Handing Out Grades For Finals Week

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on December 18th, 2015

It’s finals week across the country and we’re currently in the midst of the slowest week of the college basketball season. The basketball may not be great, but it is the perfect time to hand out a few grades of our own to teams, players, coaches and conferences. Hopefully the feedback will be easier to understand than your teacher’s scribbled critiques in those little blue books.

Purdue: A

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Over the first month of the season, the two biggest “it” teams are Oklahoma and these Boilers. Purdue is 11-0 for the first time since 2009-10, when Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilers to a share of the Big Ten crown. This Purdue outfit may be the best Matt Painter team since that group, and some are saying this could be the best team in West Lafayette since Glenn Robinson donned the black and gold in the early ’90s. That kind of talk may be getting a little ahead of things, but these Boilers have won all 11 games by double-figures. The major tests start coming in now, beginning with the Boilers’ next four games: Butler at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis; Vanderbilt at home; at Wisconsin (in the Badgers first Big Ten game without Bo Ryan in over a decade); Iowa in West Lafayette. Go 15-0 and this is a surefire A+.

Isaac Haas: A+

If you asked the average college basketball fan to name the best player on Purdue, the answer you’d likely get is AJ Hammons. It wouldn’t be a terrible response — last season, Hammons led the Big Ten in blocked shots for the third straight year (only JaJuan Johnson and Penn State’s Calvin Booth have ever done that before). If you asked a recruiting guru, you might hear the name of blue chip freshman Caleb Swanigan, who has met or even exceeded the lofty expectations attached to him since stepping on campus. But neither of those two has been the most important Boilermaker so far. That notation belongs to Haas, the 7’2″ sophomore who has made the leap as a sophomore. Last season Haas’ offensive rating, per KenPom, was 95.1. So far this year, it’s a whopping 129.8 as he draws almost 9.8 fouls per 40 minutes, the highest average in the country. He’s improved his free throw percentage by 20 points (54.7 percent to 74.2 percent) and he’s making 10 percent more of his two-point attempts (63.3 percent this season) He and Hammons are both dominant on the boards and as shot blockers (Haas’ 8.5 percent block rate falls just a bit short of Hammons’ 10.1 percent) but it’s Haas who is the #5 player in the (very early) KenPom Player of the Year race.

California: C+ 

Cal is 8-2, which doesn’t look bad on the surface, but going zero for two in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend was extremely disappointing. The second half of the first game against San Diego State was particularly ugly. The Golden Bears also needed overtime to survive a Wyoming team that lost four starters from a season ago, and have also struggled in wins over sub-170 ranked KenPom squads East Carolina, Seattle and Incarnate Word. There is still a ton of talent in Berkeley with veterans Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird joining forces with the starring freshmen duo of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. With this glut of talent, Cuonzo Martin seems like the obvious scapegoat. 

Ohio State: D+ 

While the Bears have been underwhelming, at least they didn’t lose back to back home games to Texas Arlington and Louisiana Tech! The young Buckeyes were widely expected to have a down year, but for the first month of the season, they might be the most disappointing power conference team in the country. OSU is right at .500 with no wins over top 200 KenPom teams, and the aforementioned losses were the first back to back non-conference home losses since 1963 (!).  Most recently, they were blown out by 20 on Sunday at Connecticut.  It’s clear Thad Matta has a lot of work to do to get this group into contending form in the Big Ten.

Rutgers: F

It can always be worse, though. It can always be Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are 4-6 with a non-D1 win, have dropped five of their last six, with the latest loss coming at George Washington…..by 34. No Big Ten program should ever, EVER lose to an Atlantic 10 program by 34. The good news is that their next opponent is a MAAC team. The bad news….

