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.
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.