Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Minor Boxscore Note

In case you failed to click on the Georgetown-St. John's boxscore:
-St. John's did not make a FG until there was only 4:34 left in the first half. I've never seen a 15 minute drought to start a game, but there is a first time for everything.
-Thanks to some Free Throws, St. John's did score 14 points in the first half, but they were only 2 of 16 from the floor in the half while Georgetown was 15 of 29. When your opponent makes almost as many shots as you take, well that's not good.
-Lou Carneseca joined the announce team after halftime recalling a 41-11 deficit when he coached back in a 1982 game against Georgetown. When asked what he said to inspire his troops at halftime of that game, Carneseca replied, "I didn't say much." Did he throw chairs? "What would have been the point of that? We were down by 30."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sooo Close

Two weeks in a row the Monday Big East Game has ended with a three rimming out at the buzzer. But on the season, the ACC has been the conference for dramatic finishes.

Conference Games Decided by 3 Points or Less or Overtime
47% ACC (15 of 32)
28% Big 12 (8 of 29)
21% Big East (12 of 58)
20% SEC (6 of 30)
11% Pac10 (4 of 36)
10% Big Ten (4 of 39)

Now, this is probably a statistical fluke, but it is contributing to the difficulty in grading the ACC teams. Yes the conference is #1 in RPI, but with no one other than Duke or UNC separating themselves, and with most games coming down to the wire, we probably aren’t going to know which ACC teams get tournament bids until the end of the season. That’s great news for fans of good basketball and bad news for ACC fans looking to avoid ulcers.

Clemson is the perfect example. Clemson’s Terrence Oglesby hit three big 3 pointers in the second overtime of a thrilling victory over Florida St. But against Miami on Sunday Oglesby took several deep and ill-timed threes while watching his team’s lead slip away. Instead it was Jack McClinton hitting three big 3 pointers to lead Miami to a three point win. Meanwhile, senior transfer Matt Causey hit several clutch threes in Georgia Tech’s victory over Virginia Sunday. And all he did was outshoot Sean Singletary who has made more big plays in his career than just about any active ACC player. I guess what I’m saying is that maybe tonight’s Miami at Wake Forest and Florida State at Virginia Tech games don’t sound sexy on paper, but they matter a lot, and if you can catch the last few minutes, you won’t be disappointed. But wait a minute, neither of these games are on Full Court tonight! So you don’t get Big Ten games on Full Court anymore and you don’t get these critical ACC games. The five overtime Baylor vs Texas A&M game wasn’t on TV last week either. What is this package for again?

Cinderalla's Back
Tonight’s game between George Mason and VCU will not only impact the conference race and have bubble ramifications, it also will have a big impact on the final BracketBuster rankings. (The pairing will be announced after this weekend.) The Bracket Board has been keeping track of where teams stand and here are the most recent standings.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Better without him?

I’m starting to wonder if the UConn Huskies are better without Jerome Dyson. Consider that UConn’s three best performances on the season came when Dyson played limited minutes.

-Dyson was suspended in the Huskies road win at Indiana.

-Dyson picked up his second foul just 5 and a half minutes into the Marquette game and watched as his team built a 39-24 halftime lead in the upset win. It was Dyson’s second fewest minutes in Big East play.

-Dyson picked up his fourth foul early in the second half of the Georgetown game and watched the majority of the game from the sidelines as UConn lost by only 3 points at Georgetown. It was Dyson’s fewest minutes in Big East play.

Dyson has a terrible assist-to-turnover ratio (currently 0.78). His one redeeming quality is that he is one of the top steals getters in the country. But steals are a two-sided coin. If you take too many chances to get those steals, you don’t really help your team. Dyson also leads the Huskies in %Shots according to Pomeroy, despite being one of the least efficient shooters on the team. He’s taken 70 three pointers and made only 22. I can understand a point guard having a slightly lower three point percentage because he needs to take shots with the shot-clock winding down. That’s AJ Price. But, the numbers seem to indicate that Dyson takes too many bad shots, and if his defensive strategy is too risky, maybe the Huskies really are better off without him.

Post Louisville Update
Chalk up another great game for Connecticut without Dyson. I’m not saying UConn doesn’t need Dyson and Wiggins for depth. (The Huskies sure looked winded with 7 minutes to go in the Louisville game.) But if I were Jim Calhoun, I’d seriously consider bringing Dyson off the bench and limiting his minutes the rest of the year.

Of course you couldn’t watch Monday’s game without asking why Louisville took 33 three point shots. I love this quote which I’m stealing from BP. “It's a chip shot, the three point shot in college basketball. If you're wide open and you don't take a chip shot, you're not a good basketball team.”-Rick Pitino. True, but if your players keep taking shots they can’t make, they probably aren’t very good either.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

MAA Update

In November everyone was asking who would be the next Kevin Durant. Unless you’ve been living in a shoe, it should come as no surprise that Michael Beasley has lived up to the hype.

