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NCAA Tournament Day 2

#14 Mercer defeated #3 Duke

The Duke game has already been over-analyzed. Did they take too many threes? Maybe, but they did score 1.21 points per possession by making 15 threes on 37 shots from deep. Did Duke’s inexperience hurt them? Maybe, the Blue Devils allowed a home run pass for a lay-up after they cut the lead to three late in the game. That kind of mistake could be the result of the team’s youth. Did the Blue Devils fail to utilize Jabari Parker properly? Almost certainly they should have given him more post touches. But Parker was 4 of 11 on his twos, and getting Parker the ball more didn’t seem like a totally dominant strategy against Mercer’s defensive alignment.

To be realistic, college basketball analysts knew this was coming. We’ve known all year that Duke was going to lose in the NCAA tournament because their defense couldn’t get enough stops. On Friday, Mercer made 56% of its shots and hit almost every key free throw down the stretch. We didn’t know Duke would go down in the first round, but we knew this would happen eventually. And as Mike Krzyzewski himself noted, it was a beautiful thing to see seven Mercer seniors (who should have been in the NCAA tournament last year if not for Florida Gulf Coast), finally receiving the payoff from all their hard work.

#6 Baylor defeated #11 Nebraska

Nebraska looked lost against a zone defense. In the first half they went 0 for 11 from three. At halftime, head coach Tim Miles said his team was 4 of 5 when it got the ball in the paint, and they needed to stop settling for jump shots. For a stretch at the start of the first half, Nebraska responded and finally made a few shots. Then Miles got a technical. Then Miles went to complain about the shot-clock not working and got ejected from the game.

In the first half the announcers noted that Tim Miles is a “one question coach”. If you want to do a media interview, all you have to do is ask him one question, and he will talk for 10 minutes. Normally his energy and enthusiasm helps build excitement for the program.

But in this case, Miles words, his constant harassing of the referees, eventually got him kicked out. The technical for complaining about the shot-clock was clearly a tough call. But given all of Miles complaints leading up to it, he certainly bears some responsibility for what happened.

Sadly, Nebraska’s offensive ineptitude and Miles antics distracted from an impressive victory for Baylor. Baylor’s splits this season are insane:

Baylor

Off

Def

W

L

PWP

Early

115.5

97.3

12

1

0.878

Midseason

108.6

103.2

2

8

0.643

Late

122.7

100.3

11

2

0.910

In the middle of the season, Baylor was playing like a team outside the Top 100. But since Feb 12th, Baylor has been playing like a Top 10 team. A lot of people want to point to Kenny Cherry’s ankle injury as a reason for the team’s swoon. But that isn’t the full story. Cherry had some good games when Baylor was losing, including 22 in a loss to Texas Tech.

Realistically, Baylor has simply played better in every offensive category late in the season. They’ve shot better, turned the ball over less, grabbed more offensive rebounds, and got to the foul line more since that swoon. They’ve also been playing at a slower and more controlled pace, with about 4 fewer possessions per game. On Friday, the free throw attempts were the difference. But as Baylor heads into Sunday’s match-up with Creighton, they are clearly clicking on all cylinders.

#10 Stanford defeated #7 New Mexico

Stanford led 20-4 early, but New Mexico kept crawling back. Eventually the Lobos tied the game on a Cullen Neal fast-break bucket with about 10 minutes left in the game. But as well as Cameron Bairstow played, he simply didn’t have any support. Kendall Williams, a former MWC player-of-the-year, couldn’t get a clean look at the basket. Normally given Williams 6’4” frame, he can shoot over anyone. But Stanford harassed him with bigger defenders, including the 6’10” Dwight Powell. And Williams struggled to beat Stanford’s defense off the dribble. The net result was a nearly 7 minute scoring drought that locked the game up for Stanford.

We often write about redemption in the NCAA tournament. Last year New Mexico had one of the best seasons in program history. But New Mexico lost to Harvard in round of 64, and it felt like this team had some unfinished business. With four starters back from last year’s team, 2014 was supposed to be a year for redemption.

But a Stanford team full of juniors and seniors decided to write the happy ending for their team instead. Senior Josh Huestis hit a late jumper to put Stanford up 7. Senior John Gage played some great minutes in relief of foul plagued Stefan Nastic. And even though Senior Dwight Powell had an off night offensively, thanks to the team’s all-around defensive effort, Powell earned another game to show his stuff in the NCAA tournament.

