The Models vs. the People: Who Is Right So Far?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on November 21st, 2017

With the rise of KenPom’s preseason rankings and the ratings of other models like it (SI and T-Rank, for example), projection models have become increasingly important in college basketball. But there is still a long way to go before these metrics-based systems replace the good old-fashioned eye test as represented in the national polls. The two varieties of projection mechanisms, both valid in their own right, disagreed about a few teams coming into this year. In this article, we will evaluate the differences on a few relevant teams to determine if we can settle on which method has been accurate so far. We’ll start by analyzing a couple of squads from the Big Ten before considering a couple others.

Minnesota. AP Rank: #15; KenPom Rank: #36

Jordan Murphy has helped Minnesota live up to expectations in the early season (Getty)

  • What the people thought: Minnesota spent the offseason as one of the most hyped teams in college basketball, as Nate Mason received plenty of all-Big Ten buzz and Amir Coffey appeared ready to make a huge leap. Richard Pitino’s Gophers were also expected to play their particular brand of stifling defense, bolstered by possibly the best shot blocker in college basketball, Reggie Lynch. There was a lot to like.
  • What the models saw: Neither Mason nor Coffey were especially efficient for the nation’s 77th-best offense, which meant this year’s outfit was set to improve on that end. The defense, while stifling, was below average in both turnovers forced and defensive rebounding, limiting its potential to become a top-10 unit.
  • Who has been right so far: The people. Jordan Murphy has been unexpectedly dominant through four games, putting up 23 points and 14 rebounds, for example, in a very impressive 12-point victory at Providence. The Gophers are humming along at 18th nationally in offensive efficiency, and if they can stay in that range they will certainly live up to their poll projection as the 15th-best team in the country.

Michigan State. AP Rank #2. KenPom Rank: #10

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What’s Trending: November Non-Conference Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 21st, 2017

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The Sviatoslav Myhailiuk question that everyone outside of Lawrence, Kansas is curious about…

Dunk(s) of the Week

St. John’s puts the old saying “defense leads to offense” with this against Nebraska…

Baylor, with authority…

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Baylor 70, Wisconsin 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 21st, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Baylor Was Just Too Much For Wisconsin Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Baylor survived a scare. Baylor asserted its experience, athleticism and range in the early going over Wisconsin tonight, leading by as many as 19 points before letting up in the second half and allowing the Badgers’ Ethan HappBrad Davison and Brevin Pritzl to get loose. While the Bears ultimately prevailed and will advance to the Hall of Fame Classic championship game, it felt more like Wisconsin simply ran out of time in its comeback attempt. Baylor is a highly formidable team and is fortunate to have one of the country’s best free throw shooters in Manu Lecomte (93.9% this season) to put close games on ice the way he did Monday night, but the Bears might not be so lucky the next time they take their foot off the gas.
  2. Wisconsin had the right game plan, but a lack of early execution early did them in. Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard had the right idea in how to attack Baylor’s aggressive 1-3-1 zone, running side pick-and-roll actions to open up backdoor passing lanes and baseline drives. The problem was that the Badgers couldn’t get a number of close looks to go down early. As Baylor built up its lead, the Badgers fell out of sorts and started to panic. Wisconsin certainly didn’t give up after a difficult start, though, narrowing that 19-point gap to just two in the final two minutes, but its early mistakes were just too much to overcome. Still, as the new core develops and Gard learns who he can trust, it became increasingly clear that Wisconsin will return to Big Ten contention before long.
  3. Jo Lual-Acuil flashed some seldom-seen range. To this point in his career, the Australian senior’s game has been all about defense and low post play. But tonight, Lual-Acuil nailed a couple threes and showed a comfort level with the shot that you don’t often see from a seven-footer. He’ll never be mistaken for a sharpshooter, but he’ll certainly be an increasingly frustrating big man to guard if he continues to show a serviceable face-up game.

Player Of The Game. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin. Though his team came up short tonight, Happ led by example, pacing his team in points (23), rebounds (13), assists (4) and blocks (3). The junior All-America candidate utilized an impressive array of back cuts and post moves in frustrating Baylor’s more athletic frontcourt, almost single-handedly willing the Badgers back into the contest.

