Thursday, October 31, 2013

Another View of Kentucky

Whether the SEC or Big 12 goes above one another doesn't much matter to me (Kentucky or Kansas are legit threats to win it all, OSU & Florida are Final 4 capable) but I believe Kentucky is as good as it was two years ago and much better than last year.

You don't ignore Alex Poythress and Willy Cauley-Stein but the key player in this team will be freshmen Julias Randle who rivaled Andrew Wiggins for best incoming player (Riggin' for Wiggins or Riggin' for Randle works for me Bucks).  The Harrison twins, C Dakari Johnson & SF James Young were all top-10 recruits as well as future pros.  The depth on this team will be incredible.  Talking undefeated is a bit much but this group is way closer to 2011-12 than last year. 

Also, keep an eye on this kid, Derek Willis a 6'9" freshmen who has looked good thus far for Kentucky, according to various reports. 

Florida is good but they have issues keeping kids on the floor for a variety of reasons.  It's easy to hate Calipari and Kentucky.  This year, though, I think it's going to be tough if you don't like them because they are going to win a lot.

Conference Rank #4 - SEC

Our 4th ranked conference is sure to spark controversy as most pundits would have the SEC at 3rd due to the relative strength of the top two. One of my reasons for putting them behind the Big 12 is unlike most people I see Kentucky’s “greatest” recruiting groups closer to last year’s freshman than the year before. When Kentucky won the tournament everybody left and got drafted. Last year not everybody left…I wonder why? Perhaps its because everybody sees the holes in Alex Poythress’ game and know better. He wasn’t a good teammate or leader last year; what makes everybody think he’s not going to bring this team down as well. And Willie Cauley-Stein is no Daniel Orton . Now, don’t get me wrong, they will still be good, 3-4 seed good but I have Florida winning the SEC ahead of them. Rounding out the bids in the SEC are in order, Tennessee, LSU, and a last four in Missouri. Bubble worthy teams are Alabama and Arkansas with the Tide probably falling in the last 8 out category.
Conference Champion: Florida
At-Large: Kentucky
At-Large: LSU
At-Large: Tenneesse
At-Large: Missouri
Bubble: Alabama
Bubble: Arkansas

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Conference Rank #5 - Pac-12

Teh Pac 12 sneaks in ahead of the Big East only because I see Arizona as a possible Elite Eight candidate while I don't see anybody from the Big East with that kind of ceiling. So, starting at the top with Arizona, how does the rest of the conference fall into place? UCLA starts fresh with Steve Alford but how will the players respond? There's talent but can they gel? Oregon brings in another bunch of transfers and it makes me wonder what kind of person Dana Altman is. This can't be the same guy from Creighton! Colorado returns 4 of 5 starters but the seems to be lacking in the middle. I think the top 3 get in easy with Colorado grabbing a bid along the 11 seed line. If the Pac-12 gets a 5th bid it will likely come down to California or Arizona State. We'll leave them on the bubble for now

Conference Champion: Arizona
At-Large: UCLA
At-Large: Oregon
At-Large: Colorado
Bubble: California
Bubble: Arizona State

Conference Rank #6 - Big East

Conference #6 is bound to bring up questions as I see little difference between 5 and 6. At this point I rank the Big East slightly behind the Pac-12 even though they may get more bids. My top pick is the hometown Warriors of Marquette. Yes, they lose Vander Blue, Trent Lockett, and Junior Cadugan, but they bring back plenty of firepower including 9th year senior Chris Otule. Jamil Wilson is the X-factor and as long as they get some point guard play they should rise to the top. 2nd and 3rd are interchangeable in my mind between Georgetown and Creighton. Doug McDermott is my pre-season player of the year. 4th is Villanova and that’s where the bids will end for the Big East. If they do scrap out a 5th pick I’m looking at St. John’s or Providence and newcomers Xavier and Butler. St. John’s returning players puts them slightly ahead of the other three.

