Saturday, December 31, 2016

10 Bold Predictions For 2017

These are almost certainly going to be wrong.  Please be advised.

1. Oregon will win the Pac-12

2. Gonzaga won't go undefeated but will flirt with it.  Portland is the one that ends the perfect season.

3. UCLA won't make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

4. The ACC champion will finish league play with a minimum of four losses.

5. Purdue will win the Big 14.

6. West Virginia will win the Big 12

7. The Big 12 will get 8 teams in the dance thanks to weak mid-major bubble teams.

8. Rhode Island will win the A-10.

9. UConn will miss the NCAA Tournament and Kevin Ollie will take an NBA job.

10. Marquette goes 9-9 in the Big East and makes the Big East semi's and earns a play-in berth.

Happy 2017

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Big East Enters League Play

Hi!  Anywho, the Big East kicks off league play today.  Let's see where we're at.

The Gold Standard

Villanova is undefeated and number one in the country in the polls and in KenPom. They have a national POY candidate in Josh Hart and despite missing Phil Booth for a stretch, they're clearly a threat to repeat. Their real season starts in March.

The Pretender

Minus Myles Davis, Xavier has gone from trendy Final 4 pick to team of mystery. The numbers are solid. They aren't doing anything poorly but they don't necessarily have anything to hang their hats on. 

Pre-season chatter of an All-American type campaign from Edmond Sumner hasn't happened. The Musketeers are tourney bound but this isn't a Final 4 caliber team at the moment.

The Sleeper

I was high on Creighton entering the season. They haven't disappointed. They've been an offensive juggernaught. Defensively, they're so-so but the Watson-Foster back court has been fantastic. 

There are concerns about the offense being too 3 reliant but if you wanted to take a flier on a sleeper Final 4 team, you'd do far worse.

Old Reliable

Butler has seamlessly transitioned to the Big East and become a reliable tourney team. 17th in KenPom at 11-1, a top 20 offense and top 35 defense and a slew of players that can contribute on a given night, the Bulldogs are barking their way to March. Question will be where they end up on the seed line.

Bubbly

Next up in the KenPom rankings are Marquette (38th), Seton Hall (48th), Georgetown (49th) & Providence (61st). 

All will need to be on their best behavior through league play. Anything below .500 will probably relegate these teams to the NIT.

My guess is Seton Hall makes it and Marquette is the next closest. Georgetown's margin of error is too thin. Providence has been about what I expected and will probably win a game or two they're not expected to. Still see them at 7 or 8 wins in league tops.

Bad Losses

The bubbly' can't afford losses to St. John's or DePaul. Chances of both going winless are zero since they play each other. St. John's is 97th in KenPom, so they're not hopeless but you want them to be a w on your schedule.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Early Season Woes

Oregon continues to struggle but Dillon Brooks is starting to get healthy so they might be able to turn that around.  Just remember I said they won;t.  UCLA is the class of this conference.

Indiana hilariously loses to IPFW and you can bet unfrozen caveman coach will never schedule a game with them again.  No use in getting embarrassed again.

Michigan State is starting to turn around the 0-2 start but the game vs Duke is looming large.

Wisconsin looked good last night and I think the loss to Creighton is more about Creighton being better than people thought than Wisconsin being overrated.

Key game tonight is Wisconsin vs North Carolina in Maui.  Should be good.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Put a Rest To That Talk

An undefeated season for Duke I mean.  I've seen that written a couple times and even healthy I never thought they would go undefeated.  However, the team you saw last night will not be the team you see in February and March.  3 of their 4 top freshman did not play and we are talking about 12-17 point scorers for each of them.  They didn't deserve to win but it was a great last minute.

Speaking of last minute...the reason that was great is the referee's stopped calling everything.  A college basketball game should not take 2.5 hours and have 9 players in foul trouble.  At least they were consistant both way

Other notes

Wisconsin lost....good

Oregon lost...cause they aren't as good as everybody says and I am ahead of that curve

Monmouth lost out on a chance for a nice resume building win against South Carolina

Maryland came back and snagged a win over Georgetown

Michigan State is 0-2

Friday, November 11, 2016

Marquette: Year 3 of the Wojo Era

We enter the third year of the Steve Wojciechowski era at Marquette today. After inheriting a team bereft of players to fit his system or of much talent, Wojo slogged through the worst year in recent Marquette basketball history and then rode a one-and-done to a 20-13 season.

Expectations this year? I'm not entirely certain. Most publications/"experts" have Marquette anywhere between 5th and 7th in the league. KenPom has them 7th in the Big East but that still makes them a top-50 squad. 

The big concern entering the season is the bigs or lack thereof. Luke Fischer returns for his senior season and will be backed up by sophomore Matt Heldt. Heldt was a string bean coming out of Neenah but has bulked up considerably. Matt Velasquez of the Journal Sentinel who covers the team, remarked he didn't recognize Matt when he saw him this fall because of the drastic change. Does that mean he can play productive minutes? That we don't know but there's a glimmer of hope.

The Eagles biggest problem in 2015-16 was turnovers. Exactly 1 in every 5 possessions ended in turnovers. The hope is Traci Carter with a season under his belt protects the ball better. Haanif Chetham should see less time at the point with freshman Markus Howard being the primary backup at pg.

The lack of height can be overcome if they're a better shooting team this year as well. They were 210th in 3pt shooting and 54th in 2pt shooting. With Fischer in the roster, the 2pt shooting even without Ellenson should stay close to that. If they improve the 3pt shooting, true shooting % should improve. The addition of UNC-Asheville transfer Andrew Rowsey should help. A true shooter, the hope is he can match what he did in the Big South. Howard and fellow freshman Sam Hauser can also shoot from deep. 

Defensively, the team was middle of the road last year. Ellenson wasn't an elite defender but did provide size. Carter was very efficient at steals. Sandy Cohem terrorized Nigel Hayes at the Kohl Center last year so he has shown he can be a good defender. The key will be keeping Fischer on the floor. The guards will have to defend the perimeter. Senior Jajuan Johnson had a steal % that was 38th beat in the nation. He has the game to be a solid defender.

They should run 8-9 deep. Carter, Cheatham, Cohen, Fischer, Heldt, JJJ and Duane Wilson all return. Sacar Anim is redshirting. Hauser, Howard, Rowset and grad transfer Katin Reinhardt will also play. How will they mix this group will be the thing to watch for these first few weeks.

My gut tells me this team wins 9-10 games in league. They play Vandy, Michigan or SMU, Georgia and Wisconsin in non-conference so they have enough of a schedule to get on the bubble.

Things I Think We'll See

- Cheatham establishes himself as the best player on the team

- Heldt, by the end of Big East play, will provide solid minutes

- Hauser will play a lot and be the most effective of the 4 newcomers 

- They'll improve 100 spots in 3-point shooting

- Jajuan Johnson looks like a Top-50 player

Things I Hope We Don't See

- Turnovers remaining a dilemma

- Inability to overcome rebounding deficiencies 

- Wojo unable to find the right rotations 

- Freshman unable to provide any minutes in Big East play 

- Bad Gunslinging Duane Wilson

Final Prediction: I think they'll be uneven in non-conference play but find a way to 10 wins in league play to put themselves on the bubble. Either way, they'll play in a postseason tournament. And Wojo won't be on any hot seat. He's building a program. He didn't inherit a program, he inherited a mess whether people admit it or not. Next year? They'll be Big East contenders for certain. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Seasons Predictions

Elite Eight Matchups
Virginia over Virginia Tech
Michigan State over Ohio State
Wisconsin over Arizona
North Carolina over Maryland

Final Four Matchups
Virginia over Michigan State
Wisconsin over North Carolina

Championship
Wisconsin over Virginia

That looks about as bad as I could ask for so that should about do it

Season Predictions

Elite Eight Matchups:

UCLA over Michigan State
Kentucky over Villanova
Kansas Over North Carolina
Duke over Gonzaga

Final Four:

Duke over UCLA
Kansas over Kentucky

Championship:


Duke over Kansas

Nigel Hayes and Athlete Activism

Last month, when College Gameday was in Madison, Badgers basketball player Nigel Hayes stood near the set with a sign asking for money since he was a poor student athlete. The point he was trying to make was, the NCAA and UW are rolling in cash because of athletics while those who play the games are left with zero.

Now this past week, Hayes and a group of football players tweeted a message asking the university to answer them about racism on campus and what they were going to do about it. This stems from the Nebraska game Halloween weekend when two fans, one with a Donald Trump mask was pulling around the other in a noose while he wore a Barack Obama mask.

On the first topic, Hayes is fighting a battle the NCAA and UW don't want him to win. I'll argue Hayes and most athletes have it pretty good. Free housing, a financial stipend, free health care, access to world class training and nutrition and won't leave school $160,000 in debt. He's also not the best example of the poor student athlete. He had his opportunities to go play professional basketball, either the NBA or elsewhere but chose not to. Still, he has a valid argument.

