Mailbag: Is UConn a tourney team? What's wrong with Sam Dekker?
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.
What non-ranked team has the potential to make a deep run in March? -- Jon Rintoul (@JonRintoul)
Let’s keep in mind that this time last season, UConn was sixth in Others Receiving Votes, meaning they were effectively ranked 31st. So who could be this year’s UConn? In order:
1. Miami. I’m not sure how the Hurricanes are still unranked after they thrashed Duke in Cameron, but UConn showed last year what can happen when you get hot hands from quick guards who can create their own shots as well as set up their teammates.
2. Stanford. Because of Reid Travis’ injury, Johnny Dawkins is force-feeding minutes to some of his other frontcourt players. When Travis comes back, he will be rejoining a much improved team. Plus, Chasson Randle has the ability, Napier-like, to go off.
3. Providence. The Friars have beaten Notre Dame, Miami, Georgetown, plus Butler on the road. In 6-foot-6 senior forward LaDontae Henton, they have the type of dynamic scorer who can carry his team deep into the bracket.
4. Michigan State. Would you feel comfortable betting against Tom Izzo?
Who is your All Freshmen team? -- Kevin Cross @Kcross32us
More than any other sport, college basketball engenders a fascination with freshmen. That’s because, more than any other sport, college basketball teams depend on them. Forget about who’s next. These guys got now. My all-youngbloods:
Melo Trimble, 6-2 guard, Maryland. He is listed as a point guard, but lately he has been spending more time off the ball. He leads the team in scoring (16.1 ppg), he is second in assists (3.0) and he's pulling down 4.0 rebounds per game. Trimble plays with the poise of a veteran, and on the nights when his shot isn’t falling, he is still getting to the foul line, where he converts a Big Ten-best 88.4 percent.
D’Angelo Russell, 6-5 guard, Ohio State. He has been Mr. Do-Everything for the Buckeyes -- which is this team’s problem, frankly. Russell needs more help, but until he gets it, he has been excelling even beyond his considerable preseason expectations. He leads Ohio State in points (18.6) and rebounds (5.1) and he is second in assists (4.8). Russell is also ranked fifth in the conference in steals (1.84) and is fourth in three-point percentage (44.4).
Stanley Johnson, 6-7 forward, Arizona. In scoring all 18 of his points in the second half against Utah on Saturday, Johnson showed why he is capable of carrying this team to Indianapolis if he remains assertive. He leads the Wildcats in scoring (14.6) and rebounding (6.8) and ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in steals (1.61).
Kevon Looney, 6-9 forward, UCLA. One of the most gifted rebounders to come into college basketball in recent memory. Looney is second in the Pac-12 (and 13th in the country) with 10.3 boards per game. He’s also averaging 13 points on 46 percent shooting. Though his offense is the weakest part of his game, he has made seven three-pointers this season, which hints at his long-range potential.
Jahlil Okafor, 6-11 center, Duke. Entered the season as the preseason favorite for national player of the year, and has yet to be knocked from that perch. He leads the ACC in scoring with 18.9 points per game and his 67.5 field goal percentage ranks second in the country. Okafor is also third in the league in rebounds (9.3) and sixth in blocks (1.59). The only thing that exceeds his talent is his demeanor. Is he really only 19 years old?
Sixth man: Devin Booker, 6-6 guard, Kentucky. He would probably be on the first team if he were not just averaging 10.4 points per game as a member of Kentucky’s second platoon. Booker is shooting 50.7 percent from three-point range, which is ranked sixth in the nation.
Your No. 1 seeds as we sit today? -- Chris Ratterree @ratt_aloo
Time to start this, huh? OK, I’m game.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a sports topic that generates more conversation with less importance than the No. 1 seeds. True, no top seed has lost in the NCAA tournament's round of 64, but aside from that, this is an honorific that makes a team feel really good -- and that’s it. You still have to play the games, which is why we love the tournament so much.
The two easy teams to pick are Kentucky and Virginia. From there, I see four teams for two spots: Duke, Gonzaga, Arizona and Wisconsin. If the tournament started today, I would go with Duke and Gonzaga. I realize Arizona beat Gonzaga, but that game was in Tucson, and the Wildcats have since lost two bad games at Oregon State and UNLV. However, if I’m projecting to the end of the season, I would guess that Arizona will surpass Gonzaga in the west because it plays in a much tougher conference, and that either Duke or Virginia will slide to the 2-line depending on what happens in the ACC. That would leave a spot for Wisconsin, assuming it wins the Big Ten.
Keep in mind that Wisconsin should be getting Traevon Jackson back about a week or two before the start of the tournament. So if it’s a close call, that could tip the balance for the Badgers to be a 1-seed, especially if they only lose a game or two between now and then.
Does Uconn make the tourney? If so can they get an at large? -- Brendan @Ya_boy_brendan
UConn has two problems right now. First, the Huskies have lost a lot of games. They are 9-7 overall and 2-2 in the American heading into Thursday’s home game against UCF. Teams that are barely above .500 usually have a hard time getting at-large berths. The Huskies are also ranked 73rd in RPI.
