• Feb. 27 | Midnight, PT
When we got an inside look at the how the NCAA seeding committee works, it was clear that making the Big Dance’s bracket wasn’t easy. Some wondered if the committee did it strictly to let people see just how much work is involved (so people wouldn’t be so harsh in assesing the final brackets on Selection Sunday), but reading about the process did raise one important question:
Sure, the committee does a good job, but could it be more effective?
That’s what the guys at ESPN — Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas and Rece Davis — discussed during Tuesday night’s College GameDay. And it was enough to make me wish I had a transcript of the whole thing.
What unnamed team has a better résumé, Team A (RPI 49, SOS 16, 4-6 vs. the RPI top 25) or Team B (RPI 68, SOS 249, 0-4 vs. RPI top 25)? Should the final 10 be a consideration for the tournament? Should close losses be a consideration? All of it interesting stuff, even if it was stuff that general fans might glaze over.
(Then again, the way people care about the BCS makes me think that as long the information is presented, people will have an interest.)
Bilas covered most of what they talked about in his blog last week (in the latest installment of the brilliant back-and-forth he does with SI’s Grant Wahl), which, for Bilas, came down to three things that should change when considering the 65 teams that make up the NCAA Tournament: the seeding committee’s members, the RPI and criteria.
The committee, as Bilas writes “should be comprised not of sitting commissioners and athletic directors, but of a disinterested working group of basketball literate legends like C.M. Newton, Dean Smith, Dave Gavitt, and Carroll Williams.”
Bilas isn’t the only one saying this, (Wahl’s response “If the tournament selection process is so hard, why entrust it to a bunch of folks who have their own busy full-time jobs as ADs and conference administrators?” is perfect), and it’s his best point. Why do these people have these jobs?
It’s hard to believe that relinquishing a position of power like being on the seeding committee would actually happen, but it would be an ideal start to building a better committee.
Bilas hates the RPI. He isn’t the only one. Ken Pomeroy is the go-to guy for the RPI on a daily basis, but he admits he has “little use for it these days.” Why? Well, it’s outdated, for starters, and isn’t nearly detailed enough. (Check out how much different Pomeroy’s own ratings are from the RPI. Same teams, different order.)
So what to do? Bilas wants a “precise indicator of merit” that would rate a team’s performance in each game and would give the seeding committee a better indicator of just how good one team is. “Each game performance shall be assigned a value at the time the game was played, and that value shall not change over time,” Bilas writes
Why? When Wichita State beat LSU in November, the Tigers were a top 10 team in the AP poll. So WSU gets a huge bump for beating a top 10 team that really isn’t a top 10 team? (And isn’t even a NCAA Tournament team.) You have to adjust rankings over a season because in a world where polls matter, teams rise and fall according to preseason perceptions.
A more detailed performance indicator is needed. But it would have to adjust as the teams do.
Criteria, as Bilas sees it, should be left to the committe member to simply decide who the best 34 at-large teams are. No more “last 10 games,” etc. Instead, “Each member of the new committee shall be left to his or her own judgment in determining which teams are best.” The bottom line is who has a bubble team beaten?
I know Bilas is smart, but this sound pretty damn hard to do unless that new performance indicator is ready to go. Keeping a list of the 34 best at-large teams in one’s head is an impossible task.
He’s correct in writing that teams need to be considered by who they’ve beaten, but this gives an inherant edge to the major teams. Winthrop may be 0-4 vs. the RPI top 25, but all four of those games were on the road. What happens when the Eagles get to play at home? Do they win a few of those games as Florida State does? After all, three of the ’Noles’ RPI top 25 wins came at home.
Criteria seems to be the one area where the seeding committee does its job correctly since they use several different tools to produce the bracket. After all, it’s easy to figure out the top teams in the country. Deciding if Gonzaga is superior to Texas Tech or if Davidson is better than Air Force is the hard part.
OK, so maybe this isn’t stuff general fans would glaze over. Can there be a BCS for college hoops? And would we all go blue in the face talking about it?
• Gotta agree with SI.com’s Adam Hofstetter on this one: “The Enlightended Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything” is the idea I wish I’d had. Oh wait, I did have that idea. Stupid me just stopped too soon.
• Feb. 24 | 5 p.m. PT
Gators DO lay eggs!
Of course, any regular watcher of “Animal Planet” already knew Gators laid eggs. But when the defending champs returns all five starters and reels off 17 consecutive wins, those Gators shouldn’t be laying eggs.
Like on the road at an LSU team hovering around .500. That was one big egg.
And, now that I’ve driven that marginal joke into the ground, here’s the bigger picture: Florida may not be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, four days after Wisconsin seemed like it blew its shot at a top spot, the Gators did the same. Florida still has great wins over RPI top 25 teams like Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio State, but these recent losses won’t impress the seeding committee.
Basically, UCLA and UNC remain the two teams with the strongest résumés (more wins over RPI top 50 teams than anyone else), but Florida’s loss was a clear reminder that anything can happen in these final days leading up the conference tournaments.
The winner of Sunday’s game between Ohio State and Wisconsin probably gets the other No. 1 seed. The loser gets to compare itself with Florida and anyone else (Kansas, Texas A&M) that may have an argument.
(And yes, no top seeds were in the Final Four last season and Florida won it as a No. 3. But since the Big Dance was expanded in ’85, 74 of the top 88 seeds have been in the Sweet 16, while 55 No. 2 seed advanced to the second weekend. So yeah, being a top seed matters.)
• Feb. 23 | 3:15 p.m. PT
Beware the Jayhawks!
