Balance and Efficiency Taking UNC Wilmington to New Heights

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 18th, 2017

Perhaps no box score better encapsulates UNC Wilmington this season than its 101-77 drubbing of William & Mary last Wednesday. By night’s end, six Seahawks had reached double figures—three with 18 points, two with 14 and one with 11—as the team shot a blistering 70 percent from inside the arc and forced 17 turnovers. It was the second straight game in which five players eclipsed double-figures, and the fourth time this season that UNC Wilmington had scored 100. Put simply, Kevin Keatts’ unit pushed the pace, created good looks and capitalized more often than not. Now 17-2 and ranked #43 in KenPom‘s ratings, the Seahawks seem destined to surpass last year’s record-tying 25 wins and first-round NCAA Tournament appearance. With one of college basketball’s most balanced and efficient lineups, they have legitimate second weekend potential.

Devontae Cacok has been a revelation for UNC Wilmington this season. (Photo by John Crouch)

Taking care of (and simply taking) the basketball. If stellar guard play is the mark of a true Cinderella, then UNC Wilmington certainly fits the bill. Keatts starts four guards—Denzel Ingram, Ambrose Mosley, Chris Flemmings and CJ Bryce—three of whom are seniors and all of whom can handle the ball. All that experienced ball-handling has helped the Seahawks post the second-lowest turnover rate in the country at 13.8 percent, a level of mistake-free prowess put on full display last week: In 143 combined possessions against William & Mary and Hofstra, UNC Wilmington suffered just 11 turnovers. Conversely, its defense has been especially aggressive this season, forcing turnovers at its highest rate ever (23.2%, 13th nationally) under the Rick Pitino prodigy. On top of all that, the Seahawks don’t seem to care who shoulders the load. Bryce, the team’s best player (17.8 PPG, 3.2 APG), Flemmings (16.1 PPG) and Ingram (15.6 PPG) have each led the team in scoring multiple times this year, and UNC Wilmington remains the CAA’s only unit without a player who takes more than 25 percent of his team’s shots while on the floor. Combine balanced, mistake-free basketball with easy buckets from turnovers, and what do you get? One of the 20 most efficient offenses in college basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

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Finding a Path to the Madness for Big 12 Bubble Teams

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 29th, 2016

The top of the Big 12 is off to a hot start this season with Kansas, Baylor, and West Virginia all ranked among the top 12 of the AP poll and the current KenPom ratings. These three teams have a combined 34-2 record that includes wins over Duke, Virginia, Louisville and Xavier. The class of the league appears as strong as ever, but if the Big 12 has notions on putting seven teams back into the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, trouble arises further down the standings. With a mix uninspiring victories and troubling losses, the middle of the pack is full of teams that will need to earn their chops in conference play to sufficiently impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Texas and Oklahoma appear in trouble, so let’s focus on the five teams with the best resumes to date.

Iowa State Hasn't Shined as Much as Hoped This Season (USA Today Images)

Iowa State Hasn’t Shined as Much as Hoped This Season (USA Today Images)

  • Iowa State. The Cyclones entered the season with high expectations given that head coach Steve Prohm returned four key contributors. To date the Cyclones have yet to really impress or disappoint. Iowa State’s three losses have all been understandable — dropping games to Gonzaga, Cincinnati and rival Iowa — but the rest of the schedule has consisted of mostly cupcakes save for a nice win over Miami (FL). The key for the Cyclones in Big 12 play will be their performance on the road. Hilton Magic should result in a minimum of six or seven home wins, but that means Iowa State will need to win three or four road games to feel confident about an NCAA Tournament berth. With no sign of a true bottom-feeder in the conference this year, that will be much easier said than done.
  • TCU. Despite sporting an 11-1 record, Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs have yet to create any real buzz in part because TCU’s best wins came in an odd scheduling quirk, beating Washington in back-to-back contests. Aside from those two victories, their next best win came against Illinois State — not exactly something to write to the Selection Committee about. Whereas Iowa State is more concerned with taking care of business and keeping the status quo, TCU needs a big win or two in conference play as well as a plus-.500 Big 12 record. Going 9-9 with six losses to Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia isn’t likely to be enough.

