The Road to an NCAA Bid For Select Bubble Teams

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 8th, 2016

As the mid-major conference tournaments excite and entertain college basketball fans everywhere this week, teams on the bubble correspondingly shake in fear as coveted NCAA Tournament spots are snagged by pesky bid thieves. Northern Iowa (MVC), Iona (MAAC) and Green Bay (Horizon) have already collected conference tournament victories that are likely to impact the bubble equation. Power conference teams residing on the bubble still have some control over their destiny, as they are inevitably presented with multiple opportunities to bolster their resumes without having to win an entire tournament. A single victory over a fellow bubble team or an upset of a highly-ranked conference foe can provide the boost needed to rest a lot easier on Selection Sunday. Chances will vary for each of the following bubble teams, but here a few teams in need of victories this week along with a path with which to do so.

USC

Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have The Tournament In Sight...But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Jordan McLaughlin And USC Have the NCAA Tournament In Sight… But May Need One Or Two More Wins To Get There (Photo: AP)

Its Path: Beat UCLA and Utah

On January 13, USC was 15-3 with wins over Arizona and UCLA in Pac-12 play along with non-conference wins over Monmouth, Wichita State and Yale. The wheels have since fallen off the Trojans, as Andy Enfield’s squad lost eight of its final 13 games to plant itself firmly on the bubble. The rigors of conference play hit his squad harder than expected, knocking the Trojans right to the edge of the NCAA Tournament. USC begins this week’s Pac-12 Tournament with its bid-clinching work clearly laid out ahead of it. Wins over UCLA (which they swept this season) in the first round and Utah (RPI #8) in the quarterfinals would safely launch the Trojans into the field.

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Overrated/Underrated Teams: February Edition

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 3rd, 2016

As we enter February and March looms large, the identities of teams begin to crystallize both on the floor and in our minds. Sure, things can always change, but with over 20 games for most teams already in the books, it’s safe to say we know who these teams are. But those assumptions aren’t always right. Due to scheduling oddities, injuries or just plain poor judgment, the conventional wisdom on certain teams isn’t necessarily correct. So here is a rundown of several teams that are likely to be exposed as either underrated or overrated as we enter the stretch run of the regular season.

Overrated

Dunn's Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

Kris Dunn’s rise has been meteoric, but has his team followed? (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Providence (18-5), ranked #11 — The AP Poll will tell you that the Friars are #11 in the country. Joe Lunardi will tell you they’re a #4 seed. But we’re here to tell you they aren’t that great (ed. note: this was written before last night’s loss at DePaul). For a team led by the great Kris Dunn, Providence is a shockingly bad offensive team, with an offensive efficiency that ranks just 118th nationally. Moreover, of its six Big East wins, five have been by four points or fewer or came in overtime. That probably means that Dunn is clutch and the Friars know how to win close games, but it also means that they’re keeping games closer than a borderline top 10 team should. This is reflected in the Friars’ low KenPom ranking of #47 (it was #39 prior to the DePaul game). Besides, as talented as this team is, Ed Cooley has never lacked for talent. What he has lacked is success. Don’t be surprised if that trend continues down the stretch.
  • Pittsburgh (17-4), unranked — Three weeks ago, the Panthers were 14-1, ranked #20 in the national polls and had the nation’s fourth most efficient offense. Six games later, that offense has fallen to 19th in efficiency and the Panthers are simultaneously falling off the map. Aside from an 18-point loss at Louisville, Pitt has yet to play any of the ACC elites, and should count itself extremely lucky to be 6-3 including close wins against Georgia Tech and Florida State. However, the good teams are coming. The Panthers will play Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, Duke and Louisville in February. Their current best win is one of games at home to Syracuse or at Notre Dame, but more wins are going to be hard to find down the stretch. The Panthers could see themselves on the bubble very soon.

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Loss of Amida Brimah Leaves UConn With Limited Options

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 24th, 2015

As Connecticut prepared to wrap up non-conference play this week, the Huskies suffered a key loss as center and defensive stalwart Amida Brimah broke his finger in practice. Brimah’s injury will require surgery and cause the junior to be sidelined for six to eight weeks. As one of the best rim protectors in college basketball, his loss will be tough to overcome. The hope for Kevin Ollie is that his team’s depth will find a way to pick up the slack heading into next week’s game at Texas followed by the start of conference play.

