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Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

In case you missed it, last Thursday I presented my upgraded projections model. Then I presented my 13-14 season projections on ESPN Insider. My projections included the median simulation, best case, and worst case for every team. I also did a Q & A session with Eamonn Brennan and another one with John Templon. I have also been answering a few questions on Twitter. You would think after all those words I would have run out of things to say, but here are a few thoughts that did not quite make the cut in those articles:

The Underrated Club

Q: Why does the simulation hate Arizona St.? Jahii Carson is one of the best players in the country.

A: Arizona St. is a team with a lot of two-star players on the roster. In fact, they have the second lowest average star rating in the entire Pac-12, ahead of only Utah. Luckily a few of those players are transfers who played well for other teams. But what this really means is that Arizona St. just doesn’t have the same upside as many of the other schools in the Pac-12. Herb Sendek’s track record on defense is also a huge concern.

Q: Why does the simulation hate Maryland? A lineup of Shaquille Cleare, Evan Smotrycz, Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Roddy Peters sounds like it could hang with anyone. And Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, and Damonte Dodd all seem like solid reserves. Why is the model so pessimistic?

A: The simulation is concerned that Maryland has only nine scholarship players on the roster. There is real downside risk with such a short bench because if a couple of players struggle or get injured, there are no alternates. Last year N.C. State entered the year with just nine scholarship players and things turned south early. Now, that doesn’t mean Maryland is destined to fail, but depth is a risk with this type of roster.

Q: Why does the simulation hate Denver? They had a great margin-of-victory numbers last year.

A: While I truly believe star ratings are important, the focus on recruiting evaluations really hurts the small conference squads in my projections. Only when a small conference team has virtually no lineup questions will that team be ranked near the top. (This year the two exceptions are North Dakota St. and Harvard. North Dakota St. brings back 95 percent of its minutes and gets a player back who was injured for much of last year. Meanwhile Harvard gets two star players back who were suspended last season.)

In Denver’s case even with several efficient players back, particularly star Chris Udofia, winning seems likely. But Denver has to replace two of the three players that played the most minutes last season. And the likely replacements will only be two-star athletes. That’s not to say that head coach Joe Scott cannot build a winner again. But it is very hard to get a Top 50 margin-of-victory in a small conference. And if Scott does it again, that should be considered a huge accomplishment. It shouldn’t be the expectation. (The real issue for Denver is finding another ball-handler to compliment Udofia. Last year Royce O’Neale and Udofia both were key distributors for the team, but with O’Neale transferring to Baylor, the remaining options are not great.)

Random Thoughts on Some Major Conference Teams

- In my Insider column, I said that the Spartans were the lowest risk team in the nation which sparked some jokes from Michigan St. fans on Twitter. I think this points out how insanely volatile college basketball can be. Even when the Spartans bring back five of their six top rotation players including three clear stars, their fanbase in nervous. Part of that is the fact that Tom Izzo’s teams notoriously struggle in November. But when a team with Top 10 talent brings nearly everyone back and their fans are nervous, you know that anything can happen in college basketball.

- Michigan’s position in 12th in my rankings is a little misleading. I honestly believe that Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson can lead this team a long way. But I am legitimately concerned about the guard rotation. John Beilein was very reluctant to play Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary together last season because they weren’t outside shooters. So I have to assume Robinson will play most of his minutes at the four-spot again this year. But then how does the guard rotation work? Does the team play Spike Albrecht, Derrick Walton, and Nick Stauskas together? What if Albrecht and Walton aren’t ready? That is why my model has such a low downside for the Wolverines. (And don’t tell me Caris LeVert is the answer. He was a low-ranked recruit and nothing he did last season leads me to believe he should be a key player on a Top 10 team.)

- When I first ran the model, I was a little surprised the downside for Kentucky was not lower. After all, a young Kentucky team lost in the first round of the NIT last season. But this is what happens when you return two efficient high potential players (in Alex Poythress and Will Cauley-Stein), and add five Top 10 recruits. With that many high potential players, even if two or three of them struggle immensely, Kentucky can still win. Kentucky could not afford for Archie Goodwin to struggle and Nerlens Noel to get injured last season. This year if Julius Randle struggles and Will Cauley-Stein gets hurt, the team can just say “Next man in.”

