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Way Too Early Top 25 Projections

I am once again breaking out my lineup-based projection model to predict the 2014-15 season. A lot can still change. ESPN’s #2 Recruit Myles Turner has yet to make his college choice. There are a number of intriguing players available who have graduated and are eligible immediately. And there are also several Top 10 JUCO recruits who have yet to commit. Last year, I had Kansas as a borderline Top 25 squad in my first projection, and then they added Andrew Wiggins and Tarik Black and became an obvious Top 10 squad.

Somewhat unusually, I think we have a pretty good idea who is leaving in the draft this year. When a player’s decision is an open question, I list that in my discussion below. For the record, I’m projecting that Julius Randle, Will Cauley-Stein, James Young, and both Harrison twins leave Kentucky, but that everyone else returns. And I’m assuming that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams leave UCLA based on the CBS Sports notes that suggest they will leave.

One final technical note: The results I am presenting are based on the mean projection for each player. I am saving the simulation portion of the model for later this year. The idea of the simulation is to show what happens if players fall above or below expectations and show the best and worst case scenario for each team. But the real purpose of the simulation model is to evaluate each team’s depth. And right now a number of quality teams would look pretty bad based on limited depth. That will be corrected with the addition of a late signing, eligible transfer, or JUCO recruit. Because the bottom of each team’s roster is in such flux, I don’t think it makes sense to show the simulation results at this point in the year.

Pred Pyth = Predicted Pythagorean Winning Percentage, the winning percentage against an average D1 team on a neutral floor.

Pred Off = Predicted Offense, Points Scored per 100 Possessions

Pred Def = Predicted Defense, Points Allowed per 100 Possessions

2014 Off = 2013-14 Offense

2014 Def = 2013-14 Defense

RMin = Projected Returning Minutes

T100 = Projected Players on Roster who were once Top 100 recruits

Rnk

Team

Conf

Pred Pyth

Pred Off

Pred Def

2014 Off

2014 Def

RMin

T100

1

Arizona

P12

0.963

119.8

90.1

114.7

88.5

82%

8

2

Kansas

B12

0.952

120.0

92.5

116.8

96.3

68%

10

3

Duke

ACC

0.943

122.0

95.5

123.5

102.3

47%

10

4

Wisconsin

B10

0.934

121.9

96.7

120.8

97.6

82%

3

5

Florida

SEC

0.920

116.3

94.0

115.3

89.2

47%

7

6

Michigan

B10

0.919

121.8

98.6

124.1

102.1

73%

5

7

Kentucky

SEC

0.916

118.9

96.6

118.4

97.1

21%

7

8

N. Carolina

ACC

0.914

116.4

94.7

111.7

95.4

74%

10

9

Connecticut

AAC

0.910

113.8

93.1

112.5

92.5

55%

6

10

Virginia

ACC

0.909

112.7

92.3

114.4

90.1

72%

4

11

Villanova

BE

0.909

116.6

95.5

113.8

94.4

78%

7

12

Wichita St.

MVC

0.908

116.9

95.8

118.1

93.3

64%

0

13

VCU

A10

0.907

109.6

89.9

107.9

90.2

70%

4

14

Louisville

ACC

0.899

113.6

93.9

116.6

90.0

41%

8

15

Syracuse

ACC

0.899

113.2

93.6

112.3

93.6

41%

7

16

Ohio St.

B10

0.898

113.4

93.9

106.5

89.6

54%

8

17

SMU

AAC

0.895

113.3

94.1

110.1

94.7

75%

3

18

Colorado

P12

0.878

114.2

96.2

105.1

96.9

99%

4

19

Baylor

B12

0.877

117.6

99.2

117.8

100.0

61%

4

20

Texas

B12

0.876

115.8

97.7

111.0

98.4

100%

6

21

Maryland

B10

0.873

112.1

94.8

107.6

95.5

99%

9

22

Iowa

B10

0.873

118.9

100.6

119.8

102.7

69%

2

23

UCLA

P12

0.872

114.0

96.5

117.0

97.3

35%

6

24

Gonzaga

WCC

0.872

116.3

98.4

111.4

94.4

64%

4

25

Utah

P12

0.861

112.2

95.8

108.7

96.5

94%

2

I see three teams that missed the NCAA tournament jumping into the Top 25:

SMU: The Mustangs had the 30th best margin-of-victory in the nation, and Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy are back. The team also adds elite PG recruit Emmanuel Mudiay.

