Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tyler Herro, Duke and stuff

1. Whitnall’s Tyler Herro committed to Kentucky yesterday. As you know, he was committed to Wisconsin before re-opening his commitment last month. Depending on who you believe, he isn’t going to Madison because he’s either a snake, wasn’t smart enough, is delusional about his talent or a bag man got to him and his family.

None of those is the case. He wants to play in the NBA. If you want to play in the NBA, you don’t go to Wisconsin. If you want to play in the NBA and Kentucky offers you a scholarship (This applies for Duke as well), you take it. The vitriol coming from a segment of the Badger fanbase reflects poorly in the program itself. If you don’t think other top flight recruits in the state haven’t noticed, you’d be wrong. Nothing wrong with being disappointed but spitting venom at a high school kid you have no relationship with? That’s low class.

2. Being less than a week into the season, it’s silly to read too much into results. Things will change dramatically in the next four months but Duke’s win over Michigan State will probably be the most impressive of the non-con season. Doing so without Marvin Bagley is quite impressive. Grayson Allen is going to be a monster this season so get ready for a flood of Duke hate not seen since Laettner. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

3. Other good wins include Minnesota winning at Providence and Purdue winning at Marquette. It wasn’t that Purdue won, I expected that, but they executed so brilliantly and like last year, earlyb signs point to a team with a solid defense and offense. Both these teams are capable of winning the Big 14.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Marquette: 2017-18 Guesses

We enter year four of the Wojo era are at Marquette. Gone are any remnants of the Buzz era. The upperclassmen are Wojo recruits. This is his team, for better or worse.

Last year’s club was a less talented mirror of Duke. Electric offensively, massively deficient on defense. Like Duke, Marquette’s hopes for the season revolve solely around how the defense performs. You should be concerned. 

The backcourt will be lead by the undersized but prolific scoring duo of SR. Andrew Rowsey and super sophomore Markus Howard. There will be nights they shoot the opposition out of the gym. There will be nights they get torched on defense. Howard has the ability to become a good defender and if he wants to play at the next level, he needs to start showing he can this year. Neither is a true point but both will be bringing the ball up the court and setting the offense. Marquette can’t afford for them to get into foul trouble.

There are some wild cards. Junior Haanif Cheatham regressed badly over the second half of his sophomore year. A return to freshman form will boost what the Golden Eagles can do. In their scrimmage last Saturday, RS sophomore Sacar Anim had the ball in his hands quite a bit and wasn’t afraid to attack the rim. His shot still appears to need some work or teams will sag on him. He missed half his FTs as well but showed a knack to get there.

Freshman Greg Elliot saw plenty of minutes in Rowsey’s absence. I doubt he sees a lot of minutes once they role into conference play but he gives them athleticism and length they lack.

In the frontcourt, junior Matt Heldt, Wojo’s first recruit will take over as the big man. At times awkward, he’s gotten a lot stronger and will give them plenty of good nights. My hunch is, he’ll have a tough time staying out of foul trouble against more physical teams. Freshman Theo John has a Big East ready body and early reports indicate he should contribute this year. SMU transfer Harry Froling will be eligible by league play. How he integrates will be interesting. He was a top recruit a year ago. He could be a big addition.

The best player will likely be sophomore Sam Hauser who was one of the most efficient offensive players in the nation last year. Will his efficiency remain will higher usage? Perhaps not but he’s a great shooter and underrated rebounder. The Novak comparisons are legit even if they’re race lazy. 

Jamal Cain is the last man left and how he’ll be used is a mystery. He’s long and athletic and considered a solid defender. 

Marquette will go as far as their defense takes them. They’re the youngest team in the Big East. The league will be very competitive and a grind. A .500 season would be a success and give them a legit chance at dancing. It won’t be easy, though.

And It Begins......

And Cincinnati collects the first win of the year vaulting up to the top of AP Poll.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Brian's Not All That Bold but Fearless Predictions That May Be Somewhat Correct

Here I was, already to type out my Final Four picks and such and suddenly Kurly’s post comes across with basically the same Final Four as mine.  The only difference I had was no Villanova with one of his other contenders in their place.  I’m hesitant to put Duke at the top but quite frankly they do have the top roster from top to bottom.  It comes down to two “simple” things.  Defense and maturity.  Can their defense be a top 20 defense and can Greyson Allen finally mature.  If those things happen, and possibly if only one of them happen Duke is the team to beat.

On to the rest of the predictions

National Champion:  Duke – I’ve already mentioned the reasons why above.  I’m going to peg Marques Bolden as the X-Factor here.  He doesn’t need to score 15 points but he needs to give them Zoubek type numbers and minutes.  15 minutes, 6 points, 8 rebounds.  Be a presence in the middle

The Other of the Final 4:  Kansas, Michigan State, Cincinnati.  As Kurly said, it’s chalky but sometimes that’s what it is.  I like Cincinnati a bit more than he does and I thought about putting St. Mary’s here as a big surprise.  Everybody has Wichita State pegged as the best Mid-Major but the Gaels may be better.

Other Contendesr:  Also known as the rest of my Elite Eight.  Wichita State, St. Mary’s. North Carolina, Kentucky

3 That are Underrated: Wisconsin, St. Mary’s, Notre Dame – I’m mentioned the Gaels already.  Wisconsin lost a lot but I think they end up being a solid Sweet 16 team.  Notre Dame has a player of the year candidate in Bonzie Colson

3 That are Overrated:  Florida, Texas A&M, Northwestern – I’ve mentioned my disdain for the SEC even if I’d like one of those teams to usurp Kentucky as the alpha-male.  Northwestern made strides but I don’t think it’s sustainable


Player of the Year:  Miles Bridges, Michigan State, Marvin Bagley, Duke, Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Eric’s Bold, Fearless and Certainly Wrong Predictions

National Champion: Duke - I think the Blue Devils are the most talented team and one of the deeper teams in the nation. The focus will be on the freshmen but Grayson Allen will be the guy carrying them. It won’t be popular but given the black cloud hanging over the sport, it’s least popular player holding the trophy at the end of the season seems appropriate. Doesn’t hurt he’s an All-American candidate. 

The Others of the Final 4: Villanova, Kansas and Michigan State - Seems chalky? It’s chalky. I think this is Villanova’s best team of the last 3. Omari Spellman is going to be a load. They get a full year of Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges is going to be a breakout player.

Kansasn brings back Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk to form a potent backcourt. Lagerald Vick is also back. They add Malik Newman who if disciplined, could be one of the nation’s best bucket getters. The name to know be big man Udoka Azubuike. He’s going to be a stud.

Despite my disdain of Tom Izzo is March, this team is as talented as any he’s had in East Lansing. Miles Bridges is a popular choice as Player of the Year. Anything less than a Final 4 is a miss this year.

Other Contenders: Arizona, Cincinnati, Wichita State, Florida, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, USC

3 That are Underrated: Xavier, Purdue and St. Mary’s- Truth is, I’ve seen a lot of press on these 3. Hell, Tom Crean has Xavier winning it all. St. Mary’s has 3 great seniors lead by C Jock Landale. Purdue isn’t as sexy as Northwestern but I think they’re better. 

3 That are Overrated: Kentucky, Wichita State and West Virginia- Wichita State has some early season injuries to overcome and though the AAC isn’t very good, it is a step up in competition. West Virginia is down Esa Ahmad to start the year. The numbers will like them but I’ll have to see them to believe in them. Kentucky is as young as it’s ever been. Again, I think we have to see them piece it together. They could be 2012 good. They could repeat 2013. My guess is they’re wildly erratic but a legit threat come March. KenPom has them as 1. That seems OVERrated.

Player of the Year: Grayson Allen, Duke

😎

Power 6 Preview Part 6 - ACC

ACC
Projected Champion:  Duke
Possible Contenders:  North Carolina, Virginia
At-Large Bids: Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Florida State


I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess Louisville does not play in the NCAA tournament this year.  Two months ago they had enough talent to be a legit Championship contender.  Now, not so much.  Enough on that though.  Duke pops up as the #1 preseason team but I’d be weary of giving them the title already.  As Kurly said earlier if they can’t be a top 25 defense they can’t win a title.  That’s still a legit concern in Durham.  North Carolina is poised to be a top 10 team and when Joel Barry comes back from his broken hand this team is going to be a handful.  Virginia will continue to bore the hell out of me and beat a bunch of un disciplined teams.  Notre Dame will be fun to watch and is a dark horse Final Four contender.  Miami has enough talent to get a mid-range bid and Buzz Williams gets enough out of his players to get a low seed.  Syracuse is always in the mix for an at-large bid regardless of their poor Non-Conference schedule.  Count them as sweating out Selection Sunday.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Power 6 Preview Part 5 - Big-10

Big 10
Projected Champion:  Michigan State
Possible Contenders:  Purdue
At-Large Bids: Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Maryland, Indiana


As is the theme this year with the Power conference there is a clear cut favorite to win the conference.  In the Big 10 it’s Michigan State.  There is no doubt this is top 5 team and outside of a certain team in the ACC they may be the second favorite to cut down the nets in March, actually April.  Purdue seems to be on everybody’s radar as the number two team but after that its going to be like throwing darts at a wall.  Northwestern should be good but I was so sick of hearing about them last year I’m almost cheering against them.  Wisconsin should be good, but not Final Four good.  Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa all seem to be in the same 7-10 range.  I guess one team could get hot and make a run but it seems like a stretch at this point.  I’m predicting Maryland to bounce back and get a low seed and as a surprise Archie Miller puts Indiana on the map sooner rather than later.

