Sizing up potential bubble teams, weekend picks, more Hoop Thoughts
I know we're all glad the election is over, so let me bury that season with one last political analogy. It concerns the RPI.
The NCAA just released its official RPI rankings this week. On the one hand, that's exciting because it means the NCAA tournament is on the horizon. On the other hand, looking at RPI ratings in January is like watching the first returns roll in on election night. You might get an indicator as to where things stand, but the information is way too early to be considered conclusive.
There is one area, however, where almost all of the precincts have reported, and that's the nonconference strength of schedule rankings. And that is a very, very important category. The men's basketball committee has stressed this number for more than a decade now. If a team is on the bubble, its NCSOS rank can literally make or break its at-large chances.
Thus, as a service to my fellow Hoop Thinkers, I have made electoral projections on 10 possible bubble teams that helped their at-large prospects during nonconference play, and 10 who hurt their prospects. These rankings will change a little bit between now and selection weekend, but not much. Herewith:
Ten Teams That Helped Themselves
Ten Teams That Hurt Themselves
Other Hoop Thoughts
? Michigan sophomore center Jon Horford did not play against Nebraska Wednesday night, but based on my conversation with John Beilein last week, I would expect him to be in action against Ohio State on Sunday. Funny how these guys seem to heal just in time for the big games.
? Rick Pitino keeps saying defense is Louisville's weakness. The Cards are ranked first in the country in defensive efficiency, they're second in steal percentage, and they have one of the best shot blockers in the country in Gorgui Dieng. But what do I know.
? I'm surprised 6-foot-8 freshman forward Perry Ellis isn't getting more run for Kansas. This is a good team but it's getting very little pop from the bench.
? Ditto for Syracuse, by the way. If you consider James Southerland a starter (which I do), then the Orange's top five played all but nine minutes in their win at Providence Wednesday night. And when your two-guard (Brandon Triche) shoots 32 percent from three-point range, it's a problem.
? I've just never liked that baseline setup at Vanderbilt.
? I watched Minnesota up-close-and-personal for three straight days in the Bahamas. The two reasons they're better now are: a) Trevor Mbakwe has regained most of his explosiveness following knee surgery, and b) the Gophers are clicking much better in their halfcourt offense. They have both playmakers and shot makers, and not a lot of teams can say that.
? Florida's Kenny Boynton is making 34.1 percent from three. That includes his 8-for-10 performance from behind the arc in the win at Yale. He made 40.7 percent last year. Went 1-for-7 in the win at home over Georgia Wednesday night. Just making sure you knew.
? Another reason to like San Diego State: An Aztec has fouled out just once all season. And the team is on a pace to set a record for single-season field goal defensive percentage.
? Most overrated chant: "O-ver-rated!" You're just telling your team they didn't accomplish much by beating their opponent.
? You know who would be my national coach of the year right now? Gregg Marshall of Wichita State. The Shockers are still without three injured starters, yet they're 15-1 and got 39 points from Cleanthony Early in a comeback win at home over Southern Illinois Wednesday. I'm telling you: Watch. This. Team.
? It's pretty remarkable that a team like Illinois, which is chock full of guards who can make jump shots, is ranked 323rd in the country in assist-to-made field goals percentage, according to Kenpom.com. Not sure exactly what that tells us, but it ain't good.
? Slump alert: Kentucky guard Julius Mays has shot 11-for-45 in his last five games.
? Given Ohio State's offensive woes, I'm surprised freshman guard Amedeo Della Valle isn't getting more minutes. So what if he can't guard a lamp post?
?I love it when coaches come out of a time out playing a totally different defense than the one they were playing beforehand. Great chess move.
? I also love the tradition of playing a road game in the hometown of one of the seniors. Yet another reason why college hoops is better than the NBA.
? Is it possible for a team to lose at home to Columbia by 18 points and still make the NCAA tournament? Villanova has won seven in a row with a couple of pretty good Big East wins against St. John's and at South Florida, so we can't totally rule it out. I'd be shocked if they can win Saturday at Syracuse, though.
? Hard to believe Bob McKillop has been head coach of Davidson for 23 years. He is a national treasure.
? We like to think of Notre Dame as a slowdown team that runs a "burn" offense, but heading into the Cincinnati game the Irish had topped the 80-point mark in six of their previous eight games, It would take Georgetown all season to score that many points.
? Speaking of which, new rule: If you can't score 50 points, you don't get full credit for a win, even if you have more points than your opponent. Half-credit, maybe.
? Something I never thought I'd see: Indiana's Jordan Hulls going 0-for-10 from the floor at Iowa. The very definition of an aberration.
? It may look like Pitt has been struggling at the offensive end, but the Panthers' main problems have been getting beaten on the boards and not getting to the foul line enough. They did better in both categories in the win at Georgetown. If they can get a little tougher, I still think this team can do some damage.
? Pretty impressive that Arizona State freshman point guard Jahii Carson didn't score a field goal against Colorado until there were five minutes remaining against Colorado, yet the Sun Devils still won. Being defended by the 6-6 Spencer Dinwiddie was a tough matchup, but I like that Carson didn't force things.
? I realize Tennessee isn't beating up the world these days, but that was still an impressive 18-point win on the road by Ole Miss on Wednesday. The Rebs' home game against Missouri on Saturday just got a lot more interesting.