What he should be able to do tough, is make money off of being Nigel Hayes, UW basketball player. Endorsements, likeness, etc. that he can sell, he should be able to. That includes signing with an agent. Andy Staples of SI has layed this out multiple times. It alleviates concerns by universities of Title IX implications and would eliminate a lot of the silly oversight by infractions committees.

Would there be overzealous boosters and others at certain universities? Well, yeah. It's still the most sensible plan to pay athletes. Who is selling that 10 jersey? If Hayes wasn't wearing 10, no one is buying a 10 jersey.

As for the second concern rasied by Nigel Hayes, he's right about racism at UW. It's been apparent for years a certain segment of the fanbase appreciates the "cleanliness" of the program. Take a gander at what's said about the type of player at Marquette versus the type of player at UW by the locals. It can be pretty blatant.

A clear example was the whole Diamond Stone saga. Henry Ellenson was as highly recruited as Stone. When Ellenson chose Marquette, nepotism was the excuse. When Stone chosen Maryland, they attacked his grades and smarts. Unfounded cries of low test scores and an inability to be admitted rang out from a segment of the fanbase, including the coaches daughter. When Stone visited as an opposing player, chants of "SAT" rang out. Why didn't Ellenson hear those chants?

I've never been a minority. When they say they get discriminated against as students by fellow students I have to believe them. Whether it's blatant racism or the avoidance of peer group work because of false assumptions, that is an indictment of our culture. I'm not dumb enough to believe this a UW problem alone. There's little doubt this exists across the nation at other institutions of "higher education."

Unfortunately for Hayes and his fellow African-American athletes, the response from the fans and some fellow students will be tepid and dismissed. Worse yet, he'll be told to focus on Final 4's instead of tackling issues he feels need tackling. I've already heard it from people whose opinion I didn't ask for. I hope most alum and fans applaud this young man for taking a stand. I think most will but it'll be the ones that don't that will prove his points.

Nigel Hayes has taken a stance. Let's see how the public handles an African American student athlete having a public opinion. I have a pretty good idea how the Wal-Mart Badgers will respond.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Conference Previews #1 - ACC

Conference Champ – Duke

The top of the mountain, the ACC.  There are no less than 4 potential Final Four teams in this conference alone.  Sitting at the top is Duke, who will be my pick for the National Champ.  They are young, old, experienced, deep, and the team to beat.  Following Duke is their old rival North Carolina.  They’ll miss Marcus Paige, but there are oodles of talent on the bench.   Third in the conference will be the plague on basketball, Virginia.  Don’t watch their games, just know they will score 52 and win.  That is of course until the tournament, when actual basketball is played and they get upset.  Rounding out my top 4 is Louisville who would probably win most conferences but only finish 4th here.
So, we’ve hit on the top heavy teams of the conference, now let’s get into the depth.   There will be a minimum of 10 bids here and 11 would not surprise me.  I have my final 6 bids listed below and although I have North Carolina State projected higher than the other 5 there isn’t much difference between Florida State and Clemson.  In fact, there isn’t much difference between Florida State and the two teams I don’t even have in the bracket, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.  Good luck trying to figure out how the middle of the ACC shakes out.  Just sit back and enjoy the games (except Virginia)

At-Large: North Carolina 1 seed
At-Large: Virginia 2 seed
At-Large: Louisville 2 seed
At-Large: North Carolina State 4 seed
At-Large: Florida State 8 seed
At-Large: Syracuse 9 seed
At-Large: Miami 10 seed
At-Large: Virginia Tech 11 seed

At-Large: Clemson 12 seed


Monday, November 7, 2016

Conference Previews #2 - Big 10

Conference Champ – Michigan State

I’ve been going back and forth on this all week and I finally decided to take Michigan State over Wisconsin.  It’s close talent-wise but I’ll take Izzo over Gard at this point.  Both teams are potential Final Four teams and they both fall in that second tier behind Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas.   After these two and before the terrible, terrible bottom third of the Big 10 are a group of teams that have high ceiling but glaring weaknesses.  Indiana is probably #3 in the pecking order followed closely by Purdue.   5 and 6 (I have 6 bids for the Big 10 this year) are more questionable.  Two teams will come out of the group of Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland, and Iowa.  Michigan returns enough to get the slight nod over the other 3.  The last team in is a crap shoot.  I’m penciling in Ohio State but Maryland or Iowa wouldn’t surprise me.

At-Large: Wisconsin2 seed
At-Large: Indiana 5 seed
At-Large: Purdue 7 seed
At-Large: Michigan 10 seed

At-Large: Ohio State 11 seed


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Conference Previews #3 - Big 12

Conference Champ – Kansas

I’m just going to short circuit this right up and tell you this conference is Kansas’s from now until Bill Self retires.  Saves me the time since the rest of the coaches seem to be amateurs at this point.  As for at-large bids I have the conference getting 6 total.  West Virginia and Baylor seem to be the second tier and will fit in the 6-8 seed slots.  Texas is probably 4th and then the final 2 spots go to Oklahoma and Iowa State.  Texas Tech and Kansas State just miss out.
Kansas is a national champion threat.  Boom

At-Large: West Virginia 6 seed
At-Large: Baylor 7 seed
At-Large: Texas 10 seed
At-Large: Oklahoma 11 seed

At-Large: Iowa State 11 seed


Friday, November 4, 2016

Conference Previews #4 - Pac 14

Conference Champ – Oregon

I’ve gone back and forth on whether I see Oregon as a national title contender or not but I have not wavered on them being the class of the Pac-14.  I’m just not as big of a fan of Dana Altman as others and although I can see them making it to the Elite Eight I think that’s their ceiling.  Speaking of ceiling, I think Arizona’s is a lot lower than others.  I don’t even have them second in the league while some websites have them ahead of Oregon.  I like UCLA’s freshman class and with who they have returning I think they finish ahead of Arizona.  As for 4th and 5th in this conference…..thank the committee for expanding to 68 from 64 because I think that’s the only reason Colorado and California squeak in.

At-Large: UCLA 4 seed
At-Large: Arizona 6 seed
At-Large: California 12 seed
At-Large: Colorado 12 seed



Thursday, November 3, 2016

More Big East Preview

I think Brian has the Big East too low but it's a minor quibble. Behind the ACC, it's pretty close amongst 2-5 in conference rankings with my belief the Big 14 is 2 because of its top heavy nature.

As we've moved through the previews, I've added some thoughts on conference realignment and how each league made out. The Big East isn't the Big East of its heyday, which was '05-'13. Yes, I know about 1985 and the legendary players but '05 expansion made the league more competitive than ever.

But as far as how they made out, they did as well as they could without the benefit of football money pouring in the league. In Brian's preview, he has the 3 latest additions (X, Butler & Creighton) to the league making the tournament. All 3 have been great additions and all 3 have rabid fanbases. On top of that, all 3 have vastly improved their recruiting. The move up has been a plus/plus for all involved.

The league has thrived despite rebuilding at Marquette, indifferent play from Georgetown and massive rebuilding at St. John's. If or when those 3 meet expectations, the league should be even stronger.

It's not the Big East of your youth or recent vintage but it's a great basketball league. Predictions of gloom and doom proved unfounded.

As far as the upcoming year, 5-6 teams will fight for bids. Villanova and Xavier are legit Final 4 teams. Butler cracks KenPom top 20. My guess is, they'll do better than Brian's prediction. Creighton has one of the most talented back courts in America. Don't be surprised if they sneak into a 5-6 seed line.

Seton Hall loses Isaiah Whitehead but still have a very talented team. Winning the Big East tournament isn't likely but double digit wins in league is doable. I'll have more on Marquette later and Brian is right, they're a borderline tourney team but there's potential for them to take a big step forward. I refuse to say anything about Georgetown.

Providence is rebuilding but still is in the top 65 of KenPom to open the season. They'll be a pain in the ass by time league play rolls around. St. John's will be much better than last year and will probably surprise a few teams. DePaul will be DePaul and that's not good for DePaul.

The talent level continues to rise despite proclamations from the Jeff Goodman's of the world the league wouldn't attract top talent. Should be another fun year in the Big East

Conference Previews #5 - Big East

Conference Champ – Villanova

Conference champ and potential Final Four repeat visitor.  Yes, The Wildcats lost their starting point guard and center but they return most else and have some clutch shooters to hang plenty of points on the rest of the nation.   I think the key to this team is Phil Booth replacing some of the ball handling duties left vacant by Ryan Arcidiacono.  In addition to Villanova the Big East has a second potential Final Four team in the Xavier Musketeers.  It’s going to completely depend on the status of currently suspended Myles Davis, but if he is cleared this is a top 10 team.  No sneaking up on anybody this year.  So, there are two top 4 seeds right there; what else does the Big East have to offer?  Butler looks locked in at a bid right around the 9-10 level along with a resurgent Creighton.  That puts us at 4 bids for the Big East but ultimately I think they get 5.  That last spot is going to be between Seton Hall and Marquette.  Both have questions…Seton Hall lost its best player and Marquette has 1 player taller than 6’6” with experience.  Unfortunately for us I think the Hall wins out in the end.

