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Snakes In The Weeds: 5 Teams Better Than Their NCAA Tournament Seeds

Forward Will Barton is one of five stud sophomores on Memphis.

When you’re filling out your NCAA tournament brackets this week, don’t be deceived by these five teams. They are the snakes lurking in the weeds, waiting to poison any chance you have at winning your pool. These teams are all much better than their seeds would suggest and each has a legitimate chance of making some noise in the coming weeks.

Memphis (26-8) – 8-Seed in the West Region

Computer Ranks: 9th (KenPom), 12th (Sagarin)

The Tigers have been on cruise control lately. Memphis has won seven straight, each by double digits with an average margin of victory of 22.7. Most recently, the Tigers dominated the Conference-USA tournament, beating Central Florida by 31 in the semifinals before trouncing Marshall by 26 in the final.

Memphis is one of just ten teams to enter the NCAA Tournament with a top 25 offense and defense, according to KenPom. The Tigers currently have the 19th ranked offense and the 13th ranked defense. Memphis’ profile is very similar to the average Final Four team of the last nine years. Since 2003, the average offensive rank of a Final Four team is 13.89 and the average defensive rank is 17.44.

Memphis is led by sophomore Will Barton (18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.0 apg), who is having an All-America type season. The 6-5 forward leads the Tigers in points and rebounds and has an offensive rating of 116.1 (24th in the nation).

Forward Tarik Black (10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .686 FG%) is one of the most efficient scorers in the country. He ranks second in the nation in effective field goal percentage (68.6) and fifth in true shooting percentage (67.3).

The Tigers also have two solid ball distributors. Guards Joe Jackson (11.1 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg) and Chris Crawford (9.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.1 rpg) both have assist rates over 25.0.

TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK:

Ouch, the Tigers got the shaft from the committee. Not only did Memphis receive an 8-seed, they also drew St. Louis in the first round. Like Memphis, the Billikens are much better than their seed would suggest, they are a top-20 team in both the KenPom and Sagarin rankings.

If the Tigers can get past St. Louis, they’ll get No. 1 seed Michigan State in a match-up of top-15 teams. Rebounding may be the Tigers’ downfall against Tom Izzo’s squad. Memphis has not rebounded well this year, they rank 232nd in offensive rebounding and 173rd in defensive rebounding. The Spartans on the other hand rank 25th in both offensive and defensive rebounding.

7-footer Garrett Stutz will pose match-up problems for opposing teams.

Wichita State (27-5) – 5-Seed in the South Region

Computer Ranks: 10th (KenPom), 10th (Sagarin)

I wrote gushingly about Wichita State a couple weeks ago, and my opinion hasn’t changed. The Shockers are one of the ten best teams in the country and are a serious threat to go far in the NCAA Tournament.

The Shockers had won 17 of their previous 18 games (the one loss was in triple overtime at Drake) before losing to Illinois State in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. They had also won seven straight games by 13 points or more.

Like Memphis, Wichita State is one of ten teams in the nation to have both a top 25 offense and defense. The Shockers rank ninth in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency.

Wichita’s success on offense can be explained by their high shooting percentages and their ability to take care of the ball. The Shockers rank 14th in two-point field goal percentage, 60th in three-point field goal percentage, 13th in effective field goal percentage and 47th in turnover percentage. The Shockers have excelled on defense by allowing a low field goal percentage (23rd in effective field goal percentage allowed) and few second chances (sixth in offensive rebounding percentage allowed). Their defense has been superb without forcing a high percentage of turnovers (18.6 percent, 259th in the country).

According to KenPom, the Shockers are the third most experienced team in the nation and second most experienced team in the NCAA Tournament (behind Pat Knight’s awful, horrible group of seniors at Lamar). Of the Shockers’ main rotation of seven, five players are seniors and two are juniors.

While Wichita hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2006 – before any of their current members were on the team – the Shockers won the NIT last season. In my eyes, the squad gained more tourney experience from that run to Madison Square Garden than they would have from a loss in the first round of the NCAAs.

Led by seniors Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry, the Shockers have the type of backcourt that long tournament runs are made of. The sharp-shooting Ragland has been one of the best, most-efficient guards in the nation this season. The senior has an effective field goal percentage of 67.0 (third in the nation), a true shooting percentage of 70.4 (first in the nation) and an offensive rating of 128.7 (ninth in the nation). In comparison, sweet-shooting Steph Curry had a 60.7 effective field goal percentage and 64.0 true shooting percentage in 2008, the year he took Davidson to the elite eight.

The Shockers also have a solid interior presence, led by 7-footer Garrett Stutz. As mentioned earlier, Wichita allows very few second chances on defense, ranking ninth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. A lot of that can be attributed to the strong defensive rebounding ability of Stutz. The senior center has a defensive rebound percentage of 27.0, which ranks 14th in the nation. Stutz also does a nice job on the offensive glass, grabbing 9.8 percent of his offensive rebounding opportunities. Stutz also uses his size to take a good number of high-percentage shots and he converts on them, posting an effective field goal percentage of 57.3 and a true shooting percentage of 61.9.

TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK:

The Shockers didn’t get any favors from the committee either. Wichita State will face a pesky VCU squad in the first round. After their success last season, I expect the Rams to be a popular 12-5 upset pick, but I think the Shockers will hold their own. VCU likes to bring havoc on defense and they force the most turnovers in the nation. However, I think the Shockers have the type of guards in Ragland, Murry and Demetric Williams to be able to take the Rams’ pressure in stride.

The Shockers would then be staring down match-ups with Indiana and Kentucky. It won’t be easy, but I still think Wichita State can hang with any team in the country, so I won’t count out a deep run by the Shockers. Ken Pomeroy gives the Shockers a 17.8 percent chance to reach the Elite Eight and a 11.8 percent chance to reach the Final Four.

Drew Gordon (32) is one of the best defensive rebounders in the country.

New Mexico (27-6) – 5-Seed in the West Region

Computer Rankings: 13th (KenPom), 17th (Sagarin)

The Lobos, champions of the Mountain West Conference tournament, have never gotten the respect they deserve this season. Despite ranking highly in the computer polls all year, the coaches and AP voters have been reluctant to include New Mexico in their rankings. The Lobos were unranked in both polls last week, but no one should be caught off guard if New Mexico wins a few games in the NCAA Tournament.

The Lobos are currently No. 13 in the KenPom rankings and their strength all year has been on defense. The Lobos rank 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 39th in adjusted offensive efficiency. New Mexico has done a great job on defense, but their success has not been highly reliant on forcing turnovers. Just 21.3 percent of their defensive possessions have ended with a turnover, the 119th highest mark in the nation. As Luke Winn examined, this could be a good sign for the Lobos. High seeds whose defensive success is heavily reliant on forcing turnovers tend not to have the same success in the NCAA Tournament.

The Lobos ranked 24th in defensive rebounding, allowing opposing offenses to grab just 27.3 percent of available boards. Forward Drew Gordon (13.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.2 apg) is a beast on the defensive glass. He grabbed 29.0 percent of available boards on defense this season, the fourth best mark in the nation.

On offense, 64.8 percent of the Lobos’ made baskets were assisted on, the third highest rate in the country. New Mexico had four players — Demetrius Walker, Kendall Williams, Jamal Fenton and Hugh Greenwood- who had an assist rate of 20.0 or more.

TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK:

Like VCU, I believe Long Beach State will be a popular 12 over 5 upset pick. However, New Mexico is a really tough match-up for the 49ers, and I think the Lobos have a very good chance of knocking off Long Beach State and Louisville. That would set up a great Sweet 16 game between New Mexico and Michigan State, two of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country. A showdown between seniors Drew Gordon and Draymond Green would be highly enjoyable.

Erving Walker is part of the Gators’ talented trio of guards.

Florida (23-10) – 7-seed in the West Region

Computer Rankings: 19th (KenPom), 17th (Sagarin)

I have been down on Florida all season, but I can’t deny that the Gators are a dangerous, talented 7-seed. On the surface, the Gators are very similar to 2-seed Mizzou, but with worse defense, less success and perhaps more talent (Florida has two projected first round picks in Bradley Beal and Patric Young). Unlike the other teams on this list, I’m not arguing that the Gators should have received a higher seed. Florida had a disappointing season, losing 10 games including four of their last five and six of their last 10.

According to KenPom, Florida has the third most efficient offense in the country. The Gators shoot a high percentage (54.8 effective field goal percentage, 8th in the nation) and take good care of the ball (16.6 turnover percentage, 14th in the nation). The Gators boast a trio of highly-efficient guards in Kenny Boynton (16.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.5 apg), Erving Walker (12.1 ppg, 2.8rapg, 4.7 apg) and Bradley Beal (14.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.2 apg). Each has an offensive rating higher than 110.

Florida relies heavily on their three-point shooting as 39.1 percent of their points this season came from three-pointers, the third highest mark in the nation. Luckily, the Gators were a good three-point shooting team, hitting on .390 percent of their attempts, 19th best in the country. The Gators have four players who attempted 120 or more three-point shots this season: Boynton (246), Walker (175), Beal (167) and Erik Murphy (120). Two Gators, Boynton (.427) and Murphy (.442) had three-point field goal percentages above .400.

Unfortunately for the Gators, they rank 119th in defensive efficiency. Florida allows opponents to shoot a high percentage (48.9 effective field goal percentage, 176th in the nation), especially from behind the three-point line where teams have shot .356 percent this season. Florida also ranks 188th in turnover creation and 132nd in defensive rebounding.

TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK:

Florida’s first round match-up with Virginia will be an interesting clash of styles. The Cavaliers are a basically a mirror-image of the Gators, boasting the fifth ranked defense and the 106th ranked offense. Virginia has done an excellent job defending the three-point line, allowing opponents to shoot just .295 on three-point attempts (13th best in the nation). The Gators will have to rely less on the three-pointer, so Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.2 apg) will have to have a big day if the Gators are to advance to the round of 32.

Kerron Johnson’s Belmont Bruins are not your typical 14-seed.

Belmont (27-7) – 14-seed in the Midwest Region

Computer Rankings: 23rd (KenPom), 33rd (Sagarin)

After losing to Wisconsin in the first round of last year’s tournament, Belmont is back for more. The Bruins are in the tournament for the fifth time since 2006 and are looking to notch a victory for the first time. This could definitely be their year.

The Bruins, winners of 14 straight, are one the strongest 14 seeds in recent memory. They’re ranked No. 23 by KenPom, which equates to being a 5-seed. That’s rough news for Georgetown, a team that has lost to 10-seed Davidson, 14-seed Ohio and 11-seed VCU in their last three tournament appearances.

The Bruins are deep and experienced. Eight players average at least 13 minutes of action per game, and all eight of those players saw time in the last year’s NCAA Tournament game.

Belmont also has a highly efficient offense. The Bruins rank 13th in offensive efficiency overall and four players have an offensive rating higher than 115.0. The Bruins shoot a very high percentage (55.7 effective field goal percentage, fifth in the nation) and turn the ball over at a low rate (17.6 turnover percentage, 35th in the nation).

The Bruins are led by junior Kerron Johnson (14.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.2 apg). The 6-1 guard has a superb offensive rating of 121.0 and leads the team in both scoring and assists. Johnson’s assist rate of 33.6 is the 47th best mark in the country.

Senior Drew Hanlen (10.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.8 apg) is one of the sharpest shooters in the country. Hanlen ranks ninth in effective field goal percentage (65.1) and 14th in true shooting percentage (66.3). The 5-11 guard is a deadly three-point shooter, he connected on .481 percent of his attempts behind the arc this season.

Senior Scott Saunders (10.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) , the team’s sixth man, is the best rebounder on the Bruins. Saunders grabbed 10.4 percent of available boards on offense, and 22.8 percent on defense. The 6-10 forward also averaged 10.2 points per game in just 17 minutes of action.

TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK:

I think the Bruins have a pretty good chance of knocking off the Hoyas. Even though Georgetown has been vulnerable to early round defeats, I think my previous statement says more about Belmont than it does the Hoyas. Belmont is a highly skilled team, much better than a typical 14 seed. I don’t think too highly of San Diego State or NC State, so I think the Bruins actually have a pretty good shot of reaching the Sweet 16 in St. Louis. Experience and strong guard play goes a long way in the NCAA Tournament, and Belmont has both.

As always, all tempo-free stats came from KenPom. All other stats came from ESPN.

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In Appreciation of Mike Scott: Handing Out End of the Year Awards in the ACC

Tyler Zeller is one of three Tar Heels that made our All-ACC First Team.

I know we’re starting a little early, but over the next week, we’ll be announcing our season-ending college hoops awards. First up, the ACC:

FIRST TEAM

F Mike Scott, Virginia: 16. 9 PPG, 8.1 PPG, 1.2 APG

Scott’s offensive rating of 117.2 ranks first in the ACC and fourth in the nation among players who used at least 28 percent of their team’s possessions. More on Scott later.

F Harrison Barnes, North Carolina: 17.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.1 APG

Barnes might not have put together an All-American type season, but he still played well enough to make the ACC’s first team. The native Iowan ranks second in the conference in points per game (17.7), and his offensive rating of 112.2 is third among ACC players who used at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions.

F Tyler Zeller, North Carolina: 16.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG

Zeller has probably been the Tar Heels’ best player this season. His offensive rating of 120.7 ranks first in the ACC and eighth in the country among players who used at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions. He ranks 10th in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage (19.1) and 11th in offensive rebounding percentage (14.6).

G Kendall Marshall, North Carolina: 6.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 9.6 APG

Marshall’s twitter handle is @kbutter5, and his passes on the court are just as smooth. His assist rate of 43.4 ranks first in the ACC and sixth in the nation.

G Austin Rivers, Duke: 15.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.1 APG

It was a really though call between Rivers and Miami’s Durand Scott. I went with Rivers because his play has gotten better and better as the year’s gone on, and I believe he’s the biggest reason the Blue Devils are ranked No. 3 in the country. When the game’s on the line, Rivers is a stone cold killer.

Miami’s Durand Scott has been a stat-stuffer this season.

SECOND TEAM

F John Henson, North Carolina: 14.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.1 BPG

F Mason Plumlee, Duke: 10.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG

G Andre Young, Clemson: 13.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.3 APG

G Terrell Stoglin, Maryland: 21.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

G Durand Scott, Miami: 13.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.2 APG

C.J. Harris had a solid season for a poor Demon Deacons team.

