Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2014
Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game on Wednesday night saw what could have been the dunk of the season from Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes almost went full “Deandre Jordan on Brandon Knight” in his missed dunk attempt over preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, causing the preseason All-American to take to Twitter after the game to talk about how the dunk “would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.” This led to a very lighthearted exchange between the two players that you can read here. It’s nice to see two great players who both hail from Chicago being supportive and recognizing the skills that each of them possesses.
Many of us here at the microsite had written off Indiana after a tumultuous offseason, but after their 74-68 win over #22 SMU in Bloomington last night, we may need to reevaluate this group. Freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. led the way with 26 points. This game also marked the return of three players from their suspensions — Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Emmett Holt. What once looked like a bleak future for Tom Crean may be turning brighter thanks to the outstanding play of Blackmon Jr. — who has now proven he can play at a high level against nationally relevant teams. The freshman may singlehandedly pull the Hoosiers from the valley it found itself in just a couple weeks back.
In the midst of all the holiday tournaments going on either this weekend and next week, Michigan State announced that it will be part of the Wooden Legacy tournament next season. The other headliner in the field will be Arizona. Providence and Boise State also will be playing in Anaheim along with Boston College, Evansville, Santa Clara, and UC Irvine. The Spartans will lose two of their top three players from this year’s squad, but should return Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello next season.
It’s not always going to be pretty basketball, but if you’re into watching a player just go completely “Kobe” and chuck shot after shot, look no further than Penn State and D.J. Newbill. The prolific scorer put up 35 points on 33 shots in the Nittany Lions’ 97-106 double-overtime loss to Charlotte. Newbill had a chance to score the game winner with an open lane to the basket in the dwindling seconds of the first overtime, but it was blocked by Charlotte. The 35-point total was the most for a Penn State player since 1995, but without many other options on this team — especially with Tim Frazier graduated — look for more nights like these from Newbill. It’ll be entertaining if nothing else.
Maryland also struggled in its quest to stay undefeated, yet managed to pull away from Fordham to notch a win on Thursday night. Unlike Northwestern, their struggles were on the offensive end. This is what senior leader Dez Wells wanted however, as he spoke to wanting to see how the young team handled things when they weren’t hitting shots. They ended up winning this one on the defensive end, holding the Rams to only eight free throw attempts and to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. A game like this should help them, especially once conference play hits. They now know that they can still get a win even if things aren’t clicking on the offensive end of the court.
One of the Thursday night headliners will take place in Madison Square Garden where Iowa faces #10 Texas in the 2K Sports Classic. The Hawkeyes have gotten off to an impressive start by beating both their two opponents by an average of 32.5 points per game, but after last year’s late-season tanking, many are hesitant to jump back on the Iowa bandwagon. Fran McCaffery‘ssquad is without question a talented bunch, so the Longhorns present a November opportunity to gain back some of that trust. An win Thursday night means the Hawkeyes would have a top 10 win before December, something they couldn’t muster at all last season. Here are three keys to the game that Iowa will need to address if they’re going to pull off the upset.
Adam Woodbury will look to use his size against Texas’s big frontcourt on Thursday night
Use their size. It won’t be very often this season that Texas looks across the floor and sees a team that has more size than them, but that will be the case tonight against Iowa. Three of the Longhorns’ starters are listed at 6’8”, 6’9”, and 6’9”, while the Hawkeyes have three starters at 6’9”, 6’9”, and 7’1”. Iowa will need to use its size advantage in the frontcourt — especially with Adam Woodbury — to defend under the basket. Through two games, 35.6 percent of Texas’ total shots have come at the rim, and they have been extremely effective from this spot (76.2% FG). The Hawkeyes need to challenge every shot and dare the Longhorns to hit that same rate over the arms of their big guys.
We continue our preseason Big Ten rankings today with spots #9 through #5. The bottom tier of teams, #14 to #10, released earlier this week. These middle tier teams will be fighting to be on the right side of the bubble — and providing us with great drama — all season long.
