Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 24th, 2015

Team of the Week

San Diego State – It’s been a couple weeks since we did this because we took last week to compile our Best in the West list, so this award encompasses not only the Aztecs’ two by-the-book wins over New Mexico and San Jose State, but also the wins from the previous week over Wyoming and Colorado State that put them atop the Mountain West standings. The San Diego State offense is starting to come around (it’s now played four straight games where it scored better than a point per possession); the Aztecs’ defense is still downright scary; and if they can find a way on Saturday to get revenge on Boise State for a beat-down earlier this month, they’ll be headed into March on quite a roll.

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Winston Shepard and the Aztecs Are Rolling (AP)

Player of the Week

Winston Shepard, Jr, San Diego State – From the moment he stepped on the court for the Aztecs, it has been clear that Shepard has voluminous skills on the basketball court. His long frame and athleticism help make him a terrific defensive threat. He’s a willing and alert passer. He’s got a nice handle and the ability to use it to get into the lane and make plays. There is really only about one thing he hasn’t been particularly good at, and it’s a pretty important one: shooting the ball. However, over the past couple of weeks, the endless work that Shepard has put in in trying to improve that aspect of his game has begun to pay dividends. A career 24.5 percent three-point shooter, Shepard has made five of his last 10 shots from deep and 14 of 20 from the free throw line, and as a result, he’s averaging nearly 16 points per game over the past two weeks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Week That Was: Volume VIII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 24th, 2015

For the next four weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume VIII, including games from February 16-23.  

Team of the Week. At long last, we relent. When a program with the history that Kentucky has checks off its best start ever (27-0), the award practically gives itself. The Wildcats weathered a poor shooting night and game effort from Tennessee last week to still beat the Vols by 18 on the road, and then didn’t let up against Auburn over the weekend. Kentucky ran out to a 30-4 lead and battered the much smaller-Tigers throughout the game right where they were supposed to with a 44-24 rebounding advantage. There are so many things this Kentucky team does well, including the small things that can help stop an upset bid in its tracks. Kentucky belies its youth by taking great care of the ball, as there isn’t a player on the roster turning the ball over more than 1.9 times per game. The Wildcats also have been fairly strong at the free throw line this season, an area which had been a problem for some of Coach Cal’s elite teams. All four guards plus Karl-Anthony Towns are shooting better than 77.8 percent from the line. In a late-game situation where a foul is coming, a lineup of Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Towns provides cover from a lot of angles. Ole Miss and Arkansas also deserve mention here for picking up wins at the Hump against a confident Mississippi State team.

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Player of the Week. We will mimic the conference’s choice this week and give it to Stefan Moody, who starred in the Rebels’ close wins over Mississippi State (29 points, six rebounds, four steals) and Tennessee (22 points, four rebounds, six steals). The high-octane JuCo transfer comparison to Marshall Henderson is cliched but unavoidable, and this week was no different as Moody put up 23 three-point attempts over both games. He connected on 14 of them, and should continue to have the green light with that kind of success rate. The lift Moody gets on his jumper is incredible, and allows him to be lethal even when the defense knows what is coming. For example, in the second half against Mississippi State, Moody hit threes on three straight possessions, rolling off the same off-ball screen action each time. Henderson and Moody are both exceptional long-range shooting talents, but it’s probably no coincidence that both exploded with the underrated Jarvis Summers running the show next to them. Honorable mention goes to Moody’s intrastate rival Craig Sword (34 points), who seems to be rounding into form as a diverse scoring threat after being sidelined with a back injury early in the year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: Analyzing Kentucky’s Post Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 24th, 2015

Teams known for their defensive efficiency might not normally hang 110 points in conference play, but that’s exactly what Kentucky did when it met Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team on Saturday evening. Ken Pomeroy lists the Wildcats as the eighth most-efficient offense in the nation (118.4 points per 100 possessions), but that end of the floor has not consistently been the Wildcats’ calling card this season. John Calipari’s offense does, however, seem to be impvoing at just the right time. Kentucky’s 1.34 points per possession performance over the weekend was the third-best in SEC play for the Wildcats during the Calipari era (2010-15).