THIRD TEAM

F Kenny Kadji, Miami: 13.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG

F Ryan Kelly, Duke: 12.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.1 APG

G Seth Curry, Duke: 13.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG

G Michael Snaer, Florida State: 13.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.9 APG

G C.J. Harris, Wake Forest: 16.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG

Mike Scott might not be known across the country, but the Virginia forward was a beast this season.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Mike Scott, Virginia

Mike Scott might be the most under-appreciated player in the country. The junior forward is an efficient scorer, posting an effective field goal percentage of 58.3 (2nd in ACC) and a true shooting percentage of 62.9 (1st in the ACC). Scott was also one of the most dominant rebounders in the conference, grabbing 23.9 percent of the available boards on the defensive end (3rd in the ACC) and 10.1 percent on offense (13th in the ACC). Scott’s offensive rating of 117.2 ranks first in the ACC and fourth in the nation among players who used at least 28 percent of their team’s possessions.

Doc’s kid is a stone cold assassin when the game’s on the line.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Austin Rivers, Duke

After taking some time to get used to the college game, Rivers has come on strong at the end of the year. His game-winner against North Carolina ranks as one of the most memorable moments of the regular season. The freshman’s improved play is one of the biggest reasons why the Blue Devils have moved up to No. 3 in the polls and are in line to receive a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Henson has been a great defensive rebounder and shot-blocker this season.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Henson, North Carolina

Henson ranks second in the ACC in defensive rebound percentage (24.7) and first in block percentage (10.1).

Coach K and Duke will play for the ACC regular season title on Saturday.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike Kryzewski, Duke

The Blue Devils lost the No. 1 overall draft pick (Kyrie Irving) and two four-year contributors who led Duke to the 2010 National Title (Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler), yet Duke is ranked No. 3 in the nation and is in line to receive a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Coach K has done a great job turning this year’s Blue Devils into a final four contender.

As always, all advanced stats came from Ken Pomeroy’s amazing website.

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Fun With KenPom: Final Four Edition

Will defense keep Ricardo Ratliffe and Mizzou out of the Final Four?

I went back to KenPom to analyze the offensive and defensive rankings of the teams that made the Final Four between 2003 and 2011. Again, I’m using KenPom’s rankings of adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies. If you want to know more about those stats, click here. Here’s some of what I found:

Average Ranks of Final Four Teams (2003-2011):

Offense: 13.89

Defense: 17.44

Outliers – Final Four teams ranking outside the top 30 in offense or defense:

2003 Marquette (3 seed): 1st in offense, 101st in defense

2003 Texas (1 seed): 3rd in offense, 44th in defense

2006 George Mason (11 seed): 49th in offense, 18th in defense

2006 LSU (4 seed): 50th in offense, 4th in defense

2010 Butler (5 seed): 50th in offense, 5th in defense

2011 Butler (8 seed): 50th in offense, 49th in defense

2011 VCU (11 seed): 32nd in offense, 86th in defense

OBSERVATIONS:

– 2010 and 2011 were the only years where the average rank for both offense (26.25) and defense (41) were above 10.

– 2004 and 2008 were the only years where the average rank for both offense (9 in ’04 and 3.5 in ’08) and defense (6 in ’04 and  9 in ’08) were below 10.

– Of the 36 teams that made the Final Four between 2003 and 2011, just seven had an offense or defense that ranked outside the top 30. Four of those teams ranked outside the top 30 on one side of the ball, but made up for it with a top five ranking in the other category. One team, George Mason, ranked 49th in offense, but had a top 20 defense (18th). However, things got really weird in 2011. VCU and Butler had both offenses and defenses that ranked outside the top 30. Their runs to the Final Four were unprecedented, and tremendously fun to watch.

What Does This Mean For the 2012 Tournament?

Well, not too much. As we especially saw last season, anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament. It’s what makes college basketball so beautiful and exhilarating. But looking at the average rankings of previous Final Four teams, we can see which teams are in the best shape to make a deep tournament run.

Here are some teams that have similar or better rankings to the average Final Four team of the last nine years (These are teams that rank in the top 30 in both offense and defense, as of Feb. 25th):

Kentucky: 3rd in offense, 8th in defense

Ohio State: 14th in offense, 1st in defense

Michigan State: 12th in offense, 2nd in defense

Kansas: 10th in offense, 4th in defense

Syracuse: 9th in offense, 13th in defense

North Carolina: 11th in offense, 14th in defense

Wichita State: 8th in offense, 24th in defense

Marquette: 23rd in offense, 19th in defense

Baylor: 13th in offense, 30th in defense

Memphis: 25th in offense, 21st in defense*

*Surprising, huh?

