Archive for December, 2012

Updated Rankings (through 12/12)

Posted: December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 12th

The Most Notable Game: (#58) DePaul 78, @ (#47) Arizona State 61

This was a hellish matchup of Devils and Demons – but puns aside, I really did not see this result coming. Arizona State has looked pretty good so far this year, behind the play of Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix, and the rest of the Sun Devils. DePaul was down 9-2 early in Tempe, but a solid team effort gave them a strong first-half lead. The Demons’ Cleveland Melvin and Worrel Clahar both had ten points at the break, and DePaul got good contributions from Brandon Young and Derrell Robertson Jr. Young added ten points in the second half, totaling a game-high 18 points, as well as nine assists. Melvin ended with a double-double. The closest this game got was a six-point difference early in the second half, but Carson and Evan Gordon were ineffective, turning the ball over and missing shots throughout the stanza. I thought that pro prospect Jordan Bachysnki would have been more of a force in this one, but he was never able to get it going, really. Perhaps I was putting too much stock in Arizona State’s early start, with their only decent win being over (#128) Arkansas, but DePaul’s résumé isn’t much better. Both teams have lost to a strong MVC team – (#18) Creighton beat ASU, (#8) Wichita State beat DePaul – and the Demons also dropped games to (#159) Gardner-Webb and (#36) Western Kentucky. The Demons came to Tempe ready to play, though, and they put the Devils way down in the hole. (Fans of The Wire… you see what I did there?)

A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Look Very Strong: (#6) Louisville, (#24) Kansas

Rick Pitino always fields a solid squad, but this year’s iteration of the Louisville Cardinals just might be his best. Russ Smith has been playing like a man possessed so far this year, and with Peyton Siva at the point, this team has one of the best backcourts in the country. When they lost by five points to (#12) Duke, they were playing without big man Gorgui Dieng, who is set to return as early as Saturday from a fractured wrist. The Cardinals (8-1, 0-0) are hoping that forecast is accurate, because they travel to rival (#70) Memphis this weekend for what should be a pretty good game. Louisville was dominant in their dismantling of (#26) Missouri, and though it was closer than they would have liked, beating (#67) Illinois State was a good win for them. Before the Big East season starts, the Cards play Western Kentucky and host their chief rival, (#56) Kentucky. Smith, Siva, and the rest of the gang will likely still be firing on all cylinders, so Wildcats fans, don’t hold your breath waiting for an upset. Pitino has his boys playing really well, and – with apologize to Jim Boeheim and (#3) Syracuse – they are my early pick to win the Big East, barring any more injuries. I can’t wait for conference play to get underway, though, so I can test that theory.

Kansas is another team playing some really good basketball right now. A three-point loss to (#46) Michigan State early in the year is something that can be overlooked, while it’s much harder to ignore their utter obliteration of (#48) Colorado. Wins over west coast opponents (#125) Washington State and (#76) Oregon State don’t hurt, either. Jeff Withey has been strong in the post for the Jayhawks, averaging 13.8 PPG and eight boards. Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, and Elijah Johnson have formed a solid backcourt trio. These three have combined to average 39 points and 10.4 assists per game so far, and all of them are averaging more than one steal in each contest. While the Jayhawks (7-1, 0-0) might not shoot threes very well (.314), they have made 54.5% of their two-point field goals, and shoot 75% from the stripe. They’ll need to keep up those solid numbers over their next few games, with matchups against (#100) Belmont, (#41) Richmond, and (#23) Ohio State on the docket. Bill Self has his team playing very well at the moment, but this three-game stretch will be indicative of just how seriously to take Kansas in the coming months. My guess is that we’ll be taking them very seriously, and sooner rather than later.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Aren’t As Good As Their Record: (#55) Louisiana Tech, (#41) Richmond

Louisiana Tech, the alma mater of famed Utah Jazz big men Karl Malone and Paul Millsap, has a pretty nice record to start the year. The Bulldogs (8-3, 0-0) have been mostly chewing on the little guys, though. Their best win to date is over (#105) Southern Miss, but that’s a win that’s getting worse by the day. They lost their opener to (#38) Texas A&M, and that’s not such a bad thing, but their most recent losses came to the Southland Conference’s (#142) Northwestern State and (#186) McNeese State. Their SOLV rate – a proprietary measure of the relative strength of the wins and losses – is negative and ranks #187 in the nation, meaning that they are simply running past bad squads, but they are losing to the better ones they have faced. Raheem Appleby has been a bright spot for Lousiana Tech so far, averaging 17.8 points per game, but the Bulldogs as a team don’t shoot the ball very well – from anywhere. They currently have a shooting slash-line of .412/.672/.310 (FG/FT/3P), and that will not bode well for them as they enter WAC play. (#82) Utah State is probably the strongest team in the conference, and though I’m not completely counting Louisiana Tech out of the race, I think the Aggies – who shoot and rebound at better rates and have a higher assist-to-turnover ratio – will represent the WAC in the Big Dance.

Richmond has played a tougher schedule than Louisiana Tech, but their losses have at least come to better squads. They dropped one to (#5) Minnesota, but you can ignore that. Losing by 25 to (#60) Ohio is a little harder to look past, however, despite the fact that the Bobcats are a likely NCAA Tournament team. The Spiders (8-2, 0-0) needed two overtimes to get past (#108) William & Mary, and one extra period to top (#232) James Madison. They beat a struggling (#185) Wake Forest by only two points earlier this month. Crushing (#294) Old Dominion was good for their spirits, but the Monarchs are an unmitigated disaster this year, so it’s nothing to hang your hat on. Their strength of victories is bad (ranked #171 in the nation) and the conference they play in is going to be very difficult. As good as their trio of Derrick Williams, Darien Brothers, and Kendall Anthony has been, it’s hard for me to predict a lot of Atlantic 10 success for Richmond, given the relative strength of teams like (#31) Temple, (#49) Xavier and (#53) VCU. (#15) Charlotte, (#64) Dayton and (#69) Butler are no slouches, either. The Spiders better be ready for a dogfight in the conference this year, because that’s exactly what it’s going to be. They have a huge test before that, though, when they travel to Lawrence to face Kansas. I’m not expecting a victory, but if they can play tough against the Jayhawks – or at least not get run out of the building – my opinion about Richmond will definitely change for the better.

Last-Second Thought:

As much as I wanted to put the Oregon State victory over (#299) Portland State into The Most Notable Game category, it was not that notable. A good game, yes, but it was between two teams that aren’t moving the needle too much in the early going. The Vikings got off to a fast start behind the hot hand of Lateef McMullan, leading 10-2 at one point. It wasn’t until the end of the half that Joe Burton and Devon Collier started to take advantage of the size difference down low and led the Beavers on a 19-4 run to close out the period, catalyzed perhaps by two missed free throws by Michael Harthun after a Craig Robinson technical foul. In the second half, Aaron Moore – who made all seven of his shots – brought the Vikings within two points, but Burton and Collier led another 12-4 run that kept PSU at arm’s length. Roberto Nelson stepped up well, dishing out six assists and recording five steals, which made up for a mediocre shooting night. He ended up with 16 points total, while Collier tallied 23, and Burton put in 20. Eric Moreland was a force inside, and his height was a big advantage for the Beavers, as Moore and Renado Parker were largely unable to grab boards away from the lanky big man. All in all, it was not the best game for the Beavers – they probably should’ve won by a lot more – but they did well for themselves, considering that Ahmad Starks was a ghost in this game (no made field goals, no assists). OSU missed 11 free throws, which definitely helped this one be closer towards the end, but they were able to stave off a hungry Portland State team who was hosting a Pac-12 opponent for the first time in school history.

Also, Portland Trailblazers Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard, and Nolan Smith were in attendance, and luckily I was able to get Matthews’ autograph for my 7-year-old nephew. Thanks to the Stott Center for being small enough that I could chase him down on the court during halftime, and when I yelled to him to come back and sign something, he heard me and obliged. Classy move, Wesley. We won’t forget it.

What to Watch on Thursday (16 games total):

(#8) Wichita State @ (#143) Tennessee – Tennessee is looking to shake off the cobwebs and try to get out from under a couple embarrassing losses. Meanwhile, the Shockers are trying to go to 10-0, and solidify their place in the Top 25. We could definitely have an upset on our hands here, but it’s funny to think that the Vols beating Wichita would be an upset. Such is life in college basketball.

(#25) Middle Tennessee @ (#100) Belmont – One of the best low-major matchups you could ask for. Rick Byrd’s Belmont is always ready for battle (they beat (#93) Stanford earlier this year), and MTSU is coming off wins over (#167) UAB and (#22) Ole Miss. This in-state rivalry should prove a fun one to watch, and if I had to guess, I say Belmont pulls the “upset” here.

(#138) Washington @ (#233) Seattle – The Battle for Seattle will be better than people think. The Huskies have underachieved this year, and could really use this win. The Redhawks are decent enough to pull this one off, but I think UW probably wins by a few field goals. If this one gets really close though, and the Huskies falter down the stretch, well… just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Okay, with all of that in mind, go check out today’s Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100!