#11 Tennessee defeated #6 UMass

“This is the lowest number of points UMass has scored in any half of any game this season.” UMass struggled to just 22 points in the first half against Tennessee, and despite a valiant effort to create chaos and gamble for steals in the second half, the 19 point deficit was simply too big to overcome.

Somehow Tennessee has gone from a team that barely made the NCAA tournament, to a Sweet Sixteen favorite. And it might not stop there. Tennessee has been winning by such a large margin since March 1st, that they would actually be favored against Michigan according to Kenpom.com.

#3 Creighton defeated #14 Louisiana Lafayette

Doug McDermott went 13 minutes without scoring in the second half, and the Ragin Cajuns pulled within three points. But even when McDermott doesn’t score, he still makes a huge difference on the court. The almost constant double-teams of McDermott gave his teammates wide open looks from three point range. And McDermott even had a block in crunch time. Then, when his team needed it again, he nailed a dagger three. The fifth all-time scorer in NCAA history scored 30 points in the win.

#2 Kansas defeated #15 Eastern Kentucky

In the RealGM.com bracket podcast, I said that Eastern Kentucky wasn’t going to win, but at some point they were going to make some threes and give Kansas a scare. Well, EKU’s 8th three of the game gave the EKU a 48-45 lead. EKU’s 9th three of the game (a ridiculous step-back three by Orlando Williams) made it 53-51 in favor of EKU. And EKU’s 10th three of the game gave EKU a 56-53 lead. At one point, Kansas was shooting 62% and still losing.

But that’s when Jamari Traylor really took over. I’ve spent this season being skeptical of the Kansas big man. Traylor shot 42% from the floor last year while taking mostly lay-ups. He’s the lowest ranked recruit on scholarship with the Jayhawks. And while he has played better this year, I’ve never quite believed he would be an impact player. But with Joel Embiid out, Kansas needed Traylor to rise to the occasion, and he did. Traylor hit two huge buckets when EKU was knocking down its threes. And then, when EKU went on one last run to cut the lead to 64-61, Traylor’s offensive rebound put-back essentially sealed the victory. Traylor’s previous season best was 10 points against TCU, but he scored 17 in the Jayhawks close victory.

#8 Gonzaga beat #9 Oklahoma St.

There were 61 fouls in this game, the most in a non-OT NCAA tournament game since 1975. There are a number of people that are going to call the foul situation an abomination. But I found it more fascinating what this game revealed about how the players involved respond to pressure.

With the pressure on, Marcus Smart continued to make questionable decisions. He turned the ball over. He missed free throws. And when a call went against him (an out-of-bounds that he never touched), he did not react in a relaxed fashion. Instead he exaggerated his frustration by jumping up and down. If we hoped Smart had somehow matured into a different player due to his suspension, that was probably not accurate.

LeBryan Nash has matured this season. But under the pressure of the tournament, he again wilted. His shirt-grab for a fifth foul was probably a call the officials should let go. But it was also dumb to reach with four fouls. Travis Ford even seemed like a coach who got caught up in the emotion of the moment, picking up a technical at the end of the first half.

In my opinion, the player who truly matured for Oklahoma St. this season was Markel Brown. Brown raised his career ORtg from 90 as a freshman, to 96 as a sophomore, to 110 last year, to 118 this season. And when the game was being decided, Brown was the only player taking to the ball to the basket and converting easy looks for Oklahoma St.

To see Brown go down like this is difficult. But for the rest of the Oklahoma St. team, this game showed the dangers of putting all your hopes and dreams in one basket. Marcus Smart came back to Oklahoma St. because he wasn’t satisfied with last year’s first round NCAA tournament exit. He was betting on a better outcome this year. But no one can go back to school and expect to settle unfinished business. Too much depends on injuries, match-ups, teammates, and referees.

You can’t go back to win a Big 12 title. You can’t go back to win a national title. You can’t even go back to win a game in the round of 64. You can only go back to be a better player and hope for an opportunity.