- I love the range for Indiana in my ESPN Insider rankings. The team has 7 top 100 recruits, and an elite season is still possible. But given all the new faces and how little most of the returning sophomores played last year, the downside risk is major.

- If you want to vote any of my model’s Top 34 teams into the Top 25, I can see arguments for all of them. But I stick by my model’s skepticism of Baylor. Pierre Jackson carried the Bears last year and I don’t see how they can be a better team without him. Their margin of victory was 26th last year (thanks to winning the NIT) and I only give them about a 20 percent chance to do better than that.

- If you have ESPN Insider, look at how painfully low Alabama’s downside is this year. After Devonta Pollard was arrested this offseason, the team is down to nine scholarship players who are eligible this year. If someone on Alabama’s squad doesn't play well, there are no alternatives. This is too bad because Anthony Grant is such a talented young coach, but off-court issues keep derailing his teams.

- Iowa St. made a great move adding Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane. But I suspect Fred Hoiberg needed to add a couple more transfers to keep his transfer winning streak going. With 64% of the lineup gone and four of Iowa St.'s six most efficient players departing (Melvin Ejim and George Niang return), expect Iowa St. to take a step back.

- My model is more optimistic about Seton Hall than what you see in some other rankings. Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs will be a huge upgrade over Tom Maayan and his 50% turnover rate. And with fewer injuries, Kevin Willard should have the defense playing better.

Random Thoughts on Some Mid-Major Conferences

- I’ve still got St. Mary’s on the NCAA bubble. Many will discount the team after Matthew Dellavedova's departure. But Beau Leveasque and Stephen Holt aren't suddenly going to forget how to shoot. Brad Wadlow isn't going to stop being a physical force on the boards and finishing over 60 percent of his shots. This team still has talent.

- The team I think most pundits have over-rated this year is Northeastern. The Huskies were extremely lucky last year. Despite the 7th best MOV in the CAA, they won a ton of close games, including a 4-1 record in OT. Their conference title is very deceiving. With the team's leading scorer and most efficient player Joel Smith gone, a repeat conference title seems unlikely.

- One team I am buying is Weber St. Weber St. had the best margin-of-victory in the Big Sky last year. They even outscored Montana by 19 points in their three meetings. But somehow they went 1-2 against the Grizzlies and that 1-2 mark gave Montana the regular season and conference tournament title. Weber St.’s aggressive and efficient inside-outside combination of Davion Berry and Kyle Tresnak is going to make sure that doesn't happen again.

- The conference champion I expect to come out of nowhere this year is Manhattan. Manhattan somehow lost 10 games to conference foes, but only one of those games was by double digits. This team was much better than last year's conference record would indicate.

- The race for the Big West title is wide open. I have five teams projected within one game of first place in that league.

- The CUSA race should also be highly entertaining. Louisiana Tech is the only team in CUSA that returns over 70 percent of its minutes from last year. (Tech brings back 85 percent of its minutes.) And Tech's losses won't hurt the offense. The team loses its least efficient player Brandon Gibson, and the extremely passive JL Lewis. With an already solid defense and an improved offense, Louisiana Tech could be headed for the NCAA tournament. But Southern Miss is just as formidable a competitor. The newest Golden Eagle, transfer Aaron Brown, shot the ball extremely well as a sophomore at Temple. His addition could give Southern Miss the CUSA title.

- Speaking of transfers, transfer Jay Harris was the PG on a Valparaiso team that won the Horizon league title in 2012. He could be the key addition that gets Wagner an NEC conference title in 2014.

- Finally, Indiana St. PG Jake Odum has to be kicking himself that RJ Mahurin transferred out in order to play his senior year with his younger brother. Mahurin was the team's only efficient big man, and the Sycamores could have been a more realistic NCAA bubble team had Mahurin returned.

Late Breaking News

- The news that Josh Smith was eligible immediately didn’t break until after I finished my rankings. With a full season of Smith you can move the Hoyas up to 27th in my projections. But as many people have noted, because of his conditioning, it still isn’t clear how much Smith will play. The downside risk for the Hoyas remains real. However, I do think that it is a major break that Smith will be around from the start of the season. The Hoya offense is a nuanced system that depends on precise cuts and passes, and integrating Smith mid-season would have been much more difficult.

