From Your Phone or TV? The Thanksgiving Hoops Conundrum

Posted by Adam Butler on November 21st, 2017

It’s 2017 and Little League parents are having Twitter wars with the President. It’s also, perhaps, an inflection point in cord-cutting. For years now we have heard reports of ESPN losing subscribers in droves (although it has seemingly slowed some) while television itself has become a nebulous medium. What is TV if we watch it on our phones, tablets or otherwise? It’s a good question, I admit, but specifically and more immediately draws me to Arizona’s second round (remember, they played an opening round game in Tucson) Battle 4 Atlantis game on Wednesday. It’s the nation’s #2 team playing on a low-work, high-consumption day against a Power 5 school in a high-profile tournament. North Carolina State (the alluded to opponent) doesn’t necessarily project as anything special (12th in preseason ACC voting and 99th currently in KenPom). But the Wolfpack are Arizona’s first real test of the season and it’s going to be broadcast on ESPN3. You cannot watch this game explicitly on your TV. You can stream it through an app and smart TV functionality, watching the game with a slight streaming delay.

Good Luck Catching a Glimpse of DeAndre Ayton on Wednesday (USA Today Images)

Of course, if everyone is delayed eight seconds, is it really a delay? Einstein’s theory of relativity aside, is this game being appropriately broadcast for our evolving consumption? Is it a sign of a national disinterest in college hoops? West Coast hoops? Perhaps I’m overreaching on the latter points but as this game was announced on ESPN3 — online only — many fans were upset. Arizona fans, specifically, felt slighted. More broadly, Pac-12 fans might use this to express continued dissatisfaction with the Pac-12 Networks and Larry Scott’s TV dealings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

This Year’s WAC May Be Better Than You Think

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 21st, 2017

Utah Valley’s opening weekend road trip to Kentucky and Duke — dubbed the “toughest 24 hours in college basketball” — started out with a bang for Mark Pope’s upstart program: The Wolverines stormed out to a nine-point halftime lead in Rupp Arena, led by as many 12, and stayed within single digits for much of the second half. Big Blue eventually came back and won, of course, but not before a speechless crowd — and a stunned coach — took notice: “This team, Utah Valley, they’re going to win their share of games now. They’re big… they have got a couple guys that are out that can shoot… they’re legit,” John Calipari said afterward. And he’s absolutely right. Existing on the fringe of the national discussion, Utah Valley is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the WAC’s collection of top contenders this season: a nascent program fortified with impact transfers that’s built to surprise in non-conference play.

Oregon grad transfer Casey Benson should help Grand Canyon’s title hopes. (Grand Canyon University Athletics)

Believe it or not, the Wolverines were not picked to win (or even finish second) in the league this year. That distinction belongs to none other than Grand Canyon, which is off to a 3-0 start in its first season of NCAA Tournament eligibility. After winning a combined 49 games since 2015-16, the Lopes return Preseason WAC Player of the Year Joshua Braun and several other key contributors from last season’s unit. As if that were not enough, head coach Dan Majerle (with an assist from a certain member of the coaching staff) lured Oregon graduate transfer Casey Benson, a veteran point guard who logged 21 minutes in the Ducks’ Final Four loss to North Carolina last March. Through three games, Braun (20.0 PPG) and Benson (10.0 PPG) have been awesome, and Grand Canyon — a for-profit university with an impossibly raucous home crowd — looks every bit the favorite pundits thought it would be. Even if the Lopes don’t upend St. John’s in their semi-home tilt on December 5, don’t be surprised if Majerle’s group gives Illinois loads of trouble just before the New Year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Despite Early Losses and Bright Future, Vanderbilt not Looking Past the Present

Posted by David Changas on November 20th, 2017

Last week, second-year Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew secured what many consider to be the best recruit in the history of the school when consensus five-star prospect Darius Garland signed with the Commodores. His pledge is a game-changer for a program that has seen its share of success over the years but has never been able to reach the next level. Those close to the program expect Garland’s commitment to attract even more talent, as top-10 prospect Simi Shittu is also expected to sign with Vanderbilt next spring. Drew also landed four-star wing Aaron Nesmith in the early signing period, and his program is currently among the final three (along with Indiana and Kansas) for the services of five-star guard Romeo Langford. Needless to say, the perception of the program is undergoing a significant shift very quickly, and that will be evident when the Commodores take the floor next fall.