UConn will try to figure out how to handle the loss of center Amida Brimah. Photo Credit: Getty Images

UConn will try to figure out how to handle the loss of center Amida Brimah. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

So where does UConn go from here? Standing at 8-3 with a couple quality wins over Michigan and Ohio State but not much else to show for this season, the Huskies will need to put together a strong performance in the American if they want to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Here are two areas where Ollie must focus on improvement.

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Report Card: Finals Week Wrap in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 22nd, 2015

Finals week is always one of the slower times of the college basketball season, but there was still a decent amount of action that took place in the American last week. With the events of the last week in mind, here’s an AAC Report Card.  

A: SMU. This was a great week for SMU. Not only did the Mustangs roll over Nicholls State and Hampton to stay undefeated, but head coach Larry Brown also returned from his nine-game suspension for rules violations. What has made this SMU team so potent? Based on the most recent KenPom ratings, SMU owns the eighth most efficient offense in college basketball and the 55th most efficient defense. That offense, with potential AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore leading the way, has carried SMU through its relatively soft non-conference schedule, but there is hardly a Mustang who hasn’t joined the party: seven of SMU’s eight rotation players have offensive ratings among the 115 best in the country. The lone exception, Keith Frazier, is still 371st nationally with an offensive rating of 116.9. There will be no postseason in Dallas, but this is a fun team that really knows how to run an offense.  

A: UConn. Following close losses to Maryland, Gonzaga and Syracuse, UConn was looking for another quality win to go along with its late November victory over Michigan. The Huskies found it in a 20-point demolition of Ohio State, a team that has struggled but managed to beat Kentucky last weekend. Kevin Ollie tightened up his rotation against the Buckeyes, reserving major minutes for only seven players. This meant no playing time for Sam Cassell Jr. and Phil Nolan and only a minute of mop-up action for freshman big man Steven Enoch. UConn will look to build on this win as they play one-win Central Connecticut on Wednesday before heading to Austin to face a rising Texas team in its final non-conference game.

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Morning Five: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 11th, 2015

morning5

  1. One of the more controversial aspects of the NCAA suspending a coach is that he is not allowed to directly communicate with his assistants or players during the suspension. That does not mean that the coach cannot speak publicly about the team and make whatever observations he wants to listeners. For example, Jim Boeheim, who is currently serving part of a nine-game suspension, is still allowed to talk on the radio (or any other medium) and his assistants and players can listen (like he did here). The only stipulation to this is that the assistants and coaches are not supposed to be doing anything different than before meaning that they are only supposed to listen if they listened before. Obviously, this is essentially impossible to enforce, which has led to some of the NCAA’s critics to point it out as another ridiculous way the NCAA works. That may be true, but there is no way around it since the NCAA can’t prevent an individual from speaking publicly and if they did there would be an even bigger uproar.
  2. Avery Johnson’s first season as a college basketball coach just got a lot tougher as Alabama announced that freshman starting point guard Dazon Ingram will miss the rest of the season after fracturing his left foot. Ingram, who helped lead the Tide to a 5-2 start, was averaging 7.7 points, a team-leading 5.9 rebounds, a team-leading 3.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. With Ingram out, Alabama is expected to use a point guard by committee. Alabama wasn’t going to contend for the SEC title, but they did have a couple of nice early wins (against Wichita State and Notre Dame).
  3. We are hesitant to say that Kentucky is struggling when they are still one of the top teams in the country, but that are not at the point that many observers expected them to be at this point in the season. This is probably more a reflection of the unrealistic expectation on them than actual underachievement, but help might be on the way in the form of Tai Wynyard. The 6’9″ freshman from New Zealand is set to enroll on December 18 and he could be able to play as early as their game against Louisville on December 26 although John Calipari is not ruling out the possibility that he could redshirt.
  4. This week’s edition of the Power Rankings, Luke Winn looks at his usual variety of data (apparently no themes yet this year), but the thing that jumped out at us was just how effective Michigan State was at off-dribble jumpers. As Luke points out, these are usually much less effective than catch-and-shoot jumpers, but through ten games this season the Spartans are making them at a remarkably high clip. However, as last season’s data shows this is extremely unusual, which would seem to indicate that they should be experience a return to a more normal range pretty soon.
  5. Former Connecticut star Tate George is being sentenced this week for his role in a $7 million Ponzi scheme. George, who is best known for hitting a last-second buzzer-beater in the 1990 Sweet 16 against Clemson (to get the Huskies to the Elite 8 where Christian Laettner hit his “other” Elite 8 buzzer-beater), has been in prison without bail since his conviction more than two years ago and will be representing himself after firing two of his lawyers. George faces up to nine years in prison if he is convicted on all counts. At the hearing, George claimed there was no crime because the investors could get all their money back if the projects become successful. Somehow we doubt that argument will work.
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Buy or Sell: Middle of the Pack American Teams

