Archive for December, 2012

OK, this Holiday season has been crazy, so excuse the delay in updates. Here is Part III of the Conference Spotlight:

MID-AMERICAN

The Best Team So Far: (#80) Akron (8-4, 0-0) – The Zips have rolled out to a quick start in their nonconference season, holding the best record in the MAC as of Monday. They are currently the conference’s only Top 100 team, and behind big man Zeke Marshall, will look to continue their winning ways in 2013. Marshall leads the team in scoring and rebounds, and the senior 7-footer leads the MAC in blocks with 3.8 per game. Akron’s best win is over (#41) Middle Tennessee, but played (#22) Oklahoma State close in an overtime loss. Demetrius Treadwell and Alex Abreu have also been good for a team who also has a loss to (#8) Creighton on their résumé.

The Next Best Team: (#121) Ohio (8-5, 0-0) – The Bobcats made a lot of noise last season, reaching the Sweet 16 as a 13-seed behind D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt, their dangerous backcourt duo. These two return as seniors this season, and they’ve got Ohio off to a pretty good start. The Bobcats started the year 6-0, but have dropped five of their last seven contests, including their four first road contests. Their best wins are over (#105) Richmond and (#122) St. Bonaventure, while their worst losses were to (#168) Robert Morris and (#192) Winthrop. A loss to (#43) Oklahoma on Saturday was their final nonconference test, one in which they didn’t really impress. I still think this team should challenge for the MAC title this year, however.

The Best Player So Far: D.J. Cooper/G, (#121) Ohio – Cooper is leading the Bobcats in scoring at 14.3 points per game, as well as leading the MAC in assists with 7.8 per game. He is a full two assists ahead of the MAC’s next best offering, Alex Abreu. He has an assist-to-turnover ratio above 2.0, and is also averaging over a steal and a half per game. His best game was a 23-point, 10-assist, 7-rebound performance in a loss to (#91) Massachusetts. Cooper must work on his shooting, especially from the free throw line (70%), but at the moment, his team play has been keeping Ohio competitive, and should do the same throughout the rest of the season.

MID-EASTERN

The Best Team So Far: (#160) North Carolina Central (6-7, 1-0) – The only Top 200 team in the conference, the Eagles have been helped out by solid seasons from Jeremy Ingram and Stanton Kidd in the early going. Kidd is leading the team in rebounds and is second in scoring, while Ingram has been the most prolific scorer on NCCU. The Eagles don’t have any marquee wins to speak of, but they’ve also played perhaps the MEAC’s toughest schedule, already going toe-to-toe with (#13) Wichita State, (#24) Wyoming, (#108) Eastern Kentucky, and (#71) Marquette. They could score a big win against Winthrop on January 2nd before resuming their MEAC season on the 12th, facing the Rattlers of (#314) Florida A&M.

The Next Best Team: (#214) Savannah State (5-7, 0-1) – For a team that went 2-56 over the course of two seasons less than a decade ago, the Tigers have really made a lot of improvements. They are still not the best team in the country by any stretch of the imagination, but their turnaround has been pleasant to watch. Rashad Hassan and Preston Blackman are the leading scorers on the team, with Blackman leading the charge in assists and Hassan being the second-leading rebounder on the squad. The Tigers have wins over (#102) Western Illinois and Robert Morris, and pretty respectable losses to Middle Tennessee, (#101) UCF, Florida, (#20) Ohio State, and Marquette. They’ve got a rematch with WIU and a game against (#55) Saint Louis before they resume MEAC play.

The Best Player So Far: Adrien Coleman/F, (#304) Bethune-Cookman – The Wildcats’ 6’5” junior leading the MEAC in scoring and is third in rebounds. Despite Bethune-Cookman’s poor start this season – they are 5-9 overall and 0-1 in the MEAC – Coleman has been playing very well. In a game against a non-Division I opponent, he recorded a triple-double with 18 points, 15 boards, and 10 assists. He also put up 31 and 13 against (#347) Nebraska-Omaha, and has four double-doubles total on the year. Coleman will need a little help from his teammates, however, if the Wildcats are going to be able to do anything important in the MEAC this season.

MISSOURI VALLEY

The Best Team So Far: (#8) Creighton (12-1, 1-0) – Led by preseason All-American Doug McDermott, the Blue Jays look like a legitimate contender this year. They already have wins over (#50) Wisconsin, (#28) Arizona State, (#87) Saint Joe’s, (#96) Nebraska, Akron, and (#64) California – a pretty good résumé for a mid-major school, no matter how established the program. The only blemish so far is a loss at home to (#40) Boise State, who is having a pretty good year in their own right. Seniors Gregory Echenique and Grant Gibbs have played well in support of McDermott, and the Blue Jays look very likely to bring home another MVC title.

The Next Best Team: (#13) Wichita State (12-1, 1-0) – If there is any team in the Missouri Valley Conference who can keep up with Creighton, it’s the Shockers of Wichita State. The only big question mark is if they will be able to survive the losses of big man Carl Hall, who was the undisputed leader of this team during its first ten games, and Ron Baker. Cleanthony Early will have to pick up the slack, as well as newly-appointed started Tekele Cotton, who joins a solid cast of guards in Malcolm Armstead and Demetric Williams. Recent wins without Hall over (#63) Southern Miss and (#109) Northern Iowa are good indicators that Wichita will still contend for the Valley this season.

The Best Player So Far: Doug McDermott/F, (#8) Creighton – There isn’t a lot this guy can’t do. He plays wells inside and out, shooting 55% overall, 88% from the line, and 50% from downtown. McDermott is also leading the MVC in scoring at 22.5 points per game, and he dropped 30 against Akron, hitting 6-of-8 on three. He had 34 and 9 against California, dominating on the road. Jackie Carmichael of (#57) Illinois State is having a good campaign, but McDermott is playing at such a high level right now that there is no other choice but him for the MVC’s top player.

MOUNTAIN WEST

The Best Team So Far: (#15) New Mexico (13-1, 0-0) – I had my doubts for a while, but I think this team is legit. Though they lost to (#153) South Dakota State behind a ridiculous Nate Wolters performance, they came back with a win on the road against (#14) Cincinnati that proved they belonged in the national ranks. Wins over (#104) Davidson, (#86) Illinois-Chicago, (#99) George Mason, (#38) Connecticut, (#82) Indiana State, (#143) USC, (#116) Valparaiso, and two wins over (#155) New Mexico State make up an impressive resume of playing some of the top competition the smaller conferences have to offer. Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, and Alex Kirk have been the big three doing work for the Lobos this year, and they look like they will challenge for the MWC crown.

The Next Best Team: (#25) San Diego State (11-2, 0-0) – This was a tough decision between the Aztecs and (#23) UNLV, but the Rebels have looked shaky without Mike Moser, barely squeaking past California and (#126) UTEP on the road before losing to (#37) North Carolina on Saturday. The Aztecs, meanwhile, have losses only to (#11) Syracuse and (#3) Arizona on the year. Led by Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, SDSU has wins over USC, (#35) UCLA, and Indiana State on the season, and only fell to the U of A by a point. The date circled on every Aztec fan’s calendar is January 16, when UNLV comes to town in the first big MWC matchup for San Diego State.

The Best Player So Far: Jamaal Franklin/G, (#25) San Diego State – Franklin has been outstanding this year, leading his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals, and is the second best shot-blocker on the Aztecs. It was between Franklin and UNLV freshman sensation Anthony Bennett for top honors in the MWC, but my nod goes to the guard from San Diego State. In the win over UCLA, he put in 28 points and had 7 rebounds, and had a 19-and-15 game against Indiana State. Despite being unable to get his own offensive game going against Arizona, he did record a season-high six assists against the Wildcats, to go along with nine points and eight boards.

NORTHEAST

The Best Team So Far: (#158) Wagner (6-5, 0-0) – The Seahawks have consistently been a top team in the Northeast Conference, and this year should be no different. Jonathon Williams, the team’s top scorer and rebounder, has led Wagner during a season of very close games, as well as assists leader Kenneth Ortiz. They have played in four overtime games so far, going 3-1 in them, and have two other games which were within three points, going 1-1 in those. Losses to Syracuse, (#42) Temple, and (#62) Santa Clara aren’t too disappointing, although a win over (#145) SMU is the best part of the résumé so far. Wagner looks to continue their run of good luck in winning the close ones.

The Next Best Team: (#159) Bryant University (7-4, 0-0) – After opening the year with crushing defeats at the hands of (#9) Indiana and (#111) Providence, the Bulldogs have responded by going 7-2, with victories over (#147) Boston College and (#94) Lehigh under their belts. Dyami Starks and Alex Francis have been the best players for Bryant, who – despite being the newest team in the NEC – own one of the conference’s best records. They start NEC play against one of the conference’s other top squads, Robert Morris, in a game that will set the tone for what should be a season wrought with parity in the Northeast.

The Best Player So Far: Jamal Olasewere/F, (#256) Long Island – With the devastating news that LIU’s star player, Julian Boyd, would miss the season with a torn ACL after only eight games, Olasewere really needed to step up for the Blackbirds – and he has. He is averaging almost 19 points on the season to go along with about seven and a half rebounds, and over their last three games, he’s been at 20 and 9. One knock on Olasewere is that he fouls too often, averaging 3.4 per game, and it has limited his playing time to just over 28 minutes per contest. Still, he has been the best player in a somewhat weak NEC. Matt Hunter, of Central Connecticut State, and Jalen Cannon, of St. Francis (NY), were other candidates.

OHIO VALLEY

The Best Team So Far: (#74) Murray State (9-3, 0-0) – The Racers might not have the highest DPI in the Ohio Valley Conference, but I think the perennial standouts in the OVC will retain that distinction this year. Led by two conference player of the year candidates in Isaiah Canaan and Ed Daniel, the Racers have jumped out to a nice start on the year, winning games over (#106) Saint John’s and (#68) Western Kentucky. Their only losses have come to (#19) Colorado, (#78) Dayton, and Valparaiso, the latter two coming in their last two contests. Despite these two slip-ups, I think that Canaan – a likely first-round draft pick next April – and Daniel will lead Murray State back to the NCAA Tournament in March.

The Next Best Team: (#65) Belmont (9-4, 0-0) – This was a tough call, as Belmont and Murray State have both looked like pretty great squads so far this year, right now my gut says the Racers have the better team, despite the DPI rating. There’s not a lot of separation, though. Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson, and Trevor Noack are the trio that makes Belmont tick, and Clark could potentially be the OVC player of the year. The Bruins’ losses to (#18) VCU, (#4) Kansas, and UCF are pretty easy to overlook, while wins over (#61) Stanford, Middle Tennessee, and South Dakota State look nice. Belmont and Murray State meet only once this season, so mark February 7th on your calendars.

The Best Player So Far: Ed Daniel/F, (#74) Murray State – While Isaiah Canaan receives most of the hype for the Racers – and not undeservedly, being the OVC’s top scorer at 22.5 PPG – perhaps their most important player has been Ed Daniel. The senior forward has increased his scoring by almost ten points and five rebounds per game this season, despite only getting five more minutes a night. Daniel leads the OVC in rebounding now, and is third in blocks per game. Daniel’s 59.5% shooting is second in the conference, as well, and he has provided Murray State a second legitimate threat behind Canaan, which has been necessary when Canaan’s shot is not falling.

PACIFIC 12

The Best Team So Far: (#3) Arizona (12-0, 0-0) – Arizona already had a pretty good team going into this season before Mark Lyons transferred from (#119) Xavier to Tucson. He has provided a steady hand at the point so far this year, even if that is not his most natural position. Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson have been good contributors, while Kevin Parrom has had a few big games when his team needed them. The Wildcats are undefeated and have wins over UTEP, (#172) Texas Tech, Southern Miss, (#90) Clemson, (#10) Florida, (#33) Miami (FL), and San Diego State. That’s a pretty good set of victories, and Sean Miller has this team playing tough down the stretch in close games, as proven by the one-point wins over Florida and San Diego State – their two toughest opponents.

The Next Best Team: (#19) Colorado (10-2, 0-0) – Despite missteps on the road against (#24) Wyoming and Kansas, Colorado has put together a pretty good season up to this point. Consecutive wins over Dayton, (#48) Baylor, and Murray State, plus in-state wins over (#93) Air Force and (#36) Colorado State at home, prove that these guys can hang with some pretty tough teams. The game in Lawrence looked terrible for the Buffaloes, I’ll admit, but the Wyoming game was closer than the score indicates, and the Cowboys are undefeated this year. This spot could be filled by as many as five or six different teams before year’s end, but right now Colorado is playing like the conference’s second-best team behind Arizona.

The Best Player So Far: Andre Roberson/F , (#19) Colorado – Leading the charge for the Buffaloes has been Andre Roberson, who, despite being the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 12.1 PPG, is leading the Pac-12 in rebounding with 12.1 per game. He also averages a block and a half and over two steals per contest, which are both good for Top 10 spots in the conference. Against (#213) Fresno State, he had 17 points and 20 rebounds and he scored a season-high 18 points and took down 13 boards against Air Force. The 6’7” junior may not be as prolific a scorer as Allen Crabbe of California, but he has been invaluable to the Buffaloes for his rebounding presence, and is perhaps the main reason they are doing so well this year.

PATRIOT LEAGUE

The Best Team So Far: (#51) Bucknell (12-2, 0-0) – Although they only have two losses on the season, I’m surprised that they came to (#113) Penn State and (#191) Princeton. The Bison have beaten (#120) Purdue, George Mason, New Mexico State, and (#77) La Salle, however, as well as Friday’s 20-point drubbing of (#134) Loyola (MD). They face a huge test when they go to play (#21) Missouri on January 5th in their final nonconference matchup. Mike Muscala and company will look to pull the big upset on the Tigers, and right now, they seem to have the inside track on Lehigh for top billing in the Patriot League. It will be a yearlong dogfight, though.

The Next Best Team: (#94) Lehigh (9-3, 0-0) – Preseason All-American C.J. McCollum is leading the nation in scoring this season with a ridiculous 25.7 points per game, while grabbing five rebounds to boot. He has four 30-point games this season, although the most recent came in Lehigh’s most disappointing loss of the year, a home game against Bryant University. The other losses came in early November to Baylor and (#16) Pittsburgh, two likely Tournament teams. Lehigh’s best win on the year is over Robert Morris, but they could score a huge upset of VCU on January 5th.

The Best Player So Far: Mike Muscala/F-C, (#51) Bucknell – Even though C.J. McCollum has been shooting the lights out in Bethlehem this season, Mike Muscala has been more impressive to me. He is second to McCollum in scoring, at 19.4 per game, and leads the Patriot League in rebounds at 10.6 and blocks, with 2.4 per contest. His 54% shooting percentage also nets him a third-place spot in that category. Muscala has eight double-doubles in 14 games and has five games of 24-plus points, including a season-high 29 against Loyola on Friday. The 6’11” big man is also an 81% free-throw shooter, which is always a plus for a guy his size.

Okay, I will try to get the last part out tomorrow. So the year-end special will also be a year-starting piece, I suppose. Anyway, go check out the updated Tournament Projections and Complete Standings! Happy New Year everybody!