#6 North Carolina defeated #11 Providence

Like I was saying, no single player can do it all. Bryce Cotton scored a career high 36 points on Friday. He had 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and he seemingly did it all. He hit crunch time threes. He was fouled on crunch time three attempts. He got transition baskets. He attacked the rim in the half-court and was fouled. Cotton refused to spend a moment on the bench. But you can’t win a basketball game alone. And with North Carolina dominating the rebounding game (grabbing over half of its missed shots), Cotton’s amazing performance simply wasn’t enough.

#8 Memphis defeated #9 George Washington

For 5th year transfers, the long end of a career can be fascinating. Maurice Creek, who transferred from Indiana to George Washington, has nothing to regret. The once elite prospect (and often prolific scorer) spent his entire Indiana career injured. But at GW he finally got a chance to be the star. And even though his shot was off in the NCAA tournament (including an airball with one second left), at least he got to go down swinging.

I wonder how David Pellom feels. He played 27 minutes a game for George Washington last season. But he used a graduate school transfer to leave for Memphis. At Memphis, he has seen his playing time cut in half. He hasn’t played 20 minutes in a game since January. With the young Memphis frontcourt players emerging, his biggest role has been as a practice adversary. Yes, his current team got the last laugh on his old team. Memphis beat GW in the NCAA tournament. But if he had stuck around in the nation’s capital, would things have been different? Would it have been a more satisfying ending to his career?

Michael Dixon isn’t questioning his decision. The Missouri player who transferred to Memphis didn’t have a choice to continue his career at his old school. And in a two point game, Dixon provided the needed cushion with a clutch three. Dixon was also more than willing to go to the line to put the game away at the charity stripe. For these three 5th year transfers, the first NCAA tournament game could not have been more different.

#12 Stephen F Austin defeated #5 VCU

This feels like the worst mistake ever! Leading by 4 points, the only way VCU could blow the game against SFA was by fouling a SFA player in the act of shooting a three. The game was essentially over. But somehow VCU’s JeQuan Lewis got caught up in the heat of the moment and got too aggressive. SFA’s Desmond Haymon made a three pointer, Lewis tackled him, and the 4 point play sent the game into OT.

Kenny Smith was more generous in one of the halftime segments. He said these things happen in basketball games. He knew that labeling a college player as a “choker” is harsh and unfair. But I don’t see how Lewis can ever live this moment down.

Besides the horrible foul, perhaps we should just realize that when teams get on winning streaks, miraculous things seem to happen. When Syracuse was on a long winning streak, Tyler Ennis made the amazing buzzer beater at Pittsburgh. When you win every game, you start to believe you will win every game.

How else do you describe moments like in OT, when Trey Pinkney was about to turn it over, but he somehow miraculously rolled the ball to Jacob Parker who picked it up and nailed a shot before the shot clock expired? SFA’s golden horseshoe has not expired yet.

Finally, I must say that in a tournament full of upsets, almost none were completely out of nowhere. Many experts thought Harvard was a better team than Cincinnati. I knew Duke was a bad defensive team. But SFA’s win truly came out of left field. Even with the 28 game winning streak, this was a hugely under-sized team. And even without Melvin Johnson, VCU’s HAVOC defense was dominant in the second half. VCU built a double digit lead and seemingly put the game away. This comeback was truly what March Madness is all about.

#1 Virginia defeated #16 Coastal Carolina

#1 Arizona defeated #16 Weber St.

#1 Wichita St. defeated #16 Cal Poly

It still hasn’t happened. But wow, there sure is an exhilarating feeling when you flip over and see Coastal Carolina leading Virginia by 10 points in the first half. Meanwhile Arizona’s close win against Weber St. knocked them out of first place in the Pomeroy rankings for the first time since January 1st.

#3 Iowa St. defeated #14 North Carolina Central

According to Marv Albert, Emanuel “Poobie” Chapman is called this because he could not pronounce “Winnie the Pooh” when he was a kid. Steve Kerr is skeptical of Albert’s internet research. Yes, this game was a blowout.

The big story of the game was that Iowa St.'s Georges Niang broke his foot late in the game and will be out for the remainder of the tournament.

#8 Kentucky defeated #9 Kansas St.