Conference Champion: Marquette
At-Large: Georgetown
At-Large: Creighton
At-Large: Villanova
Bubble: St. John’s
Bubble: Providence
Bubble: Xavier
Bubble: Butler

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mountain West and the American: Counter-ish Points

Not that it ultimately matters at all, but I'd put the American ahead of the Mountain West Conference simply because the top half of the American has 3 of KenPom's top 20 teams and a 4th in Cincinnati in the 40s that I think will be better by the end of the season.  The 5-10 of the American will be better as well.  Brian mentioned SMU who is trending up and keep an eye on Central Florida.  UCF could be a surprise team this year.  Houston, Temple and Rutgers will be capable of winning some games they shouldn't as well. 

The top 3 teams are Louisville, Memphis and UConn.  Louisville is a legitimate threat to win back-to-back titles and Memphis and UConn are Sweet 16 caliber teams.  The conference is a bit of a jumble and Louisville is in for only one season and the rest would bolt as soon as another BCS conference would call, but at least for this season, it should be an interesting conference with lots of good basketball.


The Mountain West puffed its chest throughout 2012-13 as its RPI reigned near the top.  Justifiably so, 5 teams went dancing and then...SPLAT.  New Mexico and perennial underachiever Steve Alford got bounced in its opening game against Harvard as a 3-seed.  UNLV, a sleeper Final 4 contender by many, including yours truly, lost its opening game to California.  Boise State lost in the play-in and San Diego State got run off the court by Florida Gulf Coast.  Only Larry Eustachy's Colorado State could hold their heads high, beating Missouri before getting trounced by eventual champ, Louisville.

Four bids seems likely.  New Mexico is the clear favorite with new coach Craig Neal and POY candidate, Sr. G, Kendall Williams.  The Lobos also return, big man Alex Kirk who lead the league in rebounding and blocked shots.  They lose Tony Snell but have JUCO All-American, Deshawn Delaney joining the roster.  Look for Delaney to be a big key to Lobo success.  The Lobos can be as good as last year.  The fans would like a few wins in March, though.

Boise State is the next team on KP's rankings (His rankings don't include frosh or transfers).  UNLV is probably more talented but questions exist in my mind about the coaching.  Dave Rice has accumulated talent but no success out of the Mountain West.  Boise State has five starters returning.  Between the two, I'd look for Boise State to be a bigger thorn in the side for New Mexico than UNLV.

San Diego State loses Jamal Franklin and Chase Tapley but Xavier Thames returns and the Aztecs add transfer Josh Davis from Tulane.  Look for SDSU to rely on some young players, so a sluggish start shouldn't surprise anyone.  More importantly will be whether they improve through the conference slate.

Utah State is the wild card.  The former WAC-member was a constant WAC contender and have some pieces that should allow them to contend this season as a first year member of the Mtn. West.  Jarred Shaw has an opportunity to be an All-Conference player and will be a force in the post for the Aggies.

I'm not counting out Colorado State who may have the league's best coach in Larry Eustachy.  They lose nearly everyone but look for a big season out of Mountain West 6th Man of the Year, Daniel Bejarano.  Wyoming faded in conference play last year but has enough talent to beat some of the top of the conference teams and keep themselves in the conversation.  Neither is likely to dance but will have something to say about who does out of the MWC.

This is a put up or shut up type of year throughout the conference.  Can they find success in March as a whole?  Can New Mexico break through the first weekend?  Can UNLV have results that match the perceived talent?  The league continues to attract good coaches and good players.  Time to get some results.

Conference Ranking #7 - Mountain West

The 7th ranked conference, the Mountain West, surprised many by getting 5 bids last year. This year shouldn’t be much difference. New Mexico has a new coach but outside of Tony Snell return most of their lineup. This conference is their’s to lose. UNLV has some turnover but has enough talent to safely snag a bid. Boise State returns most of their team as well and I believe has the best chance to give the Lobo’s a run for their money. San Diego reloads and Steve Fischer always has them ready to go. I have all 4 of these teams getting a bid. On the bubble we have Utah State, new to the MWC, and Fresno State which made big strides last year. If everything works perfectly 5 bids is not out of the question.

