Simmons (@Bsimm0ns): Will a team from Indiana make the Big Dance?
An NCAA tournament without a team from Indiana? Is that even legal?
Unfortunately it is, and it is looking more likely by the day. This actually happened relatively recently, in 2005, but before then the Hoosier state hadn't been shut out since 1975. I'd like to believe one of the schools can sneak in this year, but if you examine their resumes one by one, it's hard to feel optimistic. Here are the 10 Division I colleges in Indiana in order of likelihood of making the tourney:
Valparaiso (percent chance of making the NCAA tournament: 35) -- The Horizon League is down this year, and the Crusaders are sitting in third place, but they beat first-place Green Bay by 15 points at home on Jan. 29. We'll have a better idea when those teams play in Green Bay how likely Valpo is to go to the NCAA tournament, because whoever wins the Horizon League tournament championship will be played in the gym belonging to the higher seed.
IPFW (30 percent) -- I mean no disrespect, but when IPFW is your second-best hope for an in-state bid, the state is in, well, a sorry state. The Mastodons are a game behind North Dakota State in second place in the Summit League, but they obviously will have to win the league tournament to make the field of 68. That tournament, by the way, will be played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, so IPFW will be at a homecourt disadvantage.
Indiana (25 percent) -- The Hoosiers own wins at home over Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, but their only road win all season came against Penn State. They have four road games left against Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan to prove themselves. Otherwise, they'll have to at least make the final of the Big Ten tournament to have a chance.
Indiana State (15 percent) -- The good news is the Sycamores are in second place in their conference. The bad news is that the first place team, Wichita State is, as Larry David would say, pre-tay, pre-tay good. Still, the Shockers could be mentally worn out by the time the conference tournament rolls around, which would give the Sycamores a chance to pull off an upset. Indiana State's No. 55 ranking in the RPI is misleading because it does not have a win against a top-50 team or road wins against the top 100.
Purdue (15 percent) -- The Boilermakers have the same number of conference wins as Indiana, but they only have one top-50 win, and they needed triple overtime to earn that against Minnesota. Road wins at West Virginia and Illinois are good, but that nonconference strength of schedule rank of No. 303 is a killer. Win the Big Ten tourney or bust.
Notre Dame (10 percent) -- My, that win over Duke seems like a long time ago. The Irish lost eight of their next 10 and show no signs of being ready to win tough games in the ACC tournament. At this point, I don't think even a trip to the conference tournament final would do it. Notre Dame has to win, or it won't be in. I wouldn't bet on it.
Ball State (5 percent) -- Technically, Ball State is eligible to make the tournament if it wins the MAC tourney, but given that the Cardinals are currently in last place of the West division with a 1-9 record, that is not bloody likely.
Butler (5 percent) -- Even if Brad Stevens had stayed, it would be very unlikely that the Bulldogs, who are tied with DePaul for last place in the Big East with at 2-9 record, would make the field of 68. No way they win the Big East tournament.
Evansville (3 percent) -- This is a down year in the Valley as it is. Yet, the Purple Aces are tied for last with a 3-9 record.
IUPUI (0.0 percent) Dead last and winless in the Summit League. Jaguars have to win the conference tournament to get a bid. Nothing is impossible ... except that.
Great Big heart (@okerland): Will the refs let the kids play in the tournament or will they keep calling it tight to make the games unwatchable?
Maybe this fella is watching different games than I am. I think that offense has been much improved over last season, and recent numbers released by the Big Ten Conference, the NCAA and numerous other stat sites confirm that. Scoring and shooting percentages are up across the board, and teams are being called for fewer than two additional fouls per game. We're not there yet, but we're making progress.
Still, you raise an interesting question about how the refs enforce these rules. So far, it has been predictable: They went a little too far in the early going to set a tone, and then they regressed a little too much once conference play began. Now, based on what I'm seeing and hearing from coaches, the zebras have settled into a good rhythm. The games are freer flowing, and the rules are being applied consistently.
I predict, however, that once the NCAA tournament begins, the refs are going to blow a tighter whistle. That's because they know they are being judged by the men's basketball committee, with heavy input from John Adams, the NCAA's reffing czar. Those are the people who have led the effort to clean up the game, so the refs will want to impress them and advance to later rounds. Everyone knows this is going to happen, so it will fall to the coaches to prepare their players accordingly.
Logan Welch (@Ldub2480): How far do you see Arizona going with the loss of Brandon Ashley? #BearDown
We have a slightly bigger sample size to evaluate the Wildcats will do now that Ashley, their third-leading scorer and rebounder, is done for the season. The first piece of evidence -- the loss at Cal -- was a wash since Ashley got hurt in the opening minutes, so Sean Miller was not able to prepare his team to play without him. Even so, the Bears needed a last-second jumper to win the game at home.
