Examining the Conference Unbeatens: Which Teams Can Go the Distance?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 10th, 2017

With one month left in the regular season, it’s no longer too early to consider which of the remaining conference unbeatens have a legitimate chance to enter March without a loss. So let’s dig in. (Chances of going unbeaten based on KenPom win probabilities).

Mark Few Appears to Have It All Figured Out (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga (25-0, 13-0 West Coast). America’s only remaining undefeated team, Gonzaga tops almost every relevant poll and metric thanks to nearly three full months of flawless basketball. Of the Bulldogs’ 25 wins, 22 have come by double-figures, including an astonishing 26.6-point margin of victory in conference play alone (with seven wins by 30-plus). Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (15.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.7 APG) has been worthy of All-America consideration; freshman forward Zach Collins (10.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) has been one of the most efficient players in the country; center Przemek Karnowski (12.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG), who was sidelined nearly all last season with a back injury, hasn’t missed a beat. It’s been an all-around remarkable season, especially for a unit whose top five scorers weren’t on the active roster in 2015-16. Up until last month, Gonzaga was projected to lose at Saint Mary’s—college basketball’s 16th-best team according to KenPom—this Saturday night. Now, the Bulldogs are favored to win by two. If they can escape Moraga unblemished, Mark Few’s team would almost certainly enter the postseason without a loss.

Chances of going unbeaten: 56.3%

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week 12

Posted by Walker Carey on February 6th, 2017

This Saturday gave college basketball one of the most chaotic days of the regular season, and no conference felt that impact more than the Big 12. The league’s top three teams were all defeated, with two of those losses coming to unranked foes at home. The chaos started with #4 Kansas having its 54-game home winning streak snapped in a 92-89 overtime loss to Iowa State. At the same time the Jayhawks were losing to the Cyclones, #10 Baylor‘s offense struggled its way to a 56-54 home loss to Kansas State. To conclude the afternoon, #13 West Virginia blew a four-point halftime lead to allow Oklahoma State to leave Morgantown with an 82-75 victory. A host of other top 10 teams also lost on Saturday. There is always going to be that one crazy day in a college basketball season, so it’s worth wondering if Saturday was this year’s or if even more craziness is yet to come. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week 11

Posted by rtmsf on January 31st, 2017

In what turned out to be perhaps the nuttiest week of college basketball this season, seven of last week’s top 10 RTC25 teams lost at least once. Villanova (at Marquette), Kansas (at West Virginia), Kentucky (Kansas), UCLA (at USC), North Carolina (at Miami), Florida State (at Georgia Tech; at Syracuse) and Oregon (at Colorado) all took defeats last week. With so much chaos among the top tier of the poll, the corresponding result is that not very much actually changed — six of the top seven are still within that range. New #1 Gonzaga is the clear beneficiary, but with a number of teams behind the Bulldogs awaiting a slip-up, the top of the RTC25 might yet have several more residents by the end of the season.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Handicapping the Midseason Battle for the #1 Seeds

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 20th, 2017

The College Football Playoff has caught a lot of flak for a system that rewards four teams in an environment where five power conference champions all feel that they are deserving. The NCAA Tournament with its 68 teams is obviously a lot more inclusive, but the pursuit of the four top seeds shares some of the flaws of the football system. College basketball features a less defined definition of its power conferences, but depending on your opinion of the Big East and American, our landscape features a minimum of six power conference champions which presumably would have a shot at the top line. On top of that, there are always a handful of mid-majors capable of having a stake in selection of the #1 seeds. With the American sitting at eighth in the RPI this season, Cincinnati would likely need to run the table for a chance at a top seed, an unlikely outcome. That leaves seven entrants, loosely defined to include conferences, for only four spots. Let’s examine each in turn.