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

The Wildcats were good at just about every aspect of their game against Auburn, but Kentucky dominated the low post, with its 62 points in the paint tied for the most of any SEC team this season. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will examine Kentucky’s post play to see how the bigs use screens on the low block to find and hold good post position.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Four Ways for Maryland to (Maybe) Beat Wisconsin Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2015

Wisconsin has won 10 games in a row and has done so by an average of 13.9 points per game. The Badgers are 25-2 on the season and, short of a completely surprising collapse down the stretch, are going to be no worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maryland has been the second-best team in the Big Ten most of the season, with a 22-5 overall record that includes a 16-1 mark at home. The Badgers as six-point favorites tonight, which may not seem like a lot, but it’s rare to have a spread so wide between two top teams in a power conference where the second-place team is at home. The long story short is that not too many people are giving the Terps much of a chance this evening, but here are some ways that Maryland can pull off the big upset.

 Melo Trimble needs to control the pace for Maryland if they want to beat Wisconsin.  (David J. Philip/AP)

Melo Trimble needs to control the pace for Maryland if they want to beat Wisconsin. (David J. Philip/AP)

  • Push the Tempo: Wisconsin has proven with its current roster that it can play at a much faster tempo than some of Bo Ryan’s past teams. They are athletic enough to handle a higher pace and do not need to stay in a low-possession game to win. But since Traveon Jackson’s injury last month against Rutgers, no Badgers’ starter is averaging less than 32.6 MPG. Admittedly, some of those high totals are because none of the five are ever really in foul trouble, but the other factor at play hers is that the Badgers don’t get much from their bench. Because Wisconsin rarely fouls, Maryland won’t feast at the free throw line as it typically does; this means getting some easy buckets in transition will help offset those missing opportunities while taking advantage of the fact that Wisconsin’s starters won’t get much rest.
  • Make Them Shoot From the Perimeter: Another dirty little secret about Wisconsin that has been masked by all the wins is that the Badgers aren’t an elite three-point shooting team this season. That’s not to say that they can’t make shots from beyond the arc, but their 35.1 percent clip from distance ranks a middling 129th in the nation. Josh Gasser (32.1 % in Big Ten games) and Sam Dekker (32.7%) are the primary culprits in their recent futility, but it’s much easier said than done to take away the Badgers’ profound ability to score in the paint. Still, the Terps would be wise to pack things in to encourage a handful more long-range attempts on this night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

On Court Rushes: In Need of Better Security, Not Regulation

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2015

In the minutes following Kansas State‘s upset win last night over Kansas, the focus of the social media conversation wasn’t on the reeling Jayhawks, which have now dropped their last three road games to reopen the Big 12 race. It wasn’t on the Wildcats, who — at least for one night — overcame maddening inconsistency and team chemistry issues to beat a team seven spots ahead of them in the league standings. Instead, it was about the tired topic of court-rushing. However, now that our own Chris Stone has addressed the storylines that are far more interesting (at least in my opinion) from the game itself and its impact on the Big 12 race, we can move on to the matter of what made last night’s postgame celebration tricky and what should be done to help keep everyone — players, coaches, team staffers and fans alike — safe in the fracas.

The answer to the court-storming question is simpler t

The answer to the court-rushing question is simpler than many are making it out to be.

Fundamentally, I love everything that court-rushings represent to a student community. When executed without harm, they embody the close relationship between college athletes and the students who support them. In the constant news cycle of glorifying teams (or picking them apart) and evaluating individual players’ skill sets, it’s easy to forget that they’re also young adults who attend the same classes, eat at the same restaurants, hang out at the same bars and go to the same parties as many of the non-athletes in the student sections. There are tons of things that make college sports different than pro sports, and many of those things are problematic, to say the least, but the physical unification and celebration that takes place in the jubilant moments following a big win is one that is much simpler and easier to get behind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2015

We would hope that the games would improve heading into the Big Ten Tournament in a couple of weeks, but last weekend proved that this isn’t always the case — there was only one Big Ten game where the outcome wasn’t decided until the final minute. Teams at the bottom of the standings like Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers are basically raging dumpster fires right now, which reveals one of the biggest differences between last season and this one. The notion that “any Big Ten team can beat another on any given night” doesn’t seem to have much to it this year. It’ll therefore be interesting to see if the divisions hold suit as we head into early March and postseason play. There were some positive performances from the weekend, however, and the awards for those follow below.