Player, Team                 PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Kevin Durant, Texas         25.8 11.1 1.3 116.5 53.6
Michael Beasley, Kansas St. 24.8 12.6 1.2 117.3 59.5

But let’s check how the other Freshman McDonald’s All Americans are doing.  As usual, almost all are contributing in a big way.

The Extreme Jealousy Group   PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Eric Gordon, Indiana        22.1  3.2 2.4 118.4 59.6
Jerryd Bayless, Arizona     19.5  2.9 4.5 111.1 54.7
James Harden, Arizona St.   18.5  5.3 2.6 122.1 60.8
Donte Greene, Syracuse      18.4  7.8 1.9 114.2 55.3
Kevin Love, UCLA            17.3 10.7 1.9 128.7 61.1
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky 16.8  8.0 1.8 117.5 58.0

I'll get my points, but it might take awhile 
O.J. Mayo, USC              19.7  4.6 3.2  98.4 51.4
Nick Calathes, Florida      16.0  4.9 5.9 113.3 49.5
Kosta Koufos, Ohio St.      13.6  6.7 0.5 106.5 50.9
Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech     7.3  3.9 0.2  98.9 60.0

Calathes has a low shooting percentage because he has to take a lot of tough shots for his young team, but he is already a star distributor.

Almost Spectacular           PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
James Anderson, Okl. St.    15.6  3.3 1.1 107.6 54.2
J.J. Hickson, NC State      15.5  7.9 0.9 112.3 63.9
Jonny Flynn, Syracuse       15.4  2.4 5.2 114.4 54.3
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma     14.5  8.6 1.6 112.6 59.3
Derrick Rose, Memphis       14.1  3.9 4.2 108.1 52.3
Kyle Singler, Duke          13.2  6.1 1.4 113.8 57.8
Austin Freeman, Georgetown  10.1  2.7 1.6 134.0 69.5
Jai Lucas, Florida           9.7  1.9 2.3 108.1 56.2

The efficiency stats tell you that James Harden has almost as many points as Mayo without nearly as many shots.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean Mayo is shooting too much.  His shooting volume draws double teams and makes his teammates better.

Along these lines, I think JJ Hickson should actually be more selfish and take more shots given his efficiency relative to his teammates.  On the flip side, Austin Freeman can afford to be selective and take only good shots because he plays for a talented Georgetown team.
Next Year                    PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Taylor King, Duke            9.1  2.6 0.7 118.4 63.2
Nolan Smith, Duke            6.5  1.7 2.2 103.0 51.9
Cole Aldrich, Kansas         3.2  3.4 0.2 108.3 51.1
Corey Stokes, Villanova      3.2  2.4 0.6  87.2 31.6

Taylor King’s minutes have been limited, but he really makes the most of the time that he is in the game.  Corey Stokes is the only MAA freshman to really struggle this year.

But why stop with just the freshman.  Here are the sophomore McDonald’s All Americans who stayed in school:

The Extreme Jealousy Group   PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
D.J. Augustin, Texas        20.8  2.9 6.0 120.8 55.1
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova 17.4  3.1 4.1 111.3 52.6
Wayne Ellington, UNC        16.8  3.8 1.9 125.6 55.0
Tywon Lawson, UNC           13.9  2.8 5.8 119.4 58.5
I'll get my points, but it might take awhile 
Chase Budinger, Arizona     17.3  5.5 3.0 102.7 51.2
Brook Lopez, Stanford       17.2  8.3 1.0 107.5 46.7
Just Win Baby                PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Darrell Arthur, Kansas      13.4  5.7 0.6 105.9 53.5
Jon Scheyer, Duke           11.1  4.4 2.2 127.3 56.3
Tweety Carter, Baylor        9.2  1.7 2.7 114.3 56.8
Sherron Collins, Kansas      8.9  2.1 2.8 107.0 54.8
I expected more              PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Gerald Henderson, Duke      13.0  4.7 1.7 102.5 49.4
Earl Clark, Louisville      11.3  9.2 1.6  96.5 43.8
Lance Thomas, Duke           4.1  2.9 0.3  95.0 48.6
Vernon Macklin, Georgetown   3.8  2.2 0.9 109.4 63.8

And the Juniors:

The Extreme Jealousy Group   PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Tyler Hansbrough, UNC       22.0 10.1 0.9 128.1 54.5
Richard Hendrix, Alabama    19.3 10.3 1.7 122.9 64.3
Jon Brockman, Washington    18.8 11.8 1.3 110.9 55.0
Mario Chalmers, Kansas      12.4  2.9 4.8 130.8 67.7
Danny Green, UNC            12.1  5.2 2.4 122.8 57.1

I'll get my points, but it might take awhile 
Brandon Costner, NC State   10.1  5.4 2.3  96.2 47.3
Byron Eaton, Okl. St.        9.6  3.2 3.1 104.8 40.8
Just Win Baby                PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Greg Paulus, Duke            9.1  1.9 3.5 119.8 60.1
Micah Downs, Gonzaga         8.9  4.3 1.5 105.9 53.1
Luke Zeller, Notre Dame      4.9  2.8 0.4 126.5 57.9
Eric Boateng, Arizona St.    4.4  3.0 0.2  85.7 63.2

Note that I a have note listed injured or inactive players, Chris Wright, Eric Devendorf, Korvotney Barber, Tasmin Mitchell, Bobby Frasor, and Mike Williams.  I also do not include James Keefe who was only recently activated for the UCLA lineup.

