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  • Grading each of the head coach hirings April 19, 2017 College Pride Press

    Grading the head coach hirings this offseason

    by: Jonathon Warriner

    Indiana-Archie Miller, Grade: B

    This is a very good hire for the Hoosiers, while at Dayton his teams were always a threat to win the Atlantic-10 and during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Miller lead the Flyers to the Elite Eight. This hire is really good but is it spectacular, no. Most people consider Indiana a Top-10 program in College Basketball, while Miller is a great coach he is not a Top-10 coach in College Basketball right now. I think Miller will be a good coach at Indiana and the Hoosiers will be a consistent threat to win the Big Ten.

    Georgetown- Patrick Ewing, Grade: C+

    This could turn out to be a complete failure or a great hire, only time will tell. While Ewing is an all time great and arguably the best player in Georgetown history, he has no experience in College Basketball coaching. The big thing the program was thinking during this hire is to keep John Thompson happy, this hire did that successfully. I think Ewing will lead Georgetown to the tournament a few times and the Hoyas might have some seasons where they are contending for the Big East title, but I don’t see Georgetown returning to the power they were back in the 1980s

    North Carolina State- Kevin Keatts, Grade: A

    If North Carolina State wanted to compete in the ACC, they finally got the guy to do it with. Keatts won the Colonial back to back years and both times in the tournament competed with tough ACC teams. I think it might take a few years for Keatts to get his feet under him coaching in the ACC, but he’ll be a successful hire. I expect in 5 years the Wolfpack to be consistently making the NCAA Tournament.

    Illinois- Brad Underwood, Grade: A+

    I think Oklahoma State regrets lowballing Brad Underwood right now. While at Stephen F. Austin he took the Lumberjacks to the Round of 32 twice and was a rebound away from a Sweet 16 in 2016. This past year after starting 0-6 in Big 12 play he turned the Cowboys around and they won 9 of their next 11. While in his first year Underwood won’t have the players, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are right there with a chance to make the tournament. I think when Underwood settles in the Illini will be consistent threats to win the Big Ten.

    Missouri- Cuonzo Martin, Grade: A

    No coach has had a better start to their coaching campaign than Cuonzo Martin. In his month at Missouri, he brought the top recruit in the nation to Missouri and has fans actually excited for next season. While Martin underachieved with the talent he had at California and wasn’t a contender in the SEC at Tennessee, he’s still better than what they had. I don’t expect Missouri to contend in the SEC consistently, but I do expect Martin to bring some good teams to Missouri.

    Oklahoma State- Mike Boynton Jr. Grade: C

    One year ago, Boynton was expected to be named the head coach of Stephen F. Austin after Underwood left for Oklahoma State. The Lumberjacks instead hired Kyle Keller, and Boynton then followed Underwood to Oklahoma State. After Underwood left for Illinois, Boynton became the head coach of Oklahoma State. I expect Boynton to continue some of the success that Underwood had in his first year, ultimately the big question with him is if he can get players to Oklahoma State. I think Boynton will be a good head coach short term, but I could see him searching for a job in about five years.

    Washington- Mike Hopkins, Grade: D

    Mike Hopkins was the head coach in waiting at Syracuse, but after Jim Boeheim signed an extension Hopkins decided to start his own coaching career. I think Washington could have gotten someone better, as Eric Musselman, Kermit Davis, and Randy Bennett were all good options. I think Hopkins could end up being a good head coach but I think its more likely you see more years of an irrelevant Huskies program. I think Hopkins will not last long at Washington and Hopkins is looking for a new job in 5 years.

    California- Wyking Jones, Grade: C

    I’m never opposed to promoting a head coach, Jones was a top assistant under Cuonzo Martin and left a good impression as an assistant. Jones could end up being a great head coach or end up being a bust, I’m not sure which. The only thing I would have thought of is possibly hiring Musselman or Bennett as those are two proven coaches. Overall, I could see Jones searching for a new job in five years or leading California consistently to the NCAA Tournament, either is a possibility.

