NCAA Tournament Analysis: Saturday Games

Posted by Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 22nd, 2014

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Half of the field is already gone, and as fun as Thursday and Friday were, it’s time to get down to the business of crowning a national champion. Here’s our analysis of all of Saturday’s games.

#1 Florida vs. #9 Pittsburgh — South Region Third Round (at Orlando, FL) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Awaits Them In The Tournament's #1 Overall Seed, Florida

Lamar Patterson And Pittsburgh Had Little Trouble With Colorado In Their Tournament Debut, But A Far Stiffer Challenge Now Awaits: The Tournament’s #1 Overall Seed, Florida.

Albany made things interesting for a while against Florida, but the South region’s top seed took control down the stretch to advance to the round of 32. The Gator’s third round opponent, Pittsburgh, made sure that their Tournament advancement was never in doubt, running out to a 13-0 lead on Colorado en route to a 77-48 rout of the Buffs. Impressive performance from the Panthers, but a second round blowout has never entitled anyone to a bye into the Sweet 16; Jamie Dixon’s team will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. Still though, this is a winnable game for Pitt. The Panthers are a #9 seed in the bracket, but Ken Pom’s rankings have them as the 15th best team in the country, and they actually share a lot of the same traits that have made Florida successful this season. Neither squad plays fast (Florida is 314th in adjusted tempo, Pitt 296th), but both teams are in the top-25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and each collects caroms at a clip that puts them in the top-60 in the country in rebounding percentage on both ends. Neither team boasts an especially glaring weakness, although three-point shooting is not a big part of the game-plan for either side. Looking at the Pittsburgh stats page can be intoxicating; the Panthers really do look like a top-15 team on paper. An inability to close out games has been the largest roadblock for the on-court version of the Panthers to emit the same appearance, but there’s no reason why they can’t finally win one of those close ones on Saturday. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin will not spend much time directly matching up today, but expect the bulk of the offense to flow through these two players. Patterson hasn’t been fully commended for what’s been a breakout senior season, but he’ll have his shot at some national recognition against the Gators. Outplaying Wilbekin would give Pittsburgh a great chance at moving on, but Wilbekin – and his gritty supporting cast – is where I’ll place my faith. I think Scottie does enough to keep Florida playing basketball next weekend, and in a game that may feel more like a Sweet 16 matchup than a third round game, Florida moves on.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

#4 Louisville vs. #5 Saint Louis – Midwest Region Third Round (in Orlando, FL) – at 2:45 PM EST on CBS

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

South Region

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Syracuse 77, #14 Western Michigan 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Tyler Ennis and Syracuse looked sharp against Western Michigan on Thursday (AP)

Tyler Ennis and Syracuse looked sharp against Western Michigan on Thursday (AP)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Syracuse looks sharp. The Orange have struggled mightily in recent weeks, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching them take on Western Michigan. This game was never close. Offensively, Syracuse’s ball movement was crisp, looks opened up under the basket, and the outside shooting was on point. Defensively, they stymied the Broncos for the much of the afternoon, eliminating passing lanes and hustling on every rotation. It was the type of energetic, complete effort that projects well for the Orange going forward.
  2. Trevor Cooney might be key going forward. While Jerami Grant, C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis were all excellent today, Trevor Cooney – and his 18 points on 4-of-8 three-point shooting – might have been the guy who really broke Western Michigan. Cooney buried several triples during the first half and early in the second half that squashed any small amount of hope the Broncos held on to. His ability to get hot and go on one-man runs might be crucial in elevating Syracuse from mere South Region threat to legitimate National Championship contender in the coming weeks.
  3. Crowd will be a factor on Saturday. Make no mistake about it – as good as the Dayton crowd was today, it did not hold a candle to the Syracuse contingency. And that’s not a knock on Flyers fans, either, because they were excellent. But the close proximity of the Orange faithful was evident from the get-go, and no single roar in the first game matched the ‘Cuse roars in the second. If Archie Miller’s crew plans on advancing to the Sweet Sixteen this weekend, it will have to do so in a hostile environment.

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ACC Regular Season Crown at Stake: Previewing Syracuse vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

Saturday’s game between Virginia and Syracuse will crown this season’s ACC champion, but it’s also a showcase of two teams coming in with very different levels of confidence. While Virginia is riding a hot 12-game winning streak, Syracuse is entering the contest having lost two of its last three games. Both of these teams play notoriously slow, but the likelihood of this one becoming a runaway in either team’s favor is also highly unlikely. While Syracuse is quite literally one of the slowest teams in the nation, Virginia is only one spot ahead of the Orange, ranking 344th in adjusted tempo out of 351 total teams.