Despite enduring two losses, this has been a banner week for Bryce Drew and Vanderbilt. (USA TODAY Sports)

While there is plenty of reason for excitement about the transformative future of the program, the current crop of Commodores isn’t looking past this season. On Sunday night, Vanderbilt, which is led by seniors Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley LaChance and Jeff Roberson, took #10 USC to overtime before eventually falling, 93-89. The Commodores controlled the game for most of the first half before a stunning barrage of five unanswered three-pointers gave the Trojans a one-point edge at the break. Vanderbilt came back to again control the game in the second half — building a 10-point lead with just under 10 minutes left — but could not hold that lead, as USC knocked down a number of key threes (12-of-26 3FG) while committing only six turnovers in the entire game. Despite the disappointing loss in addition to an earlier defeat at crosstown rival Belmont, the veteran Commodores know there is plenty of season left to turn things around. “We are not satisfied, but there are definitely things we can learn from this game, and things we can take from it,” Fisher-Davis said after the game.  Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Five Big 12 Feast Week Storylines to Watch

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

Feast Week is here, and with it comes the first chance for many Big 12 teams to see how they stack up against legitimate competition. The storylines around the league haven’t evolved significantly over the season’s first two weeks, but in case you need a primer, here’s a quick breakdown on what to watch for as you gorge yourself on college hoops and turkey this week.

Baylor will need Jo Lual-Acuil’s intensity this week in Kansas City. (Tom Pennington/Getty)

  1. Will Baylor assert its will on the offensive glass against Wisconsin? The Bears were the third-best team in college basketball at rebounding their own misses last season and are off to a strong start again this year — logging an offensive rebounding rate of 41.3 percent through their first three wins. Wisconsin, however, is a different animal than the likes of Central Arkansas, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Alcorn State, rebounding 83.5 percent of its opponents’ tries. Baylor’s offense has been very efficient in the first week-plus, but the Bears’ big men have effectively gone unchallenged inside. Ethan Happ and Andy Van Vliet bring an element of size that Baylor has yet to face, so outlasting the Badgers on the glass will be vital in this rematch from the 2014 Sweet Sixteen.
  2. How will Matt Coleman fare in facilitating Texas’ offense? The freshman point guard has brought some much-needed stability to Texas’ backcourt, dishing out 10 assists against just one turnover over 74 minutes across the Longhorns’ first three games. Still, Shaka Smart’s club ranks among the bottom 25 schools nationally in assists per field goal. Coleman’s distributing ability wasn’t needed in Saturday’s blowout win over Lipscomb, but it’s going to be a different story in Portland this week when the Longhorns face Butler and potentially Duke. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 20th, 2017

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Maui Invitational: Notre Dame (#17) will be the ACC’s representative this season in the Maui Invitational, the traditional marquee event of Feast Week. The Fighting Irish will face host Chaminade in tonight’s opening round (ESPNU – 9:00 PM) and will follow that game by playing either Michigan (#43) or LSU (#76) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they can get through that draw, Notre Dame would likely get a shot at Wichita State (#3) in Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 10:30 PM). This will be the third appearance in Lahaina for the Irish — Mike Brey‘s squad reached the championship game in 2008, falling to a North Carolina team that would go on to claim the National Championship later that season.
  2. Legends Classic: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will once again be the site of this season’s ACC Tournament so it’s no coincidence that the facility is hosting two early season events that feature ACC schools. Pittsburgh (#142) finally picked up its first win of the year last Wednesday — rallying to beat UC Santa Barbara at the Petersen Events Center — but is likely to go 0-2 in this event.  The Panthers will meet Penn State (#46) tonight (ESPN3 – 9:30 PM), right after Texas A&M (#9) and Oklahoma State (#41) square off in the opener. The winners will play in Tuesday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). Pittsburgh has won seven straight against its intrastate rival from the Big Ten, but expect the Nittany Lions to break that long-running streak this evening.
  3. Battle 4 Atlantis:  N.C. State (#97) has cruised so far under new head coach Kevin Keatts, easily handling four bottom-50 teams in the friendly confines of Raleigh. But Keatts’ guys will step right into the fire in the Bahamas with an opening game against mighty Arizona (#2) on Wednesday night (ESPN3 – 7:00 PM). On Thanksgiving Day, the Wolfpack will take on either SMU (#23) or Northern Iowa (#114). There are a couple of heavyweights on the other side of the bracket as well — either Villanova (#1) or Purdue (#11) is likely to be in Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – Noon). But unless N.C. State pulls off an opening round stunner against the Wildcats, it is unlikely to face any teams that will do much to boost the Wolfpack’s weak strength of schedule.
  4. NIT Season Tip-Off: Another ACC team will be playing in Brooklyn this week too, as Virginia (#8) ventures to the Barclays Center for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Cavaliers will battle Vanderbilt (#51) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPNU – 4:00 PM), and if they win that game, they will play in Friday evening’s championship game (ESPNU – 7:30 PM or ESPNews – 10:00 PM). Tony Bennett’s guys are guaranteed to get two games against quality opponents here, as Seton Hall (#26) and Rhode Island (#56) are the other schools involved. These two tilts will give Virginia a chance to test its new offensive prowess — the Cavs scored 93 last week against Austin Peay, the most points tallied by a team in the Bennett era.
  5. Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase: For the second consecutive season, Georgia Tech (#59) chose not to play in a traditional winners-advance holiday tournament. Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ exempt event — the Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase — consists of four separate home games against extremely weak competition. The first of those took place on Sunday with Georgia Tech barely beating Bethune-Cookman (#334), 65-62. Later this week, the Yellow Jackets will play Texas-Rio Grande Valley (#281) and North Texas (#296), with the last exempt game coming against Grambling State (#344) on December 1. Obviously, Josh Pastner’s team should have no problem in any of these four contests, even without suspended star Josh Okogie, scheduled to return after the Grambling game.