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 7th, 2015

Since its creation, the AAC has seen a trend of clearly tiered divisions in the league. This season has been no different, as the top of the conference seems solid with three teams currently ranking among KenPom’s top 30: Cincinnati, Connecticut and SMU. From there things get a bit murkier, but there still seems to be a clear middle of the pack in Tulsa and Memphis. The American has provided unexpected results before: Which of these two middle-tiered teams could make a run to the top of the league? Teaser: One is better positioned for such a surge than the other. 

SELL: Tulsa (KenPom Ranking: #60)

Tulsa needs Shaq Harrison to step up if the team would like to make a run to the top of the American.

Shaquille Harrison has done a good job leading Tulsa this year, but the bench needs to chip in more for a happy ending to this Golden Hurricane season.

Less than two weeks ago things were looking up for Tulsa. Fresh off a win over #9 Wichita State, everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. However, since that game, Tulsa has struggled immensely, with losses to South Carolina, Arkansas-Little Rock, and most recently, Oral Roberts. The Golden Hurricane also had to come back from 19 points down to defeat MAC outfit Ohio University. A win over intrastate rival Oklahoma State during this span cannot be overlooked, but the Cowboys have also struggled this year (with a KenPom ranking of #98 with bad losses to Missouri State and George Mason). What’s changed in the past couple weeks? Mainly, Tulsa has gone back to its old poor habits on the offensive end of the court.

When we last checked in with the Golden Hurricane, the team had shown improvement on the offensive end, boasting the 19th-best effective field goal percentage in the country after their defeat of Wichita State. Today, that same statistic has dropped by 11 percent to 50.1%, now good for just 141st in the nation. Senior leaders like Shaquille Harrison have performed at a relatively high level (minus a four-point outing against Arkansas-Little Rock), but the bench has failed to provide consistent production. One expected bench contributor who has yet to show up is Rashad Ray. The senior played a large role for Tulsa last year, averaging 7.5 points per game. He’s managed only 2.8 points per contest this year, including zero points in a loss to South Carolina and only three in the most recent loss to Oral Roberts. Tulsa will have a few more opportunities in the non-conference schedule to boost its resume, and they will need to capitalize on them with the Wichita State win looking less stellar by the day. The Golden Hurricane needs their role players to step up and play at a higher level if they are to do so.

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Finding Michigan’s Winning Formula In Spite of Frontcourt Troubles

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 30th, 2015

Michigan looked like the Michigan of old in a 78-72 win over Texas on Friday night, shooting 58 percent from the floor and scoring 1.26 points per possession. But in both losses to date this season — a loss last Wednesday to Connecticut and a November 20 loss to Xavier — Michigan struggled to rebound, score in the paint or find a reliable scorer outside of do-everything guard Caris LeVert. All of these were familiar struggles for those who watched much of Michigan’s 16-16 season last year. Here’s a closer look at Michigan’s first six games and the best way for the Wolverines to improve some of the maladies that appear to again ail them.

Caris LeVert needs consistency around him for Michigan to win consistently. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Caris LeVert needs consistency around him for Michigan to win consistently. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Let’s start with the team’s most obvious weakness: Michigan’s frontcourt has simply not been very good. There are several, but the most damning statistic is that no Wolverines’ big man is averaging more than 2.7 rebounds per game. To put this into perspective, Derrick Walton, Jr., Michigan’s 6’1″ point guard, has 14 more rebounds than any post player on the roster. Furthermore, Michigan’s offensive rebounding percentage comes in at just 25.8 percent (256th nationally, per KenPom.com). In the two losses that number was even lower — at 19.4 percent and 23.8 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the Musketeers and Huskies posted respective offensive rebounding percentages of their own of 45.0 percent and 32.3 percent. The Wolverines had an easier time on the glass in wins against Charlotte, Elon and Northern Michigan, but none of those teams possess the length, size and athleticism that Xavier and Connecticut have; perhaps more importantly, none have the length, size and athleticism that Big Ten opponents will have.  Read the rest of this entry »

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UConn Seeks Signature Wins in Atlantis

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 25th, 2015

Coming off last year’s disappointing season that resulted in a trip to the NIT, Kevin Ollie‘s UConn Huskies have retooled and should be looking to make a statement in this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis. To accomplish that mission, here are three things UConn will be looking to do — besides eat a little Thanksgiving turkey — this Feast Week.