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Rushed Reactions: Creighton 100, #23 UCLA 89

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Creighton Fans Had Some Fun at the Expense of UCLA Monday Night (USA Today Images)

  1. Creighton played with pace but also with intelligence. The Bluejays are known for their frenetic pace but every movement tonight had a purpose, and that purpose was to find smart shots. Greg McDermott‘s team attacked the paint relentlessly, resulting in easy buckets and numerous trips to the free throw line (31 FTA). Creighton also turned the ball over on only 9.4 percent of their possessions, meaning that they got at least one shot up on practically every trip down the floor. The Bluejays’ defense wasn’t always at its best tonight, but Big East teams should be terrified by their potent combination of fearlessness and efficiency.
  2. UCLA’s lack of frontcourt depth was exposed. The Bruins had trouble containing Creighton down low all night, whether it was in the form of Marcus Foster, Ty-Shon Alexander or Khyri Thomas barging through the lane. As a result, UCLA big man Thomas Welsh picked up three personal fouls in the first half alone, and frustration set in throughout the remainder of the game as UCLA gave several hard fouls which only resulted in more easy points. A greater amount of production from Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski would have helped significantly, but both fell short tonight (four points and six rebounds combined in 35 minutes of action).
  3. Ronnie Harrell did the dirty work down low. With starting big man Toby Hegner still missing time with an ankle injury, McDermott gave the junior forward Harrell his first career start this evening. Harrell put in an effort reminiscent of Creighton alumnus and 2017 College Basketball Hall Of Fame inductee Paul Silas, pulling down 15 rebounds and denying a number of second chances to UCLA’s talented offense.

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Tim Duncan and Jay Williams Lead 2017 College Basketball HOF Class

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

One of the most fun things about following college basketball is observing its constant evolution, but it’s also fascinating to look back on the legends who impacted the game regardless of their era. On Sunday night in Kansas City, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined its 2017 class, whose membership ranges from a former player-turned analyst who has yet to turn 40 to a pioneer who faced impossible challenges during integration. Let’s take a look at each.

Tim Duncan was an unstoppable force for Wake Forest, showing the dazzling post moves, defensive dominance and tremendous intelligence that made him an all-time great. (Getty)

  • Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: Before he was the linchpin for one of American sports’ top dynasties with the San Antonio Spurs, The Big Fundamental put together one of the most illustrious college careers of any big man to ever play the game. In a four-year career from 1993-97, Duncan was the 1997 National Player of the Year, a two-time consensus First Team All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year and three-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year. The reserved big man made the game look effortless by combining his raw athletic ability with a high basketball IQ in soaking up the game’s nuances faster than anyone could have imagined. He famously rejected several opportunities to go pro despite favorable projections after each year and became the first player in college basketball history to notch 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocked shots and 200 assists.
  • Jay Williams, Duke: With a devastating motorcycle injury that effectively limited his playing days to 75 NBA games, Williams’ professional career ended almost as soon as it began. We’ll always wonder what could have been, though, because the 2002 Duke graduate was one of the most talented, explosive and accomplished players the college level has ever seen. Williams was an all-time great college point guard and played a key role on one of the best Duke teams ever, pacing the 2001 National Championship Blue Devils in scoring (21.6 PPG), three-point shooting (42.7% 3FG) and winning the NABC’s Player of the Year award. Even though he had every reason to turn professional that summer, he returned to Durham to get his degree and put up another amazing season by sweeping every NPOY honor in 2002.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 20th, 2017

The first few weeks of the college basketball season are normally characterized by quality teams distinguishing themselves as teams to watch the rest of the season. #13 Texas A&M acquitted itself as just such a a team with its dominating opening night victory over West Virginia. The most impressive aspect of the Aggies’ big win was it came without the services of standout sophomore Robert Williams — suspended for the first two games of the season. With Williams set to return for today’s game against Oklahoma State, it is safe to assume A&M’s hot start is poised to continue. #8 Purdue proved it deserves some early season attention by securing an impressive road victory last Tuesday against a solid Marquette squad. The Boilermakers will have a chance to further distinguish themselves this week, as they are in the same Battle 4 Atlantis field as both #2 Arizona and #5 Villanova. With Feast Week now upon us, you can expect more teams will begin to showcase the traits necessary to become a team to watch for the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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10 Questions to Consider: Feast Week 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 20th, 2017