Even without the NBA draft rule, very few McDonald’s All-Americans last more than 3 years in college.

Seniors                      PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
Malik Hairston, Oregon      18.0  4.8 2.1 124.5 63.9
DJ White, Indiana           17.1 10.2 0.8 120.0 63.3
Joe Crawford, Kentucky      16.0  3.6 2.6 105.5 51.5
Demarcus Nelson, Duke       14.1  5.9 2.9 112.5 58.4
Jawann McClellan, Arizona    8.6  3.8 2.9  99.6 48.3

Fifth Year Seniors           PPG  RPG APG ORtng eFG%
JR Giddens New Mexico       13.6  8.7 3.1 107.9 52.5
Brian Butch Wisconsin       12.8  7.6 1.0 104.7 44.7
Drew Lavendar Xavier        11.9  2.7 5.0 127.2 56.4
David Padgett Louisville    11.1  5.0 1.1 136.0 75.6

Why has Brian Butch taken 29 threes this year? He has only made 3 of them.

Hairston, White, and Lavendar are having incredibly efficient years, and Nelson has become the leading scorer on a top 5 team.  Padgett has also been terrific when healthy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Four Point Play (Mini Version)

-I know I’ve hyped Basketball Prospectus a lot, but I have to link to John Gasaway again this week. His four point play column is quickly becoming my favorite weekly read. In honor of his column style here are four quick thoughts:

Not Living Up to the Hype

Terrific matchup Thursday Night in the A10 between BCS slayers Xavier and Dayton, but the game turned into a blowout. With all apologies to Xavier, which obviously played well in the game, the fact that Dayton was playing without injuryed freshman Chris Wright was huge.

Chris Wright, Dayton, 61.0 eFG%, 21.8 DR%, 10.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG

Dayton’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder is out with a stress fracture and I hope the prognosis is correct and Wright makes it back in time for the A10 tournament. With these cross-state rivals both having terrific seasons it would be nice to see them face off at full strength.

At Least He Didn't Get Poked in the Eye

Lost in all the hype of how Mayo became a team player and helped USC to beat UCLA is the fact that UCLA essentially has no depth right now. With Michael Roll out for over a month the team was down to a 7-man rotation.

(Yes I know the team started playing James Keefe, but I don’t consider that to be a bonus. James Keefe was possibly the most disappointing MAA freshmen last year, and there’s a reason Howland was planning to redshirt him this year. On a side note, I would love to see James Keefe in the Jan 31st game against Eric Boateng of Arizona St. just to see which MAA is more disappointing.)

And then the 7 man rotation took another hit when Mbah a Moute was injured. I love this description courtesty CBS Sportsline

“Junior forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute pulled a groin muscle in practice early in the week, but played against USC -- for a while. He sustained a concussion in the first half, returned briefly after halftime then left the game.”

Moute was 1 of 7 from the field when he was in the game, as the injury clearly limited him.

Under Ben Howland UCLA has had one of the top defenses in college basketball but they are going to have trouble sustaining that level of defense if the starters don’t get more opportunities to rest.

N is better than R

I get bored watching Kansas destroy Big 12 North teams, but I watched some of the Iowa St. game while running on the treadmill Wednesday. To my surprise the announcers pointed out that Darnell Jackson has actually become the top post player for the Jayhawks. After Julian Wright left for the NBA, I had long expected Darrel Arthur to fill his shoes, but the senior forward is coming close to surpassing the more often discussed sophomore.

Arthur 13.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 53.5 eFG%, 105.9 ORtng
Jackson 12.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 67.9 eFG%, 124.0 ORtng
Kaun 7.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 68.5% eFG%, 116.9 ORtng

Now Arthur’s numbers may be lower because defenses are keying on Arthur or because Jackson is getting more garbage time baskets, but the former 8th man in the rotation has suddenly become a star for the Jayhawks. For other teams struggling to develop stars, it hardly seems fair.

