Who Won The Week? Texas, Amere May and Gary Payton II …

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on December 19th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Texas

You know, I think the Longhorns have recovered from losing at Kentucky two weeks ago. And that’s a credit to their fantastic defense, which ranks third nationally in adjusted efficiency (thanks, KenPom!). Texas came out Saturday and held a not-entirely-terrible Texas State team to 27 points (and a cool 0.44 points per possession) in a 59-27 win, then followed that up with a comparatively pedestrian 103-61 win over Lipscomb in which the Bisons only scored 0.81 points per possession. Yes, that is a “comparatively pedestrian” 42-point win. That’s how good Texas’ defense is. Here’s some stats to back that up: The Longhorns are first in the nation in effective field goal shooting against, first in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage (32.7 percent!) and second in block rate, swatting nearly one in five two-point attempts. The defense is the third most efficient in the country despite being in the bottom five nationally in forcing turnovers. Oh, and by the way, the Longhorns are now 9-1, including 6-1 without injured starting point guard Isaiah Taylor.

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

It’s been business as usual for Rick Barnes and Texas. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

(Related winners: People who really like defense. Related losers: Texas State; Lipscomb, but mostly for making “Bison” plural by adding an “S.”)

LOSER: Connecticut

Not to be an alarmist or anything, but the defending national champions are running out of time to get some good wins. Now 4-4, Kevin Ollie’s Huskies had an opportunity against a stacked Duke team Thursday night on a neutral court and came away with a 66-56 loss. But with the American looking like it will have a down year in the wake of Louisville’s departure, the only chances for statement wins are at Florida and a pair of conference match-ups with Cincinnati. (I reserve the right to judge SMU until Markus Kennedy is playing for them, but the Mustangs have taken three non-nconference losses already. Not promising.) And the best UConn non-conference win thus far, against Dayton, will lose a lot of shine after the Flyers dismissed their two tallest players after a campus incident. Now what I find alarming is that UConn gave up more than a point per possession to lowly Coppin State on Sunday, owner of a bottom-10 offensive efficiency, proving that the Huskies took at least one night off. You can’t afford to do that when you need to stack up a gaudy record in a conference full of minnows. And you certainly can’t afford to do that when you can’t score above a point per possession yourselves, which has happened in each of the Huskies’ four losses.

(Related winners: Duke, which managed to overcome a nearly 50 percent turnover rate in the first half to win somewhat comfortably. Related losers: UConn stud guard Ryan Boatright, who has to be wondering what he did to deserve his woeful offensive supporting cast; the American, which needs all the good teams – and NCAA Tournament teams – it can get.) Read the rest of this entry »

Duke and Notre Dame: Why the Nation’s Top Two Offenses Are So Efficient

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 19th, 2014

Basketball is a very complicated game. It is littered with intricacies, and like any sport, there are many different ways to be successful. Almost every weekend in college basketball, many of those ways are on display. But sometimes, in a sense, basketball can also be simple. We’re a little over a month into the college basketball season, and at the moment, there’s a bit of a surprise atop the raw offensive efficiency leaderboard: Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s team is averaging 130.5 points per 100 possessions, and, albeit against a fairly weak schedule, Notre Dame’s mark is a full 10 points higher than last year’s season leader, Creighton. Duke is right behind the Fighting Irish at 125.6 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the country. And since Brey spent eight years as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff, it should come as no surprise that the two offenses, in some ways, are strikingly similar. But why exactly are they so efficient?

The ACC's Notre Dame and Duke Sport the Nation's Most Efficient Offenses (USA Today Images)

The ACC’s Notre Dame and Duke Sport the Nation’s Most Efficient Offenses (USA Today Images)

At a very rudimentary level, the efficiency of the two offenses comes down to three things:

  1. Talent. Great offenses can’t be great without great players.
  2. Scheme and spacing. Both teams space the floor impeccably, and their offenses are extremely well-structured.
  3. The offenses are well-structured because they are designed to get two things: shots at the rim and three-pointers. These are, fundamentally, the two best shots in basketball – the first one is self-explanatory, and threes are efficient because shooting 40 percent from three is equivalent to shooting 60 percent from two – and both offenses are tailored to get the ball to these areas of the court to players in positions to score.