Or should you? I offer these differing posts on Kansas’ success this season and what may await it in March.
Kansas (24-4, 11-2 in Big 12, RPI 14, SOS 63) is a top 25 mainstay, but a huge disappointment the last two years in the Big Dance. Bill Self’s squad relies on its defense, a departure from the Roy Williams days of the secondary-break that always had the ’Hawks running.
But Kansas’ offense isn’t exactly chopped liver, either. It was 38th in efficeincy last season and is up to 17 this season. Of course, that defense is now the second most efficient in the country (all courtesy kenpom.com).
So the Phog Blog (where ones finds news about all things Kansas) did a series of graphs indicating how Kansas compares to the other hoops powers in those crucial elements of offensive efficiency, defensive efficinecy and pythagoreum rating. (Those ranked high usually end up making runs in the NCAA Tournament.)
Ever since the 10th game of the season, KU gets better and better.
So, good news for March, eh? Not so fast.
John Gasaway’s aerial shots of the Big 12 (using an X-Y axis to show where teams are in terms of good offense and defense, good offense and bad defense, bad offense and good defense and bad offense and bad defense) show just how bad the Big 12 teams are, with only KU and Texas A&M as schools with good offense and defense.
And, before you say “so what?” compare the Big 12 to the other power conferences like the ACC (lots of teams with good offense), Pac-10 (more good offense) and SEC (again, good offense). True, there aren’t a great deal of teams with both good offense and defense, but every league appears to be better than the Big 12 (which the RPI has said all along).
(Full disclosure here: As a KU grad myself, I’m hoping for the Phog Blog to the real indicator of what will happen in March. But after opening-round losses to Bucknell and Bradley, I’m wary. Thankfully, I don’t think there’s any way KU will be matched against Butler or BYU. So the “B” curse may not apply this season...)
Where does that leave us? Just that KU is good, likely getting better but probably isn’t loads better than everyone else.
There you go. Common sense, “no duh” post of the day.
• Feb. 21 | 8:30 p.m. PT
True, it sounds like a talking heads’ topic (like Seth Davis or Digger Phelps, not David Byrne), but stick with it.
CHN’s Shawn Siegel did some digging into recent RPI numbers to see how NCAA teams stack up this season compared to previous years, stretching back to 1999 (which has two of the most dominant teams in recent memory, Duke and UConn, who combined for a 71-4 mark that season).
What’d he find? For starters, Duke haters won’t like it . . .
Since ’99, the Devils have more seasons than any other team with at least 10 wins against the RPI’s top 50 (4), at least 15 against the RPI top 100 (8) and 26 victories against the RPI top 100 in ’99. How did Brand & Co. not win the title that year?
But beyond that, the numbers show a decline in the number of teams who rack up lots of wins vs. the RPI top 50 and top 100 teams. In ’99 and ’01, four teams had at least win against the top 50. This year, it’s just UNC. Ten teams had at least 15 wins against the top 100 — just UCLA this season. Great stuff by Shawn.
(Side note: these numbers don’t always translate into a title, either. It works out that way about half the time.)
Granted, this season isn’t over, but still, as Siegel writes, “it is getting harder for the top teams to dominate like they did just a few years back,” which also means “there's some evidence that the worst teams are doing better.”
It’d be worth going back over the numbers after the season to see if this holds up — but I hope Shawn does the number crunching...
• John Gasaway is correct when he says Wisconsin was unlucky with its scheduling yesterday. The Badgers lost to a fine team on the road, while other top-seed candidates North Carolina, Ohio State and Florida all won Wednesday, but got to play weaker teams and at home, no less. Life’s all about timing, isn’t it?
• Texas A&M, on the other hand, is road tough. The Aggies don’t have a top seed’s résumé, but they have a top seed’s game.
• Feb. 20 | 8 p.m. PT
Is Bo Ryan psychic?
And what does he see for the Badgers on March 11, otherwise known as Selection Sunday?
After all, Monday had been a damn fine day in Madison, Wisc. Wisconsin claimed the top spot in the AP poll for the first time in school history just days after its school record 26th win.
That win was enough to make Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan dig up a foam hand with a “We’re No. 1” finger, a New Year’s Eve noisemaker and tear up a newspaper until it was confetti. “I threw that in the air, blew the (noisemaker) and ran around with the number 1,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
But he took off the foam finger after he saw Michigan State was beating Iowa by 30 points. Two days after that, his team was No. 1.
And then Michigan State ruined the Badgers’ party.
The Spartans’ 64-55 win did three things: It helped the Spartans jump off the NCAA Tournbament bubble, it ensured the Badgers’ stay atop the polls will be a short one and it ruined Wisconsin’s hold as a top seed in the Big Dance.
Everyone and their mother (well, mothers who also seed the NCAA Tournament) have the Badgers (26-3 overall, 12-2 in Big Ten, 5th in RPI) as a top seed. But with Tuesday’s loss and a trip to Ohio State on Sunday, things got a lot tougher.
The Buckeyes haven’t lost in 17 home games this season and have won 11 straight since losing in Madison on Jan. 9. A win Sunday would all but lock up the Big Ten title for Ohio State — and make it the league’s top contender for a No. 1 seed in March. Wisconsin wouldn’t be a top seed with two consecutive losses this late in the season — not with so many other worthy teams out there.
UCLA and UNC are the top two teams in the RPI and have more wins against the RPI’s top 50 teams, which make them locks as No. 1 seeds. Florida (24-3, RPI 7) and Pitt (24-4, RPI 4) also have strong cases, as do Texas A&M, Kansas and Memphis.