What they do well: Defense.Mark Turgeon has had a top 40 squad in adjusted defensive efficiency the past couple seasons and it’ll likely be his area of focus once again.
What they don’t do well: Retention. Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, Nick Faust, Roddy Peters and Shaquille Cleare all transferred out of the program in the offseason — not exactly inconsequential players.
Dez Wells is one of the few familiar faces in College Park this year. (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)
Get to know: Melo Trimble. The top 40 recruit will need to use his offensive skill set to help replace all the lost scoring from last season.
Why they’ll finish 9th: The exodus of key players and unfamiliarity in the Big Ten will cause some very sharp growing pains for the Terrapins.
Why they’ll finish higher: This team still has talent and is used to playing top-notch competition. If they can get all their new pieces to gel together, they can compete in a relatively down Big Ten.
What they do well: Offense. Last season, the Hawkeyes were fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and they bring a majority of that roster back this year.
What they don’t do well: Mental toughness. Last season, Iowa wilted in close games against Villanova and Iowa State. Things really spiraled out of control at the end of the season when they lost seven of their last eight contests.
In 2011, the field for the NCAA Tournament was expanded from 64 to 68 teams, and the NCAA decided to call the first four games, played on the Tuesday and Wednesday following Selection Sunday, the “First Round” –thus creating the comical idea that some 60 teams receive byes into the second round. Everyone is wise to this, of course, and realizes the “First Four,” as the games are also named, are, in actuality, four “play-in” games. That year, upstart VCU snuck into one of the NCAA Tournament’s last four at-large spots, beat co-#11 seed USC in Dayton, and proceeded to win four more times in advancing to the school’s first Final Four. Since VCU’s historic run took place three seasons ago, it appears no team may be as well-equipped to duplicate the Rams’ feat as Tennessee this year. Prior to the season, the Volunteers were, in most places, considered a Top 25 team, and a shoo-in for the Big Dance. Things didn’t play out as expected, however, and Tennessee had to go 5-1 down the stretch – with the only loss coming to overall #1 seed Florida – to earn one of the last bids to the Tournament. Now that they’ve made the field, could this be the start of a run that could put all questions about Cuonzo Martin‘s job status to rest?
With Cuonzo Martin’s job maybe in jeopardy, a VCU-esque run would go a long way to solving that issue. (AP)
Based upon Tennessee’s recent play, which saw the Vols destroy its last four regular season opponents and South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament by an average of 23 points, and gave #1 Florida a great test before falling short, there is evidence to suggest it may be. The Volunteers are experienced, starting three seniors and two juniors, and talented, with two first-team all-SEC performers in guard Jordan McRae (18.6 PPG) and Jarnell Stokes (14.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG) — one of two SEC players to average a double-double this season. They also have another rebounding stalwart in fifth-year senior Jeronne Maymon, who missed the 2012-13 campaign as a result of microfracture surgery. Maymon has struggled to regain his form, but he has shown signs lately of regaining some of his old skill set. The bulk Tennessee has on the inside with Stokes and Maymon presents a significant challenge for each of its opponents.
As expected, the SEC earned only three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Top-ranked Florida and Kentucky have been locks for some time, and Tennessee secured its status with an impressive finish down the stretch. Based upon their finishes, it’s hard to argue that Missouri and Arkansas, both of which spent significant time on the bubble this year, deserved to get in. We look at how each of the three teams that did make it fared with their selections, and where they go from here.
Florida Gators (No. 1 seed, South Region)
The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title
Opening Round Opponent: The Gators, the overall No. 1 seed in the Tournament, open with the winner of the Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s First Four game in Dayton. It’s a safe bet that Florida won’t be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16.
Looking Ahead: With a win in the second round, Florida will face the winner of Colorado/Pittsburgh game in Orlando. The Gators will have a significant advantage playing in their own backyard, and should advance to the Sweet Sixteen. There, they should get VCU or UCLA, and a trip to the regional finals could involve a match-up against Kansas, Syracuse or Ohio State.
