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Six College Basketball Choices

1. Would you rather be a fan of Dayton (8-2, Kenpom #59) or Marquette (6-4, Kenpom #108)?

Despite the season-long profiles, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. Marquette struggled to start the season, but they were playing without a true big man on the roster. Since Luke Fischer became eligible in December, Fischer has been averaging 21 points and 8 boards per game. Fischer’s FG% is unsustainable (Fischer is 17 of 19 from the floor), but Marquette certainly feels like a team prepared to turn its season around now that it has a true post presence.

On the flip side, Dayton was forced to kick its two tallest players, Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott off the team this week, and with freshmen center Steve McElvene declared a partial qualifier in the preseason, the Flyers have no players over 6’6” on the active roster. The lack of size is eventually going to cause Dayton to fall behind Marquette in the rankings and the NCAA tournament projections.

2. Would you rather be a fan of Colorado St. (11-0, Kenpom #58) or Wyoming (10-2, Kenpom #54)?

If this match-up sounds like a no-brainer because of Colorado St.’s undefeated record, it shouldn’t be. Colorado St. may be receiving poll votes because they haven’t lost yet, but their profile is a little bit of fool’s gold. Four of their wins came by three points or less. The real issue for Colorado St. is that their defense has been far from perfect. A mid-level Denver team had a ridiculous 75% eFG% against the Rams this week. Colorado St. held on to win by a point, but eventually their lack of size in the paint and inability to get stops is going to lead to some losses to some lower division teams in the MWC.

Wyoming on the other hand, has a pair of road losses, at SMU, and at California by three points, neither of which will be embarrassing at the end of the year. Both teams own an impressive victory over Colorado. And the margin-of-victory numbers (Kenpom, Sagarin Predictor) think this is a toss-up.

3. Would you rather be a fan of Penn St. (11-1, Kenpom #92) or South Carolina (7-3, Kenpom #34)?

Both teams were picked near the cellars of their leagues. My preseason projection model liked both teams a little more than most experts because both teams had veteran rosters. Oddly despite three losses, the margin-of-victory numbers love South Carolina right now. That’s because South Carolina’s wins have all come by huge margins, particularly against Oklahoma St. and Clemson in recent weeks. Penn St., on the other hand is 7-0 in games decided by 6 points or less, and has snuck by some teams (Cornell, Duquesne, USC, Virginia Tech) that aren’t very good yet. I love DJ Newbill in close game situations. He is brilliant at getting to the line or getting a lay-up. But no team wins every close game.

I’d like to say that South Carolina’s better per-possession performance will eventually catch up and that the Gamecocks will earn enough victories in conference to show they are playing like a tournament team. I’d also like to say that South Carolina really is a better team since Laimonas Chatkevicius became a starter. But I’m worried about the small sample sizes. South Carolina has yet to perform well against quality teams away from home, and even if the margin-of-victory numbers look good, they haven’t proven anything yet.

South Carolina has almost no room for error at this point if they want to make an NCAA tournament run. On the other hand, if Penn St. finishes 8-10 in the Big Ten with some key quality wins in conference, this kind of non-conference profile would certainly make the committee look closely.

If the Big Ten was winning like the league was last year, I’d say Penn St. clearly had higher NCAA tournament odds. But it is worth noting that the SEC’s RPI is not inferior to the Big Ten’s RPI like in past seasons. While SEC teams have a few more non-conference losses, the SEC has succeeded in upgrading its non-conference strength of schedule. Surprisingly both the Big Ten and SEC may offer a similar number of chances for quality wins in conference play.

4. Would you rather be a fan of Ole Miss (7-3, Kenpom #93) or Oregon St. (8-3, Kenpom #120)?

These team evaluations have been focused on this season, but I bring this example up because it brings up the short-run vs long-run contrast with teams. Ole Miss has a pre-season all-conference player in Jarvis Summers, a host of potentially productive transfers led by Stefan Moody, and a senior LaDarius White, who has upped his ORtg from 91, 95, and 95, to 115 this season. There is no question that Ole Miss is the better team on paper.

And yet despite having a team with few freshman faces, Ole Miss has already lost three times at home to Charleston Southern, TCU, and Western Kentucky. That kind of performance is simply unacceptable for a bubble NCAA team. Andy Kennedy is in his 9th season, but he has made the NCAA tournament only once. And you can’t help but feel like this season will end with yet another NIT trip and a new head coach next spring.