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular-season title in its first ACC season (apsports.com)

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular season title in its first ACC season. (apsports.com)

Over the last few weeks, Syracuse has eked by in numerous close victories with controversial finishes before managing to drop its first two games of the season in both embarrassing (Boston College) and enraging (Duke) fashion. Tyler Ennis’ seeming invincibility has worn off somewhat as he has cooled off offensively, showing a human side to his unshakably calm demeanor. Part of Syracuse’s weakened state can be attributed to one of head coach Jim Boeheim’s major criticisms: an unbalanced and back-loaded schedule that has Syracuse finishing its inaugural ACC season with four of its last five games on the road. Syracuse’s play of late even has some ESPN analysts like John Gasaway indirectly stating that it may be the first #1 seed to ever fall to a #16, showing just how far the national perception of the Orange has fallen over the recent bumpy stretch.

On the flip side of the coin, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is riding an epic wave of momentum that is well on its way to carrying his team to its first sole claim on the ACC regular season title in over three decades. Virginia has won a school record 17 straight games at home and is sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC at 15-1. Since a brutal 35-point road loss to Tennessee before the new year, Virginia appears the part of a conference champion, winning numerous low-scoring affairs with stifling defense (no ACC opponent has score more than 70 points). Unlike Syracuse’s schedule, the Cavaliers have the boon of three of their last four ACC contests occurring at home in John Paul Jones Arena. While Virginia may not have a single elite scoring option like the Orange’s C.J. Fair, leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is more than capable of taking over a game and the Cavaliers boast three players who average between 7.9 and 11.5 PPG. So while Syracuse comes into Charlottesville with their pride wounded after a scorching start, Virginia’s confidence has never been higher in its attempt to prevent a newcomer from claiming the conference title in its first season.

ACC Microwriters Chris Kehoe and Lathan Wells will focus in on the key questions surrounding this marquee ACC match-up, tipping off at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday (ESPN).

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XIV

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on February 26th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Wichita State Deserves a Number One Seed

There is a vocal group out there making it known that Wichita State should not receive a top seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. They argue that the 30-0 Shockers “haven’t played anyone” and that alone should disqualify Gregg Marshall’s team from landing on the No. 1 seed line when the brackets are released two and a half weeks from now. We can debate the merits of the RPI all we want, but the fact is it remains one of many important selection criteria. Wichita State’s non-conference schedule ranks No. 34 in that metric, which is actually pretty good. By comparison, it is only four spots lower than Georgetown, a middling Big East team about whose schedule people have been raving. Perception is indeed a funny thing.

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don't get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don’t get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Wichita State cannot control the strength of its own league, which also happened to lose Creighton to conference realignment this season. There is something to be said, however, for taking every team’s best shot each and every night and still winning with relative ease. The Shockers beat the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Indiana State, in convincing fashion in Wichita and won the return meeting in Terre Haute comfortably. Out of conference, the Shockers challenged themselves with games at Saint Louis, Tulsa and Alabama, along with a visit by Tennessee to Wichita (Note: Game was played off campus and not at the Roundhouse). Wichita State also played BYU in a two-day event at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The Shockers have certainly not faced a murderer’s row type of schedule, but at 30-0 with a top 35 non-conference slate, that is good enough to be rewarded with a No. 1 seed. In the next two weeks you will hear a lot of pundits talk about tournament resumes, good wins and bad losses. Just remember, Wichita State doesn’t have any bad losses. It has NO losses, period. Dear Selection Committee: Do the right thing and give this team a No. 1 seed!

Jim Boeheim’s Meltdown Masks Syracuse’s Real Issue

Say the word “Syracuse” this week and most people will immediately think of Jim Boeheim’s classic meltdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the iconic Orange coach was ejected from a regular season or postseason game for the first time in 38 years as a head coach. While that was certainly a memorable moment, it masks the nosedive that Syracuse’s offense has taken over its last four games. Over the Orange’s first 24 contests, they recorded an offensive efficiency below 102.1 points per 100 possessions just twice (in wins over Miami and North Carolina). Over the last four games, Syracuse’s offensive efficiency has been 92.5, 94.3, 99.6 and 88.6. Ironically the 99.6 number was in the loss to Duke, but the Blue Devils are the best offensive team Syracuse has faced all season.