Power 6 Preview Part 4 - Big-12

Big 12
Projected Champion:  Kansas
Possible Contenders:  None
At-Large Bids: WVU, Baylor, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma


There’s rumblings every year  that this may be the year that Kansas finally loses their stranglehold on the Big 12.  Once again, I don’t see it.  Kansas is still really really good.  Final Four good.  Are any of these other team even in that conversation?  West Virginia will always be solid with Huggy Bear leading the squad but they aren’t a top 10 team.  Baylor is good but they lost a lot and will fall off a bit.  TCU is on the rise but they just don’t have the players to go far.  A bid is a giant step for them.  Texas is still 2 years away in my opinion but when 2020 comes around I expect Shaka Smart to have this team pushing Kansas.  Until then, pencil Kansas in as the Big 12 champion and either an Elite Eight run or a loss in the first round to Bucknell

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Power 6 Preview Part 3 - Pac-12

Pac-12
Projected Champion:  Arizona
Possible Contenders:  USC
At-Large Bids: UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State


Arizona is a big favorite here and is a real threat to win the National Championship.   Unfortantely for them they have two things working against them.  First is Sean Miller who, maybe unfairly, has been labeled as a coach who can’t get over the hump and get this team to a Final Four.  Second, the big recruiting scandal has hit the Wildcats.  Nothing big has come down yet but that’s a cloud you don’t want around all season.  Without that this is a Final Four team.  Going back to the scandal, USC is affected as well.  Maybe a contender for the Pac-12 title they will be held down as well.  Depth is solid and there is a lot of talent.  Andy Enfield is a great coach and he should be able to get the most out of this group.  As for the at-large group I don’t think we a have much above a 7 seed.  Oregon will be good but not great after losing a ton.  Stanford will be solid and Arizona State is on the rise with Bobby Hurley.  Watch for ASU to take over this conference in 2-3 years

Saturday, November 4, 2017

More Big East

As we begin the season., the Big East is second in KenPom conference “power rankings”. Brian is right about Villanova being the favorite and the only legit national title contender in this league. Being 2nd in pre-season speaks more to the depth of this ten-team league.

Providence, Xavier and Seton Hall check in at 25, 26 and 28 respectively. Basically, that’s some 5-6 seed teams. My hunch is, two of these teams are higher than that come selection Sunday. Providence is riddled with injuries to start the season. Emmitt Holt has an abdominal injury that sounds serious. Jalen Lindsay and Drew Edwards are also dealing with injuries. Don’t be surprised if Providence struggles out of the gate.

I like Xavier and Seton Hall a lot. Both have potential All-American players in Trevon Bluiett and Angel Delgado. Both are potential Sweet 16 teams.

Butler, Creighton and Marquette are 42, 45 and 49 respectively. I think St. John’s is amongst this group as well battling for 5th place. Two of the four will dance. Pretty likely one will be in a play-in game. I’ll delve into Marquette next week but if they defense can be Top 80, they play in the tournament. I’m more bullish on St. John’s than a lot of people. Justin Simon and Marvin Clark can be impact newcomers in the league.

The best thing about the Big East is the round robin format and depth of the league. Even DePaul should be a lot better. They start the season 119th, which is higher than they’ve been in some time. They’ll win a few games that’ll make some fanbases ornery. Remember the name Max Strus. 

The Big East is going to be buckets of fun again this year. 

Power 6 Preview Part 2 - Big East

Big East
Projected Champion:  Villanova
Possible Contenders:  Xavier
At-Large Bids: Seton Hall, Providence, Creighton


Villanova again looks like the favorite in the Big East this year.  Jalen Brunson should be the player of the year in this conference and Villanova is a legit Final Four contender.  Coming up behind them are going to be a group of teams that need to figure out a way to separate themselves from each other.  I don’t think there’s a clear cut #2 team here but based on history I’d lean with Xavier.  Providence  and Seton Hall have been slowly building over the past couple years and although I do expect them to take another step forward I don’t think they have enough to contend for the conference title.  Creighton seems to be a step below these teams and I can see them sneaking in and being one of the First Four.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

SEC: Eric vs. Brian

I disagree with Brian slightly about what lies ahead for the SEC. Largely, I believe Florida and Texas A&M are better than what Brian thinks they are.

KenPom has Kentucky 2 and Florida 8 at the beginning of the season. If you asked me which team matches those expectations, I’ll take Florida.

The Gators lose Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson and don’t have John Egbunu until January. It’s likely the defense is worse this year but I love the backcourt. Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen are rock solid players. Kevarrius Hayes has a chance to take a big step for this club in the frontcourt. Also, they added Egor Koulechov as a graduate transfer from Rice. While not a big guy, he is a very good rebounder. The competition is tougher but don’t be surprised if he’s a major contributor.

Texas A&M begins the season 15th. Robert Williams, a potential lottery pick is the sexy name in College Station but this is a deep squad. Tyler Davis and DJ Hogg, both juniors are double-digit scorers. PG was a concern last year but redshirt freshman JJ Caldwell is a former 4* capable of running the offense. They also added Marquette graduate transfer Duane Wilson who will see time at the point. This is a Sweet 16 team.

Alabama is 23rd in KenPom and should dance for the first time since 2006. The league should be deeper and more competitive than in recent memory. The uncertainty at Auburn probably weakens the league but this is likely a 7-bid league. Keep an eye on Vandy. They open 38th in KenPom and Bryce Drew is involved with some top flight recruits. Good things are happening in Nashville.

Oh, yeah. Almost forgot about Kentucky. I was a little surprised they were 2nd in KenPom. I have little doubt they’re as talented as any team in the nation. I have no idea what to expect. Is this 2012? Or is this 2013? My gut tells me it’s closer to 2012. I’m not sleeping on Hamidou Diallo’s early enrollment last January. Those practice experiences matter. Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones are talented enough to take significant leaps. I’d guess Gabriel is more likely to do that between the two. He was productive at times last year.

I do believe Kentucky will likely win the SEC but my guess is, the record is less impressive than last year even if they’re a better squad. The competition should be better and deeper. Kentucky is probably the only national title contender but 3 teams into the second weekend isn’t a reach. 

Power 6 Preview Part 1 - SEC

SEC
Projected Champion:  Kentucky
Possible Contenders:  None
At-Large Bids: Florida, Texas A&M, Missouri, Alabama


I’ve read a lot about an SEC resurgence but I just don’t see it.  They may get a couple more bids this year than in years past but outside of Kentucky these are all 7-11 seed teams.  Speaking of Kentucky, they aren’t what they used to be either.  Sure, they will win the SEC but I’m finding it hard to believe they are actual National Title contenders.  Great, but not championship great.  Texas A&M seems like the next in line with Robert Williams coming back but again, this is not a 1-4 seed team.  Florida lost a lot but will be good enough to get a mid-range bid.  Alabama will be solid but not spectacular although they do have a nice group of Freshman coming in.  Speaking of freshman, Missouri should be able to do what LSU with Ben Simmons and Washington with Markelle Fultz couldn’t do…get a bid with the 1.1 Michael Porter.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Mid Majors Preview Part 7 - AAC

AAC
Projected Champion:  Wichita State
Possible Contenders:  Cincinnati
At-Large Bids: Cincinnati, Central Florida, Connecticut


Yes, the AAC is still considered a Mid-Major.  No, I’m not happy about it.  At least they can rollout at least 1 Final Four contender in Wichita State and if you squint hard enough Cincinnati may be one of those surprise teams that makes it to the Elite Eight.  There’s some room between the top two but not as much as people think.  Sliding in at 3 and 4 and probably getting some at-large love are Central Florida and Connecticut.  UCF is led by 7’6” Tacko Falls, who put the NBA off for one more year.  They seem like a safe bet for 24-25 wins.  Connecticut is the X-factor here as they won a National Championship just a couple years ago and have fallen on hard times.  I see a late run and a 12 seed in their future with a little bounce back year.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Mid Majors Preview Part 6 - WCC

WCC
Projected Champion:  St. Mary’s
Possible Contenders:  Gonzaga, BYU
At-Large Bids: Gonzaga


I think it’s finally the year when St. Mary’s overtakes Gonzaga for the WCC title.  The Bulldogs will still be good, at-large bid good, but they lost too much in the off season to be the defact-o champion.  St. Mary’s returns a ton and not only boasts the deepest roster but also the top player in the league Jock Landale.  BYU will continue to be a pest in the league but probably not be good enough to get in the at-large conversation.  I like San Francisco’s returning roster and what Herb Sendek is doing at Santa Clara.  Those two teams just aren’t there yet although they may rival BYU for the 3 seed in the conference tournament.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Valley, A-10 and MWC stuff

These are three leagues that can be fun basketball leagues. Can they be leagues that get multiple bids and be contenders in March? Let’s examine.

