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Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

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

The Underrated Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Thoughts on Some Major Conference Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Thoughts on Some Mid-Major Conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Breaking News

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

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

Dan Hanner vs Ken Pomeroy

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

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

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

Big Ten Basketball Early Projection

Today I present my lineup-based model’s projections for the Big Ten in 2013-2014. While the top of the Big Ten remains strong, the league lacks the depth it had last season.

As always, these won’t necessarily be the final numbers. Last week I presented my model’s projections for the ACC and already two teams have meaningfully improved. First, Wakes Forest added a three point-shooting specialist in Robert Morris transfer Coron Williams. Williams will be eligible immediately as a graduate school transfer and should instantly upgrade the Wake Forest offense. Meanwhile, Miami added Kansas St. transfer Angel Rodriguez and he may be able to get a family hardship waiver to play next year.

Of course it isn’t clear whether Rodriguez should play next year for Miami. Even if he plays, Miami is still going to be behind NC State in my projections and well outside the NCAA bubble. (While the Wolfpack have more talent, Jim Larranaga is the better coach which puts Miami in striking distance of NC State.) That might suggest Miami should save Rodriguez until the following season. On the other hand, Rodriguez has two years of eligibility left and the young Miami players might develop better with a true PG on the floor. Thus it may be worth getting Rodriguez on the court next season even if the NCAA tournament is out of reach.

Team

Proj CW

Proj CL

Proj Off

Proj Def

Last Off

Last Def

T100

Ret Min

Ret Poss

Michigan St.

14

4

117.0

87.6

112.4

86.5

8

83%

83%

Michigan

12

6

117.4

92.2

122.6

92.3

6

62%

53%

Wisconsin

12

6

112.8

88.7

107.6

83.5

3

57%

54%

Ohio St.

12

6

108.6

86.3

115.1

87.3

6

74%

68%

Iowa

12

6

114.7

91.1

109.3

89.9

2

88%

92%

Indiana

9

9

110.4

93.1

121.0

88.6

7

32%

30%

Purdue

8

10

109.2

93.5

106.2

94.5

4

64%

70%

Illinois

8

10

108.2

92.9

109.5

92.7

5

43%

43%

Minnesota

8

10

107.9

92.7

113.8

92.7

0

63%

63%

Penn St.

6

12

106.9

98.0

100.7

98.9

0

71%

82%

Northwestern

4

14

101.9

96.7

102.5

99.7

0

61%

62%

Nebraska

3

15

100.3

97.6

100.8

97.7

0

60%

52%

For the definition of column headings, click here.

Michigan St.: Derrick Nix posted surprisingly low block numbers for a post-player last season and Adreian Payne was by far the better defensive rebounder. Thus the model doesn’t project a major defensive drop-off for the Spartans.

The departure of Nix may also make the offense run more smoothly. With Nix departing Branden Dawson will get a chance to play more minutes at the power forward spot which I truly believe is his natural college position. When Dawson played more minutes on the perimeter last year, his offensive rebounding numbers slipped.

Michigan:  Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, Glen Robinson, Nik Stauskas, and super PG recruit Derrick Walton mean Michigan will be a Top 10 team nationally again.

Wisconsin: As of May 5th on Verbal Commits, Wisconsin has 14 players on scholarship for next year. Did the Badgers actually over-sign? Is this the sign of the apocalypse? According to Twitter the answer is no. One of the walk-on freshman was given a free ride last year.

With Josh Gasser, Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky, and Sam Dekker, Wisconsin should have a dominant offense again, even if the defense takes a bit of a hit with the loss of so many quality post players. And as always with Wisconsin’s depth, they can bring Top 100 freshman Nigel Hayes along slowly and limit his mistakes. Of course we all expect Wisconsin to dominate the regular season and disappoint again in the tournament. That is what Bo Ryan does.

Ohio St: I think most experts are overrating the Buckeyes because they are overlooking how important DeShaun Thomas was to the Ohio St. offense last season. The same people who expect Georgetown to fall off the map without Otto Porter don’t seem to be dropping the Buckeyes much at all. But Thomas was responsible for a much larger portion of the Ohio St. offense. With all the key defensive players back, the model thinks Ohio St. will have the best defense in the nation. But the offense will probably struggle at times next season.