Well, nobody wins in Madison, Bloomington, or East Lansing

Remember how Big Ten teams used to struggle on the road? Not anymore. It is amazing how a lack of conference depth can change a traditional cliche.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Search for Greg Brunner

Luke Harangody earned a foul on Saturday while getting cracked in the nose by Roy Hibbert’s elbow. The officials felt that Harangody initiated contacted by getting unnecessarily close to Hibbert who had collected a rebound and was looking for the outlet pass. It may not have been the right call at that moment, but it basically symbolized the tone of the game. While Hibbert almost always looks to avoid contact, using spin moves and hook shots, Harangody did not have the same option. Facing a 6 inch height disadvantage, Harangody essentially began each of his shots by jumping into the defender. He hoped to either force the defender to back away or to draw a foul. Unfortunately for Harangody, the officials weren’t biting. While Harandogy did earn a few foul shots, by the end of the game, he was the one who fouled out.

I last saw this exceptionally irritating habit used by Greg Brunner of Iowa. Brunner was the master of putting his head down and jumping into the defender to draw the foul. When I got home, I decided to check the numbers and see if Harangody was in fact playing at a Greg Brunner like level, i.e. missing a ton of shots, but making up for it with a ridiculous Free Throw Rate.

53.0 32.6 Harangody Notre Dame 2008
45.9 39.3 Harangody Notre Dame 2007
47.1 56.2 Brunner Iowa 2006

The numbers are courtesy Pomeroy’s site, as always. eFG% is FG% with more weight for made threes. FTR is FTA/FGA.

First off, this chart ignores the fact that Harangody turns the ball over at a ridiculously low rate, something Brunner could never say. And in 2008, Harangody has been a much more dynamic offensive player. But, I still see a lot of similarity here.

On the other hand, if you crunch the numbers and look at high Free Throw Rate players, you may have a hard time finding many Brunner like players. Most of the Free Throw Rate leaders are dynamic offensive players or talented big men.

55.9 83.2 Hansbrough UNC 2008
62.9 80.1 Love UCLA 2008
59.8 70.9 Gordon Indiana 2008
63.0 62.3 White Indiana 2008
63.9 70.0 Ogilvy Vandy 2008
59.0 96.4 Thabeet UConn 2008
61.0 70.9 Maric Nebraska 2008
65.0 58.6 Leunen Oregon 2008
59.1 62.0 Morgan Mich. St 2008
65.4 80.0 Hickson NC State 2008
61.2 54.3 Hibbert Georgetown 2008

Hibbert actually picks up relatively few fouls given his proficiency. But it really speaks to what Brunner was able to do in 2006. Why in the world were people fouling him as much as Roy Hibbert when he wasn’t even making half his shots?

As a side note, what is Herb Sendek teaching his players? Both his former team NC State, and his current team Arizona State are in the Top 20 in Free Throw Rate.

60.2 61.1 Harden ASU 2008
67.0 73.6 Pendergraph ASU 2008
48.3 55.9 Glasser ASU 2008

Sendek might not be able to take responsibility for Hickson, but he can take responsibility for Gavin Grant who’s spent 4 years becoming a 6-8 foul drawing machine.

48.9 61.9 Grant NC State 2008
51.0 48.6 Grant NC State 2007
47.6 62.8 Grant NC State 2006
44.7 42.6 Grant NC State 2005

Still, I’m not buying Grant or the above mentioned Glasser as true Greg Brunner type players because they both play point guard. They both have great assist rates and when I describe the Brunner “Jump-In” move, I’m not talking about a point guard using his quickness to get fouled. There are a number of point guards who get fouled frequently and have bad shooting percentages. Exhibit A is Byron Eaton of Oklahoma St.

40.2 68.6 Eaton Okl. St. 2008

Eaton is actually shooting around 36% on his two point shots, making it a complete mystery why anyone is fouling this guy.

49.7 76.2 Adrien UConn 2008
49.7 51.6 Adrien UConn 2007

I’m also going to disqualify Jeff Adrien on quickness grounds. You may disagree, but I don’t see him as a Greg Brunner type player.

40.0 80.0 Blair Boston Col. 2008
48.1 96.2 Blair Boston Col. 2007

Finally, I’m going to ignore players who almost never shoot but get hacked by accident. After all, Brunner’s jump in move was a primary offensive weapon for Iowa. Tyrelle Blair almost never shoots, which is really inflating his free throw rate. Still, given his 40% proficiency this year, why foul him?

Which brings me to the punchline of my search. I’ve watched a decent number of Maryland games in my years in DC and no player seems to love contact and play with reckless abandon, despite a limited offensive game, more than Maryland’s Bambale Osby.

47.5 75.0 Osby Maryland 2008
47.1 56.2 Brunner Iowa 2006

I had Osby written down, locked down, and written in as the next Greg Brunner.

And then I watched the Maryland vs North Carolina game. Not only did Osby not draw a shooting foul all game, he seemed to be avoiding contact. And there he was making a dynamic game winning basket.

So much for my Greg Brunner theory.

Oh well, at least I feel better than the Sports Illustrated guy who was sent to profile Rick Majerus on the week his team scored 20 points.