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ACC M5: 02.17.14 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 17th, 2014

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  1. Atlantic Coast Confidential: So first, about the Syracuse-NC State game. Neither team deserved to win. You can’t claim you deserve to win if you turn the ball over twice in the last 30 seconds. Nor can you stake much on getting bailed out on a foul call. I want to spend a few words talking about Trevor Cooney’s foul on TJ Warren. It may have been the right call. Good arguments have been made that it was (notably, he traveled after the foul but before shooting). But that doesn’t mean the rule is dumb. Reasonable minds disagree, but Warren had an open layup and Cooney just threw his arm at the ball with no angle to make a play. The contact changed Warren’s timing (resulting in the aforementioned theoretical travel). The clear-path rule should be adopted to some degree at the college level because it’s ridiculous to reward a desperation play like Cooney’s. Moving forward, I’m a little concerned that Syracuse’s regression may come at the wrong time (see the 2010 team for another example). That’s not to say it will, just that I hope people aren’t just paying lip service to the Orange because they’re undefeated. This is a really good team, maybe the best Jim Boeheim has ever coached.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: In moral-boosting NC State stories, good stuff from Joe Giglio on David Thompson (in honor of the 1974 national championship team). Thompson probably tops the list of players I’d like to get a time machine to both go back to see them play and bring back to see them play in today’s game (runner up is probably Wilt Chamberlain). Thompson is one of those athletes (Bo Jackson is the paradigm) who’s reached an almost mythical status where I’d believe nearly any fabled athletic feat (at least related to leaping ability in Thompson’s case) someone told me.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: With Wake Forest continuing its quest to play on the first Wednesday in ACC Tournament history Dan Collins has seen enough of the Jeff Bzdelik era. Had Bzdelik arrived a couple of years later, he might have been able to usurp Les Robinson’s honorary nickname of shame for the conference tournament’s opening day, but I’d be surprised if Wake Forest keeps Bzdelik after this season. Bzdelik’s players may have too, as they’re still talking the talk, but the losses appear to be weighing them down as a group.
  4. Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State kept its NCAA hopes alive by winning at Wake Forest. But there’s still a lot of work left to do, and the team knows it. I think Florida State is in if it wins four of its last five games. Two are gimmes (home against Georgia Tech and at Boston College). But there’s a surging North Carolina team and a trip to increasingly desperate Pittsburgh, not to mention undefeated Syracuse all on the horizon.
  5. BC Heights: Legendary Boston College basketball SID Dick Kelley died last week from ALS. Austin Tedesco–sports editor of the student newspaper–penned a few stories about how Kelley continued to mentor him, even into the later stages of his illness. Anytime you hang around Conte Forum long enough you start hearing stories like these. as Kelley’s manner was just infectious. As a side note, Kelley was the first SID to credential this website as a legitimate entity. He will be missed.
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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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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.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Morning Five: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 7th, 2014

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  1. If you have watched many Michigan State games this season you have probably heard about the friendship that Adreian Payne has developed with Lacey Holsworth, an eight-year-old who is being treated for a neuroblastoma. Jason King has a phenomenal story on not only the friendship that Payne and Holsworth have developed, but also the obstacles that Payne has overcome to get to where he is today. Outside of the stories regarding Payne and Holsworth our favorite part of the column is how Payne kept John Calipari waiting for an hour because Payne wanted to finish his tutoring session after Calipari had taken a helicopter there to meet him during Payne’s recruitment.
  2. We are nearly a month away from the NCAA Tournament, but we can already say that Creighton will be one of the most intriguing teams in the field. Not only do they have the National Player of the Year in Doug McDermott (you can already send him all the trophies and plaques) and one of the most ridiculous deep threats in the country in Ethan Wragge, but they also have one of the worst defenses among contenders in the country, which means they should be playing highly entertaining games. Now it appears that they may be on the verge of getting back starting point guard Grant Gibbs, who has been out since January 7 after injuring his knee. According to Gibbs there is a chance that he could play as early as tonight against DePaul. The addition of Gibbs, who was averaging 6.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, would make the Bluejays an even more dangerous team in March.
  3. Tarik Black may not be producing the kind of numbers that one would have expected based on the attention his transfer to Kansas generated (for the record, we questioned Black’s utility when schools were chasing after him), but it appears that he has caught the eyes of some individuals as a pro prospect. Perhaps not surprisingly those individuals–Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in particular–are looking at Black as a potential NFL tight end. Given Black’s size and the success of former college basketball players Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham (and Black’s lack of production on the basketball court) it certainly seems like a feasible option. We will be interested to see how many moderately successful college basketball players decide to pursue this path rather than head overseas to play professional basketball.
  4. Every week Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are filled with a veritable smorgasbord of useful statistics, but usually one or two jump out at us as particularly interesting. This week’s edition is no different as the stat that jumps out at us is how dependent Syracuse is on Trevor Cooney for its three-point shooting as he accounts for 57.1% of the team’s made three-pointers. Only Marcus Paige at North Carolina accounts for a higher percentage at 57.6%. As Winn notes it is risky to rely so heavily on one individual for three-point shooting and it could end up being one of Syracuse’s weaknesses in March that many have overlooked thus far.
  5. On our podcast a few weeks ago Ken Pomeroy talked about the growing influence of advanced metrics at the NBA level and how it is so far beyond anything we saw at the college level. As Kirk Goldberry details these metrics are promising to analyze every move a player makes on the court. If what Goldberry says is true this movement should revolutionize how we analyze players in much the same way that advanced metrics have revolutionized the way baseball players are evaluated. However, as Pomeroy also noted college basketball is pretty far behind the NBA so it will be a long time before we see it at the college level.
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ACC M5: 02.04.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 4th, 2014