The Valley

In a word? No. The money spent at Creighton in facilities outstripped the rest of the league. Wichita State struck gold with Gregg Marshall who stayed long after many coaches would have bolted. Sadly, for the Valley, Wichita State parlayed that into a “promotion” to the AAC. Simply put, unless someone spends on facilities like Creighton or strike gold with a coach and some luck, it’s unlikely the Valley can match the glory days of the aughts.

Now, it’s possible for a team to rise and be a legit March threat but they’ll always be behind the 8-ball as the league has lost any room for error when it comes to seeding. A weaker league and fear of being scheduled will make it hard for a Valley team to earn a solid seed.

A-10

When conference realignment struck, I probably underestimated just how hard hit the A-10 was. Losing Temple was a serious blow even if the Owls have had middling results the last few years. Xavier was a blow as well. Less so was Butler since they were only there for a year. Adding George Mason and Davidson added two schools serious about basketball but without the budgets of X and Temple. VCU was a good addition. They’ll take a step back this year. The real test is how they respond to a rebuilding year.

The A-10is far weaker than what it was five years ago but there are enough schools serious about winning that success is possible come March. They’ll need some luck and more importantly, good coaches that stick around. Keeping Dan Hurley at URI matters after losing Shaka Smart and Archie Miller the last two years.

Mountain West

We’ve said ad nauseum it wasn’t that long ago they were sending five teams to the dance. That may not be repeatable but any league that has New Mexico and UNLV can’t be dismissed.

Neither team is expected to be very good this year. In fact, this will probably be New Mexico’s worst team in years. They hired away New Mexico State’s Paul Weir and if given time, should find a lot of success. UNLV is the key to a resurgent Mountain West. Marvin Menzies came aboard to a true train wreck. He’s slowly building a program and recruiting at a solid level. When these two return to national prominence, the MWC can be a high level league again.

Behind those two programs, there is enough depth to build a solid league. The key question is can San Diego State sustain success without Steve Fisher? With the amount of talent in California, SDSU will have a chance to do so. Steve Fisher turned a moribund program around and given it a solid base. It’s up to Brian Dutcher to make it happen.

Mid Majors Preview Part 5 - Mountain West

Mountain West
Projected Champion:  Nevada
Possible Contenders:  San Diego State, Boise State, Colorado State
At-Large Bids: San Diego State


Nevada is the clear cut favorite a year after winning the CBI Title.  Eric Musselman always has this team prepared and the fall of the Mountain West is a couple years in.  The seems to be the theme for the bottom half of the mid-majors.  San Diego State should bounce back this year with Malik Pope leading the way.  Boise State and Colorado State will have some success but probably not enough to contend.  2 bids will depend on the Strength of the bottom half of this conference.  I don’t have much hope.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Mid Majors Preview Part 4 - Atlantic 10

Atlantic 10
Projected Champion: Rhode Island
Possible Contenders: St. Louis
At-Large Bids: None


Another Conference being bitten by the Power confernces, this has always been the source of at least two bids lately.  This year, I’m not so sure.  Rhode Island is again the bid dog here with EC Matthews poised to be the conference player of the year.  Outside of Matthew the Rams return about 75% of their minutes and production from last year.  Their biggest challenge is probably going to come from resurgent St. Louis.  Travis Ford has used transfers to quickly rebuild this program.  How quickly they mesh will determine if this team is at-large worthy or not. VCU and St. Joseph’s appear to be in the good but not great category

Mid Majors Preview Part 3 - Missouri Valley

Missouri Valley
Projected Champion:  Northern Iowa
Possible Contenders:  Missouri State
At-Large Bids: None


The big news here is that Wichita State left and Valpo is in.  That’s a big loss for the Valley as they continue to fall from the mid 2000’s where multiple bids were the norm and not the exception.  Northern Iowa seems to be the class of the league with Missouri State not too far behind.  Valparasio should see some success this year but it will take some time to be a top tier team here.  I see only 1 bid for the Valley as well.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mid Majors Preview Part 2 - Conference USA

Conference USA
Projected Champion:  UAB
Possible Contenders:  Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Tech
At-Large Bids: None


Middle Tennessee State has dominated  the last 2 years but this may be the year UAB gets back to the top.  Last year they looked solid until team leader Robert Ehsan tore his ACL.  This year he’s back surrounded by a strong supporting class.  Middle Tennessee still has Giddy Potts and should be right in the mix of things but I believe UAB hangs on.  Louisiana Tech should make some noise but not enough to get to the top.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mid Majors Preview Part 1

MAC

Projected Champion:  Western Michigan
Possible Contenders:  Ball State, Toledo
At-Large Bids: None


When I think of the MAC I always lump them in as a Mid Major as opposed to a Low Major.  Realistically they are a low major.  Off the top of my head I can’t name the last two bid year and this year won’t be any different.  Western Michigan with potential NBA Player, Thomas Wilder returning is a cut above the rest.  Ball State and Toledo return some pieces of a successful last year but they probably don’t have enough firepower to push the Broncos, much less grab an at-large bid.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

More Mid-Major Misery

Last week, the Big 14 announced they were moving to a 20-game league schedule beginning next season. The ACC had announced something similar awhile back. It seems likely, the Pac-12 and SEC will follow suit (though, the SEC has been bullheaded about adding a 9th league game in footsie).

It makes sense from the league standpoint. Better fan experience, more games against a natural rival like Rutgers for Wisconsin and so forth. The real reason, goes well beyond that.

What more league games are going to give teams, is a better RPI. RPI? What buffoon still uses that metric? Well, the dopes that sit on the committee who pick teams for the tournament. It’s been reported in various spots that one Big 14 commissioner said off the record, the goal was to “take all at-large bids for Power 5” schools. It’s always about the money.

Mid-majors already struggle to schedule Power 5 teams and this will make it virtually impossible for say, a Illinois State to get a game against a Big 14 or Big XII-II team. A loss to Illinois State? Doesn’t matter how good they are in say KenPom, if that RPI is bad, you might as well lose in conference to a bottom feeder. At least that team will have an inflated RPI and you can chalk it up to the grind and vagaries of league play (Full disclosure: I’m far too guilty of that excuse). It also obviously leaves less games to have to be scheduled. Less dates on the calendar leaves less chances to show the little guys belong at the “big boy” table.

You can better your bottom dollar, the Big XII-II will reopen talk of expansion. The Big East has been rumored for awhile now to be doing the same in hopes of playing 20 league games.

At the end of the day, the mid-majors Brian is going through, really will find it impossible to make the dance without winning their league tournaments. It also means more mediocre 8th and 9th place league teams dancing. A 12-5 upset of Arkansas over Indiana doesn’t seem that exciting but that’s where we’re headed. And it sucks.

Season Preview Low Majors Part 5

Summit – South Dakota State – Great young coach in TJ Otzelburger, Great young player in Mike Daum

Sun Belt – Georgia Southern – They return most of last year’s 11-7 conference team.  Should be the leader here.

SWAC – Alcorn State- they finally are eligible again and takes over the strangle hold Mike Davis and Texas Southern has on this conference


WAC -  Grand Canyon – It’s Thunder Dan Time!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Season Preview Low Majors Part 4

Patriot – Bucknell – All 5 starters return from a team that gave West Virginia a game in the NCAA tournament last year

SoCon – Furman, Wofford, Mercer - Any of these 3 could take the title.  It's going to be whoever is hot at the end of the year.  Let's say umm, Furman.  Go Paladins!