Maryland: The Terrapins finished with the 41st best margin-of-victory in the nation in 2014. With virtually everyone on the roster back, and four four-star prospects joining the roster, there are no more excuses for losses. If Mark Turgeon cannot turn Maryland into a winner now, he is not going to keep his job.

Utah: The Utes had the 42nd best margin-of-victory in the nation last year and they bring basically everyone back. By simply upgrading the non-conference schedule, the Utes will be in the NCAA tournament hunt.

Focusing on the rest of the Top 25:

Arizona: Aaron Gordon was the least efficient offensive player in Arizona’s primary rotation, but he was also the heart of Arizona's defense. Thus as Arizona seeks to replace Aaron Gordon with elite recruit Stanley Johnson, I project that as helping the offense but hurting the defense. But the real reason I expect a big jump in Arizona's offense is the return of Brandon Ashley. Arizona's offense was four points better with Ashley in the lineup. If you don't like Arizona near the top of the rankings, you must think Nick Johnson is going to declare for the draft (which seems like a mistake) or that the defense is going to fall apart without Gordon. Given the athleticism Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed this year, I think Arizona's defense will still be championship caliber.

Kansas: Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins should enjoy life in the NBA next year, but don't cry for Bill Self. With elite recruits Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre joining fold, he has already found replacements. Also, don’t forget about Arkansas transfer and former elite recruit Hunter Mickelson who is joining the team. Finally, Kansas gave a lot of minutes to freshmen besides Embiid or Wiggins, and you can expect a big sophomore leap for many of those players, including Wayne Selden.

Duke: Even without Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke has a loaded recruiting class, and I think a lot of people will be tempted to slot them #1 overall. I agree that the offense will be great and project Duke's offense as the best in the nation. The overall ranking depends on how high you project Duke's defense relative to last year. Jahlil Okafor and a more mature Marshall Plumlee will help, but Mike Krzyzewski's defensive prowess has faded in recent years. Can he really depend on a freshman to anchor the defense when the scouting reports say Okafor is good but not great on D?

Wisconsin: Only Ben Brust departs from a Badger team that was one shot away from the national title game.

Florida: The Gators front-court is graduating and the defense will take a hit. But I'm projecting Chris Walker to return, and along with Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Michael Frazier the Gators should still have a dominant lineup. Also, don't overlook the importance of a healthy Eli Carter and elite recruit Devin Robinson.

Michigan: I'm assuming Nik Stauskas leaves and Mitch McGary comes back. If both come back, Michigan will have a real chance at a national title.

Kentucky: James Young got a huge steal late in the national semifinal against Wisconsin. But he had only 29 steals on the full season before that. And despite NBA size, Young and the Harrison Twins were not elite defensive players on the full season. Having a player with the quickness of elite recruit Tyler Ulis will certainly help the perimeter defense next season, and even without Will Cauley-Stein, Kentucky should still have enough elite athletes to best this year's defensive effort. Offensively, Kentucky has reached another level in the NCAA tournament, and I don't expect next year's club to match that. But with a few more non-freshmen on the team, they might be able to avoid some of the mid-season struggles, and I see a slightly better offense on the whole year.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels found a rotation late in the year that really worked. Replacing James McAdoo should be doable with incoming elite wing Justin Jackson, who lit up the McDonald’s All-American game, and returning big man Brice Johnson. The real question is perimeter depth, but the team will have three elite passing PGs. And as Connecticut and Florida showed this year, that's a formula that can work.

Connecticut: Replacing Shabazz Napier's defense might be harder than replacing his offense. Napier was an elite defensive rebounder for a guard, and he was fantastic at getting steals. The combination of NC State transfer Rodney Purvis and elite recruit Leonard Hamilton should fill in for the loss of Napier's offense, especially with Ryan Boatright easily taking over the PG role.