Kansas St. made a late run in this game, but for the first time in a long-time, Kentucky’s defense looked like it might be national championship caliber. I also thought Greg Anthony had a nice comment at the end of the game. In the preseason, Kentucky thought they would be undefeated. Now on Sunday, they get to play a team that is undefeated. The hype for Wichita St. vs Kentucky is just beginning. This is going to be the most watched Round of 32 game in a long time.

#4 UCLA defeated #13 Tulsa

Remember in the preseason when everyone was writing about how UCLA didn’t have a clear answer at PG. Well, all Kyle Anderson has done is become an All-American candidate as an elite distributor. But as the team showed on Friday, even if Anderson is off (5 turnovers), UCLA still has plenty of other players who can distribute. Jordan Adams took over offensively at the start of the second half and really broke the game open. And over the course of the game Adams dished 4 assists. Meanwhile Bryce Alford had 4 assists of his own, and should have had a fifth on a beautiful no look pass to Tony Parker in the lane. But Parker missed the lay-up and cost Alford the dime. Regardless, UCLA’s willingness to share the ball stands in stark contrast to last year when Shabazz Muhammad had just 27 assists on the whole season. This is a less selfish team than last year’s squad, and that’s a good sign if this year’s team wants to go on a run.

Experience Is Not A Guarantee

The Shove

College basketball was filled with inspired performances this weekend. Michigan St.’s Adreian Payne hit a game-tying three in the final seconds only to watch Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson hit a game-winning jumper seconds later. Virginia was struggling down one on the road and went on a 22-1 closing run to beat Georgia Tech. Memphis closed with a 10-0 run to edge Gonzaga. Oregon was down 20 to Arizona St., went on an amazing second half run to come back, but still lost by 2. Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson got into a shooting contest with Missouri guards Jabari Brown, Earnest Brown, and Jordan Clarkson, and Ole Miss won thanks to Henderson’s eight threes and 29 points. Jabari Parker Brown went off for 29 points and 16 rebounds. And Iowa St.’s Melvin Ejim topped the weekend with a Big 12 record 48 points.

But despite these inspired performances, it sure feels like the only thing folks will be talking about at the water-cooler on Monday is Oklahoma St.’s Marcus Smart. Smart’s recent shooting slump (documented here by Rob Dauster) is hurting his draft stock, and his team’s poor play is hurting his reputation as a winner. But before this weekend, scouts still pegged him in the lottery due to his size at the PG slot and overall skill set.

Then Smart’s team fell to 4-6 in the Big 12, losing at Texas Tech on Saturday. And if the loss wasn’t painful enough, Smart’s reaction to his team’s struggles in a hostile environment was unacceptable. Smart fell out-of-bounds, got up, and shoved a fan in anger. He earned a technical foul and a three game suspension. Following his chair-kicking incident from a month earlier, Smart now has a big red character flag on his reputation.

I don’t want to spend forever analyzing Smart’s character, whether the suspension was long enough, or the cultural ramifications of a player going into the stands to respond to a fan. Instead I want to ask another question. How does this Oklahoma St.’s season rank in terms of epic disappointments? After all, Oklahoma St. returned a remarkable 89% of its minutes from last year. This was a team that was a co-favorite in the Big 12. And despite bringing basically everyone back, the team sits at 4-6 in the Big 12, the team’s margin-of-victory numbers are worse than last year, and the team’s defense has fallen from 15th nationally to 55th nationally. The Cowboys have given up over one point per possession in six straight games, and in that stretch the team has gone 1-5. But let’s not just stop with Oklahoma St. Let’s ask the bigger question.

How Rare is it For a Team to Bring Everyone Back and Play Worse?

-Harvard returned six players who were starters on either the 2011 or 2012 NCAA tournament team. The Crimson were supposed to dominate the Ivy League and challenge for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. But after losing to Yale this weekend, it isn’t even automatic that they will win the Ivy League. More importantly, Harvard now has some serious questions on offense. In mid-January, Harvard’s margin-of-victory numbers suggested they were a borderline Top 25 team. But after struggling to score in a damaging loss to Florida Atlantic, after a physical Brown defense slowed Harvard down on Friday night, and after Yale’s defense held Harvard down in a loss on Saturday, there are real questions about Harvard’s offensive attack. A team that was 70th and 73rd on offense the last two seasons, currently has the 124th best offense in the nation.

