The Week That Was: Jan. 25-Jan. 31Posted by jstevrtc on February 1st, 2011
David Ely is an RTC Contributor
It’s Feb. 1. That means there’s only 40 days left until Selection Sunday, or 40 days left for teams to build up their resume so their bubble doesn’t pop. We’re sure there are going to be a lot of heated discussions about teams hovering within that last four in-last four out zone over the next six weeks. Heck, here at TWTW, we’ll probably change our opinion on certain squads three or four times until the end of the regular season. It should be a crazy six weeks, but we know it’s going to be fun.
What We learned
After a weekend that saw 13 ranked teams lose (and the entire top 25 go 22-20 for the week, as Seth Davis pointed out on SI.com) the chic thing to do is talk about the gigantic bulging central part of the bell curve that symbolizes this college basketball season. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of who’s good and who’s bad on a weekly basis, as a team is liable to have a monumental win one night and then lose to a lesser school a few days later. Let’s use Georgetown as an example. Just over two weeks ago the Hoyas were a mess at 1-4 in the Big East and losers of four of their previous five games. Now, they’ve won five in a row, including recent triumphs at Villanova and at home against Louisville. Georgetown isn’t the only school that enjoys playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Check out this paragraph from Davis’ Monday column:
“Texas can lose at USC and then win at Kansas. Tennessee, which should be this movie’s poster child, can win at Villanova and Pitt (at the Consol Energy Center) and lose to College of Charleston and Charlotte. Louisville loses at home to Drexel but beats UConn on the road. Providence loses to LaSalle but beats Louisville and Villanova. Auburn loses to Samford, Campbell and Presbyterian, but it beats Florida State, which later beats Duke. What, you didn’t know Presbyterian was better than Duke? And on Sunday, St. John’s (which lost to Fordham) blew out Duke.”
Given all this uncertainty, can anyone honestly say with any assurance that there’s a clear-cut elite set of teams? Ohio State might be undefeated, but the Buckeyes have had their fair share of nail biters over ho-hum teams (Michigan, Penn State, and most recently, Northwestern). TWTW would like to put its eggs into Texas’ basket. The Longhorns are this week’s Team du Jour, having torched four ranked teams in the last 13 days, but you wouldn’t be shocked if Texas didn’t have a hiccup or two to an unranked team before the season’s end, would you?
Just about every Duke loss solicits the same panicked response from national media and unfiltered glee from fans from coast to coast. During Sunday’s 93-78 beatdown at the hands of St. John’s, Twitter was abuzz with people wondering just what the heck was wrong with the Blue Devils. Thankfully there were a few people out there who took this loss for what it was: one bad game for Duke, not a harbinger of a pending collapse. The Blue Devils had a similar lackluster showing against a Big East squad last year (remember all the obits that were written after that 12-point shellacking in D.C.?), and all they did was recover to win the NCAA Tournament. We’re not saying that Duke is going to follow that same path this year; St. John’s, while frisky, isn’t Georgetown. It’s just that there were some fluky things about Sunday’s game. There aren’t going to be many days on which Duke shoots 5-26 from 3-point range. The Blue Devils should still cruise to their second-straight ACC crown. The real story from Sunday’s game is Steve Lavin’s work at St. John’s. The Johnnies are still a sub-.500 team in the Big East, but this was the program’s biggest win in years. Better start taking Lavin’s team seriously, if you haven’t already.
Could America’s favorite mid-major really be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday? That fate might await Butler now that the Bulldogs have lost three of four games to the likes of Wright State, Milwaukee and Valparasio. Butler now sits in fourth place in the Horizon League (a half game behind Wright State and two and a half behind first-place Cleveland State). ESPN.com had the Bulldogs as its third-to-last team in the tourney in its latest projection (RTC had them in its last four out), and their bracket put the Bulldogs in a First Four game for the West’s 12 seed. There’s no doubt that Butler is on the bubble, and that its status is getting more and more precarious. The problem for the Bulldogs is that they are not nearly the same defensive team they were a year ago when they were the national runner-up. Last season, Butler was the #5 team in the nation in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com; this year, the Bulldogs check in at #137. They’re only forcing turnovers on 18.8% of their opponents’ possessions (264th in the nation) and they’re giving up an effective field goal percentage of 49.3% (172nd nationally). Butler’s M.O. is supposed to be defense, but they’re a mediocre team on that side of the ball this year. The lone bright spot for the Bulldogs is they have a decent RPI (#42 thanks to the 27th ranked strength of schedule, according to CollegeRPI.com), but that number will continue to slip if they suffer anymore setbacks. It’s time for Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and company to man up and put a run together. Butler housed Cleveland State at home earlier this year — it’s not out of the question to expect them to win the Horizon League’s automatic bid.