    LSU- Will Wade, Grade: C

    Will Wade is a good coach from a good school but we’ve seen Jeff Capel, and Anthony Grant previously get fired when going to other schools and Shaka Smart has yet to win a tournament game at Texas. While Wade seems to be a good candidate, VCU appears to be a stepping stone for head coaches. We’ll have to wait and see what Wade does before acclaiming him as a great head coach. I think we’ll see LSU improve from their current position but I ultimately can see Will Wade joining Capel and Grant as former VCU head coaches to be fired.

    VCU- Mike Rhoades, Grade: B+

    Another former VCU assistant coach got the job, that coach will be successful and help VCU be a threat in the A10 and ultimately leave VCU for a major Conference head coaching job. Mike Rhoades is another coach that seems to follow that trend. Rhoades was an assistant under Shaka Smart and moved to Rice for three ...

  • Mailbag: February 21st February 21, 2017 Connor Lagore

    Can you feel it? March Madness is inching closer by the day. There’s less than a month now until we tip it off for the greatest sporting event in the world (no, the Olympics don’t count, they don’t happen every year). I truly hope your team does well, but really, I don’t. I just want a fun tournament. And it always is just that, so I’m not worried. We’re starting to see some conference tournament seedings fall into place, which is only building up my excitement more. Let’s not forget, conference tournaments are nearly as fun as the Big Dance itself. Remember UConn’s miracle shot last year? And Michigan’s last second prayer from the corner? I can’t wait for this year. But it’s an important couple of weeks until then, so focus up. Let’s check out some questions to clear some things up. It’s mail time!

     

    “Buy or sell: Northwestern is a second-weekend team in the NCAA Tournament.” –Sean Bock

     

    Well, Sean, this isn’t really a question, but I’m feeling generous so I’ll answer it anyways. I’m selling. There are arguments for both, but I’m going to sell. Here’s why: The Wildcats are unfortunately just going to get a tough draw. They’ll likely be a 6 or a 7 seed, depending on how they finish their season (they have a manageable few games until they finish with Purdue, where a loss wouldn’t hurt and a win would do wonders). Our bracketologist Noah Holley currently has them as the 7 in the Midwest (which bodes well for their crowd), matched up with Cal in the first round, and likely meeting Louisville in the second (if they can tame the Golden Bears). To be blunt, I don’t like either of those matchups for the Wildcats, for a lot of reasons. Both are more athletic than NU, and games in the tournament are typically played at a faster pace. Not going to dive too deep because those are very unlikely to be the teams that they play. I’m also worried that Northwestern will want to try and win a few games (well, duh) to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance all the more memorable. But that is a lot of added pressure to a pretty inexperienced team. It’ll be awesome when, and yes, I mean “when,” they make the field of 68, but I would expect a quick exit for Northwestern.

     

    “Will 7 Big Ten teams get in to the NCAA tournament?” –Trevor Deimel

     

    Yes, tentatively. With a lot of work left to do. Three teams are safely in: Wisconsin, Purdue, and Maryland. Northwestern’s win at Wisconsin probably puts them in as long as they don’t lose five in a row. That leaves Minnesota, Michigan State, and Michigan who still have some work to do. Minnesota goes on the road to Maryland, gets Penn State and Nebraska at home, and finishes the season at Wisconsin. Obviously, they can’t stumble in their home games, and would certainly benefit from a road win against one of those two opponents. If not one there, they probably need to rattle off a couple of wins in the B1G tournament, because the lone star on their resume is a win at Purdue. Michigan State also plays Wisconsin and Maryland in their remaining games, Wisconsin at home and Maryland on the road. Like the Gophers, either one of those wins would certainly bolster a resume. But Sparty is in the same spot as Minnesota, with the added bonus of having two wins over the Gophers. Again, a win or two in the conference tournament would be a big boost. Michigan gets Purdue at home, and a road game at Northwestern. Both would be huge, Purdue would probably be more important. The Wolverines just knocked off Wisconsin at home, so it’s certainly possible. Moritz Wagner is physical enough to make Biggie Swanigan work for his inevitable double-double. Michigan also owns a 22-point win over SMU, and an 18-point win over fellow bubble team Marquette, so I think they have the strongest resume out of the three. It will come down to the last game for these teams, and likely the tournament, so keep an eye on the race in the middle of the Big 10.

