Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on February 21st, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Looking Back

  • Ivy Race Reset – While 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament will be doled out following the sometimes wild and often thrilling conference tournaments, the remaining one gets decided during the two-month grind known as The 14-Game Tournament. The upside of the Ivy’s unique structure is that (usually) the best team represents the league. The downside is that many teams are effectively eliminated by the middle of February. While Cornell is the only Ivy squad that has been mathematically eliminated from the title chase, four more teams sitting on four or more league losses (Columbia, Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth) would essentially need too much help to fathom. That leaves the co-leaders Harvard and Yale, both at 7-1, and third-place Brown (5-3) as the remaining contenders for the Ivy auto bid. The Crimson remains the odds-on favorite with a +0.22 points per possession margin in league play, well ahead of both Yale (+0.08) and Brown (+0.07). If the Ivy season were 140 games long, that efficiency differential might slowly allow Harvard to separate itself from the pack, but with just six games remaining in The 14-Game Tournament, not nearly enough time remains to assume that the Bulldogs will regress to the mean.

    Tommy Amaker and Harvard are still the favorites to earn the Ivy League auto bid. (AP)

    Tommy Amaker and Harvard are still the favorites to earn the Ivy League auto bid. (AP)

  • Historic Postseason Eligibility – During the 2011-2012 season, the Ivy League sent four teams to the postseason and nearly had a fifth until Columbia lost six out of its last seven games. It was viewed as another watershed moment for a league which had just two years earlier sent its first representative to the Sweet 16 in the 64-team era. While the league continues to play competitively at the top, as shown by Harvard’s win over New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament last season, the depth of the Ivies has been the most surprising development. Princeton and Columbia sit just one win away from clinching postseason eligibility, while Yale and Brown need just two victories to join the party as well. Assuming those four clear that modest hurdle, they will join the Crimson to give the league five postseason-eligible teams for the first time in the modern era. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 19th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Another Look at A-10 Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies

St. Bonaventure and the inversion of Saint Joseph’s and Richmond with George Washington and Massachusetts excepted, conference records and efficiency differences are lining up. If this seems too early for this “alignment,” do not worry, as a week of upsets can jumble the differentials and records quickly, as even 10 games is still too small a sample size. Given the unbalanced schedule, however, this may be the best available predictor out there.

Table01140219

The bottom four teams identified last week (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) continue to drift away from the other conference members, even as Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth separate themselves from their conference mates. Another trend worth tracking are the defensive efficiencies and the winning percentages of individual teams. As the standard deviation suggests, there is a greater variability between the conference defensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions allowed — 7.7) than between their offensive efficiencies (points scored per 100 possessions — 3.1). For the Atlantic 10 so far this season, defense is the barometer that predicts each team’s prospects.

Pomeroy projects UMass, George Washington, the Joe’s and Spiders will tie up third through sixth place with 10-8 records. The application of tie-breakers will be necessary to set the seeds for Brooklyn should the multiple ties come to pass. If we look at those four teams as a mini-conference, the “standings” against each other so far:

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Who Won the Week? Tyler Ennis, Wisconsin, Grambling State & More…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 14th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. This week’s main event? Watching INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State get upset by an Idaho team that was just 1-6 in its home dome at that point.

WINNER: Tyler Ennis

When you save your team’s undefeated season by making a buzzer-beating three-pointer to knock off a Top 25 team on the road, you’ve got the best week imaginable. Syracuse’s freshman point guard earned top honors this week thanks to that. Tyler Ennis’ 13-point, five-assist performance in Wednesday’s 58-56 win at Pittsburgh, including that last shot, pushed the Orange’s record to 24-0 and 11-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. OK, sure, maybe they won’t make it through consecutive road games at Duke, Maryland and Virginia in the next couple of weeks, but for another few nights, the magic lives on thanks to a phenomenal shot from a freshman phenom.

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

Tyler Ennis certainly had a week to remember. (Getty)

(Related winners: Syracuse, who also beat Clemson 57-44 on Sunday; Wichita State, which gets to avoid the singular spotlight of being the nation’s only undefeated team. Related losers: Pittsburgh, but thanks for setting the stage for a star.)