Oregon St. still has just eight scholarship players, and lost to Quinnipiac on Sunday. They are not a good team. And yet it’s hard not to appreciate what Wayne Tinkle has done so far. The successful mid-major coach has taken a bunch of role players and lightly recruited athletes, and been competitive against peer-level schools. I thought by now Oregon St. would have 6 of 7 losses. Instead, they beat Mississippi St. and DePaul and lost by two to Auburn on a neutral floor.  Wayne Tinkle is showing that against teams with similar talent limitations, he can coach his team to success. And that suggests that when Oregon St.’s talent is upgraded, real success may be possible. Oregon St. already has some nice recruits signed for next season, and as crazy as it may sound since Oregon St. probably won’t be NCAA tournament competitive until 2016-17, it is starting to feel like Oregon St. is better positioned in the long-run.  The Beavers may be further along in the rebuilding process.

5. Would you rather be a fan of SMU (8-3, Kenpom #32) or Michigan (6-5, Kenpom #75)?

Both teams were in the preseason Top 25 but quickly fell out. On the one hand, SMU has now won six in a row including a decisive win at Michigan, and Markus Kennedy is now eligible. SMU is really starting to feel like the American Conference’s best team.

On the other hand, the American is absolutely terrible this season. Even if SMU wins the league outright, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see SMU end up with an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. Last year head coach Larry Brown complained that the American conference didn’t get enough respect from the committee. Well, this year that could easily happen again. Add in the fact that John Beilein’s teams have consistently performed better after February 1st than in the early season, and you can at least make a case for Michigan.

But it would be a foolish case. The Wolverines are a mess right now. Offensively, they can’t score against a zone defense or create if they aren’t making perimeter jumpers. Defensively, they break down at key moments. And even if SMU doesn’t have the perfect  resume, the committee will recognize the importance of Markus Kennedy’s absence. SMU should win more games and earn national respect again soon.

6. Would you rather be a fan of Kentucky (12-0, Kenpom #1) or Duke (10-0, Kenpom #3)?

Kentucky’s defense seems impenetrable at this point. With a PG who is as good an on-ball defender as Tyler Ulis, with tall 6’6” guards like the Harrison Twins, with a deep wall of post players defending the basket, and with a player like Will Cauley-Stein who is 7 feet tall and also has the quickness to defend versatile scoring wings, Kentucky might be able to defend their way to a national title.

For a long time, the platoon system seemed like a concern, but even if Kentucky continues to use a version of it, with the loss of Alex Poythress, it seems certain that by the tournament that John Calipari will have a natural rotation where he plays his best players more minutes. It is impossible not to love what you see from the Wildcats.

But I tipped towards Duke during the Wisconsin win, and I’m still leaning towards the Blue Devils at this point in the season. It sure feels like a more natural situation to have a few alpha-dog players on a team and a few complimentary role players. When Duke needs a basket, you know the plan is to try to get the ball to Jahlil Okafor, you know that Tyus Jones has an uncanny ability to get lay-ups, and you know that veteran Quinn Cook is making fantastic decisions off or on-the ball. We still don’t really have a feel for which Kentucky player should take the key shot.

The tempo free stats say Duke’s defense is substantially improved from last year, but not quite in the Top 10 yet. But the sample size is so small that I’m not willing to draw any huge conclusions. Everything I have seen has been positive. First, Duke doesn’t seem to have any huge defensive liabilities on the perimeter like in past seasons. Second, Duke’s help defense has been much better. As impressive as Duke’s lights out shooting was earlier in the month at Wisconsin, I was more impressed that the help defense that denied the Badgers easy baskets.

Perhaps the best part of the debate is the hope that the teams will meet in the NCAA tournament. It may be December, but we are already salivating about the possibility of a Duke-Kentucky final.

Top Division I Transfers

As important as freshmen are to Duke and Kentucky, for many teams transfers are the new faces who make the biggest impact. In October, Luke Winn and I projected the top 100 D1 transfers in the Top 11 conferences for SI. I thought with college basketball entering a quiet week (finals at many schools) that this was a good time to see how those various transfers are doing so far.

It is still way too early to draw statistical conclusions about anyone. Miami FL’s Angel Rodriguez shows a nice example of why we don’t want to look at small samples. At his best, he was the guard making clutch threes on the road at Florida to steal the victory. At his worst, he was 2 of 15 in a home loss to Green Bay. With small samples and vastly different schedules, it is way too early to draw a firm conclusion about who deserves all-conference honors.

That said, I still like looking through the stats because they remind us which transfers are being relied on heavily (playing 30+ minutes per game) and which transfers are failing to earn their coach’s trust. To that end, I present a new list of 100 transfers in the top 11 conferences.

Notes: Antoine Mason (Niagara to Auburn), Joe Coleman (Minnesota to Saint Mary’s), Ibby Djimde (Illinios to Southern Illinois) and Ian Chiles (IUPUI to Tennessee) have all been out early due to injuries, so I am not going to show their stats. Johnny Zuppardo (Arkansas St. to Mississippi St.) is out for the year. Christophe Varidel (Florida Gulf Coast to Alabama) has also retired from basketball since our SI column went live.