At-Large: Xavier 3 seed
At-Large: Butler 9 seed
At-Large: Creighton 10 seed
At-Large: Seton Hall 12 seed




Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Conference Preview #6 - SEC

Conference Champion – Kentucky

This write up is going to be short because it’s no different this year than it’s been the last 5.  Kentucky has a #1 recruiting class, tons of talent, and will win the conference.  They’ll go 9 deep and be a Final Four team.  The rest of the conference can be broken into two groups.  Good enough to get a bid but lose in the first round garbage and just garbage.  The Good Enough group includes Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M.  The rest belong in the just garbage group.  Alabama and Auburn are looking to move from one dump to the other but not this year.

At-Large: Texas A&M 7 seed
At-Large: Georgia 9 seed

At-Large: Florida 10 seed


Monday, October 31, 2016

The AAC and Realignment

The AAC is a direct result of conference realignment. Created from the remnants of the Big East or what was going to be the Big East, the American Athletic Conference are schools caught in a league no one wants to be in.

Cincinnati, UConn & Houston spent the last 6 months whoring themselves out to the Big XII in expansion talks only to be rebuffed. UCF & South Florida did so as well. Memphis has been flaunting FedEx money trying to get out. League is on solid ground.

Football built the league and that's why the Catholic 7 went on its own and hasn't looked back. In a desire to chase the football dragon, the league hurt itself when it comes to basketball.

It hasn't helped that Memphis has been mired in mediocrity but the league has been hurt more by the bottom dragging it down. SMU was the highest ranked team to finish the year in KenPom and they were ineligible of course. 

They also had USF at 237, Tulane at 219 and East Carolina at 209. UCF was at 194. Those numbers are why the Catholic 7 wanted basketball schools only. The RPI numbers aren't much better.

Despite this, there are programs in this league that can be very good. UConn is a true blue blood. Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple have been consistently good. Houston has history, none of it very good recently but there's a new commitment to the athletic department. Of course, that's because they want to get the hell out of the AAC.

The AAC could be a good basketball league. UConn should be a regular national title contender. Truth is, they'd all rather be somewhere else and something else, Power 5 teams. That's the AAC, the league of misfit toys. 

Conference Preview #7 - American

Conference Champion – Connecticut


Another year, another bid for UConn.  Kevin Ollie loses some talent from last year but returns enough in Rodney Purvis and Amida Brimah along with a solid recruiting class to shore up the conference.  Cincinnati is in the same boat, losing 3 starters but Troy Caupain and Gary Clark are a formidable 1-2 punch.  Rounding out this 3 bid league is SMU who after getting reprimanded for Larry Brown’s “recruiting” finally has a non-dirty coach and talent.  As long as their Strength of Schedule isn’t over 300 like it was 2 years ago they should be able to lock that third bid in even if it’s a double digit one.  As a side note I see this conference being owned by Memphis in 2 years.  That’s how long it will take Tubby Smith to dominate.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Conference Realignment and the A-10

Prior to the 2012-13 season, the Atlantic 10 added VCU and Butler creating a 16 team league. It would last all of one season. Charlotte would leave the following season to pursue football at the FBS level in Conference USA and Temple joined the AAC due to football as well. Xavier and Butler both left to join the Big East.

The A-10 added George Mason in 2013 and Davidson in 2014. So after reaching 16 teams, it's back to 14.

The net results have weakened the A-10. Temple has been a consistent NCAA team and Final 4 contender at times. The league already has a strong presence in Philadelphia, though, with LaSalle & St. Joe's. Neither can match Temple, though.

Xavier has also become a consistent NCAA team and frequent Sweet 16 team. One could argue it's also the cradle of coaches, producing Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta & Sean Miller. With its move to the Big East, it appears Chris Mack is in it for the long haul in Cincinnati. Would that scenario be likely had they remained in the A-10? Perhaps but not as likely.

The key addition was VCU along with Butler in 2012. VCU has made the tournament each year in the league and has contended for the league title each season. VCU has the potential and resources to be a flagship institution.

The other two additions aren't as strong but have some good recent history. George Mason has floundered since Jim  Larranaga left. Davidson took a share of the A-10 crown its first year in the league and has a brilliant coach in Bob McKillop. Both have shown enough in the past decade or so to help keep the A-10 a league with multiple bids.

The A-10 survived realignment and is still a strong league with good programs and coaches. It may not happen on a regular basis, but the league will also produce teams good enough to contend for Final 4's. All things considered, it's still a league in a good place.

Conference Preview #8 - Atlantic 10

Conference Champion – Dayton

Once again Dayton looks to be the cream of the crop in the A-10.  They will have to overcome the untimely death of returning center, Steve McElvene, but the cupboard is not bare.  Scoochie Smith and Charles Cooke return as potential First team A-10 players and Kendall Pollard is no slouch.  A nice recruiting class including Kostas Antetokounmpo rounds out a solid team.  Rhode Island looks to rebound after losing star EC Matthews to a torn ACL in the first game last year and should be able to secure an at-large bid with their talent.  VCU once again has enough talent to also vie for a bid although it won’t be as easy as previous years.  This looks like a 3 bid league to me.  George Washington lost too much and had to fire Mike Lonergan this summer because he was mean.  If anybody comes from nowhere to snag a surprise bid it will be Davidson and star Jack Gibbs.  Depth (and defense) was a problem last year but Bob McKillop should have more firepower this year.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Conference Preview #9 - West Coast

Conference Champs – Gonzaga


Yep, it’s going to be the Zags and Gaels show again.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before.  Gonzaga is good enough to be knocking on the Elite Eight door while St. Mary’s will be working for an at-large bid with a gaudy record and a NCSOS north of 150.  Pepperdine, who disappointed me last year will be NIT worthy and BYU will once again be fun to watch but not good enough to merit consideration.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Conference Realignment and the Mountain West

The Mountain West was created at the Denver International Airport in 1998. As we know, DIA is a hub for the illuminati.

Originally, the league was 8 members and added TCU in 2005. In 2010, the league added Boise State, only to lose Utah shortly thereafter.

Later in 2010, BYU left to go independent in football and joined the WCC in all other sports. The MWC responded by adding Nevada and Fresno State and eventually Utah State. TCU, originally planning on a move to the Big East, eventually left for the Big XII.

So, in review, the MWC lost Utah, BYU & TCU. They were replaced by Fresno State, Boise State & Nevada. They also added Utah State and San Jose State. That's a net loss.

It's easy to point the finger at why the conference isn't as good as it was. You don't lose Utah & BYU and get better with the additions they made. Yet, in 2013, they sent 5 teams to the dance. It was also a 9 team league as Utah State & San Jose State had not yet joined.

Since then, New Mexico lost Steve Alford and Craig Neal hasn't been able to maintain his success. UNLV has underachieved despite success in recruiting. The league also added San Jose State who has been a drag on the SOS among other things. 

It isn't likely this league gets 5 bids again but it should at the very least be a 2-3 bid league. Steve Fisher has built a good program at San Diego State. UNLV has wildly underachieved since Lon Kruger left. New Mexico has enough history to contend on a regular basis. The rest of the league will probably struggle to be consistent on a regular basis without the right coach. Nevada hired Eric Musselman a few years back and are a program on the rise.

Conference realignment hurt the MWC. While they had 5 bids after the shuffle, the league simply isn't as strong. While this is true, the league has also underachieved. They need a strong UNLV and a better New Mexico. With both struggling at the same time, the league has suffered. 

The league probably won't be very strong this year. Keep an eye on Nevada as a sleeper. It's shaping up as a one-bid league but shouldn't be. 

Conference Preview #10 - Mountain West

Conference Champion – San Diego State


Wow, has this conference tanked.  Just to show how bad it is, San Diego State went 16-2 in conference last year and did not get an at-large bid.  UNLV is terrible and is looking at last place and New Mexico hasn’t been good since Steve Alford left.  Fresno State lost too much to repeat as the conference tournament champion so we are left with Steve Fisher’s group.  They won’t be blowing any doors down but a 8-9 seed isn’t out of the question for the Aztecs

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Conference Realignment and the Valley

The Missouri Valley swapped Creighton for Loyola (IL) following the 2013 season. The Blue Jays were regular contenders for the Valley title and league bid to the Big Dance. While Loyola is in a big market, they don't bring the on court prowess or fanfare Creighton did.

Creighton won the Valley tournament 12 times to go with 6 regular season titles. They were at their best over their last 15 years or so in the league. 

