Ten Tuesday Scribbles…Posted by zhayes9 on February 9th, 2010
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.
1. One team that I believe could make a run for the Final Four that people seem to be slightly ignoring is Wisconsin. The Badgers should be favored in every game the remainder of their schedule other than possibly at Minnesota or at Illinois. Remember, Wisconsin already played their six games against fellow Big Ten contenders Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State and emerged clean with a 3-3 split. Finishing the season on a 6-1 run basically guarantees the Badgers a top-three finish depending on the fortunes of those rival teams and that could put Wisconsin in the tremendous position to play their first two NCAA games in nearby Milwaukee. Bo Ryan’s team is incredibly efficient, ranking in the top-20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re top-40 in the nation in two-point FG%, FT%, blocks and steals and rank just below in effective FG%. The Badgers boast tremendous computer numbers- #9 RPI, #10 SOS, #53 non-conference SOS- and have three wins against the RPI top-15. Not many teams can match that overall portfolio. Throw in the committee factoring in the Jon Leuer injury, and it’s entirely plausible Wisconsin could go from being predicted ninth in the Big Ten to earning a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Throw Bo Ryan’s name in there along with Jim Boeheim, John Calipari and Steve Alford for National Coach of the Year.
2. One team that no high-major wants to see in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is Siena. We know their recent history of winning tournament games, toppling 4-seed Vanderbilt two years ago and pulling out a 2OT classic over 8-seed Ohio State a season ago largely due to the heroics of Ronald Moore. While the Saints did blow their chances to pick up quality wins out of MAAC play- losing to Northern Iowa, Georgia Tech and Temple- Siena is inching towards the polls, boasting an unblemished 13-0 conference record and a winning streak that stretches back to mid-December. A win in Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler on February 20 would make it an absolute certainty Siena earns a bid regardless of the MAAC Tournament, but even with a loss the Saints should run through their conference regular season and postseason at 21-0 and garner a seed in the 9-11 range. Other than Kenny Hansbrouck, head coach Fran McCaffrey has nearly his entire squad returning from that Ohio State victory. Moore is averaging an incredible 8.1 APG to lead the nation while Edwin Ubiles appears to be inching towards 100% after a banged-up start to the campaign. Ryan Rossiter has developed into a legitimate low-post threat and effective rebounder and fellow frontcourt mate Alex Franklin is one of the most efficient scorers around. There’s plenty to like with regards to Siena’s chances to pulling off another first round upset: top-50 efficient offense, tremendous coaching, four double-digit scorers and, most notably, the experience of success in March.
3. There are a few reasons why the Atlantic 10 has earned an astonishing six bids in Monday’s bracket: 1) the Pac-10 turning into a one-bid league, 2) Big Ten teams like Michigan and Minnesota disappointing and 3) a mediocre middle of the Big East. Most of all, though, the league is just really good. The top-flight teams all challenged themselves out-of-conference and picked up impressive wins to show for it, from Temple knocking off Villanova, to Richmond downing Missouri and Florida, Rhode Island beating Oklahoma State and Charlotte dominating Louisville in Freedom Hall. With the exception of Rhode Island, all of the other five bid-earners have a win over the RPI top 25, and the Rams have the highest overall RPI of the bunch mostly because they played the 28th strongest non-conference schedule in the nation. Dayton could be the team closest to the bubble; if they had fallen to Xavier at home on Saturday, the Flyers likely would have been on the outside looking in this week. Still, Dayton did beat Georgia Tech in November and if they can split their two challenging road games at Temple and at Richmond in February, Brian Gregory’s team should be in decent shape. I’d fathom that Charlotte is still the most likely team to fall out even if they currently sit at the top of the standings. They barely edged George Washington and Fordham on the road this week and still have four games against these NCAA contenders, including roadies at Dayton and URI.
4. As we head into February, it’s become an annual tradition for Clemson to be in full collapse mode around this time of year. Could it be happening again to Oliver Purnell and his Tigers? They’ve sandwiched a quality win over Maryland in between four losses, three on the road and one of those without their hobbled point guard Demontez Stitt. It’s entirely possible Clemson could fold out of the NCAA Tournament picture once again, and their recent history means it’s appropriate to bring up the possibility, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They have three very winnable games at home in the next ten days against Florida State, Miami and Virginia. Unfortunately, they finish the season with four very losable games, three on the road against Maryland, Florida State and Wake Forest with a talented Georgia Tech team traveling to Littlejohn Coliseum in between. At 4-5 in the ACC and that difficult stretch to wind down the season, it’s vital the Tigers take care of business during the next three at home against inferior competition. Fall in one or even two of those contests and the heat will certainly be turned up on Purnell and his squad. Problem is right now there’s simply no second scorer to remove some of the load from Trevor Booker while the absence of K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby has allowed opposing defenses to flood the paint and dare Clemson to beat them from the outside.
5. It’ll be fun to see what transpires in the muddled Big East NCAA picture over the next few weeks. After the top four teams, teams 5-11 are separated by just 2.5 games in the standings and out of those seven teams only Pittsburgh and Marquette qualified for my latest bracket. The Panthers could continue to slip right into the bubble picture with a challenging four-game Big East stretch to follow including home dates with West Virginia and Villanova and road trips to Marquette and Notre Dame. Much like their road win at Syracuse will greatly help Pitt, Marquette’s home win over Georgetown and two close losses to Villanova in a week span could aid the Golden Eagles. I expect Marquette to earn a bid based on their favorable schedule. Even their two semi-hard road games at Cincinnati and Seton Hall can be had. South Florida may be the most talented team of the bunch outside of Connecticut. They have a handful of important bubble games still on the slate that will determine their fate, traveling to Marquette this week and home games with Cincinnati and Connecticut later in the year. Other than Rutgers, Connecticut really doesn’t have a scrub left on the schedule and their lackluster performance against DePaul on Saturday just screamed NIT. Notre Dame absolutely needed to sweep Cincinnati and South Florida at home and got the job done. In the end I expect Pittsburgh, Marquette and Louisville to be dancing with Cincinnati, South Florida, Notre Dame and Connecticut punching NIT tickets.