LOSER: Everybody involved in the Marcus Smart fiasco

One of last year’s phenom freshman point guards hasn’t exactly had the same season in his second try. Marcus Smart’s frustration seemed encapsulated last Saturday when the Oklahoma State sophomore pushed Texas Tech purported “superfan” Jeff Orr in the stands during the Cowboys’ eventual 65-61 loss in Lubbock. Nobody wins in this. Smart rightfully earned a three-game suspension for his actions. Orr, who has been caught making obscene gestures to other players, won’t attend a Texas Tech game for the rest of the season. The Pokes’ losing streak extended to five after following their loss at the Red Raiders with an 87-68 loss Tuesday at Texas. We’ll never know what Orr actually said to provoke Smart. We’ll never know what went through Smart’s mind. But we know that his team has slipped to 16-8 and 4-7 in Big 12 play. He’ll certainly have a lot of work to do upon his return, both on the basketball court and with his reputation.

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Marquette Dancing With Who They Brought

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 14th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference and a regular contributor. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

This could not be the team Buzz Williams envisioned would play this season as the 2012-13 wound down last April. That team had a backcourt rotation that included All-Conference First Team guard Vander Blue, junior Todd Mayo, a solid backup point guard in junior Derrick Wilson and a pair of promising freshmen, Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson, who would be allowed to ease into the system as they logged a minute here and there. Redshirt senior Jake Thomas and freshman John Dawson would hold down the end of the bench and wait. The always important wing and front court spots would go to a rotation of junior Jamil Wilson, All-American JuCo Jameel McKay, sophomore Steve Taylor (rehabbing from off season surgery) and junior Juan Anderson (who explored a transfer before returning to the team in late April).

Does Buzz Have Full Control of His Program Now? (AP)

Buzz Williams knows his team still has a long way to go to secure a bid to the Big Dance. (AP)

Freshman tweener Deonte Burton, a typical Williams recruit who could log minutes anywhere between off guard and power forward, would have to pick up scrap minutes and wait for his time. The low post would be anchored by Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. Either one of whom — possibly both — would be All-Conference Teamers (Gardner on offense, Otule on defense). Although Williams typically runs 10 (or more) players through each game, last April anyway, it appeared that he would have 13 talented players to mix and match for any given game and opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cal’s Defense the Key to a Run to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 13th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He filed this report after California and Washington State played Wednesday night in Pullman, Washington.

Seemingly half of the Pac-12 has been considered the conference’s second-best team this season as Arizona continues to run away with the title. First it was Oregon, but the Ducks lost that title to California when the Golden Bears came into Eugene and left with a 96-83 win in mid-January. Cal held that distinction for all of two weeks before a loss to rebuilding USC began a stretch of five losses in six games. Curiously, that one win was over then-undefeated and #1 Arizona. So the Bears are a confusing bunch, led by their suddenly porous defense and inept offense. Entering last night’s game against Washington State, they had scored more than a point per possession once in their previous five games, and only held their opponents to under a point per possession once in the same span.

Behind a superb second half from Justin Cobbs, the Bears found a way to pull it out in OT. (Getty)

Behind a superb second half from Justin Cobbs, the Bears found a way to pull it out in OT. (Getty)

After Washington State junior guard DaVonte Lacy hung 39 points on them Wednesday night, including eight three-pointers, it’s safe to say Cal’s defense isn’t fixed, even if its offense showed up in a 80-76 overtime win in Pullman. In fact, the Cougars scored more points per possession than the Bears, but lost the opening tip-off and the overtime tip as well, and the Bears had the last possession in all three periods. Cal’s per-possession defensive performance was its worst in more than two months, dating back to an early December home win against Nevada, although last night’s win was just its second since beating Washington State in Berkeley a month ago.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 13th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Looking Back

The scramble for second place in the WCC continued unabated last week, as Saint Mary’s and BYU held off defeats that would have made any conference title dreams impossible. As things stand now, they’re only just unrealistic. San Francisco and Pepperdine, two other teams harboring dreams for a lofty finish, stumbled.