-AD

Advertisements

Updated Rankings (through 12/11)

Posted: December 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 11th

The Most Notable Game: (#122) West Virginia 56, @ (#130) Duquesne, 60

Man, just when you thought West Virginia was starting to climb out of their hole after a win over (#26) Virginia Tech on Saturday, they go to Duquesne and drop one. The Mountaineers (4-4, 0-0) were in complete control of this game, it seemed like, going up by as many as 15 in the second half. They still led by 11 with just over 12 minutes to play, but the Dukes’ Derrick Colter and Jeremiah Jones turned up the heat, and led Duquesne (6-4, 0-0) during a 26-11 run to end the game that sent them flying past West Virginia. Colter had 9 points and five assists during the run, and Jones had 12 points, including a go-ahead three-point play with less than 6 minutes to play. Deniz Kiliçli, Jabarie Hinds, and Juwan Staten were ineffective for the Mountaineers down the stretch, combining to shoot 1 for 12 in the final 12 minutes, and West Virginia missed all four of their free-throw attempts in that stretch. Suffice it to say, I would not want to be in that locker room with Bob Huggins after this loss. Let’s not forget the effort by Duquesne, though, who could find themselves in the top half of the Atlantic 10 this year if they play more games like this one.

A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Deserve More Love: (#8) Cincinnati, (#39) Oklahoma State

Cincinnati is a club who is reaching new heights in this milennium – they haven’t looked this good since Kenyon Martin was donning the black and red. Most of wins that the Bearcats (9-0, 0-0) have recorded were walkovers against weak teams, but they played three stellar opponents in a row earlier in the year. They toppled (#49) Iowa State and (#16) Oregon in a preseason tournament, and beat (#80) Alabama on a last-second shot in early December. Cincinnati has a legitimate star in swingman Sean Kilpatrick, who is averaging 20 points and six rebounds on the year. He went off for 32 points – and five steals – against Iowa State and is making over half his shots on the year. Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker have also been solid for the Bearcats, both scoring in double figures on the year. The Big East looks good this year, but Cincinnati has been playing like the type of team who can hang with the field. December tilts with (#48) Xavier and (#15) New Mexico will be big litmus tests for Cincinnati, but if they can get past those two teams (and without a huge brawl breaking out against Xavier), I see no reason why this team shouldn’t contend for the Big East title.

The Cowboys of Oklahoma State are off to a fast start this year, and freshman standout Marcus Smart is the catalyst. He is averaging over 13 points, 7 rebounds and five assists so far in his first season, not to mention 2.6 steals and a block per game. Smart is a stat-stuffer extraordinaire, and his play, combined with that of LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown, have OSU looking like a real threat to (#23) Kansas in the Big 12. So far, the only loss that the Cowboys have suffered came at the hands of a good Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg. Before that, though, they demolished (#142) Tennessee and (#67) North Carolina State on their way to winning the Puerto Rico Tipoff preseason tournament. The matchup I’ll be very interested to watch on New Year’s Eve is when (#10) Gonzaga comes to Stillwater. While everyone gears up to celebrate the holidays, these two squads will be going toe-to-toe in what should be a really good game – and a really good measure of what kind of late-season success we can expect from either. By the way, Smart is the early frontrunner for freshman of the year honors, and has the size (6-4, 225) and skill set to make some lucky NBA team very happy next April.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Poised to Make Noise: (#9) Wichita State, (#19) UNLV

I already talked a little bit about Wichita State after their win over (#82) Air Force, and I still think this team is going to give (#18) Creighton a serious run for their money in the Missouri Valley Conference. Led by Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, the Shockers (9-0, 0-0) are undefeated and they look the part. The Air Force victory is still a pretty good one, but taking down (#34) Iowa at home and travelling to Richmond to beat a solid (#51) VCU squad are what really stands out so far. This team does not have an All-American, like Creighton’s Doug McDermott, but they play a solid brand of team basketball. Malcolm Armstead has been steady-handed at the point, averaging more steals per game (2.0) than turnovers (1.9). I’m not quite ready to predict a Final Four run or anything for Wichita State, but the way that they are playing right now makes me confident that they will be a mainstay in the national polls all year long, and will likely receive a top-6 seeding. The one area that worries me about the Shockers is their free throw percentage (.689), although that is more of a product of their bench’s shooting woes. The starters are all over 70% from the line, including an 87.9% mark for Early. Demetric Williams and Ron Baker have been solid on the wings, and all 12 players on the Shockers’ roster are averaging at least 8 minutes a game. These guys are deep and talented, and that’s the kind of thing that becomes very important late in a season.

UNLV is another team near the top of a stellar conference, though the Mountain West is more than a two-horse race. New Mexico and (#32) San Diego State have impressed early, but the Rebels (7-1, 0-0) have notched some good wins, too. They did lose at home to Oregon, but that’s a loss that’s looking better every day, as the Ducks should be a Tournament team this year. UNLV passed its next tests, however, with wins over Iowa State and (#72) California. The win over Cal came by way of go-ahead shot in the final seconds to win by a point, but they were also playing without one of their best players, forward Mike Moser. Big man Anthony Bennett has been lights-out for the Rebels, scoring 19.5 points per contest and ripping down over eight boards. He’s also averaging just under two blocks a game, making a strong case for himself as the conference’s top player. Anthony Marshall has also played very well, averaging 11 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.6 rebounds. He also plays great defense, averaging over a steal and a half per game. Moser, unfortunately, is out indefinitely with a dislocated right elbow, but UNLV still looks like a sharp squad without him. Bryce Dejean- Jones will be stepping up in his place and should do so more than comfortably. This is another very deep and talented team, like Wichita State, who should be able to make a serious run at a MWC title – and perhaps a whole lot more.

Last-Second Thought:

Tonight I’m going to watch first-hand as my two alma maters – (#96) Oregon State and (#298) Portland State – go head-to-head, and I’m pretty excited about it. Even though it should probably be a one-sided affair, or at least the Beavers better hope it is, I’m glad for the opportunity to get to watch this one at the Stott Center in Portland. The Vikings have suffered a woeful start to the season, and tonight will likely add to the troubles. This is where I’m currently attending school, and where I’ll be doing my graduate studies, so I have to show PSU a little love. My heart lies with the Beavers, though, having spent most of the first 24 years of my life – and my first year of college – in Corvallis. This one could turn into a blowout pretty quickly, seeing as OSU has been playing some pretty good ball of late, especially guards Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson. It’ll be interesting to see how the Vikings’ Lateef McMullen and Dre Winston Jr. handle them, but really this game is only going to be worth watching because of my link to both universities. I’m hoping to get floor seats, so I can catch at least one errant Joe Burton pass – because you just know he’s good for at least one no-look pass to a teammate who is likewise not looking.

What to Watch on Thursday (20 games total):

(#226) Monmouth @ (#22) Maryland

(#38) Louisiana Tech @ (#220) McNeese State

(#86) DePaul @ (#25) Arizona State

(#66) Colorado @ (#176) Fresno State

…and of course, with absolutely no bias whatsoever…

(#96) Oregon State @ (#298) Portland State

Now go check out those Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100! Happy 12/12/12 everyone!

-AD

Updated Rankings (through 12/10)

Posted: December 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 10th

The Most Notable Game: (#192) Bryant University, 59 @ (#201) Navy, 69

Yeah, seriously… I know this game sounds like a snoozer, but it was a slow, slow day on Monday, so bear with me. This actually was a close one, though. Navy was in control for a lot of this game, but it was a tight one throughout the entire first half, with the Midshipmen (6-6, 0-0) leading by as much a six and Bryant University going up by three at their most dominant. The Bulldogs actually led by a point at the break, having been buoyed by solid first halves out of Joe O’Shea and Vlad Kondratyev. Navy’s Tilman Dunbar was running the point effectively, ending up with 13 assists, but his seven turnovers helped Bryant U. (5-4, 0-0) stay in the game. O’Shea ended up fouling out after putting in 15 points, and Kondratyev finished with 11 points and nine boards. In the end, though, it was Dunbar’s layup with 5:45 on the clock broke a 53-all tie and started off a 16-6 Navy run to end the game. Kendall Knorr played a huge role the stretch, hitting the 3-pointer that put them up by seven and knocking down 7 of 8 free throws to solidify the win for the Midshipmen in a game which brings them back to .500 on the season.

A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Are In Deep Ruts: (#153) Purdue, (#244) Mississippi State

Purdue should be used to playing without Robbie Hummel, right? Hell, they did it for two straight seasons basically after two hard-luck knee injuries. Under head coach Matt Painter, the Boilermakers (4-5, 0-0) have been consistently good, having notched 22 or more wins and an NCAA Tournament berth in each season. They lost Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith, both captains (alongside Hummel) from last year’s teams, too. Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd have been trying to pick up the slack, and redshirt freshman A.J. Hammons has been solid, but Purdue is little more than the sum of its parts right now. They were beaten by a good (#45) Bucknell team in their opener, fell in overtime to a struggling (#159) Villanova squad (who easily could’ve been included as a team in their own rut), and lost to both (#95) Oregon State and (#48) Xavier. The worst loss, however, came on Saturday, when (#131) Eastern Michigan beat Purdue 47-44. The Boilermakers shot under 30% from the field, 60% from the line, and turned the ball over 18 times – including one by Dru Anthrop on their final possession when they had a chance to tie the game. While it might be a little early to hit the panic button in West Lafayette, you can’t ignore how good the rest of the Big Ten has looked in comparison, and that is a fact that does not bode well for the black and gold.

