Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

East Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (28-6, 16-2 ACC) – The Cavaliers earned the final No. 1 seed and there should be no griping about that. While much is made about Virginia’s unbalanced ACC schedule, you can’t brush off both the regular season and conference tournament crowns. Tony Bennett’s team has a great blend of talent and experience with seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell leading an impressive group of sophomores. This team is one of the finest in the nation on the defensive end of the floor where it has earned its reputation for slow, physical basketball, but its offense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Virginia ranks No. 25 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and was second behind only Duke in ACC games.

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (28-4, 16-2 Big East) – The Wildcats blew their chance to grab the top seed in this region with a quarterfinal Big East loss to Seton Hall on Thursday. That said, Villanova remains a dangerous team. Jay Wright’s group has not received a lot of press because most people may not even know the players on this team. There are no stars or surefire NBA draft picks here, but this team plays with tremendous chemistry and is efficient on both sides of the ball. Are the Wildcats too reliant on the three-point shot? Probably, but the toughest competition for Villanova likely won’t arrive until the Sweet Sixteen at the earliest, where it may have to face Iowa State.

Grossly Overseeded: #13 Delaware (25-9, 14-2 Colonial) – Admittedly, this is a reach. There are no teams in this region I felt were overseeded, but I have to pick one, Delaware is it. The Blue Hens went just 8-7 outside of conference play and are a great example of the stark contrast between the RPI and better rating systems like KenPom. Delaware is No. 70 in the RPI, which no doubt helped them to a No. 13 seed, but its efficiency profile (No. 105 in KenPom) is much more similar to that of a #14 or #15 seed. The Blue Hens are a good team and were very competitive with Villanova and Notre Dame this season, among others, but a #14 seed may have been more appropriate. Again, this is a very minor quibble with an otherwise solid seeding job in this region by the committee.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Good…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

While major rivalries and national television match-ups get the most attention, the games against much lower profile opponents can make just as big a difference come Selection Sunday. Scheduling is with question an art, but it’s at least equally a science. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn and Andy Glockner have both examined the equation for maximizing a schedule’s impact on RPI, and in turn the strength of an NCAA Tournament resume. Glockner succinctly summarized it thusly: “Don’t schedule terrible teams. Ever.” and “Don’t lose at home. Ever.” Simple enough. Expanding on that, he offered four guidelines for assembling a schedule designed to boost RPI: don’t schedule SWAC teams; play the best teams in small leagues; play neutral site games that really aren’t neutral; and remember that the consolation games in holiday tournaments can become much more important than they seem at the time.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Non-conference games account for roughly 40 percent of AAC teams’ regular season games, and closer to 35 percent of the games considered by the NCAA selection committee after the conference tournament. But these games play an oversized role because they largely determine the availability of quality wins within the league once conference play begins. Good performances against a solid non-conference schedule provides a strong RPI from the beginning, while a weak non-conference slate coupled with losses against bad teams can be very tough to overcome. If a schedule is bad enough, it can drag down the RPI of other teams in the conference, particularly in a league like the AAC with a true round robin schedule. If the league can avoid bad losses against decent competition, it can buoy the whole league, as the Mountain West showed last year with its top overall conference rating. As we will see, it’s unlikely that type of quality is present for the AAC this year.

With the elements identified by Winn and Glockner in mind, let’s take a look at the non-conference schedules facing AAC teams this season. First, the good. We’ll visit the bad and the ugly in a corollary post on Wednesday.