And if you are looking for Greg Brunner, why not go watch the real thing. It looks like he’s playing in Belgium.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Early Projections

It is obviously idiotic to do bracket projections this early in the season, but I see them everywhere. I’ve run my formula as well, but rather than point out the absurdity of the current rankings, let me point out a few teams that may be a surprise.

Despite a #9 RPI ranking and strong non-conference SOS, Arizona’s profile is a little weaker than you might expect. At 3-5 against the RPI Top 100 and 3-3 on the road, Arizona looks a lot more like a bubble team than a strong contender at this point.

Despite a #109 RPI ranking, Charlotte is actually in contention for an at-large bid thanks to a tough out of conference schedule. But who is the real Charlotte? The team that is 5-0 against the RPI top 100, or the team with 5 bad losses. Two of those “bad” losses were to ACC teams (Georgia Tech and Maryland). The two head-scratchers are to #275 Hofstra and #300 Monmouth. At least Monmouth occurred in the third game of a holiday tournament where the team can blame tired legs. If Charlotte can finish near the top of the A10, they should be in discussion. That’s not a bad position to be in given that Coach Lutz almost quit in the off-season in disgust over the lack of rivalries in the 14-team A10.

Despite being a trendy pick for a second bid out of the MVC, Creighton started conference play with two disappointing losses, and is going to have to win their way back into the discussion. The early wins against DePaul and Nebraska don’t look very impressive right now.

Despite Tubby Smith bringing an increase in excitement to Minnesota (they actually beat Northwestern this year), and despite an RPI that sounds solid at #51, Minnesota still hasn’t worked their way onto the bubble yet. At 0-3 against the RPI top 100, Minnesota has zero quality wins. The Gophers have two huge home games this week, hosting Indiana and Michigan St. If they want to have any legitimate shot at an at-large bid, they need to get at least one win here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Saturday Notes, Non-Conference Update

Saturday Notes

-Nice calls by Seth Davis in his Friday column. He picked Kentucky to upset Vanderbilt and Cincinnati to beat Villanova. Kentucky is getting healthy just in time to torture the SEC and hurt the RPI of everyone else in the league.

-Roy Hibbert of Georgetown hit a three pointer to beat UConn. That is not a misprint. He is now 2 for 2 in his career. He said he set a preseason goal to make a three pointer this year, but he never said his goal was to hit one to win the game.

-What was more embarrassing, Thursday’s 20 point performance by Saint Louis which included 1 point over an 18 minute span, or the 36 point performance by #6 Michigan St. at Iowa, including 0 points in a 10 minute span? Having watched Michigan St.’s exhibition loss to a Division 2 team, I felt pretty comfortable projecting Michigan St. to finish 3rd in the Big Ten standings behind Indiana and Wisconsin. My logic was that the team was so dependent on Neitzel that if Neitzel had a bad night, the team could lose to anyone. Then along came Raymar Morgan:

Morgan 2007 11.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 96.5 ORtng, 49.6 eFG%
Morgan 2008 18.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 120.3 ORtng,, 60.0 eFG%

Taking essentially the same large volume of shots as last year, Morgan has become a much more efficient player for the Spartans. Part of his high efficiency this year comes from his speed and his ability to leak out for the fastbreak. But Morgan has simply been a much more consistent player across the board this year, scoring in double figures in every game for the Spartans. On the other hand, Goran Suton is also much more efficient this year, but he has been very inconsistent, particularly against the better defensive teams. (Suton posted the big 0 point, 4 rebound game against UCLA.) Still, now that Morgan has become a consistent second option, I figured Michigan St. would be a lock to beat all the lower division teams in the Big Ten this year. But, not so fast my friend. Thanks to Kalin Lucas shooting 0-8 from the field and Neitzle chipping in a 4-14 shooting performance, the Spartans went down to the Hawkeyes.

-As I alluded to in my column earlier in the week, UConn is one three point shooter away from becoming a great team. If you watched UConn against Georgetown, you really saw it all. John Thompson the 3rd opened with a surprising trapping defense at the start of the game. Usually Georgetown stays home and tries to play position defense, but with little fear that Connecticut’s guards would burn them in the corners, Georgetown trapped the ball handler, and left three players at home in the paint. The net result were some early turnovers and an early 9-1 lead for Georgetown. But then Jerome Dyson got in foul trouble and Doug Wiggins came in and #3 quickly went 3 for 3 from 3 point range. Suddenly, Georgetown had to stay honest on the perimeter and Connecticut was back in the game. As odd as it may seem, the best thing that could have happened to UConn was Dyson getting in foul trouble. Unfortunately for the Huskies, Wiggins is not that consistent from long range, but for at least one game, his shooting had a large impact on the Huskies fortunes.