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa's win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

Aaron White posted a double-double in Iowa’s win in Lincoln over Nebraska. (USA Today Images)

  • Player of the Weekend: A probable First-Team All-Big Ten selection unless Iowa takes a severe nosedive in the final two weeks, Aaron White did all the things he normally does against Nebraska with the exception of one vital thing — he went 2-of-2 from behind the arc. For a shooter who is still only 11-of-41 from distance on the season, this area of his game is the only thing that could prevent him from becoming a bona fide NBA player. He’s athletic; he can rebound; and he averages 6.7 free throw attempts per game without being a ball-stopper. On Sunday the senior went for 18 points and 11 rebounds as Iowa blitzed Nebraska on its home court. He contributed an offensive rating of 165.0 and now ranks fourth in the conference in that metric on the season. If this game represents the start of White gaining confidence in his outside shot, then he could be well on his way to leading a deep Iowa postseason run where his stock as a prospect skyrockets.
  • Super Sub of the Weekend: Northwestern’s Vic Law became the second Chicago Catholic League alumnus to win this honor in the last two weeks. Following his classmate Scottie Lindsey’s efforts against Iowa, Law did him one better with an even stronger performance on Saturday as his 3-of-5 shooting from the perimeter and 11 rebounds made him the best player on the floor. In an uneven season where Bryant McIntosh has been the best of the five Northwestern freshmen, Law flashed what Wildcats fans imagined when he entered the school as the first top-100 recruit of the Chris Collins era. He is an elite athlete who can rebound and run. Northwestern is starting to show that it is poised to turn the corner, and the progress of Law is one of the main reasons why.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

As Kansas Cools Off, Big 12 Title Race Heats Up

Posted by Chris Stone on February 24th, 2015

Just a few short weeks ago, an 11th straight Big 12 regular season championship seemed like a lock for Bill Self and Kansas. “[I]t would take a monumental collapse for the Jayhawks to miss out on at least a share of another Big 12 title this season,” I wrote back on February 4, as we passed the midpoint of conference play. At the time, Kansas held a two-game lead over its competition and was coming off an impressive home win against Iowa State in Lawrence. Another share of the regular season title seemed like a sure thing for this year’s Jayhawks.

The Big 12 title race is wide open after Kansas lost on Monday night. (KUSports)

The Big 12 title race is wide open after Kansas lost at Kansas State on Monday night. (KUSports)

Self emphasized the importance of the Jayhawks’ road games after their victory against the Cyclones. Kansas at the time still had five away contests on the remaining schedule and the head coach noted that his team would be in a much more comfortable position if it could steal a few wins away from Allen Fieldhouse. Since those prophetic comments, Kansas has trended downward, going 1-3 on the road with their lone win coming against the league’s worst team, Texas Tech. The Jayhawks laid an egg in the second half against Oklahoma State, turned it over on 26.9 percent of their possessions in Morgantown, and couldn’t get a stop down the stretch against the Wildcats in Manhattan last night. As a result, Kansas has seen its lead in the Big 12 race slip away; now at 11-4, the Jayhawks are just half a game up on the Cyclones as Fred Hoiberg’s bunch takes on Baylor in Ames on Wednesday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Analyzing the Big Ten Race For the Top Four Seeds

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 24th, 2015

Let’s face it — barring serious injury to another Wisconsin player, the Badgers have all but won the Big Ten regular season. Bo Ryan’s club is 13-1 and comfortably in first place with a three-game lead and four games left in its schedule. While three of those upcoming contests are away from Madison, Wisconsin will be favored in all four games. But that presumed fact at the top of the standings doesn’t mean there’s no excitement to be found in the final two weeks of the regular season. Seven other Big Ten teams are currently vying to finish as one of the three remaining top seeds: IllinoisIndiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. A top-four finish isn’t just ceremonial, either, as it gives a team a coveted double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. That means a team’s first game (on Friday March 13) will come against a team that played the day before (perhaps even twice before), and will need only three wins in three days to be crowned tournament champions. Needless to say, it’s quite the advantage. The table below, provided by Daniel Borup and using KenPom’s win percentages, shows the current probabilities of each Big Ten team finishing at each of the 14 seed lines. After the table is a team-by-team synopsis on each of those squads vying for a top-four seed.

btt probabilities

Source: Daniel Borup

  • Illinois (1% likelihood of a top four finish). The Illini are mathematically still in contention for a top-four seed but a home loss to Michigan State on Sunday really set them back. Now the Illini may need to pull an upset either at Iowa or Purdue to ensure that they’re even on the right side of the bubble.
  • Indiana (11%). The Hoosiers currently sit at fifth place and have three games left — at Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State. They’ll likely need to run the table on those to have a chance to catch up to Purdue or Michigan State. If they can accomplish that, they’ll still need the Spartans to tumble as Indiana owns the tiebreaker over Michigan State but not the Boilermakers.
  • Iowa (19%). Though two games back of fourth place, the Hawkeyes have a fairly manageable schedule still ahead of them: Illinois, at Penn State, at Indiana and Northwestern. That gives Iowa a fighting chance as two of the teams currently in the top four — Purdue and Michigan State — both have challenging schedules ahead. The problem is that Iowa has run so hot and cold all season — as evidenced by their win at Ohio State and home loss to Minnesota — that it’s hard to put much faith in this team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Weekly Awards: Miami (OH), Kyle Wiltjer, Howie Dickenman & Binghamton…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 24th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

