It’s Time to Talk About Utah’s Non-Conference Schedule

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 22nd, 2016

Utah has not won a game by fewer than 43 points this season, and yet, thanks to some conservative scheduling practices by head coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Utes have already hurt their NCAA Tournament chances. At 3-0, Utah is officially tied atop the Pac-12 standings, a hilarious result given that its first two opponents, Division II members Northwest Nazarene and Concordia (Oregon), considered the games exhibitions. The Utes finally played their first Division I opponent Friday night, smoking 0-5 Coppin State in a game that KenPom gave Utah a 98.7 percent chance of winning. With the victory, Utah earned its initial placement at #289 in the RPI rankings.  There is no unbeaten team from a Power 5 conference with a worse RPI than Utah, and there isn’t a lot of helium left in the Utes’ non-conference schedule to carry it up.

Larry Krystkowiak Mimicking Utah Fans' Reaction to the 2016-17 Schedule. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Krystkowiak Mimicking Utah Fans’ Reaction to the 2016-17 Schedule (Deseret News)

Utah plays Butler at home on November 28 and travels to Xavier on December 10. Aside from those two games, each of the Utes’ remaining non-conference opponents is ranked 227th or lower by KenPom, not including a potential matchup with San Diego State in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Quality opponents from last season such as San Diego State, Wichita State, BYU and Duke have been replaced by UC Riverside, Montana State, Utah Valley and Prairie View A&M. A team that last year barnstormed across America from Puerto Rico to Wichita to New York City will only leave the Beehive State twice before the new year.

What’s worse is that this season’s pillow-soft schedule has been some time in the making. To his credit, Krystkowiak has been relatively open about the logic behind his intent, essentially telling ESPN Radio that a friendly schedule would be more beneficial for an inexperienced team. This is understandable. Confidence is important for young collegiate players, and if the current version of Utah had played last season’s schedule, there might not have been much confidence to go around. Similarly, Krystkowiak is hardly the first Power 5 coach to weigh the quality and depth of his roster when putting together a schedule. But there is a big difference between throttling back and throwing it in reverse.

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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 3

Posted by Adam Levy on December 4th, 2015

It was a jam-packed week in the Big Ten as we transitioned from Feast Week to the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Some teams continued to feast and looked like their usual great selves. Other teams continued to be feasted on and looked like their usual awful selves. Week 3 of the Layup Line is back to break it all down. Let’s get after it.

REPORT CARD

A: Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok

Peter Jok and Iowa have gotten off to a solid start. (Globe Gazette)

Peter Jok and Iowa have gotten off to a solid start. (Globe Gazette)

Great week for Iowa but an even better week for the top-scoring duo in Iowa City. Uthoff is off to a phenomenal start this season as he sits third in the Big Ten in scoring and second in blocks. In three games against Notre Dame, Wichita State and Florida State, the 6’9″ forward averaged 19.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, a steal and 1.7 treys per game, and he currently ranks in the top 50 nationally in block percentage. Simply put, Uthoff gets it done on both ends of the floor and looks to be a surefire First Team All-Big Ten candidate this season. Meanwhile, Jok has never been much of a shooter (37.3% for his career), but he has been Iowa’s go-to-guy thus far (29.2% of possessions used) and it showed on Wednesday night against Florida State. He had a career night, making some big free throws down the stretch and hitting what would be the game-winning three in overtime. He scored eight of Iowa’s 15 points in the last frame to help his conference clinch the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Good work, Peter.

As for Iowa as a whole, there’s absolutely no shame in losing to Dayton and Notre Dame – both of which are likely NCAA Tournament teams – on neutral courts. Iowa is underrated as the 21st best team in the country (per KenPom) – top 30 in both offense and defense – and Iowa State stands as the Hawkeyes’ only true test left before Big Ten play begins. They will look to beef up their record as they make their case for becoming a top-five Big Ten team.

B: Michigan Wolverines

After getting blown out by Xavier and UConn in , the Maize and Blue have started coming together. The Wolverines obliterated Charlotte and Texas in the Bahamas before passing their first true road test with flying colors on Tuesday night. Heading into the game with NC State, the Wolfpack had the clear advantage both in the paint and on the glass. The latter advantage played out as expected, with the Wolfpack grabbing 13 offensive boards in the contest; however, their big men (BeeJay Anya, Lennard Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu) did virtually nothing offensively and relied heavily on guards Cat Barber and Caleb Martin to carry the load. After NC State cut a 15-point Michigan lead down to four late in the first half, Michigan’s sharpshooters and surprisingly stingy defense took over a hostile environment and never looked back, holding the Wolfpack to 32.8 percent shooting and 21 points below their season average.