Here are some teams, assuming their rankings don’t drastically improve in the next three weeks, that would join the list of Final Four outliers if they were to make it to New Orleans:

Missouri: 1st in offense, 74th in defense*

Duke: 4th in offense, 56th in defense

Florida: 2nd in offense, 85th in defense

* That’s a similar profile to 2003 Marquette, but do the Tigers have anyone who can take over a game like Dwyane Wade? Marcus Denmon is good, but I’m not sure he’s Wade good...

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Fun With KenPom: Teams With Top 10 Offenses and Defenses since 2003

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky currently rank in the top 10 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive ratings.

Since 2003 (the year KenPom’s database dates back to), there have only been 16 teams who have ranked in the top ten in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency.*

If you’re unsure of what those numbers mean, or how they are compiled, here’s an explanation from KenPom. “Any time you see something “adjusted” on this site, it refers to how a team would perform against average competition at a neutral site. For instance, a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) is adjusted for the strength of the opposing defenses played. I compute an adjusted offensive efficiency for each game by multiplying the team’s raw offensive efficiency by the national average efficiency and dividing by the opponent’s adjusted defensive efficiency. The adjusted game efficiencies are then averaged (with more weighting to recent games) to produce the final adjusted offensive efficiency.”

Here’s a list of those 16 teams and their rankings. I also included how they ended up performing in the NCAA Tournament:

2003 (AdjO Rank – AdjD Rank – Tourney Outcome)

Kansas: 6th – 1st – National Runners Up

Kentucky: 5th – 4th – Sweet 16

2004

Duke: 2nd – 4th – Final Four

UConn: 4th – 5th – National Champions

2005

North Carolina: 1st – 5th – National Champions

2006

Florida: 2nd – 5th – National Champions

Texas: 4th – 10th – Elite Eight

2007

North Carolina: 3rd – 4th – Elite Eight

2008

Kansas: 2nd – 1st – National Champions

Memphis: 4th – 4th – National Runners Up

UCLA: 7th – 3rd- Final Four

2009

None

2010

Duke: 1st – 4th – National Champions

Kansas: 2nd – 8th – Second Round

2011

Ohio State: 1st – 5th – Sweet 16

Duke: 4th – 8th – Sweet 16

Kansas: 6th – 9th – Elite Eight

2012

As of Feb. 25, two teams rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency: Kentucky (3rd and 8th) and Kansas (10th and 4th).

Four teams are close to being in the top ten in both categories, and could reach that accomplishment by the time the NCAA Tournament begins next month: Michigan State (12th and 2nd), Ohio State (14th and 1st), Syracuse (9th and 13th) and North Carolina (11th and 14th).

OBSERVATIONS:

– Not surprisingly, these teams have done very well in the NCAA Tournament. 15 of the 16 teams reached the Sweet 16 (2010 Kansas is the lone exception, they got Farokhmaneshed in the second round); 12 of the 16 reached the Elite Eight; nine of the 16 reached the Final Four; Seven of the 16 made the National Championship Game; and 5 of the 16 took home the National Championship

-2008 was one hell of a year. UCLA – with Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute – was just the third best team in the nation that season. Also, according to KenPom, 2008 Kansas (.9859) is the only team since 2003 to have a pythagorean winning percentage over 98 percent.

-2011 was odd. Three teams ranked in the top ten in both categories, yet none of those squads made the Final Four. 2008 was the only other time three teams fit that specification, and all three made the Final Four that year.

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Lobos and Shockers Moving Up: College Hoops Weekly Rankings and Outlook

Drew Gordon and New Mexico have taken control of the Mountain West.

WORK IN PROGRESS POWER RANKINGS

1. Kentucky (26-1)

2. Syracuse (27-1)

3. Missouri (25-2)

4. Duke (23-4)

5. Michigan State (22-5)

6. Kansas (22-5)

7. North Carolina (23-4)

8. Ohio State (22-5)

9. Marquette (22-5)

10. Baylor (22-5)

11. Georgetown (20-5)

12. New Mexico (22-4)

13. Michigan (20-7)

14. Wichita State (24-4)

15. Wisconsin (20-7)

16. Florida (21-6)

17. Notre Dame (19-8)

18. Temple (21-5)

19. Louisville (21-6)

20. Saint Louis (22-5)

21. UNLV (22-6)

22. Murray State (26-1)

23. Indiana (20-7)

24. Florida State (19-7)

25. Vanderbilt (19-8)

Just Missing Out: Gonzaga (21-5), Saint Mary’s (23-5), San Diego State (20-6), Virginia (20-6)

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Phil Pressey’s Tigers will be put to the test twice this week.

Tuesday:

Michigan at Northwestern, 7 pm on BTN; Georgetown at Seton Hall, 6 pm on ESPN3; North Carolina at NC State, 7 pm on ESPN3

Three teams currently sitting on the edge of the bubble have great opportunities to notch a win against a ranked opponent at home. Northwestern knocked off Michigan State in Evanston in January, and a win against the Wolverines would go a long way in the Wildcats’ quest to make their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. NC State’s resume is sorely missing a marquee win, and the Wolfpack blew a golden opportunity last week when they let a 20 point lead evaporate against Duke. Seton Hall would probably be in the Tournament if the season ended right now, but currently their best win is either against West Virginia or UConn. A win over the top-1o Hoyas would be a major statement for the Pirates, who have lost eight of their last 11 games.