? Virginia's loss at Wake Forest made North Carolina's loss at Virginia look a lot worse.
? West Virginia's win at Texas made Oklahoma's win at West Virginia look a lot better.
? How about Wyoming losing at home to a Boise State team that was without four suspended players, including leading scorer Derrick Marks. The Cowboys are really gonna miss their second-leading scorer Luke Martinez, who broke the ring finger on his shooting hand in a bar fight. Reminds me of the scene in
? I like that Boone Pickens bought and gave away 4,000 tickets so Oklahoma State would have a full house for the Gonzaga game. But I don't like that he had to.
? There may be no more disappointing team in the country than Illinois State. The Redbirds were expected to challenge Creighton for the Missouri Valley Conference, but they lost their first four league games and just indefinitely suspended Tyler Brown, their second-leading scorer, for conduct detrimental to the team.
? I saw where Sean Miller complained publicly to the Pac-12 that no Arizona player had yet been named conference player of the week. Not only was Miller on the money with his gripe, but it was the first time it occurred to me to wonder how those awards were selected. Pac-12 spokesman Dave Hirsch said it was made by a group of people in the league office. I think the leagues would be better off using a panel of writers, broadcasters and coaches. Takes the politics out of it, and when a coach complains, you can always blame someone else. That's the whole key to life.
Dipping Into The Email Bag
A rare voice of reason from Terrapin Station!
Actually, I love the enthusiasm Maryland fans are showing, even if most of them are blowing up my Twitter feed with angry comments for not ranking them. (Though those same folks were strangely silent after the Terps blew a big lead and lost at home to Florida State Wednesday night.) Clearly, Eddie is right. Maryland did not deserve to be ranked even before the loss to the Seminoles. As I noted while discussing Maryland's schedule, the Terps have done nothing to this point but beat up on bad teams.
Maryland could still get on my ballot at some point, but I would caution Terps fans not to be overly concerned about that. What matters more is the phrase that Eddie used: "extended success." Yes, the Terps will lose Alex Len to the draft, but they still only have one senior among their top six scorers, and their freshman class has been terrific. Mark Turgeon has two really good recruiters on his staff in Dalonte Hill and Bino Ranson, and they've landed two top-100 players for next season. Maryland also got a commitment from a top-50 guard in the junior class named Romelo Trimble, and they've made good inroads on several other top players from that group. There's a difference between having a good team and a good program. Maryland may be a good team, but it looks to me like Turgeon is building the program for the long haul.
What do I say? I say let's line 'em up. Here is how TB3's and CP3's career college numbers compare:
As you can see, the scoring and assist numbers are close, but there's a big difference in long-range shooting and steals numbers. I think Burke can play in the NBA, but given that Paul is the best point guard in the league right now, I'd say this comparison is a little lofty.
I listed Burke as a first-team All-American in the preseason, and I still believe he's the best point guard in the country. I also acknowledge that he is moving up the short list of National Player of the Year candidates (though right now I would give the nod to Creighton forward Doug McDermott). However (you knew there was a however), there is still a long way to go. We will really find out how good Burke and the Wolverines are when they hit the road. As well as this team has been playing, it's easy to forget how young it is. Seven of the top nine players are freshmen and sophomores, and none is a senior. And the Wolverines are about to go through a brutal stretch in their next six games, with road dates at Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. I'm sure there are losses in there somewhere. So check back with me in late February, and we'll see where Burke stands in the POY race. I'd be surprised if he still wasn't in the hunt, but I've been surprised before.
The Wildcats needed a controversial replay decision to beat Colorado in overtime, and their win over a mediocre Utah team came down to the final possession. Both of those games were in Tucson, as was their one-point win over Florida. The Wildcats also beat San Diego State by a point on a neutral court. Now they have to play on the road against a good team. They're not due, they're overdue.
Saint Mary's is ranked 336th in the country in three-point defense. Gonzaga has Kevin Pangos. Nuff said.
Unless you think Duke is going to go undefeated in the ACC, you have to pick the Wolfpack to win. The Blue Devils will also be without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who has an injured foot. Kelly missed three games at the end of last season, and the Blue Devils lost two of them.
I honestly still don't know what to make of Indiana. The Hoosiers have been beating up on bad teams since they lost to Butler, and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell has been putting up some lousy numbers. But this is a statement kind of game, and I think they'll make it.
The good news for Florida is that senior forward Erik Murphy will be available despite a bruised rib. LSU may be 9-2, but its best win came at home over Seton Hall.
The Illini like to get out and go. The Badgers like to slow down and slug. It's easier to control the pace when you're at home, especially when you lead the nation in fewest turnovers per game.
Given how godawful Georgetown has been on offense recently, I wouldn't be surprised if D'Angelo Harrison outscores the Hoyas by himself.
It's bad enough the Buffaloes couldn't close out Arizona last Thursday. Losing two days later at Arizona State really put them in a bind. That makes this one a must-win, and you all know how much I love desperate home teams.
The Sooners are another one of those teams that have amassed a good record against mediocre teams. This is a good matchup between speedy, perimeter-oriented teams, but the Sooners are at home. If they want to be considered legit, they need to win this game.
This prediction may surprise you given how much I've been dogging the Buckeyes this season, but I think Michigan is due to be clipped. As I indicated above, the Wolverines are very young, and they've been riding high for too long. When you hit the road against a bitter rival, that's when you get laid low.