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  1. SBNation: Interesting post-mortem on the Duke-Syracuse instant classic and how the Orange zone forced Jabari Parker into some bad shots. But part of the issue was Duke’s offense, which often gives Parker the ball in a position where he’s forced to isolate. That isn’t to say that Parker shouldn’t learn to pass out of a double-team or recognize the long help-side defender, but Duke needs him — even against a zone — to remain aggressive because it opens up the floor for the rest of the team. Tyler Ennis was a different story — he lived at the free throw line (where he and Jerami Grant were really the difference in the game).
  2. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Speaking of Syracuse, the Orange were bailed out by Trevor Cooney in a big way last night. The sharpshooter went unconscious, knocking down 9-of-12 threes against Notre Dame in a game Syracuse only won by six points. CJ Fair regressed in the most painful kind of way, going 2-of-13 from the field en route to six points. The Orange need to get these performances out of their system now because they still have games at Pittsburgh, at Duke, at Virginia and at Florida State left to play. Seriously, those are arguably teams #2 through #5 in the ACC right now.
  3. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Bad news out of Atlanta as Georgia Tech’s Solomon Poole has been dismissed from the team. That’s not to say he was a very important piece of the squad — he hadn’t played since early January — but his older brother Stacey is still on the team and he was the most obvious backup for Trae Golden, a player who had to sit out much of the game at Wake Forest with a groin injury.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Here’s a midseason evaluation of Virginia that could probably be more generous. I mean, this team is 8-1 in ACC play with a very legitimate shot to grab the top seed in the ACC Tournament (and is a mortal lock for a double-bye). Malcolm Brogdon has been tremendous in conference play, and a grade of a B seems really low for Joe Harris (though I suppose that depends on your expectations coming into the season).
  5. Baltimore Sun: Sure, you can get another nostalgic “I still think of Maryland as an ACC school and I’ll always think that way” quote from Roy Williams, but the real reason to read this article is the elite-level trolling that Seth Allen does at the bottom of the article: ”North Carolina, without question, because it’s louder than Duke,” Allen said. “Duke is small — they’ve got the [Cameron] Crazies over there sticking their hands out. But North Carolina is just really loud.” Your move, Duke fans.
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Five Key Questions as Pittsburgh Heads to the Carrier Dome with Something to Prove

Posted by Matt Patton & Lathan Wells on January 18th, 2014

In anticipation of the new marquee ACC match-up this afternoon at 4:00 PM EST, microsite columnists Matt Patton and Lathan Wells ask each other the tough questions. Somehow, we only mention CJ Fair once.

Can anyone disrupt Syracuse's diaper dandy? (credit: Mark Konezny / USA TODAY Sports)

Can anyone disrupt Syracuse’s diaper dandy? (credit: Mark Konezny / USA TODAY Sports)

LathanTyler Ennis has proven to be a freshman beyond his years at the point, with a demeanor that belies his class. Can anyone disrupt him defensively and thus help stymie what Syracuse wants to do on offense?

Matt: Calling Ennis a surprise is disingenuous because everyone expected him to be really good. People just didn’t him to be this good this quickly. He’s made the offense more efficient by replacing Michael Carter-Williams, the current NBA Rookie of the Year front-runner. But Pittsburgh will likely try to make the freshman uncomfortable by sealing off the lane with face-guarding on the perimeter.

Pittsburgh has some of the best ball movement in the country (seventh nationally in assists per field goal made). How will Syracuse’s zone combat it?