Iowa: Aaron White and Roy Marble are already stars. Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury were Top 100 recruits out of high school and both should make a significant sophomore year leap. Plus Josh Oglesby should bounce back from a subpar season. Oglesby shot 37% from three two years ago, but only 27% last season. And with virtually the entire rotation coming back, Iowa won’t have to break in a bunch of new freshmen. Overall that is a formula for an offense that should be substantially improved. This is the season Fran McCaffery finally breaks into the top of the Big Ten.

Indiana: I may have the most pessimistic projections in the nation for Indiana next year, but let me explain what the model is thinking. Essentially everyone who has Indiana in the Top 25 is saying this, “Well they aren’t going to fall that much. They still have some talented players coming in. They’ll still be pretty good.” But having talented players doesn’t ensure anything. What allows coaches to reload and stay in the Top 25 is teaching elite defense to young players. The reason Kansas is projected as a Top 25 team has everything to do with the defense. And Tom Crean doesn’t have a great defensive track record. His only elite defensive teams have come when he has had veteran squads at Indiana and Marquette. He isn’t that good at getting young players to play great defense immediately.

And anyone who studies college basketball closely realizes that even teams with loads of talent can take time to gel offensively. Look no further than North Carolina last year. They were 11th in last year’s AP preseason poll because they were loaded with Top 100 recruits. But I had the Tar Heels 26th in my preseason rankings and they finished with the 30th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation. The reality is, if you are going to rely on recruits outside the Top 20 (and only Noah Vonleh is a Top 20 recruit,) it usually takes time for those players to figure out the college game.

Even the late transfer of Remy Abell hurts. While Abell didn’t seem to do much against good teams last year, he did show signs of an outside shooting touch. Abell’s departure drops Indiana to a .500 team in my model. The future is still bright for the Hoosiers, especially in 2014-2015. And Indiana will likely be a tournament team in 2013-2014. But I disagree with folks who have the Hoosiers in their Top 25.

Purdue: After Indiana, I am rather pessimistic about the rest of the league. While most of the teams have smart coaches who will get their teams to play good enough defense to be competitive, the talent difference between the top and bottom of the league is pretty significant.

The best news for Purdue is that the Boilermakers gave fully 44% of their minutes to freshmen last year. That investment in young players should pay off this season. Most notably, tons of prognosticators are in love with AJ Hammons potential. Clearly many of the freshmen mistakes that plagued the team last season should be eradicated this year.

But this team simply lacks the depth to compete with the top teams in the league on a consistent basis. The slew of recent transfers is actually a bit of mixed bag in that regard. Even if Anthony Johnson and Jacob Lawson had returned, that wouldn’t have helped a lot. Anthony Johnson improved his free throw shooting last year, but still struggled mightily with his shot, posting an ORtg of 89. And Lawson basically never put up shots. Thus the loss of those two players isn’t major. But the transfer of Sandi Marcius will matter. Even if Hammons is the future of the team, Marcius would have provided needed depth in the paint. And on a roster full of improving young players, but plenty of question marks, the loss of a dependable option is costly.

The model also assumes some improvement for the Purdue defense based on Matt Painter’s early career success. But the defense has been trending in the wrong direction in recent seasons, and if that continues, Purdue could finish even lower in the standings.

Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn St.: Let’s start with the offenses. For all three teams the backcourt will be the strength. Penn St. probably has the best back-court with Tim Frazier (returning from injury), DJ Newbill, and Jermaine Marshall. But Minnesota’s unit will also be strong. Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, and Joe Coleman all played well at times last year. Illinois’ backcourt will be the weakest, but Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand, and Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice (a high volume shooter who should be more efficient in a more limited role) will still be quality Big Ten players.

But the differences are much more notable in the front-court. Penn St.’s offensive options in the post are pitiful. Ross Travis is probably the best option, but his 87 ORtg last year was dreadful. And none of the Nittany Lions other post options were even three star athletes out of high school. Certainly Penn St. will be as perimeter-oriented as possible next season, but the front-court looks like a huge offensive liability.

Minnesota brings back Elliot Eliason who had moments last year, but who shot so little he cannot be counted on to carry the load. And while Mo Walker continues to have potential, after missing a year and a half with injury, he struggled last season. And that means plenty of minutes for the highly inefficient Oto Osenieks or unranked recruit Charlie Buggs who red-shirted last season.

And suddenly here is where Illinois stands out. Nnanna Egwu isn’t a star by any means, but he had more offensive game last year than any of Minnesota or Penn St.’s post-players. And Illinois St. graduate school transfer Jon Ekey is one of those sneaky useful pickups. He didn’t score a lot last year, but he was super-efficient, and he also has an outside game. Ekey actually made 59 threes two years ago while shooting 40% from deep. Ekey and the improving Myke Henry will play a lot of stretch-4 minutes for Illinois next season.