     

    “If Duke doesn’t win the national championship, will it be the biggest waste of individual talent ever?” – Ben Auten

     

    It’s tough to compare this team to teams of years past because we aren’t exactly sure how good these guys will be in the NBA. It will certainly be up there. Likely six future pros take the court for this year’s Blue Devils: Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marquese Bolden, and Frank Jackson. Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson may also be able to carve out a role somewhere in the league. The jury is still out on highly-recruited Chase Jeter, but the talent is certainly there. An unsuccessful tournament run would be nothing short of a disappointment, thanks to preseason hype. But after mid-season struggles, they seem to have found their groove at the perfect time. So, Ben, I will not say it is the biggest, but it will certainly be one of them. Just for context, here are some other teams with massive wastes of talent that couldn’t cut the nets!

    • 2009-10 Kentucky Wildcats: How did these guys not win? John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Patrick Patterson were all studs in college, and have had great NBA careers (especially Wall and Cousins).
    • 2007-08 UCLA Bruins: The Bruins boasted Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, two NBA superstars, as well as other solid NBA talents in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Darren Collison.
    • 1997-98 North Carolina Tar Heels: Before he was dunking all over dudes in the Association, Vince Carter was starring in Chapel Hill alongside Antwan Jamison and Shammond Williams.
    • 1992-93 Michigan Wolverines: It was the Fab Five. Need I say more?
    • 1982-83 ...
    • Mail Time: February 14th February 14, 2017 Connor Lagore

      I’m writing this on the tail end of the Press Virginia-Kansas game. Bob Huggins is not going to be happy after this. Turns out Press Virginia can’t handle a press! Ironic! Front to back, though, this has been one of the best games of the year. Two very dangerous teams in March. They’ll benefit from good seeds, as the selection committee let us know how much they like both squads. There were lots of questions about the early selection seed list, but one thing can be certain: IT DOESN’T MATTER. So much will change by then. And that’s why this last month is going to be so much fun. So hold on to your hats, and let’s check some mail!

       

      “Will a Big Ten team end up being one of the top 16 teams in the Big Dance?” – Zach Beeler

       

      Yes, and I would bet a hefty sum of money that it’s Purdue. Of course, there are arguments to be made for Wisconsin, but Purdue has a much easier schedule down the road. The Boilermakers are also in a much better position based on the committee’s beloved RPI rankings. Purdue is currently 18th and in a good position to move up with struggling teams like Xavier, Butler, and Creighton ahead of them (all Big East is a coincidence). They have a favorable schedule down the stretch, with a couple of tough games on the road against Michigan and Northwestern, but I really think they’re a far better team than either of those. They’re also a safe bet to go deep into the B1G tournament, so provided they don’t lose any bad games (I say that often, but it’s easier said than done), I think they’re a good candidate for a 4-seed. Odds are, if Purdue isn’t winning the B1G tournament, Wisconsin most likely will, and granted they don’t have a lot of quality wins, rattling off enough wins to hoist the tourney trophy should be enough for them to snag a lower 4-seed.