Playing their first full two games without Ashley, Arizona was hardly impressive in the first, squeaking by Oregon at home by two points, and better in the second when they overwhelmed Oregon State by 22. The hard part of Arizona's conference schedule is over, so it could conceivably not lose another game before the NCAA tournament.
I think that is deceptive. This team has been weakened significantly, and in my view, it is no longer one of the upper-tier favorites to make the Final Four. The problems are twofold. First, Miller was already using a short bench. People think lack of depth is a problem because players get fatigued, but the real issue is the way it limits a team to overcome an injury like this one.
Second, since Arizona is somewhat limited offensively, its biggest strength all season has been its defense -- which was a direct result of its size. Having Ashley at power forward enabled Miller to deploy 6-foot-8 freshman Aaron Gordon at small forward, where he could suffocate smaller opponents. Now, Gordon has to move to power forward, where he will face players his own size. Moreover, instead of bringing 6-7 freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson off the bench, Miller has to insert Hollis-Jefferson into the starting lineup, which means that 6-3 sophomore Gabe York is now the sixth man.
Finally, there is another concern: Gordon is a 42-percent free throw shooter. That is not a typo. Whereas in the past, Miller could do some offense-defense substitutions to keep Gordon off the floor late in close games, now he has to play him. Oregon was wise to keep sending Gordon to the foul line, where he made just 2 of his 11 attempts. So this is one deficiency that also got bigger with Ashley's departure.
The bottom line is Arizona has a good chance to get a No. 1 seed because of the overall weakness of the Pac-12. That should put the Wildcats into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. After that, well, I wouldn't expect too much.
Jacob Doolittle (@TheRealDoozie): Florida's greatest weakness?
I'll tell you what, there aren't many. It would be much easier to list this team's strengths. I'd start with experience. The Gators start four seniors and one of their top reserves is Dorian Finney-Smith, a redshirt sophomore who transferred from Virginia Tech. The Gators are also a great at playing defense (ranked seventh nationally in defensive efficiency) and rebounding (22nd in offensive rebound percentage). I also really like teams that can get out in transition but also score in the halfcourt. That is essential to success in the NCAA tournament.
I don't generally like assessing college players based on NBA futures, but if you look at the Gators' roster, it's hard to find a sure-fire pro. So the talent here is somewhat limited in the traditional sense. Beyond that, there are two potential areas of concern. The first is that the Gators do not have a bona fide post scorer. Patric Young provides rebounding and toughness (his dive to the floor to gather a loose ball, which sealed a win at Tennessee Tuesday night, should go into a time capsule), but he is not the kind of player you can throw it to in the post and tell him to score. Of course, you can count on one hand the number of teams who have that -- and you might not even need the whole hand.
The second weakness is free throw shooting. As a team, the Gators are making just 65.9 percent, which ranks 11th in the SEC and 291st in the country. However, that is somewhat deceiving. Florida's primary ballhandlers, guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, are making 73 and 85 percent, respectively. That makes it easier to close out games. However, the five other main players are all shooting less than 70 percent, which could be problematic over the course of 40 minutes.
Still, that's picking at nits. The Gators are on the short list of favorites to win the national championship. It's a good sign if you need to squint to see a team's weaknesses.
Alex (@aburks41): Can UConn win out the rest of the regular season?
This is a pretty bold question to ask about a team that is in fifth place in its own conference, three games in the loss column behind first-place Cincinnati. Plus, the Huskies still have home games remaining against Memphis, SMU and Cincinnati, plus a road game at Louisville in the finale. Does Alex really think they can win out? Right. Neither do I.
The narrative for UConn was set in early November and it hasn't changed. Strong perimeter, weak inside. Too bad there's no trade deadline for Kevin Ollie to acquire a big man. The Jigsaw Man tried to help deliver UMass forward Cady Lalanne, but alas, he only lives on this website, and in our hearts.
Incidentally, for all the brilliance that Shabazz Napier has shown, the Huskies' other guards have had disappointing seasons. Ryan Boatright is still plagued by poor shot selection (41 percent field goal shooting) and is too often out of control, while Omar Calhoun has not made the big leap we're accustomed to seeing from a player's freshman to his sophomore season. So if we're setting proper expectations, let's just hope and assume that UConn will play well enough these next few weeks to get a decent seed in the NCAA tournament. Anything beyond that is gravy.