If UConn Meets Syracuse On Thursday, Daniel Hamilton Will Be Key In Picking Apart The Vaunted ‘Cuse Zone. (NBC Connecticut)

Win the opening game: This may seem obvious, but UConn’s Battle 4 Atlantis opener is crucial. Given the way the bracket sets up, beating Michigan must happen for the Huskies to have real chances at resume-building wins. It’s not that dissimilar a situation to the 2010 Maui Invitational that UConn won. Those Kemba Walker-led Huskies opened with a victory over Wichita State, a win that enabled them to post marquee wins over Michigan State and Kentucky. A UConn loss to Michigan would most likely result in a matchup with a Charlotte (KenPom #275). Win, and a matchup with old Big East foe Syracuse is a good bet to happen. Out of conference scheduling has been a focus of UConn since conference realignment left them with fewer in-conference opportunities for big victories, and needless to say, the Huskies didn’t travel to Atlantis to take on Charlotte. Michigan comes into this game after a home loss to Xavier in the Gavitt Games, so they will also arrive in Nassau desperate for a solid early win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Opening Weekend Takeaways from the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 16th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference opened with 11 contests featuring league squads over the weekend — including two victories for Cincinnati and an easy win for the AAC’s only ranked team at the moment. While exceptionally early, it’s never too soon to make some initial observations. Here are five such thoughts from over the weekend.

  1. UConn, Cincinnati and SMU are the Teams to Beat: Since the American’s existence as a conference, there has been a clear divide between the top and bottom halves of the league. From this weekend’s results, it appears as if there will be a clear divide between the top three teams and the rest of the conference. UConn, Cincinnati and SMU did exactly what was expected of them — which was to roll over their weaker opponents. It will be interesting to see how these three teams fare as they play some tougher non-conference teams in the coming weeks.

    After a promising opening weekend, Farad Cobb looks to lead Cincinnati on the offensive end this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

    After a promising opening weekend, Farad Cobb looks to lead Cincinnati on the offensive end this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

  2. Has Cincinnati Found Its Go-To Scorer? As discussed in our opening weekend hopes post, Cincinnati needs to find a go-to player on the offensive end of the floor. Head coach Mick Cronin thought that Troy Caupain might become that player, but senior Farad Cobb surprised everyone this weekend with 11 points in the opener against Western Carolina, including a 3-of-3 performance from behind the arc. To show some consistency, Cobb followed that up with a team-high 15-point outing against Robert Morris on Sunday. If Cobb can consistently perform at this level, the Bearcats become much more dangerous with legitimate perimeter scoring to complement what Gary Clark and Octavious Ellis are doing inside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Five Takeaways from Championship Week Saturday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 15th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. With the Selection Show now hours away, here are the headline makers from Saturday’s games.

1. Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Halfway through the second half of yesterday’s ACC championship game, I was all prepared to rave about the boys in baby blue. North Carolina came out of the gates fast in the second half and looked to be on its way to another ACC Tournament championship. At the same time I was legitimately thinking about the Tar Heels as a possible Final Four team. They’d already knocked off Louisville and Virginia on consecutive nights and had been impressive in doing so. But then Notre Dame happened. The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily fall flat, but when the Irish’s 26-3 run came it was as if the two teams were playing a different game. With its many talented shooters and ball-handlers, Notre Dame presented the Tar Heels with matchup problems that it eventually exploited. Their ball movement was exceptional. Carolina, of course, will be just fine and is still a candidate for a deep NCAA Tourney run, but Notre Dame’s ACC crown this weekend was a real head-turner. When the Irish are running hot, they can beat anybody in the country — they may also have elevated themselves to a #2 seed with their play over the last three days.