Mississippi State is another team struggling to find their old form with new pieces, as they have begun this season on a real cold streak after losing all five starters from last year’s NIT squad. They won 21 games last year on their way to a first-round exit, but lost Arnett Moultrie, Dee Bost, and Renardo Sidney, most notably. Last year’s freshman standout Rodney Hood transferred to Duke in the offseason, after averaging 10.3 PPG in 2011-12, leaving Jalen Steele as the only contributor from last year to return. Sophomore Roquez Johnson and freshmen Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware have been decent in their first 8 games, but the Bulldogs (3-5, 0-0), as a whole, have not. They lost their opener to (#277) Troy, were crushed by (#42) North Carolina by 46 points, fell to (#80) Marquette by 27, and even (#161) Texas beat them by 14. Their wins have been over well-below-average opponents, and they’ve got one last chance to notch an even halfway-decent win before SEC play starts up, when they travel to Chicago to play the (#133) Loyola (IL) Ramblers. Even if they win that game, though, they still have a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it. Luckily for them, the SEC seems a little down this year, so they might have a chance to knock off some likewise mediocre teams.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Pretty Rough Weekends: (#50) Temple, (#66) Colorado State

Temple was riding high on a wave of early-season success coming into Saturday’s tilt with (#13) Duke. They opened the year with a good win over (#155) Kent State, a program who is no stranger to success. Their other wins have been largely easy to ignore, but a win over Philadelphia rival (#159) Villanova is always a good notch on the Owls’ belt. Not only did they beat them, but they did it convincingly, downing the Wildcats by 15 on the strength of senior leader Scootie Randall’s 21-point performance. Unfortunately, come Saturday, Randall was a ghost, piling up four fouls and rendering himself almost useless. He only scored six points, but did manage to hit his average of seven rebounds. In fact, the entire team was mostly ineffective, especially from the free-throw stripe. Not that it would’ve turned the tides probably, but shooting 8 for 21 from the line is not the kind of performance you can have against a powerhouse like Duke. Freshman Quenton DeCosey was the only player to score in double figures for the Owls (6-1, 0-0) on Saturday, and was the only player to make more than three field goals – Khalif Wyatt shot 3-for-15 from the field, missing all four of his attempts from downtown. Despite keeping up with Duke on the boards and only turning the ball over ten times, Temple simply could not keep pace with the shooting efficiency that the Blue Devils displayed on their way to a 90-67 rout. At this point, it’s a very forgivable speedbump in an otherwise wonderful start for the Owls, but one would like to have seen a stronger performance out of them this weekend. In all, though, it’s probably more indicative of the strength of Duke than it is the weakness of Temple. Meetings with (#2) Syracuse and (#23) Kansas will be very telling of how seriously to take Temple from here on out, but my gut tells me they will have a successful year in the Atlantic 10 and make the Tournament come March.

Colorado State had been also enjoying a perfect start to the season going into last Wednesday’s game against rival (#63) Colorado, but the Rams failed to notch a victory for the first time in the 2012-13 campaign, falling to the Buffaloes 70-61 in Boulder. Part of the reason they lost this game was because they stopped going inside to center Colton Iverson, a likely candidate to play at the next level. Iverson transferred from (#6) Minnesota, and despite the decent play of the Gophers’ center Elliot Eliason, one can only imagine how much better they might be if they still had Iverson. Regardless, the Rams (6-2, 0-0) didn’t use their big man enough in the final stretch against Colorado and it cost them. On Saturday, they lost to (#36) Illinois-Chicago on the road, 64-55, to cap off a disappointing week. The Rams led for much of the second half, going up by eight at the most, but UIC stormed back and ended the game on a 19-6 run. Iverson was again largely missing during the final minutes of the game, only attempting one shot. You simply can’t stop going inside, especially when it’s not as if the Rams were shooting a lot of threes. Wes Eikmeier has been taking and missing too many late-game jumpers, most noticeably against Colorado. At this point, Colorado State looking a little more like an NIT squad than a NCAA Tournament team, but a few good wins in the MWC could change that. Unfortunately, there are more than a few good teams in the conference, which won’t make it easy.

Last-Second Thought:

I am very happy that the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) has already started conference play – they’re not the only ones, but they’re already a couple games into the schedule. It is a fun conference to follow if you can stomach the relative mediocrity of the teams. There is a lot of good talent up in the Northeast, and more importantly to me, a lot of good team play. (#37) Canisius is off to a great start, as well as (#85) Loyola (MD), the conference’s representative in last year’s Big Dance. This is a league where everybody seems to have a chance to fulfill their dreams and go to the NCAA Tournament – the conference was represented by MAAC Tournament champs (#197) St. Peter’s two years ago, who is off to a rocky start, but won the NCAA bid as a 4-seed in their own conference tourney. It is always fun to watch teams who are so geographically close do battle because the rivalries, however trivial they may seem to the outsider, are very much real to the fans. Especially in these low-major conferences, it doesn’t tell you much about a team to watch them get dominated by a major-conference power, but once conference play starts, you can really see the heart and passion come out of these players and it’s immensely fun to watch. So, if you’re looking for some conference play, look no further than the MAAC. A bonus: they play a lot of their games on Mondays and Fridays, which are generally very slow days in college basketball. So, if you learn to love the MAAC, you’ll never have a boring day.

What to Watch For on Tuesday (18 games):

(#87) Saint Joseph’s @ (#159) Villanova

(#144) Duquesne @ (#108) West Virginia

(#143) Norfolk State @ (#10) Illinois

(#49) North Dakota State @ (#6) Minnesota

(#132) San Jose State @ (#84) Santa Clara

Okay, so that wraps up today’s update. Now go check out the Tournament Projections and Top 100 through Monday’s matchups!

-AD

Updated Rankings (through 12/9)

Posted: December 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

Okay, sorry for no update yesterday. I had some things going on that prevented me from updating the scores and stats from a big Saturday and I figured I’d just roll the weekend into one update. So, without further adieu, here are my notes from the weekend:

The Most Notable Game from Saturday: (#10) Illinois, 85 @ (#9) Gonzaga, 74;

This game was slated to be a great one and it did not disappoint – especially for Illini fans. At the start of the game, Gonzaga looked to be in control, jumping out to an early 12-3 lead. With about 8 minutes left in the first half, Gonzaga had an 11-point lead, but Illinois countered and ended the half with a 21-10 run to tie the game at 41 apiece going into the break. Brandon Paul was instrumental in the run and had already tallied 18 points in the first half alone. One turning point of the game was after a Kevin Pangos steal for Gonzaga after which he could not convert the lay-up. The change in possession back to Illinois sparked a 10-2 run for the Illini and gave them the opportunity to keep Gonzaga at arm’s reach. The game got as close as three points after Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris made some free throws. But it was Pangos again whose misses catalyzed the Illini – he missed a free throw that would’ve brought it to three again, and after Mike Hart got the rebound, Pangos missed a 3-pointer, which set off an 8-0 run for Illinois. This put the score at 80-71 with just a minute to play. Brandon Paul was amazing in this game, scoring 35 in all, not to mention solid efforts from D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams. All three players seemed to get big buckets at the exact right moments, and Gonzaga simply could not keep up late in the game. This was a huge win for Illinois, and one that mortalized the Zags a bit.

The Most Notable Game from Sunday: (#19) UNLV, 76 @ (#67) California, 75

This game was important for UNLV in that they needed another good win over a major-conference foe to solidify themselves in the rankings. The loss to (#16) Oregon was still stinging the Rebels, and the win over (#50) Iowa State was not enough to get the taste out of their mouths. California was looking for retribution after an embarrassing 25-point loss to (#58) Wisconsin last week. Both teams had something to prove and they played like it. These two played neck-and-neck until an 11-4 run for UNLV gave them a 7-point advantage at the end of the half. The Rebels’ Anthony Bennett and Anthony Marshall were huge in this one, but Cal’s Allen Crabbe had some things of his own to say. Crabbe hit two three pointers in the early going of the second half, and the Bears tied the game up at 56 with less than 10 minutes remaining. As the second half progresses, Cal actually took a 70-68 lead with 2:37 left, and with a minute left UNLV tied the game back up at 72 with a Bennett dunk. Crabbe made only one of two free throws with 39 seconds left, and Bennett hit a go-ahead jumper with 24 on the clock. A foul with 11 ticks remaining put Cal’s Justin Cobbs at the line, and he hit both, giving Cal a late 75-74 lead. UNLV drove down, and Marshall airballed a shot with just seconds remaining, but senior forward Quintrell Thomas grabbed the rebound and scored the put-back with 1.2 seconds remaining, quieting the crowd in Berkeley and giving UNLV the win they needed. A frantic finish to a great game.

A Couple Major Conference Teams Who Are Really, Really Good: (#1) Indiana, (#12) Duke

Save for a few scattered days here and there, there’s been one team that has consistently topped the DPI: the Indiana Hoosiers. They were simply crushing opponents in the early going behind their talented starting five. All of these guys – Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, and Jordan Hulls – are all averaging between 11.9 and 15.4 PPG, and all of them are playing over 20 minutes in each contest. The Hoosiers are pulling down a daunting 43 rebounds per game, led by the preseason All-American Zeller. They take care of the ball well (1.42 AST/TO) and they’ve made a ridiculous 51.5% of their field goals so far. A strong-willed win over (#49) Georgetown in overtime showed the heart that these guys have, and their demolition of (#40) North Carolina showed just how dominant the Hoosiers can be. Coach Tom Crean has the red and white firing on all cylinders right now as they head into Saturday’s game against (#65) Butler. They’ll have some staunch competition in the Big Ten this year, but at the moment, Indiana looks poised to handle any and every challenge thrown their way.