Bottom line: Wisconsin must beat Ohio State to stay in top seed contention. And that will be a tall order.
• The Kansas City Star’s Joe Posnanski asks if Kansas is tough enough to win it. Sure they are. Roy Williams’s teams were, too. (Just ran into better teams like Maryland, Duke or let Gerry McNamara make 6 3-pointers in one half. But I digress.) Bill Self’s squad is clearly tough enough to win — a defense like this has to be tough — which means the better question is: can they score consistently enough to win? Maybe Sherron Collins answers that. And watch out for those rubber chickens.
• Apparently, “we need to regroup” is a common mantra at Oregon. Does Ernie Kent have an ulcer yet?
• Billy Donovan may very well be the SEC’s top coach. (He certainly has the best team.) But it’s a little amazing that he’s never been league coach of the year. Eleven years and no honors? Odd, too because consistency usually is overlooked in these awards (Jerry Sloan has never been NBA coach of the year), but Tubby Smith has won it...
• There are four conferences with three teams in the RPI’s top 21. The SEC, ACC and Big East are to be expected. But the Mountain West? It’s just one way the league is sneaking up on people. And by people, I mean the casual fans. Hard-core fans — and my buddy Mooch — have been touting the MWC all year.
• Congrats to Winthrop, the first team to clinch a regular-season conference crown this year.
• Staying on the A-10, Duquesne has a chance to make it a feel-good season. Whoda thunk it?
• Finally, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are “peaking at the right time.” After wins over Pitt and Marquette, Pitino’s squad is the team du jour. It probably won’t translate into an NCAA Tournament run, but in a year where Jim Calhoun, Steve Alford and Herb Sendek won’t be dancing, it speaks volumes about the job PItino has done.
• Feb. 19 | 9 p.m. PT
Got plenty of e-mails after Sunday’s bubble watch post. Time to share.
What is Texas Tech's RPI, and SOS; what chance do they have to get an at large bid, having lost so many must win games, but having key marquee victories.
— D. Vinson, Lubbock, Texas
Had to look twice at this one — because I had a graf written about the Raiders. How it was omitted from yesterday’s post, I have no idea. It wasn’t because Bob Knight says he wouldn’t have recruited Kevin Durant, if that’s what you’re wondering.
ANYWAY, the Raiders are right behind Texas and just ahead of Oklahoma State in terms of Big 12 teams who should be in, but still need a couple more wins. Texas Tech (17-10, 40 RPI, 12 SOS) has more marquee wins (A&M twice, Kansas and anice one over Arkansas) than the ’Horns, but that recent five-game losing skid hurts it. Beating Texas or Oklahoma State, then closing with wins over Baylor and Iowa State should be enough. I’ve seen the Raiders as a 10 seed and as a nine.
OHIO STATE AND WISCONSIN ARE THE ONLY TEAMS THAT SHOULD GET IN FROM THE BIG TEN.
Short and sweet, but not sure I agree. Indiana (17-8, 22 RPI, 18 SOS) has beaten Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois and is third in the Big Ten standings. The Hoosiers are darn near a lock (maybe they’re not a Final Four team, but there aren’t 32 better at-large teams) and the Spartans, Illini, Boilermakers and Wolverines all have a decent shot.
Kansas State has no marquee wins? I guess beating USC and Texas means nothing! You sports writers need to look beyond your homes on the east coast.
— K.W., Kansas
They’re nice, but USC has dropped out of the RPI top 50 (Trojans now 60th) and Texas is 46ht. That’s not enough to secure an at-large tournament berth. Beating Kansas would’ve been huge. Instead, the Wildcats resemble Michigan State — good team that comes close, but can’t get those big wins.
And for the record, I live in Seattle and went to school at KU. That’s 24 straight at Bramlage.
Any comments on Old Dominion Univ? Nice 8 or 9 game winning streak, a decent schedule, and a big win over Georgetown on the road. ???
— Stan Redwood, Virginia Beach, Va.
It’s nine after the Monarchs (21-7, 13-3) pummeled Toledo on the road in their BracketBuster game. They’re right on Virginia Commonwealth's heels in the Colonial League standings and ODU’s résumé (21-7, 13-3, 45 RPI, 97 SOS), includes a win over Georgetown. Now, for a league that grabbed two Big Dance berths last season (George Mason and UNC Wilmington), all of that should be good news for ODU — except the league may be better this season, which means there’s less room for error.
Four teams (ODU, VCU, Hofstra and Drexel) all have strong arguments for an at-large bid. ODU has the best RPI with Drexel (50), VCU (57) and Hofstra (66) right behind). If ODU doesn’t gain the automatic berth, it has the best chance to get an at-large berth like George Mason did last season. But that means closing the regular season with wins over Towson and William & Mary, then at least one more in the league tourney.
bull ole miss can win the regular season in the west and still be in the tourney.
Maybe, but winning the West won’t be easy. The Rebs host Georgia, play at South Carolina (which just trashed the Vols) and ’Bama, the close with Auburn at home. Beating ’Bama would likely secure the West title and provide another RPI top 50 win, but the Rebs’ RPI (63) and losses to LSU, Miss St., St. Louis and UConn hurt.
Hi Mike, Better keep an eye on Wright State — they're for real. At the start of the season, they were [without] a couple of good players. Now, they are a good team.
— David Hight, Livonia, Mich.