Conference Champion: New Mexico
At-Large: Boise State
At-Large: UNLV
At-Large: San Diego State
Bubble: Utah State
Bubble: Fresno State

Conference Rank #8 - American Conference

The 8th ranked conference is also the newest conference, the ill named American Athletic Conference. Starting at the top is last year’s champion, the Louisville Cardinals. Their stay in the AAC is brief, 1 year, but there’s little doubt they win the conference in that 1 year. Second place is a different story. A case can be made for either Memphis, Cincinnati, or Connecticut, fresh off suspension. I’m giving the slight edge to the Huskies due to their guard play. Memphis and Cincinnati will thug it out for 3rd and 4th, rounding out the At-Large bids. The sleeper in this conference is SMU which I can see making a push but ultimately coming up short.

Conference Champion: Louisville
At-Large: Connecticut
At-Large: Memphis
At-Large: Cincinnati
Bubble: SMU

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Conference Rank #9 - Atlantic 10

Conference number 9, the Atlantic 10, has already been previewed by Eric earlier. Our analysis isn’t much different. The top seed belongs safely to VCU and I expect a 5 or 6 seed out of them. The second team is also very secure as St. Louis is poised for another bid. The third team from the Atlantic 10 comes down to either LaSalle or UMass. I’m giving a slight edge to the Explorers in a very interesting race. Come March I expect the A-10 to have 2 locks with LaSalle ultimately beating out UMass for an 11 or 12 seed.

Conference Champion: VCU
At-Large: St. Louis
At-Large: LaSalle
Bubble: UMass

Friday, October 25, 2013

Conference Rank #10 - West Coast

And then there were 10. Our top 10 conferences begin out west with the West Coast Conference. Outside of the Patty Mills era this has been all about Gonzaga and this year doesn’t look much different. The Zags may not be a top 10 team like most years but they will remain heads and shoulders above the rest of the WCC. While paging through the magazines this fall I was surprised to see many experts peg this conference as a 1 bid league. I don’t quite see it that way as BYU and St. Mary’s should be in the running for a 2nd and possibly 3rd bid. At this point I give the edge to BYU who will rely heavily on Tyler Haws to carry a Fredette like scoring burden. If he can get some quality help BYU should be safely on the right side of the bubble.
Conference Champion: Gonzaga
At Large: BYU
Bubble: St. Mary’s

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Conference Rank #11 - Conference USA

Our 11th ranked conference looks to be the first in the multiple bid category. There doesn’t appear to be much difference between the top 2 or 3 teams but the bottom of the conference will really bring down these teams’ RPI. On paper Louisiana Tech looks like the front runner with most of last year’s firepower back. Southern Miss appears to be slightly ahead of Middle Tennessee State in the pecking order with UTEP on the outside looking in.
Conference Champion: Louisiana Tech
At-Large Bid: Southern Miss
Bubble: Middle Tennessee State
Bubble: UTEP

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Ever Changing A-10

There is a lot to dislike about conference realignment.  Mis-matched divisions, lost rivalries and the constant shifting in the non-BCS leagues.

A year ago, the A-10 had a fantastic season.  VCU, St. Louis, Butler, La Salle & Temple all repped the A-10 in the NCAA Tournament with each winning its opening matchup and La Salle made the Sweet 16 while Butler & Temple lost in the final minute in the round of 32.

Flash forward to today and Butler, along with A-10 perennial contender Xavier have left for the new Big East and Charlotte and Temple left for Conference USA and the AAC to chase football dreams.  George Mason moves  from the Colonial and Davidson joins next year.  More change could be afoot as rumors still swirl the new Big East could be eyeing St. Louis, Richmond, Dayton and/or VCU.  But that's later.  Here's a brief look at this year.

The Sleeper:  I've been high on Rhode Island from the day they hired Dan Hurley who spurned Rutgers in the off-season to stay with the Rams.  Will the Rams make the NCAA tournament this year?  It's doubtful but they should get on the bubble for a portion of the season.  They have the league's returning leading scorer in G Xavier Munford and add 3 transfers to the roster that should give them depth and better talent.  Keep an eye on Texas Tech transfer, sophomore Biggie Minnis and freshmen G, E.C. Matthews, a top-100 recruit.  The Rams probably don't dance this year but by next year will be a legit title contender in the A-10.  Buy now,

The Middle:  A conference is sometimes only as good as its middle and the A-10 has plenty of talented teams that fall into this category.  These teams should hover around the bubble and could go either way.  I wouldn't be surprised if two of the following 5 make the A-10 a five-bid league again.