Virginia: A year ago I would have said Virginia would fall off a cliff when Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell graduated. But with the emergence of Malcolm Brogdon and a strong core back, Virginia should have another extremely strong season.

Villanova: Every critical player but James Bell should be back from a team that dominated the Big East.

Wichita St.: I feel like my model is under-valuing the contributions of Cleanthonly Early. But Wichita St. has four super-efficient rotation players returning (Fred Van Vleet, Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton, and Ron Baker).  And while they'll need to pick up some frontcourt size from the JUCO ranks again, that plan has worked well in recent years. Overall, Gregg Marshall is on such a role developing less heralded players, there is no reason to expect that to stop next season.

VCU: PG Briante Weber, a healthy three point shooter Melvin Johnson, and leader Treveon Graham will be back. But the best news is that Shaka Smart has finally broken into the elite recruiting game with three Top 100 freshmen coming in this year. That formula doesn't always work. Sometimes managing elite prospects is more difficult than it sounds. But on paper, this is the most athletic team Shaka Smart has ever assembled.

Louisville: Losing Russ Smith will be devastating to the offense, but you cannot under-state Smith's impact on defense too. Right now the team has enough elite recruits and returning players that the perimeter offense will be solid. But most of the young forwards are a year away from dominating at the D1 level. Thus Montrezl Harrell's NBA decision might be the most critical of any player in the country. If Harrell comes back, Louisville is a real Final Four threat. Here I project Louisville without Harrell in the lineup. Either way, I think Louisville is a team that will benefit from the simulation model when I break that out later this summer, as they have significant quality depth.

Syracuse: Based on where he is showing up in mock drafts, I'm assuming Jerami Grant declares for the draft. Even without Grant, CJ Fair, and Tyler Ennis, Syracuse still has talent. Rakeem Christmas became a better defender last year. (Jim Boeheim no longer had to give him the hook for Baye Keita nearly as often.) Chris McCullough is a quality big man recruit. And DaJuan Coleman still has the recruiting profile to say he will be a dominant player if he ever stays healthy. Michael Gbinije is a natural wing. Trevor Cooney slumped at times, but he can be a dominant shooter. And thus you can see why Jim Boeheim is so frustrated that Tyler Ennis declared for the draft. For Syracuse to stay at an elite level, they need an elite PG. Kaleb Joseph had a lower recruiting rank than Ennis, and the reality is that freshmen PGs are a big risk.

Ohio St.: Ohio St. loses the three most important offensive players from a team that was not that great offensively last season. They are easy to write off. But they have a veteran PG in Shannon Scott, they gained a huge boost with the addition of Temple transfer Anthony Lee who is eligible immediately. They add three Top 30 recruits who should boost the offense. And they get back Kam Williams, a great SG prospect who was injured and forced to red-shirt this year. Ohio St. isn't going to be the same elite defensive team, but the talent is there for the offense to make a meaningful jump.

Colorado: Colorado finished the year with the 77th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation. Thus they make the biggest jump of anyone in my projections. There are two key reasons. First, they gave a ton of minutes to freshmen, who should take a big jump forward. Second, PG Spencer Dinwiddie should return from his injury and substantially improve the team’s offensive execution.

Baylor: Kenny Chery was a brilliant PG last year. Ish Wainwright and Allerik Freeman (an injury redshirt) won't match Bradly Heslip's shooting, but the former elite recruits should improve on his defense. Royce O'Neale is a dominant wing who should take on a larger role. Rico Gathers is a dominant rebounder. And if Austin comes back, Baylor is clearly a Top 25 team. Isaiah Austin says he hasn't made up his mind about going pro. And given that he is projected as a 2nd round pick in most mock drafts, I’m projecting that he returns here.

Texas: The Longhorns made the Round of 32 and everyone is back. They should be in everyone's Top 25.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lose three seniors, but given how many players the team used last year, those losses are not devastating. The addition of elite JUCO PG Trey Dickerson should also help the team to find the right scorers in more situations. But the real reason this team fell apart down the stretch was because the defense collapsed. Head coach Fran McCaffery has had mixed success on defense in his career. He's had some good defensive teams and some bad ones. With just a little defensive improvement, Iowa should be back in the Top 25.