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Here is Part II of IV in the DPI Year-End Conference Spotlight series. This covers the eight conferences from the Big Ten to the Metro Atlantic. Tune in tomorrow for the reviews from the Mid-American Conference to the Patriot League. Sunday’s piece will cover the SEC to the WAC. (And I may even throw in a blurb about the two independents, just for fun!) Also, did you see that (#12) New Mexico win over (#10) Cincinnati last night? That went a long way to affirming the DPI’s high rating of the Lobos, who took a bit of a tumble against Nate Wolters and (#130) South Dakota State last weekend.

BIG TEN

The Best Team So Far: (#2) Michigan (12-0, 0-0) – These might be the best Wolverines to roam Ann Arbor since the late 1980s squads. Big Blue already has wins over (#14) Pittsburgh, (#35) Kansas State, (#21) NC State, (#109) Bradley, (#59) Arkansas, and (#105) West Virginia, and they look poised to handle their business in the Big Ten. Trey Burke has been running the show, while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III have provided Michigan with some very solid play. Nik Stauskas has been a huge addition to this team, joining the starting five as a freshman and shooting 55.7% from downtown. The Wolverines are shooting 51.1% on the year as a team, as well. This team is a legitimate national championship contender.

The Next Best Team: (#6) Minnesota (12-1, 0-0)Tubby Smith has put together a solid team in Minnesota this year, and all that potential is starting to come together finally. Rodney Williams Jr. has been the most consistent this year, as well as the Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (no relation). They are also bringing NBA prospect Trevor Mbwake off the bench, who is leading the Gophers in rebounds and is scoring about nine points a game in only 18 minutes. Their only is loss to (#1) Duke, and Minnesota has notched wins over (#83) Richmond, (#58) Memphis, (#51) Stanford, (#99) Florida State, and (#54) North Dakota State. They will contend with Michigan, (#8) Indiana, (#13) Illinois and (#23) Ohio State for top spot in the Big Ten, and will almost certainly end up with a top-4 seed this March.

The Best Player So Far: Trey Burke/G, (#2) Michigan – Burke is a special kind of player, a scoring point guard who provides a steady hand in the backcourt and has stepped up in big games. He has scored in double figures and recorded at least four assists in every game so far, and had a double-double with 18 and 11 against NC State in late November. He has an assist-to-turnover ratio of over 3.5 and he’s shooting 52% on the year. If Burke keeps this kind of play up, he could end up being a Wooden Award finalist later this year.

BIG WEST

The Best Team So Far: (#86) Cal State Northridge (9-3, 0-0) – The Matadors are off to a hot start thanks to their best player, swingman Stephan Hicks. Northridge has also gotten solid frontcourt play out of Stephen Maxwell, while Josh Greene has provided stability in the backcourt. Greene leads the team in assists, and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of about 2.4. The Matadors are 10th in the nation in scoring, and they have wins over (#124) Tulsa and (#93) Utah. Their three losses on the year have come to solid West Coast opponents in (#66) BYU, (#48) UCLA, and (#27) Arizona State. Northridge looks like the team to beat in the Big West.

The Next Best Team: (#135) Pacific (6-6, 0-0) – The Tigers are doing pretty well to start the year, considering their strength of schedule, which is currently ranked at 14th in the DPI. Pacific has wins over (#103) Xavier on the road, (#80) Saint Mary’s on a neutral court, and both (#178) Nevada and (#166) San Francisco at home. Losses to (#44) California, (#7) Gonzaga, (#64) Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s (on the road) do not look too bad, either. Lorenzo McCloud is leading the team in scoring and assists, and dropped in 24 points in the overtime win over Nevada. Pacific starts their Big West schedule on the road against (#212) Long Beach State on Saturday.

The Best Player So Far: Stephan Hicks/G-F, (#86) Cal State Northridge – As noted above, Hicks is the best player on Northridge, and looks to me like the best player in the conference so far. He’s scored in double figures in every game and has five double-doubles on the season. He is shooting 53% on the year, and is third in the Big West in scoring (17.8), rebounds (8.5), steals (1.7), and free-throw percentage (86.4%). The 6’6” sophomore led the charge during the upset of Utah with 19 and 9, and has Northridge in position to win the Big West.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

The Best Team So Far: (#81) George Mason (7-4, 0-0) – George Mason started the season by alternating close wins over (#110) Virginia and (#196) Mercer with close losses to (#69) Bucknell and New Mexico. They’ve won five of seven since then, with the losses coming in early December by seven points to (#30) Maryland and by five to (#96) Northern Iowa in overtime. Two weeks passed between the loss to UNI and their next game, when they capped a 18-3 run to end the game against Richmond with a Sherrod Wright buzzer-beating three-pointer on a neutral court (in Richmond, though). Wright is the unequivocal leader of GMU as the only player scoring in double figures (16.9) and actually is more than doubling the next leading scorer, Johnny Williams, who averages 7.8. Behind Wright, the road to the CAA title goes through Fairfax this year.

The Next Best Team: (#174) William & Mary (7-3, 1-0) – The Tribe has been solid this year, but they don’t have any of the good wins that George Mason does. Their best victory so far is over (#184) High Point, but their losses aren’t too awful. They dropped three in a row to (#180) Miami (OH), (#131) Wake Forest, and Richmond – the last coming in a double-overtime thriller on the road. William & Mary plays (#132) Purdue and (#182) Vanderbilt – two wayward big-name teams – before continuing their CAA schedule. Marcus Thornton leads the Tribe in scoring, followed by Brandon Britt and Tim Rusthoven. The Tribe is 18th in the nation in field goal percentage, as well.

The Best Player So Far: Jamelle Hagins/F, (#187) Delaware – Hagins is averaging a double-double on the season, scoring 13.2 points per game and leading the CAA with 12.2 rebounds nightly. He also leads the conference in blocks, with over two per contest. In a tough loss to (#310) Lafayette earlier this season, Hagins had 18 points, 23 rebounds, and five blocks while playing every minute of the game. He also dropped in 15 and 15 in an overtime loss to in-state rival (#241) Delaware State. He has eight double-doubles on the year, including ones in the win over Virginia (10 and 16) and the Blue Hens’ close losses to Kansas State (12 and 15) and (#38) Temple (29 and 12).

CONFERENCE USA

The Best Team So Far: (#58) Memphis (7-3, 0-0) – This year’s Memphis squad got off to a bit of a slow start, but losses to (#19) VCU and Minnesota are not really bad at all. They beat Northern Iowa on a neutral court and then trounced (#112) Ohio by 26 points. The Tigers also held a lead over (#5) Louisville for much of the game, before the Cardinals rallied past them and won. Still, the three losses Memphis has suffered are quite forgivable, and they look to be on the right track now. Memphis has a solid rotation of eight players averaging more than 17 minutes per game, led by Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas. Freshman Shaq Goodwin has also provided some solid play, leading the Tigers in rebounding. They have three games left before C-USA play starts, most notably against in-state rival (#74) Tennessee.

The Next Best Team: (#82) Southern Mississippi (8-4, 0-0) – Led by Dwayne Davis and Michael Craig, the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 6-0 start to the year before dropping four of their last six. The level of competition they’ve faced has ramped up significantly, as these losses have come to (#122) New Mexico State, (#3) Arizona, (#89) Louisiana Tech, and (#16) Wichita State. They did open the season with overtime wins over (#77) Western Kentucky and (#176) Georgia, but the win over (#154) Denver is their best win since then. Southern Miss has dropped off quite a bit – they were #36 in the DPI a month ago – and needs to figure things out before C-USA play starts for them on January 9th.

The Best Player So Far: TaShawn Thomas/F, (#140) Houston – Thomas has reeled off a string of great games to open the year, recording six double-doubles already, on his way to averaging 17.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He leads the C-USA in rebounding and grabbed 20 boards in the season opener against (#305) Florida A&M. Thomas has scored 20-plus points in five games this year and also leads the conference in blocks, with almost two and a half per game. He is shooting 52.6% on the season, but he’s a pretty poor free-throw shooter, hitting at a 62.7% clip.

GREAT WEST

The Best Team So Far: (#206) N.J.I.T. (6-5, 0-0) – The Highlanders have gotten off to a pretty good start, especially for a Great West team. The Great West does not get an automatic qualifier as of yet, because there are only five teams in this mini-conference. NJIT has popped out as the best of the bunch, although three of their wins are over non-DI opponents. They almost pulled an upset on the road against (#101) Providence to open the season, and also have Big East losses to (#104) St. John’s and (#61) Seton Hall. Their recent win over (#202) Army ranks as their best on the season. Chris Flores leads the team in scoring and steals and has NJIT looking like the biggest fish in a small pond.

The Next Best Team: (#287) Utah Valley (6-8, 0-0) – Well, Utah Valley sure does keep it interesting. Their last three victories have come after regulation, including three total overtimes in two wins over (#343) Troy. They also beat (#188) Pepperdine in OT earlier this month. Led by Ben Aird and Holton Hunsaker, the Wolverines have been quite shaky this year, but they’ve also played a lot of their games on the road, including losses to (#108) Washington State, Santa Clara, and (#95) Weber State. They kept up pretty well with (#70) Utah State as well, but eventually lost the game. Their first conference game is a big one, as they host NJIT on January 5th. Even in a conference that doesn’t get a bid, you have to imagine this game matters to both teams.

The Best Player So Far: Ben Aird/C, (#287) Utah Valley – Aird has been the big man on campus in Orem this season. The 6’9” center from Bountiful, UT leads the conference in rebounding (7.7) and field goal percentage (56.4%). He is also second in blocks (1.6) and fifth in scoring (12.6). He has had his biggest games of the season in the aforementioned victories against Troy, recording a combined 36 points, 20 rebounds, and ten blocks in the two contests. Aird also dropped 25 on (#293) Eastern Washington in a winning effort back in November. In fact, as Aird goes, so goes UVU – they are 6-0 when he scores 17-plus points and 0-8 when he doesn’t.

HORIZON LEAGUE

The Best Team So Far: (#62) Illinois-Chicago (9-3, 0-0) – After a loss to New Mexico in their second game of the year, the Flames went on an eight game winning streak to reach 9-1. This streak included wins over Mercer, (#63) Northwestern, and (#26) Colorado State. They’ve lost their last two contests to (#106) Western Illinois and Miami (OH), but still look like the Horizon League’s best offering. There is no singular star on this team, but Gary Talton, Daniel Barnes, and Hayden Humes have led UIC to their hot start. The trio averages 36.5 PPG combined, and Humes is a legitimate deep threat. The Flames start their Horizon schedule against (#179)Youngstown State after one last nonconference visit to (#258) Toledo.

The Next Best Team: (#127) Detroit (7-5, 0-0) – The Titans opened up quite a few eyes earlier this month when they mounted a furious rally against (#11) Syracuse and almost spoiled Jim Boeheim’s bid for his 900th career victory. If only their star guard Ray McCallum, who leads the Horizon League in scoring with 18.5 PPG, had been able to get a few more shots off, Detroit may have had a chance. He tied a season low with only nine attempts, and scored in single-digits for only the second time all year. Detroit has decent wins over (#149) Drake and (#88) Akron, and respectable losses to St. John’s, (#36) Miami (FL), Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Titans will battle with UIC, (#137) Valparaiso and others for the Horizon League crown.

The Best Player So Far: Ryan Broekhoff/F, (#137) Valparaiso – While McCallum may be leading the conference in scoring, Broekhoff is the top rebounder in the Horizon League. He is also scoring 16.6 PPG, good for third in the league, and has been Valparaiso’s unquestioned leader this year. The 6’7” Australian senior has dictated how the Crusaders have played this year, with the team losing on each of his three lowest-scoring nights. He did, however, put up 24 and 7 against New Mexico in a loss. Valpo is still without a marquee win on the year, but Broekhoff has been their best piece and is keeping them viable in the Horizon League race.

IVY LEAGUE

The Best Team So Far: (#152) Harvard (6-4, 0-0) – The Crimson have gotten much better as the season has progressed after a 2-3 start. Those losses came to (#90) Massachusetts, (#98) Saint Joe’s, and (#224) Vermont, which are not all that bad, really. They’ve won four of five since, including wins over in-state rivals (#146) Boston College, (#183) Boston University, and (#253) Holy Cross. Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders have led Harvard during this stretch – in which their only loss was to Connecticut – and Chambers is an early Bob Cousy Award nominee. Mind you, Chambers is a freshman and is second in the Ivy League in assists per game. The biggest knock on the Crimson is that they rebound very poorly, currently ranking 300th in the nation. Still, they look like the best team in the league to this point.

The Next Best Team: (#190) Princeton (5-6, 0-0) – Harvard will be challenged this year by Princeton for the Ivy League crown. Led by Ian Hummer, the Tigers’ senior captain and a first-team All-Ivy selection last season, Princeton so far has beaten (#143) Kent State, and most recently, Bucknell. Losses to (#79) Rutgers and Syracuse are excusable, but they probably should’ve beaten (#191) Northeastern, (#225) Drexel and (#283) Fordham. Still, the Tigers are playing well at the moment, and a big test for them comes on Sunday when they travel to (#88) Akron for one of their final nonconference games this year. A win over the Zips would further solidify Princeton as the Ivy’s second-best team, and the Tigers always seem to do well in conference play.

The Best Player So Far: Ian Hummer/F, (#190) Princeton – Hummer has been Mr. Everything for the Tigers so far this season, leading his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and blocks. Despite fouling out against Bucknell, Hummer still scored 17 and grabbed eight rebounds. That is one thing Hummer needs to work on, however: his fouls. He is averaging three per game, and while he still is able to play 33.5 minutes per contest, it has to be a little worrisome how often Hummer ends up in foul trouble, given how important he is to the Tigers’ success. All in all, though, Ian Hummer has been the Ivy’s best player so far.

METRO ATLANTIC

The Best Team So Far: (#52) Canisius (9-3, 2-0) – Led by Billy Baron and Harold Washington, the Canes have gotten off to a great start so far. Losses to Syracuse and (#17) UNLV were expected – although I did predict an upset over the Rebels – and losing to the best team in the America East Conference, (#114) Stony Brook, is not all that earth-shattering, either. Canisius has taken down two Atlantic 10 foes in (#120) St. Bonaventure and Temple, and are 2-0 in the MAAC already. In fact, after only two games, they are the Metro’s only undefeated team in conference play, showing the parity that exists in the conference. The Canes have a matchup with Detroit on Sunday which could give them an even bigger boost as they resume conference play on January 3rd.

The Next Best Team: (#120) Loyola (MD) (9-3, 0-1) – Not far behind Canisius are the Greyhounds of Loyola, who started out 7-1 on the year and were ranked as high as #34 in the DPI at the end of last month. None of their wins are very impressive – the best being against (#137) Albany and (#156) Rhode Island – but their losses aren’t awful, either. They lost to (#68) Washington and (#133) Florida Gulf Coast, before losing their conference opener to (#172) Niagara by a point. Dylan Cormier and Erik Etherly have led the Greyhounds in scoring in the early going, and they’ll need to keep it up against their two upcoming opponents, Memphis and Bucknell, before they resume conference play.