- I had already assumed Joseph Young would be eligible for Oregon so their ranking is not affected by that news. It is clear that the transfer combination of Mike Moser and Young could be one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country. But I want to offer several cautionary tales. Ryan Harrow, Trey Ziegler, and Aaric Murray were three transfers that received a ton of hype last summer, and they were all such poor fits in the new environment, they have all moved on again. We’ve seen teams bring in a bunch of transfers and live up to expectations (like Iowa St.), but we have also seen teams take in a lot of transfer and disappoint (like Missouri last year.) Transfers are high risk players, and that is why my model has such a large range for the Ducks this season.

Dan Hanner vs Ken Pomeroy

Ken Pomeroy also released his preseason rankings on Saturday. While he is rather humble about his algorithm, I think it is important to note how well his system did last season. From a modeling perspective, a more complex system is not always better.

I would argue that the real advantage of my lineup-based system is not the predictive power. The advantage is that by focusing on the lineup, my model has fewer head-scratching conclusions. For example, Ken’s team level model has Miami at 62nd this year. With basically everyone in last year’s rotation gone and Angel Rodriguez electing not to apply for a transfer waiver, that’s an extremely optimistic prediction. But that prediction is based on how well Miami did last season, not any reasonable evaluation of the current roster. The same can probably be said of Minnesota at No. 35. The Gophers had strong margin-of-victory numbers last year, so Ken’s model loves them again this season. But my model sees that the Gophers made a substantial downgrade in the front-court and added an unproven coach. My model based on the current lineup has Miami at No. 102 and Minnesota at No. 63, and I think that’s much closer to what I have seen in most expert rankings.

But while Ken’s model can cause us to scratch our heads at certain results, do not overlook his predictions. The last five seasons of data are a very strong predictor in the aggregate. (If a team had a great offense before it tends to have better facilities, higher caliber recruits, and better coaches today.) And when the results of both our models agree, those are probably the strongest predictions of all. 

ACC Basketball Early Projection

Last fall on Basketball Prospectus I introduced the first ever lineup-based statistical model. Today, I use that model to project the 2013-2014 ACC college basketball standings:

 

Team

Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

T100

Ret Min

Ret Poss

Last Off

Last Def

Duke

14

4

115.4

90.6

10

58%

50%

118.9

90.3

N. Carolina

13

5

114.3

89.8

10

69%

73%

111.6

92.9

Virginia

13

5

112.9

89.6

5

74%

82%

107.0

89.7

Syracuse

12

6

110.3

89.2

8

52%

45%

112.5

85.7

Pittsburgh

12

6

113.1

92.0

4

59%

58%

115.4

89.2

Maryland

11

7

111.4

93.0

6

61%

64%

106.2

92.3

Notre Dame

10

8

111.1

96.7

3

78%

78%

113.6

95.8

Florida St.

9

9

110.1

96.9

5

84%

80%

105.0

101.1

B. College

8

10

111.1

100.0

0

95%

96%

109.3

101.8

NC State

7

11

109.2

100.6

6

21%

18%

115.7

97.8

Wake Forest

6

12

103.1

97.3

3

76%

76%

99.2

96.6

Georgia Tech

6

12

98.7

93.4

5

80%

83%

98.2

91.8

Clemson

6

12

99.2

94.6

0

64%

61%

98.6

94.1

Miami FL

5

13

99.2

97.8

1

18%

14%

113.7

90.3

Virginia Tech

3

15

100.9

106.0

3

68%

55%

105.0

105.9

Proj CW, CL = Projected conference wins and losses

Proj Off, Def = Projected points scored and allowed per 100 possessions against an average D1 team on a neutral floor

Top 100 = Number of players ranked in the RSCI Top 100 out of high school who are on the roster 

Ret Min, Ret Poss = Returning minutes and possessions

Last Off, Last Def = Last year’s offense and defense

Duke: Quinn Cook, Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, Mississippi St. transfer Rodney Hood, Amile Jefferson, #2 recruit Jabari Parker. Yes, Duke is going to be dominant again.

North Carolina: Marcus Paige, PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald, James McAdoo, and four high potential young forwards (either ready to make the sophomore leap or contribute from day one) should make for a dominant lineup.