Southland – This one is also wide open; Northwestern Statw, Laamr, or SFA could all grab it.  Let’s go with Northwestern State since I have great memories of them beating Iowa in 2006

Friday, October 20, 2017

Season Preview Low Majors Part 3

MEAC – Norfolk State – 16 seed fodder.  Sorry

NEC – St. Francis (PA) – at least they aren’t St. Francis (NY).  They’ve never made it to the tournament ever!


OVC – Belmont – It seems each year it comes down to Belmont and Murray State and this year is no different

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More MAAC

I can’t believe Brian just glossed over my favorite little major, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The MAAC has “suffered” from mid-major tragedy the last two years as regular season champion, a dominant Monmouth was upset in the conference tournament. The Hawks were a good enough team to make a little March run but instead came up short.

Manhattan is a solid choice to win the league. They return a good chunk of their minutes and have a proven coach in Steve Masiello. Iona will also be a contender. The Jaspers have a chance to build a little momentum with a non-conference schedule that includes Harvard at home and a trip to Jersey to take on Seton Hall. They also go to Tulsa, a borderline tournament team. Iona has trips to Syracuse and St. John’s on the docket.

Monmouth will be a factor as well. They won’t repeat their record from the last two years but they’re certainly capable of winning the conference tourney. Fairfield has the probable pre-season POY in Tyler Nelson but will be inexperienced through the rest of the roster. Still, he’s a good enough player to take a team through Albany.

FWIW, the MAAC was 14th or 15th in most conference metrics last year. That won’t get them two bids but if a conference regular season champ can also win the league tournament, they should produce a March threat.

Season Preview Low Majors Part 2

Colonial – College of Charleston – they are the favorite but Elon isn’t far behind.  The Colonial could have two teams in the at-large conversation until late February

Horizon – Northern Kentucky – Seems to be a two team race between NKU and Oakland

Ivy – Harvard – Tommy Amaker always has this team towards the top of the division and will be looking to reclaim the crown from Princeton who went 14-0 in conference last year


MAAC – Manhatten – Iona and Monmouth lose a ton and the Jaspers look poised to leap both of them

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Season Preview Low Majors Part 1

America East – Vermont – went 16-0 last season and returns 4 starters

Atlantic Sun – FGCU – Has an NBA prospect, Brandon Godwin plus 2 transfers from a 26 win team last year

Big Sky – Idaho – Victor Sanders averaged 20+ppg last year and return 3 6’7” bigs who played last year


Big West – UC-Davis – at this point the league is wide open.  Long Beach State is always a threat with their tough non-conference schedule

Friday, October 13, 2017

Kurly’s Five Storylines for ‘17-‘18

5. Archie Miller and Indiana

Indiana is a blue-blood college basketball program. Since 1987, they’ve made two Final Fours. There’s a lot of reasons for this we won’t detail but a big part of the problem has been the coach. Enter Archie Miller. Of the coaches who have come after Zombie Bob Knight, Miller has a chance to return Indiana to its rightful place of prominence. His recruiting should match Tom Crean and surpass it at some point. Most agree he’s probably a better coach and will be able to handle the pressures of coaching at Indiana. Indiana probably projects on the outside of the bracket entering the season but if they sneak in, it’ll be a harbinger of things to come.

4. Duke and Defensive Aversion

There is not a more talented team in the nation, including Kentucky. Besides youth, Duke’s biggest question mark will once again be defensive efficiency. If they can be a top 30ish defensive team, they’re legit national title contenders. Top 20? They win it all. Ignore any early conference losses anencephaly pay attention to the defensive numbers. Duke’s season revolves around that.

3. Mid-Major Demise and that Boring 1st Weekend

Last year’s opening weekend of the tournament was largely a snooze fest. Why? Mid-major basketball is at its lowest in years. There’s a variety of reasons. We’ve discussed conference realignment poaching teams up but another factor has been the amount of graduate transfers from lower to higher programs. One of the great equalizers in March for mid-majors has been roster continuity and development. Now we’re seeing graduates move on to a higher level program to chase March glory. Coaches at mid-majors are developing players like the minor leagues to see them graduate to the big leagues. It’s unfair to keep kids that graduate at a school, it’s also a tough spot for coaches.

2. Kansas and Villanova

The Big XII and Big East and have been ruled by Kansas and Villanova. Will it continue this season? Kansas looks like a prohibitive favorite again and Villanova is the pre-season favorite. Of the two, Villanova is probably the most vulnerable. Seton Hall is a legit contender along with Xavier. Both programs will still be judged on what they do in March. Still, another banner for both seems likely.

1. The Elephant in the Room

As discussed here, college basketball will have the looming shadow of a federal investigation into the influence of shoe companies on steering recruits to schools. The general assumption is there are a lot more dominoes to fall. The longer it takes to happen, the more rumor and innuendo will spread. Louisville has almost certainly saw this become a lost season. It will be the story of the season.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The First Shot Fired - Pitino, Rick

As predicted by Kurly yesterday, Pitino didn't last the day.  To be fair he probably should have been gone long ago but he has been able to skate by, time and time again.   I'm waiting to see who goes next and I have no doubt there are names that are out there yet that will come out.
It will be good to see Bruce Pearl go.  He's as dirty as they come and I pray ESPN doesn't employ any of these guys as analysts.  Now, I'm not naive to believe this doesn't go on all over the place but obviously its so out of control the FBI has to step in.  The next week is going to change the landscape of the year.

On a more positive note I was just starting to prepare for the 2017-2018 preview but with these allegations out there I may wait to see who gets fired or declared ineligible.

What a shocker 6 weeks before the season starts!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Well, That Escalated

At about 8AM this morning, twitter blew up with an announcement about pending arrests of multiple NCAA assistant coaches and shoe company exceutives. The arrests were labeled as bribery and fraud. What made this a big deal is, this was the FBI. Unlike the NCAA, this means subpoena power, wiretaps, etc. The basic gist was, shoe execs, agents and coaches pushed kids affiliated with shoe companies to schools who were also affiliated and then the schools pushed the kids toward whatever agent was affiliated with the aforementioned.

The assistant coaches arrested were Arizona's Book Richardson, USC's Tony Bland, Auburn's Chuck Person and Oklahoma State's Lamont Evans. Richardson has been an assistant under Sean Miller going back to his Xavier days and we'll get back to him shortly. Evans is new at OSU and his indiscretions may have occured while he was an assistant at South Carolina.

Also arrested were Munish Sood, Christian Dawkins (former agent), Rashan Michel, Merl Code (affiliated with Adidas), Jonathan Brad Augustine, a AAU coach loosely affiliated with Adidas and Jim Gatto.

The FBI report can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/press-release/file/998746/download

The two clear schools in trouble are Louisville and Arizona. I texted Brian this morning when the news broke and told him, Pitino is done. I fully expect a forced retirement or dismissal as early as tomorrow. Though no Louisville assistant is named, nor is the school, its clear as you scroll through the FBI report, they have Louisville dead to rights. Brian Bowen was a five star, class of '18 recruit who seemingly randomly chose Louisville in June. Early projections had Creighton as a legit destination and the, finally Arizona. Remarkably, after little effort, he chose Louisville. As you read the report, a trail leads back to a payment of $100,000 being made to Bowen in return for him agreeing to go to Louisville. The Feds have it recorded. Pitino himself is quoted as saying it was the cheapest and luckiest recruiting win he could remember. The cheap remark meaning the school never paid for an official visit.

Arizona received a commitment from Jahvon Quinerly and according to the complaint, it appears Book Richardson funneled $15,000 his way to get that commitment this past June. Quinerly was highly sought after by schools such as Villanova and Virginia. Richardson has long been considered an elite recruiter for Sean Miller. This will not end well for Miller.

This is condensed from what I've followed along on twitter today. So much to be digested and so little truly known. These are some things I believe:

1. This is the tip of the iceberg. When the NCAA is involved, it's easy to keep quiet. With the FBI and potential jail time, some of these men will flip and name names. I wouldn't be laughing at anyone at the moment because we don't know what shoe drops next.

2. Louisville basketball is done as we know it. There will be tremendous pressure on the NCAA to drop the hammer and the hammer will drop after the Feds are finished. That means some time in limbo. Top recruits are not coming for the foreseeable future.

3. Rick Pitino will never coach again. I expect he'll be done as early as tomorrow.

4. Arizona will also come under heavy scrutiny and Sean Miller's days there are numbered. A pre-season favorite, I won't be surprised if things unravel quickly in the desert.

5. Bruce Pearl will be out at Auburn sooner than later and will never coach again.

6. USC is the mystery. They immediately hired Louis Freeh to investigate. That's a serious reaction and my hunch tells me Andy Enfield's days are numbered as well.

