Last March, they were college basketball’s flavor of the month. This season, the Wichita State Shockers may be spending more than just a few weeks as the taste of the town. With Tuesday night’s 72-67 victory over Alabama now in the books, there’s nothing but clear skies and smooth sailing ahead for Gregg Marshall’s team. Old MVC foil Creighton is now competing in the Big East, and with a concluding schedule that features just one current top-100 team, the prospects of a WSU perfect regular season may have just bounded over that line separating dreams from reality. The Shockers should be favorites, and usually heavy ones, in every one of its contests from here on out. But all that isn’t to say that Wichita State is likely to complete this monumental task. No historian is needed to examine the case of 2012 Murray State; those Racers could tell you how owning a loss-column “0” makes February wins that much more of a chore. Opposing teams play harder, their fans cheer louder, and all the while, the national spotlight grows ever brighter. So, no the job won’t be easy. But pair a tough, talented Shockers team with that manageable remaining schedule, and you at least give the laser-focused Marshall a shot at steering them through unblemished.
Gregg Marshall’s Team Improved To 11-0 With A Win In Tuscaloosa Tuesday Night. Don’t Hold Your Breath — It Might Be Awhile Before Anyone Messes With The Shockers’ Perfect Start.
If Wichita State ends up being the last team chasing perfection, and Jameer Nelson and his 2004 St. Joe’s team also happens to take their cues from the 1972 Miami Dolphins, then here are the three dates that appear most primed for a Hawks’ champagne party.
January 11 at Missouri State
The Bears failed to show off on Tuesday night, losing 90-60 at Louisville, but they won’t be the last team this season to depart the Yum! Center humbled. Paul Lusk’s team is still 8-2 on the year, and with five eminently winnable games of their own before January 11, they could easily enter this Saturday night date with the Shockers laced with momentum. The Bears were picked to finish fourth in the MVC preseason poll and have done little wrong to this point, but this would stand as a significantly bigger upset than the two games listed below.
The 2013-14 college basketball season is off to a great start. We’ve seen a good number of upsets, buzzer-beaters and down-to-the-wire games. Yet all this fun is just a prelude to those glorious three weeks in late March and early April. For a majority of the O26, reaching the NCAA Tournament is most of the battle. Those teams spend their seasons attempting to build a resume that will stand out when compared to other bubble teams on Selection Sunday. While it’s only about a month into the season, it’s never too early to start reviewing resumes from projected bubble teams. Let’s start with 10 of them.
Note: Since we’re limiting this to projected bubble teams, let’s leave off Gonzaga, VCU, New Mexico and Massachusetts for now. We can always revisit them later should they slide into bubble territory. UNLV is also out until the Runnin’ Rebels can climb above .500.
Belmont boosted its at-large resume with a shocking win at UNC. (chapelboro.com)
Good wins: UNC, Indiana State (for bubble purposes)
Bad losses: None
Thoughts: Belmont is the Ohio Valley Conference favorite, but should the Bruins falter they can always hang their hat on that great road win at North Carolina. The victory against Indiana State is nice too, considering both teams could find themselves on the bubble. The Bruins’ losses are to VCU and Richmond, with the latter hurting a little bit. Belmont gets a shot at Kentucky and another contest against Indiana State later this month to help boost its resume. Belmont sits at #21 in the way-too-early RPI rankings, and that’s sure to drop once conference play rolls around. Is an undefeated run to the OVC title game enough to get the Bruins an at-large?
Projected seed for now: #12
Boise State (8-1)
Good wins: None
Bad losses: None
Thoughts: Boise State missed a chance at a resume-making win on Tuesday night at Kentucky, falling 70-55. Nobody can fault the Broncos for that loss, nor will be it hurt them at any point. Had Boise State won, the selection committee basically could have considered the Broncos in the field barring a disastrous MW campaign. A game against Saint Mary’s awaits Saturday before a rugged 18-game league slate.