A team that has perplexed me in terms of its inability to jump much higher in the DPI is Duke. One of the reasons is that they are not ranked as highly in one of my proprietary equations – a plus/minus of sorts, based on a few statistics judged on a game-by-game basis. What this means is that, despite not always dominating teams in the peripheral statistics, Duke is finding ways to win, anyway. The Blue Devils have played one of the toughest schedules to date, and they’ve prevailed in every contest. They’ve taken down the likes of (#56) Kentucky, (#6) Minnesota, (#52) VCU, (#5) Louisville, (#26) Ohio State and (#48) Temple already. The wins over the Gophers and Owls were very impressive, beating them by 18 and 23, respectively, while all the others were close contests that showed the gutsy resolve of a national championship contender. Besides seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon have done everything asked of them in their new roles as main pieces on this team. The Blue Devils, like Indiana, have a solid rotation with five double-digit scorers, and all of them average over 30 minutes per contest, and Tyler Thornton is a great defensive player who plays 20 minutes a game. The Blue Devils seem to have all the right pieces to cut down the nets in April, and Plumlee could be in contention for a Naismith Award if he keeps up his stellar play (19.2 PPG, 11.3 RPG). Coach Mike Krzyzewski has to feel great about his team’s chances, despite last year’s huge disappointment in the Big Dance, when they lost in their opener to Lehigh. Despite my rankings, this team is easily one of the best in the country, and the numbers should catch up before too long.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams Who Have Been Overlooked: (#15) New Mexico, (#14) Charlotte

New Mexico has looked great this season, jumping out to an early 10-0 record and recording some pretty decent wins in the run. The best of these wins talent-wise is likely (#70) Connecticut, but wins over solid mid-major clubs (#33) Illinois-Chicago, (#99) Valparaiso, and (#123) George Mason shouldn’t be ignored either. The Lobos have a solid rotation of seven guys playing over 18 minutes per game, and they are headlined by junior guard Kendall Williams and sophomore 7-footer Alex Kirk. Tony Snell has also been a solid piece for UNM, and this trio is picking up steam as the team move up the national ranks. One of the reasons they have been somewhat overlooked is because the Mountain West is featuring some great basketball at the moment. Aside from the Lobos, you have (#30) San Diego State and UNLV, not to mention the upstart (#13) Wyoming squad and a (#69) Colorado State team who is starting to look more and more beatable after two consecutive losses. But quietly flying under the radar have been these boys from New Mexico – a feat that’s going to be much harder if Williams, Kirk and Snell continue to play the way that they have.

Another team that has enjoyed a quality start to the season, but has been drowned out by a lot of the noise in their conference is Charlotte. The 49ers are the only undefeated team left in the Atlantic 10, yet they seem to be receiving only marginal love. That has something to do with their scheduling – their best wins are against (#78) East Carolina and (#125) Davidson – but still, they deserve at least some mention. Senior forward Chris Braswell has been leading the charge for the Niners, scoring over 14 points per game and grabbing 7 rebounds and DeMario Mayfield, a junior guard, has likewise been effective in the early going. A couple games against ACC foes (#64) Miami (FL) and (#129) Florida State are on the docket for Charlotte before they enter A-10 play. Both of those schools have not looked impossibly strong, so it could be that the 49ers don’t lose a game until 2013. Time will tell, but for now, take a moment and give some kudos to a team that’s doing the best with the schedule they’ve been given.

Last-Second Thought:

This was a big weekend for a few different teams. Minnesota beat (#212) USC to move to 10-1, and more notably, coach Tubby Smith got his 500th career victory. (#107) West Virginia did a lot to combat a slow beginning by knocking off (#39) Virginia Tech in Morgantown. (#4) Michigan showed some moxie in holding off a decent (#128) Arkansas squad who had their eyes on an upset. Georgetown looked shaky in what should have been a walkover against a lowly (#190) Towson squad, but they prevailed nonetheless. (#90) UCLA got an important win over (#162) Texas in Houston, a game that both teams really needed to feel better about the nonconference season. Despite a less-than-dominant performance by either team, this is the type of game that UCLA simply had to have if they wanted to salvage their early season. Texas, on the other hand, is still waiting for an NCAA decision to be made regarding Myck Kabongo’s return, and until they get their best player back, they will continue to be playing with one hand tied. Lastly, (#24) Middle Tennessee did a lot to make me feel smart by upending previously-undefeated (#21) Ole Miss in a close game, just days after I had lauded them as a low-major team to keep an eye on. It has been a very fun season to watch, so far, and I can only imagine it getting more fun as conference play really ramps up.

What to Watch on Monday (7 games total):

Uh, nothing, really… of the seven games being played, three feature winless teams, one includes a Non-Division I school, and there are no matchups in which both teams have winning records. I guess if you have to watch something, the (#158) Bryant University @ (#225) Navy game is probably the most evenly matched. Virginia Tech and Georgetown both have cakewalks that will be televised on ESPN3, but I doubt they’ll be worth your time. Hopefully this will be the last truly boring day of the season, but only time will tell.

Now check out the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100 through Sunday’s games!

-AD

Updated Rankings (through 12/7)

Posted: December 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 7th

The Most Notable Game: (#27) Iowa State, 71 @ (#56) Iowa, 80

This was one of the only good games on a slow Friday, showing off the state’s two premier schools in a battle of squads who are off to hot starts. The Hawkeyes (8-2, 0-0) jumped out to an early lead, and led by as many as nine in the first half. The Cyclones (6-3, 0-0) responded with a 15-4 run to end the half, and actually led 36-35 at the break. Iowa State’s George Niang and Percy Gibson did a lot of the first-half work, while Aaron White and Anthony Clemmons led the charge for Iowa. An 8-0 run for the Hawkeyes started the second half, and that was pretty much the story of the game. They never gave up the lead after that, with Iowa State pulling only as close as within three points after a Korey Lucious trifecta (which Iowa countered immediately with a 5-0 run). The Hawkeyes went on to lead by as many as 11 points at home, and they kept the Cyclones at arm’s reach the entire second half. What was shaping up to be a really solid intrastate battle had a lot of the wind taken out of it, much like the Cyclones did, after the 8-0 go-ahead run. It was a solid team effort on Iowa’s part, with six players each recording at least 8 points, and they had 21 assists (on 30 made baskets), compared to only 12 turnovers. That’s the kind of ball protection and offensive efficiency that will continue to win them ballgames.

A Couple Major Conference Teams with Something to Prove: (#122) West Virginia, (#29) Wisconsin

There’s getting beat and then there’s getting destroyed. And then there’s whatever you call what happened to West Virginia in their opener against (#2) Gonzaga, a 84-50 joke that I had to look twice at before realizing that what I had seen was true. But okay, the Zags are really good and the Mountaineers (3-3, 0-0) were playing their first game without Kevin Jones and Darryl “Truck” Bryant, the senior leaders of last year’s squad. Deniz Kiliçli, a senior from Turkey, is stepping up into that role this year, but it has been a rocky transition. WVU also dropped games to (#141) Davidson and (#74) Oklahoma to start the year 1-3, and Bob Huggins could not have been pleased about either result. (Note: the loss to Oklahoma came in a preseason tournament, and thus does not count as Big 12 conference game – the two teams will face each other twice more this season.)  Wins over (#218) VMI and in-state rival (#160) Marshall have West Virginia back at .500, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to keep up with the rest of the Big 12 this year, or if Huggins will have to suffer through a rebuilding season. Knowing the temper that Huggins can have, I hope for his players’ sake that they put it together sooner rather than later.

A team in not-so-dire straits is Wisconsin, who are a solid club, but have stumbled a few times already. Bo Ryan has been amazing as the coach of the Badgers, taking UW to a 268-101 mark overall, including a 132-54 record in the Big Ten, over his 11-year tenure. They have won at least 19 games every season under his watch, and they have been nearly unbeatable at the Kohl Center in Madison – entering this year, they had a 155-12 record at home with Ryan at the helm. That’s an average of about one loss per year at home – a ridiculously good rate. Well, the Badgers (6-3, 0-0) have already used up that one loss, having been beaten by an upstart (#50) Virginia squad in Madison last month. Their other losses aren’t quite so head-scratching, getting trampled by (#1) Florida and beaten squarely by (#18) Creighton. They did a lot to calm Badger fans down when they absolutely demolished a good (#51) California team by 25 points, but questions still remain for Wisconsin. Senior big man Jared Berggren has been their best player so far, and senior Ryan Evans and junior Ben Brust have been serviceable, but the Badgers could use a little extra push to put them over the top into true Big Ten contention. Perhaps freshman Sam Dekker is the answer – he’s been shooting the lights out and is averaging 10 points a game in 20 minutes off the bench. This is a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

A Couple Mid-Major Conferences That Got a Lot Worse: Colonial Athletic, Horizon League

The Colonial Athletic Association was a conference on the rise just a few years ago. Who could forget (#105) George Mason’s iconic Final Four run in 2006 or (#49) Virginia Commonwealth’s in 2011? Even fellow Virginia school (#307) Old Dominion has seen a number of 20-win seasons in the last several years, and (#266) Drexel is a team that I’ve mentioned before was considered a Tournament snub last year. The conference took a huge blow this offseason when VCU parlayed their recent success and entrance into the limelight into an invitation to join the Atlantic 10. The CAA lost a big piece of what put it on the map when Shaka Smart and his Rams took off for greener pastures. One would’ve expected that ODU and Drexel would’ve been fired up to have the inside track on the conference, but the schools have looked flat-out bad in the early going, limping to a combined 3-14 record to start the year. GMU (6-2, 0-0) has been pretty good so far, though, notching a win over Virginia, and taking (#15) New Mexico, (#24) Maryland, and (#37) Bucknell down to the wire. Even still, a conference that just two years ago had eyes on putting four teams in the tournament looks to be a solid bet for a one-bid conference.

Like the CAA, the Horizon League is another conference that is struggling to replace its best squad of the decade: (#93) Butler. Brad Stevens and the Bulldogs join VCU in heading to the Atlantic 10, and what they left behind is a bunch of just-okay schools. In the past, we’ve seen (#125) Cleveland State and (#68) Valparaiso make dents in the NCAA Tournament, but the days of Norris Cole and Bryce Drew are long gone. Drew is actually the coach of Valparaiso now, interestingly enough. These two teams are going to be the main contenders for the Horizon League crown, although (#40) Illinois-Chicago and (#118) Loyola-Chicago could have some say in that. In all, though, Butler’s rise to prominence is what put this conference in the public view, but in its departure for the A-10, much like VCU and the CAA, has taken much of the prestige and level of competition with it. It could make for more parity in the conference, however, and it does give some other teams a chance to Dance in March.