Lathan: In short, the zone makes ball movement the key to staying in the game. Syracuse’s length across its lineup forces teams to keep throwing the ball around the perimeter and causing teams to hurry late in the shot clock to get a good shot. Establishing a solid high-low option is probably the key to having some sort of success on offense.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: A B1G/ACC Tie, UNC Plays Jekyll and Hyde…

Posted by David Harten on December 5th, 2013

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So can anyone figure North Carolina out? Seriously, that’s a question. In the past four games, the Tar Heels have done what can only be deciphered as playing up (or down) to their competition, losing to Belmont at home before beating defending national champion Louisville, then losing to UAB before taking down the No. 1 team in the nation, Michigan State, on Wednesday night. So please, someone explain what makes this team act the way it acts. The Tar Heels’ tussle with the Spartans highlighted the two-day Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with the two conferences tying at 6-6 for the second consecutive year. When it was all over, the national focus was less on the tie and more on the fact that the Tar Heels have two wins over top five teams and two losses to unranked bubble teams.

Speaking of disappointing Michigan State performances, does anyone remember that Garrick Sherman spent the beginning of his career with the Spartans? Well, he’s at Notre Dame now, which everyone probably knows after the five-overtime thriller against Louisville last year, of which he didn’t play a minute of until the first overtime and still finished with 17 points. He’s proven a capable scorer as a fifth-year senior, putting up an event-high 29 points in a 98-93 Irish loss at Iowa. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode IV

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 4th, 2013

Over the last 10 days I have been lucky enough to see multiple national contenders in person, specifically Arizona, Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky. Of those four teams, Arizona impressed me the most. While T.J. McConnell certainly adds another dimension to Sean Miller’s offense as a true point guard (something they sorely missed last year), the most convincing part of the Wildcats’ performance against Duke was their defense. That is the kind of effort that will enable Arizona to get to the point where it is playing championship-level basketball. Arizona still needs to find a consistent shooter (Nick Johnson or Gabe York could be that guy), but I really like its potential. As for Duke, I am actually optimistic that it will turn its defensive problems around (the Michigan win was a great start in that regard), but I am not sure the Blue Devils can get to the level needed to win a national championship. I really liked what I saw out of Michigan State when I saw it play against Oklahoma. Keith Appling led the way for the Spartans and I just love the blend of talent and experience on this roster. Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine seemed primed to take another step forward while Tom Izzo has three All-America candidates in Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne leading the team in scoring. One area of concern for Michigan State is its offensive rebounding, which has been uncharacteristically poor in the early-going. It’s something to keep an eye on, but remember, Izzo’s teams always get better as the season goes along. This one shouldn’t be any different. Of the four teams, Kentucky has the most room for growth. What I saw from Willie Cauley-Stein on Sunday night against Providence was something that makes the Wildcats very scary going forward. UK has NBA length up front and the talent to dominate inside the arc on both ends of the floor. Kentucky’s defense is not at an elite level just yet but this game provided us with a glimpse of what it can be. Mid- to long-range jump shooting is not a strength of this team but as long as it controls the paint and limits turnovers, John Calipari will have even more options to turn to.

Nick Johnson's Arizona team impressed in its win over Duke.

Nick Johnson and Arizona impressed in its win over Duke.

After taking the Battle 4 Atlantis title, Villanova rightly earned a spot in this week’s Top 25. The Wildcats have been the most impressive team in the Big East to date, a conference that has struggled as a whole out of the gate. While I did slot the Wildcats in my rankings at No. 19, I’m not ready to fully buy in just yet. I love this team’s toughness and chemistry from what I saw in Atlantis but there are some clear limitations that I have noticed, even in its wins. The turnover problems that plagued this team all of last season are still there, albeit not to the same degree. Turnovers absolutely kill offensive efficiency and Villanova simply cannot afford it on a continuing basis against better teams. Another red flag is their three-point shooting, currently at 31.4 percent. For a team that relies heavily on triples (44.7 percent of field goals attempted), that can lead to a lot of hit-or-miss games. The old saying of living and dying by the three certainly applies to Villanova, which was on the good side of that equation in Atlantis. I would like to see JayVaughn Pinkston become a better presence on the low blocks, something that would immediately open up Villanova’s offense and make it more versatile. Jay Wright’s squad is clearly a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but it’s not like it lacks talent. The Wildcats have put themselves on the map but I need to see more of this team before I jump on board. A stern non-conference test at Syracuse (how weird is that to say regarding these old Big East rivals?) will give the Wildcats a great test. From the looks of it, it’ll be bombs away from three-point land.

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