The RedHawks wreaked havoc in the MAC East last week. (GoZips.com)

The RedHawks wreaked havoc in the MAC East last week. (GoZips.com)

Miami (OH). Miami (OH) took a wrecking ball to the MAC East last week, and it’s doubtful anyone saw it coming. At just 4-8 in conference play and 9-16 overall, the RedHawks – 1-7 on the road entering Wednesday’s game – traveled to first-place Bowling Green and beat the Falcons, 67-56, then turned around and knocked off Akron just three nights later. Against the former, John Cooper’s bunch hit 20 of 21 free throws and managed over a point per possession against one of the stingier defenses in America, prompting Falcons’ head coach Chris Jans to say afterward, “We’ve talked and talked about getting everybody’s best shot. And [today] you saw what happened.” But the effort was more than a one-shot, “best-shot” deal for Miami, because the RedHawks kept the upset momentum rolling into Saturday. Again facing long odds and a strong divisional contender, Miami overcome poor shooting (37% FG), forced 20 turnovers and gutted out an overtime win against the preseason MAC East-favorite Zips. Junior guard Eric Washington led the way with 21 points, including four big free throws in the extra period. Miami’s out-of-nowhere run has suddenly put Akron in jeopardy of having to play in first and second round games in the conference tournament (rather than byes), helped knock Bowling Green out of first place, and enabled Kent State to rise atop the standings. But Golden Flashes beware: The red-hot RedHawks come calling tonight at 7:00 PM ET.

Honorable Mentions: Columbia (2-0: at Brown, at Yale); Northern Arizona (2-0: vs. Idaho, vs. Eastern Washington); UC Davis (2-0: at Long Beach State, vs. Hawaii); Stony Brook (2-0: at Albany, vs. Binghamton); Chattanooga (2-0: vs. Mercer, vs. East Tennessee State); Buffalo (2-0: at Eastern Michigan, at Bowling Green)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Without Chris Jones, Louisville’s Fatal Flaw is Tough to Mask

Posted by CD Bradley on February 24th, 2015

Louisville’s first game of the post-Chris Jones era looked a lot like the the last one in which the senior point guard suited up. The Cardinals struggled to score, fell behind, went on a second-half run and found a way to eke out a nail-biting win. The question is whether they can replicate that outcome when the challenges get tougher as February turns into March.

The Dismissal of Chris Jones (USA Today Images)

The Dismissal of Chris Jones Leaves Louisville in a Tough Spot (USA Today Images)