True enough, David, The Raiders started slow (5-6, including losses to Coastal Carolina, Chicago State and Bowling Green), but actually lead Butler in the Horizon League after winning 16 of their last 18 games. I don’t think their RPI (70) and SOS (181) are good enough for an at-large berth, but the Raiders (21-8, 13-2) will be in the hunt for that automatic bid and could have the inside track if they grab the top seed in the league tourney.
• Feb. 18 | 10:30 p.m. PT
Along with Ken Davis’ top seed projections, here’s the essential Monday reading. Who’s in, who’s out of the NCAA Tournament?
First off, teams with the inside track to an at-largte bid, with all records vs. D-I foes:
Clemson (the 19-6 Tigers have lost 6 of 8, but are 25th in RPI) and Maryland (19-7, 26 RPI, 24 SOS) both have five wins against the RPI top 50. If one’s in, so’s the other. (Also, Virginia Tech lost Sunday to N.C. State, which would give some pause, but with 7 wins vs. RPI top 50, they’re a lock.)
Marquette (20-7, 33 RPI, 39 SOS) has lost three straight. No matter. Eagles are 4-2 vs. RPI top 50. Villanova (17-8, 18 RPI, 6 SOS) has just two wins vs. the RPI top 50, but its overall body of work is too good.
Michigan State (19-8, 31 RPI, 38 SOS) has home games against Wisconsin and Indiana this week, but even with losses, the Spartans should be in.
Oregon (20-7, 34 RPI, 65 SOS) is the Clemson of the Pac-10. Fast start to the season with 5 wins vs. RPI top 50, but the Ducks have lost 6 of their last 8. Slight pause, nothing more. Stanford (17-8, 39 RPI, 26 SOS) has six wins vs. the RPI top 50.
Finally, no team did itself more favors last week Louisville. The Cards (18-8, 52nd in RPI, 31 SOS) picked up road wins against Pitt and Marquette, moved into third place in the Big East and with three games remaining vs. St. John’s, UConn and Seton Hall, Rick Pitno’s club could probably get away without even winning a game in the conference tournament and still get an at-large bid. Still, those were the only two wins vs. the RPI top 50. Not exactly a glowing rèsumè, but the recent wins are just too big to overlook.
Onto the teams with work to do:
Syracuse (19-8, 63 RPI, 56 SOS) has beaten 1 team in the RPI top 50. Better close with a win over Georgetown or Villanova to end the season — because Gerry McNamara isn’t still playing. West Virginia is in slightly better shape than the Orange thanks to a recent home win over UCLA, but the Mounaineers (19-6, 49 RPI, 101 SOS) but if they don’t beat Pitt on Feb. 27, they’ll end the regular season with just two victories vs. the RPI top 50. DePaul (15-11, 57 RPI, 16 SOS) has big wins over Kansas, Villanova and Marquette, but has some bad ones, too (Northwestern, UAB, St. John’s). Better make a run in the Big East tourney.
Georgia Tech (17-9, 42 RPI, 40 SOS) closes its season at Virginia and at home vs. UNC and B.C. Winning two of those three could just about do it. Florida State (17-10, 38 RPI, 12 SOS) has beaten Florida, Duke, Maryland and Virginia Tech, but has lost four straight. It needs to win its final three ACC games to finish with a .500 conference record.
Purdue (17-9, 37 RPI, 15 SOS) has four wins vs. the RPI top 50, but closes with Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern (twice). Not much chance to impress the seeding committee, which could make the Boilermakers sweat. Same deal with Illinois (18-9, 46 RPI, 22 SOS). Michigan (18-9, 59 RPI, 49 SOS) just beat Indiana. Beating Michigan State or Ohio State at would be nice.
Oklahoma State (18-7, 36 RPI, 43 SOS) could solve its problems with a win over Texas A&M or at Texas Tech (a road win? Whoa!). Kansas State (19-8, 53 RPI, 91 SOS) has no marquee wins. If it beats Kansas Monday night, it’s a lock.
Georgia (15-9, 51 RPI, 21 SOS) ends with games against Kentucky and Tennessee. Bulldogs could be hurt by not reaching 20 wins. Mississippi (17-9, 61 RPI, 71 SOS) is tied for the SEC West lead, but probably needs to reach the SEC Tournament title game.
• Feb. 17 | 9:20 p.m. PT
BracketBusting the MVC
Phew. That was 50 BracketBuster games (I’ll watch Ohio at New Mexico State, but will be home by then; click here for the story), 13 of which were on TV.
OK, so during Bradley-VCU I was channel flipping to catch some of UNC-Boston College and the NBA dunk contest (question: who gets to go up in the crane to take down that Dwight Howard sticker?), but it was a damn fine day of hoops watching.
Wichita State and Northern Iowa opened the day with losses (to be fair, both teams had worse RPI than their opponents, Appalachian State and Nevada) and Creighton couldn’t beat Drexel at home. The Dragons were coming off a surprising loss to William & Mary and got a little closer to an at-large berth with this win. Creighton, on the other hand, was just too soft.
But Southern Illinois gave the MVC a bit of redemption thanks to its win at No. 13 Butler, the mid-major that stunned the big boys in the preseason NIT. The Salukis’ road win showcased how physical (OK, hands-on, or downright Duke-esque) their defense can be. When it comes NCAA Tournament time, a good-shooting team with a decent big man will give Southern Illinois trouble, but any team that relies on its wings (Arizona, UCLA, Memphis) is headed for an upset.