Kansas State at Missouri, 6 pm on ESPN2

The Tigers were able to avenge one of their two losses on the year by beating Oklahoma State last week. Can Mizzou avenge the other loss this week when K-State comes in to Columbia? It could be a challenge, the Wildcats beat Mizzou by 16 in January and are a fresh off an impressive road victory against Baylor. A win over the Tigers would basically lock the Wildcats into the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday:

Duke at Florida State, 6 pm on ESPN

Having already beaten Duke and North Carolina, the Seminoles will be looking for the their third win against a top-10 team this season. Michael Snaer’s buzzer-beater gave the Seminoles the victory over the Blue Devils when the two teams played last month at Cameron Indoor. Duke has won four straight games since losing to Miami at home on Super Bowl Sunday. The Noles have a pretty good resume, and could be looking at a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, that’s only if they avoid more ugly losses like the one they had against awful Boston College.

Friday:

Marquette at West Virginia, 8 pm on ESPN

It’s a rare college basketball game worth watching on a Friday night. Marquette has been on a role lately, winning 10 of their last 11 games, and suddenly, the Golden Eagles look like a Final Four contender. The Mountaineers on the other hand, have lost five of their last seven contests. While Huggins’ crew is still safely in the tournament field, a win over Marquette would definitely improve their somewhat soft resume.

Saturday:

North Carolina at Virginia, 3 pm on ESPN

Virginia has had a solid season, but the Cavaliers have yet to win a game against any of the other top ACC teams. The Wahoos dropped games on the road against Duke, Carolina and Florida State, but they get the Tar Heels and Noles at home in the next week. The Heels have done a nice job bouncing back from their loss against Duke, but they face two tough road tests this week at Virginia and NC State. A 2-0 week would be very impressive, but that’s the kind of output we expected from the Heels this season.

Missouri at Kansas, 3 pm on CBS

Get ready to hear all about how this could be the last time these two great rivals play against each for a very long time. Like, all of two weeks when they could face off in the Big 12 title game. We got a great, close game when these teams played three weeks ago, and I expect another good one this time around. Hopefully there won’t be as many questionable calls from the refs.

Sunday:

Wisconsin at Ohio State, 3 pm on CBS

The rivalry between the Badgers and Buckeyes has really escalated in the last year and half, in both football and basketball. After knocking of the N0. 1 Buckeyes in football and basketball last season, the Badgers have lost three straight games to Ohio State in the two sports combined. For the rivalry to truly continue, Wisconsin will have to start winning against the Buckeyes. Perhaps that will start this weekend when Bo Ryan’s team travels to Columbus. The Badgers lost to the Buckeyes at home earlier this month, but Ohio State has struggled at home recently, barely beating Purdue before losing to Michigan State. Ohio State will be trying to sweep the season series from the Badgers for the first time since Ryan became head coach of the Badgers.

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College Hoops Outlook: Best Remaining Regular Season Games

Thomas Robinson got the best of Perry Jones when they matched up in January.

Wednesday, Feb. 8:

Kansas at Baylor, 6 p.m.

Future lottery picks Perry Jones and Thomas Robinson battle again. Robinson and the Jayhawks beat the Bears last month.

Georgetown at Syracuse, 6 p.m.

Will Syracuse lose another regular season game?

Duke at North Carolina, 8 p.m.

This might be the best night of college hoops of the regular season. Three match-ups of top 15 teams.

Thursday, Feb. 9:

St. Mary’s at Gonzaga, 10 p.m.

The Gaels bring an unbeaten conference record 12 game winning streak into Spokane. St. Mary’s won the first game between these two.

Mizzou’s Marcus Denmon came up clutch against Kansas on Feb. 4.

Saturday, Feb. 11:

Baylor at Mizzou, 12:45 p.m.

Mizzou went into Waco and beat the Bears last month. Can Baylor return the favor in Columbia? Will the winner of this game get a one-seed in the tourney?

Wichita State at Creighton, 4 p.m.

The two best teams in the Missouri Valley Conference face off in Omaha. The Blue Jays bested the Shockers in Wichita on New Year’s Eve.

Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m.

The No. 1 Wildcats put their unblemished conference record on the line against a talented Commodore team.

Monday, Feb. 13:

Syracuse at Louisville, 6 p.m.

This is will probably be the Orange’s toughest remaining road test.

Wednesday, Feb. 15:

New Mexico at San Diego State, 9 p.m.

Two of the best teams in the Mountain go toe-to-toe in San Diego. The Lobos beat the Aztecs in Albuquerque last month.