The Best Player So Far: Billy Baron/G, (#52) Canisius – Baron has been the catalyst for the Canes this year, leading them in scoring (17.6) and assists (5.3), while also managing to pull down 4.5 rebounds a night. His assists are good for second in the MAAC, and he is the fourth-best scorer in the conference. Baron was two boards shy of a triple-double against (#263) Marist, and put up a line of 30 points, six assists, and five rebounds against UNLV. The 6’2” junior guard is the definite leader of the best team in this conference, and at the moment, that is translating into a Player of the Year-caliber résumé.

I hope you enjoyed the second of this four-part series. Come back tomorrow for the third installment! Now, onto some picks for Friday.

What to Watch on Friday (30 games total):

(#211) Rider @ (#79) Rutgers – **Game already finished when this was posted; Rutgers wins 68-56**

(#114) Stony Brook @ (#61) Seton Hall

(#157) Iona @ (#98) Saint Joseph’s

(#69) Bucknell @ (#120) Loyola (MD)

(#82) Southern Miss @ (#201) Morehead State

(#322) Jacksonville @ (#8) Indiana

(#45) Baylor @ (#7) Gonzaga

(#222) SIU-Edwardsville @ (#53) Saint Louis

(#153) Oral Roberts @  (#58) Memphis

(#67) Belmont @ (#183) Boston University

(#18) Missouri @ (#48) UCLA

Okay, there you have it. Now go check out the Tournament Projections and Complete Standings. Have a good Friday, y’all!

-AD

I’m sorry that there have been no updates recently. With the holiday plans changing last-minute, I haven’t had a lot of time to work on this, but here is the first of a four-part series breaking down the conferences as we enter the New Year. Over the next four days, I will be adding notes on eight conferences, in alphabetical order. I will also add some picks for each day. So, without further ado, here is the the first Conference Spotlight piece, from the America East to the Big South. (Tomorrow will be the Big Ten through the Metro Atlantic.)

DPI CONFERENCE SPOTLIGHT SPECIAL (PART I)

AMERICA EAST

The Best Team So Far: (#112) Stony Brook (8-3, 0-0) – The Seawolves’ only good win on the year so far is over (#52) Canisius, but they played well in losses to (#42) Connecticut and (#29) Maryland. Tommy Brenton is leading the team in minutes played (31.0), rebounds (8.5), and assists (5.2), while Anthony Jackson and Jameel Warney are handling the scoring with over 12 per game apiece. Warney is averaging 7.5 boards and 1.5 blocks, as well, while shooting about 65% from the field. These guys gave Maryland a pretty good game, and look poised to sit atop the America East this season.

The Next Best Team: (#141) Albany (9-3, 0-0) – The Great Danes have already scored wins over (#134) Duquesne and (#67) Washington and, besides the blowout against (#24) Ohio State, have lost by three and two points in their other losses. They are doing well so far, but mostly against below-average competition, so it will be interesting to see if they are able to keep up this pace. Mike Black and Jacob Iati lead the Danes in scoring, and at the moment, they are head and shoulders above the rest of the America East Conference, aside from Stony Brook.

The Best Player So Far: Jordan Reed/G, (#313) Binghamton – This freshman guard is averaging 17.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Yes, this 6’4” guard is averaging just under ten rebounds, including a game against St. Peter’s in which he grabbed 18 boards, which leads the conference. Reed is second in the conference in scoring, notching double figures in all nine games he’s played in, including five double-doubles. Now he just needs to work on his free throw game – he’s shooting 58.7% on the year.

ATLANTIC 10

The Best Team So Far: (#22) Virginia Commonwealth (9-3, 0-0)Shaka Smart and the Rams are off to a hot start in 2012, showing off their very talented six-man rotation against some big name teams so far. Despite losses to (#16) Wichita State, (#1) Duke, and (#18) Missouri, VCU has a few impressive wins under their belt. They beat (#59) Memphis on a neutral court, and they’ve taken down (#66) Belmont, (#73) Alabama, and (#95) Western Kentucky at home in the Siegel Center. Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham are the leaders in scoring and rebounding, while the duo of Darius Theus and Briante Weber have not only kept the point guard position solid – they have a combined 95 assists to just 39 turnovers on the year – but they are also playing insane defense, teaming up for almost six steals per contest.

The Next Best Team: (#32) Butler (9-2, 0-0) – Marquee wins don’t come much bigger than beating (#8) Indiana when they were the consensus #1 team in the nation. That said, Butler’s loss to (#101) Xavier is looking increasingly worse as days go by. On the flip side, their loss to (#13) Illinois is more excusable as the Illini have proven they’re a legitimate squad. Rotnei Clarke is leading the Bulldogs in minutes played and scoring, while Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are also providing Butler with solid play. Wins over (#89) Marquette and (#61) Northwestern bolster their résumé, and at the time being, the Bulldogs look like a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

The Best Player So Far: Isaiah Armwood/F, (#167) George Washington – While the Colonials are off to a very shaky start, the huge bright spot for them has been Armwood, a 6’9” transfer from Villanova. He is averaging 13.8 points per game, and leads the A-10 in both rebounds (8.9) and blocks (3.1) per game. In a three-point loss to (#35) Kansas State, Armwood put up a double-double and had 7 blocks. In a conference full of solid team play, the Colonials are relying on Armwood alone to carry them to better days.

ATLANTIC COAST

The Best Team So Far: (#1) Duke (11-0, 0-0) – The Blue Devils are the best team in the nation right now, led by a stellar starting five of Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook, and Seth Curry. Duke has played the nation’s toughest schedule and they are still undefeated, notching wins over (#6) Minnesota, VCU, (#28) Kentucky, Ohio State, (#4) Louisville, and (#39) Temple. The way these guys are playing right now, Coach K could be collecting his second national championship in the last five years. The only problem they have to work on going into ACC play is their rebounding.

The Next Best Team: (#21) North Carolina State (9-2, 0-0) – Behind Duke, the Wolfpack have been the best team in the ACC. No one else has been as consistent as NC State, except for perhaps Maryland, but the Pack have played the much harder schedule. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown – who leads the ACC in assists – have led the way for NC State, owners of wins over Connecticut and (#51) Stanford. They look like solid contenders to take the ACC’s second seed in the tournament, but it’s a crowded pack beneath the Dukies. (#50) North Carolina and (#36) Miami (FL) could also end up in this position by season’s end.

The Best Player So Far: Mason Plumlee/F-C, (#1) Duke – Plumlee’s start to this season has been nothing short of remarkable. He is second in the conference in scoring with 19.3 PPG and leads the conference with 11.5 rebounds per game (fifth best in the nation). He is also third in shooting percentage, making over 64% of his shots so far. In wins over Minnesota and Ohio State, Plumlee dropped 20-plus points and 17 rebounds, coming up huge when his team needed him most. The senior big man has his team on track to contend for a national championship and is making his case for the Wooden Award.

ATLANTIC SUN

The Best Team So Far: (#130) Florida Gulf Coast (8-5, 0-0) – The Eagles rebounded from a bad loss to VCU to open the season by beating a good Miami (FL) team. They’ve been beating mediocre competition, but their other losses have been to major-conference foes Duke, (#105) St. John’s, and (#40) Iowa State. Led by Bernard Thompson and Sherwood Brown, FGCU is taking a run at the Atlantic Sun crown this year. Brett Comer has been playing solid at the point, leading the A-Sun in assists on the year, and the Eagles lead the conference in scoring, field goal percentage, and steals. Florida Gulf Coast is also second in rebounding in the conference. It will be a dogfight with Mercer this year, but FGCU could be dancing in March if they keep up this play.

The Next Best Team: (#201) Mercer (7-6, 0-0) – The Bears have already scored big upsets of (#99) Florida State and Alabama – on the road in both instances – and they are hoping to slide comfortably into their new top billing in the Atlantic Sun since Belmont bolted for the Ohio Valley Conference. In order to outdo FGCU, though, Mercer will have to play a little more consistently – a 29-point loss to (#157) Denver immediately followed the win over the Seminoles. Recently, they have gotten a boost from Langston Hall, who missed the first five games, while Travis Smith leads the Bears in scoring. This team doesn’t score a lot – just 58.9 PPG – but they’ve held opponents to a 54.8 average, as well as a .393 shooting percentage. They are second in the A-Sun in steals and are the best free-throw shooting team (albeit at 73.5%), but they do not rebound or shoot very well. Despite this they are a gritty team that has gutted out a few big wins already.

The Best Player So Far: Torrey Craig/F, (#247) South Carolina Upstate – There haven’t been many standout players in this conference, but Craig has performed at a consistently high level for the Spartans. He leads the conference in scoring, and has three games of 27-plus points on the year. He has been held in check in games against tougher opponents, recording his fewest points in contests against (#53) Saint Louis, Kansas State, and (#47) Baylor – all losses. Still, he has scored in double figures in all eleven games so far, and could easily lead the conference in scoring through the rest of the year.

BIG 12

The Best Team So Far: (#4) Kansas (10-1, 0-0) – Well, if you weren’t sold on Kansas just yet, their victory over Ohio State on Saturday erased all doubts that this squad can play. Led by Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore, the Jayhawks are easily the conference’s best team. Bill Self has a great team in Lawrence this season, one that is shooting over 49% on the year and has reeled off five straight wins over Top 100 teams – (#77) Oregon State, (#20) Colorado, Belmont, (#81) Richmond, and Ohio State. The wins over Colorado, Belmont, and Richmond all came by 28-plus points, the win over the Beavers was on a neutral court, and they beat the Buckeyes on the road. Things are coming together nicely for the Jayhawks at the moment.

The Next Best Team: (#23) Oklahoma State (10-1, 0-0) – I think most people assumed Baylor would be in this position when the season started, but where the Bears have stumbled, Oklahoma State has jumped out to a great start. A 20-point win over N.C. State was impressive in the early going, and the wins over (#72) Tennessee and (#91) South Florida aren’t bad, either. Their only slip-up so far is a loss to (#85) Virginia Tech, who has had a very up and down season so far. Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown have been great for the Cowboys, but the show-stealer has been freshman Marcus Smart, who is averaging 12.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. Smart is an early candidate for the nation’s best freshman player.

The Best Player So Far: Pierre Jackson/G, (#47) Baylor – Jackson is leading the Big XII in scoring and is second in assists, while also averaging almost two and a half steals per contest. The senior point guard has led the Bears to a decent 8-3 start and was instrumental in wins over (#64) Lehigh, Kentucky, and (#69) BYU. He also dropped 31 points on (#143) Boston College in November. Jackson gets to the line often, and his 25 three-pointers tie him for third in the conference – he ranks the same in free throws made and attempted, as well.

BIG EAST

The Best Team So Far: (#3) Louisville (11-1, 0-0)Russ Smith has been the catalyst for this Louisville team, and Peyton Siva, Chase Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear have likewise contributed solidly to this squad. They would certainly be helped out with a quick return from Senegalese center Gorgui Dieng, who has missed the team’s last seven games (starting with the loss to Duke) due to injury. It sounds like Dieng will be back for Saturday’s big rivalry game, when Louisville hosts Kentucky. He could be the boost the Cardinal need to solidify themselves as the Big East’s top team – and a legitimate candidate for a top seed in the Tournament.

The Next Best Team: (#9) Cincinnati (12-0, 0-0) – Had this piece been written this time last week (#11) Syracuse likely would’ve been in one of these spots, but after the Orange’s loss to Temple, Cincinnati is looking like the second-best team at the moment. Their win over Xavier was good – better still that it came with no brawls – and wins over Iowa State, (#37) Oregon, and Alabama aren’t too shabby, either. They struggled this last weekend against (#144) Wright State in the early going, but recovered to beat the Ramblers. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright have led the Bearcats to an undefeated season, but a big matchup happens tonight when (#12) New Mexico comes into town.

The Best Player So Far: Michael Carter-Williams/G, (#11) Syracuse – The Orange’s 6’6” sophomore point guard has been stealing the show in Syracuse so far this season. He is scoring a modest 12.4 points per game, which is good for fourth on his team, but he leads the Big East in assists and steals. In fact, Carter-Williams leads the nation by almost two full assists – his 10.3 per game is followed by UCLA’s Larry Drew, with 8.5) – and he trails only VCU’s Briante Weber for steals on the season. He has been the steady while Brandon Triche, James Southerland, and C.J. Fair take turns having big games.

BIG SKY

The Best Team So Far: (#97) Weber State (6-3, 2-0) – The only Top 100 team in the conference, the Wildcats look poised to claim another Big Sky title this season. Despite the loss of NBA rookie sensation Damian Lillard, Weber State has jumped out to a good start. They lead the Big Sky in scoring, while also giving up the second-fewest points per game. They also have an impressive win over (#48) Dayton under their belts, and losses to (#71) Utah State and BYU aren’t all that bad. Davion Berry has done a lot of the heavy lifting, as well as Kyle Tresnak, who came up big in an overtime win over Portland State this weekend.

The Next Best Team: (#172) Montana (6-4, 2-0) – Montana’s losses to (#26) Colorado State and BYU are easily overlooked, but losses to (#160) San Francisco and (#163) South Dakota State – the latter thanks to some poor free-throw shooting at the end of the game – keep the Grizzlies from looking like the Big Sky’s top team. Led by Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward, Montana has already won their first two conference games, but will have almost two full weeks off before they square off with Eastern Washington.

The Best Player So Far: Justin Crosgile/G, (#296) Eastern Washington – Crosgile has been doing it all for the Eagles of EWU so far this year. He is fifth in the conference in scoring, and leads the Big Sky in assists, with 5.5 per game. He also collects almost six rebounds nightly – not bad for a 5’11” guard. His 1.7 steals per game also rank him fifth in the Big Sky. Perhaps most importantly for Eastern Washington, Crosgile stays on the floor, averaging fewer than one foul per game in 36 minutes.

BIG SOUTH

The Best Team So Far: (#162) Gardner-Webb (8-6, 0-0) – Give the Bulldogs credit – they’ve played a pretty tough schedule so far, with losses to North Carolina, (#33) Iowa, and Illinois, and a win over (#78) DePaul. Their loss to the Illini came by a measly point, losing on a buzzer-beater back in November. Donta Harper has led GWU this season, leading them in scoring and minutes played, and the 6’6” swingman is second on the team in rebounds and assists. Gardner-Webb does not shoot the ball all too well, though, so they’ll need to work on that in order to stave off the rest of the Big South.

The Next Best Team: (#200) Winthrop (5-5, 0-0) – The Eagles are the only other squad in the Big South that doesn’t have a losing record, so I figured I’d put them in this spot. Led by Derrick Henry, Winthrop has stumbled out to a 5-5 start. Their losses to (#104) Indiana State, VCU, and Ohio State aren’t too bad, and wins on the road over (#109) Ohio and (#195) Auburn were important for the team to keep confidence. The Eagles are nearly last in the nation is assists per game, however, and they don’t really perform very well in any statistical category. Three of their wins have come over non-Division I opponents, so it might be a little early to take Winthrop too seriously in the conference.

The Best Player So Far: Stan Okoye/F, (#275) VMI – Okoye is leading the Big South in scoring and is second in rebounding, notching 19.3 and 9.2 per game, respectively. Despite only being 6’6”, Okoye has shown the ability to crash the boards nicely while failing to score in double digits only once all season. He dropped 31 and 8 on (#205) Army, 30 and 16 against (#168) Elon, and 29 and 11 versus (#241) Morgan State. Unfortunately, he’s the only one doing much on VMI, and the Keydets have limped to a 4-7 start.