6. Two months ago the Arkansas basketball program was in total shambles. Numerous key players were battling legal troubles, the undermanned team on the floor was losing to the likes of East Tennessee State and Morgan State at home, and head coach John Pelphrey’s stay at the helm of the Razorback program appeared to be headed towards an ugly conclusion. Fast forward to the present date and Arkansas has really turned their season around, now standing at 12-11 (5-3) and atop the SEC West. Courtney Fortson’s return has sparked Arkansas to competitive losses against Texas and at Mississippi State before turning on the jets lately in SEC play, knocking off four straight opponents including Ole Miss and picking up a road win at Georgia, a feat neither Vanderbilt or Tennessee could accomplish. Fortson is averaging over 20+ per game since his return while Rotnei Clarke has developed into one of the most deadly three-point shooters in the nation. Because they play in the much weaker SEC West, Arkansas has a real chance to salvage this season with a 9-7 or 10-6 SEC record. They’ve already crossed off their one game against Kentucky and Florida and the Vanderbilt contest is in Fayetteville. The high-scoring and red hot Razorbacks are a team nobody wants to face right now.
7. The entire nation was way too quick to anoint John Wall the National POY in December. Wall’s struggles with shooting and turnovers continued last Saturday at LSU, but the DeMarcus Cousins train just kept chugging along for Kentucky. The feisty 6’10 behemoth in the paint with the athleticism of a guard has emerged over Wall and Patrick Patterson as the most valuable player on the Kentucky squad. Cousins has 13 double-doubles during his impressive debut campaign and is currently working on a streak of six straight including a 27/12 as the only effective Wildcat during their lone blunder at South Carolina. Cousins is first in the nation by a good distance in offensive rebounding and ranks ninth in defensive rebounding. Spread his numbers over 40 minutes and Cousins would be putting up insane Blake Griffin-type totals. Cousins also ranks second in the nation behind Seattle’s Charles Garcia in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, lending credence to my claim that he’ll be the single most difficult player to guard come tournament time. Wall and Cousins could go 1-2 (in that order) in the 2010 NBA Draft. In terms of overall value to the Kentucky Wildcats, though, I’d opt for a reversal of those numbers. Cousins has been just as important, if not more important, to Kentucky currently sitting as a projected #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
8. Out of every top ten team, West Virginia has probably had the least impressive overall season to date. The Mountaineers have survived more than a handful of close games and large deficits to mediocre teams from an OT squeaker at Seton Hall to a Da’Sean Butler game winner against Marquette to overcoming substantial deficits to St. John’s and Louisville. Coach Bob Huggins would be the first to tell you his team has a handful of areas to improve if they want to be considered a national title contender. One main reason the Mountaineers haven’t quite taken off yet is the enigmatic Devin Ebanks and his befuddling inconsistency. Ebanks is still a valuable player in every sense of the word, an athletically-gifted 6’9 forward with tremendous length and versatility that’s averaging 11/9 on the season. But many expected Ebanks to explode into stardom and contend for Big East POY honors this season. The season got off to an inauspicious start when he was inactive until midway through the 76 Classic for undisclosed reasons. It was also startling when Ebanks was flat out benched during the second half of the loss to Notre Dame and finished with zero points. Since that game, Ebanks has scored in single digits in five of nine games including 7 points on 3-10 FG against Pitt and 7 points on 2-4 FG against Ohio State. If he can’t get it together mentally and start producing 20+ points occasionally for West Virginia (he hasn’t scored over 20 since that Seton Hall game), West Virginia’s ceiling is severely limited. Da’Sean Butler can’t do it all.
9. One program out West that’s taken a precipitous fall from grace is San Diego. On March 21, 2008, the Toreros were one of the surprises of the NCAA Tournament after knocking off mighty Connecticut in the first round. They entered the 2008-09 season with one of the hotter young coaches in the game in former Gonzaga assistant Bill Grier and truly felt they could contend with the Zags and Saint Mary’s for the WCC title. Instead, a bevy of suspensions and dismissals just prior to the season kicked the year off on the wrong note and the Toreros truly haven’t recovered since. 2008-09 finished at 16-16 overall and a loss to Santa Clara in the WCC quarterfinals resulting in no postseason. A year later, San Diego is sitting in the cellar of the conference and have lost an embarrassing seven of eight in WCC play, most recently with consecutive home defeats at the hands of bottom-feeders San Francisco and Santa Clara. With the Toreros sitting at 9-16 (2-7) and only able to muster 63 PPG on average, Grier could find himself on the hot seat sooner than later with this two-year tailspin in full throttle.
10. Final quick thought: for my money, the best team in the nation right now is Syracuse. They squashed the Cincinnati run Sunday like an annoying bug- on the road against a team that needed that game- and showed a real championship swagger that was easy to notice. With the exception of the DePaul start, their wins have been far and away the most convincing and demoralizing to their opponents. They’re the best passing team in the nation, always finding each other in the right spots at the right times for scoring opportunities. With a favorable schedule to follow, and the Carrier Dome acting as a distinct homecourt advantage plus knowing the magic the Orange have been known to pull at MSG, I expect Jim Boeheim‘s team to be the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.