7. I'm not appalled at this. However, it has the chance to fix a lot of things wrong with eligibility questions regarding agents and the influence of shoe companies. It's no secret AAU teams sponsored by specific shoe companies often see kids from those teams attend schools affiliated with said shoe company. The NCAA has struggled with these issues to the point leagues have started to explore on their own what the rules should be, especially with regards to agents, according to SI's Andy Staples.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rollie Massimino

Bad week for college basketball continued as it lost another of its legendary coaches as former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino passed away today. Massimino was the coach of the 1985 Villanova team that shocked Georgetown in the NCAA Final as a 8-seed. 

Massimino was one of the many great characters of the Big Easy heyday. Boeheim, Thompson, Carlesimo, Carnesecca and Massimino stalked the sidelines throughout the 80's all taking their respective schools to at least one Final Four. Of all those coaches, Massimino's Wildcats were often the underdog and they relished the role. Massimino left Villanova following the 91-92 season with a bitter taste in his mouth. Accused of breaking up the Big 5 games and a grumbling fan base helped push him to UNLV.

He didn't find much success after leaving Philadelphia but was still widely respected as one of the great basketball coaches of not only the northeast, but all of college hoops. Forever a coach, Massimino spent the last 11 years coaching at Division II NAIA Keiser University in Florida.

Eventually, former assistant Jay Wright brought Rollie back into the Villanova family and Massimino was seen in the crowd during the Wildcats title win over North Carolina in 2016. 

His passing is a reminder that many of the great characters of the sport are long gone. In the corporatized world of college athletics, the days of coaches like Massimino are long gone. Like Jud Heathcote, it's doubtful someone like Rollie could survive in today's 24/7 media glare. It's a shame. While his teams played a grinding style I'd certainly hate today, Massimino was the type of guy you'd love to have a beer with. College basketball needs more Massimino's not less.

I've thought about what coaches today are true characters of the sport. Roy Williams? John Calipari? Jim Boeheim? Bob Huggins Those are the 4 I could think of and all 4 are throwbacks to contemporaries of Rollie Massimino. And out of those 4,Calipari is the closest thing. Love him or hate him, but his brutal honesty about himself and the sport is refreshing. Ive developed a begrudging respect for Huggins since his Cincinnati days. Boeheim has just become an angry old man.

RIP, Rollie.  You made college hoops fun.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Jud Heathcote

Jud Heathcote passed away yesterday at the age of 90. If you're of a certain age from Wisconsin and a college hoops fans, you remember guys like him, Gene Keady and Bob Knight inflicting yearly beatings on Steve Yoder's Badgers. Knight may be the most famous of that troika but I'd argue Heathcote's reach on the game will last far longer.

Jud Heathcote won a national title in 1979 with Magic Johnson. As we know, that game is often lauded as the one that put college basketball on the map. We can argue whether that's the case or not but there is little doubt the impact it had on all of basketball. It jump started the Bird-Magic rivalry that propelled the NBA into a new stratosphere.

While he'd never win another national title, the Spartans remained a perennial Big Ten contender in his tenure. He'd also send numerous players into the association including players like Steve Smith and Scott Skiles. His final team included former Milwaukee Buck Shawn Respert and Eric Snow. The guy knew talented guards.

Upon his retirement, he strongly pushed for his protege Tom Izzo to replace him. After a slow transition, Izzo produced the Spartans second national championship and have continued the winning ways Heathcote began decades ago. There aren't many more coaches as influential in the college game today as Tom Izzo, for better or worse, and Jud Heathcote helped assure that.

There are couple final thoughts about his legacy as well. In his retirement, Heathcote was a regular behind the bench at Gonzaga basketball games. Former Zags coach Dan Monson had served as an assistant under Heathcote at Michigan State. Jud would form a strong relationship with Mark Few, another highly respected coach who has built one of the great national programs.

There's a local connection as well. Marquette basketball experienced a renaissance and great growth under Tom Crean, a Tom Izzo assistant. Say what you want about Crean, but what he did for and at Marquette was as nearly important as what Al McGuire did. 

Jud Heathcote may not be as remembered as a Dean Smith but his impact on basketball was nearly as big. His reach throughout the sport is still felt in many places today. Bob Knight may have the national titles, Jud Heathcote has the greater legacy and lasting impact.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Summer Top 10

We've had just about all the key transfers make decisions and all the top incoming freshman make decisions. Here's my early top 10:

10. USC: They were one of the last teams in the field in 2017. That will not be the case in 2018. This is Andy Enfield's best team.

9. Florida: Michael White has put his signature on the program and it is trending up. After a bit of a blip following Billy Donovan's departure, the Gators look ready for another run.

8. Kansas: I put them here solely on betting on Bill Self. Having Devontae Graham back helps. They get former top 10 prospect Malik Newman and super frogs Billy Preston. 

7. Louisville: Expectations are high even after Donovan Mitchell decided to stay in the draft. Expect the sophomores to take big jumps.

6. Duke: This might be too high. Banking on Bolden being a complement to Allen. 
 
5. Wichita State: Everyone is back. Competition will be tougher. Record won't be as good but they won't get underseeded unless the AAC is a complete wreck.

4. Villanova: They lose the POY but add Omari Spellman who basically had a redshirt season. Mikal Bridges is the guy to watch. Expect a big season from him.

3. Kentucky: Almost no minutes return but I'm pretty bullish on them being a problem come March. It's an athletic class coming in that might be as good as the Wall group and Davis group. 

2. Michigan State: Even with close calls since 2000, this could be Izzo's best team since then. Clear Big 14 favorites. Izzo is March takes will strangle you in 2018.

1. Arizona: Not sure if Rawls Alkins is going pro. If not, I'm confident in this ranking. If he does go pro, a little less so. A full season of Allonzo Trier, my early POY, is pretty exciting. Good mix of youth and vets.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Wichita State and the American

In a move that was widely expected, the AAC added Wichita State as its 12th basketball member this week. In a week that saw nearly all of Memphis returning players transfer coupled with many defections from UConn, I guess this qualifies as a win for the league.

My initia reaction was this was a desperate move. It may still turn out to be that but ultimately, it's a short term win at the worst for both parties. 

Wichita State had made 1 tourney in 20 years prior to the arrival of Gregg Marshall. Initial blush makes you think their recent success is coach driven. While his presence has helped make them successful, we have two examples of how a mid-major can sustain with one coach and with multiple coaches.

Gonzaga made a Cinderella run with Dan Monson and then Mark Few came along and grew on that magical March. Despite many offers at more prestigious places, Few stuck around and turned the Zags into a national power despite league affiliation. In the Midwest, Butler did the same running through many coaches. Marshall can stay at Wichita and be another Mark Few or Wichita can sustain without him. Both are doable. Either way, the Shockers are in a better position to sustain where they are and even exceed. Also, Gregg Marshall has a lot more reason to stay.

As for the AAC, it was a shot worth taking. The league has plenty of good basketball schools that are simply in a period of flux. The league can be very good. They also have to be realists. UConn & Cincinnati will always be expansion targets. While the Shockers don't have D-1 football, rumblings are they want to work their way to that point. Also, they have the Koch Brothers willing to spend some $ on them.

The loser is the Missouri Valley. Once the shining beacon of the mid-majors, they've lost their most rabid fan base in Creighton and their most marketable team in Wichita State. Rumored Shocker replacements Valpo or Murray State are very good basketball schools with success stories in their histories but it seems like decades since the Valley looked like a 3-4 bid league. That's too bad in this new world.

When Wichita State go their 10-seed, this was fair accompli. They had no choice but to make this move. The big shots in college athletics will be happy as well as it continues to weaken the mid-majors. Understandable series of events. Also a sad series of events. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Final Game Thoughts

The title game between North Carolina and Gonzaga was not an aesthetically pleasing affair. While close, it wasn't a well-played game.

That doesn't diminish North Carolina's championship. They were and are a deserving champ. They've been one of the best teams all year long. The Zags were deserving title game participants as well. The game itself simply mirrored what was a largely uninspiring tournament full of mediocre basketball.

A lot of people are trying to pin this on the officials and they deserve some of the blame but the college basketball game is in transition at the moment. The move to allow players freedom of movement comes at a price and that price is teams and coaches adapting to a tighter called game.

Something similar happened in the NBA about 20 years ago. Rick Pitino discussed this on the radio yesterday about when he was in the NBA and David Stern wanted more offense. The league pushed for less physical play to open the game up. Not everyone I know agrees with me, but today's NBA is the best it's been in my lifetime since the heyday of Bird and Magic.