The third point above gives us a great idea of why the offenses at Duke and Notre Dame have been so successful this season. One of the most important stats in basketball is effective field goal percentage. It measures how much value a team gets out of the shots it takes, regardless of what those shots are. And consistently, the teams with the best effective field goal percentages are the ones that, of course, have good shooters, but also the ones that take as many high-percentage shots as possible. Prior to Duke’s Thursday game against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Duke were the top two teams nationally in two-point field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage (in large part because they don’t shoot many mid-range jumpers). Their offenses are structured to allow players to take the right shots – to allow players to either get to the rim or free behind the arc.

Read the rest of this entry »

Morning Five: 12.19.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 19th, 2014

morning5

  1. Last season, Dayton was one of the Cinderellas of the NCAA Tournament and the team that cost me $1 billion (ok, it was the first game of the Tournament). This year that will be hard to replicate and they might not even make the NCAA Tournament after they dismissed their only two big men–Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson–on scholarships. While the school did not explain why the two had been dismissed, it was later revealed that they were caught stealing from on-campus dorms. After losing Scott, a 6’9″ junior who averaged 9.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and Robinson, a 6’9″ junior who averaged 3.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, Dayton does not have a scholarship player who is taller than 6’6″.
  2. It seems like every year we read an article coming up with some back-of-the-envelope calculation about how much college players are worth. The article always gets passed around as “proof” that college players deserve to be reimbursed financially for playing for their team. The latest version of this article is a chart that tries to extrapolate the value of the average basketball player by multiplying the program’s revenue by 49% (to mimic the NBA’s revenue sharing plan) and dividing that by 13 (the number of scholarship players). The headline number is that the average Louisville player is worth a little over $1.5 million per year using this methodology. Of course, we have some questions about the methodology used in this analysis such how reliable those revenue figures are in terms of subsidies and how easily numbers/dollars can be moved around.
  3. Branden Dawson is expected to miss at least the next two games after fracturing his left wrist in Wednesday night’s win. Dawson, who is averaging 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, suffered a “non-displaced fracture” after missing 10 games last year when he broke a bone in his right hand. Fortunately for Michigan State, their upcoming schedule is pretty easy with their next two games coming against Texas Southern and Citadel before they open Big Ten play against Maryland (that feels so weird) on December 30. So while the injury could be a big blow for the Spartans at least it comes at a time when they can recover before starting Big Ten play at which point they need to start picking up quality wins because their resume thus far isn’t exactly inspiring.
  4. When Florida State declared Aaron Thomas ineligible for the rest of the season last week we figured that he might try to transfer, but now it looks like he is considering playing overseas. While the news is not completely unexpected since Thomas isn’t a NBA-caliber player, it is still a big blow to the Seminoles who might have hoped that the junior guard would return next season to anchor a team that was poised to add an excellent incoming class. Instead, it appears that Thomas, who was averaging a team-leading 14.8 points per game, will start his professional career overseas a year early.
  5. By this point you are probably aware of what we think of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings, which is consistently the best weekly column you will find. Like most power rankings, we could do without the actual rankings because frankly we find the order an individual writer thinks teams should be ranked useless, but Winn always has useful and timely information about the best teams in the country. This week our favorite stats are his breakdown of Kentucky‘s platoons (technically provided by Sean Lawless of GroupStats) and using expected value predictions on how to defend Jahlil Okafor. The analysis of Kentucky’s platoons are more of an interesting theoretical exercise and probably mirror something along the lines of what John Calipari should probably use. The Jahlil Okafor breakdown is a little more interesting from a practical perspective and might be something that should concern Duke fans going forward.

Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey filed this report from the Duke-Connecticut game at the Izod Center on Thursday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke and Connecticut (USA Today Images)

Duke and Connecticut Battled Out in an Ugly Game in New Jersey Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke found a different way to win. On a night when the shots did not fall at anywhere near the rate they have for most of this season, the nation’s top team in adjusted offensive efficiency won with defense and rebounding. The Blue Devils held the Huskies to 40.7 percent shooting in the second half, snuffing out any possibility of an extended Connecticut run. Duke also turned the ball over much more than usual (19 times), leading to plenty of extra UConn possessions. With Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor combining for 21 rebounds, however, Duke was able to negate the Connecticut advantage in shot attempts. Getting to the free throw line was also key, as the Blue Devils attempted 34 free throws to Connecticut’s 13. Kevin Ollie refused to take the bait from the assembled media after the game, instead placing the onus on his players for committing too many fouls.
  2. It can’t just be the Ryan Boatright show. While Boatright scored 22 points, he was bothered by Quinn Cook for much of the evening. When he did get free, usually through screening action along the three-point line, Boatright knocked down some impressive three-pointers with a quick release. With Shabazz Napier no longer around, though, opposing defenses can key in on the UConn guard and contain him to a degree. You also see that when Boatright gets frustrated, his shot selection suffers greatly. That can’t continue to happen because it results in a wasted possession and can lead to a long rebound and a runout for the opposition. Kevin Ollie touched on it a bit in the postgame press conference, so he knows that his team must find another reliable scoring option besides Boatright.
  3. Jahlil Okafor is not normal. We know this by now, but it deserves to be repeated. From his post-up moves to defense and court vision, Okafor has the complete package. What is most impressive is his ability to immediately recognize a double-team and find an open man in an instant. In a way, his passing reminds you of a good NFL quarterback under pressure. Okafor threw a couple of lasers to teammates tonight, usually resulting in points for Duke. One nice thing about Okafor’s game is he actually “plays big,” so to speak. When he receives a post entry pass, he usually makes a strong move to the basket or keeps the ball in an elevated position where it cannot easily be stolen. Should he decide to make the move and shoot, Okafor has tremendous awareness. He knows when and where to make the move, and it often results in a bucket. Having the presence of mind to know where to go with the ball is one thing, but combing that with the touch and skill level Okafor possesses puts him far and away above any other college big man. I’m sure a few NBA bigs are below his level too.

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A Column of Enchantment: On Hoiberg, Pitino-Pacino & Frank Martin’s Past

Posted by Joseph Nardone on December 18th, 2014

There have been very few programs in the country who have been as entertaining to watch as Iowa State over the last few seasons. That is despite the program not being filled with multiple lottery picks or having guys who are known to the casual fan. However, they have had some excellent players, some of whom have gotten drafted highly or have even (eventually) become more known to viewers who usually stick to watching solely the name programs. Gone are the guys who first helped make the program a perennial Big 12 contender and more nationally relevant than Saturday Night Live. In their place are new guys, who — not oddly enough, at all — are continuing the same exciting, up-tempo and three-point heavy system which puts the Cyclones on any viewers’ must-watch list. Basically, goodbye Royce White (etc.) and hello Georges Niang (never a scrub, but he went from really good side player to possible dark horse NPOY candidate).

Fred Hoiberg Continues to Work His Magic at Iowa State (USA Today Images)

Fred Hoiberg Continues to Work His Magic at Iowa State (USA Today Images)

How can all of this happen? Really, how in the hell is this happening in Ames? Well, I am glad you asked. The answer is pretty obvious. It is the handsome, take him home to mom-ish, Fred Hoiberg.

It has been well-documented at this point, but here is the dilly on Iowa State and the Mayor of Ames. Hoiberg, a journeyman NBA player who started at Iowa State and was known as a relatively athletic three-point specialist, came home. Not came home like LeBron came home or like The Rock came home or how I come home after work, but just simply came home — to coach at his old stomping grounds. Instead of implementing an NBA system or using some tried-and-true college structure, Hoiberg used one of the best alternatives ever, he essentially recruits and coaches as if there were five more athletic Fred Hoibergs (what else is plural for Hoiberg? Hoibi? Hos?…) galloping across the hardwood.

Hoi-Ball (patent pending) is one of the best things to happen to college hoops in a long time. It has more staying power — because of logic — than Kentucky’s platoon (which is already dead. Goodnight, kind platoon). So, for America Mr. Hoiberg, I just wanted to say thank you for being you — and making Iowa State’s roster all be you as well.