Virginia: At the start of April I wrote this: “Everything is coming together for Virginia. They have their three top scorers (really the only guys who scored at all) back from last year. Former Top 100 recruit Mike Tobey should be ready for that sophomore year leap in production. They add depth with South Carolina transfer Anthony Gill. Malcolm Brogdon (who missed the entire season) and Darion Atkins should be back healthy. And Virginia played very good basketball in conference games last year.” The only question mark is point-guard. London Perrantes, Teven Jones, and/or Devon Hall have to come through for this team to meet its expectations. And while at #97 ESPN recruit Perrantes isn’t a sure thing, the model thinks he will easily exceed the efficiency of Jontel Evans. Evans couldn’t shoot at all last year and posted an 83.4 ORtg. When a team loses its most inefficient players and has solid replacements coming in, that team should be substantially improved.

Syracuse: Unfortunately, Syracuse seems poised for another brutal offensive year. There were basically only four guys on the team that could score last year, and three of them are gone. The real problem is the lack of depth on the perimeter. My model has Duke transfer Michael Gbinije playing some minutes at the shooting-guard spot, but as Georgetown saw last year when they tried to play Otto Porter at that spot, a four forward lineup doesn’t have the right spacing. This is especially true given that among Syracuse’s returning forwards only CJ Fair has a true jump shot.

That means Syracuse will have to give a lot of minute to Tyler Ennis, Trevor Cooney, and Ron Patterson. Tyler Ennis might have a higher recruiting rank than Virginia’s London Perrantes, but he still isn’t a guaranteed star where he is rated. And Trevor Cooney was brutal last season. While the model predicts Cooney will be better this year, he certainly can’t be counted on to be a star. And Syracuse hasn’t had much success utilizing unranked freshmen right of the bat which isn’t good for Ron Patterson’s expectations.

DaJuan Coleman might become a high scorer next year, but it is a catch-22. While he is the only returning player who was a high volume shooter, he wasn’t very efficient (89.1 ORtg) last year. Part of that was an injury issue, but even with a fairly sizable jump in efficiency this year, he won’t be able to carry the offense. Don’t be fooled by transfer Michael Gbinije’s ORtg on Statsheet.com. He basically never played for Duke two years ago. The fact that he didn’t play says more about his expectations then whatever numbers he posted in garbage time in a few games. And don’t be fooled by Baye Moussa Keita’s efficiency either. Keita basically never shot last year. Syracuse has eight former Top 100 recruits on the roster, so they have talent. But it isn’t quite the right fit to expect a dominant offense.

 

Player

Ht In

RSCI Rnk

Class

Pred ORtg

Pred Pct Min

Pred Pct Poss

C.J. Fair

6'8"

96

Sr

113.1

88%

23%

Tyler Ennis

6'2"

38

Fr

100.1

69%

21%

Trevor Cooney

6'4"

79

Jr

100.4

69%

19%

Jerami Grant

6'8"

41

So

108.7

50%

20%

R. Christmas

6'9"

21

Jr

110.5

50%

16%

Michael Gbinije

6'6"

28

So

103.5

39%

20%

Tyler Roberson

6'7"

27

Fr

100.1

38%

21%

Baye M. Keita

6'10"

 

Sr

120.0

37%

13%

Ron Patterson

6'3"

 

Fr

93.1

31%

19%

DaJuan Coleman

6'9"

18

So

97.6

30%

27%

Head Coach:

   

SOSmod

1.05

   

Syracuse

   

Pred Off

110.3

   

Where I think the model may be wrong is not the offense, but the defense. The model is skeptical because Jim Boeheim has only had an adjusted defense below 89.0 once in his career. That one year was last season, so perhaps it will be repeatable. But Michael Carter-Williams had rare size at the PG spot. He made it brutally hard for teams like Indiana to get open looks at three and for players to make basic entry passes. If Cooney and Ennis can duplicate that, then Syracuse may be a Top 10 team.  My model expects a solid but not historic defensive performance from Syracuse.

Pittsburgh: This is going to sound odd, but Pittsburgh probably has a better starting rotation than Syracuse. Talib Zanna was Pittsburgh’s best forward last season. James Robinson was impressive as a first-year PG, and Lamar Patterson was a do-everything player. Meanwhile, JJ Moore is back and he was Pittsburgh’s most efficient bench player. The team also adds highly ranked freshman recruit Mike Young at forward. The real weakness for Pittsburgh is going to be depth. After those five guys, there is a serious drop-off. But keep in mind that Jamie Dixon has only finished with more than six conference losses once in his career. That isn’t going to change even in a stacked ACC.