That's the goal of college hoops. Am I certain coaches can adapt? Not necessarily but I think we'll see more offensive innovation. When thinking about this, I tried to recall the last major program to adopt any type of offensive first mentality. It's been at least 25 years. The Runnin' Rebels have been long gone.

Coaches don't get fired for preaching defense. It's the easiest coaching cliche there is. But, if we allow the game to adapt to the officials calling it tighter, we may see more offensive innovation and better basketball, basketball where the best players aren't being grinded down by Johnny Try Hard and allowed to play freely.  Hopefully, anyway.

Now, that doesn't excuse missing out-of-bounds calls or continually butchering charge calls. Or missing obvious goaltends or travels after an offensive player bounces off a stationery dude. That is just painful to watch and happens way too often.

We're now into the off-season. It's only 200 days until next season begins where someone from the ACC will probably win the National Title and where Arizona finally makes a Final 4.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Final Pick

Remember when I casually mentioned North Carolina's offensive rebounding in my picks Saturday? Blind squirrel, nut and so on.

With how the regions fell this year, this was the best possible matchup we could have via KenPom. We have the 1 and 3 matching up (Had the 2, Nova, made it here, they'd have faced The Zags on Saturday). Remarkably, Gonzaga is a 4-point favorite with a 63% probability.

The Zags have the most efficient defense in the nation. The key tonight will be keeping their bigs on the court and not in foul trouble. The Zags are good at limiting offensive rebounds. Carolina is hands down the best offensive rebounding team in the nation. It'll be harder to limit extra chances for the Tar Heels if Karnowski, Collins and Williams are battling foul trouble.

The Zags are the better shooting team and have a much better effective fg% on defense. Tempo won't be an issue. Both teams average about the same amount of possessions per game. 

Joel Berry says he's good to go. He'll have to be against the Zags backcourt. I think the guy that decides this game is Justin Jackson. A projected lottery pick, a big night I think gives the edge to UNC.

People on the radio this morning seem to think this is Carolina's to lose. The Zags still aren't getting much respect. As much as I want to see them win to end such silly talks, I think Carolina wins a close one. And I think it's a big game from Justin Jackson that carries them. Still, go Zags.

The Pick: North Carolina 79 Gonzaga 77

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sunday Final 4 Ramblings

Let's start with the nightcap. That was an interesting game. While it ended close, it never felt close. The Ducks never got the star contributions they needed from Brooks and Dorsey and yet...

It wasn't a good game. Close finishes don't equal good games. Oregon played the first half turning the ball over too much and played the second half missing and taking too many challenged 3's. Carolina seemingly played ahead 7-9 points the entire second half. 

The player of the game was Kennedy Meeks who picked up the scoring heft in absence of Isaiah Hicks who was a non-factor. He was a man last night. 

The end of the game was ridiculous. The Ducks going for the quick two was fine. Failing to box out on 4 missed free throws was not. Carolina didn't make a bucket in the final five minutes or so. It was typical of this tournament. A game that finished with tension caused not by great play but by folly. 

Jordan Bell will take a lot of grief, but he was the Ducks best player last night. And he was arguably their best player in March. Sports can be painfully cruel.

The early game was much better. The first 16 minutes were really well played. The Zags made a run after Karnowski went out. How he nearly loses an eye and there's no foul, I'll never know. The Zags picked up the pace without him and Carolina looked gassed heading into halftime.

After being nearly invisible in the first half, the refs made their presence felt in the second half. The Zags built a 14-point lead that was erased in the blink of an eye as they appeared to slow down on offense and Sindarious Thornwell drew a terrible charge call. To the Zags credit, they didn't flinch. They regained the lead and held off a tough Gamecocks team.

The problem in the second half were the whistle happy zebras. What was a great paced game got bogged down by a ref show. Both teams played well through it. Gonzaga executed as well as any team this month in the final moments. The foul to deny a potential tying three, the sure handed rebound and a freshman calmly drilling the two FTs to ice it. It was a pleasure seeing a team execute late.

Freshman Zach Collins was the player of the game. He provided rebounding, timely scoring (his dead ball three was a thing of beauty for Zags fans) and a toughness inside I don't think South Carolina anticipated. His name had popped up in 2018 draft talk. His name now is popping up in 2017 draft talk. So, we may have a one-and-done.

There's still a lot of chatter about the "easy path" the Zags have had to the title game. It's silly. After watching South Carolina embarrass Duke, humble Baylor and beat Florida, that was a grown-ass team. The Zags played like champions and reacted like champions after SC blitzed them to take a brief lead. If you don't think this is a worthy team, you're an idiot. Forget the analytics which love them, watch this team. If you don't see a great team, you simply have a bias. Win or lose Monday, Gonzaga was a great team this year and is one of the best college basketball programs in the nation.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Final 4: The Picks

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

Entering the tournament, South Carolina was one of the weaker offensive teams. Inefficient mixed with poor shooting. During the tournament, they've had 4 of their most efficient games of the year. They were helped by playing two weak defensive teams early but in regional weekend, they played two very good defensive teams.

On the flip side, they haven't played a team as good on defense as the Zags. Why? Well, the Zags have the most efficient defense in the nation. The Zags have also faced two teams in West Virginia and Northwestern that make you uncomfortable on offense like Carolina will try and do.

I've continually picked against South Carolina, fully expecting their offense to do them in. It hasn't but I'm stubborn. 

Gonzaga 67 South Carolina 59

North Carolina vs. Oregon

Is Joel Berry fully healthy? That's the key question. If he can't go, Oregon has a much better chance of winning. 

KenPom has Carolina as a 2-pt favorite. Oregon has the horses to match the athleticism of Carolina. Oregon has enough size. Oregon also has better effective defensive and offensive fg%. Carolina will have opportunities for second chance points. That could be the difference in a close game.

Everyone assumes Carolina is the team to beat this weekend. They called their game against Kentucky a de facto title game. It wasn't. 

The Pick: Oregon 76 North Carolina 73

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

25th Anniversary of the Shot

Brian piqued my interest by asking what would be the second best college basketball game I ever saw after Duke-Kentucky which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary.

From a personal satisfaction standpoint, Marquette's trouncing of Kentucky in the regional final would probably rate second. The previous three games could certainly round out the top 5. All 3 were too close for comfort but wildly satisfying at the end.

Marquette's wins over Murray State in 2012 and Butler in 2013 would also rate highly from a personal standpoint. So many games have been lost to the fog of time and in many instances, intoxocation. I know Gonzaga-Arizona is 2003 was wild and Xavier-Ohio State in 2007 was as well but I was pretty lit up for both.

Regular season games have hardly stuck with me. The Jason Williams one man show versus Maryland, Novak smoking UConn, various Cincinnati losses sort of stick.

Though we'll see a lot of the Showalter-Chiozza highlights, with Florida not winning Sunday, the drama is diminished since Florida didn't make the Final 4. Luke Maye's shot on the other hand after Malik Monk's three, that story will have more legs years from now unless your a Gator or Badger.

At the end of the day, no game had better play, more story behind it, more drama and a better ending than Duke-UK. No game is probably seared into my memory more than that one. It was truly the perfect game for March. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Final Four Fun FactZ

Well, the Final Four is set. We have two 1-seeds in Gonzaga and North Carolina advancing. We have a solid 3-seed in Oregon, left for dead by many, including myself after the loss of Chris Boucher. The Cinderella is South Carolina, as least likely a Final 4 team from a power league I can remember since maybe Wisconsin in 2000. Anyway, here's some numbers to tide you over until Saturday.

- Gonzaga remains the number 1 overall team in KenPom. They have the best defense and it's a solid margin over South Carolina. The offense is 14th.

- South Carolina is 2nd in defensive efficiency. They're 105th in offense. That's the 2nd worst of the KenPom era. Louisville was 109th in 2012. LSU was 62nd in 2006 and Syracuse was 50th last year. None of those teams made the title game.

- North Carolina is 3rd in KenPom and 6th in offensive and 18th in defensive efficiency respectively. 

- All the other coaches are Final 4 newbies but this is Daggum Roy's 9th Final 4 and 5th with North Carolina.

- This is the 2nd time he has taken UNC to back-to-back Final 4's. He did so in 2008 and 2009.

- Oregon is at 10 in KenPom, 16th and 19th in offensive and defensive efficiency.

- Per CJ Moore of Bleacher Report, South Carolina's offensive efficiency before the tournament was 101.8. During the tournament? It's 116.7. No, we didn't underestimate them. They're on a roll.

- The last time a regional final was held at MSG, UConn won it. It was also a 7-seed.

- This the first Final 4 since 1998 to include 2 "west coast" teams. I'm stretching out to Utah for that.

