgan who has ably replaced Mitch McGary.  To think Kentucky will easily manhandle Michigan in the paint seems foolish. If Louisville could hold their own, Michigan can. Kentucky has the talent but I've been underestimating Michian all year. No more.

The Pick: Michigan 72 Kentucky 67

Friday, March 28, 2014

Saturday Elite Eight

EAST REGION

Florida vs. Dayton - You don't often see such a mismatch based on the numbers in the Elite 8 but according to KenPom, Florida is favored by 9 with an 84% win probability. In a one game setting, though, anything goes and Dayton looked great on Thursday night. That said, Florida is the best team in the land. VCU took out Kansas in 2011 in a similar setting so it's not impossible. I don't see it. Great run by Dayton ends and Billy Donovan goes back to the Final 4

Pick: Florida 71 Dayton 62


WEST

Arizona vs. Wisconsin - Arizona is a 3-pt favorite according to KenPom, with a 64% win probability. This'll be a de facto home game for Arizona similar to Wisky in Milwaukee last Saturday. Not sure that matters. I'm going with the numbers on this one and the numbers pegged Bucky a Sweet 16 team with an Elite 8 ceiling and Zona a Final Four team, Final game ceiling. 

Pick: Arizona 65 Wisconsin 61