——-

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The RTC Podcast: Exam Week Catch-Up Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2014

We heard you! After some polite gnashing of teeth in the Twitterverse — the best hashtag was clearly #freethepod — we finally got our collective acts in gear at the same time long enough to record another RTC Podcast. We’re going to try to get this thing moving again on the regular twice-weekly schedule, but make sure to blame Shane (@sconnolly114 #blameshane) if we don’t! This week we take the time to dig into the first four weeks of the regular season, discussing what we think we’ve learned at this early stage and looking forward to the next three months. We also invited RTC national columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) along for the ride, and we hope to have him on board more often than not this season.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-8:53 – What does Gonzaga’s impressive start mean?
  • 8:53-11:52 – Villanova, Virginia and convincing the country they are for real
  • 11:52-15:29 – Surprise teams that are legit
  • 15:29-18:10 – Early impressive victories
  • 18:10-27:15 – Conferences that helped or hurt themselves so far
  • 27:15-38:15 – Kentucky’s dominant start
  • 38:15-43:58 – Duke’s almost as dominant start
  • 43:58-52:48 – You, Me and the AP – Maryland, Michigan State, UNC
  • 52:48-56:26 – Moving past finals week

Morning Five: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 17th, 2014

morning5

  1. We know that predicting the recovery time from a sprained ankle can be difficult, but the information from BYU about Tyler Haws‘ sprained left ankle is more nebulous than we are used to hearing. According to the school, Haws, the third-leading scorer in the country at 23.8 points per game, will be out for an undetermined period of time. Dave Rose seems to be targeting the team’s December 27 game against Gonzaga, which would mean that Haws would miss two weeks, but the school does not want to put a timetable on his return. We have even seen one local writer say that Haws could play as early as this Saturday, but that seems wildly optimistic.
  2. Illinois State suffered a big loss as DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell is expected to be out indefinitely with a broken right hand. Akoon-Purcell was the Redbirds leading scorer this season at 14.1 points per game and was second in rebounding at 5.5 per game. To make matters worse for the Redbirds, senior guard Bobby Hunter (fourth on the team at 8.9 points per game) is recovering from concussion-like symptoms. Akoon-Purcell is expected to miss four-to-six weeks, but it has not been decided yet if he will need surgery, which would obviously have a big impact on his expected recovery time.
  3. We have heard many people ask questions about the potential impact of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, but one possibility we had not consider was a state requiring that college athletes be paid. We might get our first example in South Carolina where a state senator is attempting to introduce a bill that would require state schools with at least $50 million in revenue (Clemson and South Carolina) to pay student-athletes in revenue sports in good academic standing a weekly stipend and set up a trust fund to pay those who graduate while providing a financial literacy course. The weekly stipend is expected to be around $150, which according to the bill should not be an issue for Clemson or South Carolina, which had budgets of approximately $90 million and $70 million respectively. While the NCAA might be willing to look the other way to a degree on the legalization of marijuana we doubt that they would be able to ignore this type of law.
  4. Yesterday, Creighton suspended junior guard James Miliken indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules. While Miliken’s season averages–5.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game–are pedestrian, he did score 23 points in 34 minutes in a double-overtime win against South Dakota last week. While these suspensions for undisclosed violations of team rules tend to typically be merely a slap on the wrist, the school’s statement that “a decision on [Miliken’s] standing within the program is not expected until after the Christmas break” does seem somewhat ominous. If Miliken does not return, the Bluejays should be fine thanks to their depth.
  5. hile the Chris Herren story gets plenty of attention thanks to the 30 for 30 on him as well as his speaking engagements, there are countless other tales of similarly talented players who saw their careers and lives wrecked by drugs. One such player is Tommy Gaines, who was featured in an excellent piece on Grantland by Jordan Ritter Conn. To be honest, we don’t remember much about Gaines and the article doesn’t give a great account of his background mostly because it is so difficult to piece together information about a person like him back then (something we won’t have a problem with if it were to happen today). Still the story about his past and his attempt at redemption is certainly worth your time.

Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

Read the rest of this entry »

RTC Top 25: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 15th, 2014

Fresh off last weekend’s plethora of upsets, this college basketball season experienced its first week of relative chalk. To illustrate that, the top 16 teams in the RTC25 fell in exactly the same order as they were last week. The only notable RTC25 teams to suffer defeats and take tumbles were #19 North Carolina and #25 Butler. The Tar Heels dropped two spots after being thoroughly outmanned in a 14-point loss Saturday at Kentucky. The Bulldogs fell eight spots after getting tripped up Sunday in Knoxville against a feisty Tennessee squad. You should know by now that a week like this is not the norm in college basketball, and you should expect more weeks of upsets as the season progresses.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 12.15.14 Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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Morning Five: 12.15.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 15th, 2014

morning5

  1. Prior to Friday, this season had already been disappointing for Florida State, but things got worse on Friday as they announced that Aaron Thomas, the team’s leading scorer this season at 14.8 points per game, had been declared ineligible for the rest of the season. The exact reason for the decision has not been disclosed, but according to reports it is not due to academic reasons and it was made by the school not the NCAA. Thomas’ absence will put even more of an onus on Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who sat out last season as a partial qualifier. In reality, the season is probably over for the Seminoles who are 4-5 after losing their ACC opener at Notre Dame on Saturday.
  2. Missouri‘s season has not gone much better than Florida State’s so far, but at least they moved in the right direction this weekend as they added highly-touted JaKeenan Gant. Gant, a 6’8″ freshman power forward, was Mr. Basketball in Georgia in 2013 before transferring to a high school in Missouri for his senior year of high school. Gant, who sat out nine games while the school looked into reports that he had received impermissible benefits, was a four-star recruit rated #52 overall in last year’s graduating class. Although the Tigers lost in his first game back, he made quite an impact scoring 13 points in 15 minutes coming off the bench in a 74-58 loss to Xavier.
  3. Continuing the trend of teams off to poor starts, Memphis will be without guard Markel Crawford for at least four games after he injured his left knee in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State. While Crawford’s mother initially said it was “a torn ligament”, Josh Pastner says it is a “sprained knee”. If Crawford, who is averaging 5.5 points in 21.8 minutes per game this season, returns from injury as expected, his first game back would be the team’s AAC opener against Houston on New Year’s Eve. While Memphis might have enough depth on the perimeter to handle Crawford’s absence, they have much bigger issues as Saturday night’s loss dropped them to 3-4 against what has admittedly been a decent schedule, but one where they have not been close in their losses.
  4. There were also a couple of notable transfers from the weekend. Duke announced that sophomore forward Semi Ojeleye will be transferring. Ojeleye, who has 2.5 years of eligibility left, would typically be considered a highly-touted prospect, but at Duke he was the only member of the regular rotation (10.5 minutes per game) who was not a McDonald’s All-American. Having said that he was a borderline top 25 recruit coming out of high school so despite his meager production (3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game this season) we would expect to see him at a top-tier program in a year. Tennessee sophomore forward Dominic Woodson announced that he will be transferring citing a desire to join a program that is a better fit and one where he can play a bigger role. The 6’10” forward, who averaged 3.5 points and 2 rebounds in 12 minutes per game, has only been in Knoxville after transferring from Memphis this summer. Losing Woodson will hurt a Volunteer team that already had issues with depth on the inside. As for Woodson, we have no idea where he will end up. Obviously, there is a market for 6’10”, 280-pound players, but with Woodson’s background–initially committing to Baylor before going to Memphis where he was suspended and now leaving Tennessee–we aren’t sure how many suitors he will have.
  5. One of the more interesting trends in college sports (and sports in general) is the recent trend for people to prefer to stay home rather than go to games. There are many factors driving this with the primary one in our eyes being convenience (not having to drive to a game, deal with traffic or lines, and being able to sit on your own couch) as well as the ability to switch between games and having a great view particularly with high-definition televisions. The one thing that you definitely miss is the atmosphere at games (particularly big games) and that is what schools are counting on with their attempt to sell “experiences”. These experiences range from a few hundred dollars and stuff like playing golf with a non-revenue sport coach to several thousand dollars with sideline access and exclusive pre-/post-game access. As the article notes, these auctions are not that well publicized so they probably aren’t bringing as much money as they could. We will be interested to see if schools go to this well more as they face revenue issues.