UCLA: Bryce Alford, Norman Powell, and a now-eligible Isaac Hamilton will man the perimeter. Meanwhile elite recruits Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh will join Tony Parker in the paint. That's a pretty good core, but the lack of depth is a concern. On paper, UCLA is not that much better than Stanford, but the model has more faith in head coach Steve Alford than Johnny Dawkins over the long grind of the regular season.

Gonzaga: Transfer big man Kyle Witjer was a very good shooter at Kentucky, but his defense was suspect.

And a few notes on teams that surprised me by missing the cut:

Iowa St: If Bryce Dejean-Jones makes the jump from UNLV, that should bump the Cyclones into the Top 25. I’m making projections based on current commitments, but given Fred Hoiberg’s track record in closing the deal with transfers, I don’t have a problem with anyone assuming he will get that commitment. And I don’t have a problem with anyone putting Iowa St. in their Top 25 right now.

Oregon:  Super-scorer Joseph Young, Dominic Artis, elite PG recruit JaQuan Lyle,  elite transfer recruit Brandon Austin (eligible in December), Elgin Cook (who broke out against BYU in the tournament), elite recruit Jordan Bell (a late qualifier and red-shirt), and Top 10 JUCO forward Michael Chandler are all reasons to love this team. But I think Oregon had more talent last year, and they still finished 29th nationally. Right now this team has limited depth in the paint, but with one more transfer addition in the front-court, they can easily jump into the Top 25.

San Diego St: It cannot be over-stated how vital Xavier Thames was to the Aztecs offense and how important Josh Davis' rebounding was to the team's defense. San Diego St. has a great recruiting class filled with players who should be stars in 2016. And Angelo Chol is a transfer who could put the team over the top. But without Thames and Davis, the team falls just outside the Top 25.

Stanford: I really feel like Stanford should be in the Top 25. With Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic, and three elite recruits, this is a team that can build on the Sweet Sixteen run. But even with the Sweet Sixteen run, Stanford's margin-of-victory on the season was only 36th nationally. And that continued a trend where Johnny Dawkins has failed to develop teams that perform on a per possession basis. Dawkins saved his job this year by making the tournament, but the long-run stats say he hasn't been great at developing players. Perhaps he will prove the model wrong by turning Reid Travis into a star this year, but right now the model isn’t convinced.

Dayton: The Flyers will show up in many people's Top 25 rankings because they played a deep lineup and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. But they lose their two most important offensive players (Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford), and don't have anyone coming in to replace them. For a team that finished 38th nationally in margin-of-victory, that isn't the formula to move up into the Top 25. But if you are looking for a reason these projections are wrong, consider that Dayton played much better basketball after February 1st.

And now a note on a few other teams that might spend some time in the Top 25 next year:

Michigan St.: The Spartans lose three critical offensive players in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling and they don’t have anyone coming in who projects to make an immediate impact. The return of key role players like Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine will keep them near the edges of the Top 25, but the Spartans take a big step back this year.

Pittsburgh: The return of Durand Johnson from injury should help offset the loss of two key seniors.

Bottom Line: Even though Michigan St. and Pittsburgh are not in my top 25, never bet against Tom Izzo and Jamie Dixon. These teams will still be very dangerous.

Georgetown, Seton Hall, UNLV: Great recruiting classes, but each team needs to improve in a number of areas to be a Top 25 team.

LSU: Another team with elite talent, that isn’t quite there yet.

Memphis: The Tigers have enough elite talent to finish in the Top 25. But they had Top 25 talent last season, and they finished with the 37th best margin-of-victory numbers. Realistically, with zero seniors in 2014-15, Memphis projects to peak in 2015-16.

Tennessee:  The Volunteers lose a ton of production, but if Jarnell Stokes comes back, they will be in the hunt.

Illinois: Jon Groce’s team finished with the 49th best margin-of-victory in the nation last year, and the team adds three quality transfers, plus incoming Top 100 recruit Leron Black in the paint. They still don’t have many star scorers besides Rayvonte Rice, but given the upgrade at PG and PF, Illinois is intriguing.