Feast Week is upon us! Here are 10 questions to consider in advance of all of this week’s action…

Jay Wright’s crew should be right in the thick of things again this season. (Derik Hamilton/USA TODAY)Sports

  1. Which team near the top of the rankings has the most to gain? While there are many potential match-ups that stand out across the various tournaments this week, the Battle 4 Atlantis path to a championship for Villanova could include both Purdue and Arizona. Wins against those two teams would go a long way toward bolstering the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament seeding come March. After Atlantis, Villanova’s schedule the rest of the way currently includes only three games against KenPom top 30 teams.
  2. Which Feast Week tournament is the most competitive? While it may lack a headliner in terms of sheer star power or top-10 teams, the four-team CBE Hall of Fame Classic starting tonight should feature two days of very competitive basketball. Monday’s match-ups feature a pair of interesting storylines: Will Wisconsin be able to protect its defensive glass against Baylor; and will UCLA be able to defend Creighton? The winner of this tournament will leave Kansas City with a pair of quality wins that should hold weight into March.  
  3. Where will the action be in the PK80? The 16-team field at the PK80 Invitational is filled with a number of the top teams in college basketball. The “Victory Bracket” could result in a compelling second round match-up between Phil Knight’s beloved Oregon team and Michigan State — a big early test for the local team that looks much different than the team that won a share of the Pac-12 title last season. The best game of this tournament could come on Sunday evening if the Spartans were to face North Carolina.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #4 Kansas 65, #7 Kentucky 61

Posted by Walker Carey on November 15th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas and Kentucky Battled It Out in Chicago Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. This was the very definition of an early season college basketball game. After the first game of the Champions Classic exhibited two elite teams duking it out to the end in very exciting fashion, the second game between Kansas and Kentucky — while also close — left something to be desired. The Jayhawks earned the 65-61 victory despite shooting just 35.3 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from the three-point line, and 56.3 percent from the charity stripe. The starting backcourt was even worse — Devonte’ Graham, LaGerald Vick and Malik Newman shot just 11-of-41 for the game. Kentucky shot the ball somewhat better –finishing at 41.8 percent from the field — but torpedoed its chance to win with 18 turnovers. These ugly performances certainly make sense when you consider Kansas is clearly still adjusting to life without Frank Mason II and Josh Jackson, and Kentucky is once again breaking in an entirely new rotation. There are more growing pains coming for both teams as they maneuver through the regular season, but the talent is definitely there for each team to be a factor in both its conference and the national landscape.
  2. Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox gave Kentucky fans a glimpse of the future. While several Kentucky freshmen struggled on the big stage in Chicago tonight, Diallo and Knox showed flashes of what made them such highly-sought recruits in the first place. Diallo’s speed and athleticism were on full display, as his tenacious defense bothered the Kansas backcourt all night and led to several difficult shots. The Wildcats, on the other hand, needed someone to step up offensively and Knox provided that boost. The freshman scored a game-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting (3-of-6 from the three-point line). Freshman growth is not linear, but both Diallo and Knox took substantial steps in the right direction in tonight’s defeat.
  3. Kansas needs to find a way to get Udoka Azubuike more touches. In a game where Kansas struggled to get normal production from its backcourt, it instead found great success in pounding the ball inside to sophomore seven-footer Azubuike. The big man finished the game with 13 points and eight rebounds while making all five of his shots from the field. It was baffling to understand how he only got five shot attempts in 34 minutes — especially considering how poorly Kansas shot from the perimeter — but Bill Self made it known in his postgame remarks that his guards need to do a better job of getting the ball to Azubuike.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 88, #2 Michigan State 81

Posted by Walker Carey on November 14th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Grayson Allen Led the Blue Devils to a Marquee Victory (USA Today Images)