So, there you have it: the first installment of the Year-End DPI Conference Spotlight Special. Come back around tomorrow to see eight more conferences broken down. Now, for Thursday’s picks.

What to Watch on Thursday (11 games total):

NOTE: From now on, I’ll just list every game involving a Top 100 team, and then put the predicted winner in boldface.

(#249) Texas Southern @ (#79) Akron

(#322) Alcorn State @ (#52) Canisius

(#186) Florida International @ (#95) Western Kentucky

(#240) Northern Arizona @ (#69) BYU

(#146) Rhode Island @ (#88) Saint Mary’s

(#12) New Mexico @ (#9) Cincinnati

Alright, now go check out the updated Tournament Projections and Complete Standings to see where your team is after a long holiday.

-AD

DPI Update (through 12/21)

Posted: December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 21st

The Most Notable Game: (#55) Stanford, 70 @ (#68) Northwestern, 68

This was one of those games that will likely be scrutinized in early March, as both of these squads look like potential bubble teams. Northwestern has been on a roller coaster ride the past few weeks, having beaten (#35) Illinois State and (#47) Baylor, but losing to (#26) Maryland, (#37) Illinois-Chicago, and (#30) Butler. They survived an upset bid from Texas State earlier this week, as well. Stanford, on the other hand, had piled up three pretty meaningless wins, which were bookended by losses to (#8) Minnesota and (#23) N.C. State. Based only on the fact that this was a home game for the Wildcats, I picked NU to win this game. The Cardinal, however, jumped out to an early 32-14 lead, and it looked like my pick was going to be wrong from the get-go. Right on cue, Northwestern (8-4, 0-0) went on a 17-0 run to bring it within one, before John Gage hit a three-pointer right before the break. Robbie Lemons hit 3 trifectas in the first half for Stanford (8-4, 0-0), and added another at the beginning of the second, but that would prove to be his last bucket. Reggie Hearn had 14 in the first half for the Wildcats, but was noticeably absent in the later portions of the game after injuring himself on a layup attempt, ending with 18 points. Tre Demps was solid down the stretch for NU, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the final ten minutes, which included a three-pointer that drew the game even at 67-all with 1:50 to play. Stanford’s Aaron Bright hit a go-ahead three of his own moments later, and Jared Swopshire – who really needed to have a much bigger game for the Wildcats, especially after Hearn went down – missed a layup and one of two free throws in the final minute that would’ve drawn this one closer. Dwight Powell, who had a pretty quiet night in his own right, turned the ball over and gave Northwestern a chance to tie or win. Fortunately for Cardinal fans, Demps’ layup attempt with six seconds left did not go down, and Stanford walked out of Welsh-Ryan Arena with a good win for their résumé. This could be a killer down the stretch for a Northwestern team that his still never been to the Big Dance.

A Couple Major Conference Teams Have Something to Prove Today: (#16) Ohio State, (#5) Illinois

It seems apparent that Ohio State is a pretty dang good team. Aaron Craft has been a thorn in the side of many Big Ten teams for a few years now, but Deshaun Thomas is the guy that really makes the Buckeyes go. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging roughly 20 points and 7 rebounds per game, including a 31-point performance against (#70) Washington in November. Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross have also been bright spots for OSU in the early running, not to mention Shannon Scott, who is averaging almost as many assists as Craft (4.7) and is getting 2.5 steals per game. The Buckeyes (9-1, 0-0) are in the Top 60 in the nation on scoring, shooting, assists and rebounds, and the only real question mark so far is their schedule. Their SOS was hurt a little bit when they didn’t get a chance to play (#105) Marquette in the season opener, due to poor court conditions on the U.S.S. Yorktown. Their only other game of note is a close loss to (#1) Duke at the end of last month, a five-point defeat in Cameron Indoor that left a sour taste in their mouths. They have reeled off five straight wins since then, and on Saturday they face (#10) Kansas in what should be a tremendous game. I’m concerned that they will not have an answer for the Jayhawks’ Jeff Withey, as the only player on the roster over 6-foot-9 is Amir Williams, a guy averaging just 3 rebounds in 15 minutes per game on the year. They will need to shoot the lights out and play some good defense to stay in this one, but Kansas has looked dominant in their past three contests, and at the moment, it’s really hard to pick Ohio State in that game. Even if they drop this game, though, I think Ohio State should still make some considerable noise in the Big Ten this season.

Another team looking to make some Big Ten noise is Illinois, but they will have to wait until after the Bragging Rights game with (#25) Missouri. The Illini (12-0, 0-0) are undefeated so far this season, and have pretty impressive wins over Butler on a neutral court and (#7) Gonzaga in Spokane, but the list ends there. They squeaked past (#153) Hawaii in overtime, and barely got past (#160) Gardner-Webb – and they needed to hit buzzer-beaters in both. They were docked for winning those games a little bit, because had both teams hit all their free throws, the Illini would have lost in each instance. That luck, as it were, ends up costing them slightly in the Index. Don’t get it twisted, though – these guys are solid. Brandon Paul has been Mr. Everything for Illinois this year, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. The 6-4 senior came up huge in their biggest game, scoring 35 points in the win over Gonzaga. D.J. Richardson – who hit the game-winner against Hawaii – has been a solid contributor, as have Tracy Abrams and Tyler Griffey (who hit the winner over GWU). They do have a size problem, however, as Nnanna Egwu is their only true big man, but averages under four rebounds per game despite playing 23 minutes. Rebounding is not a strength of this Illini team, and that could cost them against the Tigers on Saturday. Missouri is second in the nation in rebounding, thanks to Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, and they’re averaging about nine more per contest than Illinois. I have trouble seeing Illinois win this game, but the way Brandon Paul has been playing in big contests, it’s hard to count them out completely.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Are Solid Bets to Win their League: (#36) Canisius, (#89) Davidson

Canisius has jumped out to a solid start on the year, with wins over Atlantic 10 foes (#111) St. Bonaventure and (#67) Temple already under their belt. Their losses came at the hands of (#110) Stony Brook – who is enjoying a pretty good start of their own – and (#3) Syracuse. A big test looms for the Canes (8-2, 2-0) on Saturday as they travel to the Thomas & Mack Center to take on (#22) UNLV. This is the same Rebel team that relied on late-game luck to beat (#53) California and (#146) UTEP in their last two games playing without Mike Moser. The Canes are talented enough to pull off this upset, led by guards Billy Baron and Harold Washington. Baron leads the team in scoring and assists, and Washington is second in both categories. Big men Chris Manhertz and Jordan Heath have also been solid for the Canes. Interestingly enough, through two MAAC games, Canisius is already the only remaining team without a conference loss. While teams like (#120) Loyola (MD) and (#137) Fairfield have enjoyed decent-enough starts, the Canes look like the real deal, and are my favorite to win the Metro this season. No one is saying this team is statistically dominant, but they have a solid rotation of nine guys playing more than 15 minutes per game and solid three-point threats in Washington and Isaac Sosa. Canisius, of course, plays in a one-bid conference, so no matter how many wins they pile up before March, the only ones that will truly matter are the conference tournament games. The MAAC’s top seed has not gone to the Big Dance – nor have they even made the MAAC Tournament final – in either of the past two seasons, so perhaps it’s a curse for the Canes to look so good early on.

Though the days of Stephen Curry are well behind the Wildcats, Davidson’s reign in the Southern Conference seems to be making a comeback. They won 25 games last year and received a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing a close game to (#6) Louisville. Big men De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen are doing the heavy lifting for Davidson (6-4, 2-0) so far this season, both scoring in double figures and pulling in more than five rebounds per game. They have also been solid defensively with Brooks notching a steal and half every game, while Cohen is blocking shots at about the same rate. Davidson has a few tough games coming up as they face (#254) Drexel on Saturday, and then (#75) Richmond and Duke, before continuing SoCon play. So far this year, they have wins over (#187) Vanderbilt and (#96) West Virginia – part of why both teams are in mini-panics at the moment – and losses to (#4) New Mexico, Gonzaga, and (#31) Charlotte were to be expected. There is really no other team in the conference that is looking quite as good as Davidson, although (#166) Charleston could give them a run for their money. That said, being in a conference like the Southern Conference, like the MAAC, means that you can win all the games you want in the regular season – it’s the conference tournament that ultimately decides who will represent the league. For the time being, though, expect the Wildcats to have the SoCon’s top seed in March. They had to survive (#233) Western Carolina in two overtimes in the championship game last year, however, so it’s hard to say they’re a complete lock for the Big Dance.

Last-Second Thoughts:

0:05 – (#97) South Florida survives in 3 overtimes against (#235) Bowling Green: A loss that would’ve crippled one of the Big East’s bottom-dwellers was avoided when Victor Rudd scored the last five points of the game in the final 13 seconds. Rudd ended up with 29 points and 7 rebounds, while Martin Brock and Toarlyn Fitzgerald had big games, as well.

0:04 – (#47) Baylor staves off a good (#69) BYU team, wins by 15 in Waco: Yes, I picked this game incorrectly. Baylor has proven to me once again that if I think they’ll do one thing, they’re going to do the other. I’m keeping this in mind from now on. Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Austin, and Cory Jefferson were a stellar for the Bears in this one. Meanwhile, Brandon Davies’ 26 and 17 weren’t enough for BYU.

0:03 – (#211) UNC Asheville stuns (#100) St. John’s and pulls the upset in NY: The Bulldogs had a few close calls earlier this season, losing by 7 or less to (#73) Tennessee, (#93) Providence and N.C. State, but they finally pulled the trick on SJU Friday. Jeremy Atkinson went into beast mode, ending with 31 points and 9 rebounds.

0:02 – (#48) Middle Tennessee rallies against (#187) Vanderbilt in Nashville: Vandy only scored 3 points in the last 8:30 of this game, while Middle Tennessee scored 16, erasing a nine-point deficit and securing for themselves the momentary distinction of being the best team in the state – although the Vols are starting to heat up a little. Bruce Massey was big for the Blue Raiders tonight, and Tweety Knight scored the go-ahead bucket, eventually spoiling the Commodores’ Kedren Johnson‘s 25-point effort.

0:01 – (#102) Cal State Northridge comes back from 21 down to beat (#99) Utah: The one upset I actually called correctly yesterday! The Utes helped me out by squandering a huge halftime lead at home, and Stephan Hicks and Landon Drew were monumental in bringing the Highlanders back. Condolences to Utah’s Jarred DuBois, whose Chris Webber-esque timeout call – when his team had none remaining – cost the Utes a technical foul on their final possession with 6 seconds remaining, down only three points.

What to Watch on Saturday (110 games total):

(#3) Syracuse vs. (#67) TemplePrediction: Syracuse by 14

(#41) Murray State @ (#61) DaytonPrediction: Murray State by 3

(#126) Texas @ (#39) Michigan StatePrediction: Michigan State by 8

(#63) LSU @ (#105) MarquettePrediction: Marquette by 5*

(#116) Florida State vs. (#31) CharlottePrediction: Florida State by 10*

(#10) Kansas @ (#16) Ohio StatePrediction: Kansas by 11

(#25) Missouri vs. (#5) IllinoisPrediction: Missouri by 4*

(#15) Florida vs. (#50) Kansas StatePrediction: Florida by 13

(#79) Bradley vs. (#92) Virginia TechPrediction: Virginia Tech by 8*

(#40) Canisius @ (#22) UNLVPrediction: Canisius by 1*

(* – Upset Pick)

These are just the games I’m predicting. There are some other interesting matches going on as well – (#111) St. Bonaventure @ (#23) N.C. State, (#112) Evansville @ (#30) Butler, (#18) Wichita State vs. (#88) Southern Miss and (#6) Louisville vs. (#85) Western Kentucky, to name a few. I can only assume I’ll have a LOT to write about on Sunday.

You know what time it is now. Go check out the Tournament Projections and Complete Standings!

-AD

DPI Update (through 12/20)

Posted: December 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

Okay, so this is going to be a quick and dirty update, because I’m not feeling too well after a long night of “preparing myself” for the impending doom that never came. But, hey, at least we’re all still alive!

Notes from December 20th

The Most Notable Game: (#286) Northern Kentucky, 54 @ (#294) Hampton, 52

This game is certainly not notable for the quality of the participants, but instead, because this marks the first victory in Division I for the Northern Kentucky Norse! Congratulations are in order, to be sure. Hampton put up a good fight, pulling the deficit with a point with only second remaining, but NKU hit their free throws and went home winners for the first time this year. The Pirates got a double-double out of center of Emmanuel Okoroba and Deron Powers added 15 points and 8 assists. Northern Kentucky was led by Jalen Billups, who had a double-double of his own, and Chad Jackson, who dropped in 18 points. Enjoy this one, NKU – you’ve earned it.

A Couple Major Conference Teams with Big Tests Today: (#186) Vanderbilt, (#68) Stanford

Vanderbilt has been playing a little better than they were when the season first started, but they have a big game today against (#63) Middle Tennessee. They will be playing at a neutral site, and although the game is in Nashville, the Blue Raiders are being called the home team. The Commodores can ill afford to keep losing games, even to teams like Middle Tennessee, if they want a shot at an at-large bid this year. The recent win over (#77) Xavier was promising, but the Musketeers are also looking worse and worse with every day.

In a battle of geniuses, Stanford travels to Evanston, Ill., to play (#51) Northwestern today. For the moment, they are ranked 7th in the Pac-12 based on the DPI, and that seems about right for this team, but Dwight Powell is a really solid player and might be able to drag the Cardinal up in the rankings. Stanford’s losses have all been pretty excusable – (#74) Belmont, (#23) Missouri, (#8) Minnesota, and (#21) N.C. State – but at this point in the season they don’t really have a great win to cling to. A win over the Wildcats would give fans in Palo Alto some more to be excited about – including perhaps a top-half finish in the Pac-12.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Could Score Upsets Today: (#58) BYU, (#110) Cal State Northridge

BYU, led by senior forward Brandon Davies, faces (#55) Baylor tonight. The Bears’ struggles have been documented in this blog a few times, and the more I see out of BYU, the more I like. These guys aren’t quite as good as when they had Jimmer Fredette, but they can still play with a lot of teams. Tyler Haws is doing his best Jimmer impression, however, scoring 20 points per game in his sophomore season. He doesn’t quite shoot the lights out, but get this – he’s shooting 95% from the free throw line. That’s the kinda kid you wanna have around late in close games. That’s exactly the scenario I am envisioning for tonight, and I think BYU pulls it off.

Another game involving a team from the Beehive state takes place when Cal State Northridge travels to (#71) Utah. The Matadors are 8-3 behind the solid play of sophomore swingman Stephan Hicks, who is averaging 17.7 PPG and 8.5 RPG. Northridge has lost their last three Division I games (with two non-DI wins thrown in the mix), but all on the road, and to solid west coast opponents – BYU, (#48) UCLA, and (#42) Arizona State. Tonight, I think they have a chance to buck that trend and beat the Utes, as they are a better rebounding team and  their scoring average is 8th in the nation. It’s always hard to pull these upsets on the road, but I think the Matadors have the pieces in place to do it.