- The Zags and South Carolina are making their first Final 4 as you know. The last Final 4 to include two newcomers was 1996, Mississippi State and UMass.

- Dana Altman and Frank Martin both coached at Kansas State.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Elite 8 Musings and More

- Let's begin by discussing Indiana doing the right thing and not hiring Steve Alford. Alford's track record is fine but Indiana needed to hire a young, energetic coach and successful young coach. They checked all three with Archie Miller.

He'll find Indiana to be unreasonable in expectations but my guess is his he'll do well enough and better than his predecessor. Will Indiana accept a track record similar to his brother Sean? My guess is yes. Sean Miller will get to a Final 4 soon enough and Archie will at IU. Which does first? 

- Congratulations to Mark Few and Gonzaga for breaking through. The criticism they've received through the years has been largely unfair. Now, people are mocking them for only having to beat an 11-seed, beating West Virhinia and surviving a Northwestern "scare".

A. Way to go Arizona for not "legitimizing" the Zags Final 4.

B. Checks KenPom and sees West Virginia is still 7th. But West Virginia missed a bunch of shots! Weird. Zags must not have the nation's most efficient defense for a reason.

C. They survived Northwestern? Doubt Carolina gets the same reaction about Arkansas if they advance today.

- The most impressive player of the day was Jordan Bell of Oregon who was so intimidating he basically ruined Kansas. Kansas was so spooked by him, by time they started stopping the Ducks on defense, it was too late. Going to write about Dana Altman and the Ducks path here later this week.  

- Bill Self is now 2-7 in regional finals and a bad coach. Or so I hear. Listen KU faithful, be careful what you wish for. The wilderness is vast and you can wonder it for years.

Now, for the games...

East 

South Carolina vs. Florida: Is it the Muschamp Bowl or the Spurrier Bowl? Whatever the case, if you had this as your regional final, you live in SEC Country. I've been betting against both since the bracket was announced so what to do? 

Let's review Florida's game against the Badgers. Fall behind 16-8 but lead at half. Blow a 12-point lead in the final 3:50 with the final blow being an off-balanced 3 by a former walk-on who punctuates it by doing the Discount Double Choke. Fall behind in overtime by 6. Have Canyon Berry granny some free throws, block Iverson and then Chris Chiozza makes a wild 3 to win at the buzzer. This, while today's opponent manhandled their opponent earlier in the evening. Points to an emotional letdown, no? What the hell do I know?

The Pick: Florida 66 South Carolina 58

South

Kentucky vs. North Carolina: 

According to some, this is being billed as the de facto national title game. Again, checks KenPom and scratches head.

Listen, it'll be a good game and the winner will be billed as the favorite next weekend but if you think either would be a lock you haven't been paying attention to what has happened this season. This isn't 2009 North Carolina or 2012 Kentucky. Both are quite good but not dominant.

As for the game, it's 50/50 on KenPom and that sounds right. 

The Pick: Kentucky 77 North Carolina 76

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Sweet 16 Musings

- Well, the lack of excitement in late game situations was answered. Zak Showalter's running 3 was amazing. The Gators answer even moreso. One thing I take out it, though, Gators did fail to execute fouling so it wasn't a final minute without some failure. As stunning was the Canyon Berry block of Iverson. Iverson has such incredible hops and attacks the hoop. Don't forget that play when this story is told.

- The Badger senior class "graduates" as one of the greatest of all time. Still, knowing SJW Nigel Hayes will forever be part of NCAA promotional videos watching the game winner warms the heart. Put that in your lawsuit.

- South Carolina's destruction of Baylor was built by men. Those are grown ass men. A bit of caution, Baylor offense was pretty pedestrian at times through the season. They really needed some creators to breakdown South Carolina. The Cocks never had any fear of that. Florida will be a different creature.

- Butler had little chance to beat Carolina without a perfect game. Bad matchup for them. I think they could have beaten any of the other 1-seeds but not the Tar Heels. 

- Kentucky was brilliant last night. Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox are such fun players. Nothing rattles them. They were calm, cool and collected. Once Kentucky built the lead, the offense they played was beautiful. No rushing shots, driving without a plan or turnovers. They executed beautifully. Not sure how they'll turn out as pros but there's certainly game there to mold.

- Steve Alford says he's out at Indiana. Certainly hope it's not Chris Mack. If it is, Indiana becomes a real problem.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Elite 8 Saturday

West

Gonzaga vs. Xavier: Zags are a solid 10-point favorite by KenPom in this game. That's pretty remarkable for an Elite 8 game but we know Xavier's numbers are deflated because of what happened late in the regular season.

Trevon Bluiett's play this month has been nothing short of remarkable. Sean O'Mara has really helped them in the paint. And they've gotten production from seemingly someone different throughout the course of every game. It's been a great team effort to complement Bluiett.

On the other side, Gonzaga hasn't looked pretty but are in the Elite 8. They survived a game Northwestern squad playing with house money and the ugliness that is West Virginia basketball.
There's a lot to be said about that. 

Chris Mack has been brilliant since the Big East tournament and like he did agaisnt Arizona, he'll steal some buckets for his squad. Mark Few will do the same. His team while battered and beaten found a way to win the other night. That's a game I'm not sure they win in other years.

The Pick: Gonzaga 72 Xavier 67

Midwest

Kansas vs. Oregon: Kansas is a 5-point favorite by KenPom in this game. I casually mentioned they reminded me of the Duke 2015 team. That Duke team kept quietly rising up in defensive efficiency to where they were a top 15 team by the end of the year. Kansas won't get there but it's getting good enough the offense can cover it.

Speaking of the offense, it's passed 90 in all 3 tournament games. Oregon did a good job against Michigan the other night but I'm not sure they can match that again. The back court is a distinctive advantage for Kansas.

As game as Purdue was for about 25 minutes, Kansas athleticism overwhelmed Purdue. Oregon won't have that problem. Dorsey, Ennis & Brooks are a terrific trio.

Ultimately, I think Josh Jackson is the difference. He's such a savvy player. Watching him move without the ball and position himself on defense is something else. He's worked hard to develop enough of jump shot that teams better repect it.

The Pick: Kansas 90 Oregon 80

Friday Night Games

North Carolina 75, Butler 68 - Tar Heels own the boards and paint.

Kentucky 88, UCLA 76 - Kentucky's defense holds down the Bruins

South Carolina 61, Baylor - SC scores less in the game than the 2nd half against Duke and still wins

Wisconsin 64, Florida - So I can punish myself at least one more game

Friday morning Sweet 16 musings

- What a job by Chris Mack. Xavier should go to him with a blank check and tell him write your number. After getting killed on othe offensive glass, his team only gave up one over the last 17 minutes. Baskets came in bunches out of timeouts again. His team perfectly executed a 2-for-1 in the final minute. Larri Markkanen got 1 shot in the final 11 minutes, though Allonzo Trier's 13 point run had something to do with that. Trevon Bluiett has been sensational. Sean O'Mara has given them so many good minutes in March, he's been a revelation. Fun run.

- Sean Miller lives another year without a Final Four. Winning in March is hard but I get the pressure he'll be feeling. Is it fair? Hard to say but I bet he'll be sick of hearing about it and when it does happen, he might explode.

- The Kansas evisceration of Purdue happened so fast, it was as if the Death Star became fully operational and Purdue was Alderaan. Not sure what the Boilermakers could have done. Josh Jackson does so many things well and his ability to get in position everywhere on the court is something to watch. Three straight games in the 90's. Fun team.

- Michigan came up short but after being left for the NIT in January by yours truly, it's hard to be disappointed in the grand scheme. Oregon made one more play. Listening to Dan Bonner and Reggie Miller makes you wonder if they watched any Michigan film. They seemed shocked Michigan didn't push more tempo. It's a slow team, gents. I give Oregon a lot of credit. They matched Michigan's patience and didn't get out of sorts like some teams might in a game like that. That was a mature performance by the Ducks in a game played at Michigan's dictation.

- Let's not talk of West Virginia-Gonzaga. Let's thank Gonzaga for not only ending Northwestern but also ending the Mouintaineers season. They should just put that end of game West Virginia possession on a loop for One Shining Moment.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friday Sweet 16

South

Butler vs. North Carolina: Carolina is a 4-point KenPom favorite, 7 in the desert. At first blush, I'm not sure how Butler matches up across the floor agaisnt the Tar Heels. Then we realize Butler won't be intimidated and swept Villanova. Nova didn't have nearly the size, though. Butler needs to keep Chrabascz on the floor and effective. I think that's a tall order. Butler doesn't have the tempo or pressure Arkansas did to force Carolina into lost possessions. They'll have to d them up and Butler is 24 spots below the Tar Heels in efficiency. Butler needs Carolina to help them or needs to play as well as the Bulldogs have all year. They keep it close but UNC pulls away late.