The following D1 transfers are likely to be available at the semester break: Alex Murphy (Duke to Florida), Jesse Morgan (Massachusetts to Temple), Devin Coleman (Clemson to Temple), Jameel McKay (Marquette to Iowa St.), Luke Fischer (Indiana to Marquette), Eric McClellan (Vanderbilt to Gonzaga), Jamal Aytes (UNLV to BYU), Chier Ajou (Northwestern to Seton Hall), and Savon Goodman (UNLV to Arizona St.). Side note: there are other important players who may become eligible at the semester break who are not D1 transfers, notably SMU’s Markus Kennedy, Auburn’s Trayvon Reed, and Miami FL’s Ivan Cruz-Uceda. Fred Richardson (Oregon to Colorado St.) is a D1 transfer who hasn’t been playing due to an early season suspension.

You would think without all these players, I would have trouble finding 100 D1 transfers in the Top 11 conferences, but I did not. There were a few players who surprised me by becoming eligible (notably TayShawn Thomas, Danuel House, and Ben Emelogu), and a few players who have been pleasant surprises (Butler’s Austin Etherington has been able to play from the start of the year despite his summer foot injury.) Thus I still have a full list of 100. All stats are through Saturday’s games.

MPG = Minutes Per Game, Pct Poss = Percentage of Possession’s used when on the floor.

Barely Contributing (17 players)

Player

New Team

Prev Team

MPG

Pct Poss

Ortg

PPG

Prev. PPG

Dominic Woodson

Tennessee

Memphis

12

19

94

3.5

2.5

Quevyn Winters

Washington

Duquesne

11.8

25

86

4.7

9.6

Abdel Nader

Iowa St.

N. Illinois

11.8

21

76

3.5

13.1

Sheldon Jeter

Pittsburgh

Vanderbilt

11.4

16

129

4.3

5.5

Deuce Bello

Missouri

Baylor

10.6

15

91

3.1

2.4

Calvin Godfrey

Memphis

Southern

9.8

19

94

2

13.1

Junior Lomomba

Providence

Cleveland St.

9.5

8

93

1.4

5.9

Antwan Scott

Colorado St.

Grambling St.

8.2

16

85

1.2

15.7

Brandon Perry

San Diego

CS North.

8.2

27

80

3.2

6.3

Montray Clemons

San Francisco

DePaul

8

22

99

3

1.3

Ryan Bass

Dayton

Oakland

6

17

76

1.3

9.3

Jeremiah Kreisberg

Northwestern

Yale

5.4

12

71

0.4

5.6

Uche Ofoegbu

San Francisco

SMU

4.8

21

89

1.6

0.6

Keaton Miles

Arkansas

West Virginia

4.5

10

68

0.3

2.7

Branden Bolden

Kansas St.

Georgetown

4.2

31

56

1.2

0.0

Keith Armstrong

East Carolina

Robert Morris

3.2

0

0

0.5

0.9

Hunter Mickelson

Kansas

Arkansas

3.2

19

127

1.5

5.4

Dominic Woodson played early in the season for Tennessee but he is now sitting out until he gets his academic situation in order. Even without Woodson, Tennessee picked up an impressive win over Kansas St. this weekend.

Were it not for the fact that Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre is barely playing, the fact that Hunter Mickelson is barely playing would probably be a bigger headline. Mickelson, once a Top 100 recruit, is playing less than expected for his second straight team.

Shelton Jeter is probably the next biggest name on this list. He was expected to be an important contributor for Pittsburgh, and he does appear to be a natural scorer. But after the team’s loss at Indiana, he didn’t play in this weekend game against Duquesne. The message boards speculate that Jeter’s defense may have kept him out of the lineup, and head coach Jamie Dixon certainly wants to clean up that area of his team’s play.

I thought after Rodney Bullock went down for Providence, that Junior Lomomba might play a larger role for the Friars, but Providence has often gone with a two-PG lineup this season.

Rotation Player, No Clear Role (25 players):

Player

Team

Prev Team

MPG

Pct Poss

Ortg

PPG

Prev PPG

Richaud Pack

Maryland

NC A&T

27.1

16

119

8.6

17.0

Aaron Brown

Saint Joseph's

West Virginia

24.1

21

107

10.1

1.2

Remy Abell

Xavier

Indiana

24.1

16

130

8.9

4.0

Trey Zeigler

TCU

Pittsburgh

22.8

20

98

6.6

4.4

Rodney Purvis

Connecticut

NC State

22.5

22

80

7

8.3

Cleon Roberts

La Salle

Georgia Southern

22.1

17

101

6.2

8.7

Jabarie Hinds

Massachusetts

West Virginia

21.9

21

94

8.5

7.4

Dimitri Batten

Boston College

Old Dominion

21.1

16

98

6.6

11.0

Bishop Daniels

Rutgers

Miami FL

20

22

73

5.6

5.0

Ben Emelogu

SMU

Virginia Tech

19.4

14

85

3.6

10.5

Justin Edwards

Kansas St.