Maryland: Replacing Alex Len won’t be easy, but the combination of Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell’s development, combined with the addition of a lights out perimeter shooting forward (Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz) should make it palatable. Pe’shon Howard was so inefficient at the PG slot that his departure is probably addition by subtraction.

Notre Dame: For those of you keeping track, despite being listed as seniors last year, Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight are coming back. I am most interested to see how Mike Brey utilizes freshmen Demetrius Jackson. Brey usually has a short-leash with freshmen. The exception was Luke Harangody, and Jackson might just be that kind of freshmen. What is holding Notre Dame back is that Mike Brey is not an elite defensive coach. And that means the loss of a premiere defensive rebounder like Jack Cooley is a real problem.

Florida St.: Somehow, despite a horrible non-conference season, and terrible margin-of-victory numbers, the Seminoles won nine ACC games last year. I expect Florida St.’s offense and defense to be substantially better than last year. But I don’t expect them to match last year’s exceptional luck. And in an improved ACC, I project Florida St. as a 9-9 team. They will be better, but they might not have more conference wins to show for it.

Of course, if Andrew Wiggins matriculates, this expectation will be much higher.

Looking back, it is hard to believe how dreadful Florida St. played at times last season. The Seminoles scored 36 against Virginia and an even more embarrassing 46 against defensively challenged Wake Forest.  Highly rated freshman Montay Brandon had one of those avert-your-eyes awful seasons. It was amazing how much Leonard Hamilton stuck with him despite his clear offensive struggles. Brandon’s poor performance shows the difference between an old-school coach and a new-school coach. Buzz Williams and Brad Stevens would have never let a player like Brandon waste so many possessions.

But despite these offensive concerns, the real problem was the defense. How did one of the top defensive coaches suddenly forget what he was doing? I think the injury to Ian Miller had a lot to do with it, but the overall team performance was head-scratching. With a healthy Ian Miller, I predict a substantial bounce-back on both ends of the court. But it also depends on Hamilton making better lineup decisions than last season.

Boston College: Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich will add to the team’s depth. But until Boston College starts playing better defense, they won’t make the tournament.

NC State: If you ask Mark Gottfried, he will admit that the lack of depth last year was frustrating. It made it hard to hold legitimate practices. But thanks to a host of defections NC State only has eight scholarship players again. One of those eight players, Jordan Vandenburg has struggled to ever earn playing time and was injured for much of last year. It is possible Vandenburg will break out as a fifth-year senior, but the expectations cannot be that high. The other seven players (including LSU transfer Ralston Turner and JUCO addition Desmond Lee) should all be solid players. But at this point, you have to bank on extreme luck to even put together a decent rotation. No one can get injured. None of the prized recruits can be a bust.

And Mark Gottfried hasn’t exactly been the kind of guy to bring a new crop of recruits together and play top defense right away. NC State probably has a higher upside than some of the teams listed ahead of them, but the downside risk is pretty high too. If everyone (but Vandenburg) comes back, this team will be in much better shape in 2014-15.

Wake Forest: Wait, why is Jeff Bzdelik still the head coach? Senior Travis McKie deserves better.

Georgia Tech: Marcus George-Hunt and Robert Carter were solid scorers as freshman last season and as highly ranked high school recruits, there is no reason to think they won’t make the sophomore leap and become stars this year. Overall Georgia Tech’s offense would be rated higher, but there is a major question mark at the PG slot. Solomon Poole wasn’t ready last year, but the alternatives Corey Heyward and Travis Jorgenson don’t have obvious pedigrees either. Without a strong point-guard and with several offensive liabilities in the rotation, the offense will still be bad.

Clemson: Given that they lose their two best players and have zero players who were elite high school recruits on their roster, I think a lot of preseason predictions will have them even lower than this. There really isn’t anyone on the roster who looks like a likely offensive star. (The only good news is that Clemson was young last year and the sophomore leap should help at least a couple of their freshmen become solid players.) But let’s face it, this is going to be an ugly team to watch. The only reason the model doesn’t have Clemson lower is because of Brad Brownell’s ability to teach defense.