 

Share this story

Friday Figures: Big 12 Trends Worth Watching

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2017

Welcome to Friday Figures, a new weekly column where we’ll look at some interesting statistics from around the Big 12. There will be charts, graphs and plenty of references to KenPom. Obviously it’s still early, so this week we’re going to dive into a trio of numbers worth tracking as the season progresses.

West Virginia’s true shooting attempts differential always looms large. Under the “Press Virginia” system, the Mountaineers’ offense has never been the most efficient from a shot-making perspective. Dating back to the 2014-15 season, West Virginia has ranked 292nd, 177th and 139th nationally in effective field goal percentage (per KenPom). So far this season, they rank 185th. But what West Virginia lacks in accuracy, it makes up for in sheer volume by creating extra shots with offensive rebounds and opponents’ turnovers. Last season, the gap between the Mountaineers’ true shooting attempts (TSAs), a formula which accounts for free throws as well as field goal attempts, and their opponents’ attempts, was the largest in the country at 11.3 per game.

Data source: Sports-Reference

Tracking that differential in TSAs on a game-by-game basis has been a pretty good way to figure out West Virginia’s chances of winning. The chart above plots every game the team has played since 2014-15 with losses marked in red. Notice how the presence of that color increases significantly when the differential falls below 10.0? In two games so far this season, the Mountaineers have experienced wildly different results. Against Texas A&M, they only took 1.2 more TSAs than the Aggies, but in a blowout win against American, that gap was 25.4. One was a 23-point loss while the other a 34-point win. If you’re tracking West Virginia’s box scores this season, simply observe the gap in field goal attempts and free throws versus the opponent and you will likely be able to figure out how the game is going.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rodney Bullock’s Inconsistencies Continue to Impact Providence

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 17th, 2017

Given how impressive Providence has been these last few seasons, it’s hard to criticize the program. Ed Cooley has done a terrific job at taking what often appears to be an underwhelming lineup and transforming them into NCAA Tournament caliber players by the end of the season. Last year Big East coaches picked the Friars to finish ninth in the conference standings, and yet they earned a #11 seed and nearly toppled USC in the First Round. In fact, Providence has outperformed its preseason ranking in each of the last four seasons. For that to happen this season, particularly if it involves a longer stay than one game in March, Cooley desperately needs a go-to scorer to emerge.

Rodney Bullock’s Variability is an Issue for the Friars (USA Today Images)

Point guard Kyron Cartwright is a tremendous passer (6.7 APG last season) and one of the best point guards in the country, but he’s better as a playmaker and not a primary scorer. Otherwise, the team is littered with tertiary players who can either shoot or finish inside, but lack in a “give it to this guy with time running out” sort of way. But what about Rodney Bullock, the 6’8″ senior forward who led the team in scoring last season with 15.7 PPG? He’s the obvious option for Cooley, and yet, despite having logged over 70 games, he continues to prove inconsistent. Against #14 Minnesota on Monday, Bullock tallied just 10 points and didn’t provide the aggressiveness necessary for the team to overcome a mounting deficit in the second half. And yet, on Thursday night against Washington, his 17 points and 10 rebounds led the team in both categories.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten First Impressions: Purdue Very Much a Title Contender; Indiana, Not So Much…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2017

With a full week of Big Ten basketball already under our belts, let’s assess some of the strongest first impressions from around the league — for better or worse.