Last-Second Thought:

What happened to the Conference USA? I remember that before 2005, this was the conference that was teetering on major status. They were flush with teams like Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul, and Charlotte. In 2005, however, all of those teams bolted at the chance to join different conferences, as did Saint Louis and South Florida. Most went to the Big East, but a few headed over to the Atlantic 10. In fact, since the inception of the conference in 1995, only Memphis, UAB, Southern Miss, and Tulane remain – but those last two schools already have plans to leave for the Big East within the next two years, as well as the conference’s next-most senior affiliate, Houston. Kudos go to UAB and Southern Miss for sticking around, despite each of them seeing success in different sports in recent years. The 2005 additions of Tulsa, Rice, UTEP, and others gave the conference a much more southern feel than in years past. Some of those additions are already splitting for the big time, however – Central Florida and SMU have plans to join the Big East, too. In a few years, the C-USA will be adding Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion, North Texas, and Texas-San Antonio, as well as rivals Florida Atlantic and Florida International. It looks like they’ll also be getting Charlotte back in 2014. While some of these schools have burgeoning programs, none of them is strong enough to send the C-USA back into relevance. The conference will boast as many as 15 schools by 2014, but rather than a true super-conference, this will be much more of a haven of mediocrity and a place where misfit pieces go when they’ve outgrown their tiny conferences, but aren’t strong enough to contend in the major, or even high-mid major, ones. It’s a sad state of affairs for a conference which used to be a lot of fun to watch and produced a lot of NCAA Tournament teams.

What to Watch on Saturday:

(#125) Cleveland State @ (#92) North Carolina State

(#30) Colorado @ (#34) Kansas

(#118) Loyola (IL) @ (#46) Michigan State

(#122) West Virginia @ (#17) Virginia Tech

(#11) Ole Miss @ (#31) Middle Tennessee

(#100) UCLA @ (#156) Texas

(#29) Wisconsin @ (#97) Marquette

(#70) Clemson @ (#12) Arizona

(#93) Butler @ (#45) Northwestern

(#68) Valparaiso @ (#15) New Mexico

(#13) Illinois @ (#2) Gonzaga

And now for the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100! Update may come late tomorrow – Ugly Holiday Sweater party tonight could lead to a late start tomorrow. Anyway, enjoy your Saturday! With all that amazing college basketball on, how could you not?

-AD

Updated Rankings (Through 12/6)

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes from December 6th

The Most Notable Game: (#211) Vanderbilt, 66 @ (#57) Xavier, 64

Wow, I sure didn’t see this one coming. I listed this as one of Thursday’s games to watch, but in my heart of hearts, I figured it would’ve been a laugher, considering how Vanderbilt has looked in the early going. It’s quite expectable that at team would drop off after losing their three best players – John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli – to the NBA Draft. The extent to which the Commodores (3-4, 0-0) dropped off, however, was a bit of a shock. Last night, they took a step in the right direction against a tough Xavier team. The Musketeers (6-2, 0-0) looked to be in control in the second half, going up by as much as 13 points with about 15 minutes to play. However, Vanderbilt immediately countered with a 10-0 run, and Kyle Fuller tied the game at 47 with a pair of free throws. Fuller had eight points in the final 15 minutes, and if not for a James Siakam missed free throw with a minute left, Vandy could’ve won this in regulation. Neither team scored in the final minute, but once overtime started, it was all Fuller – literally. He alone scored all 12 of the Commodores’ points in the OT period, including the go-ahead jumper and a three-point play that gave Vanderbilt a 4-point lead with 1:10 remaining – a lead they never gave back. Kudos to the Coms for sticking this one out, and major kudos to Kyle Fuller for taking the game over when his team needed it most – 20 of his 25 points came after Xavier took their 13-point lead.

A Couple Major Conference Teams Looking to Break Through: (#46) Northwestern, (#50) Virginia

Northwestern still owns the dubious distinction of being the only school from a major conference that has never been to the Big Dance. This is a bit perplexing, given the fact that they are mere minutes away from one of the country’s greatest havens of basketball talent: Chicago. Despite the fact that so many talented youths come out of this city, the metropolitan area really has not had a solid college program for a long time. All of the best Windy City kids end up going to bigger schools or to play for big-name coaches (Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade come to mind) and it really saps the talent pool. Bill Carmody and the Wildcats (7-2, 0-0) have been on the cusp the last three seasons, reaching the NIT each time, but they have yet to get over the hump. After losing seniors John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic to graduation after last year, one could’ve easily written NU off in 2012-13. They’ve come out swinging, though, behind Drew Crawford and Reggie Hearn, already tallying wins over (#86) Illinois State and (#80) Baylor. They did get pummeled at home by a pretty solid (#24) Maryland squad, though. Northwestern has the unfortunate privilege of playing in one of college basketball’s toughest division – the Big Ten. This year, the Wildcats will try to scratch and claw their way into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history… and they’re off to a good start.

Another team quietly making a name for themself in a tough conference is the ACC’s Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavs (7-2, 0-0) are a bit of a hard nut to crack, though. They opened the season with losses to (#105) George Mason and (#216) Delaware, but also beat (#28) Wisconsin in Madison (which no one ever does) and outlasted (#146) Tennessee earlier this week, holding the Vols under 40 points (for more on Tennessee, check out yesterday’s post). Virginia is picking up steam, thanks to the efforts of Joe Harris (16.1 PPG) and Akil Mitchell (12.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG). They play a slow brand of basketball under the direction of head coach Tony Bennett, whose Washington State Cougars made a few tournaments earlier this decade. The Cavs made it to the NCAA Tournament last year and spent a lot of time in the Top 25, winning 22 games in total. It remains to be seen if this year’s iteration of the Cavs will be good as the last, but I certainly think that Virginia could catch some of the big boys by surprise in the ACC this year.

A Couple Low-Major Conference Races to Watch: Ohio Valley Conference, Patriot League

The Ohio Valley Conference has had some good representation in the NCAA Tournament in the last decade. (#74) Murray State has been the far-and-away dominant squad over this time period, but (#20) Eastern Kentucky has made a little noise, too. Now, with the addition of (#103) Belmont, who had cruised through the lowly Atlantic Sun conference for years, the OVC just got a lot stronger. (#204) Morehead State is another team that has made the Dance recently, but without Kenny Faried, the Eagles aren’t flying quite as high. (#120) Jacksonville State is actually playing some good basketball right now, as well, albeit with a weak schedule outside of (#19) UNLV and (#21) Oregon, two good teams that decimated the Gamecocks. Murray State’s only loss is to (#29) Colorado, and they’ve beaten a decent (#98) St. John’s team. Rick Byrd’s Belmont has a win over (#85) Stanford and only a loss to (#55) VCU on the season. The Colonels of EKU are undefeated, but they’ve yet to play anyone of any real talent – but a trip to Champaign to face (#13) Illinois is coming up soon.

Raise your hands if you remember (#36) Bucknell upsetting Kansas in the 2005 NCAA Tournement! Bonus point if you recall that the next season, they got a 9-seed and beat Arkansas! More recently, the Bison went to the Big Dance in 2011 and the NIT last season, where they scored an upset of Arizona. Bucknell looks to be continuing this string of solid seasons, jumping out to a fast start in 2012-13. Wins over (#128) Purdue and George Mason kicked off the campaign, and they recently put Kent State in their place. Their only flub so far is a loss to in-state rival (#188) Penn State in Happy Valley. Speaking of teams in Pennsylvania, the little babes of Bethlehem – the (#52) Lehigh Hawks – are enjoying a great beginning, too. They lost their only two real tests, their opener to Baylor and a game against (#22) Pittsburgh, but they’ve been playing well against everyone else. It seems that this year, the Patriot League is going to go through Pennsylvania; the only question now is which team will cutting down the nets in early March.

Last-Second Thought:

Perhaps I have underestimated how good (#2) Gonzaga and (#18) Creighton really are. The Blue Jays’ Doug McDermott and the Zags’ Elias Harris are surefire pros, and these teams have been playing awfully well to start the year. I still think that they will run into trouble later in the year because of the skill level in their respective conferences, but that should not wholly negate their accomplishments thus far. Last night’s obliteration of a (#73) Nebraska squad I’ve lauded in the past was eye-opening, and the way Gonzaga responded late in the game against (#134) Washington State was very impressive. I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong, and though the jury is still out on these teams, I think my calling them “overhyped” was a bit rash.

What to Watch on Friday (11 games total):

(#158) Harvard @ (#76) Connecticut

(#37) Iowa State @ (#38) Iowa

(#55) VCU @ (#295) Old Dominion (Despite ODU’s rough start to the season, which I discussed yesterday, you can never count a team out in an in-state rivalry, especially when the Rams and Monarchs were conference foes before this year.)

Now go take a look at the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100! Happy Friday everyone!

