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Evaluating Recent Coaching Hires And The Meaning Of Coin Flips

How a Failed Inbounds Play Can Change Everything

In today’s column, I look at which recent coaching hires have been able to improve their team’s performance. But I want to point out that getting better on the court isn’t everything. Tom Crean is a poster-child for efficiency margin improvements. From 2009 to 2013, he improved Indiana’s margin-of-victory numbers every year. Last year he brought Indiana its first outright Big Ten Title in 20 years, and he did it in a year in which the Big Ten was considered to be the toughest conference in the nation. That was also good enough for Indiana’s first 1-seed in the NCAA tournament in 20 years. And while the Hoosiers lost in the Sweet Sixteen, anything can happen in a one-game elimination format. Meanwhile, Crean has upgraded Indiana’s recruiting, and that means the team should never again hit rock-bottom like it did when he first took over.

But Indiana lost virtually all its scoring from last season. And youth, combined with the team’s lack of outside shooters, has been devastating to this year’s offense. Future NBA first round pick Noah Vonleh is a great team player, but with opponents sagging off so many Indiana shooters, the Hoosiers often can’t even get Vonleh a touch in the paint.

(Vonleh is also total team player who doesn’t force shots. My favorite statistic is that Vonleh is 13 of 24 from three-point range right now. While he has shown he can make wide open threes, he refuses to become Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and just jack up perimeter shots to get his points. Vonleh continues to run the team’s offense and hope it will produce points.)

This year the Hoosiers got hot enough to beat Wisconsin and Michigan at home, but they’ve also lost to each of the six worst teams in the Big Ten. And suddenly, within the last week, Indiana fans have begun to turn on Tom Crean. The message boards are lighting up with fans vehemently expressing their frustration.

This isn’t about a fanbase with unrealistic expectations. Objectively, given the Hoosier’s scoring difficulties and the team’s incredible youth, even ravenous Indiana fans could forgive the losses and look forward to next year. This is a fanbase that once sold out the arena and channeled its positive energy for a 6-25 team. This is a fanbase that in a recent season rushed the court after beating a Minnesota team that hadn’t had a winning record in the Big Ten since 2005. Hoosiers faithful have shown they will support every team, as long as they believe in the plan.

But that’s the thing about evaluating coaches. It doesn’t just come down to wins and losses. It doesn’t always come down to per-possession performance. It often comes down to selling the fans that the team has a plan that works.

John Calipari’s focus on one-and-done athletes isn’t perfect. It often results in young teams like the one he has this year. But when you listen to him on College Gameday, explaining how a school needs elite athletes to be in the hunt for a national title every year, most Kentucky faithful are willing to buy what he is selling. Where Billy Gillispie couldn’t sell a bottle of water to a thirsty man in the desert, John Calipari has 1.25 million twitter followers. The Gameday crew speculated that this is more than every other D1 head coach combined.

And at Indiana, Tom Crean has been the master salesman. But right now Indiana fans are starting to doubt the plan. Last year in the NCAA tournament, Indiana didn’t just lose to Syracuse, they looked like they had no idea how to attack a zone defense. Then on Wednesday, Indiana failed on multiple occasions to inbound the ball, blew an 11 point lead with under 3 minutes left in the game, and lost at home to Penn St. Finally, state-rival Purdue, a team with its own issues with young players and inconsistent offense, absolutely crushed the Hoosiers on Saturday. Fans can forgive losses. But when they start to believe their team is less prepared than the opposition, the coach is officially on the hot seat.

Logically, one setback season shouldn’t mean that Tom Crean is a bad coach. But that’s why a failed inbounds play and a blown home lead can be so devastating. The attitude of the fans matters. The opinion that Tom Crean’s players are unprepared matters. It filters down to recruiting. It filters down to donations. And in the end, Tom Crean is at a crossroads. With four Top 20 teams left on the schedule, the season could spiral out of control. Or maybe, just maybe, Tom Crean will get enough out of his players, to remind Indiana fans that his blueprint works.

Efficiency Margins for Recent Hires

Each table below shows how a team’s efficiency margin (opponent adjusted offense minus defense) has changed between the previous head coaches and the current head coach.