Thus while none of these teams have great front-courts, Illinois can expect the most offense from its front-court, and Penn St. can expect almost nothing, which is why you see the offensive prediction you see above.

On defense Penn St. was miserable last season and without any true post options, expect more of the same. Illinois should drop-off some, but don’t expect a huge drop-off. The departing Sam McLaurin and Tyler Griffey were dreadful defensive rebounders. Minnesota is the real wild-card here, as it is a bit hard to project how Richard Pitino will do in his first season.

Final Note: I mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago that Illinois was a 6-12 team. But the addition of Jon Ekey really is a big deal in the lineup based model. Instead of needing to rely on unranked recruits Austin Colbert and Maverick Morgan to play major minutes in the post as freshmen, with Ekey available Illinois can break those two players into the lineup more slowly.

Northwestern: Even if Bill Carmody had kept his job, this was going to be a different Northwestern team this year. With the teams three most efficient players graduating, there simply were not going to be enough great outside shooters to run the offense Carmody loved. (To some degree, there were not a lot of great outside shooters last year. It was Northwestern’s worst three point shooting season since 2007.) So Northwestern was going to have to try to re-invent itself around the plethora of “project” big men on the roster. New head coach Chris Collins at least has the luxury of an established point-guard and he welcomes Drew Crawford back for a fifth season of eligibility. But beyond those two players, basically everyone else is projected to have an ORtg below 100. And that means Collins has his work cut out for him. I truly believe Collins will get Northwestern to the NCAA tournament. But give him some time to bring in his players.

Nebraska: Nebraska returns just 52% of its possessions from last year which should slow the momentum Tim Miles was building late in the season. JUCO transfers Leslee Smith and Deverell Biggs, Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway, and Florida transfer Walter Pitchford should add some experience which might help a little. But none of them would start for a good team in the Big Ten. (Petteway had a hideous 75 ORtg in limited minutes for Texas Tech. I remember watching him two years ago and thinking that he had no idea what a good shot was. Perhaps that is correctable, but he was still dreadful.) Realistically, this is still the beginning of the rebuilding project. Tim Miles needs to give a lot of minutes to his young players next year and build for 2015-2016.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

Conference Performance

There are four Big Ten teams in the Sweet Sixteen and Charles Barkley is eating crow. But has the Big Ten done anything yet? After all, the Big Ten earned a lot of highly protected seeds in the tournament. As I have done in previous years, today I look at which conferences have actually exceeded seed expectations.  What are seed expectations? Based on past tournaments, here are how many games each seed has traditionally won in the field of 64:

Seed

Expected Wins

1

3.38

2

2.42

3

1.86

4

1.49

5

1.16

6

1.17

7

0.83

8

0.70

9

0.57

10

0.65

11

0.54

12

0.52

13

0.26

14

0.16

15

0.05

16

0.00

(I’m ignoring the opening round. For teams that played in the opening round, I give them half-the expectation. So La Salle was expected to win 0.13 games in the round of 64.)

The next table shows how many wins each conference should have been expected to get in this tournament based on seeding, and how many wins each conference has so far. I also list the number of teams still alive in the tournament.

Conf

Expected Wins

Wins

Left

BE

11.89

6

3

B10

11.68

10

4

B12

7.33

3

1

ACC

6.23

5

2

MWC

4.81

2

0

A10

4.52

6

1

P12

4.03

5

2

WCC

3.65

1

0

SEC

2.95

3

1

MVC

1.40

3

1

Other

4.51

4

1

The Big Ten needs just two more wins to exceed traditional seed expectations, and with four teams still alive, that seems quite plausible. The A10, Pac-12, SEC and MVC have already exceeded expectations in the tournament.

The Big 12 has been the biggest disappointment in the tournament by far. With just three wins through two rounds, even if Kansas wins the national title, the league cannot match pre-tournament expectations. The Big East has also been a big disappointment. While the league was a perfect 3-0 in the round of 32, it was only 3-5 in the previous round. Other disappointments include the WCC and MWC.

Of course, dominating the early rounds of the tournament may not mean that much if the Big Ten doesn’t win a national title.

Ice Water in His Veins

Jim Nance, “Can we just have great games the rest of the tournament?” Apparently that wasn’t too much to ask. Sunday was easily the best day of the tournament so far.