-AD

Updated Rankings (through 12/5)

Posted: December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Notes From December 5th

The Most Notable Game: (#2) Gonzaga 71, @ (#134) Washington State 69

This one was a ton of fun to watch. Gonzaga (9-0, 0-0) trailed by four at the half, and the Cougars (5-4, 0-0) stuck with them all game. The Zags went on a big run, thanks in part to Elias Harris, going up by as much as 11 in the second half. Right after Gonzaga took that lead, Washington State’s DaVonte Lacy hit two threes and Brock Motum added a pair himself to bring it within three points. With just under three minutes to play, Lacy hit another three to tie the game at 60. Kelly Olynyk, who had a career-high 22 in the game, converted on a three-point play and was fouled while converting another lay-up with 1:07 on the clock. Olynyk missed the free throw, but in what was perhaps the play of the game, Mike Hart (thanks to Chris Provencher for the correction – I wrote this a little too quickly while nursing a Jameson on the rocks) grabbed an offensive rebound, retaining possession for the Bulldogs. On this possession, Olynyk went all Tim Duncan – circa 2008 against the Suns – and nailed his first three-pointer of the season to put Gonzaga up four. Motum hit a deep three with 14 seconds remaining and after the Zags’ Gary Bell only converted on one free throw, Lacy drove the lane and hit a lay-up with less than ten seconds to go. Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos took the inbounds pass and went coast-to-coast, putting in the game-winning basket with 2.1 seconds on the clock to preserve the team’s first 9-0 start in school history. This was an adrenaline packed game, and you couldn’t help but smile while watching this one. A great effort by Wazzu, to be sure, but they just couldn’t get over the top in the second half.

Major Conference Teams Struggling Out of the Gate: (#154) Texas, (#146) Tennessee

Texas (5-3, 0-0) has been playing without their best player, Myck Kabongo, and it’s showing. The Longhorns barely got past (#159) Fresno State, but they lost by 13 to host Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. They followed that embarrassment up with a 6-point loss to (#186) USC. They won their next three over some easy opponents, but last night they looked awful against a very solid (#55) Georgetown team, losing 64-41. I didn’t expect them to win the game, by any means, but I thought that they would have been a little more competitive than that. The Longhorns, and all the faithful in Austin, are waiting on bated breath for Kabongo. A matchup of two of season’s more disappointing squads takes place in Houston on Saturday, when (#101) UCLA comes to the Lone Star State.

Tennessee’s season thus far has been a tale of two teams. They are averaging 77.8 points per game in their four wins, though they have yet to record a truly impressive one. More intriguing, however, is that they are averaging 39.7 PPG in their three losses. That’s right – the Vols (4-3, 0-0) are scoring less than 40 points per game in their losses. Georgetown prevailed in an ugly 37-36 matchup last week, and Tennessee was trounced by (#39) Oklahoma State. The most telling loss, however, might have been last night’s, when they lost 46-38 in Charlottesville to (#51) Virginia. Bruce Pearl’s squad is running into a serious problem, where they are having too many nights where they can’t put the ball in the hoop. This is the kind of issue that you simply cannot have in the SEC if you plan to be competitive.

Mid-Major Teams Who Have Fallen Off the Map: (#296) Old Dominion, (#199) Nevada

Old Dominion was 27-7 in 2011, making the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. That streak was broken last year, but they were 21-12 and received an invite to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Monarchs (1-7, 0-0) have a lot of work to do if they want to be considered for postseason play this year. They certainly miss Kent Bazemore, who graduated after last season, and it is apparent that they have not yet found his replacement. They opened the season with a loss to (#235) Holy Cross, and have also dropped games to (#289) Texas-San Antonio, (#216) VMI, and (#130) William & Mary. Losses to perennial overachievers  (#74) Murray State and (#122) Cleveland State are easier to overlook, but the way that they were demolished last night by in-state rival (#48) Richmond confirmed what many in Fairfax already feared: this is a going to be a long season for ODU if they don’t start playing better immediately.

Nevada was even better than Old Dominion last year, going 28-7 and reaching the semifinals of the NIT, before losing to eventual champion Stanford. They are off to a very slow start this season, however, and that does not bode well, given that they have are playing their first season in the Mountain West, a very tough conference. The Wolf Pack (4-4, 0-0) are the MWC’s weakest team so far, with losses to (#181) UC Irvine, (#161) Marshall, (#202) Drake, and (#164) Pacific. Save for an 18-point drubbing of (#337) Southern Utah, their other three wins have come by an average of 2 points, and in games against pretty weak opponents – (#178) Cal State Fullerton, (#193) Green Bay, and (#271) UC Davis. The first 8 games on the schedule should not have given Nevada as much trouble as it has, with their best opponent to date being the Aggies from Davis. Reno bills itself as the biggest little city in the world, but their basketball team might be the biggest little doormat in the MWC if they can’t figure things out quickly.

Last-Second Thought:

Now that I’ve discussed the Mountain West as a more-than-mid-major conference, it’s time to give a little love to the Altantic 10 – which, yes, has 16 teams (14 of them are in the top half of DPI). The addition of (#57) VCU and (#92) Butler into the fold makes this conference much more formidable, and it was already pretty strong with (#36) Xavier, (#22) Temple, Richmond, (#81) St. Joseph’s and (#82) Dayton. Aside from all of those squads, another team enjoying a great start to the year is (#15) Charlotte. The 49ers are undefeated, but their wins haven’t come against any major opponents — although (#145) Oral Roberts and (#142) Davidson are no slouches.  (#114) St. Louis made the tournament last year, too. Like the Mountain West, this is a conference that could see four to six teams playing in late March. VCU, Butler, Xavier and Richmond have all made (at least) the Sweet 16 within the last 4 years. St. Louis could be getting a little help from above, as well, as the Billikens have won their last two contests since the passing of Rick Majerus. In a sport where emotion plays such a huge role, it can’t be ignored that this team has some extra motivation to have a great year. Overall, this is another conference teetering on major status.

What to Watch on Thursday (19 games total):

(#62) Arkansas-Little Rock @ (#12) Cincinnati

(#249) Vanderbilt @ (#36) Xavier

(#23) Creighton @ (#54) Nebraska (Note: I have a feeling this is the only game that will be worth watching, really. Slim pickins for a Thursday.)

Okay, onto the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100!

-AD

Updated Rankings (through 12/4)

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

NOTES FROM DECEMBER 4th

The Most Notable Game: (#74) Connecticut, 65 – (#87) North Carolina State, 69

This game was played as part of the Jimmy V Classic in New York City, and boy, Coach Valvano would’ve loved to have seen this one. In a game where the Wolfpack (5-2, 0-0) sported the phrase “Don’t Ever Give Up” on the backs of their jerseys, N.C. State heard the message loud and clear. The Huskies traded punches with them for as long as they could, but in the end, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell – both of whom recorded double-doubles – proved too efficient inside. After Leslie hit a pair of free throws to break a tie at 53, Howell put the Pack up by four after a tip-in. Lorenzo Brown, who scored 16, stole the ball on the ensuing possession, feeding it to Leslie for a dunk that put N.C. State ahead by six. After some UConn free throws and a few changes in possession, Leslie grabbed a Howell miss and slammed home another dunk with just under two minutes to play. At this point, Connecticut started playing the foul game and the Wolfpack’s Scott Wood was clutch, making four of four in the final half-minute. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright carried Connecticut (6-2, 0-0) as far as they could and the Huskies never went away in this one, but in the end, N.C. State heeded the words of their late coach. They didn’t ever give up.

Major-Conference Teams Who Are Beating the System: (#7) Ole Miss, (#34) Iowa

This has been the elephant in the room for the DPI during the whole first month of play, and I’m finally just going to come out and say it: my system is not foolproof, and some teams are slipping through the cracks. Ole Miss (6-0, 0-0) is the biggest culprit. Yes, they are undefeated. Yes, they play in a strong conference. The fact remains, though, that they have not really played anybody good yet. They are simply devouring cupcakes at this point, and in turn, their DPI is gaining a little winter weight. Their best opponent so far has been (#115) Rutgers, which should tell you something about their scheduling. They are beating teams by an average of just under 30 points per game, though, and they are out-rebounding their opponents by 12 a game. On average, the Rebels pull down over 14 offensive boards and are forcing their opponents into 20 turnovers. Ole Miss has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.43, while holding their opponents to a 0.50 mark. So, say what you will about the schedule: Mississippi is playing as good of basketball as anyone in the early going. Now, a meeting with (#52) Middle Tennessee State on Saturday could either expose them as a fluke or confirm them as a power. I know I’ll have an eye on that game.

Another school who has been getting fat off the tasty and tiny morsels is Iowa (6-2, 0-0). Their win over (#57) Western Kentucky is nice, yes, but their next-best win is over the (#164) Gardner-Webb. While the Bulldogs of GWU might make some noise in the Big South this year, Iowa needs some better wins than that. Their two losses have come in their only pair of true tests this season, against admittedly very good squads, and on the road in both instances. They were beaten pretty easily by both (#9) Wichita State and (#15) Virginia Tech, and those are two wins that are certainly forgivable. Still, the six wins that they have notched on the year are less than impressive, and one wonders just how long it will take for the Hawkeyes to come crashing back down to Earth. Perhaps they won’t – but their first two tests against formidable foes do not bode well for the boys in Iowa City. Games against in-state rivals (#35) Iowa State and (#147)  Northern Iowa will be good barometers of how their season is going to go – and a New Year’s Eve match against (#1) Indiana looms.

Small Schools Who Are Doing Different Dances with Lady Luck: (#272) Drexel, (#263) Troy

One of these days, you have to figure Drexel is going to have a bit better luck. The Dragons (2-6, 0-0), considered by many last year to have been snubbed in not receiving a tournament bid after a 27-6 season,  have played in a lot of neck-and-neck tilts so far this season. Unfortunately, they’ve been on the short end of almost all of them. Their first game was a three-point loss to (#134) Kent State, followed by a two-point loss to (#78) Illinois State. They were able to pull off a 61-59 victory over in-state rival (#307) Pennsylvania, but that’s not the sort of win you hang your hat on. They’ve also suffered close losses at the hands of (#116) St. Mary’s and (#36) Xavier, but their last two defeats came at the hands of lesser opponents. This team has lost their winning ways from last season – although their fall from grace is perhaps not as drastic as (#299) Old Dominion’s, which I will discuss later in the week.