Issac Haas and the Boilermakers have looked excellent in the earlygoing. (AP)

  • It’s not a “hot take” to suggest Purdue can win the league. Michigan State was the unanimous pick to win the Big Ten this season, and for good reason — the Spartans are loaded, and Miles Bridges might be the best player in college hoops. But Purdue is also very good, and early returns suggest it may have been seriously undervalued in the preseason polls. After scoring 1.38 and 1.42 points per possessions against SIU-Edwardsville and Chicago State, respectively, last week, the Boilermakers handled Marquette in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, 86-71, as part of the Gavitt Tip-Off Games. The most impressive aspect of the win wasn’t so much the 15-point margin as it was Purdue’s ability to shrug off the Golden Eagles’ patented three-point surges, time and again answering the home team’s offensive spurts with flawless execution of its own. Matt Painter’s group was especially great in the half-court, working much of its offense through center Isaac Haas; the senior finished with 22 points in 20 minutes, using a whopping 44 percent of the possessions while he was on the floor. What’s more, the emergence of 7’3″ Dutch freshman Matt Haarms — who is averaging 19 minutes, nine points, and nearly three blocks per game — suggest that Painter has someone who can consistently (and productively) spell Haas when he sits. The scariest part? Purdue’s usually-excellent three-point shooting was lackluster against Marquette (4-of-12 3FG). Instead, the Boilers thrived on key defensive stops (like this Carsen Edwards’ chase-down block) and outstanding interior ball movement. On nights when Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson make it rain from the perimeter — like they did in the team’s first two games (combined 19-of-36 3FG) — Purdue will be nearly impossible to beat. Experienced, balanced, and offensively dominant when Haas plays like he did on Wednesday, Purdue has all the pieces to compete neck and neck with Michigan State in the Big Ten this season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Weekend Preview: November 17-19

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 17th, 2017

While most of the big tests for ACC teams begin next week, there are still some intriguing match-ups on the schedule this weekend. Here are the key games that will act as your appetizers before the main course of Feast Week starting in earnest on Monday. (all ratings are via KenPom as of Thursday night):

Friday, November 17

Virginia Travels to Richmond for a Tough Intrastate Battle Today (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia at VCU (#89): Don’t forget about this Friday afternoon tip-off in Richmond. Expect the Siegel Center to be rocking. The raucous atmosphere mixed with VCU’s signature defense will be a nice test for a young Virginia team, especially point guard Ty Jerome. He holds a 23.5 percent turnover rate through two games and will need to be extra careful handling the ball against pressure. Isaiah Wilkins is one of the top defenders in the country, but he’ll need to be at his best to slow down VCU’s Justin Tillman. The 6’7” Tillman (20.5 PPG, 78.3% eFG) has been dominant in the Rams’ first two games of the season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

On Northwestern: Difference Between a Tournament Team and Advancing…

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 16th, 2017

Chris Collins spoke openly and often about leaving last season in the past. He, along with his team, wanted to move on. They talked about higher aspirations. If you believe those around the country, the ones that by and large picked Northwestern to finish as high as third in a deep Big Ten, those aspirations should include a second-weekend appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Yet in Northwestern’s first realistic test of the 2017-18 season, it looked a lot more like a team happy with its first career NCAA Tournament appearance last March than anything else. And if its 92-88 home defeat to Creighton on Wednesday night is any indication, there’s much work to be done. There’s a noted difference between teams that make the NCAA Tournament and the ones that progress in it. You can find that stark contrast in many spots from last night’s game. What does Northwestern want to be?

Northwestern Showed Some Elements of a Hangover Last Night (credit: Chicago Tribune)

You could start by looking at bench points because it told the story of the evening — 33 for Creighton and four for Northwestern. Collins lamented about his shortened bench, and he has a point. The departure of forward Sanjay Lumpkin from last season has been a big blow. It has so far loomed larger than once thought, given that his partial replacement in sophomore Aaron Falzon has been slowed by injury. Still, you know what happens to teams that advance in the NCAA Tournament? They have injuries. Players foul out. Others step up and fill voids. The answer usually isn’t four of five starters playing over 25 minutes. It typically can’t be and it wasn’t for Northwestern on Wednesday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story