Jones was dismissed from the team on Sunday, the day after hitting the crucial shot in a home win over Miami and the day before a road trip to ACC also-ran Georgia Tech. The University of Louisville police released a statement about an hour before tip-off that Jones had threatened to “smack TF (the f—) out of” an on-again, off-again girlfriend via text message on February 17, the day before the Cardinals lost at Syracuse. Jones was suspended for that game and did not make the trip with the team. He was reinstated the next day, played against Miami on Saturday, and then was formally dismissed from the team on Sunday. The Courier-Journal reported that Jones was also involved in a separate incident but the university declined to release a report, citing the ongoing investigation. “I feel awful for the young man, but unfortunately we just have to move on,” head coach Rick Pitino said about Jones after Monday’s 52-51 win. “Mistakes were made, and sometimes in life you’ve got to pay for those. […] There’s no way he’s coming back. It’s over.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 02.24.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 24th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. WDRB: It didn’t take long for Louisville’s Chris Jones to go from indefinitely suspended to reinstated to dismissed in what felt like a blink of an eye. The details certainly aren’t pretty and they’re made worse by what we don’t know yet. According to a police report, Jones allegedly threatened to hit his on-and-off girlfriend after she “messed up his room” after he stood her up. That’s a really bad look. What we don’t know yet is the other incident that Louisville Public Safety is looking into. Hopefully Jones can get the help he needs because it will be nearly impossible to get his career back on track if he doesn’t. His absence probably spells long-term trouble for Louisville, which only managed 17 first half points against Georgia Tech before coming back to win by a single point at the end.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: More bad news out of Chapel Hill, as Andrew Carter sat down with an ailing Bill Guthridge. If you don’t recall the name, Guthridge was Dean Smith’s right hand man for 30 years before taking over the program in the three years following Smith’s retirement (1997-2000). Sadly, Guthridge’s mental health is suffering because of a serious heart condition: “I’m not up with it,” he said while trying to recall his head coaching stint. Carter writes the hell out of this story, but it’s a really tough read.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Virginia got even more banged up when London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon smashed their heads together against Florida State (a game that’s been incredibly physical in recent years). Brogdon ended up with a pretty ugly bump while Perrantes came away with a broken nose and “concussion symptoms.” The injury also led to some rather grisly pictures of Perrantes’ bloody jersey. Virginia has struggled mightily on offense since Justin Anderson’s injury, so losing Perrantes for any extended time will only exacerbate the situation. Wake Forest has a real shot at a marquee win when the hobbled Cavaliers come to town this week (recall that the Deacs only lost by one on the road).
  4. Charleston Post and Courier: Gene Sapakoff has some pretty strong words about the state of the ACC and Brad Brownell‘s legacy. “Clemson head coach Brad Brownell in particular has an easier ACC path than Cliff Ellis or Rick Barnes had, and ought to be graded accordingly.” I agree with him that win totals are a little inflated these days, but I think that undersells the job Brownell has done with this year’s team. That said, if he keeps fielding teams with low expectations, that’s a problem of its own.
  5. Slap the Sign: Here’s a case for Mike Brey to win ACC Coach of the Year. Here are my cases for Mike Brey to come in third: Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Weirdly, the last time Coach K won this award was way back in 2000. That’s stupid (he probably should have won in 2010) and reflects the way (most of) the media votes for this award: How much does your team overachieve based on the preseason expectations that we set? The only slightly better voting dogma is to always vote for the coach of the team that wins the conference, which is inexcusable with an unbalanced round-robin schedule. If Virginia finishes with two or fewer losses or if Duke finishes with three losses, one of those two head coaches deserves the award (I would lean towards Krzyzewski, but Bennett’s case is strong too). Brey has had a great year and well exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, but that has as much to do with undervaluing Jerian Grant as it does with Brey’s coaching acumen.

EXTRA (via NJ.com): Whew boy, Roy Williams certainly let the North Carolina fan base have it. After a very cool opening four-corners set (shown below) that didn’t get enough love from the Tar Heels’ faithful, Williams lit into the crowd saying that “they were asleep most of the day anyway.” Feels like Williams almost slipped into a frustrated vulgarity, but that’ll have to wait for next time.

Share this story

Big 12 Power Rankings: The Texas Basketball Massacre Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 23rd, 2015

This was supposed to be the season. Like, THE season. The season Texas began ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason poll. The season it would dethrone Kansas from the perch overlooking the rest of the Big 12. And more importantly, this was supposed to be the season — with eight rotation players returning and a blue-chipper entering — where it was destined for a run to NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, and perhaps beyond. Instead, the Longhorns sit at 17-10 overall with a meager 6-8 mark in Big 12 play. The general consensus from bracketologists, bubble-watchers and fans alike is that Texas, while starting trouble in the face over the next few weeks, is still safely in the field.

The problem with Texas' nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

The problem with Texas’ nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes and beyond. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

To his credit, Rick Barnes is the only Big 12 coach other than Bill Self who consistently schedules a difficult non-conference schedule. This season’s slate of games looked rough in August but doesn’t seem all that impressive six months later. Four of Texas’ five toughest opponents (not including Kentucky, because Kentucky) were Iowa, California, Connecticut and Stanford. The Hawkeyes and Bears are no strangers to playing in the NCAA Tournament; Stanford went to the Sweet Sixteen just last year; and Connecticut, of course, is 10 months removed from cutting down the nets in Arlington. Unfortunately for Texas, the win over Iowa now means that the Longhorns have a win against another bubble team instead of a resume-enhancer; beating Cal doesn’t help them with their postseason aspirations; a win over UConn is questionable at best, and a loss to fellow bubble resident Stanford at home doesn’t help things. The conference schedule isn’t much better. Texas has only beaten one team (West Virginia) that is likely to reach the NCAA Tournament. The perception of this team could have easily been improved in a strong conference where every team plays each other twice, but possible sweeps of TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State do not exactly scream great resume. With road tilts still to come at West Virginia and Kansas followed by home dates with Baylor and Kansas State, the Horns would have to find a way to finish 3-1 by splitting their road games and sweeping the last two in order to get themselves safely into the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, Texas won’t make it to the finish line. What a disappointment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story