While Omaha pales market wise with Chicago, Creighton is typically amongst leaders in attendance, drawing around 17,000 fans a game. 

Loyola hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1987 and haven't won a league title since 1985, having spent 34 years in the Horizon league prior to replacing Creighton. Their arena holds less than 5,000 fans.

The league still has doggedly loyal fanbases. Though overall attendance  took a hit, each member school has robust attendance numbers. Arch Madness drew over 50,000 people in Creighton's last trip (the Creighton faithful flooded St. Louis) and still continues to draw over 50,000 people despite the loss of the Creighton legions.

On the court, Loyola has not replaced Creighton. Creighton enters this season expected to make the NCAA tournament, even as they're projected anywhere form 3rd to 5th in the Big East. The Valley looks like a one-bid league if Wichita State wins both the regular season title and conference tournament. I think if they have enough chances out of league to earn a bid should they stumble in St. Louis.

The Valley isn't as strong without Creighton and adding Loyola hurt the league. As we begin the season, 3 Valley teams are in the KenPom top 100 and then the drop off is quite large. The larger problem for the league is, outside Northwen Iowa, no one has stepped up to be a regular challenger to Wichita State.

Southern Illinois is nowhere near as good as they were a decade ago. Bradley and Drake have been quite poor after one season hits in the late 2000's. 

The Valley can be a top mid-major again. Wichita State gives them a "signature" school and national attention. UNI has had very good success. The loss of Creighton stung but can be made up by improving teams at Bradley and SIU. Both appear to be moving in that direction.

Realignment Reality: League lost some firepower and a powerful fanbase. The fanbase loss has been minimal. The on the court loss has been much greater. It took a hit and needs programs with past success to reach those heights again. It's very doable.

Conference 11 - Missouri Valley

Conference Champ – Wichita State
Once again we have Wichita State on top but the margin isn’t like it has been the past couple of year.  Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet are gone and it will be up to a couple new players to get it done this year.  They have the talent to once again win the conference but it won’t be easy.  Northern Iowa will once again present a challenge even though they lost a couple pieces from last year’s tournament team and Illinois State has plenty of returning firepower.

This is the point where conferences turn from 1 bid to a possible 2 bid league.  The Valley has had multiple bids here and there after sending 4 not that long ago but I’m not sure Wichita is going to have an at-large profile come March.  It may take some squeezing and luck for a 2nd bid this year in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Monday, October 24, 2016

KenPom 2017 Pre-Season Rankings

KenPom preseason rankings are out. Let's see how the top-50 shake out by conference. 

Not surprisingly, the ACC leads the way with ten teams. The league has 7 teams in the top 25 and 4 in the top 10. When the ultra exciting talk of "best conference" comes up this year, there's no debate. Move along.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Big XII is next with 8 teams. They only have 1 team in the top 20, Kansas, who is a realistic title contender. It'll be a fun league due to the round robin.

The Big East and Big 14 both have 7 teams in the top 50. The Big 14 has 5 teams in the top 16 and that sounds about right. It'll be a top heavy league with a lot of bad teams on the bottom.

The Big East has 3 teams in the top 20. Like the Big XII, the league will be a lot of fun with the round robin. Sadly, DePaul will be terrible, possibly historically bad. That's for another day.

The SEC, Pac-12, AAC & A-10 check in with 3 each. The SEC has a national title contender in Kentucky and then a lot of meh. The Pac-12 has 2 Final 4 contenders. The AAC and A-10 don't have a team in the top 25. The AAC should be better given some of the schools in the league. The bottom half will drag them down again.

The WCC has St.Mary's and Gonzaga at 18 & 22. Pretty remarkable how consistent both programs have been.

The MVC, Ivy & Mountain West each have 1. The Mountain West has SDSU at 46. Bleak times in the MWC.

Conference 12 - Conference USA

Conference Champ – UAB


After only 2 conference losses last year UAB return most of its roster this year.  This is still a single bid league and the most likely challenges will come from last year’s darling Middle Tennessee State or old Dominion.  Ultimately, the Blazers experience will win out and represent C-USA come March


Friday, October 21, 2016

MAAAAAAAAAACTION THE HOOPS KIND

Remember last March when Tulsa made the tournament over Monmouth? That was dumb. But that's life in the MAAC.

This year, there are probably four contenders to win the league with one that's a prohibitive favorite. That would be Monmouth who returns MAAC player of the year, Justin Robinson. They also return Micah Seaborn and Je'lon Hornbeak. 

Monmouth will have a chance to prove its mettle as they travel to South Carolina, Syracuse, Memphis and North Carolina. They also host Ivy favorite Princeton. Mark me down as having them go 3-2 in that stretch.

Siena and Jimmy Patsos bring back nearly everyone as well. The name to know is F Brett Bisping. Also, Javion Ogunyemi is a player to know. He does it all. Check his numbers at KenPom. Kid is a flat out good basketball player. 

Siena's schedule isn't as challenging as Monmouth's. They do travel to GW and Kansas. They also go to St. Bonaventure who should be in the mix in the A-10.

Iona loses AJ English but adds Sam Cassell, Jr as a graduate transfer. F Jordan Washington can be their best player but needs to avoid foul trouble. 

St. Peter's is being touted at various places as the 4th contender in the league since they return a good chunk of their roster and add some solid transfers.

Monmouth has a chance to be one of the best non-major teams in the country this year. With a challenging schedule, they can once again put themselves on bubble talk. Realistically, they don't want to do that and want to win the league title and league tournament.

College basketball fans should mark the Monmouth and Siena as must see games this year. They play twice in 11 days on February 13 and 24.

MAAC-tion, baby

Mid Major Predictions

I have 6 conferences filling this designation.  These conferences are 90% locked in as a 1 bid conference.  Perhaps, with the right scheduling and no slip ups an at-large could come from 1 of these conferences but it isn’t likely.  See how the MAAC and Monmouth got screwed last year for a perfect example.

Colonial – Towson
Probably the weakest conference of this group nobody jumps out at you.  Wilmington will contend and William and Mary will flirt with a bid but ultimately the Tigers come out on top

WAC – New Mexico State
A year after getting clipped at the buzzer by Bakersfield the Aggies are the “cream of the crop” again.  There’s another Bhullar to cheer for and he’s got a 6’11” starting buddy.

Ivy – Harvard
Yale lost too much to contend after beating Baylor last year so it’s a two horse race between Harvard and Princeton

MAC – Akron
The MAC is slowly making a comeback as there are a couple teams were noting at this point.  Akron looks to be ahead of everybody but Buffalo, Ohio, and Eastern Michigan are closing.  Still thinking 1 bid this year

Horizon – Oakland
Most people will be on Valpo because of Alec Peters but I think Oakland, despite losing Kay Felder will be better.  Green Bay will contend as well

MAAC – Monmouth

They got screwed last year and we’ll see if it happens again.  Siena is a close second at this point.  If an at large bid comes from this group of conferences it will be Monmouth or Siena.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Low Major Predictions

I have 14 teams pegged as Low-Major which means no matter what happens these are 1 bid leagues.  No at-large bids here.

America East – Vermont (although I’m hoping for Hartford so I can cheer for Pancake Thomas)
Atlantic Sun – North Florida
Big Sky – Weber State
Big South – Winthrop
Big West – Long Beach State (since Hawaii is on probation)
MEAC – South Carolina State
NEC – Fairleigh Dickenson
Ohio Valley – Belmont (and they should romp)
Patriot – Lehigh
SoCon – Chattanooga
Southland – Sam Houston State (although SFA should be a close 2nd)
Summit – South Dakota State  (go TJ Otzelburger)
Sun Belt – UT-Arlington

SWAC – Alabama State

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

More Replay for the MAC & Big 14

This nugget dropped from the NCAA this afternoon:


The MAC and Big 14 will allow officials or coaches challenge block/charge that happen near the restricted area calls in the final 2 minutes of the 2nd half and overtime. 

Coaches that challenge and lose will lose a timeout and if they win, streamers will drop from the ceiling and all in the land will eat the finest meats and cheese.

Coaches and refs cannot challenge non calls and any challenge must occur before the ball is put back into play. Again, you can only challenge calls that occur near the restricted area.

This is arguably the dumbest thing I've ever heard of for basketball rules changes in my lifetime. 