Nebraska: Tim Miles is very close and brings almost everyone back. But considering that Nebraska still has zero Top 100 recruits, if Tim Miles can get the team to jump from 44th to 30th nationally, that would still be a huge accomplishment.

Cincinnati: The offense was bad with Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson in the fold. They deserve respect as the defending American Conference champs, but it is hard to see this team defending that title.

Roy Hibbert On Education, Common Sense As Pro Athlete

Roy Hibbert is one of the more entertaining players in the NBA and has become a must-follow on Twitter. He uses social media to hold court on a variety of topics, including the benefit of long arms when taking a selfie, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Playstation 4. 

He is also regarded as one of the most thoughtful and engaging players in the league, which is why RealGM recently spoke with him about the importance of education and the use of common sense as a professional athlete.

Hibbert, who was born in Queens, spent his teenage years at Georgetown Preparatory School in Maryland before earning his degree in government studies at Georgetown. While he eventually pulled his name from consideration and returned for a fourth year, Hibbert briefly flirted with leaving school early for the 2007 NBA Draft.

“Once I decided to go [back to school] after I put my name in the draft following my junior year, I realized I wouldn’t have finished if I left school. It was too hard,” Hibbert told RealGM. "I decided to stay and I got my degree, but I know there are plenty of guys who go to school for four years and still don’t get their degree.”

An only child, Hibbert was taught the importance of education by his parents, immigrants from Jamaica and Nigeria. He led the Hoyas to the Final Four in 2007, sending his name soaring up draft boards in the process. Still, he had things he wanted to on the court and in the classroom.

"I said to myself, 'Do I really want to go in the draft and sit on the bench?" Hibbert explained at the time of his decision. "My heart was [in Georgetown]. ... I feel like I have unfinished business here."

Seven years later, the 7-foot-2 center admitted that a discussion was had about the possibility of leaving school prematurely.

"Getting an education was important, but once I got to the point where I could go to the NBA, it was a foregone conclusion that when I was ready to leave, I would and staying all four years would go out the window," Hibbert said.

The extra seasoning Hibbert received as an athlete and person was vital to his eventual success. Then a plodding big man, he has transformed himself into a two-time All-Star with Defensive Player of the Year merits through hard work and patience.

The 27-year-old visited a third grade class in Indianapolis earlier this year as part of the NBA’s Dream Big campaign and preached about setting lofty goals, handing down the values that were instilled in him.

Each year the NBA sends it’s newcomers to the Rookie Transition Program, which was instituted in 1986 as a way of helping young men adjust to all that changes when you become an NBA player.

This past August, rookies spent three days in New Jersey learning how to manage their finances, handle the media and conduct themselves on and off the court. To some, the exercise is eye opening. To others, it serves as reinforcement.

"It’s usually common sense, but I came into the league at 21,” Hibbert said of navigating the transition from amateur to professional. "I had some experience as opposed to 18, 19-year old guys. Being at Georgetown helped me prepare for the next step. They kept me out of trouble and the NBA does a good job of helping you with that, but it should be common sense."

Common sense or not, a number of players have gone form rags to riches and back to rags following their playing careers. Allen Iverson, who was honored by the Philadelphia 76ers last weekend and also went to Georgetown, earned more than $154 million as a player but has long been bleeding money.

"They do way more than is needed, to tell you the truth," Hibbert said when asked if the NBA does enough to guide players as they enter the league.

Hibbert monitors and plans his finances because he "doesn’t want to be broke when I’m done playing.”

Not every player prioritizes as Hibbert does, though, something he doesn’t understand but also doesn't bother him.

“That's their own business. If they don’t want to keep tabs on it and plan, that’s on them. It doesn’t bother me."

Opening Weekend Thoughts

Georgetown’s New Big Man

At a neutral site military base, when the crowd does not have a rooting interest, it is pretty difficult for a player on the losing team to stand out. But not only did Joshua Smith stand out for Georgetown, when he finally fouled out, he drew a standing ovation.

