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.
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.