2. Iowa State Does it Again

Down 14 at halftime, Iowa State had Kansas… um, right where it wanted the Jayhawks? Apparently. The Cyclones have made a strange habit of staging colossal second-half comebacks this season. In their previous four games, they had rallied from deficits of 11, 16, 10 and 21 points to win all four. So when Kansas took a 17-point lead early in the second half, the Cyclones didn’t panic. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch simply decided it was their time to push forward. Jameel McKay and Georges Niang led a seemingly inevitable 17-2 run that got Iowa State right back in the game, and although the Jayhawks went down swinging, the Cyclones eventually pulled through. Fred Hoiberg’s team has so many weapons that it will be a unique and extremely tricky challenge for anybody for the rest of March.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Road Warrior Week as Pressure Mounts at the Top

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 10th, 2015

As we approach Selection Sunday — and, yes, it is now a mere 33 days away — two ends of the spectrum dominate the college basketball conversation. One of those is the bubble. The other, of course, is the top line. And while it’s a bit too early to paint a decipherable picture of those teams vying for positions in the play-in games, the competition for the four No. 1 seeds is beginning to take shape. There appear to be three solid bets. Kentucky is near-lock. Virginia, with only one loss — a good loss, mind you — and a handful of impressive wins, is another. And Gonzaga, despite a relatively weak conference slate, is a third. Even if the Zags were to suffer one more defeat along the way, they might still be safe in a position on the top line. The fourth spot, however, is truly up for grabs. On the back of a splendid array of wins away from home, Duke would appear to be the front-runner. But Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Villanova aren’t too far behind the Blue Devils. If the Badgers run the table the rest of the way — a real possibility — they’d make the committee’s job on this decision excruciating. Villanova could also cause a few headaches if they enter the discussion as a two-loss team. And Kansas, with its top-ranked schedule and plethora of top-50 wins, could close the season at No. 1 in the RPI. The pressure is on at the top. We’ll see which teams can handle it.

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Road Warrior Week

This week isn’t overflowing with marquee matchups, so we’ll forgo Three for the Money in favor of a more general theme. It’s road warrior week. Duke got things started on Monday night when it went to Florida State and escaped with a narrow victory in Tallahassee. Some other top-10 teams this week might not be so fortunate, as eight of those — including the Blue Devils — will play on the road at an unranked team between Monday and Friday. It starts on Tuesday night when Kentucky travels to LSU; Notre Dame makes the long trek to Clemson; Kansas plays at Texas Tech; and Wisconsin heads to Nebraska. Kentucky perhaps faces the stiffest test of all. LSU, an up-tempo squad with a big and physical front line, will try to get out in transition and score before Kentucky can set up its suffocating half-court defense. Notre Dame, however, is the most likely of the four to lose. The Fighting Irish are only three-point favorites against the Tigers, a hard-luck team that has lost a bunch of close games this year. Wisconsin revisits the site of last year’s memorable Cornhuskers upset on ‘no-sit Sunday.’

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UConn’s Offensive Issues and How Rodney Purvis is the Only Cure

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 29th, 2015

UConn do-it-all guard Ryan Boatright looks like he might run away with AAC Player of the Year honors this season, but when it comes to determining whether the Huskies will make the NCAA Tournament, it will ultimately be the play of running mate Rodney Purvis who makes the biggest difference. Let there be no debate that Boatright is the best and most important player on the team, but the senior isn’t the offensive player Shabazz Napier was and he doesn’t have a running mate as good as he was as Napier’s complement last season. Rather, Boatright is a skilled but flawed offensive player who cannot shoulder the burden by himself, as evidenced by the team’s overall ugly offensive efficiency numbers. And after getting a chance to watch the Huskies play in a road loss to Stanford last week followed by a win over UCF and a man-handling of South Florida last weekend, it is clear that Purvis is the player most capable of lending Boatright a hand.

Rodney Purvis' Offense Is UConn's Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

Rodney Purvis’ Offense Is UConn’s Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

His performance this season has in many ways been a microcosm for what has plagued UConn all season long, though — consistency. The NC State transfer has only scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games once this season (against Columbia and Central Connecticut State), and even within the flow of games, Purvis can frustratingly flit in and out of focus. At times last week against the Cardinal, Purvis looked unstoppable. He bullied his way to the basket whenever he felt like it; he made a few contested jumpers over smaller defenders look easy; and despite making just one of his five free throws, his aggression helped teammates get open looks. When the final horn sounded, he had logged 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and the rest of the Huskies had managed just 45 more points in their second straight loss. The team’s offensive funk reached its low point during the second half, and Purvis was seemingly content to fade into the background as Boatright forced floaters in the lane and Amida Brimah tried his luck in the post. Purvis has UConn’s best combination of size and athleticism on the court, and Stanford had absolutely nobody who could effectively guard him. And yet he was a veritable ghost in the second half. He followed up the disappointing Stanford performance with an ugly eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in an equally ugly win over UCF after that, and then looked like a man reborn last Sunday against South Florida as he went for 17 points, including 8-of-12 from the charity stripe and abused whichever poor player drew the unlucky assignment of guarding him.

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