Maine

19

22

89

5.8

16.8

Tiel Daniels

Colorado St.

Southern Illinois

18.4

16

89

3.1

7.7

Ricky Kreklow

Creighton

California

18.4

18

99

5.5

5.5

Justin Martin

SMU

Xavier

17

21

115

7.5

11.7

Angelo Chol

San Diego St.

Arizona

16.7

24

97

6.6

1.9

Terence Smith

Mississippi

Tenn. Martin

16.6

12

73

2.1

14.6

Kedren Johnson

Memphis

Vanderbilt

16.4

19

66

3

13.5

Dwight Tarwater

California

Cornell

16.3

13

107

4.3

7.1

Mike Shaw

Bradley

Illinois

16.2

18

70

3.4

0.9

Darius Leonard

Wake Forest

Campbell

15.8

16

108

5.1

10.2

Joe Thomas

Miami FL

Niagara

15.2

9

106

1.6

3.4

Austin Etherington

Butler

Indiana

15.1

13

115

4.2

2.0

Julian Royal

George Mason

Georgia Tech

13.4

23

68

3.6

1.7

Anthony Lee

Ohio St.

Temple

13.4

17

112

5

13.6

Derrell Robertson

San Francisco

DePaul

12.1

16

69

1.9

1.9

Bishop Daniels is hurt, Justin Martin has been hurt, and Rodney Purvis has been battling injuries as well. Those players may still play a bigger role as the season progresses.

Some of the players on this list were never expected to be huge contributors. Joe Thomas has filled in admirably with Ivan Cruz-Uceda still out for Miami FL, but he isn’t a long-term starter.

But there are other names on this list that I expected to produce more. I’m shocked how little playing time Ohio St.’s Anthony Lee has received this season. In our SI projections, we had Marc Loving as a break-out player, and we thought that would limit Lee’s minutes. But Lee is playing even less than we guessed.

Josh Pastner is one of the worst player development coaches in my database. He wins by recruiting, not by developing players. But for Kedren Johnson to go from being an effective scorer at Vanderbilt to a player who is averaging 3 points per game with a paltry 15 percent assist rate is shocking.

I thought Terrence Smith might be a sleeper for Mississippi as he was an outstanding three point shooter and scorer with his former team. But I have a lot of problems with Mississippi’s lineup. Too many players have been playing rotation-level minutes, and it isn’t clear that the team knows who should be taking the shots right now.

Kansas St. is another team that has been a big disappointment. I thought  Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt were going to be valuable contributors, and that was why I was so high on Kansas St. on the preseason. But even though Edwards usage has fallen with his new team, his efficiency has not gotten any better.

Finally, in my Terrapins Watch Item: Maryland’s Richaud Pack hasn’t been an elite shooter, assist man, or scorer so far, but with Evan Smotrycz and Dez Wells injured, it has been invaluable to have a player that knows where to be offensively and defensively.

Relishing the role of PG (10 players)

Every one of these players has an assist rate over 20%:

Player

Team

Prev Team

MPG

Pct Poss

Ortg

PPG

Prev PPG

Keith Shamburger

Missouri

Hawaii

32.1

16

102

7.9

9.3

Cody Doolin

UNLV

San Francisco

32.1

12

133

7.1

13.0

Jordan Baker

San Jose St.

Pepperdine

32

27

83

11

11.4

Anthony Hickey

Oklahoma St.

LSU

26

18

107

7.9

8.4

KC Ross Miller

Auburn

New Mexico St.

23.6

25

79

7.4

8.3

Josh Heath

Georgia Tech

South Florida

23.4

17

119

6.5

2.6

Mislav Brzoja

Evansville

Villanova

23.1

25

118

10.6

0.1

Ahmad Starks

Illinois

Oregon St.

23

19

112

8.1

10.4

Jonathan Octeus

Purdue

Colorado St.

22.9

17

117

6.8

13.4

John Gillon

Colorado St.

Ark.- Little Rock

15.9

22

147

8.4

10.6

I wasn’t sure whether Jonathan Octeus could be a full-time PG, as his assist rate was just 12% and 14% the last two years at Colorado St., but his assist rate is 24% this season for Purdue.

