Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Virginia, Middle Tennessee, Stony Brook and More…Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2013
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
- Does Virginia want to make the NCAA Tournament? Since beating Duke almost two weeks ago, the Cavaliers have lost to Boston College and Florida State and barely escaped Maryland in overtime on Sunday in a game that each team tried to give away multiple times. The more and more I look at Virginia’s resume, the more I think this team will be in the NIT. It has gotten to the point where there are too many bad losses to overcome, barring a run this week in the ACC Tournament. The Hoos have a couple things going for them, mainly the win over Duke and the victory at Wisconsin in November. Home wins over North Carolina, NC State and bubble buddy Tennessee also help but Tony Bennett’s club has a stunning EIGHT bad losses on its resume. Virginia went 11-7 in the ACC but went 0-3 against Colonial Athletic Association teams. Go figure. From an efficiency perspective, this is a strong team that plays stifling defense, has a couple of great players in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell to go along with a solid supporting cast. The resume lacks some punch though and Virginia has a lot of work to do this week in Greensboro. The Cavs will likely open with NC State on Friday, a game they really need to win.
- One team fighting with Virginia for a tournament berth is Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were eliminated from the Sun Belt Tournament by Florida International on Sunday and now have to sit and sweat out the next five days. Kermit Davis’s team finished with an impressive 28-5 overall record and lost just once over a 20-game conference schedule, on the road in overtime to Arkansas State (the next best team in the league). Davis has been with the program since 2002 and has built it up to respectable mid-major status. Is this a team worthy of a chance at a bid? Absolutely. The question is, will it get one? If I were on the selection committee, I’d probably have to say no unfortunately. Despite doing what it was supposed to do in its conference, Middle Tennessee didn’t do much out of conference. Yes, it beat two SEC teams (Mississippi and Vanderbilt), but neither of those teams is making the NCAA Tournament (unless the Rebels have a great conference tournament). But the real reason why I’d leave Middle Tennessee out is the fact that it was not competitive against Florida or Belmont, two of its better non-conference opponents. A competitive showing in either game would likely have changed my mind. In addition, the Blue Raiders lost a tough one in overtime to Akron. Those are missed opportunities that may end up costing this team a chance to dance.
- The fact that Stony Brook had to go on the road in the America East Tournament is a travesty. The Seawolves won the conference by three full games and their reward was a road trip to face #4 seed Albany in its own gym. It’s not right. I realize these smaller conferences don’t have the budgets that the power leagues do but would it be so difficult to host the tournament at whichever school wins the regular season title? Is that too much to ask? Instead, the America East picked Albany to host the quarterfinals and semifinals with the championship being hosted by the higher seed. The final part makes sense but the rest of it seems like bizarro world. Stony Brook had a stellar year, going 23-6 (14-2) in regular season play. Hopefully Steve Pikiell’s team will be rewarded with a nice seed in the NIT and maybe even a home game!
- It seems there is a national consensus regarding the top players in America this year and the same five players would be on my first team All-American ballot if I had the opportunity to vote today, before the NCAA Tournament. Those five would be Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Otto Porter and Kelly Olynyk. You could certainly make a case for Cody Zeller as well and I wouldn’t be opposed to that. But what Olynyk has done for top-ranked Gonzaga has been absolutely phenomenal. It’s fitting that Burke and Oladipo went at it in a terrific final game on Sunday but Burke came away with Big Ten Player of the Year honors in the end. I’d probably have gone with Oladipo by a hair but really, who can argue with that decision? Both players are equally deserving. Some say college basketball lacks talent this year. Maybe, but at least refine that statement to include the word “depth.” Because at the top, the talent is very, very strong. These players proved that all season long.
- This past week included a handful of what I’ll call “red flag losses,” games which raised eyebrows and called into question some of the teams most folks expect to contend for a national title. Indiana losing at home to Ohio State, Florida losing at Kentucky and Miami losing to Georgia Tech were the three that come to mind from last week’s action. Indiana couldn’t contain Aaron Craft all game long. Is that a sign of a problem or just a blip on the screen? I’d lean more towards the latter but it can’t be overlooked. The Hoosiers responded well by winning at Michigan on Sunday but that’s a game they easily could have lost as well. Indiana turned the ball over more than you might have expected in Big Ten play (19.3% turnover rate) and that’s something to keep an eye on heading into the NCAA Tournament. I believe Indiana is the best team in the country but its turnover issues combined with mediocre defensive rebounding is a recipe for extra possessions for the opponent. In close tournament games, that can be the difference between winning and losing. As for Florida, the Gators did not score a single point over the final 7+ minutes against Kentucky. Their guards weren’t tough down the stretch and guard play has been the question with Florida all season long. Without a doubt, guard play is a question mark for Florida heading into the tournament. Billy Donovan’s guards just don’t get to the free throw line (#330 nationally) and offensive rebounding is a problem for a team that shoots so many threes. Florida’s efficiency numbers still remain very strong but I think it’s fair to ask if the Gators peaked early. Miami is in a similar situation. The Hurricanes haven’t been as dominant as Florida, especially early in the season, but they earned a lofty ranking in the polls just a few weeks ago. Since then, Miami has lost three of its last five, including the surprising red flag defeat to Georgia Tech at home last week. Miami is similar to Florida in that it doesn’t get to the free throw line often and struggles on the offensive glass. It’s also fair to ask if this team peaked early as well. Miami had the best defensive efficiency of any ACC team in conference play but allowed 70+ points in each of its last three losses. Miami’s offense is good but it’s not overpowering. The Hurricanes have to guard people in order to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
- Back in November, most people expected UNLV and San Diego State to be the story of a strong Mountain West Conference. That turned out not to be true as New Mexico and Colorado State made it quite clear who the best team(s) in the Mountain West were over the course of the conference season. New Mexico won the league by two games over Colorado State but the Rams also proved they were much improved from last year’s team that also made the NCAA Tournament. UNLV and San Diego State have a lot of talent but they were never able to put it all together. UNLV in particular was frustrating. The Rebels always seemed to leave you wanting more and their finish to the regular season was a microcosm of the season. UNLV won five straight games to fool you into thinking it was back on the right track before losing the finale at home to a previously 4-11 Fresno State team. With talented players like Anthony Bennett, Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall on the roster, one would think Dave Rice’s team would have done better than a 10-6 MWC finish. As for San Diego State, the Aztecs just weren’t consistent. They’d win two games, and then lose one or two. The efficiency numbers actually say this year’s SDSU team is better than last year’s which went 10-4 in the league but lost in its first NCAA game. The Aztecs play great defense but Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley need more scoring help for them to make a run in the tournament. San Diego State was just 2-6 on the road in league play with the wins coming against two of the worst teams in the conference (Nevada and Fresno State). San Diego State arguably hasn’t played well in two months but has the opportunity for a fresh start beginning tomorrow night against Boise State in the conference tournament.