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Oklahoma Already Looking Bubbly Going into Last Pre-Conference Game

Posted by Justin Fedich on December 21st, 2016

If college basketball games ended after the first 20 minutes, Oklahoma would be one of seven remaining unbeaten teams in Division I and presumably ranked among the top 10 or 15 teams in the nation. Unfortunately for the Sooners, which currently stand at 6-4 and have led at halftime in all four of their losses this season, there are still two 20-minute halves in college basketball. Unless Lon Kruger‘s team can figure out how to be as successful in the second halves of games as they are in the first, Oklahoma is likely to miss its first NCAA Tournament since 2012. In its four defeats this season to Northern Iowa, Wisconsin, Wichita State and Memphis, all but one of those contests came down to the wire. The excuse of the loss of NPOY Buddy Hield, who could knock down big shots late in the game, is no longer an excuse as Jordan Woodard has proven more than capable. Rather, it has been the inconsistency among Woodard’s supporting cast that has caused Oklahoma’s struggles in putting together a complete performance against good competition.

Lon Kruger has a built a serious Final Four contender in his fifth season with Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Lon Kruger’s squad is still trying to find its groove. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Sooners have fielded a different starting lineup in all four losses as Kruger has searched to find a formula that will work for his young, inexperienced team. This is evidenced most recently by the inclusion of freshman guard Jordan Shepherd into the lineup. Shepherd played eight combined minutes in Oklahoma’s first three losses but he led the team with 37 minutes and contributed 18 points in last Saturday’s overtime loss against Memphis. If his emergence in the backcourt is a sign of things to come, the Sooners may have finally found a workable rotation that includes Woodard, Christian James and Rashard Odomes. The frontcourt, however, is holding Oklahoma back. Khadeem Lattin, the only returning starter other than Woodard from last season’s Final Four team, has scored in single digits in five of his last six games including an anemic four points against Memphis and three points against Wichita State. While Lattin hasn’t been a consistent scoring threat at any point in his career, Oklahoma needs to find more scoring from the post. Khristian Doolittle and Jamuni McNeace are promising young frontcourt prospects, but Lattin as the more experienced player needs to provide more than the 6.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game he contributed in the four defeats.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Handicapping the Early Race For At-Large ACC Bids

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 15th, 2016

The conversation about the ACC potentially placing a record number of teams in the NCAA Tournament has already started. There are currently 11 ACC teams among the RPI top 70, and that number excludes two more quality teams that have played weaker schedules to date in Syracuse and Miami (FL). Using an expected RPI calculation (per RPIforecast.com), 13 of the ACC’s 15 teams are projected to finish the season among the RPI top 100. With the possible exception of Boston College and its four albatross losses to Nicholls State, Richmond, Harvard and Hartford, the rest of the ACC has yet to remove themselves from at-large contention. North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame can feel pretty safe about inclusion barring an unprecedented collapse, a rash of injuries or some sort of unanticipated scandal. Georgia Tech is an interesting case with losses to Ohio, Penn State and Tennessee, but it doesn’t seem as if Josh Pastner’s group has enough talent to make a run in conference play. Let’s review the eight teams that fall somewhere in the middle.

The Resume Builders: Florida State, Clemson

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

The Seminoles are off to a nice 10-1 start with wins already over Illinois, Minnesota and Florida. On top of that, Florida State is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ACC’s unbalanced schedule this season. Of the league’s presumptive top four teams, only Duke appears twice on the schedule. If Leonard Hamilton’s bunch can hold serve at home and do no worse than the middle of the pack in conference play, they should be in.

Clemson hit the ground running with early wins over Georgia and Davidson and the Tigers have avoided any ugly losses to date. As most schools drift through exams and the holidays without much of a test, Brad Brownell’s team will do the opposite with upcoming tough games against South Carolina, Alabama and a strong UNC-Wilmington squad. After that stretch, the Tigers will enjoy an even easier conference schedule than Florida State, catching all five of the ACC’s best teams only once this season.