First Year Coaches

Former Coach

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

New Coach

2014

Texas Tech

Pat Knight/Billy Gillispie/Chris Walker

8

10

4

-7

-6

Tubby Smith

10

UCLA

Ben Howland

22

4

12

11

13

Steve Alford

21

Northwestern

Bill Carmody

11

8

13

10

3

Chris Collins

4

Minnesota

Tubby Smith

14

15

11

12

17

Richard Pitino

15

USC

Tim Floyd/Kevin O'Neill/Bob Cantu

17

8

11

-7

5

Andy Enfield

2

New Mexico

Steve Alford

14

13

14

17

17

Craig Neal

13

Rutgers

Fred Hill/Mike Rice

0

1

9

5

5

Eddie Jordan

-2

Butler

Brad Stevens

14

21

15

5

14

B. Miller

5

Quiz question: In 2013-14, which first year coach on a high profile team has caused the biggest improvement in margin-of-victory? The answer is Tubby Smith.

Ironically, Tubby Smith perfectly fits the situation I was describing in the introduction. He eventually lost his job at Minnesota, not because he couldn’t get his teams to play quality basketball. He lost his job because the fanbase no longer believed in his plan.

Now if you want to doubt Tubby Smith’s turnaround this year, it is fair to emphasize that Texas Tech hit rock-bottom with the recent coaching carousel. Most power conference coaches could have improved on the numbers Texas Tech put up last season. But don’t take this initial improvement for granted. Even in his fourth season, Oliver Purnell has not been able to take that first step at DePaul.

Second Year Coaches

Former Coach

2009

2010

2011

2012

New Coach

2013

2014

SMU

Matt Doherty

-4

1

0

-4

Larry Brown

-2

17

Nebraska

Doc Sadler

10

8

10

1

Tim Miles

3

11

LSU

Trent Johnson

13

-3

-7

6

Johnny Jones

6

9

S. Carolina

Darrin Horn

9

7

1

0

Frank Martin

-4

3

Connecticut

Jim Calhoun

26

12

23

13

Kevin Ollie

12

18

Illinois

Bruce Weber

16

12

18

7

John Groce

14

7

Saint Louis

Rick Majerus

1

7

2

19

Jim Crews

18

18

Kansas St.

Frank Martin

12

23

16

16

Bruce Weber

18

14

TCU

Jim Christian

2

-2

-2

0

Trent Johnson

-9

-4

Colorado St.

Tim Miles

-2

2

8

7

Larry Eustachy

17

3

Virginia Tech

S. Greenberg

11

14

13

6

J. Johnson

0

-2

Mississippi St.

Rick Stansbury

10

13

4

8

Rick Ray

-7

-5

I think it says a lot about how far SMU has come this season that the team lost at Temple on Sunday and it actually felt like a real upset. But let’s not focus on that one game; let’s focus on how far SMU has come this year.

SMU returned a number of starters, but as I articulated last week, even with most players back, we should not have expected this type of rapid improvement. Moreover, SMU’s resurgence has not been led by its returning players. Players like Cannen Cunningham and Shawn Williams have seen their playing time plummet.

That seems to suggest that maybe the turnaround has been sparked by great recruiting. But while SMU’s recruiting is getting better, the best recruits aren’t coming in until next year. This year’s two big recruits, elite JUCO center Yanick Moreira, and freshman wing Keith Frazier have been outstanding. But even when healthy, both have been playing less than 20 minutes per game. The turnaround hasn’t been built on great recruiting.

But it has been built on new players. Two transfers, the 3-star, turnover prone, soft Villanova big man named Marcus Kennedy has grown into a physical finisher around the rim. Meanwhile a sub 3-star PG named Nic Moore has suddenly combined his great passing skills with outstanding shooting (and allowed Nic Russell to move off-the ball and upgrade his efficiency too.) Meanwhile freshman like Ben Moore and Sterling Brown have far exceeded their recruiting rank.

This ability to bring unknown pieces along rapidly has turned a team that was second to last in CUSA into the kind of team that is competitive with the big boys in the American. And while it may be painful for some NBA fans to admit it, Larry Brown deserves a ton of credit for the turnaround.

