Predicting Wichita State's loss, Kansas' outlook and more mailbag

Wednesday January 8th, 2014

After accumulating a 123-43 record at Nevada, Mark Fox has Georgia just above .500 (65-53) in five seasons.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

David Storm (@DavidStorm): Buy, sell or hold UVa? They didn't make the 63 in your article.

With 63 teams rated, this was by far my most expansive Hoop Thoughts Stock Report ever -- and yet you want more? Of course you do, bless your heart.

Actually, there were three schools I left out that my Twitter followers most frequently asked me to rate -- Virginia, Dayton and Iowa. The Hawkeyes were an oversight, since I rated every other ranked team, but Virginia and Dayton got caught in a numbers crunch. Allow me, then, to make up for that here:

Iowa (12-3, No. 20): BUY

I've been touting the Hawkeyes since the preseason, and though they have fallen just short in their three toughest games, I remain convinced that this team is a real threat to reach the second week of the NCAA tournament. Iowa had Wisconsin on the ropes in Madison on Monday night, and it might have won if coach Fran McCaffrey hadn't gotten ejected with 12 minutes to play. The Hawkeyes have a four-out-of-six road stretch coming up, so this investment is not for the faint of heart. But this team has already shown it can hang with anyone. Iowa is simply too experienced, skilled and deep not to be a factor in March.

Dayton (12-3, NR): BUY

This is one of the real sleeper stocks on the market right now. In his third year as coach at Dayton, Archie Miller has assembled his most experienced group, and he has the Flyers playing a patient, efficient, grinding style of basketball that is very hard to go up against. Dayton beat Gonzaga by five, thumped Cal by 18, and last weekend it knocked off Ole Miss on the road in overtime. The Flyers nearly beat Baylor in Hawaii before losing by 1. If Dayton beats Saint Louis at home this weekend, it could stamp itself as the top challenger to UMass in the Atlantic 10.

Virginia (10-4, NR): SELL

Joe Harris' prolonged slump has been one of the real head scratchers in college hoops this season. Instead of breaking out as a borderline All-American, the 6-6 senior guard is scoring six fewer points per game, and his three-point shooting has plummeted. Ironically, the Cavaliers got their biggest win of the season last Saturday at Florida State despite playing most of the game without Harris because of his head injury. His teammates haven't been impressive, either. Virginia has lost at home to VCU and Wisconsin (it scored just 38 points in that loss) and suffered road losses at Green Bay and at Tennessee (by 35 points, no less). I suppose they could still make the NCAA tournament, but for a team that looked poised finally to make some noise, the Cavs have been awfully quiet.

Bryan Kwan (@instynsbrayn): You're down 2 with a few seconds left on the road, do you take a 2 or a 3 and who takes it?

I love these kinds of strategy questions, because there is never a wrong answer. In this scenario, my response, as always, is that it depends. To break it down further in two parts: What does the team practice, and what is its personnel? Whichever strategy you pick, you have to be committed to it. And of course, you have to execute.

The key phrase in Bryan's question is "on the road," which means you're going to want to be more aggressive. If you have a good look at a three, you should go for the win, but the more important strategy is to get the best shot possible. Too often I see teams wait too long and then hoist a well-defended three, when they would have been better off driving to the basket and trying to get fouled. Whatever the coach picks, we know this: The coach is never right, unless he's right.

Patrick Loganbill (@ploganbill03): Wich St is tough. Where does there first loss come from?

This has the potential to be a big story in college basketball, much like Murray State's run through the Ohio Valley Conference was two years ago. Back then, I was very firm in my prediction that the Racers would not enter the NCAA tournament undefeated, and they ended up losing on February 9 at home. It's more likely that the Shockers' first loss will come on the road, but make no mistake -- it will come.

Yes, the Missouri Valley Conference is down, but this league still has the best top-to-bottom fan bases of any conference in America. You can bet those band boxes will be bouncing when the mighty Shockers come to town. In order, then, here are the most likely dates that Wichita State will sustain its first loss:

  • Feb. 5 at Indiana State. Sycamores beat Belmont at home and dominated Notre Dame in South Bend by 13.
  • Feb. 8 at Northern Iowa. Wichita State handled the Panthers by 14 at home, but UNI emerged from nonconference play with the second-highest RPI rank in the league.
  • March 1 vs. Missouri State. Can you imagine how much pressure the Shockers would feel if they arrived at the final game of the regular season with a perfect record? I doubt they'll get that far.

Jeff Clay (@jhclay): Will Mark Fox keep his job? If not who would be candidate to replace?

I rarely advocate for a coach's firing, especially if it's solely for won-loss reasons, so I won't do that here. Fox is a terrific coach who has the ability to win at Georgia, but it is discouraging that he is in his fifth year in Athens and he has exactly one NCAA tournament game to show for it. Yes, the program took an unplanned hit when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made the surprising decision to turn pro, but that is a fact of life in this sport. The Bulldogs' 6-6 start this season includes a home loss to Georgia Tech, a neutral court loss to Nebraska and an 18-point loss at George Washington. With road games coming up at Missouri and Florida in its next three outings, it's a safe bet that the SEC season is not going to get off to a thrilling start.

The larger question is whether the school cares enough about basketball to make a coaching change at this point. If nothing else, Georgia will never have to worry about Fox embarrassing the school with violations or other off-court transgressions. In the end, this is yet another cautionary tale for coaches who consider leaving secure situations for higher-paying jobs that may not be a good geographic and cultural fit. Fox is a native Midwesterner who was piloting one of the top midmajor programs at Nevada when he grabbed for Georgia's money. Time will tell whether he will ultimately succeed in Athens, but there is no doubting that his time is running short.

Brandon Kuzara (@BrandonKuzara): Enough time left before the tourney for KU to become elite?

The answer is yes, Brandon, but as Yogi Berra might put it, it's starting to get late a little early around here. Even with their four losses, the Jayhawks are still ranked No. 18 in this week's AP poll. That's hardly falling on hard times. But it was rather striking to see them get shoved around their own court by San Diego State on Sunday. This is a consistent theme in college basketball this season: Just because you have two of the top five picks in the NBA draft doesn't mean you have the best team.

If Kansas' main problem is lack of experience, that problem will recede over time. The question is whether this team has bigger problems -- namely, a lack of toughness or a collectively low basketball IQ -- that can't be overcome with a few more reps. I still think this will be a dangerous team in March, but it has a long way to go, and not a whole lot of time to get there.

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