We start in Dayton. Ohio St.’s Aaron Craft was not having a perfect game. He missed the front end of two one-and-ones. He went for a steal, but couldn’t corral it, which caused his teammate to commit a foul. And as he dribbled the ball in a tie game in the final seconds, it seemed like he was wasting too much time. Was there enough time to get to the rim? Was there enough time to kick to a teammate? Craft was only a 29 percent three-point shooter and he probably shouldn’t force a shot here. It didn’t matter. With ice water in his veins Craft nailed the buzzer beating three. It wasn’t clear if that was the first choice. But when Iowa St. switched and left Georges Niang on Craft, and when Niang sagged bad to prevent the drive, Craft stepped up with the buzzer beating shot.

Meanwhile, Temple seemed to have the perfect game-plan to beat Indiana. As Wisconsin had proven, the way you frustrate Indiana is by slowing the game down. I thought a sequence with nine minutes left in the second half showed it perfectly. Jordan Hulls (injured and heroically returning to action with a vest on to protect his injured shoulder) hit a huge three pointer to pull Indiana within one point. And it seemed like Indiana was about to have one of its patented blitzes. But with two players trapping the ball mid-court, Temple didn’t panic. They passed the ball around the perimeter and then made the extra pass to get TJ Dileo a look at a lay-up. Dileo missed, but grabbed his own rebound and kicked it out. Then Temple passed on two great looks at jump shots and fed Anthony Lee for a beautiful lay-up. By making at least 3 extra passes on the possession, Temple worked 44 seconds off the clock, scored, and prevented Indiana from gaining any rhythm offensively.

But then something changed. While Indiana had been stymied by the slow pace against Butler, Minnesota, and Wisconsin twice, the Hoosiers refused to let it happen again.  Zeller and Oladipo worked their way to the free throw line to give Indiana the lead. And then, in a must-score situation (not wanting to hand a one point lead to Temple with the chance at the final shot), Victor Oladipo rose to the occasion. Oladipo is a player who makes less than one three point shot per game. But with ice water in his veins, Oladipo nailed a three that made the margin 4 points and sealed the Hoosiers victory.

Elsewhere, ACC champion Miami was not having a vintage day. After some early success feeding Tonye Jekiri (of all people), point guard Shane Larkin was not having much success feeding his big players for easy shots. And with Durand Scott struggling, it seemed like Illinois might be prepared to pull the upset. Tracy Abrams had just drove for a wide-open lay-up after Larkin made a huge mistake defensively and followed behind a screen. And Brandon Paul had just followed it up with a huge drive for a dunk to give Illinois the lead. And that’s when Shane Larkin, with ice water in his veins did it again. The ACC player-of-the-year stepped back for a three point attempt and nailed it to give his team the lead. Free throws sealed it.

And what about La Salle. After Ole Miss had started to dictate its advantage in the paint following layups by Nick Williams and Reginald Buckner, the Ole Miss lead had swelled to 5 with just 4:15 left. That’s when La Salle’s Sam Mills caught the ball in transition and nailed a three pointer while drawing contact. It looked like a chance for a four point play, but it turned into a five point play when Mills’ missed free throw was rebounded and put-back in by teammate Jerrell Wright. In a moment’s time, the five point lead was gone. And in the final seconds, La Salle seized the moment.

Seth Greenberg loved to use short rotations at Virginia Tech. He believed it gave him the best chance to win. But that made a player like Tyrone Garland the victim. Garland played just 10 minutes per game as a sophomore at Virginia Tech, (at least in part because of his poor shooting numbers.) But Garland believed he had so much more to give. He left Virginia Tech mid-semester and joined La Salle at mid-season this year. And as I noted three weeks ago, La Salle became a better team with Garland in the lineup. They went from being something near the 63rd best team in the nation, to one of the nation’s Top 40. But Garland still wasn’t a great three point shooter. The turnaround, if anywhere, was in La Salle’s defense. And so it came down to the final seconds. La Salle drove and kicked the ball out to Garland. Almost everyone takes the three point shot in that opportunity. And even if it misses, there is a chance for an offensive rebound. But Garland is not a great outside shooter. So without the above ice water, he chose the smart play. He drove to the right side of the key, hung in the air, and banked home the game winning shot.

Four of the best games of the tournament in one day, and I haven’t even talked about the first 15-seed in NCAA tournament history advancing to the Sweet 16 yet.