Saturday Rewind: Utah is Legit, Kentucky Cruises, and a Thriller in Richmond…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 14th, 2014

It was another whirlwind December Saturday of hoops, as 14 of 25 ranked teams were in action, and plenty major conference programs challenged themselves. Here’s how it all transpired.

Headliner

Delon Wright Did What He Could But Utah Fell Just Short (USA Today Images)

Delon Wright Did What He Could But Utah Fell Just Short (USA Today Images)

Kansas 63, Utah 60

  • The Game: This wasn’t your everyday, wire-to-wire battle. Kansas had seemingly left Utah in the dust with a 23-2 run toward the end of the first half that gave them a 39-21 halftime lead. But possession by possession, the Utes chipped away after the break, and reclaimed the lead with 4:39 to play. But Kansas didn’t miss a single shot – field goals or free throws – the rest of the way and escaped with the win in Kansas City.
  • Kansas Verdict: After the 32-point beatdown at the hands of Kentucky in mid-November, Kansas was rather rudely shoved to the background of the national college basketball picture. But since, the Jayhawks have somewhat quietly strung together some really nice wins – first over Michigan State and Florida, then at Georgetown, and now this one Saturday. However, it’s not as if Kansas has cruised – rather, it has labored through all four, and on different days, could’ve lost any of the four. Obviously this team is young, but it’s far from complete, and guard play in particular is a worry. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden looked worryingly out of sync during Saturday’s second half. So while the wins will look nice on Kansas’ résumé, Bill Self still has a lot of work to do.
  • Utah Verdict: Are the Utes legit? This game would seem to indicate they are. They are essentially a two-man team surrounded by role players, but those two men – Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl – are really impressive. Wright is a true multi-faceted star no matter how you look at him, and Poeltl is a handful down low. And while Utah lacks some offensive punch – they scored 2 points in 10 late-first-half minutes – what stood out today was team defense. That’s what allowed them to mount their comeback. Over a 17-minute second half stretch, the Utes held Kansas to 11 points, and gradually, they climbed out of the 21-point hole with stop after stop. It wasn’t enough in the end, but a three-point loss is nothing to hang your head about – especially when you consider Utah was without Jordan Loveridge, arguably the team’s third best player, who should return in January.

Best of the Rest

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Who Won The Week? Washington, Kansas, Not Michigan…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on December 12th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

Because of the magic of calendars, Kentucky has gone 3-0 in the previous seven days. (That game against Texas was only a week ago!) The Wildcats asserted their dominance against a highly talented Texas squad Friday, then followed that up with a blowout win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. But the most important victory for this team was its grinding game on Wednesday against Columbia, in which the Ivy League school scored the first 11 points and held the lead for the first 27 minutes. Coming back from a deficit and being able to win while playing at the other team’s pace are two valuable skills to learn (especially when you’re missing two rotation players), and being able to do that without taking a loss is a boon. All is not perfect for Kentucky, as Alex Poythress’ knee injury hurts some of John Calipari’s frontcourt depth and a key game against rival North Carolina looming tomorrow.

John Calipari and his super talented Kentucky squad recorded a wonderful week. (AP)

John Calipari and his talented Kentucky squad recorded a good week on the floor. (AP)

(Related winners: Columbia, for showing how deep the Ivy League will be this season, and for playing without fear on the road against the best team in the country. Related losers: Poythress, who certainly didn’t return to school with the intention of blowing out a knee.)

LOSER: Michigan

Man, does that trip to the NCAA title game two years ago feel really far away right now. The Wolverines spent the past week putting the conference-less NJIT Highlanders in the national spotlight in a 72-70 loss last Saturday, then followed that lemon by only putting up 42 points at home against area minnow Eastern Michigan in another loss Tuesday. And now the Wolverines get to try to take down Arizona in Tucson on Saturday. Yeah, good luck with that.

(Related winners: NJIT, which got enough national attention that some conference might finally see the incentive in adding them; Eastern Michigan, for stealing a win they might have to wait a long while before replicating. Related losers: Syracuse and Oregon, both of which have lost to Michigan and are also due for down years after talent exoduses.) Read the rest of this entry »