The Good

  • Temple: The Owls face what is clearly the best non-conference schedule of any AAC team. It lacks elite competition – unless a match-up against New Mexico materializes in the final or consolation game of the Charleston Classic, there’s probably not an RPI top 25 team here – but more than makes up for it by not including any terrible teams. Almost every team here is projected to finish near the top of its own league, and the ones that aren’t – Clemson and Texas – won’t hurt by virtue of their major conference affiliations. If everything breaks right, no team on this schedule should end up with an RPI above #200. There are winnable road/neutral games, too. It’s hard to envision a schedule more optimized to boost RPI, but can the inexperienced Owls take advantage this season?
  • Memphis: The Tigers take a different tack. Their schedule includes two Division II games, which won’t count toward their RPI; but they might have been better off scheduling a third rather than Jackson State, a second division SWAC team. They overcome some of the dregs with multiple elite opponents: at Oklahoma State, Florida in Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga at home, and a possible second match-up with the Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic final. All four seem likely to be RPI top 25 teams. At least two wins out of those four contests are key, because the Tigers will have so few additional opportunities; aside from those four games, the Old Spice semis against either LSU or St. Joseph’s might well be their only other top 100 foe.
  • UConn: More Temple than Memphis, the Huskies’ schedule features home tilts with probable top 50 RPI teams Florida, Stanford and Harvard. There are neutral court games against Maryland and Boston College (and possibly Indiana or Washington), as well as a home game with Patriot League favorite Boston University and a road game at Washington; all appear likely to end up in the RPI top 100. There a couple of 200+ types, but nothing so likely as to drag the whole ranking down. This is a solid non-conference schedule for Kevin Ollie’s first-NCAA Tournament eligible year.

That’s pretty much it for good non-conference slates in the AAC. More to come…

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ATB: The Biggest Upset of the Season, Oklahoma State Stays Hot and Cincy Slips at Providence…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 7th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. That Happened. A handful of interesting conference matchups littered Wednesday night’s slate. Upset potential was thick. NCAA Tournament at-large considerations were on the line. And like most college basketball games in 2012-13, there was a healthy heaping of unexpected outcomes – from Creighton’s blowout loss at Indiana State to UConn’s loss to Rutgers to…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. After all, revealing everything in the lede would sort of defeat the purpose of writing this nightly column. It was a super-packed Wednesday night in February; by now, you well know what to expect. On second thought, one loss in particular may cause you to reconsider the fundamental basis of what you’ve come to “expect” about college basketball.

Your Watercooler Moment. Kansas Lost to TCU……No, Really.


Go back and check out who TCU has beaten this season. Putting aside the obvious for a second, who is the Horned Frogs best win to date? UAB? Rice? That question was answered in Fort Worth Wednesday night, in what arguably amounts to the biggest upset of the college hoops season. My take on TCU up until tonight was harsh, maybe unfairly, but not entirely inaccurately. I fully believed the Horned Frogs were the worst team from a Power Six league. Trent Johnson’s team was 9-12 coming in, with absolutely zero quality victories on its plate, an 0-8 Big 12 record, a home loss to Texas Tech, and a host of other ugly data points that makes Wednesday night’s takedown of Kansas all the more miraculous. Kansas hadn’t been playing its best basketball of late, and Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State exposed a few unknown warts, but to think the Jayhawks couldn’t overcome TCU on sheer talent alone, or that Ben McLemore couldn’t lead his team back by playing Kobe-like “heroball,” or that the seniors – Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Kevin Young – couldn’t lift the Jayhawks out of a terrible one-game funk, just to save the ignominy of a horrible road loss? I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. Losing on the road in conference play is nothing new – even the most hardened veteran groups get a rude wakeup call every now and then. When it happens while on the road at arguably the worst team in high major college hoops, with a sterile (reportedly split crowd) atmosphere and an opponent so far below your capability you can practically sleepwalk your way to a victory, the blame falls on Kansas, and nothing else. It’s still too early to push the panic button. The Jayhawks can and almost certainly will recover to secure a top-two tourney seed. In the meantime, KU has some serious self-introspection to do, and a Saturday road game at Oklahoma, followed by a home date with Kansas State, are prime opportunities to leave this ugly stain in the rearview.

Also Worth Chatting About. Creighton Not What We Thought.

Another conference loss prompts more skepticism about Creighton's chances of making a deep March run (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Another conference loss prompts more skepticism about Creighton’s chances of making a deep March run (Photo credit: AP Photo).

I spent a good part of the nonconference and early conference seasons screaming from the mountaintops about how good Creighton is – how the Bluejays, with NPOY candidate Doug McDermott leading the troops and a renewed commitment to defense, would walk through a strong but unworthy MVC. The Bluejays had it all; not only McDermott, but rebounding force Greg Echenique, shrewd assist specialist Grant Gibbs and three-point gunner Ethan Wragge. My presumptions felt pretty reasonable at the time. But for a late November home loss to Boise State, Creighton had run through its non-league schedule without breaking a sweat, and made it all the way up to No. 12 in the AP Poll. Fast forward to Wednesday night, where the Bluejays took their third conference loss on the road at Indiana State.