Stephen Holt (right) had an outstanding week for the Gaels. (SMC Athletics)

Stephen Holt (right) had an outstanding week for the Gaels. (SMC Athletics)

Gonzaga’s three-game lead in the loss column over BYU and Saint Mary’s seems impregnable, but the schedule-makers have done the Zags no favors. After entertaining Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount at home this week, Gonzaga hits the road for four season-ending games that could prove harrowing. BYU, San Diego and Saint Mary’s must be considered at least potential upset opportunities, and even Pacific has showed its Tiger teeth occasionally this season. What better way to salvage a disappointing return to the WCC than by knocking off the Zags? Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 12th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Behind the Conference Win-Loss Records

The conference win-loss record hints at the overall dimensions of the conference race. Possession-based statistics can provide insight on how any of the teams developed their current standing. The sample is small, anomalies and outliers abound — the conference records and efficiency differences will not “behave” for another two-to-three weeks (if then). By comparing the record, the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions), and their difference (offense – defense), along with the conference strength of schedule, we can understand more precisely where a team stands with respect to the conference race, and their prospects going forward.

Table01140212

The top four (Saint Louis, George Washington, VCU and Massachusetts) and the bottom four (Rhode Island, George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham) are clearly separated from the “middle six”, forming three basic tiers. A paradox or two jump out quickly: Saint Joseph’s -2.7 efficiency difference contradicts the Hawks’ 6-3 conference record as does St. Bonaventure’s +2.5 difference with a 3-6 record. Coach Phil Martelli’s squad suffered through double digit routs (versus Richmond and Saint Louis), while all three of the Bonnies conference wins (Richmond, La Salle and Massachusetts) were by double digits. While Saint Louis, GWU, Massachusetts and VCU are relatively secure in the NCAA field of 68 with seeds ranging from Joe Lunardi’s bracket (#5 seed — Saint Louis to #9 seed George Washington, four bids total), to Jerry Palm’s bracket (#6 seed — Saint Louis to a first round play-in #12 — Richmond, five bids total), to RTC’s Daniel Evans’ bracket (#7 seed — Saint Louis and Massachusetts to #9 seed George Washington, four bids) the consensus is about four+ bids with the mostly upper bracket seeds. Palm’s fifth bid — a right side of the bubble play-in seed for Richmond — hints that the conference could garner more than four bids.

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We Salute You: Paying Homage to the Nation’s Undefeated Teams in League Play

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 6th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court and spent way too much time on these articles.

With the calendar turned to February and the meat of conference play upon us, the most dominant and least effective teams are showing their colors against equal competition. And with the halfway point of conference season rapidly approaching for many – and already here for others – now is a good time to take stock of both teams that are undefeated in conference and those who have yet to win. Tuesday’s installment took a look at the less fortunate teams among us, ranked from least likely to most to not win a game in conference play. Today, we do the same, but with the 10 teams still undefeated in conference play.

Note: All statistics dutifully harvested from kenpom.com.

Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job managing his lineup. But will the grind of the ACC season catch up to the Orange? (Getty)

  • Odds: 1.8 percent chance to go undefeated
  • Most likely losses: Feb. 22 at Duke, 67 percent; March 1 at Virginia, 59 percent
  • Biggest strength: Top 10 offense; defensively, second in block rate and steal rate
  • Achilles’ heel: Middle-of-the-road free-throw shooting
  • Key player: Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (12.1 points per game, 5.6 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game; plays more of his team’s minutes than any other power conference freshman)
  • Outlook: Syracuse’s chances of going undefeated are not equal to their chances of beating the teams on this list. (In fact, I’d take the Orange in each match-up, and I hope that the team most likely to go undefeated and this Syracuse squad end up facing off in the NCAA Tournament, because that would be one hell of a game.) But the Orange still have to go into Cameron Indoor Stadium to face a Duke team that took them to overtime in Syracuse in an instant classic this past weekend. They also have to travel to Virginia and former Big East rival Pittsburgh in the regular season, which are the three toughest away games on their entire schedule. Syracuse has played a grind-it-out slow tempo this season, its seventh straight in which its pace of play has slowed down, going from 27th in tempo in 2007-08 to 344th of 351 teams in 2013-14. That slow tempo lets coach Jim Boeheim play six to seven players regularly, and his starters have played tons of minutes, which could be a big problem as the season drags on or, heaven forbid, a core player gets hurt.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 5th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Looking Back

