Ten Tuesday Scribbles…Posted by zhayes9 on January 26th, 2010
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.
1. I’d be fairly shocked if Gonzaga is any lower than a #3 seed when the brackets are unveiled in March. In fact, I’d be fairly shocked if the Zags lost again this season. Think about it: they’ve already notched wins on the road against the three teams most likely to shock Mark Few’s team by dispatching Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego on a single road trip. They have one challenging non-conference game left against a rebuilding Memphis team in which Gonzaga will surely be favored. The only team I could see possibly stunning the Zags is Pepperdine and their explosive guard Keion Bell. The Waves only fell by seven in the Kennel this past week behind Bell’s 37 points, but they’re still 7-13 on the season and I highly doubt Bell is going to post 37 again on a stingier Gonzaga defense. Win out and Mark Few is looking at 27-3 (16-0) heading into the WCC tournament where they could finish with a 29-3 (18-0) overall record and an RPI in the top-20 with their only losses at Michigan State, at home against Wake Forest and Duke in MSG. That sets up Gonzaga for a #3 seed in the Spokane regional, meaning two quasi-home games until the regional (and they could be in the Salt Lake City regional). German import Elias Harris has spear-headed the Zags hot streak. He’s averaging 16/8 and shooting nearly 60% in a tremendous debut campaign.
2. Remember that Greivis Vasquez guy on Maryland who’s had a pretty damn good career? After scoring in the single digits in his first four games and struggling mightily with his jump shot in Maui, the brash and often polarizing emotional sparkplug for the Terps is heating up in a big way. And that’s bad news for the rest of the wide-open ACC. Vasquez has now scored in double figures his last 14 games including a 30-point outburst at Wake Forest and 22 in a big home win over Florida State. He played his most efficient game Saturday in the blowout win over NC State, notching 19 points on 7-11 FG and 3-4 3pt. Despite the concerning start, Vasquez is now playing like the ACC POY contender he truly is. His 43% FG is only second to his 44% as a freshman (but he only needs three more shots to match the amount taken that season), his 39% 3pt is far and away a career best, and he’s also contributing with 6.1 APG and 4.6 RPG, solid totals for a 6’6 guard. I fully expect Duke to win the ACC- they’ve already played two of their three most difficult ACC games- but Maryland is absolutely a contender to finish second behind Vasquez, the continued improved play of Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes (46% 3pt), plus the superb coaching of Gary Williams.
3. Other than maybe Georgetown or Notre Dame, the most disappointing team in the nation last season may have been Baylor. The Bears entered the season fresh off reaching the NCAA Tournament just a few years following the Dave Bliss fallout with Scott Drew being lauded as one of the best young coaches in the game. Even though a late-season Big 12 Tournament and NIT push healed some wounds, the 5-11 Big 12 mark a season ago was still a campaign to forget. What led to the downfall? For one, Baylor ranked #103 in defensive efficiency in 2008-09. During their crippling six game Big 12 losing streak, the Bears surrendered 95 points to Oklahoma, 89 to Missouri and 83 to Texas Tech. In a related story, Baylor is ranked in the top 25 this week and ranks 41st in defensive efficiency. What has sparked the change? A big reason is the human eraser Ekpe Udoh in the post, a Michigan transfer who ranks sixth in college basketball in block percentage (Baylor ranks first in the nation in the same category). Baylor as a unit has also turned up the intensity on the defensive end, ranking third in the nation in opponents two-point FG% behind just Mississippi State and Florida State. Baylor hasn’t forgotten how to score, either. They rank 15th in offensive efficiency and eighth in effective FG%. Anyone who watched the Bears go toe-to-toe with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse last Monday knows this team can play.
4. Remember Elliot Williams, the former McDonalds All-American Duke guard who supplanted the much-maligned Greg Paulus in the middle of ACC play last season? Due to a family illness, Williams was granted his release from Duke and transferred to his hometown of Memphis to play for Josh Pastner and the Tigers. Williams’ role on Duke was more of a defensive stopper and steady distributor, a role in which Coach K stressed focus on locking down the opposing team’s point guard and not turning the ball over on the offensive end. Williams did a formidable job and we all figured he would contribute to Memphis’ goal of dominating Conference USA again. But did anyone expect this type of offensive explosion? Williams finds himself sixth in the nation in offensive rating for players that have used 28%+ of their team’s possessions, ranking just behind stars like Jimmer Fredette, Omar Samhan and James Anderson. Williams is averaging 19.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG and 3.8 APG as a sophomore following a freshman year in which he really only played consistently during half the season. He’s scored in double figures all but one game and already has two 30+ point outbursts in Conference USA play. His 49% FG is incredible for a point guard with an explosiveness and ability to penetrate to the rim you can’t teach. Plus, an opposing defender has to respect his jump shot (38% 3pt). Williams is quietly one of the most surprising stories of the season.
5. Villanova is better than last season’s Final Four team. The defense is a mild concern; the Wildcats are not going to hold any opponent consistently under 70 points any time soon. But Nova has the most explosive offense in the nation of any national title contender other than maybe Kansas. I originally thought Villanova’s lack of inside play would ultimately prove their downfall, but now I feel like they could still reach Indianapolis with Reggie Redding, Mouphtaou Yarou, Taylor King and Antonio Pena crashing the glass inside (they do rank #24 in offensive rebounding percentage, meaning they’re not exactly incompetent). I wouldn’t take any point guard in the nation to run my offense in the NCAA Tournament over Scottie Reynolds, and that includes John Wall and Sherron Collins. Maalik Wayns is already an impact guard, King has turned into a valuable piece inside and outside, and Yarou will continue to progress as he garners more minutes. They’ll be battle-tested late with road trips to Pitt, Syracuse, Georgetown and West Virginia still looming. And most importantly, the Wildcats are well-coached and shoot 75% from the free throw line. That always makes a huge difference in March.