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The Other 26: Niagara Rushes Forth

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

When you hear the word “Niagara” you’re not likely to think of basketball. But in the shadow of one of the world’s natural wonders, something is percolating on the hardwood. After a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over Iona that included a rally from a late 15-point deficit and a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the game, Niagara sits atop the MAAC standings at 10-1. A win over Loyola today would cap a tremendous week for the Purple Eagles, giving them a perfect 3-0 record against the next three teams in the standings — Iona, Loyola, and Canisius — over the past seven days.

Juan'ya Green Capped Niagara's Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer  in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Juan’ya Green Capped Niagara’s Thrilling Win Over Iona With a Last-Second Three-Pointer in Overtime (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Last year, Niagara finished 14-19, the first time in head coach Joe Mihalich’s 10-year tenure that he suffered consecutive losing seasons. Mihalich had taken the Purple Eagles to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2007 and to the NIT in 2004 and 2009, but the team had fallen behind the pack in the MAAC in the three years since. The seeds of a resurgence were planted during last year’s losing campaign, as a host of young players started to find their footing in Division 1 college hoops. Having lost no one to graduation, Niagara was predicted to finish fifth in the MAAC in the preseason coaches’ poll. That seemed a fair, perhaps optimistic, assessment, but the clear light of hindsight makes a mockery of it.

What accounts for the turnaround? Mostly the maturation of Niagara’s all-sophomore backcourt: Juan’ya Green, Antoine Mason, and Ameen Tanksley. Last year, the trio showed that they had talent. This year, they’re showing that they can channel it into efficient offense.  Green is actually averaging fewer points (16.5) than he did as a freshman (17.6), but that’s in part because he’s managed to corral his considerable talents and become a more effective facilitator. Coming out of high school, Green was known for his prodigious scoring ability, but questions lingered about his ability to create for his teammates. He’s answering those questions this year, increasing his assists (5.2 per game) and decreasing his turnovers (2.8 per game). With Green deferring more to his teammates, Mason, the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, has stepped into the role of lead scorer. He’s upped his per-game average from 15.1 to a team-leading 18.7, but more importantly, he’s become a much more efficient scorer.  He’s increased his field goal percentage from 38.2 to 44.6. He now shoots almost 80 percent from the free throw line, after shooting less than 65 percent last year, a significant development because of his knack for getting to the charity stripe. Tanksley, for his part, has also boosted his field goal percentage, from 38.6 to 45.7 and upped his scoring average into double-digits.

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ATB: The Holy War Doesn’t Disappoint, West Virginia’s Struggles, and Trey Burke’s Extended Playing Time…

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 12th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. You Probably Didn’t Watch Any Games Tonight. As much as I love college basketball, both as a fan and writer, I have no qualms conceding the obvious: There were few games on tonight’s schedule deserving of your (or my) precious Tuesday night TV viewing allotment. From top to bottom, and with the possible exception of a couple somewhat surprising results, the schedule was one of the worst we’ve seen all season. If you needed a night to get a leg up in the holiday shopping arms race, tonight couldn’t have presented a better opportunity. We saw this coming: finals week has never been kind to the college hoops schedule, and this year is no different. Even so, there were games that no doubt piqued the interest of select areas of the country, regionally-appealing tests deserving of at least a some national attention. Herein, I present you what could go down as the most boring ATB to date. Enjoy… if possible.

Your Watercooler Moment. The Holy War Rages On.

The Wildcats needed a signature win to reverse their recent slide (Photo credit: Getty Images).

In its last season before joining the (gulp) Big East, St. Joseph’s fumbled a prime opportunity to claim Big 5 bragging rights in the Holy War for the second year in a row. You can look at this result one of two ways. On the one hand, Villanova showed toughness and mettle against a hated city rival and grabbed its first respectable non-conference win since beating Purdue in overtime (if that qualifies) nearly four weeks ago at the 2K Sports Classic. Jay Wright’s team needed to prove its ability to rebound after a mostly tumultuous month. On the other hand, St. Joe’s was picked to finish first in the preseason media poll in an incredibly deep A-10, and another loss to pile on top of missed opportunities against Florida State and Creighton isn’t exactly validating that perception. The first school of thought seems to hold more weight, but I’d wager it’s a little bit of both. Phil Martelli’s team has certainly underwhelmed of late, and there’s no excuse for squandering a five-point lead with just over two minutes remaining (particularly against an offensively-challenged bunch like Villanova), but when you consider the stakes at hand – for one, Villanova’s Philadelphia-grounded pride; for another, the growing sense the Wildcats were falling behind in the race to become the city’s best team, and their need to rectify that mantra – it’s not a horrible loss by any stretch. What’s interesting about this particular game is that the next rendition could very well count as a conference game, only we’re yet to find out whether said conference will be the Atlantic 10 or the Big East. And no, I couldn’t avoid talking about conference realignment. Sorry!