The previous week’s play might have sealed the WCC’s fate as a one-bid league. With the shocking demise of Saint Mary’s as a serious contender for an at-large NCAA berth, only Gonzaga has an overall resume and a potential WCC Tournament championship firmly in its grasp. BYU proved its strength in the Marriott Center with an 84-71 victory over Saint Mary’s, but still has road games against the Gaels and up-and-down San Diego and has posted a so-so 15-9 record so far. San Francisco may be better positioned than BYU to challenge for second place behind Gonzaga, with a Saturday showdown in Provo looming to possibly settle that question, but second place will not win an at-large bid for the Dons either.

Bennet's Tough Week May Have Resigned Saint Mary's to the NIT (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

Bennet’s Tough Week May Have Resigned Saint Mary’s to the NIT (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

The Gaels’ meltdown against San Diego – a 61-43 humiliation in which they barely registered a pulse – and subsequent loss to BYU marked several milestones for Saint Mary’s, none of them positive. In absorbing four losses with eight games to go, the Gaels have guaranteed their worst WCC performance since going 10-4 in 2008-09. Saint Mary’s record of winning at least 25 games a year for six straight seasons also seems doomed, with possibly 11 games left (assuming three games in the WCC tournament) and only 16 wins so far.

The only apparent path to a second bid for the conference lies in an upset of Gonzaga at the WCC Tournament in March. In that case, the victor would receive the automatic NCAA bid and Gonzaga would presumably receive an at-large bid based on its history of 14 straight NCAA appearances and its overall resume in 2013-14. But which team is likely to pull that off? There is no bye to the semifinal round this year, as each potential champion must play at least three times in Las Vegas. None of the would-be contenders has shown the consistency to pull off three tournament wins, which would include a victory over Gonzaga along the way. A single bid seems all but assured.

Power Rankings

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 5th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

If the week proved to be a momentum builder for a few teams (Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Joseph’s), it also proved to be a killer for several others (like Richmond and Massachusetts).

Halil Kanasevic and St. Joseph's had a good week. (Getty)

Halil Kanasevic (right) and Saint Joseph’s had a good week. (Getty)

Good Week

  • Saint Joseph’s — With the loss at Richmond January 25, the Hawk appeared ready for life support. A 2-0 week has improved their conference record to 5-2, though, and with a 15-6 overall record and a #54 RPI ranking (via RealTimeRPI.com), revived Saint Joseph’s hope for a bye seed in Brooklyn and NCAA consideration. For the skeptics, these were not run-of-the-mill conference wins. The first came on the road in Dayton, as the Joe’s overcame a 25-20 halftime deficit with a 27-5 second half run that put a “must-win” Flyers squad back on their heels. The Hawks held them off to post a 60-57 win. The second win, a 73-68 decision over an increasingly desperate UMass squad, came over the weekend. Coasting out to a comfortable 17-point halftime lead, the Hawks fought off a Minutemen rally to secure the win. Four Saint Joseph’s players (Halil Kanasevic — team high 18, Ron Roberts, freshman DeAndre Bembry and Chris Wilson) posted double-figure points with Kanasevic, a center/forward, also dishing five assists. Who knows, if the Hawks can roll through this week (they host Saint Louis, followed by Virginia Commonwealth), RTC’s resident bracketologist Daniel Evans may even give them a nod next week. Read the rest of this entry »
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We Salute You: Paying Homage to the Nation’s Winless Teams in League Play

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 4th, 2014

Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court and spent way too much time on these articles.