How Far Can They Go? A potential Elite Eight game with Kansas could be one of the NCAA Tournament’s best, though both teams have work to do before than they can think about that. The Gators have a favorable draw to the regional final, though UCLA could present a challenge if it gets to the Sweet Sixteen. Still, we think Florida plays good enough defense to emerge from this region, and the Gators should make the Final Four. We’d be foolish to the think the overall top seed in the Tournament, which has now won 26 consecutive games, can’t win it all.
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.
Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)
Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.
Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.
(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)
LOSER: Saint Louis
The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?
The last time Adreian Payne logged official game minutes was two weeks ago in Michigan State’s thrilling overtime victory against Ohio State. Since then, Payne has been sidelined due to a nagging ankle injury, and yet, his Spartan teammates have managed to go 3-0 in his absence. Although the senior big man feels like he can play if needed, Tom Izzo is thinking about the long term and will most likely keep him out again for tonight’s game against Indiana. According to Izzo, we won’t see the injured senior back in the lineup until the pain in his ankle has been significantly mitigated. The Spartans have managed without Payne thus far, but they have tough matchups against Michigan and Iowa coming up next and if they want to maintain their undefeated conference record, they need their big man back.
On Sunday, Iowa finally got the monkey off its back and beat Ohio State to get its first marquee win of the season. Any objective spectator or anyone who is familiar with advanced metrics knew that the Hawkeyes had been performing at high level throughout the season. Their only losses have been to Wisconsin, Villanova, and Iowa State: three teams that have been ranked in the top 10 at some point this season. But what their resume was missing was a win over a team where they were the underdog. That mission was accomplished on Sunday. ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan details how Iowa’s offense has been the important factor for this season’s success. With a significant win now added to their resume, Brennan makes the case that it’s now safe to let your guard down and trust in the Hawkeyes as a legitimate contender.
Things have really gone sour for Illinois since it broke into the AP Top 25 two weeks ago. Since that time, John Groce’s team has dropped four straight games, including one each against Northwestern and Purdue in games where it was favored. Suddenly, a team that looked like it was on its way to consecutive NCAA Tournaments appears in danger of finishing in the bottom third of the league. As a result, John Groce is looking for more consistency from his team. Specifically, he’d like to see their performance on defense and rebounding return to the level it was before the turn of the year. Groce is willing to play some of his younger players like Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill if it means more intensity on the court. However, the second-year head coach needs to fix things quickly since finding wins in the Big Ten will be increasingly difficult.
If there’s one thing we should take away from last weekend’s games, it’s that any preconceived notion of how things will develop in league play should be thrown out the window. A month ago, it looked like Michigan’s hopes of contending for another Big Ten championship were over based on their less-than-stellar non-conference play and the loss of Mitch McGary to injury. Despite these setbacks and their relative youth, the Wolverines are beginning to learn how to win games against upper echelon teams. Michigan reclaimed its position as a championship contender with Saturday’s win against Wisconsin which moved them into a 5-0 tie for first place with Michigan State. John Beilein will need to keep developing his team as the Wolverines have (statistically speaking) the most difficult schedule in the league.
And continuing the trend of outcomes which make no sense in the Big Ten, Indiana followed up its outstanding win against Wisconsin with a surprising loss to Northwestern at home over the weekend. Now the Hoosiers will have to regroup on the road in East Lansing to face a Michigan State team that destroyed them on in Bloomington two weeks ago. Although the Spartans will be without Adreian Payne, Tom Izzo did not need a big contribution from his big man in their last match-up. Instead, Tom Crean will be focused on stopping Gary Harris, who scored 26 points in the previous game. Lucky for the Hoosiers, the middle of the Big Ten is muddy enough where they can make up ground even if they lose to the Spartans. This season, an 8-10 record in league play may be good enough to get a team on the bubble.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 31st, 2013
The non-conference part of the season is finally over and so is our ongoing series of measuring Big Ten teams’ non-conference performance with their preseason expectations. We have continuously recorded the score for each team’s game and compared that performance to their preseason expected performance from KenPom.com. The table below displays our final performance statistics for each team during the non-conference season. It shows whether a team underperformed (marked in red) or overperformed (marked in green) in each of their games (G1 through G13), if they’ve underperformed or overperformed throughout the season (Average), their consistency (StDev), and the change in their long-term outlook (Record Diff). For additional context, feel free to check out the December 17, December 3, and November 18 versions of this analysis.