TWTW learned a valuable lesson this week. Never doubt Ohio State at home. We here have been bullish on the Buckeyes all season, but then had a momentary lapse of judgment in last week’s column when we suggested that Purdue was capable of winning at Ohio State. Well, not only was Purdue not capable of beating the Buckeyes, TWTW wonders if the Boilermakers would have had much success against Columbus’ Grandview Heights High School boys’ JV team, given the way the Boilers embarrassed themselves Tuesday night. This graph from KenPom.com shows just how competitive that game was. Ohio State had six players score in double figures with William Buford’s 19 points leading the way. OSU shot 55.2% (32-58) from the field and 57.9% (11-19) from three…against the 13th most efficient defensive squad in the nation. Not that those numbers should be surprising, since the Buckeyes have been carving up teams all year, forcing them to play a game of pick-your-poison between doubling Jared Sullinger and leaving someone open on the perimeter, or playing it straight up and risking a monster night from Sully. After surviving a trap game at Northwestern, the Buckeyes are only nine games away from an undefeated regular season. Four of those games come on the road, where OSU (like most teams) has been most vulnerable. Feb. 12’s date at Wisconsin should be must-see TV.
The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week:
JimmerMania is sweeping the nation. Jimmer Fredette had hoops fans around the nation atwitter Wednesday night after his scintillating 43-point performance in leading BYU to a home win over undefeated San Diego State. There was no such thing as hyperbole in describing his game that night, as The Jimmer made believers out of all of us, and all of BYU’s games are now appointment viewing for the rest of the season. Honestly, does it get better than seeing Fredette knock down 25-footers right in someone’s grill on one possession, and then slash his way to the hoop for a runner a minute later? But an interesting side effect of Wednesday’s episode The Jimmer Show was all of the ensuing talk on what kind of NBA player he would make. Yahoo! Sports’ NBA reporter, Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a column on Friday about what NBA brass think of Fredette (it’s mixed).
Last week TWTW knocked St. Mary’s for blowing its chance at a statement win over Vanderbilt, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Gaels’ brief redemption this week. Mickey McConnell hit a herky-jerk shot with 1.2 seconds on the clock to give St. Mary’s its first win at Gonzaga since 1995. While the Bulldogs are having a down year, Gaels fans would argue that this win was more meaningful than one at Vanderbilt would have been. And it should definitely take some of the sting out of the Gaels’ ensuing loss at Portland.
And finally, this past week marked the 10th Anniversary of one of the saddest days in college basketball history. On Jan. 27, 2001 10 members of the Oklahoma State basketball program, including two players, died in a plane crash on a trip back from a game at Colorado. The Cowboys marked the occasion with a special halftime ceremony, in which a “Remember the 10” banner bearing the names of all 10 victims was unveiled. Players on both teams wore Remember the 10 t-shirts during pregame warm ups, and Eddie Sutton, who was the OSU coach at the time of the crash, addressed the crowd during intermission. It was a touching ceremony, and even though the Cowboys lost to Texas, it was unquestionably a memorable night for everyone in attendance.
Pour This Man a Drink
Jim Boeheim, come have a seat at college basketball’s least popular bar. I know you’re not happy to be here, but your presence is mandatory given your squad’s sudden decline over the last two weeks. Since winning their first 18 games of the season, the Orangemen have crashed back to Earth losing four straight. Maybe Syracuse had one of the flimsier resumes of all the top teams (its best win came Jan. 1 at home against Notre Dame), but no one really expected this to happen. The first loss was forgivable. Syracuse was without leading scorer Kris Joseph, and any team in the nation would be susceptible to losing at Pittsburgh this year. The Panthers have long been Boeheim’s zone-busting kryptonite, after all. But we’re talking about a four-game losing streak, in which offenses have had their way with SU’s defense to such a degree that people are once again questioning Boeheim’s loyalty to his zone D. Of course it’s silly to expect the Orangemen to switch to a man-to-man approach. That’s not what Boeheim does, and certainly not at this juncture of a season. But something needs to change on the defensive end if the Orangemen hope to end their skid. In all four of their losses, opponents have shot at least 48.2% from the floor and 40% from three.