Bradley also emerged with a big win at Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams’ RPI is only one spot lower than the Braves (44-43), but had the benefit of playing at home. Didn’t matter. Bradley’s second-half burst sunk VCU and may have given the Braves enough of a boost to send them to a second-straight NCAA Tournament.
That left the MVC with a 5-5 mark in BracketBuster play. Six home games and all but two teams with better RPIs than opponents does not equal a major league.
In non-Missouri Valley news, somewhat surprising results included Utah State winning at Oral Roberts (ORU was 13-1 since Dec. 30 and I’m biased by its win at Kansas in Nov.), Hawaii over Long Beach State (Long Beach is trying to win the Big West and the Warriors aren’t even above .500 in the WAC), and Iona over Delaware (The Gaels get win No. 2 on the season!).
Wins that weren’t surprises (because of where they were played): Fresno State beating Sam Houston State, Northern Arizona over San Jose State.
But hey, that’s only 13 games and doesn’t touch on Bucknell or Pacific, both of are recent NCAA tourney teams. For more on the mid-majors’ day, check out Kyle Whelliston’s Mid-Majority. It’s the best around.
• Feb. 16 | 9 p.m. PT
BracketBuster or MythBuster?
Two games into the 14 games slotted for BracketBuster weekend the MVC’s rep already took a big hit.
The Missouri Valley earned its rep as the crème de la crème of mid-major conferences thanks to its teams playing any team, anywhere at any time — and getting some big wins in the process. Early in the season, it was Wichita State beating LSU and ’Cuse or Southern Illinois topping Virginia Tech.
But the league’s biggest win by far has been Missouri State stunning Wisconsin on Nov. 24.
So just how did the Bears get bounced so badly by Winthrop at home on Friday? Well, stiff interior defense — Missouri State got into the lane often but rarely had an easy shot — and a hot hand from one of your best players always helps. Michael Jenkins hit 7-of-12 from beyond the arc as Winthrop scored 77 points on 63 possessions.
Don’t misunderstand. The Eagles (23-4) rule the Big South and though their RPI isn’t off the charts (81st overall), they were targeted before the season as a potential mid-major who could be a player in March. They’ve only lost to UNC, Maryland, Wisconsin and Texas A&M this season, so they were clearly a dangerous team, coming in.
But this win was one Winthrop can point to come March — and should make us think twice about the Missouri Valley’s depth. The NCAA Tournament seeding committee could do the same.
The Bears didn’t get a bid to the Big Dance last year despite being ranked 21st in the RPI. This year, they’re 34th. They’re still worthy of a bid, but with a loss at Wichita State on Feb. 20 and an early exit from the MVC tournament would make them 19-11 — and leave the league with only Southern Illinois and Creighton as sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams.
The Mountain West has three, maybe four. If the Mountain West doubles the MVC’s bids to the Big Dance, no one would have seen that coming.
Of course, this will be re-examined after Saturday’s TV games. Southern Illinois plays at Butler, Appalachian State is at Wichita State, Northern Iowa is at Nevada, Creighton plays host to Drexel and Bradley is at VCU. A good day would be the MVC going 3-2. Two wins would be another black mark.
• Feb. 15 | 7 p.m. PT
Only the strong survive
And I’m not talking about the nagging flu bug I just kicked. It’s a thought that refers to a Mike Krzyzewski quote from Wednesday.
His Devils had just ended a four-game losing streak with a 78-70 win at Boston College, which was notable for two reasons: It kept Coach K from the first 5-game skid in his Duke tenure and came on the road against the ACC’s top team. He’d been hearing that the Devils were toast, but reiterated his belief about how tough the ACC is.
“Top to bottom, it’s as good as ever,” he said afterward. “Our league, maybe because we don’t have — because we’re beating each other — one of the so-called top four teams, though I still think Carolina, talent wise, can beat anybody.”
That’s long been the ACC’s credo. It’s usually the toughest and deepest conference in the country. This year, the SEC has the top RPI, but that’s mostly because the ACC’s bottom three (N.C. State, Miami and Wake Forest) are rated much worse than the SEC’s bottom dwellers (South Carolina, Auburn and LSU). Also, the ACC is 8-4 this season against the SEC (Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee, the top 3 RPI teams are 0-3).
But if you look at the ACC (click here for a great breakdown), you see that they have nine teams ranked among the RPI’s top 43 teams. The next best league? The Big Ten, with 6 in the top 42. For good measure, Ken Pomeroy broke down how the ACC stacked up against the Pac-10. No league is nearly as deep.
Seems Coach K is right. Maybe when teams beat up on each other like this during the season, it belies just how tough the league is — because no team can distance itself from the pack.
But mostly, it reminds me of the SEC — in football.
All season, we heard about how the SEC’s depth in football was probably going to keep a team from winning the national title because it would be too hard to come out of league play unbeaten. That proved correct, but it turned out a 1-loss Florida team simply survived a brutal league schedule to win the national title. (At season’s end, the SEC had seven teams among the top 31 in RPI — and three in the top 10.)
Does a talent-laden team like UNC, with its 12-man bench, benefit by playing in a brutal league like this, which would theoretically prepare it for the NCAA Tournament? That’s also been the conventional wisdom among coaches — the tougher the league, the more prepared a team is for the Big Dance.
We’ll see. It proved true in 2005 when UNC won (ACC was No. 1 in RPI), but that was the only time since 2000. I’d say that the Heels’ talent and depth will be as big a factor, if not more important, than how tested they are during ACC play. The experience is key, but talent wins in March.
As Florida proved last year, UNC in 2005 and UConn in 2004.