Third Year Coaches

Former Coach

2009

2010

2011

New Coach

2012

2013

2014

G. Washington

Karl Hobbs

-3

4

-1

Mike Lonergan

-1

4

13

Oklahoma

Jeff Capel III

23

5

2

Lon Kruger

5

13

15

Utah

Jim Boylen

15

3

1

L. Krystkowiak

-12

5

13

Arkansas

John Pelphrey

2

4

4

Mike Anderson

3

7

12

Tennessee

Bruce Pearl

15

16

10

Cuonzo Martin

10

9

17

Providence

Keno Davis

9

8

6

Ed Cooley

5

9

12

North Carolina St.

Sidney Lowe

9

10

6

Mark Gottfried

13

16

9

Missouri

M. Anderson

23

17

13

Frank Haith

23

16

14

Maryland

Gary Williams

13

20

12

Mark Turgeon

3

12

12

Georgia Tech

Paul Hewitt

5

16

5

Brian Gregory

-2

5

3

Miami FL

Frank Haith

13

13

11

Jim Larranaga

12

20

8

Penn St.

Ed DeChellis

13

6

14

Pat Chambers

3

1

7

UNLV

Lon Kruger

9

14

15

Dave Rice

12

13

8

Texas A&M

Mark Turgeon

15

19

12

Billy Kennedy

4

5

1

Duke’s interior defense looked substantially improved on Saturday. Maryland drew up two straight plays to get the ball to Charles Mitchell in the paint while trailing by 1 point in the final seconds, and both times Duke’s defenders held their ground and denied him the basket. Mark Turgeon looked incredibly disappointed after the loss. His team has really been lacking a marquee victory to build some momentum this season, and the Terrapins came so close.

But a one point win shouldn’t have change the overall picture here.  Somehow Texas A&M is worse without Mark Turgeon and Maryland has been worse with him. And perhaps that is the final lesson. There is no magic formula for when a coach turns things around. Sometimes it happens in year one, sometimes it happens in year two, and sometimes it never happens at all.

Close Losses are Less Damaging, But Don't Push it Too Far

We’re reaching that point in the year where the computers (the margin-of-victory based predictions) and team’s resumes are often irreconcilably different. This week Pittsburgh lost another heartbreaker to Syracuse on a Tyler Ennis buzzer beater, and then lost at North Carolina after Lamar Patterson missed a wide-open game-tying three in the final seconds. Pittsburgh is a good team. Their riveting comeback after North Carolina went up by 12 points late in Saturday’s game, shows their ability. But having lost to every elite team on their schedule, there is now nothing Pittsburgh can do, outside of winning the ACC tournament, to earn an elite NCAA seed.

Meanwhile, smart fans everywhere are expressing how Syracuse is “lucky” to be undefeated because of all their close victories. If Syracuse were given the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament right now, a substantial number of observers would complain that they don’t deserve it.

Others (perhaps more likely to live in upstate New York) will argue that Syracuse is not “lucky” and that Syracuse has a special ability in close games. After all, Tyler Ennis has a historically low turnover rate for a freshman PG, and his ability to remain calm in pressure situations has won games for Syracuse time and time again.

I’m not willing to go that far. Tyler Ennis is a brilliant point guard, but as he showed with his late-game charge when trailing NC State by one point, he isn’t superhuman. Ennis can’t bail Syracuse out in every close game. On Saturday, it was Syracuse’s pressure defense that caused two turnovers in the final 25 seconds, including the live-ball TO that led to the go-head basket, not Ennis’ clutch play. Ennis is a special player whose decision-making will cause Syracuse to win a lot of close games. But like Shabazz Napier, whose game-winning three rattled out forcing UConn to overtime against Memphis Saturday, Ennis won’t make the winning play every time.

Given all this, you might assume I’d side with the “margin-of-victory” crowd over the “resume” crowd. But in fact I want to argue the opposite.

The point that people miss every year when looking at the computer rankings is that you play to win the game! That is the objective criteria by which teams should be judged. I know we tend to get confused in college basketball because teams are not selected for the NCAA tournament based on their winning percentage. The NCAA often issues vague guidelines about how they are supposed to select the “best” teams and then goes and implements an even more illogical procedure based on how teams have fared against the top teams in the RPI.