Last-Second Thoughts:

0:05 – (#129) USC lost to (#166) UC Irvine last night, further cementing themselves in the Pac-12 cellar. (They are the only team in the conference with a losing record, but they’ve played the toughest schedule outside of (#22) Colorado so far.)

0:04 – (#57) Arkansas barely squeaked by (#156) Robert Morris, 79-74. (Just like I predicted they would. Nice to get one right every once in a while.)

0:03 – With NKU’s victory, only (#254) Mississippi Valley State, (#342) St. Francis (PA), (#344) Maryland-Eastern Shore, and (#347) Grambling State remain as winless teams. (MVSU is ranked higher because they’ve played a ridiculous schedule so far.)

0:02 – To give you an idea of how bad the SWAC is, notice that their best team, (#216) Southern University, is 4-6. (And ranked #216. Only team in the Projections in the bottom half of the Index. (#174) Harvard is the exact midpoint of the Index.)

0:01 – (#1) Duke and (#2) Michigan both cruised to easy victories yesterday. (Which was completely expected.)

What to Watch on Friday (37 games total):

(#124) Stony Brook @ (#31) Maryland – Prediction: Maryland by 13

(#68) Stanford @ (#51) Northwestern – Prediction: Northwestern by 4

(#58) BYU @ (#55) Baylor – Prediction: BYU by 6

(#186) Vanderbilt vs. (#63) Middle Tennessee (neutral site) – Prediction: Middle Tennessee by 5

(#110) Cal State Northridge @ (#71) Utah – Prediction: Cal State Northridge by 9

Okay, now go check out the Tournament Projections and Complete Standings of all 347 teams, and be happy you’re alive to do so.

-AD

DPI Update (through 12/19)

Posted: December 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 18th and 19th

**There was no update yesterday because I took some time to go through the Index with a fine-tooth comb in order to find inconsistencies and miscalculations which led to inaccurate readings in the Index. While the DPI will never be perfect, I feel that it was necessary to make sure that it is the best that it can be. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. I am much more satisfied with the results of the new weights (SOS, for example, is now given a more proper role in the rankings, while margin of victory has been subdued) and I am prouder than ever to present the DPI to you. Let me know what you think!**

The Most Notable Game from Tuesday: (#76) Stephen F. Austin, 56 @ (#56) Oklahoma, 55

Oklahoma came into this game riding the wave of a win over former Big 12 rival (#44) Texas A&M, who does their business in the SEC these days. Stephen F. Austin also played the Aggies in their most recent Division I game, losing by 8 in College Station, although they did win two laughers over teams outside of D-I since then. The Sooners (7-3, 0-0) and the Lumberjacks (8-1, 0-0) traded blows in the first half, alternating leads throughout. Oklahoma used a 9-3 run in the final 1:45 of the half to take a 30-26 lead into the locker room. After the break, SFA came out swinging, going on a 19-4 run in the first 7 minutes that left the Sooners down by 11 points. Hal Bateman and Taylor Smith of the Lumberjacks were instrumental in building this lead, but Oklahoma responded with a few big baskets from Romero Osby and Je’lon Hornbeak. Hornbeak’s three-pointer with 4:45 remaining gave the Sooners a 52-51 lead, but SFA’s Thomas Walkup scored three the hard way and put his team back on top with 3 minutes left. Steven Pledger would tie the game back up at 54, and the score stayed put until Bateman hit two free throws with just over a minute left. After Pledger missed a three, the Lumberjacks turned the ball over with 11 seconds left and then fouled, sending Oklahoma to the line with 4 seconds to play and a chance to tie. Freshman guard Buddy Hield went to the line and made his first free throw, but much to the dismay of Sooner fans everywhere, missed the second. Stephen F. Austin grabbed the rebound and secured their upset victory in Norman.

The Most Notable Game from Wednesday: (#40) Oregon, 84 @ (#144) UTEP, 91 – 3OT

This was a wild one, if not always a very pretty game. UTEP came into the game on the heels of a painfully close loss to (#18) UNLV earlier in the week, falling 62-60 when Konner Tucker’s buzzer-beater three would not fall for the Miners. Oregon, on the other hand, came in with a swagger after pummeling (#99) Nebraska at home and having won four straight games since their loss to (#9) Cincinnati. UTEP threw the first big punches in this matchup, leading by as many as nine in the first half. John Bohannon and Julian Washburn reeled off stellar performances for the Miners (4-5, 0-0). Carlos Emory was a bright spot for the Ducks (9-2, 0-0) early on, and Daymean Dotson was huge in a second-half run that put his team up by four, scoring 10 straight points for Oregon at one point. Washburn answered, scoring 8 straight for UTEP during this same stretch, and the game was brought level at 49-all. With less than a minute in regulation, Bohannon hit a shot that put the Miners up by a point, but Dominic Artis answered immediately. Bohannon went to the free-throw line with a chance to win with 3 seconds left, but could only make one, sending the game to overtime. The first overtime was marked by lots of turnovers and missed free throws, most notably when Tony Woods missed three of four with Oregon down by a point, with under a minute to play. UTEP failed to get a good shot after this, and we went to a second overtime. Both teams still missed some big free throws, including one by Arsalan Kazemi that would’ve extended the Ducks’ lead to 3, but Washburn scored a bucket on the other end to tie it at 75. With three seconds left, Oregon stole UTEP’s in-bounds pass and Kazemi had a wide-open look at a three, but it came up short. In the third overtime, the teams still traded punches until Bohannon hit his second three-pointer all season, putting the Miners up 84-80. A minute later, Oregon hit a 3 which pulled the score to 86-84, but the game’s biggest shot came with 13 seconds to play, when Konner Tucker’s three-pointer rang true this time, putting UTEP up 5 and the game out of reach for the Ducks.

A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Need to Figure it Out Fast: (#53) North Carolina, (#55) Baylor

No one is going to argue that there’s no talent on the North Carolina team this year. With future pro James Michael McAdoo running the show, and Reggie Bullock contributing heavily, this team should probably be a little better than they currently are. So far this year, they’ve only really had three tests, but they’ve faltered in all three. A loss to (#26) Butler in the Maui Invitational and a 24-point smackdown at the hands of (#10) Indiana put a sour spin on November for the Tar Heels. Three wins over not-so-great opponents led UNC back into the national rankings, but last night’s 18-point loss to a wayward (#127) Texas squad raised some eyebrows in Chapel Hill and the rest of the country. They have games against (#138) McNeese State and UNLV before opening ACC play against (#93) Virginia. With a few teams starting to look pretty solid in the ACC, North Carolina (8-3, 0-0) can ill afford to spend any more time trying to figure themselves out. Instead, this team needs to click immediately if they want to have any chance at an ACC title. Their first four opponents in conference play – Virginia, (#35) Miami (FL), (#113) Florida State, and (#31) Maryland – could all provide serious challenges for the Tar Heels, and they need to step up and prove that they are ready to answer the call. Otherwise, it could be a disappointing season for the boys in powder blue.

Baylor is another squad who better answer some questions before conference play starts. The Bears (7-3, 0-0) have been hard to put a finger on this year. First, you want to write them off after losing two of three in games against (#22) Colorado and (#160) Charleston, but then they go to Lexington and upend an admittedly shaky (#28) Kentucky team. Then they follow this big win up with a loss at home to (#50) Northwestern, and while these Wildcats are no slouches either, this is the kind of game that Baylor needs to be winning if they want to be a powerhouse. Since that loss, they’ve amassed two wins in walkovers, but have a couple big tests against West Coast Conference teams (#57) BYU and (#6) Gonzaga up ahead before Big 12 play begins. As good as I think Baylor can be with Pierre Jackson and Isaiah Austin, I’m worried for the Bears that they will drop one, if not both, of those contests, which could really hurt their confidence going into conference play. If they are able to score a big upset over the Zags, however, that could really ignite this squad. It will be interesting to see how they do, so tune in tomorrow for the BYU game, and next Friday for the Gonzaga matchup.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Flying Under the Radar in Their Leagues: (#52) Boise State, (#64) St. Louis

Well, Boise State might be a little more than just a football school after all. With their gridiron program performing so strongly over the past decade, the university decided to jump into a bigger conference, leaving the WAC for the Mountain West. Although MWC play has yet to begin, the Broncos (7-2, 0-0) have set themselves up to possibly contend for a top-4 finish in the conference. I don’t think anyone has illusions that this team will outplay (#4) New Mexico, UNLV, and (#32) San Diego State, but they should contend heavily with (#23) Wyoming, (#54) Colorado State, and (#98) Air Force for that fourth spot. In a conference that has been getting multiple bids in the past several tournaments, a fourth-place finish could mean a trip to the Dance for one of those schools. Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic have been leading the way so far, and Boise State’s losses are to (#42) Michigan State and (#69) Utah, which are not all that bad. Besides their most recent win over (#70) LSU, the real feather in the cap for this Boise State team is their 13-point win over (#13) Creighton in Omaha. The Broncos have five more non-conference games, all of which they should, before opening MWC play in Laramie against Wyoming. I think that this team has a good shot to make the tournament, but they will have to withstand the pressure from the rest of a very strong conference.

Saint Louis is a team who is playing under a unified cause, and it’s starting to show. With the passing of Rick Majerus, whose last stop was with the Billikens, SLU has really found their way in the last few games. The night after Majerus’ death, they beat (#147) Valparaiso, and have reeled off three more wins in a row. They have dropped three games on the year, but they were to (#89) Santa Clara, (#11) Kansas, and (#73) Washington – all pretty good opponents – and they do have a win over Texas A&M. The next big test for the Billikens (7-3, 0-0) comes in a New Year’s Eve game in which they host New Mexico. A win against the Lobos would do wonders for Saint Louis’ confidence heading into A-10 play, where there are no less than 8 teams vying for a postseason berth. Likely, only half of them will make the Dance, and (#16) VCU and Butler are looking like locks at the moment. (#68) Temple and (#62) Dayton have faltered recently, as have (#75) Richmond and (#78) Xavier, so the door could be open for Saint Louis to make a run through the conference and sneak into the tournament. Never count out a team who has dedicated their season to someone as inspirational as Rick Majerus. I know that emotion doesn’t put points on the board, but it certainly can stoke a fire in the young men’s hearts –and in college basketball, a little emotion can go a long way.

Last-Second Thoughts:

0:05 – (#16) VCU absolutely dominates (#84) Western Kentucky: In a matchup of two good mid-major squads, I expected a lot more out of Tuesday’s game. Western Kentucky came out flat, a problem not besetting the Rams, and by the end of the game, no Hilltopper scored in double figures. Darius Theus had a quietly impressive game, recording 6 steals and 5 assists to go with his four points. Briante Weber led VCU with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals of his own. In all, VCU forced 32 turnovers, which just so happens to be the margin of victory by which they won, 76-44.

0:04 – (#11) Kansas squashes the Spiders to the tune of 29 points: Another team from Richmond, VA had a much harder time on Tuesday. I predicted that this one would likely be a blowout, but the magnitude of it surprised even me. Kansas dominated from the opening minutes, leading by 21 at halftime, behind big man Jeff Withey. He had 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks against the Spiders, who were outrebounded by 19 and shot only 32.8% on the night, compared to the 59% clip for the Jayhawks. It was another great performance by KU, and they are a team looking very strong at the moment.

0:03 – (#9) Cincinnati and (#78) Xavier play a full 40 minutes with no brawls: Following last season’s embarrassing melee which left a black eye on the Crosstown Shootout, Xavier and Cincinnati met on Wednesday in a much less violent clash of two good teams. The Musketeers led by two points at the break, but a 17-4 run for Cincinnati over the first seven and a half minutes of the second half put them in the driver’s seat. Sean Kilpatrick was huge for the Bearcats, leading all scorers with 25 and pulling down seven boards, and Cincinnati ended up cruising to a 60-45 victory.

0:02 – (#109) Clemson, (#104) Marquette and (#69) Temple all suffer upsets: Clemson got drubbed by 23 points to a lowly (#182) Coastal Carolina team on the road. The Chanticleers were led by guard Anthony Raffa, who scored 25 in the intrastate beatdown. In another in-state matchup, the Phoenix of (#198) Green Bay pulled off the 49-47 upset of Marquette, led by Keifer Sykes’ 20-point performance. Marquette star Vander Blue missed a free-throw that would’ve tied the game with under a minute to play, but Green Bay held on for the win. Lastly, Temple was beaten by 10 points by a pretty solid (#38) Canisius squad, sparked by Billy Baron and his 19 points. Regardless of DPI rankings, this was a game Temple should have probably won at home. Despite only 4 turnovers all game, the Owls shot only 35% and were 4-for-28 from downtown (14.3%). All three of these teams already had some questions to answer, and now they’re all really scrambling for solutions.

0:01 – (#127) Texas gets a big win and a big loss in the same night: As I mentioned above in the rundown on North Carolina, the Longhorns scored a big win in Austin last night against the Tar Heels. On what should have been a celebratory night for UT, however, came the news that star guard Myck Kabongo would be suspended for the remainder of the season for infractions this offseason regarding hiring an agent and a May workout he participated in. While Kabongo ultimately decided to stay at Texas, his decision to practice with NBAer Tristan Thompson has come under scrutiny, as well as his error in judgement of misleading NCAA officials and withholding information. It is this last part that put Kabongo over the edge from a 10-game suspension (for the impermissible benefits infraction) to a full-season ban. Had he just come clean from the get-go, Texas would likely have their star back, but instead they will be playing without Kabongo for the rest of the year. It’s too bad for UT that they won’t have their bast player, and disappointing that the NCAA took as long as it did to make the decision. A win over UNC, however, should give Longhorns fans hope that this season may not be lost, after all.

What to Watch on Thursday (24 games total):

(#137) Robert Morris @ (#65) Arkansas – Arkansas has four losses on the year, but all of them are to teams ranked 51 or better. Robert Morris has wins over (#115) Ohio and (#120) Duquesne, and played Xavier closely. If this game were in Pittsburgh, I’d feel better about calling this upset, but I think the Razorbacks squeak by. Prediction: Arkansas by 6.

(#142) Eastern Michigan @ (#2) Michigan – This game is here mostly because of the lack of solid matchups on Thursday. The Eagles of EMU did beat (#130) Purdue earlier this month, but it’s safe to say that Michigan is a little better than the Boilermakers. They are firing on all cylinders and are one of the best teams in the nation right now. Prediction: Michigan by 26.

(#191) Cal Poly @ (#73) Washington – It seems like this one should be an easy call, but Washington has already dropped a few games – although both (#103) Albany and (#176) Nevada are looking better – and Cal Poly has already scored an upset over (#48) UCLA on the year. That said, this one seems like one of those upsets that feels like it could happen… so it probably won’t. Prediction: Washington by 8.

Alright, so there you have it. Go take a look at the new Tournament Projections and Complete Standings! Yes, I will now be posting the rankings for all 347 squads, so take a look to find out where your team currently stands! Thanks for reading, y’all. Enjoy your Thursday, just in case the world ends tomorrow.