Joshua (don’t call him Josh) Smith did a little bit of everything in his Hoyas debut. He backed defenders down and finished in the lane. He fouled two Oregon centers out of the game. He showed great vision, passing and hitting cutters for easy baskets. He ate up space, blocking off defenders to give his guards wide-open lanes to the basket. And it became clear that no one watching Georgetown this season is going to be able to talk about anything other Georgetown’s new 350 pound center.

But as NBC’s Rob Dauster was quick to point out on Twitter, Joshua Smith had zero defensive rebounds in the loss. And the Hoya’s defense, not its offense, was the reason Georgetown lost the game. On Saturday, I sat down and watched the full game tape to see if Smith really was such a defensive liability. And the game film confirms that conclusion.

The big problem wasn’t Smith’s court awareness. I only caught two possessions where Smith seemed to be unaware of the ball and out of position. (Most notably this happened on the second possession of the game.) And Smith was mostly able to adjust to take away penetration. He even drew a key charge in the second half.

But the big problem is that Smith’s poor defensive rebounding wasn’t random chance. I counted at least four possessions during the game where the rebound careened into Smith’s zone and he didn’t even make an effort to jump for the ball. All four possessions came while the Hoyas were playing zone defense. I really got the sense that Smith was conserving energy by not jumping. And if you don’t jump, even a 6’10” player can seem small on the court.

Smith looked better as a defender when Georgetown was playing man-to-man defense. That is because when Smith boxes a player out, that player truly has no shot at the rebound. But you cannot win every rebound battle by just boxing out. Smith’s style of play means players like Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins have to be beasts on the boards. And neither one of those players had elite defensive rebounding rates last season. This is where Georgetown really misses Greg Whittington’s size and rebounding from a small forward role. But assuming Whittington doesn’t come back, John Thompson will have to work hard to find the right defensive lineup to balance out the Hoya’s new dominant big man.

Oregon’s Transfers

As fascinated as I was to see Smith, I was just as interested to see Oregon’s transfers in action. Joseph Young was clearly the star. I knew he could knock down wide open threes. But Young looked extremely comfortable knocking down two point jumpers in traffic as well. Most importantly, if there were any concerns that Young was just a spot-up shooter, his hustle on the court was apparent. At one point in the second half, he dove for the ball on the sideline and did a complete flip onto his back on the scorer’s table. That’s the kind of hustle that Dana Altman will love to see this year.

Mike Moser’s debut was a little more disappointing. I thought he settled for far too many jump shots. Certainly Georgetown’s defense had something to do with that, but I’m not a big believer that Ben Carter is going to come back in a month and own the inside. Carter was far too passive last season. And Waverly Austin just isn’t an offensive force. Austin’s numbers last year were poor, and he even had his shot blocked by the 6’5” Jabril Trawick in the second half. As big a win as this was for Oregon, for the Ducks to truly reach their goals, they need Moser to spend less time on the perimeter.

The biggest pleasant surprise was actually the play of transfer Jason Calliste. The former Detroit guard is getting a big chance to prove himself with Dominic Artis suspended, and he looked sharp. His understanding of floor spacing and ability to get to the free throw line really kept Oregon ahead in the game when Georgetown seemed to be taking control.

I Hate Suspensions

Oregon St. lost at home to Coppin St., but the Beavers were playing without two of their three best players in Eric Moreland and Devon Collier. Purdue won by just one point against Northern Kentucky, but the Boilermakers were playing without star center AJ Hammons.  Top 10 ranked Florida won by only eight against North Florida. But the Gator roster has been so depleted by eligibility and suspension issues that walk-on Jacob Kurtz played 26 minutes. Finally, Syracuse trailed Cornell by 6 at halftime, but Syracuse’s Jerami Grant did not play.

The most frustrating part of these early season suspensions is that they can wreck a team’s computer numbers. Even if the selection committee may be aware of what happens, Oregon St.’s RPI is going to be permanently damaged by that kind of loss. And that can hurt everyone else in the Pac-12.

Worse yet, we often don’t even know what the suspensions are about. I loved the TV commentary in the Syracuse game. “We spoke to Jim Boeheim about why Jerami Grant isn’t playing. He said ‘Grant isn’t injured, so you figure it out.’”