Non-Conference Update

Now that conference play is officially underway in all of the BCS leagues, I thought I would update my summary of the non-conference part of the season. Despite some surprising losses in the last few weeks, the ACC managed to hold its lead in the BCS cup. Here is how the BCS teams performed against other BCS teams:

30-19 .612 ACC
26-21 .553 Big12
15-14 .517 Pac10
19-23 .452 BigEast
17-22 .436 Big10
16-24 .400 SEC

The 73 BCS teams played only 123 total games against each other in the non-conference part of the season. (Yes, there are still a few more games left on the schedule like Duke-St. John’s which I’m not including here.) In other words, the entire non-conference slate was just about equal to two weeks of conference action. That was 246 team games total or 3.4 non-conference BCS opponents per team. On average, ACC teams played the most non-conference BCS opponents.

Avg BCS Opponents by League
4.1 ACC
3.9 Big 12
3.5 Big 10
3.3 SEC
2.9 Pac 10
2.6 Big East

Big East teams obviously fattened up on non-BCS opponents, but when you consider that the Big 10, Pac 10, and Big East play two more conference games than the other leagues, the SEC ends up with the weakest schedule. SEC teams play on average 19.3 BCS games on the season, while Big East teams play 20.6 BCS games.


In the non-conference games the BCS teams have suffered 37 “bad losses”. You know the games I’m talking about. These are the games that the die-hard fans always have an excuse about. Player X was injured. Player Y had the flu. Player Z broke up with his girlfriend. But as long as they don’t happen to your team, they are so much fun. I had already tallied 22 of these bad losses last month, but I like them so much, let’s list them all again:

11/17 Alaska Fairbanks 62 Oregon St. 60
12/16 Tennessee Tech 79 Oregon St. 62
11/10 Mercer 96 Southern California 81
12/01 Harvard 62 Michigan 51
11/25 St. Peter's 65 Rutgers 58
11/07 Gardner Webb 84 Kentucky 68
12/30 Tennessee St. 60 Illinois 58
12/01 Centenary 70 Texas Tech 66
11/30 Louisiana Monroe 72 Iowa 67
12/22 American 67 Maryland 59
12/30 Montana St. 60 Oregon St. 59
11/18 New Orleans 65 North Carolina St. 63
12/12 New Orleans 67 Colorado 65
12/22 Oakland 68 Oregon 62
11/23 Rider 82 Penn St. 73
12/21 Rider 61 Rutgers 57
11/09 Belmont 86 Cincinnati 75
11/19 Belmont 85 Alabama 83
12/19 Wofford 69 Purdue 66
01/07 Robert Morris 57 Boston College 51
12/22 Appalachian St. 74 Arkansas 67
11/24 Utah St. 75 Iowa 6211/24 North Carolina A&T 96 DePaul 93
11/09 NC Greensboro 83 Georgia Tech 74
01/05 NC Asheville 61 South Carolina 58
12/08 Stephen F. Austin 66 Oklahoma 62
12/05 Western Kentucky 69 Nebraska 62
11/24 Western Kentucky 73 Michigan 69
11/14 North Texas 82 Oklahoma St. 73
12/20 East Tennessee St. 76 Georgia 58
11/24 Brown 73 Northwestern 67
11/17 Siena 79 Stanford 67
12/15 Niagara 77 St. John's 73
12/20 Oral Roberts 74 Oklahoma St. 59
11/18 Winthrop 79 Georgia Tech 73
12/29 Winthrop 76 Miami FL 70
11/14 Sam Houston St. 56 Texas Tech 54
12/15 South Alabama 71 Mississippi St. 67

-How great did things work out for Gardner Webb? They got a ton of early season publicity before everyone figured out that Kentucky was overrated.

-Oregon St. lost to Alaska-Fairbanks (not Division 1) and Tennessee Tech (4-11, RPI over 300). After those two games, the loss to Montana St. barely registers as embarrassing.

-It is bad enough to lose early in the year, see Mercer over USC. But how do you excuse late December games? How does Illinois lose its final non-conference game to Tennessee St.? Pomeroy had them as a 99% favorite prior to the game. And what about the January losses by Boston College and South Carolina? Now that’s how you crush morale prior to the conference season.

Look, I love a lot of these small conference teams. Winthrop has already proven it can be an NCAA giant killer, and you can do a lot worse than watching Western Kentucky tangle with South Alabama in the Sun Belt. (The team’s played last Saturday and South Alabama won by 4 at home.) But the fact is, these teams all play in RPI killing conferences. South Alabama could win all its remaining games and with a little bad luck end up with 0 RPI Top 100 wins. No, you need to play in a conference with some depth to have a legitimate shot at a BCS berth.

Mid-Major Wins to Brag About

11/15 Memphis 63 Oklahoma 53
11/16 Memphis 81 Connecticut 70
12/04 Memphis 62 Southern California 58
12/19 Memphis 79 Cincinnati 69
12/22 Memphis 85 Georgetown 71
12/29 Memphis 76 Arizona 63
11/09 Tulane 77 Auburn 62
12/21 Tulane 70 Georgia 69
12/22 Tulane 79 St. John's 71
12/01 UAB 73 Cincinnati 54
12/15 UAB 79 Kentucky 76
12/08 East Carolina 75 North Carolina St. 69
11/25 Central Florida 70 Penn St. 59
01/07 Tulsa 81 Colorado 68
12/18 Houston 83 Kentucky 69

Memphis has been a juggernaut, but they aren’t the only CUSA team to make some noise this year against BCS competition.

