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 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