KenPom vs. the AP
Here we address one team whose rankings in the KenPom and AP Top 25 polls* just don’t match up. Then we try to determine which ranking more accurately reflects where the squad in question should be placed in the nation’s hoops hierarchy. (*Disclaimer: The rankings are based off the AP Top 25’s Week 13 poll, while KenPom’s is through games played through Jan. 30).
This week’s team is West Virgina. The Mountaineers are currently #25 in the AP but #16 according to KenPom. Where should we place them? Let’s find out…
Why West Virginia should be #25: The Mountaineers checked back into the AP poll after a one-week hiatus following a one-point loss at Louisville and an 11-point win at Cincinnati. Not a bad way to rebound from a disappointing loss to Marshall on Jan. 19 (something that should never happen at WVU or even in Charleston, WV, where that game was played). The win at Cincinnati was Bob Huggins’ first as a visiting coach in the Bearcats’ home arena. The Mountaineers’ performance this week makes the loss to Marshall seem like an aberration. They’ve won six of their last eight — a span that includes wins over Georgetown and Purdue.
Why West Virginia should be #16: WVU has one quality TWTW loves seeing from its top teams: the Mountaineers are in every game. Their worst defeat of the season is a 10-point loss to St. John’s; the other five are all by five points or fewer. They also play effective defense on the perimeter. West Virginia ranks #3 in the nation in 3-point defense (27.8%), as opposing guards are rarely able to get good looks against WVU’s trio of Casey Mitchell (when he’s around), Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla.
Our verdict: There’s something about the Mountaineers that we think will make them a second-weekend team in the NCAA Tournament, so we have to side with our friends at KenPom here. The Mountaineers are a tough, experienced squad (five of their top six guys in the rotation are upperclassmen), and they don’t back down from any challenge, no matter the location. We’ll watch them with a keen eye this next week, though, as they face Villanova and Pittsburgh. In seven days we’ll have a better grasp on where WVU stacks up.
Your Seven-Day All-Americans
Jimmer Fredette, guard, BYU — This is The Jimmer’s third-straight week on the team as he steadily builds his case for player of the year. This week Fredette scored 43 points in BYU’s epic clash with San Diego State, and then he dropped 32 in a loss at New Mexico (always a tough place to play). In the seven games since he scored 13 points against Fresno Pacific on Jan. 1 (he only played 22 minutes), Fredette has topped 30 five times and has gone over 40 three times.
Darius Morris, guard, Michigan — Morris recorded the first conference-play triple-double in Michigan history when he posted a 12-10-11 in the Wolverines’ win over Iowa. When TWTW read about Morris’ feat, we have to admit we were shocked that no one from the Fab Five ever achieved it.
Klay Thompson, forward, Washington State — Thompson scored 25 points to go along with five steals and four assists in the Cougars’ upset of rival Washington on Sunday night. Thompson leads the Pac-10 in scoring this year at 22.3 PPG, and all of his other numbers are up from last year, including a jump from 2.3 to 4.4 in APG and 36.4% to 43% in 3-point shooting.
Harrison Barnes, forward, North Carolina — Now this is the Harriosn Barnes UNC thought it was going to get from day one. Barnes made big shot after big shot down the stretch at Miami (including a shot-clock beating trey that proved to be the game winner over the ’Canes). Then, on Saturday, he scored a career-high 25 points as the Tar Heels blasted N.C. State.
Jared Sullinger, center, Ohio State — It was just another run of the mill week for Sullinger: 17 points, seven boards against Purdue; 21 points, eight rebounds at Northwestern. The Jimmer has overshadowed Sulligner’s recent play, but he’s got a reserved spot on TWTW’s roster.
Tobias Harris, forward, Tennessee — UT coach Bruce Pearl said Monday that Harris is a legitimate freshman All-America candidate. Co-signed. Harris is averaging 14.3 PPG and 9.7 RPG in SEC play, and he just was named SEC Freshman of the Week after posting 8.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 2.5 APG and 2 SPG in wins over LSU and Ole Miss.
Jeremy Lamb, guard, UConn — Lamb is developing into a nice Robin to Kemba Walker’s Batman. Lamb averaged 22 PPG this week to win Big East Freshman of the Week honors. Lamb has reached double figures in five-straight games.