But to argue for seeding or selection based on predictive modeling is to argue that Pittsburgh shouldn’t have been heartbroken when Ennis hit the three point buzzer beater on Wednesday. To argue that close losses should count nearly as much as close wins essentially makes the season a hopeless marathon.

Hey Arizona St. fans, don’t storm the court on Friday after beating Arizona. (Well, technically you shouldn’t have stormed the court anyhow because there was still 0.7 seconds left on the clock. And Jahii Carson should not have been hanging on the rim either. That could have drawn a technical foul. And Carson’s bucket was a huge mistake because it gave Arizona another chance when Carson could have easily run out the clock. But I’m getting off track here.) Arizona St. shouldn’t have rushed the court because all they did was improve their margin-of-victory numbers from 33rd to 30th nationally.

Most people agree with this, but a problem we often struggle with is that if we reward teams based only on wins and losses, the NCAA tournament is inevitably unfair. Pittsburgh is going to be seeded far too low for their ability, and that is going to punish some unlucky team that has to face Pittsburgh early. And it isn’t just Pittsburgh. Assuming the 15-10 Tennessee Volunteers make the tournament, they will probably be one of the strongest 12 seeds a five seed has ever faced. And let’s not count out Oklahoma St. Despite a hideous losing record in the Big 12 right now, no coach wants to face Oklahoma St. and Marcus Smart early in the tournament. Assuming the Cowboys make it, they will probably be criminally under-seeded given their overall talent-level. If you earn a high seed this year and have to face Pittsburgh, Tennessee, or Oklahoma St., you will be screaming that the tournament is not fair.

But fairness isn’t always about equal outcomes. In my eyes, the fairness question is this one: Does the committee have an objective process based on wins and losses to evaluate teams, and do they fill in the brackets randomly (so that everyone has an equal chance of drawing a team like Pittsburgh in their region.) I think the current NCAA process comes pretty close to that.

Certainly, I would like to see some refinements to the process. I’d like to see the committee use a team’s record vs the Pomeroy Top 50 instead of the RPI Top 50. Right now, Utah’s poor non-conference strength-of-schedule means Pac-12 teams aren’t getting enough credit for beating a solid Utah team. I would like to see an AP reporter allowed in the selection committee room to allow for greater transparency. Part of having an objective process is having a transparent process.

But Jim Boeheim shouldn’t have to apologize just because a lot of the Syracuse wins have been close. You play to win the game. And even if the Orange might not be my personal bracket pick right now, they are 25-0.

Andrew Wiggins To Kansas And A Top 25 Update

6/3 Update: With Tarik Black joining the fold, Kansas moved up to #5 in my model. Rather than issue an entirely new Top 25, I decided to update this post. This now also includes a few other changes such as DeAndre Kane backing out of his commitment at Pitt, JJ Moore finally officially transferring from Pitt, while Joseph Uchebo enrolling at Pitt from junior college.

Pred Off, PredDef, PredPythag: The predicted points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and predicted winning percentage against an average D1 team on a neutral floor.

Returning Minutes, Possessions: The loss of high possession players can be a larger detriment to the offense, thus I list percentage of returning possessions in addition to returning minutes.

T100: Number of players who were Top 100 recruits out of high school. People focus on Top 100 freshmen, but Top 100 players are also more likely to become breakout stars later in their career.

Last Pythag: Last year’s Pythagorean winning percentage according to Kenpom.com. This is essentially a measure of each team’s margin-of-victory in 2012-13.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Rank

Team

Pred Off

Pred Def

Pred Pyth

Ret Min

Ret Poss

T100

Last Pyth

1

Kentucky

123.6

92.5

0.9512

44%

42%

9

0.8157

2

Michigan St.

117.0

87.6

0.9507

83%

83%

8

0.9361

3

Florida

115.7

87.2

0.9479

55%

52%

7

0.9700

4

Louisville

115.4

87.4

0.9452

72%

72%

8

0.9752

5

Kansas

114.2

88.8

0.9295

23%

23%

9

0.9385

6

Arizona

116.2

91.2

0.9231

44%

42%

7

0.9089

7

Duke

115.4

90.6

0.9228

58%

50%

10

0.9438

8

Michigan

117.4

92.2

0.9226

62%

53%

6

0.9483

9

Oklahoma St.