• Feb. 10 | 9 p.m. PT
So what does it all mean?
I mean, there was a lot going on today.
Saturday featured six Top 25 upsets (UCLA losing to West Virginia, Wright State over No. 10 Butler, No. 22 Georgetown beating No. 11 Marquette, Oregon falling to Arizona, Ole Miss holding off ’Bama and the Vols hammering Vandy), but they were the easy games to focus on.
Well, those and Florida’s entertaining win over Kentucky.
But as March Madness approaches, there were a handful of games that could have more impact on the Big Dance. A quick thought on each.
• Villanova got by Seton Hall and with a few more wins will be a lock to go dancin’. The ’Cats are 17th in the RPI and are back to .500 in the Big East.
• Virginia, on the other hand, remains perplexing. A loss at Virginia Tech is understandable, but losing by 27 is ridiculous. Same with N.C. State. The Wolfpack has that marquee win over UNC, but has lost two straight since and their RPI is in the toilet.
• Air Force is breathing a little easier. The Falcons rallied past New Mexico, but they just scream of that team that played its best basketball at the start of the season. Still, their win, combined with BYU’s road win at TCU and San Diego State beating CSU (the Aztecs’ best start in 22 years) gives the Mountain West a good chance at three teams in the NCAA Tournament. That’s four teams in the RPI’s top 60. UNLV is already a lock and two of those other three will probably get in.
• How much longer will the A-10 be a one-bid league?
• Old Dominion won its seventh straight game and closed to within a game of the Colonial lead after beating Virginia Commonwealth. The Monarchs (19-7) are 61st in RPI, and probably don’t have enough on the résumé to earn an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, which means the CAA tourney is going to be huge. Virginia Commonwealth (21-5) has a slightly stronger argument for an at-large, but can’t lose another game. For those with an eye on their brackets, this is George Mason’s league.
• And still more on the CAA! Hofstra (19-7) wants its own Cinderella story this season, while Drexel has been Philly’s best team all season. The Dragons aren’t a tourney lock, but will be scary if they can squeeze in. Of course, the CAA isn’t going to get four bids. Maybe two?
• Winthrop’s gaudy 21-4 record should scare all those big schools. The Eagles figured to be the class of the Big South this season, and they’ve lived up to that. But, four of those wins were against non-D-I schools, which means an at-large bid is out of the question. Better win the league tournament.
• From the Atlantic Sun, East Tennessee State is the top team. They’re just trying to avoid being an opponent for a No. 1 seed. (Of course, it’s easy to stay on top when North Florida hasn’t beaten a D-I school all season.)
• OK, this doesn’t have March Madness implications, but Reggie Williams did break a Big South scoring mark.
• Feb. 8 | 10:30 a.m. PT
A rivalry roundup
Or, at least a roundup of the rivalry games on Wednesday of “Rivalry Week.” Not that Kentucky-Louisville and Xavier-Cincy (both in Dec.) or Indiana-Purdue (next week) or Syracuse-Georgetown (Feb. 26) are part of the week, but I digress.
Duke couldn’t have started much better last night. The Devils made 5 of their first 6 shots, including 3-fot-3 on 3s and led Carolina 15-6. But those Heels just come at you in waves — and Duke didn’t have enough life jackets. If the game wasn’t at Cameron, Duke may have lost by more.
Still, the Devils showed enough last night to keep people from writing them off. Not that they have much time to improve. From UNC’s perspective, Tyler Hansbrough may have adjusted to Duke’s defense, but he still struggled by holding onto the ball too long at times.
Bottom line: Duke may reach its 10th straight Sweet 16, but the Heels really are championship material.
• On the other coast, UCLA held off USC thanks to point guard Darren Collison (who may be even quicker than Ty Lawson) and a Trojan losing his cool. Lodrick Stewart says it wasn’t the reason why, but that’s just crazy talk. And if sweeping the season series wasn’t enough, Bruins fans rubbed it with “13-9.” Ouch. (That line’s for you, Mikey.)
• It wasn’t the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (which Georgia and Florida aren’t even calling their football game anymore), but it was notable for how long it took the Gators to get going. Once you’ve won 15 straight games, the focus wanes a bit. And it just keeps Florida under the radar a little longer.
• Finally, check back to our college basketball page for Ken Davis’ story about participating in a mock seeding committee for the NCAA Tournament. It should give a nice look at who goes where and why in March.
• Feb. 6 | 10:15 p.m. PT
Youth rules college hoops
And it’s the story in Duke-Carolina, too.
When the Tar Heels (20-3, 6-2) play at Duke (18-5, 5-4) Wednesday, the game could feature nine freshmen and eight sophomores — compared to just four seniors and juniors. Of those 17 underclassmen, 13 will play a significant role, which is fairly remarkable considering the history of Duke and Carolina.
Since 1980, those two sport the best winning percentages in college basketball and have made more Final Fours and Sweet 16s than any other school. Both often were a mix of upperclassmen and talented freshmen and sophomores, but never like this. If one team was rebuilding, the other had experience.
UNC did its major rebuilding during the 2002-03 season when its used three sophomores and four freshmen, which also happened to be the core group that won the national title two years ago. Since then, they’ve been the expected mix of upper-and-lowerclassmen.
Even this season’s roster features one senior that gets starts or is used as a sixth man (Reyshawn Terry) and another who’s a reliable back-up point guard (Wes Miller.) But after that, it’s nine freshmen and sophomores.
The last time the Devils were without a senior starter was 2001-02, but Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Dahntay Jones were all juniors. Since then, they’ve had at least 1 senior and junior starter every season.