Josh Heath is the player who has surprised me the most in this group. He did not look ready to play last year as a freshman at South Florida, but he appears to have turned the corner this off-season. His 6 for 6 night against Northwestern was a big difference-maker in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Three Point Specialists (8 Players)

Player

Team

Prev Team

MPG

Pct Poss

Ortg

PPG

Prev PPG

Bryn Forbes

Michigan St.

Cleveland St.

29

13

135

10.3

15.6

Katin Reinhardt

USC

UNLV

28.9

21

88

9.6

10.1

Aaron Cosby

Illinois

Seton Hall

24.8

21

104

9.9

12.6

Frank Rogers

San Jose St.

San Francisco

24.8

26

91

10.4

1.8

Nick Zeisloft

Indiana

Illinois St.

22.1

13

128

7.5

6.9

Paul Jesperson

N. Iowa

Virginia

21

14

128

6.1

4.7

Farad Cobb

Cincinnati

Chattanooga

20.9

18

119

7

5.7

TJ Cline

Richmond

Niagara

16.2

30

127

10.7

7.9

I thought Reinhardt would be more of a scorer and creator for USC, but some of his struggles can be blamed on USC’s extreme youth.

Rebounding Specialists (15 Players)

Player

Team

Prev Team

MPG

Pct Poss

Ortg

PPG

Prev PPG

TaShawn Thomas

Oklahoma

Houston

28.6

16

93

8.1

15.4

Jon Horford

Florida

Michigan

28.4

17

123

10.3

3.8

Darion Clark

USC

Charlotte

27.2

19

96

8.6

6.2

Demarco Cox

Georgia Tech

Mississippi

25.6

22

100

10

4.2

Desmond Simmons

Saint Mary's

Washington

25.3

16

118

7

5.2

Charles Mitchell

Georgia Tech

Maryland

24

26

99

10.4

6.5

Jaylen Bond

Temple

Texas

22.8

16

94

5.2

2.8

Achraf Yacoubou

Saint Louis

Villanova

22.1

28

83

8.6

2.9

Chris Washburn

TCU

UTEP

22

18

122

8.2

4.5

M.J. Rhett

Mississippi

Tennessee St.

21.6

15

104

6

10.9

Robert Sampson

Georgia Tech

East Carolina

21.5

17

88

5.1

9.1

Robert Upshaw

Washington

Fresno St.

16.8

23

121

9.2

4.1

Michael Kessens

Alabama

Longwood

16.5

23

96

6.2

13.7

Stephen Hurt

Kansas St.

Lipscomb

15.4

20

111

6

11.5

Moses Abraham

Nebraska

Georgetown

15.2

12

94

2.7

1.9

Jon Horford is scoring at a higher clip than expected, but with most of Florida’s players posting disappointing numbers, he has had to.

Among all the D1 transfers on this list, Robert Upshaw leads the way with 24 blocks. Chris Washburn is second with 14.

Major Scorers (25 Players)

Player

Team

Prev Team

MPG

Pct Poss

Ortg

PPG

Prev PPG

Myke Henry

DePaul

Illinois

29

28

112

17.3

3.2

Trevor Lacey

NC State

Alabama

34

22

129

16.8

11.3

Bryce Dejean-Jones

Iowa St.

UNLV

32

23

124

16.3

13.6

Sheldon McClellan

Miami FL

Texas

32

23

126

16.3

13.5

Jordan Price

La Salle

Auburn

30

33

96

16.1

5.4

Kyle Wiltjer

Gonzaga

Kentucky

25

26

128

15.9

10.2

Ricky Tarrant

Alabama

Tulane

25

26

123

15.3

15.7

Chase Fischer

BYU

Wake Forest

28

21

119

15.2

4.5

Devonta Pollard

Houston

Alabama

32

24

107

14.8

3.9

Aaron Brown

Boston College

Southern Miss

30

28

92

14.3

9.9

Eric Weary

Houston

New Mexico St.

24

23

128

14.2

1.1

Angel Rodriguez

Miami FL

Kansas St.

31

28

105

13.9

10.9

Stanton Kidd

Colorado St.

NC Central

34

20

118

13.9

14.5

Matt Carlino

Marquette

BYU

31

23

113

13.8

13.7

Julien Lewis

Fresno St.

Texas

33

26

90

13.3

11.2

Stefan Moody

Mississippi

Florida Atlantic

24

29

103

12.9

15.7

Jalen Jones

Texas A&M

SMU

24

26

107

12.4

14.0

Keith Hornsby

LSU

UNC Asheville

35

18

102

12.2

15.0

Josh Gray

LSU

Texas Tech

34

22

94

12

9.3

Aaron Bright

Saint Mary's

Stanford

37

18

102

12

5.9

Danuel House

Texas A&M

Houston

29

18

119

11.8

13.6

Jonathan Holton

West Virginia

Rhode Island

25

21

121

11.5

10.2

Terry Whisnant

East Carolina

Florida St.