-Boise St. returned 89% of its minutes from a team that made the NCAA tournament last year with great three-point shooting and a lethal 4-guard attack. But after blowing late-game 10 point leads against UNLV and San Diego St., and losing a weekend game at Utah St., Boise St.’s sits at 5-6 in the MWC. And given the league’s poor non-conference showing, Boise St.’s hopes of an at large bid are basically over.

-Boston College returned 95% of its minutes from last year. After finishing 7-6 in their last 13 ACC games last year, and watching Olivier Hanlan emerge into an offensive force, BC seemed poised to make a step forward. Instead the defense has completely collapsed. As noted two weeks ago, Steve Donahue’s team has not adjusted well to the new foul rules. And despite Donahue’s history as a bad defensive coach, this is actually the worst defensive team of his career by a wide margin.

-North Dakota St. returned 95% of its minutes from a team that had the 78th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation last year. But with losses already to Denver and IPFW in conference play, it took a weekend victory against co-conference leader IPFW for NDSU to even own first place in the Summit league. The big problem is that the team’s defense has fallen off substantially this season. Ranked 59th in the nation last season, NDSU’s defense is now 232nd in the land. And given head coach Saul Phillips’ long-term history on defense, this year’s defensive collapse might not be a fluke.

-Elon returned 95% of its minutes from a team that won its Southern Conference division comfortably. Many pegged them as the favorite over Davidson this year, but their explosive offensive attack couldn’t score at all against Duke’s mediocre defense in December. And with Elon’s defense falling apart, the team sits a disappointing fourth in the league.

-Penn returned an amazing 100% of its minutes from last season, but remains an underwhelming 251st nationally in margin-of-victory, which is actually worse than last season. Despite a nice win over Columbia over the weekend, the long-term power numbers suggest Penn is long-shot to finish above .500 in the Ivy League, let alone win the conference. This was probably best exemplified by the teams 30 point loss to Harvard the previous weekend.

When you read a list like that, it is fair to ask whether this might be the most disappointing group of veteran teams college basketball has ever seen. Of course there are extenuating circumstances:

-Oklahoma St. lost Michael Cobbins to injury and there is no question that the team’s defensive collapse coincides with his injury. Kamari Murphy has fouled out or been in foul trouble in six straight games. And Travis Ford basically refused to play former Top 100 JUCO forward Gary Gaskins or the 7-foot Marek Soucek. Without adequate size in the paint, Oklahoma St. simply can’t keep quality teams from scoring in the paint.

-Boise St. hasn’t actually been playing terrible basketball. There numbers are actually very similar to last year. But the difference between winning close games in the fifth best league and losing close games in the tenth best league means everything for at-large consideration.

-North Dakota St.’s three point percentage on defense (40% against) and the free throw percentage on defense (76% against) are much worse than last year. Both of those are things that the defense has limited control over. So perhaps the epic collapse on defense is a little bit of a fluke.

Still, almost every team will face some adversity in a season. Shouldn’t these veteran squads be better equipped to overcome that? Is returning minutes no longer the strong predictor it used to be? To answer that question let’s go to the data. The next two tables shows the returning minutes for ever D1 team from 2004 to 2013 along the X-axis.

The first figure below graphs the change in adjusted offense from one season to the next based on returning minutes. As the fitted line shows, as a team returns more minutes, its offense is more likely to improve.

The second figure shows the change in adjusted defense. Again, the more minutes a team brings back, the bigger the improvement you should expect on defense. (Generally, you want the defensive rating to decrease, but I flipped the sign so it would be more easy to compare the offense and defense. The comparison shows that returning minutes have a bigger impact on a team’s offense than a team’s defense.)

Yet despite the general correlation, I want to emphasize that bringing everyone back does not guarantee anything. Look closely at the area I have emphasized in red in the lower-right hand corner of both graphs. From 2004-2013, a significant number of teams that returned over 80% of their minutes got worse on either offense or defense. While the experience of Oklahoma St., Harvard, Boston College, and others is unlikely, it is far from rare.

 

  

 

Talent vs Experience

The beauty of the NCAA tournament is often the clash between experience and talent. Will a plucky mid-major squad filled with experienced seniors be able to defeat a young power conference team? And we spend a lot of time nit-picking the youth of talented teams like Kansas and Kentucky. The above analysis shows that maybe we should spend some time nit-picking some of these experienced mid-major squads too.