What needs to happen is what Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) of The Ringer is going to harp on all year, and that's the end of the charge. The charge rewards bad defenders and floppers. Please tweet early and often this basketball season #BanCharges #BanTheCharge

Those in favor of this replay system hope it ends flopping but my guess is, confusion will reign and a coach will instantaneously combust in one of these leagues this year (looking at you, Tom Izzo). Simply, #BanCharges #BanTheCharge


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Official Conference Breakdowns

Low Major (14)
1 bid leagues who will occupy the 14-16 seed lines.  A March Madness win is something to write home about.
1. America East
2. Atlantic Sun
3. Big Sky
4. Big South
5. Big West
6. MEAC
7. Northeast
8. Ohio Valley (a couple years ago was a Mid-Major)
9. Patriot
10. SoCon (same as OVC but felt the realingment trickle down effect through the Colonial)
11. Southland
12. Summit
13. Sun Belt
14. SWAC

Mid Major (6)
Used to be everybody but the Power 6.  These leagues are 1 bid leagues but you may get a 12-13 seed out of them or a second bid if they schedule and win properly
1. Colonial (very close to falling to low major after flirting with high major)
2. Horizon
3. MAAC
4. MAC (should be a high major but just isn;t)
5. WAC (same as Colonial.  New Mexico State has single handedly kept them here)
6. Ivy

High Major (6)
Probably a two bid league but can sometimes get 3-4 bids.  Can surprise with a sneaky 4-5 seed out of the conference
1. American
2. A-10
3. C-USA (questionable whether they should be this high)
4. Misssouri Valley
5. Mountain West
6. West Coast

Power (6)
At Large Country.  Word is the ACC could get 11 bids themselves this year.  I hope not.  And I realy hope Virginia Tech fails.  Anywho....
1. ACC
2. Big 14
3. Big 12 -2
4. Big East
5. PAC 14
6. SEC and Midwestern Missouri

Friday, October 14, 2016

Conference Previews - A Rebuttal

None

I'd probably put the Big East into a top 6. They've been a top five league the last two years without much help from flagship schools St. John's, Georgetown & Marquette.

I'll mention this later as we move through conferences, but Xavier, Butler & Creighton have quickly improved their recruiting to levels that match the so-called "Power 5". In fact, Xavier landed a top-30 prospect, Paul Scruggs, today over Indiana and Michigan State.

The A-10 and Mountain West can be players but have issues. The A-10 losing Xavier and Temple took away perennial tournament teams. The league is still a very good basketball league but it's hard to see a program consistently contending for Final 4's. Dayton might as long as they keep Archie Miller.

I'll dive into the Mountain West when we get there but they've been hurt by usual powers scuffling and a resurgent Pac-12.

The AAC has a chance to be another Big East but flagships, UConn and Cincinnati are ripe for expansion happy conferences. 

Conference Previews - Breakdown of the Breakdown

I’m going to try to do something a little different this year and lump some of the Low Major’s together to get through the conference  previews quicker.  My analysis is a little different than others as I break the conferences down in to 4 categories:

Low Major – 1 bid.  No matter what happens this league is only getting 1 bid
Mid Major – The old standard of everybody else when there were 6 power conferences.  This now represents the conferences that are 90% sure to get one 1 bid but may be able to sneak a 2nd if things break correctly.  Think MAAC or Colonial from a couple years ago.
High Major – Named to make the 2nd tier conferences feel good about themselves…but not good enough to get the power conference money.  Probably a 2 bid league but may get a third.  WCC and A-10, I’m looking at you. But, am I no longer looking at you decrepit Mountain West?
Power – The Power 5…or is it 6 with the Big East making a comeback?


Breakdown coming soon.  Kurly can argue conference alignment in a minute.

Monday, October 10, 2016

America's Real Top 10

Forget Athlon's garbage top 10 and Gary Parrish's or Andy Katz's or whatever Seth Davis says.

Also, Wisconsin is trash and so is Virginia. Welcome to low possession hell. I can already hear the condescending "right way bull shit". It's not even November and I want Jon Rothstein to start covering billiards.

10. Xavier - They'd be higher if I knew the status of Myles Davis who was a naughty boy this summer. There's some depth issues but look for Edmond Sumner to be a potential Big East POY

9. Michigan State - I'm banking on the Izzo factor because they lost a lot. They also lost grad transfer Ben Carter to an injury, hurting front court depth. They added some likely one and dones. I bet they start slow but are a trendy Final 4 pick come March.

8. Louisville - Seen them projected all over the place. I think Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell are household names by the end of the year. 

7. Arizona - Pac-12 could be the 2nd best league behind the ACC this year. Arizona is a legit Final 4 squad and oozes talent, albeit young. Expect a huge jump from Allonzo Trier and Dusan Ristic.

6. Kansas - Not to be to hyperbolic but I could see a scenario where Frank Mason is this year's Buddy Hield. They'll need some big production from super frosh Josh Jackson. If sophomore Carlton Bragg can match his recruiting hype, he could be their best overall player.

5. North Carolina - They lost their hear and soul in Marcus Paige but bring back a lot of talent. Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II, Nate Britt & Isaiah Hicks are a good six man rotation. Which one becomes the leader?

4. Oregon - The Ducks are loaded with the return of backcourt mates Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks. Chris Boucher is a load inside. Juco transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams will be a factor. They also get Dylan Ennis for a full season. The football program is circling the bowl but the basketball program has ascended.

3. Villanova - Not having freshman Omari Spellman hurts their depth. Though they lost Daniel Ochefo and Ryan Arcidiacono, they still have Josh Hart & Kris Jenkins. Look for Darryl Reynolds and Mikal Bridges to be solid contributors and Jalen Brunson to seamlessly replace Arch.

2. Kentucky - What's new? A lot like usual as they have the 2nd best freshman class in the nation behind the team that will be number one. I like this team though because of returning players Isaiah Briscoe and Derek Willis. It's a good mix of players similar to 2015 and close to 2012.

1. Duke - They're talented enough to go undefeated but won't because the schedule is brutal. The freshman class is the best in school history but having beta Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson are why this team will win the national title. Sophomores Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter make them even deadlier. This team will be bananas fun.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Welcome To The Season.....


October is upon us and the Basketball magazines are starting to trickle out.  The first one I saw was Athlon's, which is usually pretty good, so I picked it up.  I like when they go back and look at the Top 10 recruiting class from 5-10 years ago.  Some of those names are forgettable!
As for the predictions, like most seasons, I'm not expecting to see much difference between this magazine and any other magazine.  It'll probably be the same 9 with an stretch thrown in.  As for Athlon, here's what they have:

1. Duke
2. Kentucky
3. Villanova
4. Oregon
5. Kansas
6. North Carolina
7. Virginia
8. Xavier
9. Arizona
10. Wisconsin

Nothing really jumps out at me here.  I'm guessing everybody will have Duke or Kentucky #1.  Oregon may be a stretch at 4 but the one that I think is too low is Wisconsin.  They really came on last year after old man Bo quit.  With a solid core and 4 of 5 starters returning I think they are a viable Final Four team.  Arizona may surprise this year....finally.  Then again they'll probably lose in the Elite Eight.  Virginia will make me want to poke my eyes out I'm sure.

40 days to Tip!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Professional Journalism 101

This popped across my timeline today.


What you have here is a response to the commitment of local top-50 prospect Tyler Herro of Whitnall to Wisconsin. Young man would have been a great addition at Marquette who actively recruited him. He felt Wisconsin was a better fit for him. Who is anyone that isn't him to say otherwise?

Recruiting is a weird thing. Following it is even weirder. I sort of followed loosely back in the day if I saw a blurb in the news but largely ignored it. Once Brian invited me to write here, I paid attention a little closer but would never pay any of the guru sites actual money to get "insider" info. It's a scam with almost all the information being speculation with a lean to homerism.

Twitter and social media changed this in the information is more readily available about where coaches are going to recruit and who. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to follow the crumb trails if you wanted to know about where a kid could be leaning. All in all, it's weird and creepy

Now back to Mr. Oates who boldly mocked Iowa for losing to Jay Wright, wildly successful coach and well-respected nationally. Tommy chimed in with this beaut today which was a direct shot at Marquette and Steve Wojciechowski.

It's true.  Marquette hasn't made the dance the last 3 seasons. I've written about the mess the previous regime left. Wojo could have gone for the quick fix and chased jucos like Buzz did after taking over for Tom Crean. Instead, Wojo stuck with the plan he laid out in his interview for building a program. It's not dissimilar to what Crean did when he took over for Mike Deane. Whether Marquette fans like it or not, that's the choice that was made. 

Quick aside...bemoaning no NIT is silly. The parameters are different than when Crean took over but that's another story.

The part that's patently false is the part about developing players. If the assumption is Greg Gard played a hand in developing players at UW, which he certainly did play a part in, then it's absurd to say Wojo didn't at Duke being the assistant head coach from 2008-14.

He became an assistant at Duke in 2000 but if we just take the time from 2008 to when he left, 13 players went into the NBA. And before we point to the one and dones, big men that Wojo coached that played until senior year include the Plumlee brothers, Ryan Kelly, Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler. All 5 have played in the NBA. Wojo was the big man coach at Duke.

Media coverage at the college level in this state is amateurish and weirdly homerish. I guess it includes trolling, too. Well, it does include trolling. Also, it's just wrong. It's why the "basement dwelling bloggers" of the world have gotten so popular. 