Here are our final takeaways from this analysis:
Iowa has been the most overperforming team this season. The Hawkeyes are no strangers to this spot of our analysis, as they’ve been the most overperforming team in each post of this series. Fran McCaffery has used his high-powered offense (ninth in adjusted offensive efficiency) and deep bench to blow out teams like UNC-Wilmington and Abilene Christian early in the season. In the Battle 4 Atlantis, they also had a successful run, falling just short of winning the championship against Villanova, but putting in an impressive showing nevertheless. As a result, they’ve overperformed by an average of 6.8 points per game. They’ve fallen back to earth a bit recently — not overperforming by more than five points in the last four games — but have still more than lived up to the hype placed upon them before the season. Read the rest of this entry »
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.
WINNER: Shabazz Napier
UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America’s top player, and being Who Won The Week’s top winner.
The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.
Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.
To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 8th, 2013
It’s been almost a decade since the Hawkeyes have had any preseason expectations. In those 10 years, Iowa chased away Steve Alford, a coach who enjoyed moderate success while at Iowa City, only to see him move on and have a successful run at New Mexico and subsequently take the head job at UCLA. Afterwards, they had to endure Todd Lickliter, who ushered in an era of hopelessness. Lickliter compiled the worst three-year record in Iowa history at 38-58. Aside from the losses, Iowa’s brand took a hit from dwindling attendance and rumors of player dissatisfaction with the coach. In 2010, they fired Lickliter and hired Fran McCaffery from Siena. Since then, McCaffery has steadily returned the program back to relevance. In his first season he won 11 games and has improved his record by seven wins the past two seasons. Now, coming off a year where the Hawkeyes went 25-13 and were NIT runners-up, the media and fans expect this squad in the NCAA Tournament come March. Anything less will be considered a disappointment and will ruin this comeback story.
Roy Devyn Marble leads an Iowa team that has expectations for the first time in almost a decade.
The Hawkeyes were extremely effective on defense, especially away from the basket. Last season, they held opponents to 91.2 points per 100 possessions (22nd in the country) and only allowed opponents to shoot 29.5 percent from both the three-point line and jumpers inside the arc. If there is an area in which they can improve, it would be their interior defense where opponents shot 62.2 percent at the rim. While the Hawkeyes gave up a high percentage of buckets from down low, they managed to prevent opponents from getting in the paint. Less than three out of every 10 of their opponents’ shots came at the rim. McCaffery has always been more of an offensive-minded coach, but with virtually every player coming back, there is no reason to think the defense will slip.
Ohio State has had its struggles this season, particularly in finding a consistent offensive threat outside of Deshaun Thomas. However, the Buckeyes have gone on a hot streak as of late — ironically, they’ve done it in a stretch when Thomas has struggled — and surged to grab the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Late-season surges such as this are nothing new under coach Thad Matta. As the Columbus Dispatch points out, Matta’s teams have won 15 consecutive games in the final week of the regular season, a streak that dates back to 2005. This year — as we’ve seen before — OSU is peaking at the right time, right before the “win and advance” portion of the season.
Finishing No. 8 in the country and getting a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament is quite the accomplishment, especially for a team that lost its leader and best player from last season. However, it’s not enough for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. MSU was on top of the conference a few weeks ago, but it lost two close games to Michigan and Indiana down the stretch, which ultimately kept the Spartans from winning the Big Ten regular season title. Not getting that championship is an extra incentive for Izzo and his team this weekend, as they try to claim a Big Ten Tournament championship. Not only that, but a run in Chicago would necessarily include some pretty impressive wins, which would give MSU great confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.