Are Wisconsin fans gearing up for a possible #1 seed? (Photo by David Stluka)

  • Big Ten. Thanks to a pair of unexpected swoons by Indiana and Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin seem to be the only Big Ten teams with a semi-realistic chance of making a run at a #1 seed. However, the margin of error is already thin for both. The Boilermakers have four reasonable losses with wins over Notre Dame and Wisconsin, while the Badgers’ likely best win came at Assembly Hall against a struggling group of Hoosiers. It would be difficult to imagine that these resumes could turn into top-seed material by March. The Big Ten’s best teams appear to have suffered too many hiccups before conference play and are now slowly cannibalizing themselves into the lower seed lines.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Nine

Posted by Walker Carey on January 16th, 2017

Another action-packed week of college basketball is in the books and with it came a change at the top of this week’s RTC25. Previously top-ranked Baylor relinquished its ranking after suffering its first setback of the season in a 89-68 blowout loss at #7 West Virginia. The Bears rebounded from that loss over the weekend with a solid 77-68 victory at Kansas State. That allowed #1 Villanova to regain the top spot after a week in which the Wildcats dominated #22 Xavier in a 25-point home victory and earned a 70-57 road victory against St. John’s. Jay Wright’s team has a couple of winnable home games this week as it hosts Seton Hall on Monday and Providence on Saturday, but you should know by now that it is not very wise in college basketball to view any conference game as a sure thing. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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A Closer Look at Washington’s Markelle Fultz

Posted by Luke Byrnes on December 8th, 2016

The game of basketball has changed dramatically over the last few decades. The three-point shot has become a significant offensive piece rather than an afterthought, “small-ball” lineups have become en vogue at every level of basketball, and youth has taken over. With these changes have come a different type of NBA prospect — someone like Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz. Considered the likely overall No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by many, Fultz has great length (6’4″ with a 6’9” wingspan), silky smooth athleticism, and is extremely skilled — all characteristics that coincide with the evolution of the game toward players that transcend position. And Fultz does just that. The point guard is shooting 50.8 percent from the field, including a scorching 48.5 percent from three-point range, while averaging 23.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. On Wednesday night, Fultz’s Huskies renewed their cross-state rivalry — which had fallen dormant for nearly a decade — with #8 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs quickly ran away from his team and, for the better part of the game, the only drama in the McCarthey Center swirled around whether Fultz would put on display the skill set that has propelled him to the top of nearly every mock draft.

Markelle Fultz (USA Today Images)

If You Didn’t Watch Last Night, You Missed One of Your Few Opportunities to See Markelle Fultz on National Television (USA Today Images)

Well… Yes and no. 

Fultz, like the rest of the Dawgs, got off to a slow start. The superstar freshman made just two of his first eight shots and finished the first half with six points (3-of-14 FG) as Washington trailed 47-22 at the break. Despite his shooting struggles, Fultz showed that he is equally capable of affecting a game without scoring. He grabbed seven first half rebounds, including four offensive, and also logged one blocked shot and a steal. The point guard who is the presumptive #1 pick couldn’t buy a bucket and played a half without a single assist?  Well, yes, but… as poorly as Fultz shot in the first half, his teammates didn’t exactly pick up the slack or capitalize on the scoring opportunities created by their floor general’s playmaking and rebounding. The rest of the Huskies combined to shoot 21.4 percent from the field before halftime, repeatedly missing layups and open jumpers. Fultz still put his well-rounded skill set on display by consistently getting into the lane, mostly going to his right, using a deceptively quick first step and finishing with 10 rebounds. 

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The Extremely Tough Road Mids Face in Earning #1 Seeds

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 7th, 2016

A quick glance at the top of the college basketball rankings reveals that blue-bloods roam the landscape. Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky and defending champion Villanova all currently inhabit the top 10. For a mid-major school, the path to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is fraught with so many hurdles that it may seem all impossible. This is certainly not a new development, of course, as 37 of the last 40 top seeds in the Big Dance came from a power conference — the exceptions were Wichita State (2014), Gonzaga (2013) and Memphis (2008). Those three teams from the Missouri Valley Conference, West Coast Conference and Conference USA, respectively, entered the NCAA Tournament with a combined record of 98-3, and their three losses came to teams with an average KenPom ranking of #32. Furthermore, each of those non-power conference top seeds played a top-40 non-conference schedule.