  1. This should be a game we all want to see again in San Antonio. While not always the most fundamentally sound contest, tonight’s clash between the Blue Devils and Spartans certainly lived up to the hype in terms of star power and excitement. Even though it was played in mid-November, it most certainly had a big game feel. Both the Duke and Michigan State fans that journeyed to the United Center for the showdown made their presence known throughout what was a hotly-contested affair. The only real bummer from the game was that Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III left the game just prior to the 10-minute mark of the first half after taking an inadvertent poke to the eye from teammate Javin DeLaurier. Both squads feature many young contributors, so it is fair to assume they will each get better as the season progresses. At this point, it is difficult to argue that a Final Four or National Championship game between Duke and Michigan State would not once again be appointment viewing. These could be the best two teams in college basketball.
  2. Grayson Allen is once again going to be headline the news all season long. The player a majority of college basketball fans love to hate is back for his senior season — and, if tonight’s performance serves as any indication, that senior season is going to be rather noteworthy. While playing all 40 minutes, Allen led the Blue Devils to victory with a game-high 37 points (11-of-20 FG, 7-of-11 3FG) and came up with big shot after big shot down the stretch when his team needed them most. After a junior year that was marred by another tripping controversy, some nagging injuries and overall inconsistent play, the senior guard is beginning this season by letting his play garner the headlines. Considering Duke’s otherwise young roster, it would be beneficial for Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils if that trend continues throughout the season.
  3. Even in defeat, Michigan State can still take away some positives. The Spartans are certainly disappointed by tonight’s result, but disappointment should not be the only thing they take from this evening’s defeat. Even though he struggled to get in the lane for much of the night against Duke’s size and length, star sophomore Miles Bridges still finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Michigan State also received a lift from its interior, as both freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Nick Ward battled valiantly with Duke’s frontcourt all night. Jackson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds while showcasing the reasons why he is considered an elite NBA prospect. Ward also chipped in 19 points while using his wide frame to force Duke’s young front line into some foul trouble. A loss is a loss, but this was one that left the Spartans with things they can build upon moving forward.

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Projecting This Season’s Breakout Players

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 14th, 2017

After spending the preseason hyping certain guys, some players we don’t expect to steal the spotlight does just that. If history tells us anything, there are a number of players who are flying under the radar right now that will be commanding headlines in February. It is my humble task to give those players some of the love they will eventually deserve right now, before the rest of the nation catches on. I’ll give myself credit for projecting the rises of Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans last year, but I’ve been honing my craft this offseason and hope to do even better this time around. So let’s get started. Here are five breakout players in college basketball this season.

  • Nick Ward, Sophomore, Michigan State — Nick Ward averaged 8.8 fouls drawn per game last season, becoming the first major conference player to average more than 8.0 since Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. He also owned the second highest offensive rebounding rate in the country at 17.5 percent. Sure, he fouls a bit too much and turns the ball over more than head coach Tom Izzo would like, but post players this dominant are very hard to come by. If Ward can play closer to 30 minutes per game this season — which would itself be a feat considering the talent of the Spartans frontcourt — watch out. His tools suggest he could become a First Team All-American. Sophomore forward Miles Bridges gets all the hype, but if the Spartans reach their potential this year, Ward will be a big reason why they did so.

Nick Ward is on his way to possible stardom. (Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Markus Howard, Sophomore, Marquette — America, are you ready to fall in love with a small point guard who puts up ridiculous numbers? Well, the 5’11” Howard is your man. He shot 54.7 percent — FIFTY-FOUR POINT SEVEN PER CENT!!! — from three-point range last year, on almost five shots per game in the Big East! That’s a mind-numbingly good shooting season. More importantly, with Marquette having graduated some ball-dominant seniors, Howard and fellow diminutive scorer Andrew Rowsey will get the keys to Steve Wojciechowski’s uptempo offense. Marquette started the senior Rowsey in the season opener, but I’m betting on Howard and his ridiculous shooting and efficiency forcing his way into the starting lineup in due time. A season scoring average of 20 points per game is not out of the question for the sophomore.

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