Next time I wonder why people get so worked about a high school kids decision from these parts, I'll just remember, they're following the lead of their media

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2017 Top 10

This can change based on recruits, transfers, etc. but based on what I know, here goes nothing

10. Michigan State: Izzo is going the one and done route. I don't envision any Big 14 team being a true title contender but Sparty will have oodles of talent. Wisky, Indiana & Maryland are all projected by some as top-10 teams. Wisconsin will be loved by the computers , Indiana's fate hinges on Thomas Bryant's decision to stay or go. I don't believe in Mark Turgeon.

9. UCLA: The Pac-12 will be the best league in 2017. They have 4 legit top 10 teams, including USC. If Steve Alford doesn't make things happen in 2017, I don't care what his buyout is, he's out.

8. Oregon: This could change if guys expected to return surprise us and decide to depart. If things happen like they should, they'll probably be the Pac-12 favorite but not mine.

7. Kansas: The presumptive favorite for the services of Josh Jackson, Kansas will easily win another Big XII title. Plenty returns lead by Frank Mason and Landen Lucas. Lucas, to me, is the next great Kansas big that carries his team. 

6. North Carolina: Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson leave but most of the core will be back. They don't have any five stars coming in but with the returning depth, the guys they are getting won't have to be the stars. There's a chance Justin Jackson leaves but it isn't expected. 

5. Xavier: It looks like Jalen Reynolds is leaving and losing him along with James Farr thins the front court. Sean O'Mara flashed at moments but isn't the physical threat Farr & Reynolds were. That said, their guard play will be electric and they add Rashid Gaston, a transfer from Norfolk State who would alleviate front court depth issues.

4. Arizona: I'm higher on them because I expect big things from Allonzo Trier who is returning for his sophomore season. They have solid bigs returning and add enough pieces this team will not be a 6-seed or losing in the opening round. 

3. Villanova: The Big East will be stacked next season and a bit more daunting for the Wildcats. Butler, Creighton & Seton Hall will all be top 25 teams. Marquette will be better, as will St. John's. Won't matter. Villanova will miss the leadership of Arch and Chef but look for big seasons from Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

2. Kentucky: Liked them losing in the Round of 32? Hope you enjoyed it because they will be stacked next year. Forget the top rated class coming in, which will be as good as any in the Calipari era, Isaiah Briscoe will have another summer to work on his game and Marcus Lee has a chance to be a monster senior. It'll be a blend of vets and frosh and possibly Cal's best mix.

1. Duke: Book it. This team will be in the Final 4. Kennard, Thornton, Jeter and Jefferson all return. Even Matt Jones. Couple those with the talent, probably the top 2 NBA prospects for the 2017 draft coming in? Sorry, Duke haters. If they land Marques Bolden? I'd say undefeated would be in the cards of they didn't play in the ACC. Them and Kentucky are 1-2 and there's no argument in my mind.

Edit: Grayson Allen is returning. Real threat to go undefeated in 16-17.

Villanova

Villanova is the first team since the 1987 Indiana Hooisers to win a National Championship without a sure fire 1st round draft choice on their roster.  

Villanova beat KenPom's 23rd, 13th, 7th, 4th and 2nd ranked teams on their way to the National Championship.

Villanova shot 64.9% from the field in their two Final Four games. Remeber, teams can't shoot at domes, especially Houston. 

Villanova loses Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu but returns the rest of their minutes and add a five star center and four star big man. 

Villanova finishes the year as the top team in KenPom, something the last two champions did not. They finish 2nd in offense and 6th in defense.

This was neither a fluke nor a story of an underdog. This was a worthy champion. This was a champion that thumbed itself into ESPN's eye. This was a victory that shows basketball schools can and will still win National Championships. This was a win that validates the decision by the Catholic 7 to break away and have a league anchored by basketball. It was a win for basketball. 


Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Final

Villanova's win over Oklahoma on Saturday was about as impressive a performance I've ever seen during a Final 4 sober. Carolina put in a workman-like effort and held off Syracuse. A late first half surge put the game in Carolina's control.

Villanova enters the game 1st in KenPom and Carolina enters 2nd. That rarely happens. The last I can find is the 2008 title game between Kansas and Memphis. Nova has a 56% win probability. UNC opened as a 1.5 favorite.

Carolina has the size advantage but interestingly enough, if we use KenPom's effective height metric, Iowa was bigger and Miami is just below UNC. Villanova annihilated those teams. Carolina is a different animal because they're more athletic. Carolina is going to get their share of second chance baskets and limit Villanova. But don't assume Villanova is going to fold at the Tar Heel length.

Villanova has been shooting lights out. North Carolina isn't a very good shooting team but hasn't needed to be. Villanova can't afford a 30% night from 3. With so many options playing with confidence, I think they'll shoot well enough. Don't underestimate their defense either. It's been stifling during this run.

Heart says Villanova. Brain says UNC length wins out.

The Pick: North Carolina 81 Villanova 79

Friday, April 1, 2016

Final 4: The Picks

Sadly, the last weekend of college basketball has arrived. After a wild opening 4 days, last week's Sweet 16 and Elite 8 was a combo of bad basketball and dominance in blowouts. Hopefully, this weekend is better.

Villanova vs. Oklahoma

A lot of college basketball writers/reporters ate crow last weekend. Villanova? Can't get past the opening weekend! Shoot too many 3's! Oklahoma? Too many jump shooters! Buddy Hield can't do it alone! That was fun.

Villanova is a 3-pt favorite with a 62% win probability at KenPom. That's pretty substantial for a Final 4 game. Especially in a game where at first blush, these teams look evenly matched. Nova is 4th in AdjustedO and 7th in AdjustedD. The Sooners are 13th in both. 

Nova's biggest weakness is offensive rebounding and getting to the foul line. Well, Oklahoma's weakness is defensive rebounding. They don't foul, so Nova probably wasn't getting to the line anyway. Oklahoma doesn't force turnovers, Nova doesn't commit them.

Villanova was more impressive last weekend in that they won with an incredible offensive performance on Thursday and then a brilliant defensive performance on Saturday. That's not to take away from Oklahoma who whipped both Texas A&M and Oregon. Villanova's wins over Miami and Kansas were just better.

I won't dismiss what may ultimately matter most tomorrow, and that's Buddy Hield. He's been so damn fun this tournament. Villanova stopped Perry Ellis cold in the Elite 8. They'll need another effort like that. Hield is so quick and good at getting open. And his release is so quick. How does Nova neutralize him? Or do they? Ultimately, it might just be Nova saying get yours, no one else is getting any. 

Reid Forgrave commented how loose and how much fun it looks like Oklahkma is having. I've been saying that about Villanova since January. I don't think the moment will be too big for either squad. This could be a game for the ages.

Pick: Villanova 78 Oklahoma 75

North Carolina vs. Syracuse

Carolina is a healthy 7-point favorite with a 74% win probability. They have more depth and a much efficient offense than Syracuse. UNC is first. Syracuse is 50th.

Carolina shot the 3 brilliantly against Indiana and then only went 4-13 against Notre Dame. Can they get it inside against the zone? Will it matter? Carolina is 3rd in offensive rebounding. Syracuse is 337th in defensive rebounding. Carolina's length should give Syracuse issues. Carolina really isn't reliant on the 3. Cuse will have to deny the post where Carolina eats.

Carolina swept Syracuse this year, winning by 9 at the Carrier Dome and then by 5 at the Dean Dome, scoring 83 and 75 in each game. If they get to 80 again, they won't lose.

Before the prediction, I have to comment on two things. First, the performance by Syracuse in the 2nd half against Virginia last Sunday may have been the best 15 minutes of college basketball this year. The Orange were patient and fast and didn't turn it over once in that stretch. They pressed as well as any team you've seen press this year, not only forcing turnovers but forcing tempo on a team that despite what Seth Davis says, can't play at tempo. When Virginia cleared the press, they took quick shots they weren't use to. On offense, the Orange were patient and waited to clear space and let their athletic ability defeat less athletic players. It was a clinic on how to beat slow teams and a joy to watch. Virginia unraveled in the face of adversity because Syracuse had better basketball players and talent won.

Second point is, the noise around this game about the NCAA and it's governance is deserved. I don't have an answer how to "fix" the NCAA other than destroy it and eliminate the American obsession with the idea of amateurism. I'll have a post-season write up about the future of college athletics and conferences and it won't be much fun going forward, at least in my opinion, so enjoy the tournament and even this matchup. I think the future is worse than the present and the reasoning the road were on is really dumb. Anyway, the pick is 

North Carolina 80 Syracuse 66

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Marquette: A Look Back

Year two of the Wojo era has come and gone. Marquette finished the year 20-13 and 8-10 in the Big East. A borderline NCAA time in my mind entering the season, the Golden Eagles were done in by losses at home to DePaul, Creighton & Belmont. A lousy non-conference schedule left them little room for error. Any chance at a NIT bid were done in by upsets in mid-major conferences. 