David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Lipscomb and Belmont in Nashville.
When he lost his three leading scorers to graduation, including standout guards Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark, many assumed that Belmont coach Rick Byrd would see his team take a step back from last year’s OVC championship squad. But this is Rick Byrd, and rebuilding at this point in the program’s existence is no longer a concern. As evidenced by Sunday’s win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, his latest group is once again likely the team to beat in the OVC, and a return to the Big Dance for the seventh time in nine seasons appears to be a distinct possibility.
Rick Byrd Has One of the Most Consistently Good Mid-Major Programs Going
On Wednesday night, the Bruins backed up their win over the Tar Heels with a resounding 94-64 thumping of cross-town rival Lipscomb in the season’s second “Battle of the Boulevard,” giving Belmont its NCAA-best 22nd consecutive home win. And in getting off to a strong start that includes not only the North Carolina win, but also a home victory over an Indiana State team that crushed Notre Dame in South Bend, Byrd’s squad is proving that it has simply reloaded. Now led in the backcourt by the solid duo of Reece Chamberlain and Craig Bradshaw, both of whom saw valuable minutes last season, Belmont relies on a stronger front line than it had last season. J.J. Mann, whom Byrd recently called one of the hardest workers and most competitive players he’s coached, proved his mettle by hitting the game-winning three against North Carolina. The senior forward looks poised to lead the Bruins in scoring this season, and his role as a vocal leader has increased with the departure of Johnson and Clark.
Pitt News: Great article from a couple of weeks ago from Pittsburgh student Jasper Wilson, who spent some time with Panther alumnus Ricardo Greer. Greer was a star (though he took a backseat role to All-American Brandin Knight his senior season), who graduated in 2001. Now Greer plays basketball in France, where he’s played the majority of his professional career. Wilson does a great job illuminating Greer’s life with the boons and challenges that come with playing basketball in Europe. Really great work.
Run the Floor: Suffice to say Boston College‘s season hasn’t opened the way Steve Donahue planned. The Eagles are 1-4. Their one win came by three, at home against a bad Florida Atlantic team (the same team Duke beat by more than thirty points). Their losses are all to decent teams (Providence, Massachusetts, and Toledo), but decent losses don’t help your RPI–especially home losses against Toledo. Donahue’s team may just be taking some time to come together, but their performances are starting to look eerily consistent.
CBSSports.com: Gary Parrish thinks that Lebron’s Decision influenced consensus top-five recruits Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor in their decision to pick a school together. It’s an interesting idea, and I think it also applies to the super-classes that John Calipari has strung together. Jones and Okafor chose Duke, giving the Blue Devils the top class in the country for next season. Consensus top-ranked prospect Okafor, a back to the basket center, will give Mike Krzyzewski his most skilled big since at least Carlos Boozer (and possibly Elton Brand).
Tar Heel Blog and One Foot Down: A couple of ranked teams got embarrassed this weekend. Lathan’s article from Friday looks especially prescient after North Carolina lost to Belmont at home. The Tar Heels went a shocking 22-48 from the free throw line, which certainly contributed to their loss. But they also choked up a six-point lead in the final minutes thanks to some hot shooting from Belmont. Notre Dame also lost at home to Indiana State (the first November loss of Mike Brey’s tenure) thanks to putrid offense and absolutely nothing from its backcourt. [side note: Syracuse also produced an abhorrent free throw line this weekend, putting up the old 12-28 from the charity stripe]
Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia‘s loss to VCU raised a lot of questions about the team’s ability to close games. Yes, Tony Bennett is playing an inexperienced point guard, but that’s no excuse for letting any game close on a 10-1 run. After the game, Bennett noted that his team needed to be mentally stronger (quoting Bob Knight in the process). Unfortunately, mental strength won’t cause a shot-creator to appear. Joe Harris is one of the best players in the ACC, but he’s not a guy that will break you down at the end of the shot clock. He has to find a way to be more effective (probably drawing a foul on a drive into the lane) because Virginia won’t come close to it’s potential if it continues playing like it did against the Rams.