Now, junior DeMarcus Nelson is the team’s most experienced player. Sophomores Josh McRoberts and Josh Paulus were starters last season, but they’re still sophomores who can struggle. And freshmen Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson and Lance Thomas are good, but haven’t provided much offensive punch (Henderson leads the group at 5.9 ppg).
That inexperience has been targeted as the reason for the Devils’ two-game losing streak, but coach Mike Krzyzewksi has been quick to point out that foul trouble and their lack of depth is as much to blame.
“I don’t fault my guys. They’ve had chances,” Krzyzewski said at this week’s ACC teleconference. “I never fault a kid for missing shot. For taking a bad shot I would. It doesn’t mean that a veteran would hit that shot. I don’t know if youth is involved as much as sometimes you just don’t hit shots.”
The Devils are stars on defense, allowing just 57.1 ppg and ranking first in adjusted defensive effciency.
The man-to-man defense is as tough as ever, but that lack of depth and inexperience is tougher to hide in the Devils’ offensive output.
They average 69.4 points per game, their lowest since the ’81-82 season, Krzyzewski’s second season at Duke. It’s not that they shoot poorly or are horribly inefficient, they just don’t push the pace (having a J.J. Redick also would help). With seven players in his rotation, Krzyzyewski just doesn’t have the options that Roy Williams does at Carolina.
Williams mostly plays nine players, but guards Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas and forward Alex Stepheson are used when Williams does big rotation switches. That’s twice as many players at his disposal and it shows in the Heels’ offensive numbers.
But more impressive is how well UNC combines that offense with its defense. Only Duke’s adjusted defensive efficiency is better than UNC’s.
In conventional stats, UNC goes for 88.1 ppg and allows just 66.1. Sophomore Tyler Hansbrough is its leading scorer (18.7 ppg), while its three star freshmen, Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson are the only other players scoring in double figures. But senior Reyshawn Terry remains a capable scorer, giving UNC five serious options.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“We could do everything right and go over there Wednesday night and play Duke at Duke and still lose,” he said Monday, noting that his team played hard in the loss, but didn’t play smart.
“The effort was there, but the concentration wasn’t.”
Would Williams prefer to have a couple more upperclassmen on the roster? Most likely, even though coaches downplay the youth factor (“I don’t think it’s about being young,” Krzyzewski says), noting that college players today see plenty of action in all-star camps and travelling AAU teams before they get to school, making them more experienced that freshmen in years’ past.
But those games aren’t like playing in the ACC. If one team’s concentration falters and another has foul trouble and trouble scoring, that’s simply inexperienced players trying to develop.
This could be the future of the series, too. With the NBA draft’s minimum-age rule, it makes sense that Duke and Carolina would be a place talented freshmen showcase their skills, then make the leap (like Wright is expected to do this season).
Still, as long as talented players keep going to Chapel Hill and Durham, the series will continue to thrive — even if it isn’t what we’re used to seeing.
• Feb. 6 | 6 p.m. PT
Warming up for Duke-Carolina
Not sure why, but I always write that as “Duke-Carolina” or “Duke-UNC.” Does anyone write “Carolina-Duke” or “UNC-Duke?” Somehow, those last two just doesn’t flow off the tongue as well. These are things best discussed in college dorm rooms, or in bars over beers, I suppose.
ANYWAY, as Wednesday’s game approaches, there’s always plenty of build-up to go around, and rightfully so. Expect a complete game preview here later tonight or tomorrow morning. For now, enjoy the links.
From the Durham Herald-Sun:
From The News&Observer (Raleigh):
From The Chronicle (Duke’s student paper):
From The Daily Tar Heel (UNC’s student paper):
From the Charlotte Observer:
From the Greensboro News-Record:
This “story” from the Brushback is the best of the bunch, though.
• Feb. 5 | 8 p.m. PT
Greg Oden, gentle giant
As if playing in the physical Big Ten wasn’t enough, it seems Greg Oden is being roughed more than just about anyone — and all because he’s the biggest guy on the court.
This column from the Chicago Tribune’s Skip Myslenski goes into how the Ohio State freshman center kept his cool during a win over Michigan State on Saturday, and how all that rough stuff actually helps Oden focus a little bit more.
After the Buckeyes’ victory, we asked Oden about the treatment he had received and told him it seemed as if he were being governed by the rule once applied to Wilt Chamberlain. The one where officials think, “You’re big enough to take care of yourself.”
“Yeah,” he said with a smile.
Do you feel like that sometimes, we asked.
“I feel like that a lot,” he said. “But I just have to fight through it.”
How does he stay in control?
“My personality allows me to keep my cool,” he said. “If I lose it, it would worsen the chances of my team to win. I know I need to be out there.”
But aren’t there times he just wants to smack someone?
“Yeah, but it’s the bigger picture,” he said. “You have to think of the bigger picture.”
Oden also caught plenty of grief from the Spartans fans, who had chants about his age and another who had a sign with Oden’s picture and his name on it, shaped like an AARP card. To Oden’s credit, he laughed those off and said he wouldn’t mind having an AARP card because getting into movies would be cheaper. The big guy’s got a sense of humor.
The more one reads stuff like this about Oden, the more refreshing he becomes.
But I wonder if, because of his size and refusal to be a bad guy, Oden will have to endure the same tag Chamberlain did — since he apparently has the same rules applied to him — as a guy who’s too nice to win.