Marquette finished 97th in KenPom, 107th in offense and 93rd in defense. Marquette was one of the worst rebounding teams on both sides of the court. On offense, they were one of the worst at protecting the ball. There is a lot of room for growth. 

Freshmen

Sacar Anim - The Minnesota Player of the Year saw little playing time. Hard to say what they have with him. 

Matt Heldt- Wojo's first commit in the class got hurt late after seeing a little more playing time as Big East play went on. Heldt mostly saw time when Fischer got into foul trouble and Ellenson needed a blow. Needed to get stronger and looks a lot different than he did when he arrived on campus. May take another year but has a chance to be a solid upper class men. With Ellenson's likely departure, might be in line for a big bump in playing time next season.

Traci Carter - Carter was thrown into the fire as a starter. By the end of the year, he was coming off the bench but seeing a lot of minutes. Carter was 45th in assist rate this season nationally. He was also 74th in steal rate. Carter's problem was turnover rate, 29.1% and getting in foul trouble. He'll have to improve his 3% shooting. I think the positives outweighed the negatives given his youth. Asked to do a lot early, it should bode well for his growth. 

Haanif Cheatham - By the end of the year, Cheatham showed glimpses of being the type of player that becomes the face of a program. He saw a lot of playing time and finished with an effective fg% of 54.3. Cheatham was good at getting to the free throw line and showed the ability to become a good 3-point shooter. Needs to add a mid-range game. Had a turnover problem as well. If he can be more efficient in that regard, he could be All Big East type player.

Henry Ellenson- Lived up to the hype and then some. Some will call it a wasted year for him and the program. Perhaps it was. Given the team and coaching staff inexperience, he was probably "wasted". That said, he was still an important get for the staff to establish itself. The hope is the staff experience with a player of his caliber makes them better going forward. Won't hurt them if he's a lottery pick.

Sophomores

Sandy Cohen - Cohen started the year well and was a defensive star in their win in Madison. Once Big East play started, he completely disappeared. He was lost on defense and his shot broken. His role going forward is uncertain. Also had a turnover rate of 20%.

Duane Wilson- Thought Duane could break out this year. Instead, he was erratic all year. Brilliant one game, he would be borderline unplayable the next. Took 156 3-pointers and shot 35%. Bad Duane bogged down the offense. Good Duane attacked the hoop and gave them a threat from outside. Too much of the former, not enough of the latter. Team needs good Duane in 2017.

Juniors

Wally Ellenson- Did Wally get recruited to help bring in Henry? Probably, at least partly. His role likely doesn't differ much next year. Occasional minutes with a hope of some high energy. 

Luke Fischer- The optimist hopes an off-season without any injury issues lets him develop his game further. The pessimist worries he is what he is. A silly-foul prone big with streaks of brilliance and streaks of invisibility. Luke is an effective around the hoop offensive player. He finished with an effective fg% of 60.8%, 48th.  He was 59th in offensive rebounding% but has to get stronger on the defensive glass where he averaged less boards than on offense. That's not good. Cohen actually was a better defensive rebounder. Fischer would get into foul trouble far too often and far too often they were soft and silly fouls. If he doesn't get that cleaned up as a senior, it could be a long season. He'll need to stay on the court and be productive. Next to Cohen, he was the most disappointing player this year. Skills are there. Can he develop them? Can the staff help him reach them? Think we learn a lot about him and the staff based on how his senior year is. Given the reaction to his game winning free throws against Georgetown, there's little doubt the staff loves the kid and want him to each that potential. A good senior season possibly gets him drafted.

Jajuan Johnson- Johnson seemed to be coming into his own as the season progressed. A former top-50 recruit, he flashed those moments a lot more this season. His shooting improved and started making steals on defense, 38th in steal %. Still disappears on defense to the consternation of the staff. Also fails to get back on occasion. If he cleans that up, he could have a special senior season. Like the rest of the team, needs to clean up turnovers. Scored double digits in 9 of his last 12 games. 

Arriving: Sam Hauser, FR, Wisconsin State Player of the Year, good shooter compared by Wojo to Kris Jenkins; Andrew Rowsey, SG transferred from UNC-Asheville, good 3-point shooter.

One spot available, two if HE leaves. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quick thought on the Virginia collapse

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *catches breathe*

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Take that ass offense home 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Program Building and Patience

In 2009, Villanova in their 8th season under Jay Wright made the Final Four over then Big East brethren Pitt in a classic game. In his 1st 3 seasons, Wright and the Wildcats made the NIT before finding their stride that culminated in that Final 4.

Following their trip to the Final 4 in 2009, the Wildcats tied for 2nd in the Big East and were a 2-seed that was ultimately upset by the 10-seed St. Mary's. They made the tournament in 2011 where they lost to George Mason. The bottom dropped out for Villanova in 2012 when they went 13-19.

Giving the trend, it might have been easy for the program to panic. Instead, they began to reload. In 2013, they were back in the tournament as a 9-seed. They would lose in the opening round to North Carolina but were back on track.

2014 was a brave new world for Villanova and the Big East. Football expansion and ESPN meddling brought the new Big East to us. Nova responded by becoming the flagship program by winning 3 consecutive regular season titles. Unfortunately for them, in '14 &15, their seasons were cut short in the round of 32. UConn, the eventual champion got them in 2014 and NC State would get them in 2015.

Matchups matter in March. Some are better than others and Villanova had two bad ones in back-to-back seasons. It was simpler to call them pretenders. Well, those pretenders rolled through their first 3 opponents with brilliant offensive performances. And when the offense faltered in the regional final against Kansas, a brilliant defensive game plan that smothered Perry Ellis carried the day.

In the end, Jay Wright had them back in their second Final Four of his tenure and fifth overall. Small minded journalists like Tom Oates slung their arrows and ended up looking like the boobs they are.

In Norman, Sooner fans are celebrating a Final 4 appearance for the 1st time since 2002. After Kelvin Sampson left for the Indiana job, they hired Jeff Capel from VCU. Capel would get them to an Elite 8 behind Blake Griffin in 2009. Despite lofty projections going forward, the bottom dropped out for the Sooners. A recruiting scandal mixed with poor play on the court forced Capel out and ushered in Lon Kruger.

Kruger had success everywhere he went except the NBA. He took Kansas State to an Elite 8, Florida to a Final 4, laid the groundwork for Illinois success under Bill Self & Bruce Weber and took UNLV to a Sweet 16.

At Oklahoma, starting over largely from scratch, his first year ended in a losing record. The Sooners bounced back making the NCAA Tournament in 2013, losing as a 10-seed to San Diego State. 

In 2014, they were upset by North Dakota State in a 12-5 matchup. The progress was evident, though as they had finished 2nd in the Big XII. They finished 2nd a year ago as well and made the Sweet 16 before losing to Michigan State.

A trendy pick to end Kansas reign in the Big XII, they finished tied for second instead but were still one of the nation's best teams. Lead by the incomparable Buddy Hield, Lon Kruger had returned Oklahoma to a Final 4 after inheriting a mess.

Of course, I called it on January 12 of 2013 that Kruger would do just that. Don't ask about the same prediction I made about John Groce at Illinois.

What all of this reinforces is, coaches need time and sometimes, a reboot during a tenure at a school. In a day and age of instant gratification, good things can still come to those who have the vision and patience for the building and rebuilding pains. Not everyone can reload like Duke, Carolina, Kansas or Kentucky. But you can still find success like Oklahoma and Villanova. Pay heed, Marquette fan.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sunday Elite 8

MIDWEST: Virginia vs. Syracuse

In three tournament games, Virginia has scored 81, 77 & 84 points and have been terrifying. They also had the benefit of playing some pretty weak defensive teams. Syracuse enters the game 19th in defensive efficiency and allowing opponents to shoot only 30.6% from 3. They have a chance. Because of the zone, they're a terrible a terrible rebounding team and Mike Tobey of Virginina has been feasting on put backs. Syracuse can't let that happen. Virginia hasn't been as crisp on defense in the last two games but haven't needed to be. Again, Syracuse has got to take advantage of this. I'm trying to to lay out a scenario where Syracuse wins this game but too much has to break their way. They've had a lot break their way already in this tournament. Don't see it happening again.

Pick: Virginia 61 Syracuse 50

EAST: Notre Dame vs. North Carolina

North Carolina thumped Notre Dame by 31in the ACC Tournament a few weeks back. The Tar Heels defense has been pretty stout for the last month. They gave up 86 against Indiana but were never challenged. They made a bunch of 3's they typically miss, too that helped create distance. Notre Dame will have to play far better than they did Friday night. Playing like that against North Carolina will result in another 30 point thumping. Can they match the effort they put against Kentucky in a regional final last year? They're just not as good as that squad or deep enough. And the defense simply isn't capable to stop Carolina.