28

21

108

11.5

5.2

Cavon Baker

Houston

Florida Atlantic

28

24

92

11.2

2.6

Byron Wesley

Gonzaga

USC

27

23

111

11.1

17.8

Myke Henry had his coming out party in last week’s upset of Stanford. It may be a little bit of a surprise that Henry is leading this list, but he was a Top 100 recruit out of high school.

The top players in our preseason forecast have been scoring at a high rate. Sheldon McClellan, Matt Carlino, and Trevor Lacey have all been prolific in the early going. Jalen Jones is a little lower than expected, but had I known that Danuel House would have been eligible, Jones projection would have been slightly lower.

BC’s Olivier Hanlan gets all the hype, but BC’s Aaron Brown was a key player for a Southern Miss team that shared the C-USA crown last year. Brown had 16 points in Boston College’s surprise win against Providence over the weekend.

LSU’s Josh Gray received a little more hype due to his prolific JUCO scoring, but Keith Hornsby has actually equaled his scoring this year for LSU. In Thursday’s surprise win against West Virginia, both players played a big role. Horns

Feast Week Wrap

Notes

-On Saturday, Syracuse fell to 350th in nation in three-point percentage after an 0-for-14 night from beyond the arc. The Orange are shooting just 19.8% on their threes this season.

-Connecticut’s one-point home loss to Texas isn’t the end of the world, but it is just more evidence that the American Conference is off to a terrible start. Conference RPI will still fluctuate quite a bit, but the American Conference is currently ranked 10th, behind the WCC, MVC, and MWC. (RPI is admittedly a poor measure of league strength, but Pomeroy’s rankings are still heavily weighted based on preseason expectations, and I wanted to share a metric based on this season only.)

-After a bad DePaul team forced Stanford to commit 21 turnovers on Sunday in the upset, teams are going to be using pressure defense against Stanford for the rest of the year. Chasson Randle has never been a pure PG, and teams are going to be testing his ball-handling skills the rest of the way. While I understand how head coach Johnny Dawkins wanted to ride his starters in the true road game, I’m surprised the four-star freshman PG Robert Cartwright wasn’t a larger part of the game plan against a pressing team. Cartwright played just 2 minutes.

-I had ODU as the second best team in CUSA this preseason thanks to the return of several players and the addition of a couple of key transfers. And they already upset LSU in the Paradise Jam event. Add in the revival of a CAA rivalry, and the VCU at Old Dominion game was probably a closer matchup on paper than most people realized. But sometimes the stats are still fascinating. Aaron Bacote had scored just 10 points over a four game stretch. He was ice cold. So of course against VCU he scored 31 points with near perfect shooting on the night. (He missed just two free throws.) Bacote averaged 15.5 PPG last year.

-I have nothing against South Carolina’s 6’5” Michael Carrerra. He’s one of those undersized hard-working forwards that make college basketball great. But size matters on the basketball court. And I don’t understand why 6’11” Laimonas Chatkevicious is coming off the bench and playing just 20 minutes per game given his efficiency and rebounding rate stats. With Carrera out with a concussion in the most recent game, Chatkevicious got the start and scored 17 points and had 13 rebounds. Frank Martin needs to keep him in the starting lineup.

-There were a ton of great games in the holiday tournaments and I can’t comment on them all, but here are a few thoughts on a few teams:

Great Alaska Shootout

I pegged Colorado St. as one of the teams to watch this preseason because of the large number of impact transfers on their roster. But I had two major questions heading into the year. First, who was going to emerge as the team’s primary PG? My model loved Arkansas St. transfer John Gillon because of his tremendous per-minute production and efficiency. But many seemed to think that prolific Grambling transfer Antwan Scott would win the job. As it turns out, the answer was behind door number three. Daniel Bejarano is talented enough to thrive at any position on the basketball court, 1-4. And in the early season Colorado St. has decided to put the ball in the hands of their best player.

But despite Bejarano emerging as the starting PG, in Saturday’s Great Alaska Title game, it was Gillon who provided the decisive play. Coming off the bench, Gillon was constantly able to drive and create (5 assists) and drive and get to the line (13 FTA on only 3 FGA.) It probably helped that Gillon played fewer minutes over the four day event. While UCSB’s players had played 3 games in 3 days, Gillon was fresh which may have helped him to be a step quicker. But his emergence is still a very positive long-run sign for the Rams, as Gillon is just a sophomore.