The second problem is that even if UConn gets a bunch of wins the next six weeks, it may not help them much because the American is not very strong. Remember, Louisville is no longer in this league, and Memphis, Cincinnati and SMU are all having disappointing seasons. The Huskies had a chance to improve their resume at Stanford last week, but they lost by 13. Stanford is playing without a key starter, freshman Reid Travis, so that loss is even worse when the eye test is applied.
UConn has just three games against opponents who are ranked in the top 40 of the RPI in the regular season, two of which are against an SMU team that is going through all kinds of turmoil right now. If the Huskies win all but one or two of their remaining games, they will be in the hunt, but my advice is to win the conference tournament and take the game out of the refs' hands. Easier said than done.
How much longer until Bobby Hurley leaves Buffalo for a major program? -- Justin Bystrak (@justinbystrak)
To the surprise of exactly no one, Hurley is doing a terrific job during his second season at Buffalo. Not only was he one of the greatest point guards in the history of college basketball, he also arguably played for the two best coaches in the history of the game: his father, Bob Sr., and Mike Krzyzewski.
So yes, it’s only a matter of time before Hurley lands in a more high-profile (and high-paying) spot, but I hope he stays a little while. The longer he coaches at Buffalo, the more prepared he will be when he makes his next move. Unlike many other midmajor coaches who are not as well-known or well-connected, Hurley can afford to be patient.
Using this question as a jumping off point, here are five other midmajor coaches who are on the verge of making the leap. I’m not including Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall or VCU’s Shaka Smart because they’re too obvious:
1. Archie Miller, Dayton. He got the Flyers into the Elite Eight and is doing an even better job this season despite only having six scholarship players available.
2. Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa. Panthers have been ranked for much of the season and are one of the season’s biggest surprises.
3. Mike White, Louisana Tech. He turned down Tennessee last season but will have lots of choices again in the spring.
4. Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State. Aggies are 10-10 against a very difficult schedule, and Menzies, a former assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, has put them in the NCAA tournament four of the last five years.
5. Mike Lonergan, George Washington. Has revitalized the program with an unconventional 1-3-1 zone.
Is Monte Morris the best PG in NCAA currently? -- J.P. Garrey @jjgarrey1995
I don’t know that there is a “best” point guard in the country right now, but if you want to say it’s Morris, I’m not going to talk you out of it. He probably does the best job running his team, which is kind of the same thing. Morris, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from Flint, Michigan, only scores about 10 points a game (which is not much in this system), but he leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 5.53 to 1. He is also first in the Big 12 in assists (5.9) and fourth in steals (1.47).
In your opinion -- how committed are the "Power 5" to the existing NCAA tourney format? -- Tommy Powers @hthomaspowers
This is something that has rarely been addressed because so much of the machinations in college sports revolves around the mega cash cow of football. But it’s a good one: What will happen to the NCAA tournament?
The answer, as always, will come down to dollars. I believe the Power 5 (or the “five high-visibility conferences,” as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby refers to them) are no less committed to the current format than before, largely because eliminating Cinderella from March Madness would make the tournament less enticing, and therefore less profitable. To the degree that history and sentimentality play a part, that also weighs in favor of the status quo. And I have not heard any rumblings from any of the stake holders in college sports that suggests that the NCAA basketball tournament be limited to the 65 teams from the Power 5.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this remains the case. There are a lot of things that are broken in college sports and need big fixes. The NCAA tournament is not one of them.
I like Sam Dekker but he's not lived up to all the hype. Especially from this past off-season. IYO why? -- Dustin Beseler (@airbeseler)
It’s not every day that a guy can be the second-leading scorer on the nation’s sixth-ranked team and still be asked why he's underachieving. But I get it. I put Dekker on my preseason All-American first team, and if I were to vote right now, he probably wouldn’t even make my third team. Yes, he’s having a terrific season, but he is not exploding the way that I and many others imagined he would.
As Dustin alluded, Dekker was by far the best player at the college workouts at the LeBron James Skills Academy, which was attended by lots of NBA scouts. That's what got the hype train rolling. However, that setting was far different than the one Dekker plays in at Wisconsin. During the college season, he is part of a team-oriented system that does not call for a lot of one-on-one freewheeling. Also, players tend to defend (and more as a team) during the season than during a summer workout.
Dekker was also slowed during the first couple of months by a lingering ankle injury that severely limited his practice time. That has been healed for a while now, but there are still times when he reverts to his old habit of being too passive. He’s getting better, but not to a level that is commensurate with his talents. Dekker has shown a tendency in the past to let whether his jump shots are falling to dictate how he plays, although he is improving in that department as well.
So what are we left with? A player that any coach in America would love to have on his team, but not one who is putting up the kind of numbers that garners lots of All-American votes. I’m guessing Bo Ryan can live with that. So can Dekker.