Thursday, Feb. 16:

Wisconsin at Michigan State, 6 p.m.

The Spartans beat the Badgers in Madison last month in OT. Can Bo return the favor and beat Izzo in East Lansing?

Mike Moser has been a beast this season for the Rebels.

Saturday, Feb. 18:

UNLV at New Mexico, 12 p.m.

Mike Moser and the Rebels will try to knock off the Lobos in The Pit.

St. Mary’s at Murray State, 5 p.m.

Perhaps the top two mid-major teams face off in a BracketBusters game. Can the Gaels ruin the Racers’ quest for perfection?

Ohio State at Michigan, 8 p.m.

Michigan played the Buckeyes tough in Columbus but lost. Can the Wolverines contain Jared Sullinger?

Long Beach State at Creighton, 9 p.m.

Casper Ware faces off with Doug McDermott. Which team will strengthen their at-large profile?

Thursday, Feb. 23:

Duke at Florida State, 6 p.m.

Michael Snaer’s buzzer beater gave the Seminoles an upset win at Cameron Indoor last month.

Virginia’s Mike Scott is one of the most underrated players in the country.

Saturday, Feb. 25:

North Carolina at Virginia, 3 p.m.

The Tar Heels face a tough conference foe on the road.

Mizzou at Kansas, 3 p.m.

The last regular season Border War for the foreseeable future.

Wisconsin at Ohio State, 5 p.m.

Deal with it. The Badgers try to avenge their home loss to the Buckeyes.

Tuesday, Feb. 28:

Michigan State at Indiana, 6 p.m.

The Hoosiers knocked off Kentucky and Ohio State at home, can they add the Spartans to the list?

Florida at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m.

Two solid SEC teams battle in Nashville.

Thursday, Mar. 1:

Florida St at Virginia, 6 p.m.

The first match-up was great, can the Wahoos get back at the Noles with a win at home?

Saturday, Mar. 3:

Georgetown at Marquette, 12 p.m.

Two of the best teams in the Big East face off in Milwaukee.

North Carolina at Duke, 6 p.m.

The best rivalry in college hoops.

Anthony Davis slams it home.

Sunday, Mar. 4:

Ohio State at Michigan State, 11 a.m.

Draymond Green and Jared Sullinger face-off in East Lansing. Could this game determine who wins the Big Ten regular season title and Big Ten player of the year?

Kentucky at Florida, 11 a.m.

The Wildcats face another road test in Gainesville. Patric Young tries to contain Anthony Davis and his unibrow.

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College Hoops Outlook: Which Teams Will Fade and Which Teams Will Soar Into March?

Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, its time to turn our eyes to the beautiful game of college basketball. I’m doing my part to get familiar with this season of college hoops by writing a series of blog posts. I started yesterday with my piece on a few under the radar stars.

My second installment is on some teams that started off the conference season slowly, but are poised to finish strong. I’ll also touch on some teams who might fade in the second half of conference play.

On The Upswing?:

Indiana (18-6, 6-6)

Remaining Schedule:

vs Illinois

vs Northwestern

at Iowa

vs North Carolina Central

at Minnesota

vs Michigan State

vs Purdue

First off, congrats to Tom Crean, who won his first Big Ten road game against a team other than Penn State this weekend by defeating in-state rival Purdue. It only took three and half years.

Kidding aside, Indiana has a pretty favorable schedule down the stretch. They’re done with Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, and five of their final seven games are at home, where they have knocked off two top five teams (Kentucky and Ohio State) this season.

The Hoosiers did lose to Minnesota at home earlier this season, so their trip up to the Twin Cities will not be a cake walk. The Hoosiers are 2-5 in Big Ten road games this season, so their game against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City won’t be a gimme either. As a Badger fan who happened to be at the Kohl Center this past New Year’s Eve, I can tell you that the Hawkeyes do have some talent.

Indiana should be able to win at least five of their seven remaining games, and they have a decent chance of winning six.

Alabama (15-7, 4-4)

Remaining Schedule:

at Auburn

at LSU

vs Florida

vs Tennessee

at Arkansas

vs Mississippi State

vs Auburn

at Mississippi

After just missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season, Alabama came into this season ranked and poised for a break-out year. However, the Crimson Tide got off a slow start in conference, dropping four of their first six SEC games.

Bama has won their last two conference games to get back to .500 in SEC play, and their schedule the rest of the way is very manageable. Ken Pomeroy has the Tide (24th in his rankings) favored to win in each of their remaining eight games. They’re done with Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and only play Florida and Mississippi State at home. Their toughest road tests will be at Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Michigan (17-7, 7-4)

Remaining Schedule:

at Nebraska

vs Illinois

vs Ohio State

at Northwestern

vs Purdue

at Illinois

at Penn State

Michigan dropped four of their first five Big Ten road games, with their only win coming against Purdue (who also dropped home games to Wisconsin and Indiana). While the Wolverines still have four Big Ten road games left on their schedule, they’re all definitely winnable. Illinois will be the toughest road test, as the Illini have beaten Ohio State and Michigan State in Champaign this season. However, the Illini are a mess right now, and I’m not sure they’ll figure things out anytime soon (More on that later on). I think the Wolverines should win at least three of their final four Big Ten road games.