-AD

DPI Update (through 12/17)

Posted: December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

Before I get into the analysis for today, I want to first thank everyone who made yesterday’s full-scale launch of the DPI across Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook such a success! I’m appreciative of every single one of you, and I am proud to have your readership. We’ll likely disagree on things – especially in the early going – but I’ll try to explain and defend the Index to the best of my abilities. In the early season, before conference play starts, a lot of teams have a Strength of Schedule that is distorted one way or another. For instance, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have low measures, while Butler and VCU have very high ones. Once conference play starts, though, these numbers will even out, as the level of play in those respective conferences will magnetize the SOS more towards the norm. Also, a team that has more wins will likely rank ahead of a team with fewer, even if the team with fewer wins demolished the other (as in the case of Duke and Minnesota). Again, as the season progresses and the number of games played evens out across the country, so too will the rankings. Lastly, this is not an exact science. This is just one man’s attempt to track and analyze the factors I have deemed important to college basketball success, based on my investigation of past Tournament teams. The Index will get some things wrong – and that’s OK… no one is perfect. Just keep checking back to see if the DPI is tracking more closely to how you see the college basketball landscape. If you disagree with my findings, let me know – I’m all for discussion. Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, onto the notes!

Notes from December 17th

The Most Notable Game: (#159) Detroit, 68 @ (#2) Syracuse, 72

There was a buzz about the Carrier Dome before this seemingly innocuous game, as legendary Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim came in looking for the 900th win in his illustrious career – all of which has been spent with the Orange. Syracuse came out swinging, leading by 19 at the break behind the ridiculously hot start of James Southerland, who hit five 3-pointers on his way to a 16-point first half. Detroit trailed by as many as 20 points in this game with just over six minutes to play. The Titan’s best player, Ray McCallum, was being held in check pretty much all game, but forwards Doug Anderson and Juwan Howard, Jr. picked up the slack. Howard was instrumental in a run that brought Detroit back within striking distance, scoring 14 points during a 19-2 scoring flurry for the Titans which drew the game within three points with half a minute to play. Despite being unable to hit his field goals down the stretch, Michael Carter-Williams – who had a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists – was able to hit five of six free throws to keep the Titans (6-5, 0-0) at bay, finally winning by the 72-68 score line. Brandon Triche was kept under wraps for most of this game, fouling out after scoring only 7 points on 1-of-6 shooting. The Orange (10-0, 0-0) struggled mightily in the later parts of this game, and one wonders if that was complacency setting in, but regardless, they were able to deliver to Boeheim a milestone which has been reached by only two other coaches in the history of college basketball – Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. That’s some pretty good company to find yourself in.

A Couple Major Conference Teams You Shouldn’t Sleep On: (#23) Missouri, (#16) Pittsburgh

The Tigers are playing a good brand of basketball this season. Missouri has early wins over (#78) Stanford and (#38) VCU, but aside from that have been mostly facing very weak opposition. They did play a very good (#5) Louisville squad earlier in the year, but were crushed by 23 points. Despite this slip-up, the Tigers have been dominating the competition against the cupcakes they’ve been playing. Led by Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey, Missouri has been playing well over their last five games, and Alex Oriakhi – a former star at Connecticut – has been cleaning up the glass nicely (8.6 RPG). They also got transfer Jabari Brown into the fold last night, who scored 12 points in his debut for the Tigers in a 102-51 romp over (#294) South Carolina State. Three huge tests face Missouri (9-1, 0-0) before they start SEC play on January 8th – they host rival (#3) Illinois on Saturday, travel to (#65) UCLA on the 28th, and then (#27) Bucknell comes to town on the 5th of January. I think it will be tough for Missouri to win all three of those games, but if they do, the Tigers will be poised for greatness this season. Even if they struggle, however, this team should likely finish no lower than third in the SEC behind (#13) Florida and perhaps (#44) Kentucky, if the Cats start playing more consistently. The next set of games will be very indicative of Missouri’s season.

Pittsburgh is a team that has been quietly cruising in the early going, but they have been somewhat overlooked in terms of Big East teams, as Syracuse, Louisville, and (#12) Cincinnati have all been very good out of the gates. The Panthers are led by point guard Tray Woodall and Nigerian big man Talib Zanna, who has doubled his scoring efforts from last season (6.3 to 12.6 PPG). Freshmen James Robinson and Steven Adams have also been solid contributors in their first years with the team. Pittsburgh is not the best rebounding squad, but they have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.15, which is tops in the nation by a large margin – (#26) Notre Dame is second with 1.70, to give you an idea. The Panthers (10-1, 0-0) are also shooting the lights out so far, making 51.8% of their shots, the fifth-best percentage in the country. So far, their only loss is to Michigan, although they did need overtime to get past (#274) Oakland. They crushed in-state opponents (#45) Lehigh and (#139) Duquesne by more than 20 points apiece. The Panthers have two more walkovers before starting Big East play at home against Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve. With all the noise some of the other teams in the conference have been making, Pittsburgh has been drowned out a little bit, but make no mistake, this is a really good team that should spend most of the year in the national polls.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Will Be Squarely on the Bubble: (#54) Dayton, (#53) Santa Clara

Dayton is one of those teams who always seems to playing in the postseason, and always find themselves on either side of NCAA Tournament bubble. This year will likely be no different, as the Flyers have a pretty good squad, but not good enough to win the Atlantic 10 outright. Guard Kevin Dillard leads the team in scoring and assists, while Devin Oliver is scoring 10.9 PPG and hauling in almost nine rebounds on average. One factor holding Dayton back is their turnovers – they average 15 per game while only making 14 assists. They also don’t rebound very well. They do shoot the ball at a good clip, however, with Oliver and Josh Benson each hitting over 52% of their shots to open the season. A head-scratching loss at home to (#128) Weber State left some Flyers fans worried, but a win in Tuscaloosa over (#94) Alabama did a lot to quell their fears. Wins over major-conference foes (#180) Boston College and (#186) Auburn aren’t as impressive, but it’s still good to see Dayton doing well against big-name opponents. A loss to (#34) Colorado in their second game isn’t too awful of a misfire, but Dayton has four games left before A-10 play starts: (#47) Illinois State, (#48) Murray State, (#162) USC, and (#178) UAB are all on the docket. They also open the conference season against VCU and (#41) Butler, so the next six games are going to be very telling for what kind of season will be in store for the Flyers. At this point, I think they’ll score a couple good conference wins over some good teams, but will be on the outside looking in when Selection Sunday rolls around.

The Broncos of Santa Clara are off to a very hot start, jumping out to 9-2 after a win over (#227) Cal Poly last night. In fact, both of their losses on the year have come by three points or less and in overtime – one to (#76) Utah State, and then to (#203) UCSB in their next game. So far, Santa Clara’s most impressive win is over (#91) Saint Louis on the road, but they’ve got a few good players that make me think that this team might be able to make some noise in the West Coast Conference. Seniors Kevin Foster and Marc Trasolini lead this squad, and junior guard Evan Roquemore is a huge piece, as well. Foster is averaging 20.2 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game (4th in the nation), while Roquemore is putting in 14.1 and shelling out 6.5 dimes in each contest, not to mention notching a steal and a half per game. The big man Trasolini, on the other hand, is pulling down just about eight boards every night to go along with his 15 points and two blocks. There’s not a whole lot of depth behind this trio, but the Broncos do have a few serviceable players. They also have a big test upcoming when they travel to (#7) Duke on 12/29 for their last non-conference matchup. Something tells me they won’t be pulling off any big upsets out east, but I still think that Santa Clara is poised to contend with  (#82) Saint Mary’s and (#80) BYU for second-place behind (#6) Gonzaga in the WCC. Their trio of Foster, Trasolini, and Roquemore should have the Broncos squarely on the bubble by season’s end, though an NIT berth seems more plausible at the moment.

Last-Second Thoughts:

0:05 – (#50) Connecticut is playing for pride this season: Due to NCAA infractions, the Huskies will be unable to participate in neither the Big East tournament, nor any other postseason tournament. First-year coach Kevin Ollie has his team playing for a different reason in 2012-13: pride. Connecticut is off to a great start this year, and if they were so able, would likely be in the tournament come March. Losses to (#10) New Mexico and (#46) North Carolina State are nothing to sneeze at, and their season-opening win over (#43) Michigan State is still impressive. At this point, UConn needs to keep playing well to bring some momentum into next year, and to make sure that Kevin Ollie gets a new contract.

0:04 – (#59) Northwestern survives a (#249) Texas State upset bid: It was a tense scene in Evanston late in this ball game, as the Wildcats trailed by five points to Texas State with just over 3 minutes to play. Knowing just how much a loss like this could hurt NU come Selection Sunday, Dave Sobolewski hit a huge three-pointer with 1:45 remaining to put Northwestern back on top, and the Bobcats actually never scored again after taking that 68-63 lead. Despite the win, this was a shaky showing for a team who is scratching and clawing to try to make their first NCAA Tournament ever.

0:03 – (#274) Oakland tops (#117) Valparaiso with a furious comeback: Down 68-59 with just under 5 minutes to play, the Oakland Grizzlies turned up the heat and found their game. The same team that gave up an 18-point halftime lead to Pittsburgh closed this game out much better, going on an 11-0 run in which Valpo failed to score on their final eight possessions. The Grizzlies’ Duke Mondy hit the go-ahead layup with 20 seconds left, and Cory Petros blocked a layup attempt by the Crusaders with 11 to go. Ryan Broekhoff of Valparaiso had one final chance to win them the game, but his three-pointer caromed out and sealed the come-from-behind victory for Oakland.

0:02 – (#15) UNLV survives on the road against (#196) UTEP: Playing without Mike Moser, UNLV has looked a little shaky on the road in their past few contests, beating (#246) Portland by only eight points and then relying on a last-second shot to beat (#77) Cal in Berkeley. Last night was no different, as they barely got past UTEP in El Paso. The Rebels held the lead throughout most of the game, but never quite separated themselves. They led by 15 early in the second half, but the Miners charged back, bringing within two points with 41 seconds left. Bryce Dejean-Jones missed two free throws which gave UTEP one final chance to win, but a Konner Tucker three-pointer missed, and UNLV escaped Texas with a win.

0:01 – (#323) Jackson State gets their first win of the year: Congratulations to the Tigers of JSU for finally getting off the schneid and picking up a 91-82 victory over (#278) Seattle, behind a 32-point performance from guard Kelsey Howard. They have escaped the distinction of being the last winless team, which now will befall one of five remaining teams: (#295) Mississippi Valley State; (#303) North Kentucky; (#334) Saint Francis (PA); (#345) Maryland-Eastern Shore; and (#347) Grambling State. St. Francis and UMES both had chances to pick up wins yesterday, but fell to Bucknell and Connecticut, respectively.

What to Watch on Tuesday (51 games total):

(#35) Richmond @ (#19) Kansas – The Spiders have been pretty god so far this year, but Kansas has looked much better. Their demolition of (#102) Belmont on Saturday was very telling, and I fear the same thing might be in store for Richmond tonight. Prediction: Kansas by 18

(#57) Western Kentucky @ (#38) VCU – The Hilltoppers are coming off a tough loss at Murray State, while VCU is riding the wave of a win over Alabama. VCU is looking very solid at the moment. I’m guessing that both teams continue those trends, and I see Virginia Commonwealth winning this one somewhat closely. Prediction: VCU by 7

(#95) Stephen F. Austin @ (#63) Oklahoma – When Oklahoma beat (#123)West Virginia earlier this year, I didn’t think much of it, but their win over (#49) Texas A&M started to bring me around to the Sooners a little bit. Meanwhile, Stephen F. Austin is 7-1 and in the Top 100. I doubt they’ll put up a huge fight, though. Prediction: Oklahoma by 13

(#36) Miami (FL) @ (#106) Central Florida – Miami has been good on the year so far, with wins over Michigan State and (#25) Charlotte under their belts, although they did lose confusingly to (#120) Florida Gulf Coast on the road. UCF, on the other hand, has losses to Florida and (#56) Middle Tennessee, but no great wins to speak of. I think Miami cruises tonight. Prediction: Miami (FL) by 14

(#78) Stanford @ (#46) North Carolina State – North Carolina State has been a bit of an enigma this year. The Connecticut win was a good one, and the loss to (#1) Michigan was none too surprising, but losing by 20 to (#29) Oklahoma State was worrisome and they barely got past (#286) UNC Asheville. Out west, Stanford’s best win is over (#133) Northern Iowa, but their losses have been to good teams. Being at home, I think NC State takes this one. Prediction: North Carolina State by 9

Alright, so there you have it! Now go head on over to see the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100 and enjoy your Tuesday basketball!

-AD

Updated Rankings (through 12/16)

Posted: December 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 16th

The Most Notable Game: (#54) Western Kentucky, 70 @ (#48) Murray State, 75

This was one of those marquee mid-major matchups, one you have to be a true college basketball fanatic to enjoy. Thankfully, I am – and this one did not disappoint. At the start of this game, Western Kentucky was rated at #42 and Murray State at #70. It was back and forth throughout the game, with the first half being dominated by the big men, notably WKU’s Teeng Akol and Murray State’s Ed Daniel. The second half saw the Hilltoppers lose their point guard Jamal Crook to injury, but there was another player in the backcourt who proved more than ready to step up to the occasion – Brandon Harris. Harris ended up scoring a career high 25 points in this game, but his efforts were countered at every turn by the Racers’ star all-everything guard Isaiah Canaan. After struggling throughout much of the first 30 minutes in which he shot 3 for 12, Canaan erupted in the final 10 minutes, scoring 13 points and making his final four field goals. With NBA scouts in attendance, Isaiah Canaan – a surefire pro – stepped up at exactly the right moments. His three-pointer with just under 7 minutes remaining put Murray State up by one and they never relinquished that lead. The win put Murray State above Western Kentucky in the standings, and at the moment, the Racers look like the class of the Ohio Valley conference – although (#29) Eastern Kentucky is still looking solid after putting up a pretty good fight against (#3) Illinois (more on that game in Last-Second Thoughts).

A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Struggled Sunday: (#181) Boston College, (#137) Texas Tech

In the early morning on Sunday, Boston College tipped off with (#243) New Hampshire in what should have been an easy romp in Chestnut Hill for the Eagles. Having limped to a sub-.500 start to the year, BC had something to prove against the Wildcats, but they sure took their sweet time in making their point. UNH’s star forward Ferg Myrick took his team under his wing, scoring 11 in the first period. BC trailed by eight at the break and by as many as 13 in the second half. That is when the Eagles’ leader Ryan Anderson stepped up and started hitting some big baskets. He had 8 points to lead Boston College back to a 52-all tie with 1:33 left, but neither team could score in the final 90 seconds and this game went to overtime. In the extra period, UNH jumped out to a five-point lead, but threes from Lonnie Jackson and Oliver Hanlan gave BC a one-point advantage with 50 seconds left. A couple missed free throws kept New Hampshire (4-6, 0-0) in this one, but they couldn’t get the ball into Myrick, and instead Patrick Konan missed two shots that could have potentially tied or won the game for UNH. Boston College (5-5, 0-0) escaped with a win that brings them to .500 on the year, but it’s a victory they can’t feel too comfortable with.