We have no idea what is going through P.J. Hairston‘s head these days, but whatever it is it is not good. The beleaguered (we can use that word at this point, right?) North Carolina guard was suspended indefinitely on Sunday night after receiving a citation for speeding and reckless driving on Saturday afternoon. Hairston was reportedly pulled over in a 2008 Acura TL driving 93 mph in a 65 mph zone. Hariston, who has been under public scrutiny since a June arrest for possession of marijuana with a gun assigned to nobody that the legal system in North Carolina is apparently comfortable sweeping under the rug, has been under “investigation” for his dealings with Haydn “Fats” Thomas, but has managed to escape any punishment until last night. Our definition of punishment may differ from what Roy Williams has in mind as Hairston still has until October for Midnight Madness and November when regular season games start. We keep on saying this, but at some point it would appear that Roy needs to cut ties with Hairston or risk incurring punishment for the program down the road. If he decides to keep Hairston it will be interesting to see how long he sits Hairston given their early-season schedule.
TCU got a big boost on Friday when the NCAA cleared incoming freshman Karviar Shepherd to play this season. Shepherd had been waiting to hear from the NCAA regarding his eligibility because of questions regarding his academics at Prime Prep Academy, but apparently whatever paperwork was submitted was good enough for the NCAA to sign off on him. Shepherd may not be one of the nation’s elite incoming recruits (77th in ESPN’s rankings), but the addition of a 6’10” center should be a welcome addition for a Horned Frog program that finished last in the Big 12 last season.
Late July might seem like a strange time to rework a college basketball coach’s contract, but that is what Loyola (IL) did as it extended Porter Moser through the 2017-18 season. We typically are a little bit leery of extending young coaches who just finished their second season (particularly if we are not aware of them being hot names for coaching vacancies), but Moser has done a nice job helping turn around the Ramblers who went 15-16 last season after going 7-23 in his first season. Of course some of this could be due to the increased maturity of his squad, which still ranks among the youngest in Division I. However, with 10 players returning this season and a new contract extension the pressure will be on Moser to perform soon.
When we heard that Indiana State was building an on-campus statue for Larry Bird our first reaction was to wonder what took so long. Bird, who led the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA Championship Game, will reportedly be in attendance as he will be honored with a 15-foot statute before the team’s first game of the season against Ball State on November 9. While there are certainly more iconic college basketball players we doubt that there is anybody who is intimately associated with a school as Bird is with Indiana State. With the relative resurgence the Sycamore program has seen in recent years it should be a nice added boost for the team to have the greatest player in the program’s history return to kick off their home opener.
It has been 10 years since Lefty Driesell officially coached, but he made a return to the sidelines on Saturday to coach a team of former Maryland players in what is essentially a legends basketball league. Over the years supporters of Driesell have expressed their displeasure with how the school has treated his legacy in comparison to that of Gary Williams so it was nice to hear that Driesell is still associating himself with the school even if some of his supporters are still angry. We are rapidly approaching 30 years since Driesell last coached at Maryland so we are not sure that he will ever get his due there, but those who have actually followed the game and do not have an agenda are well aware of his contributions to the game and the school.
Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC correspondent. He’ll cover the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis through Sunday.
Three Key Takeaways.
Revenge Win For Creighton: A month ago, the Bluejays got spanked in Terre Haute. Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said after Friday’s quarterfinal win that the 76-57 margin was probably an anomaly, but it was by far Creighton’s worst loss of the season. On Saturday, Doug McDermott single-handedly decided to avenge that defeat in the first half of the MVC Tournament quarterfinals. McDermott finished with 25 points, scoring 15 in the first 11 minutes of the game to open up an enormous lead and essentially end the game before it even began. He drilled his first five three-pointers en route to a 5-of-6 mark from beyond the arc — incidentally, the only trey he missed was a wide open look from the corner, probably the best shot he got all day. Didn’t matter. McDermott paced the Bluejays during that dominant first half, and a superb defensive effort by the Bluejays forced the Sycamores to shoot 26.5 percent from the floor.