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Big 12 Resumes at the Quarter Pole of the Season

Posted by Justin Fedich on December 9th, 2016

The Big 12 has contributed seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons, but the conference will be challenged to reach 70 percent representation this year. When TCU lost to SMU on Wednesday and Iowa State fell to Iowa on Thursday, it went to show that the middle tier of the league behind Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia probably isn’t as strong as it typically has been. By way of comparison, it was abundantly clear at this time last season that at least six Big 12 teams would make the NCAA Tournament field. Inexperience and a lack of quality wins beyond those three leave a bunch of teams with many questions to be answered. Let’s briefly take a look at the resume of each at the quarter pole of the season.

Locks

Kansas is Looking for More Smiles in March (USA Today Images)

Kansas is Looking for More Smiles in March (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas (99.8% chance of making NCAA Tournament, according to teamrankings.com): No justification is needed to explain why Kansas will be in the NCAA Tournament for the 28th straight season. The bigger question should be whether Bill Self’s Jayhawks can finish the season as the No. 1 overall seed.
  • West Virginia (99%): Aside from a strange slip-up against Temple, the non-conference season has been impressive for the Mountaineers. A huge road win at Virginia and a nearly 50-point win over Manhattan — a game in which West Virginia forced a whopping 40 turnovers — provides enough assurance that Bob Huggins’ squad will make the Big Dance, and likely as a top-four protected seed.
  • Baylor (97.8%): Arguably no team in college basketball has a stronger non-conference resume than Baylor to this point. The Bears have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the young season and would need to seriously falter in Big 12 play to lose its grasp on an NCAA Tournament bid.

Jury Is Still Out 

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A Rising TCU Tide Could Lift Big 12 Boats

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2016

While TCU fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Wednesday night with a 15-point loss at SMU, the Horned Frogs’ ascension under Jamie Dixon has been obvious as the remaining pieces from the Trent Johnson era have blended well with young talents like Jaylen Fisher and Alex RobinsonIntent on leveraging a renovated arena and talent-rich local recruiting base, Dixon has already shored up the long-term stability of the program with commitments from 2017 four-star recruits Kevin Samuel and R.J. Nembhard. As a result, TCU’s future looks quite a bit better than its short term, but unlike with most coaching transitions, its present doesn’t look too shabby either. Dixon obviously did not walk into a Steve Prohm-like situation at Iowa State where the new guy was under pressure to win right away, but his early results in Fort Worth give reason to believe, which bodes well for a program that has gone 8-64 in Big 12 play since joining the league in 2012. Even if this immensely deep conference keeps TCU from climbing out of the cellar in 2017, mere respectability at the bottom of a league with so many NCAA Tournament candidates can be an advantage other middling power conference teams lack.

TCU may no longer be unbeaten, but their improvement can only help the rest of the Big 12. (AP/Bob Haynes)

Alex Robinson and TCU may no longer be unbeaten, but their improvement can only help the rest of the Big 12. (AP/Bob Haynes)

If you take a look around the nation’s Power 5 leagues, you’ll find a lot of flotsam among the dregs. In the ACC, Boston College and Georgia Tech’s seasons were pretty much dead on arrival (the Yellow Jackets’ win over VCU on Wednesday night notwithstanding). In the Big East, Georgetown, St. John’s and DePaul have a combined 1-8 record against the KenPom top 100. Rutgers and Penn State may eventually turn things around in the Big Ten, but neither figure to make much noise this season. And the bottom of the SEC rarely ever makes waves, either. Head west to the Pac-12 and you’ll see uphill battles ahead for Washington (which these Horned Frogs have already beaten twice), Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State. TCU has its work cut out for it this season, but even if Dixon’s team winds up on the bottom rung of the Big 12 ladder yet again, there are certainly worse places to be. Read the rest of this entry »

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Texas’ Slow Start Could be Sign of Things to Come

Posted by Justin Fedich on December 2nd, 2016

From a close call to Incarnate Word on opening night to a not-so-close upset at home this week by UT-Arlington, the first three weeks of this season have not gone how Texas had hoped. The pain that comes with a three-game losing streak (Northwestern and Colorado did the trick last week) is only exacerbated by the fact that Texas hasn’t yet played a single team most would consider an NCAA Tournament lock. Only six games into the season, Shaka Smart‘s team is struggling to find answers, perhaps still feeling the hangover from Paul Jesperson’s halfcourt buzzer-beating shot in last season’s Big Dance. Texas was 3-3 after an overtime win against UT-Arlington exactly one year ago, but a five-game winning streak that included a victory over North Carolina ensued. Texas is not on track for such a streak, or even a winning record, this time around, and these are the key reasons why.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been all smiles for Shaka Smart and Texas lately. (Texas Athletics)