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Trey Burke Should Be Resting More.It probably won’t surprise you to learn Michigan point guard Trey Burke had 19 points in a comfortable win over Binghamton at the Crisler Center. What may strike you as something of an oddity is that Burke’s 30 minutes of playing time were the fewest minutes he’s logged in a game all season. The Wolverines haven’t just won all of their games so far; they’ve made easy work of their opponents, resulting in a multitude of lopsided scores. It only seems logical that coach John Beilein would give his most important player ample rest time in these early blowouts as a preemptive stay-fresh device, because once the Wolverines hit Big Ten play and teams resort to physicality in their attempts to flummox the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, all those hits will add up, the fatigue will mount, and Burke just might feel the urge to retroactively curse his coach’s judgment. Or maybe Burke will continue to look like one of the best point guards in the country right on through conference play and into the NCAA Tournament without feeling the slightest bit of lethargy or sluggishness. Probably the latter. Read the rest of this entry »
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Get to Know Them: Ten Players Ready to Break Out This Season

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 2nd, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Every college basketball season brings a new cast of stars. There are freshman, the super-prospects hyped up to disproportionate levels who may or may not live up to their billing. Then there are the returning players, the guys who showed flashes of stardom the previous season and are ready to truly hit their stride after an offseason honing their games. Highlighting these players doesn’t require much insight or deep thought. You know a star when you see one. Discovering under-the-radar gems, the diamonds in the rough, the players who emerge from the depths of the unknown to make a splash on the national stage, is another matter entirely. It requires a comprehensive knowledge of the game – and not just the Kentuckys and the North Carolinas and the Dukes of the world. You know those guys. The focus here is the more unheralded crop of players ready to make the leap into the general college hoops consciousness. What follows is my vain attempt at singling out those very players I described above. You may not know these names now, but by the time March rolls around, my bet is that you will.

*Editor’s note: you will notice there are no freshmen on this list. That is no mistake. This list is geared towards returning players. If you’re interested in a more freshmen-centric preview analysis, check out this list of newcomers who are “ready to play big roles on their new teams.”

Rotnei Clarke – Butler

The Bulldogs three-point shooting will improve immensely with Clarke joining the fold (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Relative to recent history, Butler did not have the best 2011-12 season. Let’s not sell the Bulldogs short: They reached the semifinals of a national postseason tournament for the third straight season. Only this time, it wasn’t the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Butler got bounced in the semifinals of the CBI, a huge downturn from the two preceding Final Four trips. Butler may never again string together that level of Tournament success, but Clarke gives Brad Stevens’ team a much better chance than it had last season. Plain and simple, Clarke, who made 91 of 208 three-point attempts in 2010-11 (he sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas), can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc. And what does Butler desperately need as it enters its debut season in the A-10? Long-range shooting, where last season it finished ranked 341st in three-point field goal percentage.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Georgia

Basically any chance Georgia has of challenging in the SEC this season and making a push for an NCAA bid rests on Caldwell-Pope, whose freshman season was something of a disappointment considering the McDonalds All-American hype he brought to Athens. With a year of experience under his belt, and a greater chance to showcase his talents without being comparatively dwarfed by the likes of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Caldwell-Pope should blossom. Georgia doesn’t offer much help in terms of solid complementary players, so Pope will be asked to carry the load. Kentucky and Missouri are heavy favorites to challenge for the SEC crown this season, but if Pope plays to his recruiting promise, the Bulldogs are more than capable of notching a few wins against the league front-runners. NBA scouts are already drooling over the 6’4’’ guard’s potential. He’ll make good on those claims this season.

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