Those teams in no general order are George Mason, UMass, Dayton, Richmond and St. Joe's. 

George Mason moves over from the Colonial and coach Paul Hewitt has the Patriots trending upwards.  They return all five starters, all of which are juniors or seniors.  UMass is lead by senior PG Chaz Williams, a likely 1st team A-10 player and add Western Kentuicky transfer G Derrick Gordon who was the Hilltoppers leading scorer in his only season.  Dayton lost a lot of close games last year which saw them shut out of all post-season play but have the A-10's top recruiting class.  A lot of their minutes were played by freshmen last year.  Look for a step forward.  Richmond and St. Joe's round out the group, both coming off .500 seasons.  The Hawks may be more talented of the two but if Richmond can figure out how to win on the road, both figure to be in the mix.

The Top 3:  Heading into the season, the top 3 are not in doubt.  They are expected to be VCU, SLU and La Salle.  VCU is the clear-cut favorite, remarkably for the first time under Shaka Smart.  Will they handle expectations?  It'll help to add graduate transfer Terrance Shannon from Florida State who was cleared to play immediately.  They still have plenty of recognizable faces in Rob Brandenburg, Treveon Graham, Briante Weber and Juvonte Reddic.  They look like the easy front runner to me.

That's not to say St. Louis won't be a formidable foe.  The Billikens are a bit more settled as head coach. Jim Crews had the interim tag removed.  He has Jordair Jett and Dwayne Evans back as well.  The Billikens calling card is defense and will be again this season.  There weren't many better on that side of the ball last year.  Bonus fun:  They have Tanner Bronson on staff.

La Salle was the surprise of the group last year, in that they made the Sweet 16 when you'd probably have guessed one of the other 4 but the Explorers rode a 3-headed backcourt monster of Garland, Duren & Galloway.  Ramon Galloway has graduated but Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland return as does senior guard, Sam Mills.  Look for La Salle to make back-to-back dances for the first time in decades.

Bottom Line:  The A-10 looks like a certain 3-team league.  I think UMass is pretty certain as well but we will have to see how the losses of Butler and Temple effect the league.  Xavier leaving hurts as well but Butler sort of took their spot in the pecking order last year as Xavier had a rare down season.  I originally thought 5 bids wouldn't shock me but it seems unlikely.  Possible?  Yes.  Likely?  No.  Still, the A-10 should be a fun league for people who love college basketball. 

Conference # 12 - Missouri Valley

Our 12th ranked conference of the year has been previewed already on these pages; it’s the Missouri Valley conference. As Kurly correctly pointed out the projected winner of the conference appears to be heads and shoulders above the rest of the league. Wichita State, which made the Final Four last year is poised to make another run to the tournament. The big question is whether the Valley is a 1 bid conference this year. Time will tell but as for now we are projecting only 1 seed come March.
Conference Champion: Wichita State
Bubble: Northern Iowa
Bubble: Indiana State

Monday, October 21, 2013

Conferences 17 Through 13

The last of the surefire single bids
17. Summit - North Dakota State
16. Colonial - College of Charleston
15. Sun Belt - Georgia State
14. WAC - New Mexico State (check out the 7-5 and 7-3 brothers)
13. MAC - Toledo (but watch out for Akron)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Valley

I'm jumping in on Brain's countdown and doing a quick peak at the Missouri Valley Conference.

Like so many others, the Valley finds itself in a period of transition, losing long-time member Creighton and adding former horizon member, Loyola (IL).  On the court, the swap is a net loss but a trip to Chicago probably surpasses a trip to Omaha.  The Valley had arguably its best seasoni n history as Wichita State joined Butler & VCU as a party crasher at the Final Four, more than holding its own against eventual champion Louisville.  Creighton takes POY Doug McDermott with it to the new Big East but the Valley should still be a competetive and talented conference.

The general consensus is, the top of the Valley should look like this:

1. Wichita State
2.  Indiana State
3.  Northern Iowa

Evansville and Missouri State should make up the middle with Bradley in the mix as well.  Don't be surprised if the top 3 slip up and lose a game to one or more of these teams.