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all smiles for Shaka Smart and Texas this season. (Texas Athletics)

  • Loss of top three scorers: Replacing 3,446 combined career points doesn’t happen overnight. The realization that the Longhorns have lost last season’s top three scorers — Isaiah Taylor, Cameron Ridley, and Javan Felix — has taken a bigger toll than expected. Looking back two seasons ago, a starting five that also included one-and-done Myles Turner and Jonathan Holmes is completely gone. Instead, the burden has fallen on returnees Tevin Mack, Kerwin Roach, Jr. and Kendal Yancy, along with freshmen Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones, to pick up the pieces. The Longhorns should certainly get better as the season progresses, but lack of an experienced playmaker who can settle roles and responsibilities has taken its toll in the early going.

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In Hoops We Trust: It’s Finally Here!

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on November 16th, 2016

It would be easy to open this debut In Hoops We Trust column with some sort of election metaphor, but haven’t we already exhausted all of those? Red. Blue. Bad. Good. Bah. Instead of focusing even more attention on the emotional land mine that our political season has been, maybe it’s time we look to college basketball to bring us together instead. (Excluding, of course, those ever-so-bitter rivals. Ain’t nothing gonna stop that.) In the spirit of unity, let us now gather ‘round the squawkbox, pennants high, our sauce-stained rah-rah sweatshirts on, cheering on Hometown U. against Directional State Tech. Let’s hitch a ride on the peace train, y’all, all the way to Phoenix.

The Season is BACK. (USA Today Images)

College Hoops is BACK. (USA Today Images)

After another tedious offseason of transfers, coach hirings and firings, speculative polls, NBA defections, off-court shenanigans, and Jeff Goodman troll stories behind a paywall, we’re finally here. And thank the heavens for that. To be sure, offseasons are unavoidable. And invariably they do set the tone for each new season. So this most recent one is no different. Players arrived on campus. Coaches bailed on hot seats (Vanderbilt and Memphis), while others claimed new thrones (TCU and, well, also Memphis). Fresh regimes begin in Stillwater and Palo Alto, while familiar ones reign in Chapel Hill, Durham, Louisville, Syracuse, East Lansing, Tucson and Lexington. One blue-blood rebuilds (UNLV), while some new bloods reload (Gonzaga and Virginia). A seat gets hotter (UCLA); another chills out (Indiana).

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Michigan Starts Finding Answers on Opening Weekend

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 14th, 2016

When Michigan was again forced to adjust to life without star shooting guard Caris LeVert — whose college career ended after suffering a season-ending leg injury last December — it posed two silver linings. On the one hand, it was a blessing in disguise. The Wolverines still snuck into the NCAA Tournament, and the increased workload for guards Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin gave the experienced duo more to build on entering 2016-17. LeVert’s exit, however, also marked the first in a series of unforeseen departures which have created more questions than answers entering this season, even with the team’s starting five fully intact. If its opening weekend victory over IUPUI is any indication, Michigan’s questions will take some time to fully answer—but the blueprint for progress is there.

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Derrick Walton and the Wolverines looked sharp over the final 30 minutes vs. IUPUI. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Emerging Frontcourt Depth

The Wolverines’ chief concern is depth, and not just because LeVert is gone. 2013 Final Four hero Spike Albrecht briefly retired last December because of a hip injury before eventually heading to Purdue. In April, guard Aubrey Dawkins (6.5 PPG) transferred to Central Florida to play for his father. A month later, frontcourt role players Ricky Doyle and Kameron Chatman—whose clutch triple against Indiana last March helped Michigan reach the Dance—also departed. The spate of transfers has left John Beilein with a short and inexperienced bench; on Sunday, only seven players saw meaningful minutes. The good news? One of those players, forward D.J. Wilson, looked like a breakout star. After barely seeing the floor last season, the springy sophomore scored seven points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a career-high 30 minutes against the Jaguars, providing a much needed spark off the bench. Read the rest of this entry »

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Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #2 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#2 – Where This Can’t Be Real Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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