Miami: Give Jim Larranaga credit for what Miami did last year, but this is a rebuilding year. This team was just devastated by graduations and Shane Larkin’s early entry into the draft. I think the lineup-based model may be a little too pessimistic. But the best-case scenario here is probably what Vanderbilt did in the SEC last year.  Don’t count on much from guys like Tony Jekiri and Erik Swoope. Guys who shoot that little rarely become big scorers. I feel bad for Rion Brown.

Virginia Tech: Goodbye Erick Green. Yep, next year isn’t going to be any better.

Final Exam Time

Final exams are here in college basketball, making this the quiet period of the season. After the excitement of the Champions Classic, the Holiday Tournaments, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, college basketball must make it through a relatively boring stretch on the schedule.

The marquee game last week was supposed to be UCLA taking on Texas at Reliant Stadium in Houston. But with UCLA losing a bunch of early games (including blowing an 18-point lead against Cal Poly), and with Texas struggling (including a loss to Chaminade in Maui), this game had lost most of its luster. In fact, it lost so much luster, that less than 3000 fans showed up to watch a game being played in a dome stadium.

Fittingly, the game lived up to its billing. Texas turned the ball over possession after possession down the stretch allowing UCLA to come from behind at the end. But UCLA couldn’t make free throws that would seal the game. Then Texas air-balled a three at the buzzer that would have won the game. UCLA prevailed, but neither team was able to shake its reputation as a disappointment early in the year.

(Quick side note about Texas. The Longhorns' defense has actually been shockingly good this season. No team has a better eFG% defense at this point in the season than Texas, meaning the Longhorns are forcing teams to miss both their twos and threes at an impressive rate. Rick Barnes simply doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to teach defense. Unfortunately, without point guard Myck Kabongo, Texas’ offense has been dreadful. Only Sheldan McClellan and Julien Lewis have shown a consistent ability to put the ball in the basket this year, and the Longhorns other four Top 100 prospects out of high school have been nothing short of horrible, sporting ORtgs of 61 to 83. No team can win consistently when only two players have ORtgs over 100.)

But the beauty of college basketball is that even on a weekend with few marquee games, the plethora of games ensures there are always some fantastic finishes:

- UNLV’s Quintrell Thomas caught the ball under the basket and put back in a lay-up that gave UNLV a last-second win against California. Both teams will be likely be in the NCAA tournament this year, so it was an important win for both UNLV and the MWC. UNLV’s Mike Moser injured his elbow in the game, and that bears watching.

- Elsewhere, West Virginia handed Virginia Tech their first loss of the season on a Juwan Staten lay-up in the final seconds. West Virginia had high hopes for the elite transfer Staten, but his debut was an ugly 0-6 two turnover performance against Gonzaga. Fortunately Staten had bounced back, scoring in double figures the last four games and living at the free throw line. And against Virginia Tech, Staten drove the lane in the final seconds and hit a lay-up that proved to be the game-winner.

- Meanwhile, Purdue and Mississippi were reminded why major conference teams hate to play at mid-major venues. Purdue fell 47-44 at Eastern Michigan. This is not a great Eastern Michigan team, but with Eastern Michigan turning the ball over only four times, while Purdue turned the ball over 18 times, those 14 additional possessions made all the difference in the upset win. Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee’s Kerry Hammonds made a jumper in the final minute to break a tie and give Ole Miss its first loss of the season. Unlike Eastern Michigan, Middle Tennessee has been playing pretty good basketball this season, and this loss might not hurt quite so much come selection Sunday.

Other notes

- Illinois was back to making three-pointers in Saturday’s win over Gonzaga, sinking 11 in the win. With over 10 made threes per game, I am very curious whether this will continue in conference play.

- Last season, Florida St. had a scatterbrained resume of puzzling losses to bad teams and amazing wins against Top 10 teams. It was largely because of their one-sided play. When you play elite defense, all you need is for a few surprising shots to fall and you can beat an elite team. And when you have lousy offense, all you need is for your opponent to hit a few surprising shots and you can lose to anyone. Georgetown looks like that team this year. They lost to Indiana in OT and have thus far pulled out close wins against teams like Towson. Still, the Hoyas have some head-scratching games ahead, given their great defense and poor offense.