Oh, and this kid, Duncan Robinson? He’s a former Division III player shooting 60.6 percent from distance this season, potentially making him the best spot-up shooter in the conference. Very impressive week for his Wolverines.

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Assessing Ken Pomeroy’s Pac-12 Ratings

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 31st, 2014

There once was a time, back in the day, when college basketball fans would eagerly anticipate the initial AP Poll as a harbinger of the coming season. Or maybe you were the kind of fan who took the Street & Smith’s magazine appearing at your local newsstand as the sign from the basketball gods that it was time to dig into the impending season. Nowadays, Street & Smith’s preseason magazines are long gone. The AP Poll may as well be. But with the rise of advanced metrics, college hoops junkies with a love for statistics can bask in the unveiling of Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings with the same joy that those old print-era milestones used to impart.

Steve Alford and UCLA check in much higher than expected. (AP)

Steve Alford and UCLA check in much higher than expected. (AP)

The 2015 ratings over at KenPom.com were unveiled earlier this week, and with now only two remaining weeks before action tips off, there is plenty to dig into in Pomeroy’s Pac-12 picks. Below, key takeaways:

UCLA Gets (Too Much?) Respect – The plan all along was to start at the top and work my way down the Pac-12 rankings. But immediately, the #2 Pac-12 team in Pomeroy’s rankings jumps out, as UCLA not only shows up as the clear-cut choice to challenge Arizona for conference supremacy, but also checks in at #13 nationally. This for a team that lost five big-time contributors from last season’s team, including three of those guys to the NBA Draft’s First Round? What gives? Well, first let’s let Pomeroy explain the basis, pulling out some choice relevant quotes from his blog post unveiling his rankings.

“People always want to know why a team is ranked in an unexpected spot. Think of the ratings formula as [team baseline + personnel]. The personnel portion is looking at who is returning from last season’s roster, how much the returnees played, what kind of role each returnee had, and what class they are in.”

“The system does not give any special consideration to new players entering the program. There is some credit given for high-profile recruits, but the poor performances in 2012-13 of UCLA and Kentucky, among others, in recent years have tended to mute the impact of recruits in the model.”

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Poll Critiques: Colonial, Conference USA & Summit

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 27th, 2014

Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine and critique some of the more intriguing preseason conference polls. Here, we take a look at the good, the bad and the weird coming out of the Colonial, Conference USA and Summit League polls.

Colonial

There are plenty of question marks in the CAA this season. (Christopher Szagola/US Presswire)

There are plenty of question marks in the CAA this season. (Christopher Szagola/US Presswire)

The voters got it right at the top, tabbing Northeastern as the favorite in the CAA, followed by William & Mary and Hofstra. The Huskies are the one unit in this league to add more proven talent than they lost, not only bringing back the vast majority of last year’s roster – including Defensive Player of the Year and rebounding monster Scott Eatherton (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG) – but also regaining Quincy Ford, who was one among the CAA’s best all-around players before missing most of last year. Still, the recent departure of fourth-leading scorer Demetrius Pollard, combined with the fact that Bill Coen’s club went just 11-21 last season, makes you wonder if Northeastern can actually live up to its top billing. William & Mary also has an argument for the number one spot after finishing third in the standings a year ago and narrowly losing the CAA title game, welcoming back the conference’s best player (Marcus Thornton) and CAA Rookie of the Year (Omar Prewitt). Hofstra is rightfully slotted at third; despite last year’s 10-23 campaign, an influx of talented transfers and recruits, including former Niagara guard Juan’ya Green (16.5 PPG), justifies the anticipated climb.

  1. Northeastern
  2. William & Mary
  3. Hofstra
  4. Drexel
  5. James Madison
  6. College of Charleston
  7. Towson
  8. Delaware
  9. UNCW
  10. Elon

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Why Josh Pastner Really Needed Kedren Johnson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 9th, 2014

It’s only October, but newly eligible point guard Kedren Johnson may be the key to helping Memphis coach Josh Pastner keep his job. It’s now been five full seasons since Pastner took over for John Calipari, and the 37-year old coach has done an admirable job filling those sizable shoes by winning at least 24 games in each. Pastner has proven what everybody already knew — that he was an excellent recruiter — and Memphis has never lacked talent during his tenure. But the years of padding win totals in Conference USA are over, and Pastner’s two NCAA Tournament wins and zero Sweet Sixteen appearances pale in comparison to Calipari’s achievements. The fans are starting to get restless.