- It amazes me that Missouri continues to get a pass from the media for its putrid road record. The Tigers could only manage an 11-7 record in a bad SEC, thanks to their 2-7 performance on the road in conference. The only two wins game against bottom feeders Mississippi State and South Carolina, hardly impressive. Missouri went 2-8 in true road games this season and that’s something that should be a huge negative on its NCAA resume. The Tigers do have some solid neutral court wins but nothing jumps off the page at you other than a home win over Florida. Missouri’s resume is pretty weak for a team that isn’t expected to sweat this Sunday. Missouri is not a great defensive team but it rebounds well and can score with anyone, making it dangerous in the dance. But how many poor on-court decisions by Phil Pressey will it take for people to take a hard look at this team? Mizzou is alright but certainly is not a great team capable of making a deep March run.
- Another team with a softer resume than you might expect was actually beaten by Missouri back in November. That team is Virginia Commonwealth. You read a lot about this team’s unique style of pressure defense but a closer look reveals a team that struggles to stop teams from scoring if they’re able to withstand the pressure. VCU is not a good defensive team in a half court setting, fouls a lot and doesn’t rebound well. Looking at its resume, VCU’s best true road win is either at Charlotte or Xavier (take your pick), two teams that won’t be playing in the big dance barring miracle conference tournament runs. VCU’s RPI of 25 helps its seeding a lot but really, what is this team’s best win? Memphis on a neutral floor four months ago? That’s not all that impressive. VCU is pegged at a #6 seed by Joe Lunardi and a #7 here at RTC. VCU is a threat to make a run because many teams just aren’t used to seeing Shaka Smart’s havoc but if the predictions hold true, VCU will be over seeded.
- When I realized VCU’s best win game four months ago, it got me thinking about what I believe is a flaw in the selection process. The NCAA Selection Committee says each game, regardless of when it’s played, is treated the same. That means a win in November is equal to a win in March in the minds of the committee. I don’t agree with that line of thinking. College basketball teams change and evolve over the course of a season and those playing great in November may not be come February and March, or vice versa. When looking at some teams this season, Minnesota and Cincinnati come to mind. Minnesota started the year 15-1 but has lost 10 of its last 15 games since then. If it wasn’t for the big wins over Wisconsin and Indiana at home, Minnesota would most definitely be out of the tournament. Even with those wins, I’m not sure this is a team worthy of a bid. Make no mistake, it will get one. I’m just saying I think Minnesota’s play of late should be a major factor in the selection process. Cincinnati is another team that has struggled of late. The Bearcats started 12-0 and were 18-4 as recently as February 2. However, they’ve lost six of their last nine games down the stretch and barely scraped by a bad South Florida team on Saturday. Cincinnati has been anything but impressive and doesn’t necessarily pass the so-called “eye test.” Mick Cronin’s club has neutral court wins in November over Iowa State and Oregon as well as a road win at Pittsburgh. However, all of those wins game before the calendar flipped to 2013. The only thing of note Cincinnati has done in 2013 was a home win over Marquette nearly two months ago. Again, those early wins should not be ignored. They just shouldn’t hold as much weight as the team’s play of late. Quite frankly, Cincinnati isn’t playing like a tournament team and that should be taken into consideration. The bottom line for me is that wins (or losses) in November shouldn’t be ignored, but they also shouldn’t hold as much weight as results in February and March.
- It has been an interesting Pac-12 season in Eugene, Oregon. The Oregon Ducks had a solid grip on the Pac-12 standings for most of the conference season but faltered down the stretch and lost the league crown by a game to UCLA. Oregon bolted out to a 7-0 start but then lost three straight games before rebounding to win five of their next six, but laid two eggs last week at Colorado and at Utah. The injury to freshman point guard Dominic Artis certainly hasn’t helped matters (he missed 9 games) but he did return for the losses to Colorado and Utah. I’m not sure what to make of Oregon heading into postseason play. The Ducks are an athletic team with a nice blend of senior experience and young talent but they turn the ball over too much and really struggle to score at times. However, their turnover margin isn’t as bad as it could be because they force many turnovers on the defensive end thanks to their athleticism and up-tempo style of play. Dana Altman is a quality coach and I wouldn’t be so quick to write this team off. Can it win a grinder-type NCAA Tournament game or two? It’s possible, but it has to execute better in half court offense in order to do that. Oregon is at its best when it can force turnovers that lead to transition buckets. In the tournament, the Ducks likely won’t get as many opportunities to do that.