The second major question for the Rams was post-defense, and I’m not entirely sold on their ability in this area. Giving up 22 points to UCSB’s Alan Williams isn’t necessarily anything to hang your head about. But despite his prolific scoring ability, Williams is only 6’8”, and I didn’t feel like Colorado St. had anyone who could really match up with him. Tiel Daniels was too short and probably played his worst game of the season. Williams was also able to back down Stanton Kidd in the lane and shoot over him. JJ Avila might have had the size and strength to match Williams, but I’m not convinced he has the foot speed defensively. Avilla got in foul trouble guarding Williams, and he is such a vital cog on offense, that he should really be matched up against a weaker defensive player.

Were it not for a brainlock play by USCB’s Michael Bryson (fouling at mid-court in a tie-game with 5 seconds left), UCSB might have even defeated Colorado St. So improving the interior defense is a huge concern for Larry Eustachy going forward. Colorado St. can win plenty of games, but to pick up quality wins, they will have to find ways to contain Colorado’s Josh Scott, Wyoming’s Larry Nance, and San Diego St.’s imposing front-line.

Preseason NIT

The only image that remains in my head from this event is St. John’s center Chris Obekpa’s short-shorts and teammate Deangelo Harrison dribbling the ball between Obekpa’s legs in the Minnesota game. That wouldn’t have been possible if Obekpa had worn his baggy shorts down to his knees.

CBE Classic (Terrapin Watch: Week 3)

Maryland’s victory over Iowa St. certainly struck me as a surprise, not because Maryland won, but because they completely shut down a dominant Iowa St. offense.

If you just stared at the box score, you probably wouldn’t realize that Maryland freshman Michal Cekovsky has been an impact player. Cekovsky has been playing less than 30 MPG, he’s been coming off the bench, and he hasn’t been a primary scorer. But the Iowa St. game showed why a mobile 7 footer is so devastating. The Cyclones were ice cold from the perimeter. As with any good offensive team, they should have found other ways to score if the long jumpers weren’t falling. But what caused such a horrible night for Iowa St. was that whenever they penetrated, Cekovsky was floating over for help defense. Cekovsky’s long arms kept Iowa St. from getting easy baskets inside the arc.

The impressive part about Maryland’s win was that they did it without Evan Smotrycz who returned a few days later. In other words, we may not have seen Maryland in peak form yet.

Of course, we still won’t see the peak rotation for a few weeks. Dez Wells broke his wrist and is out for a month and Smotrycz probably won’t be 100% for a few more games. That’s going to make it a tall task to beat Virginia in the Big Ten – ACC challenge. But Maryland is starting to look like the kind of team that can shut down a quality opponent in March.

Barclays Center Classic

Virginia may have won, but after trailing a terrible Rutgers team at half-time, this tournament just reminded us of the dangers of the Cavalier’s slow pace. By shortening the game, Virginia opens up the possibility of being upset by a vastly inferior team.

Maui Invitational

One of the things I love about teams playing three games in three days is that you get to see players at their best and at their worst. Purdue’s AJ Hammons was outplayed by backup Isaac Haas in the opening round loss to Kansas St. leading people to question whether he would ever live up to his potential. Two days later against BYU, Hammons hit the game-winner in OT.

Battle 4 Atlantis

Butler had a fantastic weekend. Florida’s offense is broken. North Carolina is still surprisingly suspect on the boards, a problem that plagued the team last year despite North Carolina’s great team height. UCLA has a great core, but no depth. Oklahoma is good, but not elite yet. Wisconsin is elite.

I get the storylines for most teams. But the one team I can’t figure out is the Georgetown Hoyas. Did Georgetown have a good weekend or a bad weekend in this event? On the one hand, they went 1-2 and lost to a Butler team expected to finish near the bottom of the Big East. And if Florida’s offense doesn’t improve, that win might not be worth as much at the end of the year. Moreover, that win over Florida came on a difficult last-minute buzzer beater. It wasn’t terribly convincing.

On the other hand, a close loss to Wisconsin shows the Hoyas have potential. And in that game against Florida, the Gators had Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter back, with Finney-Smith playing well. So we probably shouldn’t discount that win too much.

Moreover, the close win against Florida wasn’t just about D’vauntes Smith-Rivera’s heroic jumper. LJ Peak’s block at the end of regulation, and Paul White and Peak’s late threes were further evidence that Georgetown’s freshman class is playing better than where it was ranked out of high school. (The play against Florida where Jabril Trawick pump-faked at the three point line and drove past four Gators might also end up on the team’s season-ending highlight reel.)

I think the answer is that the Hoyas have a lot more potential than I thought in October, but this weekend probably wasn’t great for their resume.