-Michigan’s Nik Stauskas continues to be way more athletic than I anticipated. When the Arkansas game tightened up near the 12 minute market of the second half, Stauskas had the ball at the wing and I thought a turnover was coming. Instead he shook his man, drove all the way to the edge of the free throw line, and banked home a long-layup. To me, it was a game-changing play.

Of course, I have already learned to love Illinois’ three-point shooting, Stauskas’s game, and Georgetown’s defense.  In fact, I wonder if sometimes the computers learn more from these December games than the media. We all know that Kansas is going to be the favorite in the Big 12 in conference play, and that Bill Self’s teams play lock down defense year-after-year. But with ugly games against teams like Chattanooga and San Jose St., Kansas was no longer looking like a Top 10 team in most computer rankings. That changed on Saturday with the Jayhawks 36 point thrashing of a solid Colorado team. I tend to struggle with what to say about a 36 point loss, but in the grand scheme of ranking teams, all these games provide important information.

The other takeaway from the Colorado-Kansas game is that regional rivalries don’t have to die when teams switch conferences. Missouri and Kansas might not play again, but if they do not, that is a dumb choice by the teams. It is not a necessity.

Undefeated but Overrated

As the number of undefeated teams dwindles (we are down to 14 after Sunday), columnists tend to write about which teams with strong starts are over-rated. But I hate that tone. Nobody honestly believes that Charlotte is an elite team after a 9-0 start. But why rain on the parade of a team that has exceeded expectations.

It is one thing to say that you don’t necessarily expect a team to keep it up. If a team is winning close games, it is reasonable to ask whether they will still have a strong season in conference play.

It is one thing to criticize strength-of-schedule and say you wish that an elite team had played more quality competition. For example, I wish Arizona would have scheduled a few more marquee games, because until they play Florida next weekend, I still have no feel for how good this team can be.

But I hate it when people criticize a team for doing what they are supposed to do and winning games. Wyoming is my favorite example. Larry Shyatt had a disappointing run as Clemson’s head coach, but after joining Billy Donovan’s staff and helping Florida win two national championships, he finally got a second chance with the Cowboys. In his first season, he completely turned Wyoming’s team around by emphasizing defense, and now in his second season, his team’s offense is starting to come around. Wyoming isn’t an elite team, but after they came from 18 down to beat Illinois St. and preserve their undefeated mark, they deserve praise, not criticism for an undefeated start.

Do December games matter if everyone is focused on the NFL?

The NBA wants you to think its regular season is extremely important. But when San Antonio can choose to rest four key players at the Miami Heat, that undermines the NBA’s credibility. Chuck Klosterman wrote a fantastic piece recently asking some key questions about whether San Antonio owed it to NBA fans to play its star players against the Heat.

The beauty of college basketball is you never have to ask those questions.

- Almost every player is young, and even with some teams now playing 40 games, the season is still relatively short. The number of key players debating whether to play through a nagging injury is relatively small.

- For most of these kids, this is the moment. Was Louisville’s Peyton Siva really going to complain about playing three games in three days in the Bahamas and not want to give it his all against Duke? Of course not. This season is his moment in the sun and he wants to take full advantage of it.

-Every game matters for selection Sunday. I’ve long said that there is no resting your starters in college basketball because nothing is ever clinched. With so many teams with similar resumes at the end of the year, every loss counts for seeding. In the NBA, if San Antonio drops a game against New Orleans in November, it probably won’t matter much to the team’s ultimate probability of winning a championship. But if UCLA drops a game to Cal Poly in November, it is a critical red-mark on the Bruins resume, and it might be the reason the Bruins don’t play in the regional round in Los Angeles in the Staples Center in March.

The Dreaded Early RPI

Even if the loss to Middle Tennessee (discussed above) doesn’t cost Ole Miss an NCAA tournament spot, the sum total of these wins and losses does matter for the conferences. And at this point, the SEC might have needed that win more than Ole Miss.

Through Saturday, the conference RPI standings were as follows:

1

Big Ten

2

Pac-12

3

Big East

4

ACC

5

MWC

6

A10

7

Big 12

8

SEC

9

MVC

10

WCC

At this point the SEC is sitting 8th among all conferences in terms of RPI rankings, and the plethora of bad losses by teams at the bottom of the conference is going to make it hard to earn quality wins in SEC play this year. And as bad a measure of team quality as the RPI may be, it is still a very strong predictor of NCAA selection.