One of the reasons John Groce got the job at Illinois this season is because of the success he enjoyed at Ohio, particularly in the postseason. His Bobcats won the MAC last season and upset Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, he’s heading into his first postseason as a Big Ten coach, but the competition is much tougher here than it was in the MAC Tournament. Still, Groce is excited for his first opportunity to coach in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’s equally excited for his team, which will get the chance to regain some momentum after a bit of a slide to end the regular season.
Sunday’s Michigan-Indiana game was one for the ages, coming down to the final seconds with a tough roll ending up as the difference between a win and a loss for the Wolverines. However, that game just about defined the season for John Beilein’s team, which has shown its incredible potential at times but has also struggled with consistency. The Wolverines have the talent to be the best team in the country, but Bill Simonson of MLive questions whether they have the toughness to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. Can UM shake its most recent loss to IU? The talent is there, but it might be tough to get over it.
Iowa has played its last four games without freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but with do-or-die time looming in the Big Ten Tournament, Gesell expects to play on Thursday when the Hawkeyes suit up against Northwestern. Gesell has a stress reaction in his foot, but since it isn’t fractured, he’s been cleared to play despite the pain that limits his abilities. He said he should be able to go. Head coach Fran McCaffery said he will support whatever decision Gesell comes to, noting that the Hawkeyes could certainly use him this week if he’s able to play.
As if the end of Sunday’s Indiana-Michigan game wasn’t crazy enough, Tom Crean made it even more interesting when he approached Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer to confront him about his time as an assistant at IU. Crean told Meyer that he “helped wreck the program.” Meyer was a Hoosiers assistant under Kelvin Sampson and was partially responsible for some of the NCAA sanctions leveled against the program in the late 2000s. Crean said he later called to apologize and that his actions were inappropriate, but Michigan coach John Beilein wasn’t happy. “We’re never going to use victory or defeat as a platform for any frustrations we’re going to have,” he told MLive. I’m really proud of the way Jeff showed great poise and handled himself in the aftermath of the disappointment in that loss.
It’s hard to dispute that the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball right now, but what does that mean for the conference when it comes to the NCAA Tournament? Some would argue that it helps the Big Ten teams, because they’ve been tested so much during the season, but others would argue that it may have worn some teams down. Tom Izzo claims it’s the former. He says it gives him and his players confidence heading into the Big Dance knowing that there’s nothing they haven’t seen. He also said the upcoming Big Ten Tournament has the potential to be “maybe one of the great conference tournaments of all-time.”
Wisconsin has lived and died by the three at times this season, and it barely stayed afloat thanks to a buzzer-beating three by Traevon Jackson to guide the Badgers past Penn State. Threes have led to late-game heroics for the Badgers a few times this season, but Wisconsin must do a better job of finding scoring options inside if it is going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, or even the Big Ten Tournament. UW can’t afford to keep banking on the long ball, because for every game that the shots are falling, there is going to be a game when they aren’t. It’s going to be hard to win four games in four days if the three is Wisconsin’s only offensive weapon.
As the season comes to a close, Bill Carmody’s seat has gotten even hotter, despite the injuries Northwestern has had to deal with this season. NU will miss the NCAA Tournament once again, and that’s enough for many fans to call for Carmody’s job, even considering all the team’s injuries. However, with or without Carmody, the NU program has some problems. There’s no reason to believe things will get easier for a new coach if the basketball facilities don’t receive an upgrade and the stringent academic requirements aren’t loosened.
Iowa has a very young frontcourt this season, with freshman Adam Woodbury and center Gabe Olaseni splitting time at center; and while they’ve had their ups and downs, they’re playing their best basketball of the year right now. Woodbury scored 20 points combined in Iowa’s final two games, while Olaseni has shown improvement on both ends of the floor. He had seven blocks against Illinois and was also a force on the offensive end against the Illini and Nebraska, thanks to his athleticism in the post. Woodbury and Olaseni both should be much improved next season, but they still have a chance to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.