Cancun Challenge/ Corpus Christi Classic/MGM Grand Main Event

Sometimes I’m a sucker for matchups between bad teams in power conferences. I would have loved to see Northwestern face Virginia Tech in the Cancun Challenge, but Northern Iowa spoiled the party by beating them both easily and denying the matchup.

At Corpus Christi, TCU did get to play Mississippi St. And they showed that without the injuries that devastated the team last year, they are much more competitive.

But Oregon St. against Auburn at the MGM Event amused me the most. Despite the fact that Oregon St. has eight scholarship players, and no clear go-to-scorers, they hung with Auburn for 40 minutes. And when Langston Morris-Walker made a three to give Oregon St. a lead late in the game, you could almost feel the air come out of the sails of the Auburn fans believing in Bruce Pearl magic. Auburn hung on to win, but it sure felt like a gut-punching loss because it suggested that maybe Pearl can’t quiet work miracles with the roster he inherited. On the positive side, Antoine Mason may return soon and Trayvon Reed will presumably be eligible eventually.

Emerald Coast Classic

What has gotten into Ole Miss guard Ladarius White? I thought with all the transfers coming in that he might lose his spot in the rotation. After all, his ORtg the last three years has been 91, 95, and 95. But somehow White is shooting 10 for 20 from three in the early season, raised his ORtg to 120, and he has seen his PPG increase by 5.

But Cincinnati isn’t going to win many games where they force six turnovers, and that’s all they forced in the loss to Ole Miss. Cincinnati’s offense is a huge work in progress at this point, and if they can’t rattle teams and get some easy buckets in transition, this won’t be their only ugly game this year.

Paradise Jam

I’ve certainly heard people make the argument that the departure of Anthony Hickey was addition by subtraction for LSU. The idea seemed to be that Hickey was too interested in his own offense rather than getting the ball to LSU’s talented post players. I never quite believed that.

This year, I’m still looking for evidence that the complimentary players are doing a better job getting the ball in the paint. Last year Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer, and Shavon Coleman’s assist rates were 21%, 19%, and 14% respectively. This year Josh Gray, Keith Hornsby, and Tim Quarterman’s assist rates are 23%, 11%, and 18% so far. Last year Hickey, Stringer, and Coleman used 17%, 22%, and 20% of the shots when on the floor. This year Gray, Hornsby, and Quarterman’s shot percentages are 18%, 22%, and 15%.

You could argue this isn’t about assist rates or shot percentages, but it is about making sure the offense takes the best shot in crunch time. But after losing by 9 and 3 in the Virgin Islands, it isn’t clear that the offense is doing a better job executing and winning close games. You can blame last year’s guards all you want, but so far this season just feels like more of the same.

Holiday Tournaments Are Underway

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10 Thoughts On College Basketball's Opening Weekend

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College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big Ten

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College Basketball Preview 14-15: The Rest

In this piece, we preview the Ivy, Big West, MAC, Horizon, MAAC, Conference-USA, Patriot, Summit, CAA, Ohio Valley, Sun Belt, Big South, WAC, Big Sky, America East, Atlantic Sun, Southern, NEC, Southland, MEAC and SWAC.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big 12 Conference

Despite an uncertain point guard situation, Kansas remains the clear favorite in the Big 12 with Texas and Iowa State a clear step behind.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Missouri Valley Conference

While it is unclear where Wichita State ranks nationally, they're the clear favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference ahead of Northern Iowa.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Pacific-12

Arizona are the clear favorites to win the Pac-12 again in 2015 with UCLA, Stanford and Utah hoping for a place in the top-25.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: American Athletic Conference

SMU and UConn are the co-favorites to win the American Conference, with Memphis, Tulsa and Cincinnati hoping to reach the Big Dance.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big East

Villanova won the Big East last season and it hardly seems fair that they also have the most returning minutes. Georgetown will be hoping for a place in the top-25, while Xavier, St. John's, Marquette and Providence will be tourney bubble teams.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Atlantic-10

The problem for teams in the A10 is that it can take longer to restock the cabinet. When talented seniors leave, teams in the A10 sometimes need a year or two to rebuild, while teams in the Power Five conferences simply reload.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: WCC

Gonzaga could become a top-10 team in the country, while BYU and Saint Mary's are hoping to merely make the NCAA tournament.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: SEC

Kentucky and Florida are obviously playing for top seeds in the tourney, while Arkansas should comfortably be in the field. You can throw the next eight teams in a hat, and defend almost any ordering.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Mountain West

UNLV has talent. Wyoming should be strong defensively. Boise St., Colorado St., and Fresno St. should be strong on offense. And New Mexico has some quality players. But San Diego St. is the class of the league, and no one else is even close.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: ACC

Duke are their favorites and their season will hinge on the play of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, while Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia will challenge.

Ten College Teams That Will Play Faster

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