Northern Iowa will be led by two juniors, G Deon Mitchell and F Seth Tuttle.  Northern Iowa has Iowa State on the schedule in Cedar Falls as part of the Iowa Hy-Vee Classic (Iowa will play MVC member, Drake that night), VCU a week later at Cedar Falls and then travel a week later to Virginia.  UNI will also play at George Mason and have Iona at home prior to conference play.  It's a good test before to conference play. 

Indiana State will be led by potential Valley POY, Jake Odum.  Joining him will be F, Manny Arop.  The Sycamores have a rebuilding Belmont on the schedule at Belmonth a return date and travel to Notre Dame, both before Thanksgiving.  They're playing in the Great Alaska Shootout as well but the participants are mediocre.  Should they make the final, they'd get probably Harvard or UWGB.  Winning here would be recommended should they need an at-large.  They also travel to St. Louis in December.  I like UNI's non-conference schedule better.

The schedule and how those teams play in those games will go a long way to determine whether the Valley gets two bids this year.  Of course, either team will be capable of winning Arch Madness.

The clear favorite will be Wichita State.  The Shockers return plenty of key pieces and add a few as well.  Coach Gregg Marshall brings back pre-season Valley POY, F Cleanthony Early and will have a talented and experienced backcourt with sophomore SG, Ron Baker, PG Fred VanFleet and junior G, Tekele Cotton rounding out the triumvarite.  The frontcourt should be bolstered by 3 newcomers, UL-Lafayette transfer Kadeem Coleby, JUCO transfer Darius Carter and talented freshman, Shaquille Morris.

I don't think Wichita State will struggle with success or a "target" squarely on their back.  They have the most talent but a few head scatching losses in conference won't surprise me.  When it's all said and done, it'll take a pretty epic collapse or a slew of injuries to keep Wichita State from the tournament.

Whether or not the Valley gets two entrants into March Madness this season probably centers around how Indiana State and UNI play out of league.  If they struggle, it'll probably take a win at Arch Madness for the league to get two bids.  I don't see another team surprising anyone and taking a leap towards the top.  The league is still very good but there is no Creighton to pair with Wichita State this season.  Still, if you're a hoopnik, Valley basketball should be lots of fun.

Conferences 18-22

With a little over 3 weeks until the season starts we nail down conferences 18 through 22. Still 1 bid territory but we're getting closer to at-large country.
18. Big West - UC Irvine
19. Ivy - Harvard
20. Atlantic Sun - Mercer
21. SoCon - Elon
22. Northeast - Mount St. Mary's

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Our Next Five Conference Winners

23. Horizon - UW-Green Bay, followed closely by Oakland 24. Big Sky - Weber State 25. Ohio Valley - Eastern Kentucky 26. MAAC - Manhattan 27. American East - Vermont Catamounts

Marquette Recruiting Update

After Marquette Madness on Friday, Marquette's top target for the 2014 recruiting class, Ahmed Hill of Augusta, GA committed.  Hill is a consensus 4* SG and and top-60 recruit.  He compares to Vander Blue but with a better shot.  It came down to Marquette and Missouri with Indiana in the mix as well. 

He joins Seymour, WI SF, Sandy Cohen and Orland Park, IL F Malek Harris.  All 3 are top-100 recruits.  To give you an idea of how well the Big East has been recruiting, Marquette rates 11th overall nationally according to 24/7 Sports, but 4th in conference. 

Marquette has one spot available.  Two other targets were on campus on Friday, SF Marial Shayok who is expected to announce this week between Marquette, Providence and Virginia and New Hampshire PF, Tory Miller.  Marquette may also be in the running for Ohio C, Satchel Pierce as it was reported they offered him last week.  They could use another big in the class since they lose Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson & Davante Gardner.  Shayok rates higher than Miller or Pierce but Miller has been rising the charts this past few months.  Whatever way it ends up going, Buzz Williams has landed another solid class on top of a great class.

He also has one of the nations top PG committed for 2015 in Sun Prarie's Nick Noskowiak.