With the calendar turned to February and the meat of conference play upon us, the most dominant and least effective teams are showing their colors against equal competition. And with the halfway point of conference season rapidly approaching for many – and already here for others – now is a good time to take stock of both teams that are undefeated in conference and those who have yet to win a game. Today’s installment takes a look at the less fortunate teams among us, ranked from least to most likely to not win a game in conference play.

Note: All statistics dutifully harvested from kenpom.com.

Princeton (12-5, 0-3 Ivy League)

T.J. Bray and Princeton winless? Probably not. (AP)

Although things have been a struggle lately for T.J. Bray and Princeton, the chances of the Tigers going winless is zero. (AP)

  • Odds: 0.0 percent chance to go winless
  • Most likely wins: February 8 at home vs. Cornell, 97 percent; March 7 at Cornell, 91 percent
  • Biggest strengths: Top 15 in field-goal shooting, top 10 in defensive rebounding nationally
  • Achilles’ heel: Field-goal defense in bottom 100 nationally
  • Key player: Senior guard T.J. Bray (17.8 points per game, 5.7 assists per game, 55 percent field goal shooting; the nation’s most efficient player to use more than 20 percent of available possessions.)
  • Outlook: Perhaps it’s not fair to start off with an Ivy League team, given that the Tigers are only three games into their conference slate. But few teams have had more surprising collapses than Princeton, which squandered a 9-2 non-conference slate and talk of a possible two-bid Ivy League by losing games against Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth. Here’s the thing: Each game was on the road; Penn is an ancient rival; Harvard has athletes unlike the conference has seen in a generation; and Dartmouth, well, there’s probably not a ready-made excuse for that one, although it did happen in overtime. To get an NCAA Tournament bid now, though, the Tigers have to sweep their next 11 games and hope the Crimson lose twice aside from the teams’ head-to-head February 22 matchup, and then beat them in a one-game neutral-site playoff. That’s a tall order, even for one of the nation’s best offenses, and the one that shoots more three-pointers than any other. But failing to win a game in the Ivy League is not in question here. Read the rest of this entry »
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Oregon State Slowly But Surely Returning to Relevance

Posted by Rockne Andrew Roll (@raroll) on February 3rd, 2014

Rockne Andrew Roll is an RTC correspondent. You can also find him at @raroll. Rockne filed this report after Oregon State’s upset victory over UCLA Sunday afternoon.

A year ago, Oregon State was 1-8 in conference play and well on its way to Craig Robinson’s third losing season in five years in Corvallis. This year? UCLA’s Steve Alford summed it up rather succinctly after the Bruins’ 71-67 loss at Gill Coliseum on Sunday. His words were not intended for public consumption, but his frustration with his team’s performance gave his words such volume that they were crystal clear on the other side of the cinder block wall that separates the visiting locker room from the press room. “They’re not so bad now, are they?” Alford said of the Beavers, who are now 5-4 in Pac-12 play.

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

Hallice Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

After the disappointment of last season, the impact of beating the second-place team in the conference wasn’t lost on Robinson. “I have to reiterate how big that win was to our team, our program, to our school,” he said. “It’s been 14 or 15 years since we’ve been this relevant, this late in the season. It’s not by accident.” Nor was it lost on his players, particularly his seniors, who have suffered through many a heartbreak. “We haven’t been above .500 this late in the season since I’ve been here. From a fifth-year senior standpoint, it’s absolutely massive,” said senior center Angus Brandt. “It’s what we’ve been working toward this entire time. In terms of confidence, it just solidifies in our mind that we’re a team to compete with in this conference.”

So what’s changed since last year? Quite a bit. For starters, true freshman guard Hallice Cooke has worked his way into the starting lineup alongside Roberto Nelson and Langston Morris-Walker, demonstrating his quality with a 7-of-9 shooting performance and a game-high 20 points against the Bruins. Beyond simply scoring, though, Cooke has already put himself in a position of leadership within the Beavers’ locker room. “I don’t consider him a freshman anymore,” junior forward Eric Moreland said of Cooke. “That’s the point guard, he’s our point guard now. I’m an upperclassmen, but anything he has to say, I’m going to listen. I know he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been on the big stage before and he puts in the work. He’s a leader. As a freshman, that says a lot.”

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