So, if Drexel isn’t receiving any luck, someone has to be, right? Well, that team just might be the Troy Trojans (4-5, 0-0). Yes, Troy has only four wins so far on the year, and they even recorded one against a major-conference school, albeit a slipshod (#251) Mississippi State squad. Their losses to (#46) Texas A&M, (#42) Louisiana Tech, and (#170) UAB are easily overlooked, despite the fact that they were run out of the building in each of them (average margin of victory: 20.7 PPG). So, how does all of this translate into a lucky year for the Trojans? Well, one of the statistics I have been tracking this year is to see which games have been won and lost at the free-throw line, by seeing what the score would have been had each team shot perfectly from the stripe. I could not believe my eyes when I checked to see how games Troy had won at the line: all four of them. That’s right, in every single game that Troy has won this year, they have been the beneficiaries of an awful free-throw shooting night from the opponent – so much so that it has handed them the game. Now that’s the kind of luck you just can’t buy.

Last-Second Thought

It’s getting hard to call the Mountain West a mid-major conference anymore. In the last few tournaments they have had multiple bids, and a few high seeds. Despite losing (#113) BYU to the West Coast Conference, this conference is still a national power. At the moment, the MWC has six teams in the Top 40 of the DPI – (#3) Wyoming (who passed another big test against Illinois State last night), (#16) UNLV, (#17) New Mexico, (#20) Colorado State, (#38) San Diego State, and (#40) Boise State. There is another team in the Top 100, (#86) Air Force, that could surprise a few teams, too. I expect that no less than four teams will make it to the Big Dance from the Mountain West this year, and as many as six could be playing in March. When you’re talking about putting six teams into the tournament, it’s hard to think of this conference as anything but a major one.

What to Watch on Wednesday (58 games total):

(#125) Florida State @ (#11)Florida

(#111) Memphis @ (#37) Ohio

(#60) Virginia @ (#128) Tennessee

(#85) Southern Illinois @ (#57) Western Kentucky

(#24) Stephen F. Austin @ (#46) Texas A&M

(#40) Boise State @ (#89) Utah

(#76) South Florida @ (#50) Oklahoma State

(#105) Dayton @ (#56) Alabama

(#20) Colorado State @ (#49) Colorado

(#124) Washington State @ (#10) Gonzaga

Sorry this came in so late – finals are hell. Anyway, go check out the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100! Another update will be coming in tomorrow.

-AD

UPDATED RANKINGS THROUGH 12/3

Posted: December 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

NOTES FROM DECEMBER 3rd
The Most Notable Game: (#175) USC, 51 @ (#46) Nebraska, 63

This game was closely contested for the first 18 minutes of the game, with the Trojans and Cornhuskers trading leads back and forth. The turning point came with just under two minutes left in the first half, when Ray Gallegos hit a jumper and then two threes, going on a personal 8-0 run to end the first stanza. The Cornhuskers (6-1, 0-0) didn’t let off the gas in the start of the second half, either, outscoring USC 11-2 in the first six and a half minutes, extending their lead to 17 at one point. Andre Almeida had six points in that run, and Nebraska never looked back. They enjoyed their largest lead at 20 points, after Gallegos hit his fifth three-pointer. He was the star of this game, eventually knocking down 6-10 from beyond the arc and scoring 20 points in all. Despite decent guard play from USC’s Jio Fontan, Byron Wesley, and J.T. Terrell, the Trojans (3-4, 0-0) were never able to recover from a ten-minute stretch in which they made no field goals and only put in two free throws. Nebraska was on fire from downtown, hitting 11 of 17 as a team, and if they continue to shoot the ball with such efficiency, they will be a tough team to beat. Watch out for the Huskers this season – they might just surprise a few people. It remains to be seen how they will fare in a very tough Big Ten, though.

A Couple Major-Conference Teams Flying Under the Radar: (#16) Oregon, (#50) Alabama

As a lifelong Beaver fan, this sentence kills me to write, but… the Ducks might have a pretty dang good team this year. Oregon (7-1, 0-0) has already impressed with a couple big wins to open the season, and their only loss so far is to one of the nation’s best, (#8) Cincinnati. They upended (#23) UNLV in Vegas, and absolutely destroyed a wayward (#248) Vanderbilt squad. They’ve got five players averaging double figures, which doesn’t even include perhaps their most solid performer, Arsalan Kazemi (9.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.7 SPG). They are good at forcing turnovers (11 per game), and they are outrebounding their opponents on the year. They do have some things to work on however, including the fact that they turn the ball over 17 times a game, and that they have been streaky shooting the three-ball (29.7%). A tilt next week with Nebraska will be a good test for both teams and a game I’m excited to watch. Oregon opens up the conference season against the Beavers on January 6th. If they can ratchet down a few things before then, the Ducks could make some serious noise in a crowded Pac-12.

Alabama (6-1, 0-0) is another team that is looking very solid in the early going, without much hype on them. They took down Oregon State and dismantled (#167) Villanova to win the 2K Sports Classic in New York City in November. They were undefeated until Saturday, when they became the SEC’s latest casualty in the Big East/SEC Challenge (which was all Big East). Alabama went toe-to-toe with Cincinnati, who as I mentioned before, is one of the best teams in the country. The Tide lost 58-56 on a buzzer-beater and were thisclose to jumping into the national rankings. Still, they are receiving votes, and I suspect we will see them with a little number by their name before too long. They have a tough couple games coming up in (#100) Dayton and (#56) VCU, but Trevor Releford (younger brother of Kansas’ Travis Releford) and Rodney Cooper should have the Tide rolling into SEC play with a solid mark and some confidence – something they’ll need to compete in one of the toughest conferences in the country.

A Couple Low-Major Teams to Keep an Eye On: (#47) Middle Tennessee, (#33) Ohio

The early success of Middle Tennessee (5-2, 1-0) actually dates back to a great season last year, when they won 27 games and dominated the Sun Belt to the tune of a 14-2 conference mark. The Blue Raiders were upset, however, in their conference tournament opener against 9-seed Arkansas State, which cost them a trip to the Big Dance. They went to the NIT instead, where they beat Marshall and Tennessee, before losing to eventual runner-up Minnesota. MTSU lost only one player from that 27-win team, and they now have six seniors on the squad, including guards Marcos Knight and Raymond Cintron. These guys crash the boards with the best of them (14 offensive rebounds per game), they take care of the ball (1.15 AST/TO ratio), and they shoot the ball well (39.4% from downtown).  The Blue Raiders got hammered by (#7) Florida earlier this year, and dropped one at (#92) Akron on Sunday in overtime, but make no mistake – the boys from Murfreesboro might be the best the Sun Belt has to offer, although T.J. Price, Jamal Crook, and (#53) Western Kentucky will have something to say about that. Barring another conference tournament disaster, though, I think we will be seeing Middle Tennessee dancing in March. Their first true test comes on Saturday, when (#3) Ole Miss comes to town. (Note: The Raiders will be moving out of the low-majors and into Conference USA starting in 2014, another indication of a program on the rise.)

Ohio (6-1, 0-0) made waves last year when they reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1964. Because of that success, they lost head coach John Groce to (#14) Illinois, who is enjoying a fantastic start to the year. First-year coach John Christian comes into a fortunate situation with a solid team that returns everybody from last year’s squad, including one of the country’s best guard tandems you’ve never heard of: seniors D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. These two were integral in last year’s upset of Michigan, as well as their triumph over South Florida, before the Bobcats finally fell to top-seeded North Carolina. Cooper, Offutt and the rest of the bunch are off to another hot start, winning their first six games – including a 25-point drubbing of (#67) Richmond – before falling to (#162) Robert Morris on Saturday. As long as these guys continue to protect the ball (1.39 AST/TO), play solid defense (11 steals per game), and shoot the lights out (40.3% on threes), the road to a Mid-American Conference championship will go through Athens. It certainly will be interesting to see how they handle their next test, when they travel to (#106) Memphis on Wednesday.

Last-Second Thought

Forgive the West Coast bias, but the Pac-12 is a really hard conference to nail down – and might even be the best one, top to bottom, in the country. Besides (#12) Arizona, there are no really dominant teams, but there are a lot of really talented ones. I’m not sure if there’s a conference with more parity heading into the New Year. (#43) Colorado and (#51) California are both solid teams who will likely spend time in the national polls, and I already discussed Oregon’s quick start. You shouldn’t sleep on (#38) Arizona State, either, who is 6-1 and whose only loss was at the hands of (#19) Creighton. Over the weekend, I talked about the early woes of both (#94) UCLA and (#122) Washington, but something tells me these teams aren’t going away just yet. Stanford has stumbled out of the gate a bit, but losses to (#44) Missouri and (#10) Minnesota are largely forgivable (though one expects that they’d have beaten (#128) Belmont). Then there’s (#107) Oregon State, who returns almost everybody from last year, and whose two losses came in tight games with Alabama and (#26) Kansas – two very stellar ball clubs. USC has played some tough teams – and they haven’t fared well – but they’ll still pick up a handful of wins in the conference. (#83) Utah has played well, but has been doing so against a bunch of nobodies. (#127) Washington State even has a win over a pretty good (#41) Texas A&M team. While this conference may not be littered with superpowers, they definitely have a dozen capable squads that I would be hesitant to face late in the season. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out, and I am excited to see what goes down in the Staples Center in early March.