When Chamberlain died in 1999, pretty much every obit reference the Stilt as a “Gentle Giant” — all 7-foot-1, 300 pounds of him. He was the biggest guy on the court, much the way Oden will be, but refused to be a brute. Bill Russell was Chamberlain’s biggest rival, but usually got the best of him because Russell never hesitated to do everything he could to win, while Chamberlain was the guy who didn’t want to be seen as a bully. As SI’s Frank DeFord writes, “No one loves Goliath.”
I hope Oden realizes that people do love Goliath, especially when Goliath wins. There’s no better example of that today than Shaquille O’Neal, who rivals Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan as the most recognizable athletes on the planet.
And one of the biggest winners. Go get ’em, big fella.
(On another note, for the first time I’ve seen, Oden isn’t No. 1 in every mock draft. That’s probably due to Texas’ Kevin Durant hot streak more than anything Oden has or hasn’t done.)
• UConn is trying to work its way off the bubble. This win helps.
• More bubble worries: Northern Iowa (16-8) has lost four of its last five.
• Another day, another game over 100 points for VMI.
• Finally, check out Ken Davis’ story on his upcoming trip to Indianapolis for a peek behind the curtain of the NCAA Tournament seeding committee. By Thursday afternoon, we should have a better idea of why and how teams get into the Big Dance.
• Feb. 4 | 2:30 p.m. PT
The Sunday read
Courtesy the Washington Post’s John Feinstein.
Harvard senior Brian Cusworth got hosed out of the final semester of his college career because of a school rule that only allows you play in eight semesters.
As Feinstein writes “At Harvard, the eight-semester rule says, very simply, that once you enroll you have eight semesters to graduate. They don’t have to be consecutive, but that’s all you get: eight semesters; four courses a semester; 32 courses to graduate.”
Cusworth missed his sophomore season because of a stress fracture, dropped out of school for one semester to accommodate the eight semester rule, but since he was in school the year he broke his foot, school officials wouldn’t budge.
As a result, he played the fall semester for basketball and has to sit out this spring. It’s a bogus way to spend the second half of one’s senior semester, especially when you’re the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.
OK, so Cusworth will have a Harvard degree, which means his career options are gonna be pretty good, but still. This will leave a sour taste in his mouth when all he was trying to do was play four seasons of college basketball.
It’s just another example of a officials being stubborn and inflexible when it comes to a rule that should be relaxed on this individual basis.
• Duke missed two chances at the buzzer to beat Florida State. Wednesday’s game against UNC could be a little tense.
• Check that. It will be tense. Carolina will be keyed up.
• Feb. 3 | 5 p.m. PT
Mateen and Dwyane
Take a breath. Saturday monster slate of games — all but two Top 25 teams played — isn’t even over yet. Where to begin?
How about with a couple of all-timers getting their jerseys retired?
Dwyane Wade was ready for a huge weekend before Marquette retired his jersey. His son turns 5 on Sunday, the day his favorite NFL team, the Bears, plays in the Super Bowl. But first, he was honored, then watched his Golden Eagles hold off Providence.
Marquette’s Jerel McNeal knew how big the day was. He and his teammates “didn't want to mess that up by losing.” Wade led Marquette to the 2003 Final Four, the school’s first since winning its lone title in 1977, which set the stage for Marquette to be back among college basketball’s big-time teams.
Wade became the ninth player to have his jersey retired, joining Dean Meminger, Butch Lee, Maurice Lucas, George Thompson, Bo Ellis, Doc Rivers, Earl Tatum and Don Kojis.
Meanwhile, Michigan State paid the same tribute to Mateen Cleaves, the MOP of the Spartans’ run to the 2000 NCAA title. Cleaves was “at a loss for words” on Saturday when he joined fellow ex-Spartans Scott Skiles, Steve Smith, Johnny Green, Shawn Respert, Jay Vincent, Greg Kelser and Magic Johnson are the other ones with jerseys hanging from the rafters
As Saturday approached, he told the Detroit Free Press that “You dream about it, but, man, I never thought I'd get my jersey retired.” Cleaves was the heart and soul of those great Tom Izzo teams and is the school’s only three-time All-American. He’s never made a dent in an NBA lineup, mostly because he’s a little too slow and his jumper isn’t good enough.
But that doesn’t take away from what Cleaves did in college. Like Wade, he left his mark and didn’t need years or haggling for both schools to recognize their jerseys needed to be among the other greats. Everyone at Marquette knew Wade was one of the three best players the school had ever seen. Cleaves established himself as Michigan State’s best point guard since Magic.
So why wait? It used to drive me crazy that some schools like Kansas never retired jerseys. It used to have ridiculous standards, but have since loosened them to allow recent stars like Paul Pierce and Nick Collison be honored.)
I say, honor ’em while the students who watched them play are still there. Duke already honored Shelden Williams earlier this season and will recognize J.J. Redick on Sunday. Every school should go with a similar timeframe.
OK, enough rambling. Onto the news.
• N.C. State never panicked in its win over North Carolina, the first time Roy Williams has lost to that in-state rival.
• But that wasn’t the biggest surprise of the day. That would be Colorado’s win over Oklahoma State. The Buffs had won six games all season.
• Boston College beating Virginia Tech wasn’t a huge surprise, but beating the Hokies by 21 was a stunner.
• Kevin Durant filled up the box score again, but it didn’t equal a win.
• Finally, we can all be a little happy for Iona.
CBT: Turning the page on the Mike Rice scandal, Rutgers hired Louisville's Julie Hermann as athletic director on Wednesday. But, Hermann has a prior scandal of her own.
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