12/12 Xavier 64 Cincinnati 59
11/24 Xavier 80 Indiana 65
12/31 Xavier 103 Kansas St. 77
01/03 Xavier 108 Virginia 70
01/06 Xavier 80 Auburn 57
11/16 Rhode Island 74 South Florida 67
12/04 Rhode Island 77 Providence 60
12/08 Rhode Island 91 Syracuse 89
12/08 Dayton 70 Louisville 65
12/29 Dayton 80 Pittsburgh 55
12/12 Massachusetts 83 Boston College 80
11/28 Massachusetts 107 Syracuse 100
11/29 Charlotte 63 Wake Forest 59
01/09 Charlotte 82 Clemson 72
12/01 Saint Joseph's 79 Penn St. 67
01/03 Richmond 52 Virginia Tech 49

Xavier has beaten almost as many BCS teams as Memphis, and is very deserving of their Top 25 ranking. And when you look at this list, you can see why people are saying that the A10 is back.

11/21 Butler 79 Michigan 65
11/23 Butler 84 Virginia Tech 78
11/24 Butler 81 Texas Tech 71
12/01 Butler 65 Ohio St. 46
12/15 Butler 79 Florida St. 68
11/17 Cleveland St. 69 Florida St. 68
11/09 Cleveland St. 73 South Florida 70
12/15 Illinois Chicago 85 DePaul 80

NCAA veterans Wright St. and Valparaiso didn’t bother to chip in any non-conference BCS wins, but Butler’s cleaning house for this league.

11/24 Gonzaga 82 Virginia Tech 64
12/01 Gonzaga 85 Connecticut 82
01/05 Gonzaga 75 Georgia 67
11/20 St. Mary's 99 Oregon 87
12/01 St. Mary's 85 Seton Hall 70
12/29 San Diego 81 Kentucky 72

Gonzaga’s profile is not as overwhelming as in some years. But St. Mary’s emergence could be great for the league.

12/05 Drake 79 Iowa St. 44
12/14 Drake 56 Iowa 51
11/09 Creighton 74 DePaul 62
11/24 Creighton 74 Nebraska 62
11/14 Bradley 65 Iowa St. 56
11/23 Bradley 67 Iowa 56
12/08 Illinois St. 62 Cincinnati 52
11/27 Northern Iowa 61 Iowa St. 48
11/23 Southern Illinois 63 Mississippi St. 49
12/19 Wichita St. 67 Louisiana St. 47

Everyone plays a good schedule and everyone is contributing to league RPI. But is the league too balanced this year?

11/09 New Mexico 54 Colorado 47
12/15 New Mexico 80 Texas Tech 63
12/30 Nevada Las Vegas 81 Minnesota 64
12/08 Wyoming 73 Colorado 64
11/23 Brigham Young 78 Louisville 76
12/22 Utah 67 California 65
11/15 Colorado St. 69 Oregon St. 56

Not quite the glory days for the MWC, but this league is in much better shape than the WAC.

12/12 Ohio 61 Maryland 55
12/19 Ohio 71 St. John's 69
11/25 Miami OH 67 Mississippi St. 60
12/20 Miami OH 61 Illinois 58
11/11 Bowling Green 69 Cincinnati 67
11/13 Buffalo 76 South Florida 69
12/15 Central Michigan 78 Michigan 67

Miami (OH) probably played too tough a schedule. They have some nice wins (including Xavier which I didn’t list here), but with 7 losses already, Miami could have a tough road to an at-large bid.

11/22 George Mason 87 Kansas St. 77
11/25 George Mason 69 South Carolina 68
12/02 Virginia Commonwealth 85 Maryland 76
12/16 Old Dominion 72 Virginia Tech 69

The CAA may not be deep enough to get multiple bids this year.

These mid-major teams may have other important games on their resume, but come tournament time, these wins over BCS teams will be huge.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Short of the Mark

Why is it that when I stay at a Super 8, an internet connection is complimentary, but when I stay at a Hilton, the Hilton charges $5 an hour for internet service? What does it say about me that I’m too cheap to pay $5 an hour when my employer is already paying for the hotel?

OK, so I expected to be without internet during the holidays when I was visiting in-laws. In fact, I appreciated the break. But with this added Hilton bonus, I’ve now gone about 3 weeks without reading anything written online. This is all an excuse to say, if you’ve read this somewhere else first, I’m sorry.

The dominant thought in my mind as we start conference play is how many former Final Four teams are struggling to even compete for an NCAA tournament spot. Whose downfall has been more disappointing?

Kentucky? Michigan?