But for a team like Oklahoma St., the struggles are particularly painful. The Cowboys not only had experience, they supposedly had talent. Marcus Smart was a lottery pick. Markel Brown has been playing All-Big 12 caliber basketball for much of the season. Phil Forte had solved the team’s three point shooting problems. LeBryan Nash has substantially improved his rebounding. The offense is better, and if the defense could have simply matched last year’s form, the Final Four was easily within reach. Even if this isn’t the first team to bring everyone back and play worse basketball, for Oklahoma St. fans, that is probably not much of a consolation.

Do Freshmen-Filled Teams Get Better In-Season?

The Oklahoma St. and Colorado Litmus Test

Oklahoma St. has emerged as a true national title contender this season. That the defense has always been strong has been no consideration. At one point in the first half against Colorado, Oklahoma St. forced a 10-second violation, and Colorado looked shocked that time had expired. Oklahoma St. has a sneaky way of putting you in bad positions with their lengthy defenders. And everyone knows Marcus Smart is one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation. He had a steal on Spencer Dinwiddie on a fast-break in the first half, and I still have no idea how he escaped with the ball.

But the biggest reason Oklahoma St. has become a national title contender is the team’s offensive improvement. They no longer settle for so many bad three point attempts. LeBryan Nash still causes Cowboy fans to rip their hair out on occasions (his missed dunk in the final minutes led to an outlet for Colorado that almost got the Buffaloes back in the game). But Nash really has stopped taking bad outside shots. A year ago Nash was 12 of 50 from three point range. This year he has attempted just two outside shots.

Sometimes the difference between being an elite team isn’t the shots you take, it is the shots you don’t take. And that is why I was actually most closely glued on Askia Booker in this game. The Colorado junior guard has had an ORtg of 96.5, 92.9, and 96.6 the last three seasons, because he simply takes way too many low percentage shots.

And Fran Fraschilla was on him in this game from the beginning. “Booker keeps both teams in the game.” “He’s like a punt returner that never signals for a fair catch. He’s going to make some big plays but he is also going to fumble inside his 10 on a number of occasions.” “Booker has the green light even for low percentage shots. The coaches have decided to let him play his game.”

Given the emphasis on stats in the modern era, I find this a bit baffling. While Colorado should be doing everything in the team’s power to clear space for Dinwiddie and Josh Scott, for Colorado to truly reach its goals, Booker needs to cut back on his shots. Of course, this was hardly the game for Fraschilla or me to pick on Booker. Other than an early airball, and a couple puzzling turnovers, Booker mostly played within the offense on this night.

But the announcers were also quick to point out a reason for Booker’s wild shot selection. Booker often needs to take bad shots because of Colorado’s lack of depth. Colorado is actually the 15th youngest team in D1. And while that makes me extremely excited for next season, a key question is whether teams with a lot of freshmen are particularly likely to show improvement during the season.

Do freshmen-filled teams get better in-season?

I’ve written it on countless occasions. Team X is extremely young, so they will be much better later in the season. But do the stats back that up? The next table attempts to answer that question.

The Y-axis lists the change in Pythagorean Winning Percentage between the early season (before January 1st) and later (after January 1st). The X-axis lists the percentage of minutes given to freshmen.

I only include major conference teams in the table. For reference, the teams on the far right side include St. John’s in 2012, Indiana in 2009, Boston College in 2012, and Texas in 2007.

As the table shows, teams that give a lot of minutes to freshmen are not more likely to improve in-season. If that was the case, we would see more data points above zero on the right hand side of the picture.

Instead the entire table is very symmetric. Teams that give many or few minutes to freshmen sometimes get worse and sometimes get better.

 

This may come as a surprise, but I don’t think it should. After all, things are still going to get harder for many freshmen. They are going to play true road games for the first time. If they are lucky, they will face the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, where even super freshmen like Marcus Smart failed last year. And most importantly, the scouting reports are only going to get tougher. All those freshmen that are busting onto the scene right now, are about to find out what life is like when teams take away their favorite move.