Defense, Defense, Defense: Indiana State settled for contested jumpers early and often. They weren’t falling. The Sycamores shot 1-of-13 from three-point range, and star point guard Jake Odum was ineffective after a modest quarterfinal performance against Evansville and all-world defender Troy Taylor. His match-up wasn’t as difficult today, but he attempted only three shots (1-of-3 for five points) and dished out only three assists against four turnovers. Simply put, he didn’t control the game like he usually did, and the Sycamores couldn’t drain a shot to save their lives. Credit Creighton for committing to the defensive end, the one area they’re endlessly criticized for by every national media outlet.
Sealing the Bid: There was little to no doubt Creighton would make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large before Saturday’s semifinal. You can eliminate even the word “little” now. If they weren’t a lock already, the Bluejays avoided a somewhat questionable loss and will now be playing for pride in the MVC title game on Sunday. Not that pride’s a bad thing or won’t mean anything, of course. Expect Creighton to come out rolling again in its attempt to capture a second straight Arch Madness championship.
Doug McDermott Will Go for an MVC Title Sunday (ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD)
Star of the Game: Doug McDermott cooled off a bit after a scorching start in the first half, but it didn’t matter. By the time he’d scored 15 points, the game was already over. He did his damage from beyond the arc today and killed Indiana State with his vintage pick-and-pop. The Sycamores kept losing him on the screens, and coach Greg Lansing even decided in the huddle to switch all screens. Oddly enough, it seemed to work on the very next possession, denying McDermott another open look. But it wasn’t nearly enough to slow the All-American for the rest of the game, as he cruised to 25 points and nine rebounds. He missed only two shots all day, for pete’s sake.
Sights and Sounds: During Doug McDermott’s postgame interview with Fox Sports Net, the loud and proud Creighton faithful broke out in a simple, three-word chant: “One More Year! One More Year!” That’s not the first time the chant has occurred, nor will it be the last. They’ll chant that until the day Creighton’s eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, when McDermott must make a decision about his immediate future. Neither he nor his father will say anything about that decision-making process, but if he calls it a career after three years at Creighton, it was certainly a pleasure to watch him in the blue and white. By the way, on Friday, he became the Bluejays’ all-time leading scorer. Who knows how long he’ll add to his record?
Tonight’s Lede. Because Big Ten Upsets Come In Pairs. Right when the Big Ten churns out one massive upset, number one Indiana’s four-point loss at Minnesota Tuesday night, the league got bored, went back to the drawing board, and said – in the most demonic voice possible – hey, Michigan, your time has come. The Wolverines went down on the road, at the house of a traditional basketball doormat, and on most nights, that story in itself would block out the rest of the night’s schedule. Not so – the Michigan loss was merely an icebreaker for a long and thorough evening of big-time matchups. Your humble nightly ATB writer compiled a sampling of the biggest headlines. Alas:
Your Watercooler Moment. A Very Happy Valley.