Other Notes

-During the Illinois-Miami game Nnanna Egwu tried to back down Reggie Johnson in the post. “He might as well have tried to push over the stanchion.”

-I thought Charles Barkley nailed it regarding Ben Howland leaving UCLA. “Ben Howland is a good coach. He doesn’t deserve to be fired. But it is hard enough to win when everyone is on your side. When everybody wants you out of there, it is just best to move on.”

-I thought it was amazing how effective Iowa St. was at drawing fouls on Ohio St. The Buckeyes almost never foul, but Iowa St. managed to get enough contact to get in the bonus much earlier than expected in both halves.

-We all hate the elbowing rule. But I thought the referees got it wrong when they called James McAdoo’s elbow of Jeff Withey inadvertent contact. I saw the same play called a foul on at least two other occasions in the round of 64, and this seemed to be a case where the referees missed the initial call and didn’t want to admit they were wrong. McAdoo picking up three in the first half could have completely changed the game.

But in many ways, it was also perfect basketball karma. No one has been winning in this tournament by getting things handed to them. As Florida Gulf Coast’s Sherwood Brown said in his pre-game introduction before the Georgetown game, “They aren’t going to give it to us, we have to take it.” In the first half against North Carolina, Kansas (and Jeff Withey) were asking for someone to give them the win against North Carolina. And Withey begging for a flagrant call really summed it up perfectly. That was why North Carolina led 30-21 at halftime.

But when Travis Releford decided he wanted the game, and when Kansas decided they were not going to give up another easy look the rest of the game, that was when Kansas advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

-What is it with potential draft prospects flopping in this tournament? Kansas phenom Ben McLemore looked like a deer in the headlights against Western Kentucky in the first round, but that was nothing compared to his 0-9 performance against North Carolina that had him riding the pine. Kansas made it to the Sweet Sixteen without McLemore playing well, but they won’t make it much further if the freshman superstar doesn’t start playing better.

-On paper, Creigthon-Duke sounded like a fun offensive match-up between two great three-point shooting teams. But no one denies three-point attempts like Duke and the game didn’t live up to the hype.

-Florida Gulf Coast has now shredded two of the Top 15 defenses in the country. This is scary. They also lead the nation in crazy late-game dunks. If Brett Comer had dunked late in the game, I don’t know what would have happened to the world.

Thank You Seniors

I wish every tournament game could be close so every senior could go out with a few more hero plays.

-I feel so bad for Temple senior Scootie Randall putting up an 0-for-12 performance. He heroically returned from a knee injury and was Temple’s second leading scorer this season. But his career ends with a nightmare game, and a lot of fingers pointing in his direction since the loss was so close.

-Meanwhile Minnesota senior Trevor Mbawke never really regained his inside dominance after tearing his ACL last season. While he did get one nice dunk-and-one on an airball late in the Gophers loss to Florida, one of the Big Ten’s all-time most physical players didn’t really go out in style. Minnesota senior Rodney Williams also chipped in one relatively meaningless dunk late in the game against Florida. For a player whose heroic dunks have often been the only reason to watch Minnesota play, I had hoped for one more highlight reel. (Rodney Williams put-back dunk against Florida St. remains my personal favorite because of how far back he had to go to get the ball.)

That said, I hope Minnesota fans still feel like Mbakwe and Williams contributed something to the program. The Gophers are not completely lacking tradition. But after an academic scandal removed their 1997 Bobby Jackson Final Four run from the record book, it has been a long road back. Dan Monson was never able to overcome the recruiting sanctions. And Tubby Smith is a quality coach, but one who can’t quite match the Thad Matta’s and Tom Izzo’s in the Big Ten. This is especially true given his lack of a practice facility on campus which hurts Minnesota’s recruiting.

Minnesota doesn’t start Top 100 recruits up and down the lineup. They hope to win when the seniors all click. Things didn’t click this year for Mbakwe and Williams as they struggle to an 8-10 conference finish in a year where they almost certainly should have gone 10-8 or better. But the Gophers did restore the tradition of winning in the NCAA tournament. And when a team has a drought of 16 years, that shouldn’t be overlooked.

-Similarly, Mississippi senior Reginald Buckner, one of the school’s all-time best shot-blockers, may have wished he could get a re-do on the last second loss to La Salle and get a better chance to deflect Garland’s shot. He may view the loss to the 13 seed as a bit of a disappointment. But for an Ole Miss team that hadn’t won a tournament game since 2001 this was an off-the-charts great year. Winning the SEC tournament title, and earning a tournament win against Wisconsin is an extremely special accomplishment. Rebel pride has clearly been restored.