(Speaking of Syracuse, give credit to Trevor Cooney for making 7 of 8 threes in the opener. Cooney looked like he added a lot of muscle this off-season.)

Harvard Watch Week 1

Harvard may not be in the national title hunt, but the storyline of an Ivy League team on the edge of the Top 25 is too good to pass up. I hope to track Harvard’s progress throughout the season.

Harvard narrowly beat Holy Cross in its opener. I thought Harvard used a small lineup too much, left its best defender Steve Moundou-Missi on the bench far too long, and Holy Cross’s Dave Dudzinski displayed some outstanding outside shooting which made Harvard’s defense looked fairly pedestrian. Meanwhile reserve forward Jonah Travis carried Harvard with a career high 20 points and 10 boards thanks to some beautiful twisting moves around the basket.

But the real interest in game 1 wasn't the outcome, it was the debuts. Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey missed all of last season due to off-court issues, and I was curious whether they could pick up where they left off.  Kyle Casey announced his return emphatically with a dunk on Harvard’s opening possession. But then he was very quiet and eventually fouled out with 6:30 left in the second half.

Curry’s return was more nuanced. Curry was the primary ball-handler for Harvard two years ago, but Siyani Chambers broke out as a dominant PG last season and Wesley Saunders emerged as a capable creator as well. Thus there were real questions about how Curry would fit into the lineup.

For much of the game, I thought Curry looked a little rusty. He struggled to beat his man off the dribble, and Malcom Miller blocked the ball back in his face when he tried to attack the basket in transition. But Curry hit a buzzer-beating three before half-time. And down the stretch in the second half, Harvard’s trio started to build some beautiful rhythm with one another.

On one possession near the 7:30 mark of the second half, Saunders took the ball into the paint, drew the double team and kicked it out to Chambers. Chambers faked the drive and reversed to Curry. Then Curry drove the lane and kicked it back to Chambers for a wide-open three from the top of the key. Chambers missed the shot, but with three creators attacking, Harvard showed how tough this team will be to defend this season.

Classic Bo Ryan

I love watching debuts. Orlando Sanchez has been waiting forever  to be eligible at St. John’s and the 24 year old started his career by making his first three. Meanwhile Josh Gasser returned from his season long injury and knocked down his first three as well.

But one play in the second half of Wisconsin’s win over St. John’s pretty much sums up Wisconsin basketball. The play started with combo guard Josh Gasser posting up his guard defender. Then, when the defense collapsed around Gasser, he kicked the ball out to red-shirt forward Duje Dukan who knocked down the three. Guards playing inside and 21-year old redshirts breaking out after years of practice - that pretty much sums up Bo Ryan basketball. Dukan had 15 points in the win.

Connecticut Big Men

A lot of people are picking Connecticut to have a great season because the Huskies bring back 88% of their minutes. Meanwhile Maryland has no scholarship seniors on the roster. Thus it would be easy to write off Connecticut’s close win as a bad sign. If Connecticut isn’t better than Maryland now, will they really be the better team in March?

But that’s the wrong narrative. Even though Connecticut is a veteran team, the Huskies are still a team that is experimenting in the frontcourt. And Connecticut fans saw a couple of sequences that should have them excited. First, rising sophomore Phillip Nolan got the start and he looked explosive early with a couple of key offensive rebounds. Then seven foot freshman center Amida Brimah took over the game defensively with some huge blocks at the end of the first half. While both players picked up far too many fouls, their athleticism was tantalizing. Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels made some shots, but if Connecticut is truly going to reach that next level, they have to hope that Nolan or Brimah can develop over the course of the season.

Bullets

-Maryland fans may be cursing the fact that Dez Wells settled for a tough jumper at the end of regulation in the 1 point loss to Connecticut. But perhaps Maryland fans can take solace in this. Former PG Pe’Shon Howard was 1 of 7 in his debut for USC.