The conciliatory retort to any mildly surprising loss in the Big Ten season has gone a little something like this: it’s ok to lose on the road in the Big Ten, because you know how hard those Big Ten road games are, right? Wednesday night’s shocking result in Happy Valley, where Penn State won its first conference game in 18 tries after a blistering 15-point second-half comeback, was a huge exception. Most road games are difficult to win in this league, no question; from Mackey Arena to the Crisler Center to the Barn, the Big Ten lays claim to some of the nation’s most raucous campus environments. Teams lose, like Indiana at Minnesota, and it’s tough to get too caught up in the result. Any team in this uber-deep league can rip off a big upset win on any given night, it is widely and frequently said. We would have been rolling out the same logic had Michigan lost at, say, Illinois or Minnesota. Instead, the Wolverines elected – willfully or not – to suffer their worst loss of the season against the worst team in their league. And the weird part is, the final score really isn’t that crazy at all. To the passive onlooker, yes, Michigan had no business losing this game. But for anyone who paid mind to Penn State’s eight-point loss (ahem, moral victory) at the Crisler Center just 10 days ago, seeing Michigan bite the dust at State College was insane, but it wasn’t some Kansas-TCU-level revolution. The point in all of this is not to disparage Penn State by way of condemning the unlikelihood of Michigan’s loss. The Wolverines have some real issues to sort out in the final weeks, particularly on the defensive end. With two of their final three games coming against Michigan State and Indiana, Michigan needs to shake this off, address whatever issues ailed them at PSU and rally for an important concluding schedule in advance of what’s shaping up to be an utterly chaotic Big Ten Tournament.
Also worth Chatting About.Pac-12 Competitiveness.
A league bereft of depth and quality last season is on the improving (AP).
Unlike the 2012 version, this year’s Pac 12 is sort of ok. In fact, it’s more more than that. The league could, believe it or not, birth as many as six NCAA Tournament squads this season. Four of those Tournament hopefuls took the court Wednesday night, and the most significant result (Arizona’s loss at USC) is probably something we should have suspected all along. USC has won five of its past seven without fired coach Kevin O’Neill and are quietly playing their best basketball of the season; meanwhile, Arizona’s last three road games, including tonight’s loss, read as follows: a blowout loss at Colorado, a four-point win at Utah and a loss at USC. In other words, the Wildcats’ squeaky road ways were a dangerous way to life live in the Pac 12. In the other two marquee P12 games of the night, UCLA held serve against Arizona State and Colorado hung tough and gutted out a road win at Stanford. Most of these teams, with a few exceptions at the bottom, are competitively intriguing, and Wednesday night was the latest example. Not even the possibly one-seed bound Wildcats are safe against the likes of a middling if inspired USC. The league may not be great at the top — much like every power league this season, there truly is no “dominant team” — but the considerable growth in the middle regions has added substantial girth to a conference that sent just one at-large team to the NCAA Tournament last season and saw its regular season crownholder, Washington, miss the field altogether. Change is undeniable. The preeminent western conference is back on its feet, and the on-court product it doles out keeps getting better and better as the season closes in on the most crucial stretch.
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s Bracketbuster game between Iona and Indiana State. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.
Iona and Indiana State met in Terre Haute on Saturday to kick off the final day of the final Bracketbusters event. Both teams entered the contest struggling quite a bit. The Gaels had posted just a 1-4 record in February and in the process, had dropped into a fifth-place tie in the MAAC standings. Sitting at 15-12 overall and 9-7 in conference play, Iona does have star power in senior guard Momo Jones and junior guard Sean Armand. Despite its star power, the team has really struggled in close games – all of its last five losses have been by three or fewer points. Just two weeks ago, Indiana State was a legitimate candidate to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Sycamores have been in a tailspin ever since, dropping winnable road games to Missouri State and Bradley and losing at home to a Wichita State team that the Sycamores defeated on the road last month. With one team having to get back on the winning track, Indiana State defeated Iona 65-64 in what was a tight battle until the final buzzer. The following are three thoughts from Saturday’s action.