Texas Tech would’ve loved an uncomfortable victory on Sunday. The Red Raiders came into this game with a 5-1 record, but their best win was over (#235) Prairie View A&M. All of their other triumphs came over sub-300 teams, including the DPI’s bottom-dwellers, (#346) Nebraska-Omaha and (#347) Grambling State (more on Grambling in Last-Second Thoughts). Their loss, however, came to a really good (#8) Arizona team, so it was hard to get a gauge on where Texas Tech was when (#164) McNeese State (6-3, 0-0) came to town. The Cowboys had won four straight coming into Sunday’s game in Lubbock, the most recent over (#68) Louisiana Tech. Texas Tech looked to be quelling some of that momentum however, as they jumped out to an early ten-point lead and went into the break up by five. With 11 minutes left in the game, the Raiders were still enjoying an eight-point advantage, behind solid performances from Jaye Crockett and Trency Jackson. At this point, however, the Cowboys woke up and went on an 18-5 run, highlighted by Ledrick Eackles’ (son of NBAer Ledell Eackles) eight points – the last five coming on a game-tying dunk and a go-ahead three-pointer. Donate Cannon stepped up for McNeese, making some big shots and bigger passes down the stretch, but a turnover with a minute left led to a Crockett basket that brought the game within one. Cannon returned fire, coolly hitting a jumper to push it back out to three. When Crockett’s three missed in final 21 seconds, Texas Tech had to start fouling. The Cowboys made all four free throws in the closing seconds, and sent the Raiders (5-2, 0-0) on a head-scratching walk of shame as they left United Spirit Arena in Lubbock – where, curiously, they’ve played all seven games so far this season. If you’re a Tech player, just be glad Bob Knight isn’t around anymore.

A Couple Low-Major Teams With Impressive Wins Saturday: (#35) Bucknell, (#115) Robert Morris

I’ve already discussed a lot of the good ones in the last couple days: (#252) Georgia State’s upset over (#63) Virginia Tech was in Sunday morning’s Last-Second Thoughts, and Murray State’s big win over WKU was detailed above. That said, another low-major team that snuck up on a bigger-name opponent was Bucknell, who upended (#73) La Salle. The Bison (9-1, 0-0) have been a solid team so far this season. I talked about them last week as a team to watch in a good Patriot League opposite (#42) Lehigh and All-American C.J. McCollum – you might remember them better as the team that beat (#7) Duke in the NCAA Tournament last year. Well, Bucknell is no stranger to March Madness either, and they could be headed back this year. Bucknell led the Explorers (6-2, 0-0) for almost the entirety of the game, last trailing by a score of 8-6 early in the first half. Behind senior big men Mike Muscala and Joe Willman, who each had 18, the Bison romped over this Atlantic 10 foe which had previously been featured in the Tournament Projections. This is the same Bucknell team that beat (#170) Purdue in the opener, sending the Boilermakers into an early free-fall, and also has wins over (#111) George Mason and (#154) Kent State. Their only loss was by three points in Happy Valley to a mediocre (#145) Penn State team. If Muscala keeps up his rate of play (18.7 points, 11.0 rebounds per game), he could challenge McCollum (24.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG) for Patriot League POY honors, although the safe money is on Lehigh’s star.

The Colonials of Robert Morris have jumped out to a good start this season, and are a favorite to win the Northeast Conference – especially after Sunday’s revelation that (#161) Long Island’s Julian Boyd will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. RMU looked pretty dismal to start the year, getting trounced by 25 and 29 points to (#146) Rider and Lehigh, respectively. Their next lost was more promising – a two-point defeat at the hands of (#56) Xavier, before they topped (#171) Cleveland State and (#94) Ohio. A perplexing loss to (#216) Savannah State came between those victories, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the Colonials’ season. They won their next two matches coming into Saturday’s affair with (#139) Duquesne, a team coming off a good win of their own over (#124) West Virginia. This intra-city battle in the suburbs of Pittsburgh seemed like it could be another victory for the Dukes, but Robert Morris (7-4, 0-0) had other plans. Duquesne (6-5, 0-0) led for most of the first half, but a 28-7 run for RMU which spanned the halftime break put the Colonials squarely in the driver’s seat. They hit their first eight shots of the second half, including five 3-pointers, and by the first media timeout, they were up by 17 all of a sudden. Velton Jones and Coron Williams were the heaviest hitters in what ended up being a 91-69 blowout, scoring 22 and 16, respectively. Each player hit four shots from beyond the arc, and Robert Morris hit 13 threes before the night was over. It was a telling day for a few teams in the Atlantic 10, where (#40) Butler and (#37) VCU scored big wins, but La Salle and Duquesne turned in decidedly subpar performances. Robert Morris looked very good in this one, and the NEC seems to be theirs to lose at the moment.

Last-Second Thoughts:

0:05 – (#19) Kansas dropped the hammer down on (#102) Belmont on Saturday: I wrote on Saturday afternoon that Belmont didn’t have to win to impress me this weekend, they just needed to keep up with the Jayhawks. Well, they didn’t anything but that, getting stomped on 89-60 in Lawrence and never really looked to be in this game. For the Bruins’ sake, they need to hope this was just the result of being overmatched, and not an indication of what’s to come against the tougher foes in the Ohio Valley Conference, like Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. Kansas, on the other hand, looked mighty in blowing out the Bruins, and made a clear case even clearer, as they look to claim their rightful spot as the Big 12’s best squad.

0:04 – (#15) Pittsburgh simply didn’t let (#299) Bethune-Cookman have the ball: So, this was always going to be a blowout. Yeah, Pittsburgh more than doubled the lowly Wildcats in beating them 89-40. That’s not what caught my attention. What really stood out to me is that Bethune-Cookman was only able to grab six rebounds all game. Six. That number between five and seven. I’ve never seen a rebounding total so low – Pittsburgh hauled in 37, for a comparison. Bethune-Cookman’s Marc Mack led the Wildcats with two rebounds, and the team evenly split their half-dozen boards on the offensive and defensive ends. Of the 18 total shots that Pittsburgh missed, the Panthers reined in 15. It was as dominant a performance on the glass as you will ever see in college basketball.

0:03 – (#347) Grambling State is the nation’s worst team – and it’s not that close: The Tigers are a perfect 0-8 on the season, achieving new depths of futility I once thought impossible. They are simply bad at everything. Grambling State is ranked in the bottom 50 of almost every statistic imaginable, including 341st (out of 347 Division I teams) in shooting percentage, 339th in rebounding, and 346th in scoring. They have lost all eight games by no fewer than 26 points, and have been beaten by as many as 50. Terry Rose is the lone bright spot, averaging 15.6 of his team’s 49.8 points per game. The Tigers have been ranked 347th in the DPI for a four straight weeks, as far back as I’ve been tracking the standings. There is simply nothing going right for them right now, although I do hope that they get at least one win on the year. One note is that they have yet to play a home game, so perhaps coming back to some friendly confines will give them the boost that they need.

0:02 – (#3) Illinois staved off (#29) Eastern Kentucky’s potential upset bid Sunday: This game looked like the Illini were going to cruise, jumping out to an early 11-3 lead, but the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky stormed back and had this game as close at 22-20 during the first half. Unfortunately for EKU, Brandon Paul and the Illini were able to keep the Colonels at arm’s length throughout the entire second half, with the deficit shrinking only as small as four points, right after the 10-minute mark. This sparked a 12-2 run, however, for Illinois, which cemented the victory and gave Eastern Kentucky their first loss of the year. Meanwhile, first-year Illinois head coach John Groce moved to a perfect 12-0 start in his new digs in Champaign.

0:01 – (#76) Oregon State defeated (#340) Chicago State, but questions abound: While it was nice for Oregon State to get another win to boost their record up to 7-2, they have been playing the Pac 12’s weakest non-conference schedule to date. Wins over Grambling State, (#290) Portland State, and now Chicago State, are not the kinds of victories that your team can really learn from, especially when the latter two came by only five and ten points, respectively. And by now, you should know that a 30-point win over Grambling is simply par for the course against the Tigers. What has been encouraging is the recent play of Roberto Nelson, who tied a career high with 34 points at Gill Coliseum on Sunday. What has been discouraging, besides the weak opponents, is the sudden disappearance of Ahmad Starks. He has not hit a field goal in either of the Beavers’ past two games, after leading them in scoring through the first seven. Any sort of lengthy slump for Starks will spell immediate trouble for the Beavers as they look to recreate and build on last year’s 21-win season.

What to Watch on Monday (27 games total):

Another really slow Monday is upon us, but it’s got some interesting games speckled in there…

(#153) Detroit @ (#2) Syracuse – Syracuse should likely cruise in this one, behind Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. But you just never know. Well, sometimes you do… but let’s pretend anyway. Detroit hasn’t won a game on the road yet, and Syracuse hasn’t lost one at the Carrier Dome. Okay, maybe there’s no use in talking about this one anymore.

Prediction: Syracuse wins by 24

(#16) UNLV @ (#194) UTEP – This one is intriguing because while UTEP has not been good to start the year, they are currently undefeated in El Paso. UNLV is also playing without one of their cogs, forward Mike Moser, who is out indefinitely. Still, the Rebels took out (#77) California in Berkeley without Moser, so I think they’ll be fine here.

Prediction: UNLV wins by 15

(#252) Georgia Southern @ (#87) Bradley – Coming off their upset of Virginia Tech, Georgia Southern is looking to continue its road success against Bradley. The Braves, on the other hand, have been playing pretty good basketball to start the year. Walt Lemon Jr. and Tyshon Pickett will try to avoid the pitfall that Virginia Tech fell into on Saturday and beat Georgia Southern at home.

Prediction: Bradley wins by 10

(#68) Louisiana Tech @ (#90) Arkansas Little-Rock – Finally! A matchup of two Top 100 teams! And an interesting one, to boot. Louisiana Tech jumped out to a high DPI ranking this year, but have since fallen with losses to (#150) Northwestern State and McNeese State – both on the road. Despite getting trounced by (#12) Cincinnati last week, Arkansas-Little Rock is coming off of a win over (#147) Tulsa, and the Trojans of UALR will look to ride the hot hand of John Gillon (17 points vs. Tulsa) over Raheem Appleby (17.8 PPG) and the Bulldogs in Little Rock.

Prediction: Arkansas Little-Rock wins by less than 5, possibly in overtime

(#217) Cal Poly @ (#66) Santa Clara – Last but not entirely least, this west coast matchup offers two intriguing teams – Cal Poly, the team that sent (#60) UCLA into panic mode a few weeks ago, and Santa Clara, who has opened the season 8-2 and has a win over (#91) Saint Louis. Santa Clara is led by Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore, and the Broncos are in the top 10 nationally in assists. Chris Eversly and the Mustangs have shown they have the gusto to pull off the big upset on the road, but I think Santa Clara takes this one pretty easily at home.

Prediction: Santa Clara wins by 13

OK, now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get to what you really came here for – the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100 through Sunday’s games. Here’s hoping your team made the cut!

-AD

Updated Rankings (through 12/15)

Posted: December 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 15th

The Most Notable Game: (#9) Indiana, 86 @ (#41) Butler, 88 – OT

There’s not much you can say about this game except, “Wow.” Butler hung with the Hooisers from the get-go, and were helped going into halftime by an Erik Fromm three-pointer which cut the lead to four for Indiana. The Hoosiers’ Victor Oladipo was sensational in this one, scoring 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting. Roosevelt Jones and Rotnei Clarke were the catalysts for the Bulldogs throughout the game, but another player would come up in the clutch later, to become the real story of this game. Before that, however, came the big Butler run that put them in the driver’s seat. After Christian Watford hit a free-throw to put IU up by a 57-50 margin, the Bulldogs went on a 16-2 run in which five different players scored. Butler still led by five in the final minute, but after Yogi Ferrell cut it to three, an Oladipo steal and layup brought Indiana within one. Butler’s Alex Barlow made both of his free-throws with 17 seconds left, but on the ensuing possession, Ferrell came up huge again, nailing the game-tying three-pointer and giving a stay of execution to the national polls’ top-ranked team. The Hoosiers looked to have recovered, leading by four with 1:45 to play, but Clarke and Chase Stigall hit threes for Butler to put them on top 86-84. Cody Zeller tied the game back up with 23 seconds left, but it was Barlow – a sophomore walk-on – who hit the game’s most important shot, breaking the tie with seconds remaining and securing the upset for a Butler team that you can simply never count out. This in-state rivalry result speaks more to the quality of Butler (8-2, 0-1) than that of Indiana, in my opinion, so don’t go counting the Hoosiers (9-1, 0-0) out of anything just yet. They still have the look of a team that could win a national championship – they just won’t do it undefeated.

A Couple Major Conference Teams That Impressed Yesterday: (#8) Arizona, (#2) Syracuse

Yesterday I wrote about how (#13) Florida had a huge test against Arizona on Saturday, and that I was only calling it big specifically for the Gators because they were on the road. However, coming into the game, they were the team with the much stronger résumé, so it was an enormous test for the Wildcats, as well. For most of the game, Florida had the upper hand, leading by as many as 13 in the second half. A Mike Rosario three-pointer put the Gators up 11 with just under 10 minutes remaining, but the Cats clawed back and kept it close. Rosario and Kenny Boynton both had turnovers in the final minute, and Arizona brought the game to within one after Solomon Hill added the last of his 18 points, and Grant Jerrett hit only one of two free throws. Arizona sent Boynton to the line with the opportunity to put the Gators up by three, but he clanked the first one and the rebound went the Wildcats’ way. They did not call a timeout, instead giving the ball to senior guard Mark Lyons. He drove the lane and let loose an off-balance jumper, which caromed off the backboard and rattled in, giving Arizona (8-0, 0-0) their first lead of the game, and the only one they needed. This was a huge win for a team that was short on any truly good ones, and Arizona’s wherewithal down the stretch shows me that this is a team that will have some staying power come late March.