Now, before you get too pessimistic based on this table, I think this table also shows quite a bit of reason for optimism. While the far left hand side of the picture is a little tighter (teams with almost no freshmen typically are more predictable), the truth is that virtually any roster can get better.

I always like to emphasize that Kansas forward Cole Aldrich didn’t break out until the NCAA tournament. I like to emphasize that Duke center Brian Zoubek didn’t break out until late in his senior year. The reality is that everyone playing D1 basketball is at a developmental stage of his career. These are not veteran 28-year olds. Whoever your team is, whether they are young or old, the future can still be brighter.

In fact, this is why college basketball is so fun to watch. Whatever we think we know now, given the small sample sizes, and emphasis on home games early in the season, the most important part of the season is just about to begin.

(Finally, before you write off Kansas or Kentucky based on this table, the reality is that both those teams are not terrible right now. Sure, with three losses, neither of these teams qualifies for the best-of-all-time debate. But given the large number of road and neutral games these teams have played against Top 25 teams, none of their losses is truly inexcusable. Whatever faults we attribute to Kansas’ youth, there are plenty of teams that would be jealous of the Jayhawks problems.)

Matchups Matter

We still have no idea how good Ohio St. is this year. They have a few good wins (against Marquette, Maryland, and North Dakota St.), but each of those teams has been weaker than expected. And unlike the other teams in the Top 10, Ohio St. has not scheduled many elite teams.

And after Saturday’s escape against Notre Dame, I’m still not sure we have many answers. Some folks will look at the narrow, come-from-behind victory against Notre Dame as a sign that Ohio St. is over-rated. But I don’t quite buy that. If Marquette was the ideal opponent for Ohio St., Notre Dame might be the worst possible matchup for the Buckeyes. Under Mike Brey, the Fighting Irish have been an unabashed jump-shooting team. Over the last 10 years, no team in the country depends less on dribble penetration and getting the ball in the paint to score. (See the very low turnover and free throw rate numbers annually.) But Ohio St.’s biggest strength is their ability to deny dribble penetration.

Thus if anyone was going to score against Ohio St.’s defense, it was Notre Dame.  And at times in the game, we saw just that. Late in the game, Notre Dame was up five points with 8 seconds on the shot-clock. Rather than force the ball inside, the team found Jerian Grant for a step-back three pointer that gave Notre Dame an 8 point lead. That’s the kind of shot that no defense can stop, even if Ohio St.’s defense has been one of the best in the nation.

But Ohio St. finally realized in the final minute, that if Notre Dame wasn’t going to force the action, Ohio St. needed to. Ohio St. scored and forced two straight turnovers, and within seconds, the 8 point lead was down to two. Ohio St. never let up and finished the comeback.

Even if Ohio St. didn’t prove they were an elite team, when you win the games where the matchup isn’t favorable, that’s a good sign for the long-run.

Opening Weekend Thoughts

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Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

Over the past few days, Dan Hanner has presented his updated projection model, his season projections on ESPN Insider, Q&A's with Eamonn Brennon and John Templon, along with replying to questions on Twitter. Here are a few additional thoughts that didn't make the cut.

Welcome Back, Part 2

Returning minutes are sometimes deceiving. Thatís because a number of teams will welcome back players who missed all or nearly all of last season. Letís take a look at some of those players such as Andre Dawkins, Anthony Brown, Malcolm Brogdon and Drew Crawford.

Big 12 Basketball Early Projection

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Weaknesses of Title Contenders

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NCAA Power Poll For February

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A Super Saturday

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

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Why Every College Game Matters

Weíve seen Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play thousands of basketball games; at this point, we have a pretty good idea of what they are all about. So while the level of play in the NBA is much higher, you never know what you are going to get in the NCAA.

Four Seasons That Went South

Nothing in college basketball is guaranteed, as evidenced by LeBryan Nash, Cameron Clark, Doneal Mack and Malcolm Grant.

The Many Facets & Unpredictability Of March Madness

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

Understanding Breakout Players

Thomas Robinson, J'Covan Brown, Meyers Leonard, Jamaal Franklin and Trae Golden are amongst the Top-20 Breakout Players in college basketball.

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.

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 Calipariís focus on younger players may be the best way to get elite recruits, but it isnít the only way to build a winning program.

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