Mailbag: Can Wisconsin go unbeaten in league play? How legit is Baylor?
Note: Seth Davis will periodically answer questions posed to him over Twitter, Facebook and emails sent through SI.com. Be sure to check out his Hoop Thoughts column every Monday and to send questions during his Twenty for Tuesday Q&A on Twitter at @SethDavisHoops. Trolls not included.
Do you think Wisconsin will go undefeated in Big Ten play? -- Eric Zawacki (@EZgotgame32)
I’m leading with this question because it’s intriguing, and because nobody seems to be asking it. So let me step in and say this is a very real possibility. Not likely, of course, but possible.
To start with, Wisconsin is really, really good. Unlike Kentucky, which has a tendency to be primed to play its best against the brand-name schools but sleepwalk against the likes of Buffalo and Ole Miss, the Badgers are mature, experienced and always ready. And they never beat themselves. The Badgers rank first in the nation in turnover percentage, second in fewest turnovers per game (8.5) and 26th in free-throw percentage.
Secondly, as we all know, the Big Ten is experiencing a down cycle, led by traditional powers like Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State. Even Maryland, the putative main challenger to Wisconsin, fell at Illinois on Wednesday night, even though the Illini were winless in the league and had just lost their leading scorer, Rayvonte Rice, to a broken hand. The gap between Wisconsin and the rest of the league is significant.
But the biggest reason perfection is possible is Wisconsin’s schedule. The Badgers play Maryland, Michigan State and Ohio State just once each – and those account for three of their final four regular-season games. So I’d say it’s a 50-50 chance that Wisconsin will enter its Feb. 24 game at Maryland undefeated in the conference. If they can get that far without a league loss, they can get all the way to the Big Ten tournament that way.
Should the three-point line be moved back? -- Roger Wetlaufer (@rjam56)
Yes, but not because the shot is too short. It’s a good idea because moving back the three-point line would create more space, and that is something college basketball is severely lacking right now.
The game is reaching a crisis point. Last year, the men's basketball rules committee tried to re-emphasize restrictions on hand checking and physical post play, but the refs reverted to the norm and let all that contact continue during the second half of the season. This season, nobody is even pretending to try to clean things up. You can’t fix this problem by trimming the margins. You have to cut to the heart.
Thus, my fixes include not only extending the three-point line but also widening the lane, shortening the shot clock to 30 seconds and extending the restricted area arc another foot to make it the same size as the NBA’s. Dramatic? Perhaps. But since we’re in the midst of arguably the worst offensive season of the modern era, these changes are necessary.
Baylor Bears: Overachieving to date? Haven't played anybody? Or legit? -- Casey (@Casedogg43)
I have not ranked Baylor yet on my AP ballot, but it is currently 21st in the AP poll and 22nd in the coaches’ poll. The Bears are not overrated or underrated. They are rated right where they should be.
The reason I haven’t yet ranked Baylor is that it does not have a signature win. Its best victories came over Texas A&M at home and on the road against Vanderbilt and South Carolina. The Bears’ other two losses were to Illinois in Las Vegas and at Oklahoma last weekend. On the other hand, Baylor does do well on the eye test. It almost knocked off Kansas in Waco Wednesday night before falling by one.
Even though there is no rim protector on the roster, the Bears play pretty good defense (they’re first in the Big 12 in three-point D), and I love that they play two points guards in junior college transfer Lester Medford and Kenny Chery. And Rico Gathers seems quite determined to make my All-Glue team again. Baylor has a hard time scoring in the post, but then again, so do most college basketball teams.
The good and bad news for Baylor is that the Big 12 is really deep. That means fewer easy games but also more opportunities to notch significant wins. To wit: The Bears get Oklahoma and Texas at home in the next three weeks. They need to take advantage.
Is Texas still the favorite to win the Big 12? -- Jack Rivers (@jayhawkjack)
Don’t you just love it when the widely accepted narrative gets upended? The Longhorns were supposed to be all set now that sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor has returned from the wrist injury that sidelined him for 10 games. So what happens? In Taylor’s second game back, Texas gets embarrassed at home by Oklahoma, 70-49. Yes, Taylor is still rusty, but the real problem Texas had in that one was that its most productive player, senior forward Jonathan Holmes, was 0-for-6 from three-point land and did not shoot a free throw. Its vaunted frontcourt was also badly outplayed. All in all, not a good night.
Sure, it’s only one game in a long season, but I was not one of those who ever considered Texas the favorite to win the league in the first place. Kansas was ranked ahead of the Longhorns in both preseason polls.
Here’s the reality: Kansas has won or shared 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles. That is one of the most remarkable streaks in all of sports.
Yes, the Jayhawks have had struggles of their own, but so has Iowa State, which was fortunate to beat a mediocre Oklahoma State team at home Tuesday night. And we now know just how vulnerable Texas is. So until the regular season ends and another team is atop the standings, I believe that Kansas should be considered the favorite to win the Big 12.