Syracuse is another squad who played well Saturday, although in a much less marquee matchup. The Orange continued a trend of obliterating opponents, and this time, the victim was (#49) Canisius. The Canes got good performances out of Isaac Sosa and Billy Baron, but it was not enough to hold off the smattering of points that Syracuse unleashed this weekend. Brandon Triche was solid, scoring 19 and dishing out five assists, while Michael Carter-Williams had 12 points and 14 dimes. The real story for Syracuse in this game was the emergence of James Southerland off the bench, who had 21 and five rebounds to lead the Orange. Canisius actually outrebounded Syracuse, but turnovers and shooting were the story of this game – the Canes turned the ball over 18 times and shot only 35% from the field, compared to the Orange’s 10 TOs and 55% shooting. This is Syracuse’s second-best win on the year, besides their opener to (#25) San Diego State, but they have a final pre-Big East test when they play (#38) Temple next weekend. Carter-Williams is one of the best guards in the country right now, averaging 12 points and 11 assists, not to mention five rebounds and 3.7 steals. The 6-6 sophomore has the Orange (9-0, 0-0) playing like a top-seed, and both Triche and Southerland are supporting him in that endeavor. Look for Syracuse and (#4) Louisville to go toe-to-toe in the Big East – at this point, both teams could end up being 1-seeds in March.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Are Playing Really Well: (#25) San Diego State, (#36) VCU

Now that you know how good Syracuse is, take a moment to realize that they are currently San Diego State’s only loss on the season. The Aztecs (8-1, 0-0) have won eight straight since dropping their opener to the Orange on the USS Midway. Wins over (#58) UCLA and (#161) USC have highlighted a mostly uneventful romp through the southwest for SDSU, and last night’s big victory over city rival (#223) San Diego showed that these guys haven’t missed a beat. Junior guard Jamaal Franklin has been the centerpiece of this offense, scoring 18.6 points and hauling in 9.8 rebounds per game. Along with (#16) UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, (#17) Wyoming’s Leonard Washington, and (#72) Colorado State’s Colton Iverson, Franklin is on a short list for potential Mountain West Player of the Year honors. He had 14 and 8 against the Toreros last night, and was helped out – as he has been all season – by the smooth scoring hand of Chase Tapley. Though their schedule isn’t much to look at, San Diego State is playing well enough to look like the MWC they should be. With Mike Moser out indefinitely for UNLV, the door is open for the Aztecs to make a lot of early noise and try to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Say what you want about VCU’s Final Four run from a few years back being a fluke. These guys are for real. Despite having lost three games on the year, the Rams’ have faltered against some of the best teams in the nation so far – (#18) Wichita State (by 2), (#6) Duke (by 9), and (#29) Missouri (by 3). They also put wins over (#88) Memphis and (#102) Belmont in their back pocket before hosting (#95) Alabama on Saturday and taking them to task, winning 73-54 over the Tide. Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham are leading Virginia Commonwealth in the early going, and Darius Theus has been serviceable at the point. The Rams (7-3, 0-0) do lack depth, however, and they really don’t shoot all that well. There are certain teams, however, that just go and gut out victories, week in and week out, and that’s what Shaka Smart’s VCU squad does. Granted, they’ve lost in their toughest matchups to date, but the way they played all three of those teams has to give you confidence that they will not only compete in the Atlantic 10, but could perhaps be the frontrunner for the title going into the New Year. There are no less than six teams who are willing to argue with me on that one, though.

Last-Second Thoughts:

0:05 – (#4) Louisville comes back from down 16 to beat (#88) Memphis on the road: Memphis led 25-9 in the first half, and even by as much as 10 with 12 minutes to play. Chase Behanan, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith brought Louisville back from the dead and slingshot themselves past the Tigers on Saturday. The Cardinals spent all day at the free throw line, but shooting an 82.6% clip (38-for-46) was huge for them to be able to get this win. Joe Jackson and Tarik Black were the bright spots for Memphis, combining to shoot 16 for 20 and scoring 23 and 20, respectively. Jackson’s eight turnovers helped Louisville get back into this one, though.

0:04 – (#62) Virginia Tech upset at home by (#256) Georgia Southern: Despite 28 points out of their senior star Erick Green and 21 from forward Jarell Eddie, the Hokies could not withstand the barrage of threes that Georgia Southern laid upon them. The Eagles’ C.J. Reed and Cleon Roberts led the way, combining hit 9 of 17 from downtown, and scoring 22 and 20, respectively. Georgia Southern only got two points from the bench, but all of their starters were in double figures. Eric Ferguson put in a double-double, as well. The Eagles led by as many as 16 in the second half, and actually used a game-opening 8-0 run to hold the lead on Virginia Tech for the entire 40 minutes in Blacksburg.

0:03 – (#1) Michigan drops (#127) West Virginia to remain atop the DPI: Speaking of teams who never trailed in their game, the Wolverines did the same in Brooklyn in their 81-66 win against Bob Huggins’ West Virginia, who have been up and down all year long. Michigan’s Trey Burke was outstanding, ending the game with 27 points, eight assists, and five rebounds, and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 25 points of his own. Terry Henderson scored 23 points for the Mountaineers, but was largely a one-man show. UM’s John Beilein got a big win over his former school to move his Wolverines to 11-0 on the season.

0:02 – (#14) Creighton rides McDermott’s hot hand over (#73) California: Cal head coach Mike Montgomery had been lauding Creighton’s All-American Doug McDermott all week, and when game time came in Berkeley, the big man didn’t disappoint. His 34 points and nine rebounds led the Blue Jays, who staved off a valiant effort from the Golden Bears’ Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe. Despite outrebounding the Jays 47-36, California had a moment near the end of the game when they were down by five points and could not put the ball in the bucket – literally. Creighton’s Gregory Echenique recorded two blocks in this span, but Cal had four shots in 17 seconds that would not fall, and those moments of futility really solidified the win for Creighton.

0:01 – (#281) Troy wins, moves to 5-7 with 5th “Win At The Line”: Every single win the Trojans have on the year came in a game where their opponent missed enough free-throws to make up the point differential, even had Troy knocked down all of theirs, too. No other team in the nation has won more than two games in this fashion, but somehow, Troy has done it five times already – and they haven’t won any other way in 2012. Their win over (#210) Georgia State came by a single point, and despite missing four themselves, Troy benefitted from a 15-of-22 night at the line from the Panthers. These guys could pretty easily be 0-12 right now, but luck keeps intervening. Time to buy some lottery tickets in Troy, AL.

What to Watch on Sunday (27 games total):

(#42) Western Kentucky @ (#68) Murray State – 12:00 PST – prediction: Murray State “upset”

(#23) Eastern Kentucky @ (#7) Illinois – 3:00 PST – prediction: Illinois by a few baskets

Now go check out the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100! Also, check out the new Facebook and Twitter pages to keep up to date on all things DPI! Have a great, relaxing Sunday!

-AD

Notes from Thursday, Friday and the early part of Saturday

The Most Notable Game from Thursday: (#18) Wichita State, 60 @ (#108) Tennessee, 69

What a great game! Over the first 30 minutes of this game, it was all Carl Hall and Trae Golden for Wichita State and Tennessee, respectively. These two teams went toe-to-toe throughout the night, with Hall and Golden doing all the scoring for the most part. Late in the game, the Volunteers’ Jordan McRae got hot, scoring nine points in about four and a half minutes, including a three-pointer that put the Vols up by six. Wichita State answered back, with Malcolm Armstead’s three-pointer sparking on a 7-0 run to retake the lead, capped by Hall’s three-point play with 3:54 remaining. Kenny Hall and Golden both made a pair of free throws over the next two minutes which put Tennessee up 63-59. Demetric Williams had a chance to bring the Shockers back within a point, but his shot from downtown misfired, and Wichita had to start fouling. Tennessee made six of their eight free throws down the stretch, sealing a very important win for them. Wichita fell for the first time all season, perhaps because of the poor game that Cleanthony Early had. Early only played 17 minutes and fouled out in the second half without making a single field goal, although he did hit two free throws. Hall’s 21 point, nine rebound performance was squandered, as Golden and McRae led Tennessee to a win they desperately needed to regain confidence as the SEC season approaches.

The Most Notable Notes from Friday:

There were no real great games on Friday – there were only seven in all – but there were a few notable results. (#24) Charlotte was handed their first loss of the season when they traveled to Miami to take on the Hurricanes. (#31) Miami (FL) slammed Charlotte, 77-46, to move to 6-1 on the year. The 49ers’ Chris Braswell was the only even semi-bright spot in a game where Charlotte really had none, dropping in 13 and six rebounds. Durand Scott led Miami with a double-double, 16 points and 12 boards, plus he also made four steals. Big man Kenny Kandji dumping in 17 points and swatting away three shots. In another blowout of an undefeated team, (#49) Boise State ran (#68) LSU out of Idaho with a 19-point win over the Tigers. Anthony Drmic led the Broncos with 34 points, hitting 6 three-pointers, and Derrick Marks added 23 points. Boise State’s Ryan Watkins added in a double-double with 12 points and 17 rebounds. LSU was led by Corban Collins’ 19 points and 15 from Johnny O’Bryant III. Further north along the coast, (#292) Old Dominion hosted (#95) Central Florida, looking for their first win of the year. Unfortunately, they came up just a little short and UCF sent the Monarchs to a 1-9 start. The Knights led by only a point with less than 4 minutes remaining, but extended that back out to seven. ODU brought it within two again with 23 seconds left, but UCF hit all their free throws after that, and the Monarchs couldn’t make up the difference.

A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Have Big Tests Today: (#1) Michigan, (#3) Florida

Michigan (10-0, 0-0) has been played a great brand of basketball this year, behind the stellar play of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke is averaging 17 points and seven assists per game, while Hardaway is adding about 15 points and 5.5 rebounds. Freshman Nik Stauskas has played his way into coach John Beilein’s starting five. Stauskas is leading the team in three-point shooting, having hit 27 on the year at a 0.587 clip, which is good for fifth in the nation (and first for players who have made more than 20). Hardaway is not the only player on the team with the namesake of a professional basketball player – freshman Glenn Robinson III, son of the Big Dog, is playing well, too, leading the team in rebounds. Apparently, he takes after his dad. The Wolverines really impressed with a five-game span against (#146) Cleveland State, (#17) Pittsburgh, (#41) Kansas State, (#58) N.C. State, and (#84) Bradley, winning each contest. They beat a pesky (#110) Arkansas team last weekend that had eyes on an upset, and they’ll face another mercurial squad in (#115) West Virginia on Saturday at 5 PM PST. It’s been hard to tell which Mountaineers team will show up on any given day – they beat (#35) Virginia Tech one game, and lose to (#126) Duquesne the next. Michigan will likely win this one at a neutral site (Brooklyn, NY), but they would be doing themselves a huge disservice if they overlooked this game. The Wolverines are firing on all cylinders at the moment, and if they continue to do so, will give (#2) Indiana a big run for their money in a very, very strong Big Ten.

Florida has a big, big game on Saturday against also-undefeated (#11) Arizona at 7 PM PST. The only reason I’m calling this a big test for the Gators (7-0, 0-0), instead of the Wildcats, is that Florida will be traveling to Tucson for this one. Billy Donovan and his squad have notched some good wins on the season already, trouncing (#54) Wisconsin, (#40) Middle Tennessee, (#86) Marquette, and (#124) Florida State, and they’ve won each of those games by at least 18 points. So far, the closest any team has gotten is Central Florida, who still lost by 13 to the Gators. Led by seniors Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, and Mike Rosario, this Florida team looks like the class of the SEC right now. (#25) Missouri, (#26) Texas A&M, and (#57) Kentucky are all going to be good teams this year, but the Gators have really separated themselves from the pack in the early going. Arizona will not be an easy team to beat, but they haven’t faced nearly as tough a schedule as Florida. I have a feeling that Florida will come out on top in this one, and they will continue to be one of the nation’s best teams. They have the look of a 1- or 2-seed come March at the moment.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Have Impressed Early: (#29) Illinois-Chicago, (#81) Belmont

Illinois-Chicago has been winning a lot of games to start the year, even though they have not been the most statistically-dominant team in the nation. In fact, they are in the ranked 200th or lower in points, rebounds, assists, and 312th in field goal percentage. They only turn the ball over 10 times a game, though, and shoot free throws decently well. Seniors Gary Talton, Daniel Barnes, and Josh Crittle have been playing well so far, but junior Hayden Humes has perhaps been the best on the team. All of these players average double-figure points and at least four rebounds, with Talton also dishing out about 5 assists. Humes and Barnes are deep threats, and Crittle has been making a steal and block in every game. The Flames have wins over (#64) Northwestern (in Evanston) and (#74) Colorado State on the year, and look like the Horizon team’s strongest team at the moment, although (#103) Valparaiso will also contend for the league title. UIC’s only loss on the year is by seven points to (#12) New Mexico, which isn’t too bad.  Five of their first seven games in the Horizon League are on the road, so the Flames have to keep gutting out the victories in enemy territory if they want to keep up with the Vikings and the Crusaders. (Note: The Flames won by 26 over (#139) Eastern Michigan this afternoon.)

Belmont is a team that’s doing very well in the statistical category. They are currently in the top 65 in points per game, assists, and field goal percentage, but they don’t rebound all that well. Led by senior Ian Clark, who is shooting 57% from the field and 55% from downtown, the Bruins are creeping up the DPI by way of wins over (#80) Stanford and more recently over Middle Tennessee. They ran past the Blue Raiders, beating them by 15 at home. Losing to (#47) Virginia Commonwealth isn’t the worst thing a team could do, but the one to (#186) Northeastern was unexpected. Belmont has their biggest test of the season tonight when they travel to Lawrence and play (#23) Kansas at 4 PM PST, so we’ll see if the Bruins are good enough to hang with the big boys. Besides Clark, Kerron Johnson, Trevor Noack, and Blake Jenkins have been good pieces on Rick Byrd’s team. They could contend for an Ohio Valley Conference championship in their first season in the league after ditching the Atlantic Sun last year. They had been a dominant force in the conference for years, but now they’ll have to vie with (#19) Eastern Kentucky and (#70) Murray State for OVC supremacy. They don’t have to beat the Jayhawks tonight, but just playing them closely will show me something to really get behind in Belmont.

Last-Second Thought:

This update is coming in late due to the dearth of the games on Friday, but also because I had to rework some things in the DPI, as I have tweaked the formula a bit. I never have and never will say that my index is completely infallible and perfect the way it is. Like in all things in life, I believe in constant improvement. When I realized that the formula was not accounting too heavily for some things, and not heavily enough for others, I saw that reflected in the standings. I have redone the index so that the Strength Profile – a product of the strength of a team’s conference, their schedule, and their wins and losses – is weighted more heavily than it was before. This was one of the reasons that (#7) Duke, who has played by far the toughest schedule and has by far the most impressive wins on the year, was having trouble cracking the top 10. Full disclosure, I am a lifelong Duke supporter, but please, rest assured that is not why the formula was changed. It was simply tracking the wrong things, and I noticed it with other teams – (#21) Mississippi and (#16) Wyoming, to name a couple. That said, I am very happy with the results of the change and I am even more excited than before to present my findings to you all. Thank you all for your readership and the comments and feedback you’ve given me. It’s much appreciated.

What to Watch on Saturday (88 games total) – finished games in BOLD (all rankings through Friday):

(#101) East Carolina, 87 @ (#45) North Carolina 93

(#2) Indiana, 86 @ (#56) Butler, 88 – OT   *UPSET*

(#26) Texas A&M, 54 @ (#79) Oklahoma, 64 – *UPSET*

(#290) Georgia Southern, 78 @ (#35) Virginia Tech, 73 – *UPSET*

 (#114) Northern Iowa, 73 @ (#28) Iowa, 80

(#71) Memphis, 78 @ (#8) Louisville, 87

(#72) Alabama @ (#47) Virginia Commonwealth

(#87) Nebraska @ (#14) Oregon

(#37) Canisius @ (#5) Syracuse

(#115) West Virginia @ (#1) Michigan

(#41) Kansas State @ (#9) Gonzaga

(#3) Florida @ (#11) Arizona

(#61) California @ (#15) Creighton

Now go see what the new index has to say in the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100. They are not yet updated with the early scores from Saturday, as I input all the results and stats after all games in a given day have finished. Look for what happens to Indiana, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech in tomorrow’s installment, as well of the rest of the impact of a busy Saturday.

-AD