Indiana State is Slipping Off the Bubble, But Got the Win Today
Despite This Season’s Struggles, Tim Cluess Certainly Has Iona Going In The Right Direction. In his first three seasons as the leader of the Gaels, Cluess has posted a 65-33 record, which is quite impressive when you consider the program won just 12 games four seasons ago. In his inaugural campaign, Cluess led his team to 25 victories and all the way to the CIT Final. Last season, the Gaels also won 25 games, but this time earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament where the team was eliminated by BYU in a heartbreaker. New Rochelle, N.Y. is not exactly a location many recruits covet, but Cluess has been able to build on the success of his predecessor, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, and transform the program into one that will be consistently battling for the MAAC title and NCAA Tournament bids. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight’s Lede. Fun, Fun Night Of Hoops.The night began with a top-five match-up of seismic proportions. Indiana-Michigan State didn’t just have conference bragging rights on the line, nor was it just another hard-fought Big Ten game. It was arguably the biggest regular season game in any league this season, and it fully met the wildly attendant expectations. That game, and its crazy finish, will dominate Tuesday night’s headlines, but the schedule was flush with intriguing fixtures. Were there a stat for nightly scheduling intrigue efficiency, Tuesday night – with its stable of appealing match-ups and only 30 total games – would set the bar awfully high.
Your Watercooler Moment. No. 1 Has Arrived, I Think.
Excluding last season’s Kentucky win, there’s an argument to be made that beating Michigan State on the road is the most important victory of Crean’s IU tenure to date (Photo credit: AP Photo).
Another grand referendum on the nation’s No. 1 team, one of many in a season defined by near-constant alpha-dog flux, took place in East Lansing on Tuesday night. In this year’s revolving door of number ones, over the past two weeks Indiana had looked as sure a thing on top of the polls as Duke, back when the Blue Devils were smiting elite non-conference foes with Ryan Kelly in the lineup and Mason Plumlee leading the NPOY chase. The Hoosiers were good, and no one was going to question that. Whether they could maintain their grip on the top spot through Tuesday night, where a physical, deep, hard-nosed, trademark Izzo MSU stood on the brink of a major national breakthrough, was the ultimate test of No. 1 worthiness. Winning at Ohio State earlier this month was probably Indiana’s best win at that point in time, but because it came three days after a two-point loss at Illinois, no one could be completely sure exactly how the Hoosiers would handle their next huge road challenge. Now we know. The details of the game – Victor Oladipo’s tireless two-way contributions, Jordan Hulls’ three-point shooting, Cody Zeller standing tall against MSU’s bruising bigs – are just as important as the implications, I’d wager, because not only is Indiana now the clear-cut favorite to win the conference title and claim a number-one seed. It also earned itself the inside track on a highly desired spot at the Lucas Oil Stadium NCAA Tournament regional hosting site in Indianapolis. And for as long and as unstable as that fuzzy No. 1 label has felt all season, for as many weeks and words we’ve spent debating the topic, Tuesday night brought some finality to the matter. I’m willing to go ahead and throw it out there (with the caveat that IU could lose their last game of the season at Michigan): Indiana is the best team in the country.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Move Over A-10 Newbies. For much of this confusing and utterly mystifying A-10 season, that would seem like a totally unreasonable claim to make. Butler and VCU had taken the league by storm, each with a unique stylistic strength. VCU had its smothering press and turnover-prying defense, whereas Butler had toughness and Rotnei Clarke and — let’s just be honest — a coach with the prime time chops to elicit the very best from his team against bigger, stronger and more talented opposition. Saint Louis has something else. It has the extra emotive urge to give everything and anything on any given night for fallen coach Rick Majerus. Aside from a two-game losing streak in mid-January, the Billikens are unbeaten since Majerus passed away. But Saint Louis has a lot more than an emotional drive to win in Majerus’ honor. The Billikens have held opponents to fewer points per trip (0.90 PPP) in conference play than any other A-10 squad, and scored more than all but one of them. They stomped VCU at home Tuesday night, nearly three weeks removed from delivering the same brutal treatment upon Butler. This team, who in beating the Rams jumped into first place in the conference standings, is just as good as any shiny new toy the A-10 inherited as part of this past summer’s realignment add-on. Read the rest of this entry »
The Weekend’s Lede. A Not So Special Weekend. Not every Saturday is a jam-packed day of must-see top-25 matchups and earth-shattering upsets. This season has deluded us otherwise with an immaculate set of weekend slates, so when you get a day like this Saturday, where – with a few exceptions; college basketball is never actually boring – big-time matchups are hard to come by, disappointment is inevitable. This weekend was not as fun as most in 2013, but at this point in the season, as teams labor for resume points and RPI upgrades, most every game is hugely important. A multitude of teams either buttressed or damaged their NCAA hopes, while others remained in neutral. If those general descriptions aren’t enough (and, really, they shouldn’t be) follow along to get the all the gritty details.