The Pick: North Carolina 80 Butler 69

Kentucky vs. UCLA: For many, this is the main event of the Sweet 16. There are some pieces floating around touting the Bruins defense as not really being that inefficient. It's partly true but that's built on a lot of bad teams in the Pac-12. And let's not dismiss Kentucky's offense. It's not exactly chopped liver. I don't have a feel one way or the other. 

The Pick: Kentucky 92 UCLA 88

East

Baylor vs. South Carolina: South Carolina had offensive explosions versus two awful defensive teams. They are still a putrid offensive team. Baylor is easily the best defensive team the Cocks have seen and they don't have a home court advantage. Baylor is ok on offense. This will be the slowest game of the first round and I think that helps keep South Carolina in it. Baylor is just better and wins.

The Pick: Baylor 60 South Carolina 54

Wisconsin vs. Florida: I dismissed both teams as making the Sweet 16, yet both are here. Florida quietly gets it done. They don't wow you with the numbers ever being third overall in KenPom but everything is very effective and efficient. Look at their four factors and miscellaneous components on KenPom and its all good or great. I missed the boat on them. Wisconsin nearly matches them but have more concern areas. Does experience matter? If it does, that'll be a huge advantage for Bucky. Still, Florida is putting a team on the court that has also played together a lot the last two years. Since life is pain...

The Pick: Wisconsin 62 Florida 61

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thursday Picks - No Analysis

Gonzaga 78, West Virginia 71
Michigan 66, Oregon 65
Arizona 75, Xavier 70
Purdue 68, Kansas 65

Book it.

Sweet 16 Thursday

Midwest Region

Michigan vs. Oregon:  Oregon is a 1-point KenPom favorite with a 52% probability and Vegas likes Michigan by one. In other words, a toss-up. Oregon is a slightly more balanced team. Michigan has a better offense by 13 spots on KenPom, but Oregon beats them by 48 on defense. 

This is one of those games we look at and say "momentum". Michigan played well through February and after the run through the Big 14 Tournament and the opening weekend, they appear to have all the "momentum". 

Momentum is one of those things numbers people hate. They simply don't believe in it. I don't dismiss it, though. I've seen too many weird things in my life, whether it be a streaking team or sudden change in a single game. Is it real? I can't say for sure but there's at least something to it. I also know it can end abruptly if it is real. 

After that aside, this should be a close game. I think Oregon has slightly more talent.  

The Pick: Oregon 71 Michigan 70

Kansas vs. Purdue

What a great matchup this is, too. Kansas is a 3-point KenPom favorite. They're more dynamic on offense but I like what Purdue did on the opening weekend. I think the key is whether Landen Lucas can stay on the court against Purdue's bigs. This is a home game for Kansas. 

The Pick: Kansas 75 Purdue 73

WEST

Gonzaga vs. West Virginia: By the numbers, this is the best of the Sweet 16 matchups. KenPom likes the Zags by 4. The advantage is the Zags number 1 defense against West Virginia's number 25 offense. The Mountaineees are more efficient on offense. 

West Virginia thrives on its pressure. The Zags were the 16th best team at protecting the ball. The Mountaineers were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, the Zags one of the best at preventing them.

Do the Zags have enough basketball speed to match West Virginia? If they do, they win.

The Pick: Gonzaga 81 West Virginia 75

Arizona vs. Xavier: A rematch from two seasons ago, Sean Miller takes on his former team one more time. Given the love affair the national media seems to have with this Arizona squad, it's not that big a stretch for Xavier to steal this one.

At KenPom, Zona is a 4-point favorite. That's not huge but big enough Zona has a 65% win probability. Zona is 19th overall, X is 30th. Basically, I'm looking for a reason to pick Xavier but we need to take a step back before saying they've figured things out after a late-season fade.

They notched late wins against DePaul and then beat Butler in the BE Tournament. They beat an overseeded Maryland team (It's about matchups!) and them trounced a Florida State team that was 24th in KenPom at the time, closer to a 7-seed than 3. I'm not dismissing what Xavier has done. They've jumped ten spots in KP in a week.  

Chris Mack is the best coach in America no one talks about. He's the best guy for Indiana, though I hope he stays in Cincinnati. He'll have his team ready and some plays out of timeouts that steal baskets. I just don't think they have enough dudes to beat Arizona. 

The Pick: Arizona 69 Xavier 62

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Myth of Conferences

Former local buffoon and now buffoon on a team circling the toilet in the NBA, Frank Kaminsky seemed vindicated when 3 Big 14 teams made the Sweet 16. 

Then, by the end of the night, 3 SEC, 3 Pac-12 and 3 Big XII teams were in the Sweet 16. Shoulders shrugged.

You'd think with the mountains of evidence to the contrary, people would understand conference strength isn't determined in a single-elimination tournament. Sadly, people are very stupid  or provincial. 

Leagues like the Big 14 and SEC have become so bloated, without truly great teams, the bottom feeders drag them down. We've discussed here what "ailed" the Big 14 this season. Good teams, no great teams. The SEC have two really good teams, maybe championship winning teams and a whole lot of mediocrity. South Carolina making the Sweet 16 doesn't change that.

The real issue is the ACC was pushed hard by many as the best conference ever. We looked at that and showed it was really good but didn't match the 2011 Big East. It was still a great league this season. We also hammered home the point all the teams had flaws. Virginia and Lousiville on offense, Duke on defense. On any given day or night, that can get exposed.

With that all said, the Big 14 could use a national championship as could the Pac-12 as each league is 17 and 20 years respectively removed from national titles. That would be important but wouldn't change what a league was all year. Both things can be true if not understood.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reseeding the Sweet 16

I guess this what the cool kids are doing now. Having done in the past, I'll consider myself a trendsetter or ignorant of the world around me. Both are possible.

I do it pretty simply, by KenPom. So, this is raw data with a few opinions sprinkled in.

1. Gonzaga (1st, 12th O, 1 D): No matter what happens, Gonzaga ending the national nightmare that was Northwestern makes them champions in my book.

2. Florida (3rd, 26th O, 3rd D): This still staggers me. Playing Virginia in its last game certainly helps. Since January 18, Florida has three losses to Vandy by a total of 14 points and two other losses to UK and South Carolina. I completely undervalued them.

3. North Carolina (4th, 6th O, 19th D): That's a Final 4 profile. Still, watching them leaves you with as many questions as answers.

4. Kentucky (5th, 13th O, 7th D): This is Calipari's best coaching job. Don't at me.

5. West Virginia (6th, 25th O, 5th D): Basically, they did everything you expect in a West Virginia loss and beat Notre Dame by 12. Matchup with Zags is an Elite 8 game.

6. Kansas (7th, 5th O, 25th D): Might be worth a closer look but remind me of Duke in 2015. Offense isn't as good but defense is good enough. Adjusting for rules changes, it's close.

7. Baylor (10th, 20th O, 13th D): No one expected this team to actually make it this far. Long and athletic, more like Scott Drew's earliest Baylor teams.

8. Purdue (12th, 23rd O, 16th D): Getting contributions outside the Twin Towers. Game against Kansas is second best Sweet 16 matchup.

9. UCLA (14th, 2nd O, 77th D): One of the best wins in Round Two. Not the upset like others but Cincinnati was the exact type of team expected to challenge  UCLA.

10. Oregon (15th, 16th O, 23rd D): Dana Altman has done great work in Eugene. Was sort of an afterthought hire after the Ducks swung and missed on big names. They miss Boucher but isn't as important against Michigan.

11. Arizona (18th, 17th O, 24th D): Eh

12. Michigan (20th, 3rd O, 73rd D): Enjoying every moment of this incredible run. Smells so much like '89. Defense remains a crucial point of concern. Louisville is bad on defense.

13. Wisconsin (21st, 36th O, 8th D): Koenig has been an assassin and Hayes finally woke up. But 7-16 at the line does you in sooner than later. Same with nearly doubling the opponents turnovers. 

14. Butler (24th, 21st O, 43rd D): Terrible matchup against UNC. Pundits liked more than computers. Good season, though proving they still can make runs.

15. South Carolina (28th, 124th O, 4th D): Proving me wrong for this year at least. No offense this bad should still be playing. Of course, says more about Duke's defense. Duke's season is defined by the 65 they gave up in the 2nd half. Just staggering.

16. Xavier (30th, 29th O, 66th D): Chris Mack is going to get a fat raise either in Cincinnati or from one of the blue bloods.