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Memphis has five 24-win seasons under Josh Pastner, but lack of postseason success is making his seat warm. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Rumblings about Pastner’s job security began as far back as the beginning of last season, and although the team showed promise during an extremely competitive conference schedule, it was the same old story in the NCAA Tournament as the Tigers were whipped by #1 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. The upcoming season is unquestionably an important one for Pastner, which is why yesterday’s news that Johnson can play point guard for his club this season must be music to his ears.

Johnson was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season and is the rare guard with size who is also a true point guard and above-average distributor. He averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game that season and was among the top 100 players in the country in assist rate (30.4, according to KenPom). He is a versatile talent who can bully smaller point guards with his size and strength but has also proven he can shoot (35 percent on 157 attempts from behind the three-point line as a sophomore). He is good, but Memphis needed him for more reasons than just his talent. If Johnson’s waiver to play this season wasn’t accepted, the Tigers were going to start the season – in prime time against Wichita State, mind you – without a single backcourt player with any Division I experience. That is why Johnson may be not only one of the most important transfers in the conference, but also the country. Memphis doesn’t want Johnson so the Tigers can simply be better, they need him so the Tigers can be good.

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Should SMU Have Been Left Out of the Dance?

Posted by CD Bradley on March 18th, 2014

One of the biggest stories of Selection Sunday was SMU missing the field. The Mustangs, which hadn’t made the Tournament in two long decades, were widely considered a lock for the field in the closing weeks of the regular season, particularly since winning at UConn on February 23. And yet they’ll be hosting an NIT game versus UC Irvine on Wednesday night. Did Larry Browns’ team deserve its unkind bracket fate?

As one could imagine, Larry Brown (center) and his SMU squad didn't have the best Sunday afternoon. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

As one could imagine, Larry Brown (center) and his SMU squad didn’t have the best Sunday afternoon. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

Selection committee Chairman Ron Wellman said that SMU was the last team out of the tournament. “As we looked at SMU, they certainly passed the eye test,” he told a conference call of reporters on Sunday night. “They’re a very good team, had a very good year.” Wellman continued:

When you’re making these selections, you’re looking for differentiators. Is there anything that stands out, on the positive side or negative side of the ledger, that will cause you to absolutely take that team or really look at prioritizing and selecting other teams? In SMU’s case their downfall, their weakness, was their schedule. Their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked number 302 out of 350 teams eligible for the tournament. It’s one of the worst non-conference strengths of schedule. Their overall strength of schedule was ranked 129. One-twenty-nine would have been by far the worst at large strength of schedule going into the tournament. The next worst at large strength of schedule was 91. Really the glaring weakness about SMU was their schedule.

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Malcolm Brogdon Ascends from Anonymity to the ACC POY Conversation

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 5th, 2014

Virginia sophomore Malcolm Brogdon was largely an afterthought. Disregarded in almost all of the literature projecting breakout stars (including here), the redshirt sophomore sat out last year recovering from foot surgery. Even on his own team, sophomore cohorts Justin Anderson and Mike Tobey had higher expectations coming into their second campaigns. But Brogdon has outshone them all, hoisting himself up into the first team all-ACC picture and ACC Player of the Year conversation. Brogdon is the leading scorer on a Virginia team that has rolled to a 16-1 ACC record and landed a top-five AP poll and #2 ranking on KenPom’s system. Speaking of Mr. Pomeroy, Brogdon comes in at #7 on his National Player of the Year standings, quite a feat for someone playing on a deep and well-rounded Cavaliers team.

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

While freshmen Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis spent the early months dominating the ACC POY conversation, some more seasoned conference performers have come on strong of late. ACC sophomores have dominated the individual headlines in recent weeks, from UNC’s Marcus Paige and his second half heroics, T.J. Warren’s scoring outbursts (see: 41 points at Pittsburgh), and Brogdon’s consistently solid play on a dominant Virginia club. Coming into this season, you could have asked just about anyone who the undisputed star of the team would be for Virginia, and senior Joe Harris, the team’s consummate do-it-all leader, would have been the most popular answer. But no one outside of the immediate program expected such a meteoric rise for Brogdon or his team, blasting to the regular season title and looking to become the first ACC team to ever win 17 conference games. Bottom line — there are a lot of firsts happening in Charlottesville this season, and as much as head coach Tony Bennett deserves the lion’s share of the praise, the superb play of Brogdon cannot be disputed as a primary factor.