What to Watch on Tuesday (55 games total):

(#123) Texas @ (#70) Georgetown

(#54) Oklahoma @ (#126) Arkansas

(#114) Kent State @ (#48) Bucknell

(#105) South Dakota State @ (#10) Minnesota

(#9) Wyoming @ (#59) Illinois State (Note: I can’t believe I missed that this game was coming up when I featured both of these teams in the Mid-Major notes on Saturday. This game should be a really solid one.)

(#69) Western Michigan @ (#6) Michigan

(#101) N.C. State @ (#57) Connecticut

(#20) Louisville @ (#96) Charleston

(#65) Northwestern @ (#55) Baylor

(#68) Southern Miss @ (#12) Arizona

I’ve decided to expand the standings page to 100, because… well, why not? Now go see if your favorite team made the Updated Tournament Projections and Top 100!
-AD

NOTES FROM DECEMBER 2nd

The Most Notable Game: (#3) Wichita State, 72 @ (#81) Air Force, 69

This was just as good a game as I expected. Wichita State enjoyed the lead for most of the game, but it was a tight one throughout. The Shockers (8-0, 0-0) were bolstered by a very strong showing out of senior forward Carl Hall, their leading scorer and rebounder, who put up 21 points and 10 rebounds against the Falcons (6-2, 0-0). Air Force, likewise, got big performances out of their big men – center Tim Broekhuis and forward Mike Fitzgerald put in 18 and 17 points, respectively. However, the pair only combined for four rebounds, and as a team, the Falcons were outrebounded 32-19. Wichita State had their sloppy moments, committing 19 turnovers and 23 fouls, but Air Force bailed them out by making only 14 of 25 free throws. Had both teams made all of their shots from the stripe, the game would’ve swung the other way, with AF prevailing 80-76. Alas, free throws have never been free, and this game went to Wichita. WSU was helped by a solid performance from Cleanthony Early, as well as late 3s from Demetric Williams and Malcolm Armstead that put Wichita up by ten – their largest lead of the game and one that they never surrendered.

A Couple Major Conference Teams That Are In Trouble Early: (#96) UCLA, (#131) Florida State

Yesterday, I talked about (#88) Kentucky and their early free fall, but the Wildcats aren’t alone in the Tom Petty Division. UCLA, like UK, had a lot of early season hype resting on the shoulders of some freshmen. The announcement of Shabazz Muhammad’s eligibility was supposed to solidify things at Pauley Pavilion, but the Bruins (5-3, 0-0) have looked anything but solid so far. This team got taken to the wire by (#202) UC-Irvine in their second game, dropped their first real challenge to (#70) Georgetown, and then lost to (#206) Cal Poly. They have a few wins in laughers against teams they were certainly supposed to beat, but even (#230) Georgia, who looks awful in the early going, kept it close. Now they have lost two players (Tyler Lamb & Joshua Smith) to transfers mid-season, and Ben Howland seems to have likewise lost some control. A second true test presented itself Saturday night as (#43) San Diego State came to town. The Aztecs were favored to win, but this was a good opportunity for UCLA to quiet their detractors. The Bruins, in keeping with the rest of their nonconference performance to date, played inconsistently, losing 78-69 at home. They have the talent to compete, but it remains to be seen if they have the constitution to play up to that potential. If they don’t, the other teams in the Pac-12 could end up sending the Bruins into early hibernation.

On the other coast, Florida State (4-3, 0-0) is a hard team to figure out. At times, they play great defense, and their senior leader, Michael Snaer, can play like a superstar. Their loss to (#9) Minnesota is nowhere near as worrisome as their season-opening shocker, in which they lost to (#133) South Alabama. They looked to be back on track until Sunday, when they lost to (#192) Mercer at home. Don’t get me wrong, Mercer is an okay squad who has played very tough competition so far, and could win the Atlantic Sun this year – but that doesn’t excuse the Seminoles from this one. Snaer had as many combined turnovers and fouls (7) as he did points. Their only player in double figures, Okaro White, had to sit for a few minutes down the stretch after picking up his fourth foul. They missed a free throw in the final minute that would have tied it, while Mercer made four down the stretch to seal it. Regardless of my rankings at the moment, I don’t think Sunday’s loss was as bad as the one to South Alabama, but let’s not sugarcoat it – there’ll be some serious trouble in Tallahassee if these guys can’t play more consistently.

A Couple Mid-Major Teams That Might Be a Little Over-Hyped: (#4) Gonzaga, (#19) Creighton

Let’s just get this out of the way now: Gonzaga is a really good team, and they have a legitimate star in Elias Harris. I won’t argue to the contrary. My worry with them, however, is the same as it has always been: they don’t play in a good enough conference. Mark Few and the Zags (8-0, 0-0) have dominated the competition in their nonconference schedule so far, but a big game looms when (#14) Illinois comes to Spokane on Saturday. They also have games against (#55) Baylor and (#54) Oklahoma State later this month which could trip them up. The early dismantling of (#142) West Virginia looked really good on paper, but the Mountaineers looked awful in November. The wins over (#54) Oklahoma and (#75) Clemson are looking increasingly impressive, but I’m still not totally sold on Gonzaga. This is mostly because after their game in Stillwater, they enter play in the middling-at-best West Coast Conference. The WCC is definitely stronger with (#111) BYU in it, and (#113) St. Mary’s is always a threat with Matthew Dellavedova in the fold, but this is simply not the level of competition that you want to be facing in the months leading up to the tournament. I predict that Harris, Kelly Olynyk, and David Stockton (yes, John Stockton’s son) will win their conference running away, but when the real tests come in March, I’m afraid the Zags will have forgotten how to play in big games. A few second-round exits in the last couple years don’t do much to change that opinion, either.

Like Gonzaga, Creighton – and preseason All-American Doug McDermott – are going to give teams fits this year. In their first two tests this year, the Blue Jays (7-1, 0-0) passed with flying colors. They took down (#37) Arizona State and (#51) Wisconsin, two teams that could easily be tournament teams, on neutral-site courts after they picked apart their first four opponents. As soon as they came home to Omaha, though, they slipped up and lost to (#32) Boise State by 13 points. The Broncos are nothing to scoff at this year – their only loss so far was to (#57) Michigan State – but this game should not have given Creighton the trouble it did. Doug McDermott is really the lone star on this team – although Grant Gibbs is a solid point guard – and he does just about everything well. One worries, though, that the Jays are a couple off-nights from McDermott away from stumbling in conference play. They’ll be going toe-to-toe all year with Wichita State, who is just as good as Creighton, in my opinion. I discussed (#58) Illinois State on Saturday, and there are also solid clubs in (#72) Bradley and (#83) Southern Illinois that could trip them up in the MVC. How Creighton fares against their final nonconference tests – trips to (#65) Nebraska and (#50) California over the next two weeks – could be the truest barometer for just how seriously they should be taken this season.

Final Thoughts

You have to feel bad for the (#345) Liberty Flames. The team lost its first seven games, and they are among the worst teams in the DPI. Liberty hosted (#190) Georgia State on Sunday morning, looking to get off the schneid and record their first win of the season. With less than a minute left, the Flames’ Davon Marshall – who broke out today with 25 points – knocked down a three-pointer from the corner that put them up 63-58. Seconds later, they gave up a three-point play, committing a foul on a GSU tip-in, to bring the game back within two. Marshall made two more free throws, but Liberty gave up another three-point play on a dunk with 18 seconds on the clock. With a one point lead, Liberty’s Casey Roberts – the culprit of both fouls – missed his second free throw, and with 3 seconds left, the Panthers’ Rashaad Richardson knocked down a long three-pointer to give Georgia State a 67-66 lead. John Caleb Sanders put up a prayer from half-court which hit the backboard and bounced hard off the front rim, but caromed out, sending Liberty (0-8, 0-0) to its eighth-straight loss to start the 2012-13 campaign. It was a long day in Lynchburg, to be sure.

liberty loss

Out west, in Sunday’s final game, (#124) Washington narrowly avoided falling below .500, barely hanging on thanks to a few dumb fouls in the last seconds by (#176) Cal State Fullerton. The Titans twice tied the game in the waning seconds, but committed costly errors on the inbounds both times. This allowed the Huskies to escape, 74-72, after some clutch free throws in the final ticks from Andrew Andrews. But these are the types of games that the Dawgs need to be winning convincingly if they want to compete in what is shaping up to be a pretty even Pac-12. Elsewhere in the conference, Cal got whooped by Wisconsin in Madison – where Bo Ryan simply does not lose – for their first loss of the year.

Lastly, I was very sad to learn last night of the passing of Rick Majerus. He was truly one of the great men in basketball, and a coach to whom I took an instant liking as a youngster. His Utah teams were inspiring to me, and are part of the reason that I love underdogs like I do today. I have always been a huge fan of Majerus, and he is on my short-list for coaches I’d love to get a beer with. It looks like we’ll have to put that off until later, Big Guy. I can only imagine how comfortable the sweatsuits in Heaven are. By the way, here’s a fun coincidence: Rick Majerus’ last team, (#116) Saint Louis, won on Sunday in his honor against another team who enamored me to the underdog: (#85) Valparaiso, who are currently coached by Bryce Drew, the man who put them on the map with his buzzer-beater in 1998 – in the very same tournament where Majerus took Utah to the Finals. Perfect.

What to Watch on Monday (14 games total):

(#114) Eastern Michigan @ (#12) Syracuse

(#154) Southern Cal @ (#65) Nebraska

(Monday’s a slow one, thankfully. I have to study for my Phonetics final, so the less distractions, the better.)

Now go check out the Updated Top 50 and Projections through Sunday’s games, then enjoy the rest of your weekend!

AD