-One of my biggest frustrations with Oklahoma St. has been the fact that LeBryan Nash has spent far too much time floating on the perimeter, trying to showcase that he can play a wing role in the NBA. And while it was only one game, I was extremely pleased to see that Nash grabbed 10 rebounds in 27 minutes of play on Friday. Nash didn’t have double-digits in rebounds in a single game last year.

-Duke’s Marshall Plumlee played just five minutes, so it seems that smaller lineups are a certainty for the Blue Devils this season. Davidson wasn’t really able to expose that, but other teams might. But if Duke’s perimeter oriented big men can play this well, the team may still roll over teams. The Blue Devils 82% eFG% in the opening game (including 13 of 21 threes was just ridiculous.)

-I didn’t think I could have any more respect for Nebraska head coach Tim Miles, but then I heard this. Nebraska held Florida Gulf Cost to zero first half fast-break points in the win.

-Rutgers fans have been waiting a long time for Kadeem Jack to finally play like he did against Florida A&M scoring 30 points and grabbing 12 boards.

-I didn’t expect much from Minnesota’s newest transfer Joey King because he wasn’t even given a scholarship. But he made his first three and scored 20 points in his Gopher debut.

Boston College Needs More Athletes

5’9” UMass PG Chaz Williams is one of the quickest players in the country and an amazing driver and distributor. And when he is shooting well from the outside (as he did on Sunday when he went 5 of 5 from three point range), he is simply un-guardable. Williams led UMass to a win against Boston College on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the speedy 6’1” Bryce Cotton showed tremendous heart, scoring 28 points in Providence’s OT win over Boston College on Friday.

It is clear Boston College is the best 0-2 team in country. They will make some noise in the ACC this season thanks to Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson. But these games do expose the weakness of Steve Donahue’s plan. Donahue isn’t recruiting true athletic players and hopes to rely on execution. But when you cannot keep speedy guards out of the lane and when you cannot compete on the boards because you don’t have the athletes, Boston College’s ceiling is limited.

Were These Upsets?

Kansas St. seemingly couldn’t grab a defensive rebound down the stretch and Northern Colorado pulled off the surprise win. But it is worth noting that Kansas St. has zero Top 100 recruits and zero JUCO Top 100 recruits on its roster right now. Bruce Weber did get his team to play defense (holding Northern Colorado to 89 points per 100 possessions), and that should keep Kansas St. competitive in Big 12 play. But on a roster without any high potential offensive players, this might not be the only ugly game Kansas St. plays this year.

Virginia Tech falling to USC Upstate hardly qualifies as a surprise given how much the Hokies struggled last year.

Finally, given that Miami FL lost 6 of its top 7 players from last year’s squad, and did not put together an elite recruiting class, I think we all knew Miami was going to fall at some point. St. Francis Brooklyn was glad to be the first team to pull off the feat.

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.

Big East Basketball Early Projection

Whether the Big East is a strong conference or a weak conference depends somewhat on the question. While the top of the league lacks national title contenders, the league has more depth than most of the other elite leagues.

2013-2014 Preseason Top 25 Part 2

A lineup-based statistical projection of the 2013-2014 season.

Weaknesses of Title Contenders

In this edition, we take the teams in the Top 16 of the Pomeroy Rankings and figure out how often they look beatable on the basketball court.

Injury Splits, Part 2

On what Georgetown, Northwestern, Providence, Memphis, UNLV, North Carolina have done to compensate for playing without vital members of their team.

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 2

The Legends Classic might be the most highly anticipated early season tournament because of the potential finals matchup between Indiana and UCLA. We also look at the CBE Classic, Maui Invitational, Cancun Challenge, Great Alaska Shootout, Battle 4 Atlantis and the Old Spice Classic.

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.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 1: The Big East Tip-Off

How much the Big East Tournament means to Jim Calhoun, plus game-by-game commentaries of the first round action from Madison Square Garden.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead To Tournament Week

Examining the final regular season weekend of the Big Ten, ACC and SEC, along with everything you really need to know to enjoy Tournament Week.

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.

Monroe Doesn’t Feel Snubbed, Confident There’s Room For Improvement

Greg Monroe is the latest in a long line of Hoya bigs to succeed in the NBA, following Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Roy Hibbert.

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.

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.

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