After sitting out his redshirt year to go through rehabilitation, Brogdon consumed mass quantities of film to make sure he would come back better than ever. While his game is still catching up to his work ethic, Brogdon’s lethal shooting ability — 39.2 percent from three; 90.4 percent from the line — has already propelled him to the ACC Player of the Week and CBS Sports’ National Player of the Week accolades. For a guy who just last week set a career high of 19 points (versus Syracuse), it says here that his streak of double-figure scoring games (17) and impressive leadership has set him apart from the rest of the ACC field. Who would have thought such a thing possible on New Year’s Eve, after a zero-point performance resulting in a 35-point loss to Tennessee the day before? And to think we almost forgot all about Malcolm Brogdon — it’s a good thing that we didn’t. He might just turn out to be the unlikeliest ACC Player of the Year in a long, long time. 

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O26 Game of the Week: Indiana State Looks to Ruin Perfection

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.

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Does Cinderella Reside in the Big Apple This Season?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2014

In Ken Pomeroy’s recently-published conference race simulations, Manhattan wins the MAAC 6,161 times out of 10,000 simulations, which — in an 11-team league— makes it the overwhelming favorite. And for good reason. Despite being picked first in the conference preseason poll, the Jaspers have actually managed to exceed expectations in the first two months, using an aggressive defense and attack-first offense to notch several impressive road victories and an early 4-0 record in league play. So while fellow contenders like Iona, Canisius and Quinnipiac are likely to make the automatic bid far from a guarantee, Manhattan has already shown its potential as the most complete and dangerous upset threat from this league come March.

George Beamon and the Jaspers could be a tough NCAA Tournament match-up. (MAACSports)

George Beamon and the Jaspers could be a tough NCAA Tournament match-up. (MAACSports)

Iona has been the cream of this conference for the past two years, making the NCAA Tournament twice — including as an at-large bid in 2011-12, the second ever out of the MAAC — and doing so with exceptional offense. Tim Cluess’ up-tempo, free-flowing attack has yielded three straight top-30 finishes nationally in offensive efficiency and over 20 wins in each of those seasons. Their problem has often been on the other end of the court, as Cluess’ teams sometimes making a habit of playing porous defense for long stretches that the scoring cannot always overcome. Likewise, Saint Peter’s, the conference tournament champion in 2011, was one of the best defensive teams the league has ever seen (finishing fifth in the country in defensive efficiency), but it could not generate the offense necessary to become a threat in the Big Dance. Put simply, the NCAA Tournament’s MAAC representative has lacked balance in recent years.

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What Devon Saddler’s Return Means for Delaware and the CAA

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 18th, 2013

After missing the previous seven games for an unspecified violation of team rules, Delaware guard Devon Saddler returned Monday night in a difficult road meeting with North Dakota State that did not go well for the Blue Hens — they surrendered 1.23 points per possession, shot just 5-of-22 from three-point range, and lost by 19 points. “We were not sharp,” head coach Monte Ross commented after the game. Saddler, though, was, dropping in 24 efficient points off the bench and showing onlookers why he is one of the preeminent scorers in college basketball. It was a significant silver lining in an otherwise disappointing night for Delaware, the type of impressive return that could be a harbinger of good things to come in CAA play this season.

Devon Saddler should make Delaware real contenders in the CAA. (US Presswire)

Devon Saddler should make Delaware real contenders in the CAA. (US Presswire)

But before we just assume that Saddler’s return automatically means all positive things for the Hens, it is important to note how the team performed during his absence. In those seven games, Ross’s up-tempo club won five of them and pushed both Villanova and Notre Dame to the brink in two close road losses by a combined nine points. The offense was arguably more efficient since before the personnel loss, never finishing below 80 points and receiving increased production from emerging scoring option — and verifiable sharpshooter — Kyle Anderson, who currently ranks first in the country in three-point percentage for players with at least 60 attempts, at 54 percent. Impact transfer Davon Usher, who was eligible immediately after coming over from Mississippi Valley State in the offseason, also shouldered a large amount of the scoring load with considerable success, finishing with at least 25 points in four of the contests without Saddler. Additionally, Delaware moved up a whopping 83 spots in KenPom during that time, from #162 to #79, making it second among CAA teams behind only ailing-but-resilient Drexel.  Put simply, the Blue Hens were playing good basketball.

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