Michigan is undefeated at home this season, but their toughest test will come in two weeks when the rival Buckeyes come to Ann Arbor. Michigan played Ohio State tough in Columbus, and I think they’ll pull off the upset at the Crisler Center. Michigan has a good chance of entering the Big Ten Tournament having won six of their final seven games.

Pittsburgh (15-9, 4-7)

Remaining Schedule:

at South Florida

at Seton Hall

vs West Virginia

vs South Florida

at Louisville

vs St. John’s

at UConn

If there’s one thing we should have learned over the last decade, it’s that you should never count out a team coached by Bo Ryan or Jamie Dixon.

After suffering through an eight game losing streak, Pitt has started to recover and may now have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers are on a four game win streak (including wins over Georgetown and West Virginia), and their remaining schedule is not too rough.

They’re done with Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati. I could see the Panthers entering their game in Louisville on an eight game winning streak, and it’s not unreasonable to think Pitt could end the regular season by winning 11 of their final 12 games. If they do, the Panthers should be dancing once again in March.

Teams That Could Fade Down The Stretch:

Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4)

Remaining Schedule:

at Minnesota

at Michigan State

vs Penn State

at Iowa

at Ohio State

vs Minnesota

vs Illinois

The Badgers recovered nicely from their 1-3 start in Big Ten play by winning six straight games. If they had beaten Ohio State this weekend, they would have moved into first place in the Big Ten. Alas, they lost to the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center for the first time in the Bo Ryan era.

Things won’t get any easier for the Badgers. Four of their next five games are on the road, including tough trips to Michigan State and Ohio State. The road games against Minnesota and Iowa will not be easy either. Tubby Smith has done pretty well against the Badgers, and Iowa beat Wisconsin in Madison earlier this season.

The Badgers have already lost four times at the Kohl Center this season, so the home games against Illinois and Minnesota (two possible bubble teams) will not be gimmes.

The Badgers could easily go 2-5 or 3-4 down the stretch. But, Bo Ryan is still the head coach of Wisconsin, so he’ll probably work his magic to avoid that.

Florida (19-4, 7-1)

Remaining Schedule:

at Kentucky

vs Tennessee

at Alabama

at Arkansas

vs Auburn

at Georgia

at Vanderbilt

vs Kentucky

After losing to Tennessee in their conference opener, the Gators have racked up seven straight SEC wins. However, their seven game win streak is pretty hollow. Five of those seven wins have come in Gainesville, and just three have come against teams ranked in the top 100 of the KenPom ratings.

Florida will be tested in the coming weeks. The Gators will travel to Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. They also host Kentucky on the final weekend of the regular season. Five of their final eight games will be on the road. The Gators are 2-4 on the road this season, including losses to two sub-100 teams, Rutgers and Tennessee.

Illinois (16-7, 5-5)

Remaining Schedule:

at Indiana

at Michigan

vs Purdue

at Nebraska

at Ohio State

vs Iowa

vs Michigan

at Wisconsin

Once again, Illinois has turned a promising season into a mess. The Illini moved into first place in the Big Ten after they upset Ohio State at home on Jan. 10. Since then, Bruce Weber’s crew has lost four of five games, including losses to Penn State on the road and Northwestern at home.

The Illini will play four of their next five and five of their final eight games on the road. Illinois has currently defeated just one Big Ten team (Northwestern) on the road. Illinois still has to play four nationally ranked teams on the road (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin).

One has to believe Weber is coaching for his job right now. If Illinois misses the tournament, Weber will be squarely on the hot seat. Yes, Weber led Illinois to the National Championship game. But it was seven years ago, and it was with Bill Self’s players.

Weber has not shown an ability to recruit elite talent (in a state full of it), and he also has not shown the ability to develop talent. Many of his players (Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Shaun Pruitt included) have regressed over their time in Champaign.

When Weber took over the program, Illinois was one of the top teams in the country year after year. Now, the Illini are muddled in mediocrity.

Minnesota (17-7, 5-6)

vs Wisconsin

vs Ohio State

at Northwestern

vs Michigan State

vs Michigan

at Wisconsin

vs Nebraska

First, the good news: Five of Minnesota’s final seven games will be at home. The bad news: Four of those five games will be played against nationally ranked teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan), and Trever Mbakwe is still out for the year due to injury.

If the Gophers are to make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll probably need to beat Nebraska at home, Northwestern on the road and win two of their four tough home games (most likely against Wisconsin and Michigan). If they do that, they’ll finish the regular season 21-10 overall and 9-9 in conference. They might be able to sneak in at 20-11 and 8-10.

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