113.6

89.3

0.9224

89%

93%

5

0.8815

10

N. Carolina

114.3

89.8

0.9224

69%

73%

10

0.8676

With the #1 high school recruit Andrew Wiggins in the fold, Kansas is once again the Big 12 favorite. Just look at the high school recruiting ranks of Kansas’ potential starting lineup:

PG Naadir Tharpe (RSCI #91 player in 2011)

SG Wayne Selden (ESPNU #14 in 2013)

SF Andrew Wiggins (ESPNU #1 in 2013)

PF Perry Ellis (RSCI #31 in 2012)

C Joel Embiid (up to #6 in ESPNU Top 100, though lower in other rankings).

Bench: Brannen Greene (ESPNU #47 in 2013), Conner Frankamp (ESPNU #46 in 2013), and Andrew White (RSCI #52 in 2012)

That’s a pretty special group of talent. But we need to be cautious before we label Kansas a Final Four favorite. This team is exceptionally young. None of these players have ever played more than 15 minutes per game at the college level.

And unlike Kentucky (where the recruiting class is filled with Top 10 recruits), many of these guys are more likely to produce down the road. Guys at Greene and Frankamp’s level of the rankings are more likely to become stars as sophomores or juniors than as freshmen. Embiid would appear to be a “sure thing” as a Top 10 recruit, but even the people who are raving about Embiid have described him as a raw talent. They expect him to blossom in 2014-2015, not dominate right away. When you add in the fact that PG Naadir Tharpe struggled with his shot last season, it is clear that Kansas doesn’t have the perfect lineup.

But it might be the perfect lineup for Andrew Wiggins. With so many young players, he will be the clear leader. Much like Texas with Kevin Durant, Kansas players will realize that the team can only achieve its lofty goals by getting Wiggins the ball. And he should be able to carry the team to another Big 12 title.

Of course, Kevin Durant lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2007. And with its physical play, college basketball is not a sport that always showcases transcendent players. And after crunching the numbers, my model projects Kansas as the 8th best team in the nation.

Vegas will likely give Kansas better odds than what I have below. But Vegas is calculating the odds of winning a title. I am interested in measuring the quality over the full season, including November and December when Kansas’ young players will struggle with the adjustment to the college game. The model concludes that with Bill Self at the helm, Kansas will have an elite defense. He is the best in the business at getting new players to commit on that end of the court. But with so many young players, there will be offensive mistakes. Players will take bad shots. Players will commit silly turnovers. And the model projects Kansas’s offensive efficiency to be worse than some of the other elite teams.

The addition of Andrew Wiggins isn’t the only thing to shake up my model’s Top 25 since the end of April. Yesterday I documented how the addition of Eli Carter moves Florida up to the Top 3 in my model. And I wrote about how the loss of Trae Golden dropped Tennessee out of the Top 25. But here are some details on some other teams that have changed since my late April update.

Rest of Top 25:

11.Wisconsin

12.Virginia

13.Ohio St.

14.Iowa

15.Connecticut

16.Georgetown

17.Syracuse

18.UCLA

19.New Mexico

20.Marquette

21.Gonzaga

22.VCU

23.Memphis

24.Baylor

25.Pittsburgh

Into the Top 25

Memphis continues to be one of the bigger movers in the rankings. When I first ran the projections model in early April, I assumed Memphis would have Tarik Black, Shaq Goodwin, and Top 40 recruits Austin Nichols and Kuran Iverson in the front-court. And the model projected Memphis at 16th nationally. But then Tarik Black transferred, and that had multiple consequences. First, Nichols and Iverson had slightly lower expectations than Black, who was an efficient player for three years with the Tigers. With Black gone, Nichols and Iverson would each have to play more minutes. And second, it became more likely that Memphis would have to give some backup front-court minutes to a player like HippolyteTsafack. Tsafack was not a Top 100 recruit out of high school and has had multiple knee injuries limiting him to less than 20 total games in his career. Both these factors lowered the projected offense and defense for the Tigers.