Your Watercooler Moment. Terps Talk The Talk.
Must-win is a fuzzy qualifier this time of year. Can any game honestly be termed a “must” when the conference Tournament always providing a final safety net? What if the bubble unexpectedly softens up, and your previously unqualified resume starts trending in the right direction by virtue of other teams’ misfortunes? Those are always possibilities, sure, but you never want to rely on other teams crafting your NCAA Tournament fate. So Maryland took control of its own by picking up its biggest win of the season over No. 2 Duke Saturday, a win it sorely needed (there, I said it) after an uninspiring 11-point home loss to Virginia last week seemed to suck dry the final remnants of its improbable at-large hopes. The Terrapins have been one of the biggest disappointments in the ACC this season. After loudly and persistently clamoring for national poll recognition throughout November and December based on a gaudy 13-1 record that lacked anything resembling a good win, the Terrapins dropped five of their first eight ACC games, including a three-point home defeat to Florida State. Mark Turgeon’s eminently talented team – Dez Wells and Alex Len are surefire pros, and the complementary pieces are credible assets – looked vastly underprepared (or overrated) for the rigors of ACC play, the Terrapins’ Tournament hopes were evaporating and that hot start UM fans eulogized throughout the nonconference season felt like nothing more than a schedule-crafted mirage. With the exception of a home win over NC State, Maryland had basically played its way out of national relevancy. Canning the Blue Devils will help; storming the court is always fun, right? And I’d love to pencil Maryland in for an at-large berth, or at least provide some assurance with a comforting percentage projection. I just can’t, and I won’t, because I don’t know what to expect from this team in its final six conference games. The next four (at Boston College, Clemson, at Georgia Tech, and at Wake Forest) have to be wins. Get through this stretch, and the Terrapins could (could, not will) be inching toward tourney inclusion.
Your Second Watercooler Moment. Big East Movement.
The Golden Eagles are on the rise in the Big East (Photo credit: AP Photo).
At the outset of Big East play, it was easy to look at Marquette and Georgetown and see two good but flawed teams. The Golden Eagles run one of the most efficient offenses in the Big East; even after losing Darius Johnson Odom and Jae Crowder, Buzz Williams’ team gets the most out of every possession by leveraging the superb interior precision of Davante Gardner and the intuitive creativity of Junior Cadougan. The only problem? Marquette isn’t nearly as good on the other end of the floor(The Golden Eagles ranked eighth in the Big East in defensive efficiency heading into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh). The Hoyas are the complete opposite of Marquette: they play top-five efficiency defense, but rank just inside the top-100 in offense. Offense-defense splits are not uncommon – most teams are demonstrably better at scoring or preventing points. Only the elite of the elite can master both. But as we enter the final five or six games of conference competition, the Golden Eagles and Hoyas (along with Syracuse) find themselves on top of one of the most competitive leagues in the country. How exactly did they get there? The most recent set of results shows Marquette handling Pittsburgh at home Saturday and Georgetown delivering another home loss to Cincinnati (its fifth of the season) Friday night, but both have been playing steady if not spectacular hoops for most of the league schedule. Marquette and Georgetown butted heads last week, with the Hoyas’ superior defense besting Marquette’s superior offense. Which team reaches a higher perch on the Big East pecking order by season’s end, I don’t know. Based on last week’s outcome and empirical results from over the weekend, I’ll cast my lot with Georgetown and that suffocating defense.