6. Following a road swing to Minnesota and Michigan State, Northwestern may be sitting at 3-6 in the Big Ten. That would seemingly count the Wildcats out of the mix for their first NCAA Tournament bid, correct? Actually, not so fast. Their schedule certainly leaves the door open if they can go on a run late. In fact, not counting a road trip to Wisconsin, Northwestern should win their other eight Big 10 games on the slate. They welcome Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Penn State and Iowa to Evanston (all very winnable) and travel to Iowa, Penn State and Indiana. They could conceivably finish the season at 11-7 or 10-8 in the Big 10. Still, without an out-of-conference win over any NCAA teams (unless Notre Dame makes it), it would likely come down to the Big 10 Tournament in which all eyes would be on Northwestern to see if they can finally make the Dance. Defeating Illinois on Saturday at home kept the dream alive. Taking down fellow bubble team Minnesota on Tuesday on the road would make the dream closer to reality.
7. One of the best races in college basketball down the stretch (besides the Lehigh and Lafayette sprint to the finish in the Patriot, of course) should be in the Colonial. There’s currently a three-way tie at the top with Old Dominion, Northeastern and George Mason tied at 8-1 while dangerous William & Mary lingers at 6-3 just below. Barring a miraculous turnaround, the Monarchs road thumping of the Tribe Saturday all but eliminates William & Mary from the regular-season conference title race, although they do have the best out-of-conference portfolio and will be extremely dangerous come CAA Tournament time in Richmond (as will VCU playing in their home city). Examining the schedules, it appears Northeastern is the current favorite. They welcome ODU to Boston in a huge game Saturday and don’t travel to Norfolk while the Huskies have already thumped Mason at home this season by 25. Northeastern is also the most experience d team of the pack. Four of their six main contributors are seniors and they fully realize it’s their last chance to make the Dance since the Reggie Lewis days. The Huskies have the experience and schedule edge while Old Dominion plays the best defense and has arguably the best player in Gerald Lee. And we all know if would be incredibly foolish to count out Jim Larranaga and the Patriots.
8. No Patrick Mills, no problem for Randy Bennett and his Saint Mary’s Gaels. Despite having to overcome Mills’ foolish decision to turn pro early, the Gaels are sitting high and mighty at 17-3 (4-1) with their only defeats at the hands of Vanderbilt, USC and Gonzaga. The reason for their success has been a dynamic inside-outside combination of big man Omar Samhan and a plethora of capable three-point bombers. It’s pick your poison for opponents: flood the perimeter and take away the three, you welcome Samhan to explode for 26/14 inside. Double Samhan and you free open looks for a team of guards that rank second in the nation in three-point percentage. It’ll be a tight race between Samhan and Gonzaga guard Matt Bouldin for WCC Player of the Year honors. The 6’11 wide-bodied Californian is averaging a ridiculous 22/11 on 57% shooting this season while guards Ben Allen, Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova are all shooting over 40% from long range. The Gaels have the chops to be this year’s Sweet 16 Cinderella.
9. The best individual performance of the weekend had to be the effort of South Florida’s Dominique Jones in an OT win at Providence. The 6’4 junior is the most talented player on a struggling team and may be the most complete player in the nation that nobody’s giving proper respect. Jones exploded onto the scene as a freshman with averages of 17/5/3 on 46% shooting, but has taken it to another level as a junior: 21/6/4 on 49% shooting and 36% from three. Jones had scored 30 points at Syracuse and 28 vs. West Virginia in blowout losses, but his efforts at the Dunkin Donuts Center on Saturday were otherworldly. Jones scored 46 points (15-23 FG, 14-18 FT), grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out eight assists while playing all 45 minutes in the victory. Even though Jones plays for a South Florida team that can’t beat Central Michigan, he should still be getting more publicity for his incredible productivity. Statistically, he’s quietly putting together one of the most celebrated careers in Big East history. He was publicly frustrated with his team’s lackluster effort after the Cincinnati loss. Think if Stan Heath received his pink slip this summer and Jones decided to transfer to a top-flight program.
10. At this very date, Florida would be on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned for the third straight season (before you start to feel sorry for Billy Donovan, check out some of his future recruiting classes). They’ll need to pick up another marquee SEC win to compliment the defeats of Michigan State and Florida State in non-conference play and boost the lackluster RPI/SOS. If Donovan and the Gators do find a way to the dance floor, they have one person to thank: Chandler Parsons. His three-quarter court buzzer beater at NC State and game-winning three vs. South Carolina over the weekend were two of the most memorable shots of the season thus far. Lose both of those games and the Gators are nowhere close to the bubble at 12-7 (2-3) with an RPI closer to the 100’s than they’d prefer. The issue for Florida is simple: they take way too many threes for a team that doesn’t make very many threes. They rank #156 in the nation in effective FG% for a reason. They’ve taken 390 threes on the season and sunk just 122 of them for a pathetic 31% with freshman Kenny Boynton sitting at 28%, guard Erving Walker at 34% and forward Dan Werner at 32%. Without any semblance of a consistent inside presence (Alex Tyus please stand up), Florida will be probably be bricking threes in the NIT rather than the NCAA Tournament this March.