When I re-ran my model (without Black and Antonio Barton who also transferred,) Memphis fell to 29th. But when Memphis added George Washington forward and graduate school transfer David Pellom and Top 100 high school recruit Dominic Woodson, the Tigers immediately upgraded their front-court depth and the model moved Memphis back up to 23rd.

Meanwhile, guard Allerik Freeman was one of the only uncommitted Top 100 high school recruits at the end of April. He recently committed to Baylor. Baylor guard Deuce Bello (who struggled mightily last season posting an ORtg of 86) saw the writing on the wall with Freeman coming in, and elected to transfer. The upgrade from Bello to Freeman moved Baylor from 28th to 24th in my model. Even though the model remains skeptical of Baylor head coach Scott Drew, the Bears have reached the point where even an inconsistent coach should have Top 25 expectations.

In my initial Top 25 and post NBA early entry Top 25, I have profiled all of the other Top 25 teams, but I haven’t discussed Baylor yet, so allow me to do that here:

Baylor’s front court remains one of the strongest in the nation with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. But the team also welcomes back rising sophomore Ricardo Gathers who was seriously under-utilized last year and could easily become a star in his own right. And prized forward recruit Dominic Woodson should also provide solid post minutes off the bench.

The biggest question is the point guard position. And while no single player can replace Pierre Jackson, Baylor does have three fairly nice options. First, even though Gary Franklin hasn’t been efficient throughout his career, he was a Top 100 recruit out of high school and remains a high potential player. Second, JUCO transfer Kenny Chery should be steady, even if he doesn’t dominate. And third, Brady Heslip may be able to provide some minutes at the position. Heslip may not be able to create much, but paired with a player like Freeman in the back-court, he could certainly be counted on for basic ball-handling duties. Throw in prized recruit Ishmail Wainwright and the possible late development of LJ Rose (a highly ranked high school player who still has high potential), and the model can no longer keep Baylor out of the Top 25.

Moving Up

Recently VCU added Florida St. graduate transfer Terrance Shannon. Shannon was not super-efficient at FSU, but the step down in completion should help some. And he makes a difference for VCU because Jarred Guest and Justin Tuoyo were not impressive last year. In net, VCU improves from 24th to 22nd with Shannon replacing Tuoyo who elected to transfer.

I’ve seen experts write how the addition of DeAndre Kane could have made Pittsburgh an NCAA tournament team, suggesting they are closer to 45th. But the tempo free numbers love James Robinson, Lamar Patterson, and Talib Zanna. That said, I believe you can make a case that the tempo free numbers are wrong here. Kenpom.com may have had Pittsburgh 11th last season, but they only received an 8-seed in the NCAA tournament. And even though Pitt finished 12-6 in the Big East last year which made all of their numbers look good, they didn’t really beat quality teams late in the year to justify a strong seed.  For example, Pitt’s big win at Georgetown which helped inflate their margin-of-victory numbers came early in the conference season before Georgetown figured out its offense. I understand why the numbers like Pitt, but I also understand why most experts are skeptical of their inclusion in the Top 25 at this point.

The team that should have “could” make the tournament attached to it is Oregon. While adding graduate school transfer Mike Moser improves the Ducks expectations substantially, they still seem to be missing the pieces they need to be a winning team in the Pac-12. I will have more to say about Oregon and the Pac-12 in a future week.

March Madness Through The NBA Lens (Round Of 64)

While the NCAA Tournament has cachet all its own, one way of looking at the Tournament is through the lens of the NBA. While the lottery guys get plenty of buzz leading into the Tourney, I like to spend more time on the players on more middling teams for the first few days since it is less likely that their teams survive long enough to evaluate them further.

On that note, here is the day-by-day:

Thursday

Headline games:

Pittsburgh vs. Wichita State (1:40 PM Eastern)- This game makes the list primarily because of Steven Adams. The big man from New Zealand has not produced as much as many of us hoped during the season but has the chance to show his potential this weekend. The Shockers rebound well enough to challenge him and I am intrigued by Carl Hall.