-If seniors have to lose, I at least prefer for them to be at their best. Illinois senior Tyler Griffey lost his job as a starter three times in his career. The truth is that he was not meant to be a Big Ten player. He was a perfect stretch four, but he couldn’t live up to the brutal physicality of the Big Ten. But Griffey hit a buzzer beater to beat Gardner Webb. He made a buzzer-beater to defeat #1 Indiana. And the player most known for his outside shooting hit four big threes against Miami in the near upset. Even in the loss, that is how a senior should go out, by doing what he does best.

Expected Wins in Field of 64

As I do every day of the tournament, I once again track the expected wins (based on the Pomeroy Rankings) and how these change.

Based on their own win, Florida is now expected to win an additional 0.60 games in the tournament. And based on other events (namely Florida Gulf Coast advancing), that added another 0.18 to Florida’s expectation. (Florida would have been heavily favored against San Diego St. too.)

Team

EW Start Sun

Own Game

Other

EW End Sun

La Salle

1.59

0.88

0.01

2.49

Florida GC

1.23

0.85

-0.02

2.06

Florida

3.61

0.60

0.18

4.40

Duke

2.16

0.68

0.07

2.92

Miami FL

2.35

0.64

-0.02

2.97

Ohio St.

2.86

0.59

-0.03

3.42

Kansas

2.18

0.59

-0.04

2.73

Indiana

3.36

0.28

-0.13

3.52

Wichita St.

2.86

0.00

0.03

2.90

Oregon

2.21

0.00

-0.01

2.21

Louisville

4.20

0.00

-0.08

4.12

Marquette

2.56

0.00

-0.09

2.47

Arizona

2.74

0.00

-0.10

2.64

Syracuse

2.73

0.00

-0.12

2.61

Michigan St.

2.91

0.00

-0.14

2.77

Michigan

2.98

0.00

-0.20

2.78

Temple

1.14

-0.14

0.00

1.00

Minnesota

1.37

-0.37

0.00

1.00

Iowa St.

1.39

-0.39

0.00

1.00

North Carolina

1.47

-0.47

0.00

1.00

Illinois

1.51

-0.51

0.00

1.00

Creighton

1.57

-0.57

0.00

1.00

Mississippi

2.00

-1.00

0.00

1.00

San Diego St.

2.02

-1.02

0.00

1.00

Sunday’s biggest loser is obviously San Diego St. which let a 15 seed advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time. But Ole Miss also let a real opportunity slip away, especially since Gonzaga did not make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Michigan and Michigan St. didn’t play but saw their odds fall slightly with Kansas and Duke advancing. 

The Stretch 4 Era

Just like in the NBA, floor spacing has become the name of the game at the top of the NCAA. Nine of the top 12 seeds start a three-point shooter in their frontcourt. Get as much shooting on the floor as possible without compromising your defense and rebounding.

Conference Tournament Previews

The win-or-go-home drama of the conference tournaments is part of the reason college basketball is so compelling and gives every team one last chance for redemption.

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.

Rising To The Occasion

Examining which teams have played better against quality competition, along with identifying whether the inconsistent Hoosier has been Christian Watford or Cody Zeller.

NCAA Power Poll For February

While there are certainly no elite college teams this season, there are a host of teams that can reach the Final Four. In this edition, we outline the various tiers.

A Super Saturday

On LeBryan Nash, Davante Gardner, Elston Turner, Rontei Clarke, Wisconsin/Illinois, and every minute of two games between real Final Four contenders (Minnesota/Indiana and Duke/NC State).

Who Have You Played?

On the legitimacy of Arizona and Florida as national championship contenders, who has quality wins already and more.

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.

Will The Madness Continue Into Sweet 16?

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. Now, with the second weekend set to tip-off, the Madness may have only just begun.

NCAA Tournament Day 1

Which players have contributed to Purdue's offensive resurgence, the storylines from Day 1 of the NCAA tournament, and an explanation why various teams tournament expecations are changing.

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.

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.

Big Ten Bracketology

Selection Sunday is about a month away, which makes it an opportune time to examine which Big Ten teams will be dancing and which ones could dance into the Elite Eight or even the Final Four.

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

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

YACB Column, Jan. 30th (On The Weaknesses Of The Top-25 & More)

Many have called this a down year for college basketball and though that argument can be made about elite teams, there are still plenty of reasons why it's a fallacy.

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