Monmouth: B+

Justin Robinson And The Hawks Continue To Shock High-Major Opponents (Photo: app.com)

Justin Robinson And The Hawks Continue To Shock High-Major Opponents (Photo: app.com)

…is that opponent just so happens to be the mid-major toast of the 2015-2016 college basketball season. The kids from West Long Branch, NJ have already notched wins at UCLA, over Notre Dame and USC in the Orlando Classic and at Georgetown (by 15, and the Hawks led for the final 37 minutes) to create a legitimate at-large profile. You might have also heard that their bench enjoys having fun.Unfortunately for the Hawks’ at-large aspirations, they’ve already eaten a bad loss in MAAC play to Canisius (RPI 232) to go along with more respectable losses to USC (in LA before the Orlando event) and Dayton (Orlando).

Arkansas-Little Rock and Chris Beard: A+ 

Still, Monmouth might not even the best low major team in the country right now. It could easily be the unbeaten Trojans, who are 9-0 with wins at San Diego State (who have only lost 8 of their last 103 home games) and at Tulsa (who beat Wichita State by 10 earlier this season.) Beard is in his first season as a D1 head coach after a couple years at the D2 level and a decade as the associate head coach at Texas Tech under Bob and then Pat Knight. ULAR was just 13-18 last season and finished 223rd in the KenPom rankings. Right now they’re 80th. An absolutely remarkable job so far.

Avery Johnson, Michael White, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland: C

Not every first year coach can be Chris Beard! Lump all the freshman coaches in the SEC together and you get a strictly average grade. Johnson’s Alabama is 6-2 and has upset Wichita State in Orlando, but was also utterly embarrassed at Dayton during the Tip Off Marathon. White’s Gators are 6-3 and defending EXTREMELY well (they’re 2nd in the country in KenPom‘s adjusted defensive efficiency) but is flailing on offense (264th in KenPom‘s effective field goal percentage.) It’s been tougher sledding for the other two coaches: Barnes’ Tennessee team is just 5-4 with losses at Georgia Tech (by 2), George Washington (by 3 in NYC), Nebraska (also NYC) and at Butler while Howland and Mississippi State is 4-4 with two unforgivable losses: home to Southern and at UMKC. Each of these coaches’ teams has shown promise (Howland gets to coach Malik Newman) but all are a work in progress.

The Big 12: A+

Another perfect mark goes to Bob Bowlsby’s league, which has three teams inside the top 5 of both polls, with 8-1 Kansas (AP #2), 7-0 Oklahoma (AP #3), and 9-0 Iowa State (AP #5). Meanwhile, Baylor is 7-1 and 16th in the AP (15th in the coaches), West Virginia is 8-1 and in the top 20 in both polls, and Texas is 7-3 after Shaka Smart’s first signature victory with the Horns, a defeat of UNC. Heck, even Texas Tech is 7-1 with only a loss to Utah in Puerto Rico and solid wins in there against Mississippi State and Minnesota. All in all, the Big 12 is the top league in KenPom and 2nd in Conference RPI. Right now, those first weekend failures of last March seem like a distant memory.

Bo Ryan’s Coaching Career: A+++ 

That’s right. Bo Ryan gets that A triple plus that you probably haven’t seen since elementary school. He deserves it. Bo Ryan won 71 percent of his Big Ten conference games. That’s the best record ever. Bob Knight didn’t do that. Tom Izzo and Jud Heathcoate didn’t do that. Steve Fisher didn’t do that. Nobody has done that except Bo. And it’s not like Bo did this at a historical power like Indiana or even a decent program. Wisconsin was basically Northwestern before he got there. Not only did the Badgers not make the NCAA’s between 1947-1989, they didn’t even make the NIT! They didn’t play postseason basketball for FOUR STRAIGHT DECADES. In total, they made exactly five NCAA tournaments between 1947 and 2001, the year Bo took over. Once he did, they made the Big Dance in all 14 of his seasons, which included a pair of Final Fours the last two seasons. Oh, and not once during his 14 seasons did Wisconsin finish lower than 4th in the Big Ten. Really, he may deserve more pluses.

Andrew Gripshover (15 Posts)

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