Thoughts on Temple's recent surge? -- Brian Cunniff (@CMCSports)
I saw Temple play in person on consecutive nights in Brooklyn back in November, and I was not impressed. The Owls lost by 20 to Duke and then by seven to a UNLV squad that had been routed by 29 points by Stanford the day before. Temple struck me as a gritty, tough team that had no ability to score the ball. In fact, on the day before the Duke game, many of us who watched the Owls' shootaround joked that it should have been called a “miss-around.” I can’t remember the last time I saw so many missed shots in a light workout with no defense.
The script flipped on Dec. 18, when Jesse Morgan, a 6-foot-5 senior transfer from Massachusetts, became eligible. Morgan is an offensive specialist with no conscience, and he has literally shot the Owls onto the national radar.
In the six games he has played, he has scored at least 14 points five times, including in his second game, when he put up 17 in the 25-point win over Kansas.
Morgan also buried an against-the-grain, early-shot-clock three from the left corner in overtime to help Temple beat Connecticut in Hartford.
Another midseason transfer, Devin Coleman, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard who came from Clemson, has also helped. The Owls have yet to lose with Morgan and Coleman in the lineup, and I believe if they stay healthy they are very capable of winning the American Conference.
I voted Temple 19th last week but it is still unranked in this week's poll. We’ll see in the next few weeks whether they belong in the rankings or not.
Do you think I am crazy to say Florida will finish second in the SEC and get a Top 5 seed come Selection Sunday? -- Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN)
Well, Jeff, whoever you are, I wouldn’t say you are crazy, but I do think you’re overreacting to the Gators’ win at South Carolina Wednesday night. This is the most offensively limited team that Billy Donovan has had in Gainesville in quite some time, maybe ever. So I’d still go with Arkansas and LSU as better teams.
Besides, I’m not convinced that the SEC’s runner-up will warrant a top-five seed in the NCAA tournament. That would mean being in the top 20, and right now, Arkansas is the only team in the league besides Kentucky that is ranked in the top 40 of the RPI.
IU a tourney team if JBJ figures it out? -- Jeremy Smart (@smartjeremy)
Jeremy refers here to freshman guard James Blackmon, Jr., who looked way over his head during Indiana’s 20-point loss at Michigan State on Monday night. I called that game for Big Ten Network, so I got an up-close view of just how out-of-sorts Blackmon and his young teammates were. He shot a ghastly 1-for-14 from the floor, and while much of that credit was due to Michigan State’s defense (Tom Izzo had his players switching on screens, so it was impossible for the Hoosiers to drive), Blackmon also missed many shots he normally makes. He was rushing, and he lacked confidence, which was a big reason Indiana got embarrassed the way it did.
Then again, at least Blackmon stayed in the game. Tom Crean buried two non-freshmen, sophomore swingman Troy Williams and junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea, on the bench for most of the second half. Crean was especially tough on Perea in the postgame press conference, stating that his position was “up for grabs.”
But there is no one else who can man the post for this team.
I really believe that if you put Noah Vonleh on the Hoosiers, they would be a top-15 team, maybe a top-10 team. But Vonleh left after his freshman year last season and is now in the NBA and Mosquera-Perea is not, so Crean is stuck with him as his starting center whether he likes it or not.
Yet, I still believe Indiana is an NCAA tournament team, and given all the turmoil that surrounded the program at the start of the season, that would be a fine achievement. But when you take a closer look at the Hoosiers' schedule to this point, it becomes less impressive than their 11-4 record would indicate. Indiana’s best wins came at home against an SMU squad whose best big man was ineligible, and on the road over a Nebraska team that has been struggling. The Hoosiers hung with Louisville for about 25 minutes in Madison Square Garden but ended up losing by 20. They played Georgetown tough in MSG before falling in overtime. There was also that two-point loss to Eastern Washington back on Nov. 24, which is not going to look good if this is a bubble team in early March.
For the time being, it will be up to Blackmon and his mates to put the memory of that Michigan State debacle behind them, quickly. Three of Indiana’s next four games are at home. At this point, it’s less about maturity and more about confidence.
Is MWC a 1-bid league? -- S_Les (@S_Les)
Yes, the Mountain West is down from where it has been the last few years, but I would be shocked if it only sent one team to the NCAA tournament. I know it’s a little early to start talking about the RPI, but despite its sluggish start, the league still has four teams ranked in the top 65. Three of those – Colorado State (15), San Diego State (38) and UNLV (40) – are in the top 40. And I have a feeling that Wyoming, which won at Colorado State on Wednesday night to improve to 3-0, is the best team in the league.
The larger question is where the Mountain West’s teams will be seeded. That is where the weakness of the league will manifest itself the most. The Mountain West is 11th in the conference rankings, and first-place Wyoming is 122nd, so that does not bode well for how things will shake out.