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.
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!