Memphis vs. St. Mary’s (2:45 PM Eastern)- While Memphis has a slew of intriguing athletic question marks (Adonis Thomas, Joe Johnson and DJ Stephens are just three of them), St. Mary’s has Matthew Dellavedova. Matthew stands out as an unusual draft prospect because of his age (22) and subpar athleticism for his position but has the shooting stroke and basketball IQ to stick in the league longer than expected. We will learn a ton about everyone in this game. 

Other games to watch:

Syracuse vs. Montana (9:57 PM Eastern)- Michael Carter-Williams vs. Will Cherry. My bet is that one of them will massively help his draft stock in this game.

Oklahoma State vs. Oregon (4:40 PM Eastern)- Marcus Smart will have his hands full with future prospect Dominic Artis. We’ll see how Le’Bryan Nash handles the spotlight as well.

Michigan vs. South Dakota State (7:15 PM Eastern)- Senior sensation Nate Wolters gets the chance to show his value against a Michigan team full of potential NBA players (Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway Jr among them).

UNLV vs. Cal (7:27 PM Eastern)- Anthony Bennett and Allen Crabbe will be the headliners but I am focused on how UNLV matches up on defense.

Friday

Headline game:

UCLA vs. Minnesota (9:57 PM Eastern)- After the injury to Jordan Adams, this could be our only chance to see lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad in the Tourney. Kyle Anderson, Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams are three other likely pros worth keeping an eye on.

Other games to watch:

Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss (12:40 PM Eastern)- Marshall Henderson. That is all.

North Carolina vs. Villanova (7:20 PM Eastern)- Despite deeply disappointing this season, UNC has plenty of NBA talent in the form of James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hariston. Each of those guys needs to make an impression over the next few weeks in order to rehabilitate their stock.

Creighton vs. Cincinnati (2:45 PM Eastern)- One of the best potential tests for Doug McDermott makes this one particularly fascinating.

San Diego State vs. Oklahoma (9:20 PM Eastern)- Jamaal Franklin has been underappreciated by the national college hoops media but has a chance to make his own statement on the opening weekend. If the Aztecs can get past Oklahoma, a potentially star-making meeting with Georgetown looms.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12ís slump over? Is the Big Tenís boom about to come to an end?

2012 Big East Power Rankings

Syracuse finished the regular season with a 17-1 record and were predictably significantly better than any Big East rival.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 2: Big East, Pac-12

How important is it to have Jim Calhoun on the sideline, Oklahoma's late game gamble, and other observations from Wednesday of Championship Week.

Who Is Hot, Who Is Not

When it comes to February in college basketball, some teams get better, the rest get left in the rear view mirror. Here are the teams that are surging and falling over their past 10 games.

Murray St., Surprise Leader Of The A-10, Tray Woodall And Assane Sene

John Calipari paved the way for a non-BCS conference to receive a No. 1 seed in the tournament while with Memphis, but here's why Murray State doesn't have the same juice.

Top NCAA Coaches Of Past Five Years

There are a lot of complicated ways to evaluate college coaches, but in this edition we look at the coaches with the best per possession numbers over the last five years.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 12

Syracuse has yet to leave New York and have played a relatively soft schedule, with their only impressive wins coming against Florida and Stanford, but they are 10-0 and now No. 1 in RealGMís weekly poll.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Dec. 5

Aaron Craft, Jared Sullinger and Ohio State were ready to trounce on the No. 1 slot in RealGM's rankings if not for an Anthony Davis block.

The Census: RealGM's NCAA Rankings For Nov. 28th

Kentucky at No. 1, North Carolina drops to No. 4, while Saint Louis, Harvard, San Diego State and Creighton enter RealGM's rankings.

Big East Prospect Watch

With Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Khem Birch and Mouphtaou Yarou, the Big East once again has several high-quality NBA prospects.

Midnight Madness 2011

A quick look back at Friday's season tip-off celebrations for North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, Pitt and Vanderbilt.

On The NCAA Tournament (Day 1)

Updated expected win odds, buzzer-beaters, changing the way we watch the tournament, Barkley and more.

Important NCAA Injury Splits

Michigan State, Pitt, Villanova, North Carolina and Seton Hall are just a few teams impacted with specific players either in or out of the lineup.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

Examining the surprises and flops this season in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Atlantic-10.

Conference Rankings (End Of Jan. Edition)

As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.

 

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