Exciting times for Marquette basketball fans

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Big East Predictions Sure To Be Wrong

Here are my final predictions for the Big East this season.  They are sure to be wrong.  * indicates Tournament team, ** indicates NIT

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

Player of the Year:  Doug McDermott, Creighton
Newcomer of the Year:  Brandon Austin, G, Providence

All Big East First Team
F:  Doug McDermott, Creighton
F: Davante Gardner, Marquette
F:  JaKarr Sampson, St. John's
G:  Semaj Christon, Xavier
G:  Bryce Cotton, Providence

All Big East Second Team

F:  Jamil Wilson, Marquette
F:  JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
G-F:  Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
G:  Markel Starks, Georgetown
G:  D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's

All Big East Third Team

F:  Kadeem Batts, Providence
F:  LaDontae Henton, Providence
C:  Chris Otule, Marquette
G:  Ryan Arcidiancono, Villanova
G:  Grant Gibbs, Creighton

All-Freshmen Team

F:  Reggie Cameron, Georgetown
F:  Kris Jenkins, Villanova
G-F:  Deonte Burton, Marquette
G:  Brandon Ausin, Providence
G:  JaJuan Johnson, Marquette

Get To Know The New Big East: Marquette Golden Eagles

Lost to Syracuse in the Elite 8

Head Coach:  Buzz Williams - Hired after Tom Crean left for the Indiana job in April of 2008, little was known of Buzz and questions abounded amongst Marquette faithful if he could match Crean's record or keep the program trending in the right direction.  Six years later, his name is now mentioned when any major job opens across the land and has surpassed Crean's achievements save one, taking the Golden Eagles to the Final Four.  Please read this if you want to know about what made and who Buzz Williams is - It's a six-part series.  This link takes you to part 5

NCAA History:

National Champion:  1977
Final Four:  1974 (Runner-Up), 1977 & 2003
Elite 8's:  7
Sweet 16's:  16

2013-14 Glance:  Expectations are high entering the new year despite losing 3 key backcourt performers in Vander Blue, Trent Lockett & Junior Cadougan.  Countering those losses are arguably Marquette's best recruiting class since Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews & Dominic James.  Todd Mayo and Derrick Wilson reurn for their Junior seasons and will team with newcomers, FROSHES Duane Wilson, Deonte Burton & JaJuan Johnson.  Derrick Wilson is expected to start at the point and was quite efficient last season when he played but hasn't shown a great offensive game.  Duane Wilson, on the other hand despite being a freshmen may be more polished offensively and should see plenty of minutes.  Mayo will be pushed by JaJuan Johnson, a top-50 recruit and Burton, a top-100 recruit should see plenty of time as well.  Jake Thomas was largely ineffective last season save the Syracuse regular season game.  Reports indicated he bulked up and may see more time.

While the backcourt appears to be in a state of transition, the front court should be a major strength for the Golden Eagles.  Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson, who both came off the bench last season, return and should be all-league type players.  Gardner was one of the best shooting big men in the nation last season and Wilson was arguably the team's best player not named Vander by the end of the season.  Chris Otule will man the middle as he was granted a 6th year of eligibility.  Otule was very efficient from the field last year in his minutes.  Juan Anderson was the starter, though he saw less minutes than the other frontcourt players.  Anderson thought of transferring but decided to stay and will give Marquette plenty of minutes.  They also add JUCO player and local product, Jameel McKay who is the latest of Buzz's JUCOs to join the team.  Don't be surprised if he is a big contributor this season.

Marquette will be tested in the backcourt but has plenty of talent and depth throughout the lineup where another Sweet 16 isn't a reach.  Had Vander Blue returned, they'd be a Final Four contender.  Even without him, they'll be the favorite heading into this Big East season and if the Freshmen and McKay live up to the hype, have a shot at playing in the Final 4, though expectations of that should be tempered.  It should be a fun year at the BMO Harris BC.

Marquette blogs:,,

Friday, October 4, 2013

Let The Countdown Begin!

We are officially 5 weeks out of College Basketball season. As Kurly has started his Big East breakdown I’ll start counting down our Conferences from 32 to 1. Note that this year there is 1 less auto-bid as the new American Conference….awful name by the way…gets a bid. 28. Southland – Northwestern State Demons 29. Patriot – Boston Terriers 30. Big South – High Point Panthers 31. MEAC – NC Central Eagles 32. SWAC – Texas Southern