Pick: North Carolina 76 Notre Dame 61

RIP Parity

The overriding theme entering the tournament was how wide open it was. Seth Davis penned "The Earth is Flat" everytime there was an upset. Well, we've reached the elite 8 and the truth is, there are some really good teams this year and they've proved it.

There isn't a transcendent team this year but if we look at KenPom, Notre Dame and Syracuse are the only outliers. The other 6 are all top 8 KenPom teams. We're going to have a great Final 4. Yes, I'm assuming Virginia and North Carolina advance.

Take out the ND-UW & Zags-Cuse games, the top seeds have rolled. While it wasn't "exciting" because they weren't close, it was still really good basketball. The closest games, ND-UW, Zags-Cuse were also the sloppiest games. Wisconsin-Notre Dame was awfully brutal. 

What the Sweet 16 lacked in memorable moments, it made up for with the best teams rolling on setting up a potentially great Final 4. Parity? Five teams had top 20 offense and defenses and all 5 stand tall in the Elite 8. The world is round.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Elite 8 Saturday

WEST: Oregon vs. Oklahoma

A toss-up according to KenPom (Sooners by 1, 53% win probability), we should have an opportunity for a classic. Oklahoma is a top-20 efficiency team on both sides of the ball while Oregon is 35th in defense

Initial blush favors Oklahoma to me as well. And they have the best player in Buddy Hield. The year has meandered toward this moment for Hield. I can't believe his season doesn't end in a trip to Houston.

Pick: Oklahoma 73 Oregon 70

SOUTH: Kansas vs. Villanova

This is what a regional final should look like. Villanova coming off an offensive clinic, Kansas off a defensive clinic. Both are top-10 in efficiency. While Miami rained 3's in the 1st half, Villanova answered each run and tightened the screws in the 2nd half. Kansas survived scoring droughts behind great defense and some self-inflicted Maryland errors. Hard to see Villanova making the same mistakes and not taking advantage of any Kansas droughts. Villanova also can't play as well on offense. They were damn near perfect Thursday night. Unlikely that happens again as well. This could be the game of the tournament. I picked KU at the start of the year and that's why I stick with them.

Pick: Kansas 71 Villanova 70

Random Thoughts, Sweet 16 Part 1

After the opening weekend, I usually want to see the best teams advance. The games are better. Last night, the best teams advanced in impressive fashion.

- Villanova put on a show on offense. In the 2nd slowest tempo game of the tournament, the Wildcats averaged 1.57ppp. That's insane. Also reiterates what I've been saying about this team. Slow, fast, offense, defense...doesn't matter. 

- On the other end, Kansas out on a defensive clinic against Maryland. KU went a few stretches where their offense stagnated giving the Terps all kinds of opportunities to put pressure on them. Missed free throws, solid KU rebounding and relentless defense never let it happen. Perry Ellis might not be the most talented player but he was the best player on the court last night. 

- The Terps were one of the seasons major disappointments. Yes, they made a Sweet 16 but this was a team built to contend for a title. After the Big 14 season started, they never looked the part. I have my doubts Mark Turgeon is the type of coach to take them to the next level.

- Oklahoma cruised past Texas A&M who after an early flurry never looked like they belonged. Buddy Hield had a middling night and the Sooners never broke a sweat in the 2nd half. Best game in awhile for them.

- Oregon was too much for a porous Duke defense. I expected this was the way Duke would go out. Oregon was more athletic, quicker and just better. 

- Defensing Grayson Allen is getting damn near impossible. Coach K was pissy in his post-game presser about a late 3 from Dillon Brooks. Allen refused to engage Brooks in the post-game pleasantries. It's all of a bunch of silliness but it isn't a good look for Coach K or Allen. Saying that, Duke will be my early #1 for 2017. Then America can get back to hating them for winning a lot.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sweet 16 Friday Preview

MIDWEST

Virginia vs. Iowa State: Virginia is a 5-pt fave on KenPom with a 70% win probability. Iowa State likes to play fast, with 71 possessions per game. Virginia is the slowest team in college hoops. I have my doubts Iowa State can speed them up. Butler forced a lot of turnovers from the Cavaliers which is unlike them. Virginia answered by making everything. Butler simply couldn't stop them. Iowa State is slightly better than Butler on defense and has more athletes to guard. I don't think it'll matter. Cyclones need Jameel McKay to dominate inside and Virginia to miss a lot of shots. I just don't see it.

Pick: Virginia 68 Iowa State 61

Gonzaga vs. Syracuse: The Zags are 2-pt favorites on KenPom. Early in the season, guard play was an issue for Gonzaga. The guards have played a lot better in the last month. They'll need to against the Syracuse zone. The Zags will have the best player on the court and who some consider the best left in Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis strikes me as a great zone buster. The Orange caught a break with an overrated Dayton team and getting Middle Tennessee, so I'm not sure what to make of their performance. They'll win if the Zags guards are non-factors. I'm betting they play well enough.

Pick: Gonzaga 65 Syracuse 62

EAST

Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame: By KenPom, these are the two worst teams left. UW is 31st, Notre Dame 36th. UW is a slight 1-pt favorite in what's basically a toss-up. Notre Dame is 172nd in defensive efficiency, UW is 88th in offensive efficiency. The worst defensive team to make a Final 4 in the KenPom era was Marquette in 2003 (119th). The worst offensive team to make the Final 4 was Louisville in 2013 (116th). Notre Dame is 7th in offense, UW is 12th in defense. I bet this is a blowout. I just don't know which way. Notre Dame has been blasted in some losses. UW has the ability to miss a lot of shots. Notre Dame is not afraid to play slow and won't be bothered by a low possession game.

Pick: Wisconsin 69 Notre Dame 53

North Carolina vs. Indiana: Carolina's defense has been very good lately. Indiana's has had its moments but hasn't been good enough. Carolina lead the ACC in effective fg% defense, IU was 8th in the Big 14. Probably a close game but Carolina pulls away late. Edit: I had a hot fact in here that was way wrong. Wisconsin beat UNC & Kentucky in the same tournament just one year ago

Pick: North Carolina 80 Indiana 75

My Preview Is Not Different

Well, I came out here to write my preview of tonight's games and they are basically the same as Kurly's.
I have all the same winners and not much of a difference in write ups.
The only thing that scares me a bit is how Texas A&M responds to their comeback over Northern Iowa.  Was that all their firepower and will they run out of energy or will it be spark that leads them over Oklahoma?  Also, can Buddy Hield continue to carry a team on his back game, after game, after game?  There is so little room for error if he "only" scores 19!

Other than that enjoy the games tonight because tomorrow you have to watch Wisconsin and Virginia both try and play basketball.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sweet 16 Preview

SOUTH

Villanova vs. Miami, FL: Nova rates as a 3-pt favorite over at KenPom. The last time Miami made the Sweet 16, Marquette shot them out of the building. It's entirely possible Nova can do the same. They've looked damn good through two rounds. Miami has had a few big losses and Angel Rodriguez, brilliant at times, can be shaky with the ball. Villanova got the second weekend monkey off the back. Are they satisfied with just that? I don't think so.

Pick: Villanova 75 Miami 67

Kansas vs. Maryland: Maryland was shaky for 30 minutes against Hawaii before pulling away comfortably despite horrific 3-pt shooting. They can't afford that against Kansas. The Jayhawks cruised past UConn. They're a pretty healthy 6-point favorite at KenPom. KU has won close games this year while Maryland has lost them. History makes me leery of picking Kansas but Maryland has underachieved all year. 

Pick: Kansas 71 Maryland 66

WEST

Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M: The Aggies are basically playing with house money after stealing a win from UNI. Oklahoma has been steady if not spectacular over the last month. The fear is they don't make jumpers. Buddy Hield willed them past VCU with one big basket after another. A&M has the weakest KenPom number between the two, 33rd in offense. Oklahoma could falter if they're cold from 3 and need interior scoring. That'll be the story the rest of the way. Don't think it's A&M that stops them, though. Sooners are a modest 1-pt favorite at KenPom.

Pick: Oklahoma 73 Texas A&M 69

Duke vs. Oregon

I told Brian before the tournament started, I thought Duke had a path to the Final 4. They're not a Final 4 team on paper, but there was a chance because their isn't a squad in the region that is overwhelmingly better. The Ducks are given 55% probability (1-pt) on KenPom to beat the Blue Devils. Both teams have dynamic offenses. Oregon has the 43rd best defense compared to Duke being 109. That's a big gulf. Despite that, Duke should be able to score. Can they match Oregon? Both teams are evenly matched on the glass. Oregon turns teams over. Duke doesn't turn it over. That could be a deciding factor. If Chris Boucher has a big game, the Ducks win. This could be a great game with a lot of offense.

Pick: Duke 83 Oregon 81