Rob Dauster noticed it earlier this week, but even if the Pac-12 has lacked signature wins in the early season, because its teams are chalking up fewer head-scratching losses this preseason, winning Pac-12 games will mean something this year. Right now it looks like a team that goes 11-7 in Pac-12 will be in the discussion for an at-large bid, something you couldn’t say last season.

The bigger concern might be how many teams can make the tournament out of the Big 12. I thought the Big 12 might be the deepest conference in the country this year, but none of the Big 12’s bubble teams have been coming through. Kansas St., Iowa St., and West Virginia certainly don’t look like terrible teams based on their margin-of-victory so far this season, and Texas probably won’t be a terrible team in January and February (assuming Kabongo plays eventually). But none of those teams have done anything in their marquee games. The Big 12 might have eight legitimate teams eventually, but unless the conference has a stellar last few weeks of non-conference action, the league may be capped at four or five NCAA bids.

Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, And A Quick Look At How The Top 80 Recruits Have Fared

On Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, Kyle Anderson and the rest of the freshman class as they play such prominent roles to begin the 12-13 NCAA season.

Early Season Tournaments: Brackets, Observations, And Odds: Part 1

Sorting through the odds of the NIT, 2K Sports Classic, Charleston Classic, Puerto Rico Tipoff, Coaches Vs. Cancer, Paradise Jam and Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

NCAA Tournament Day 2

A running diary of a historic day in the NCAA tournament.

Initial Bracket Thoughts

A few preliminary thoughts on matchups and which teams will advance deep in the tournament.

The Many Facets & Unpredictability Of March Madness

While personnel determine scheme in the NBA, college basketball coaches recruit players that fit their schemes.

YABC Column For Feb. 27th (POY Races, Improbabilities & More)

As Draymond Green locked up the Big Ten POY award and Kansas battled Missouri for a likely No. 1 seed, Saturday afternoon encapsulated everything that is great about the NCAA regular season.

Recruiting And Player Development, 2012 Edition

The best way to examine the value of specific college coaches is to examine how well they recruit and subsequently develop their talent. Let's examine the top 49 coaches from the Power 6 conferences.

YABC Column For Feb. 6th (Iowa St., Florida St., Robbie Hummel & More)

On Florida State with and without Ian Miller, Miami's upset of Duke, Missouri as a No. 1 seed, Iowa State, Robbie Hummel as a spot-up shooter and more.

YACB Column, Jan. 23rd: On Duke's Home Loss, Big Win For Kansas & More

On a great weekend of college basketball that saw Florida State beat Duke at Cameron, Syracuse get their first loss, Kansas stave off Texas, as well as the reasoning why we must look at match-ups and reevaluations.

Five Surprises From The Second Weekend In January

The theme heading into this weekend was that there were not many must-see games. But with college basketball, the sheer volume of games ensures there will always be a few surprises.

At Their Best Against the Best

Which teams have raised their play against quality competition and which teams are beating up on the little guy?

BCS Basketball Power Poll January 2012

Separating the BCS schools into tiers named after John Wooden, Dean Smith, Gene Keady, Rollie Massimino, John Chaney, Kelvin Sampson, Tim Welsh, Pat Knight and Sidney Lowe, how does everyone stand?

Colleges On NBA Rosters

Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, UConn, Florida and Arizona each begin the 11-12 NBA season with 10 or more players on NBA rosters.

The Anti-Recruiting Tool

There are many ways to build a winning program. John Calipari’s focus on younger players may be the best way to get elite recruits, but it isn’t the only way to build a winning program.

ACC Preview Part 2: What Are Duke's Chances?

Since Roy Williams arrived, North Carolina has consistently finished ahead of Duke in the ACC when they return more minutes from the previous season. But Duke will bring in Austin Rivers and four other elite recruits.

ACC Preview Part 1: Can Anyone Compete With The Tar Heels?

No ACC opponent has the talent and experience to match the Tar Heels and Blue Devils. But with fewer possessions per game, even mediocre ACC teams may be an occasional upset threat.

Do NCAA Football Rivalries Translate To Basketball?

In honor of the beginning of the 2011 college football season, here is a look at some of their biggest rivalries and whether they translate to the basketball court.

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