No, those teams have new coaches who don’t quite have their type of players yet. In fact, the struggles this year may help with recruiting for next year. Elite recruits almost always want to know they can play right away.

No, the teams that concern me are teams with veteran Final Four coaches who still can’t seem to put things together this year:

Louisville 10-4
LSU 7-7
Maryland 10-6
Illinois 8-7

The thing I find amazing about these teams is that they all have one thing in common. None of them can make threes with much proficiency. These teams rank 195th, 224th , 259th, and 331st respectively in 3 point percentage.

Louisville’s percentage is actually up from last season thanks in no small measure to Terrence Williams improvement from a 26% three point shooter to a 41% three point shooter. Of course, according to Ken Pomeroy’s theory of three point touch, we shouldn’t expect the 41% accuracy to last because Williams remains a 60% free throw shooter. But in the loss against Cincinnati, the poor three point shooting reared its ugly head again for the Cardinal. Louisville was only 3-23 from long range.

Admittedly, with the exception of Darrell Mitchell, LSU was a horrible three point shooting team even when they made their Final Four run. But the Final Four team was so dominant in the interior, that they managed to rank 333rd in three pointers taken. Now that LSU is taking threes at a much higher rate, and still not making those threes, the team is really suffering.

Maryland desperately misses Mike Jones and his 81 made three pointers from last year. Eric Hayes is proficient from the outside, but good teams can always shut down one guy.

Not only is Illinois ranked 331st in three point percentage at 32.4% from long range, but besides Trent Meachem, the rest of the Illini are shooting a combined 41 of 167 from long range or 24.6%. Worse yet, no one on Illinois can make free throws, so if we believe Ken Pomeroy’s theory of three point touch, Illinois isn’t going to get any better with this group of players.

The problem for all these teams is so fundamentally simple. When they were at their best, they had three point shooters that could just punish the opposing defense. It his hard to imagine a Pitino team or Webber’s motion offense without picturing huge runs led by lights out three point shooting. But now, all these teams find that without consistent shooters from three-point range, teams can focus exclusively on shutting down the interior. And when that happens, these teams just look ordinary.

Teams have been shutting down the interior by double teaming post players, sagging off the guards to block the interior passing lanes, or simply by playing zone. As Illinois is finding out this year, if you can’t hit open three pointers against the zone defense, you are going to see a lot of zone defense used against you.

But how could something as simple as not having three point shooters happen to teams with solid coaches?

-You can argue that recruiting has been a problem, but none of these schools had Kansas or North Carolina level recruits when they went on their most recent Final Four run.

-You can blame injuries, and there is certainly reason to believe that Louisville will play better now that Padgett and Palacios are back in the lineup, or that Illinois was devastated by the suspension of Jamar Smith.

-But I wonder if something else might make a difference here. I wonder if coaches who go to the Final Four tend to underrate things like shooting ability and overrate general athleticism. After all, when you get to the Final Four, every one of those players can make baskets. The only question is who has the better athletes.

-Or maybe it is as simple at the SI cover jinx. Any time a team has players come together and perform at an unexpected level, it probably isn’t going to last.

I’ll take a slightly more optimistic tone for these teams and say that the future can still be bright. Louisville showed that last year when they raised a non-conference RPI from 135 to 37.

More importantly, these teams should take a close look at last year’s poster-child for poor perimeter shooting and disappointing play, the Connecticut Huskies. Connecticut shot a brutal 32.1% from three point range en route to their worst season in a decade. And while the Huskies have only slightly improved on their three point shooting this year (thanks AJ Price for improving from 27% to 40% beyond the arc), the real story is Connecticut finding a way to beat bad teams even if those teams play zone or pack it in the paint.

If you watched the Saturday Night game between UConn and Notre Dame, you saw the good and bad side of UConn. Early in the game Notre Dame gave UConn open shots from long range and UConn kept shooting bricks. On the game, UConn shot 12% from three point range, and Notre Dame built a 21 point lead. But then UConn used solid defense (12 blocks, 10 steals) to create transition baskets. More importantly, UConn stopped settling for open three pointers and took more bank shots and short jumpers. With those types of shots, even if they missed, they at least had a chance at an easy tip in. And UConn came back to take the lead, although they ultimately lost a close one.

Assuming Connecticut doesn’t crumble like last year, they are going to have to do it the same way these other teams have to, by taking less threes. That should happen naturally for Louisville as they transition Padgett back into the lineup, but the other teams should take that advice as well. And for future seasons, maybe they should go back to recruiting those outstanding three point shooters.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Just when you thought you had seen everything

-Kentrell Gransberry earned a technical foul in pre-game warmups before the Rutgers-USF game. I didn't even know that was possible.

-The Big East and Big 10 kicked off the regular season midweek this week with USF-Rutgers (3-13 vs 3-13 last year) and Penn St.-Northwestern (2-14 vs 2-14 last year) airing on ESPN2. I believe this is called fulfilling contractual obligations.