Wichita State Parlayed a Perfect Regular Season into a #1 Seed in 2014

Wichita State Parlayed a Perfect Regular Season into a #1 Seed in 2014. (Getty)

The point of this is to show that mid-majors can most certainly earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but their margin for error is next to nothing — the recipe seems to involve running the regular season table or suffering a maximum of one loss. This year’s crop of teams constituting the elite of the non-power conferences is made up of three excellent teams. There are significant barriers to entry, but each of the three has at least a respectable chance of joining the top line conversation on Selection Sunday if their regular season goes exceptionally well. Let’s examine what each team must do to get there.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga is the obvious choice if any mid-major this season has designs on a #1 seed. The Zags are currently #6 in the RPI and already have good-not-great wins over likely NCAA Tournament teams Arizona, San Diego State, Florida and Iowa State. With non-conference games still to come against power conference foes Washington and Tennessee, Gonzaga will have a case to make to the committee on Selection Sunday. An unbeaten regular season that would necessarily include at least two wins over St. Mary’s (currently #3 RPI) could put Mark Few‘s team into contention for a coveted top seed. A one-loss Bulldogs team would have a much tougher time given a non-conference schedule that rates weaker than years past and all the firepower at the top of the polls this season, so anything less than perfection probably means a ceiling of a #2 seed for the Zags.

 

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 5th, 2016

Another week of college hoops is in the books, and a few teams last week demonstrated they will be reckoned with during the rest of the season. #4 UCLA, behind a terrific offensive attack, earned the most impressive victory of the young season when it left Rupp Arena on Saturday with a 97-92 victory over #8 Kentucky. That defeat at the hands of the Bruins marked the first time the Wildcats have lost in Lexington since the 2013-14 season. #5 Baylor likewise continued its dream start to the season with a dominant 76-61 win over #12 Xavier. In only the first week of December, the Bears already have an excellent profile with victories over #10 Louisville, #20 Oregon and the formerly top-10 Musketeers. #7 Gonzaga also bolstered its flawless record last week, earning a 69-62 neutral site win over #23 Arizona. The Bulldogs are benefiting from the return of big man Przemek Karnowski, who missed all but five games last season with a back injury. The college basketball season is definitely a marathon where things can change on a nightly basis, but it sure seems like the Bruins, Bears and Bulldogs are in great position to succeed all season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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It’s a Make or Break Week for the Pac-12

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 30th, 2016

After a sizzling opening weekend followed by some Feast Week struggles, the Pac-12 finds itself facing a potential do or die week in terms of its national perception. Three teams will be front and center this week under the bright lights of ESPN and CBS, and after 71 games and even with all of December left, chances are it will be this week’s main events that set the tone for the Pac-12 come March. Part of the concentration on these games stems from factors out of the league’s control. Oregon’s injury issues have left it a shell of the team most expected it to be come March — the Ducks have already dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown without the services of Dillon Brooks (and have looked shaky even with him back). While the committee will factor Oregon’s injuries into its analysis, that doesn’t help the Pac-12’s overall profile. And that brings us to this week, starting this evening on the Peninsula.

St. Mary’s at Stanford: Wednesday 11/30 8:00 PM PT (Pac-12 Bay Area)

So far, so good for Jerod Haase and Stanford. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Jerod Haase and Stanford have a monster week ahead of them, including a trip to Haase’s alma mater where dreams tend to fade. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Not only is the Pac-12 counting on Stanford — the team picked to finish 10th in the league standings this season — but the Cardinal actually have two games with national ramifications this week. First, Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s bunch (11th nationally, per KenPom) comes to Maples Pavilion tonight. The Gaels may not yet be a nationally-renowned name, but they drilled Stanford last season and will be a contender in a league (WCC) that has been quite the thorn in the side of the Pac-12 in recent years. This is one of two big Pac-12/WCC showdowns this week, and while it’s definitely the undercard, it’s still a big game for both teams and conferences.

UCLA at Kentucky: Saturday 12/3 9:30 AM PT (CBS)

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