       

      “Can OU win any of the rest of their games without Jordan Woodard?” – Ben Auten

       

      Well, they certainly can. Will they? That remains to be seen. I would say their best chance is tonight at home against Texas, but without Woodard, that’s a tall task. They’ve only won two Big 12 games with Woodard, so winning one of their remaining games will be tough. He was averaging 14.6 points, 4.6 boards, and 3.1 assists, which is about what was expected of him this season, but there’s a big drop off in talent. Khadeem Lattin was expected to play a much bigger role, but his numbers didn’t make the jump from last season. If I had to bet on it, I would say that the Sooners won’t win a game the remainder of the season. But there’s hope for the future! They have solid pieces in place for the next few years. Kameron McGusty has been really fun to watch as a freshman, averaging 10.5 ppg, and fellow first year Kristian Doolittle’s been solid down low (8.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Sophomores Rashard Odomes (9.8 ppg) and Christian James (8.1 ppg) are also a nice dose of “veteran leadership.”

       

      “Better chance of making the Tourney: Michigan State or Indiana?” – Sean Bock

       

      Gun to my head, I have to pick the Spartans. Maybe that’s recency bias because Indiana has been so dreadful recently, but I also trust Izzo more to win some tough games down the stretch. Are they more talented than Indiana? No, probably not. Do they have an easier schedule than the Hoosiers? Also no. But when a coach comes out in his press conference and says he’s never coached a team with this kind of a lack of maturity, it’s pretty tough to trust that team. Maybe it’ll light a fire under the Hoosiers’ butts, but until  see it, I’m going with the Spartans. Sparty has a much tougher schedule down the stretch, but they haven’t played as poorly as IU recently, so I have to go with them. Plus, does March even happen without Izzo? In all seriousness, if you had told me at the beginning of the year that I would have to decide between IU and MSU who would be playing in March based off who had been less terrible, I would’ve looked at you like Tom Crean looks at a lot of things: confused.

       

      “Thoughts on the experimental rule changes?” – Nate Brown

       

      For those of you that haven’t seen the new proposed rule, the question-asker (is there a word for that?) also provided a link with a pretty good description of the new rules, so thanks Nate! Anyways, I think it’s a small push in the direction of using quarters instead of halves, which, personally, I’m not a fan. A few things stick out to me. This feels like a way to get rid of constant fouling at the end of games, but that’s a big rule change for a small aspect of the overall game. The seemingly-inevitable push to four quarters also feels like a push for a faster tempo. The very recent change in NCAA women’s hoops from halves to quarters has made little to no difference in the tempo as well as the foul situation. So, yeah, I think this is all fairly unnecessary and should cause a slight level of confusion in the next year or so if they do decide to apply it for the whole regular season. The smaller part of the rule, the 20-second shot clock when the ball is inbounded in the front court, is a decent change. I’d be more satisfied with that being added than the foul part. We’ve seen the shot clock be decreased from 35-30 and I think it’s been really effective in a positive manner in terms of offensive pace. 20 seems like a big cut from 30, but it should speed up half-court offenses, which ...

    • Mail Time: February 7th February 7, 2017 Connor Lagore

      What is going on recently? Top 25 teams over the last couple of weeks have been anything but safe, with nine ranked teams falling this weekend alone. It’s been fun, though. Last year, the whole concept of “parity” really dominated the landscape of college hoops, from beginning to end of the season. It hasn’t really been like that for this entire season, but the last couple weeks have been a friendly reminder  that it certainly still exists. And I love it. But that may just be because I like to watch the world burn. An added bonus: this unpredictability means that brackets will be super wide-ranging, which I guess goes without saying, but I love to look at other people’s brackets and think “mine is so much better.” Until it isn’t. But I digress. It’s mail time!

       

      “What is your take on the VCU vs. St. Bonaventure ending?” –Trevor Deimel

       

      Shout out to Doug Brooks. Doug, I hope you’re reading, because you should be a VCU legend. So basically, Matt Mobley (baller) hits a 3-pointer to take a 1-point lead with .4 seconds left. Following the shot, St. Bonaventure players and students ran onto the floor in celebration as the ball rolled into the corner. But the game wasn’t over! There were still .4 seconds on the clock! It was then that Doug Brooks, the hero of our story, ran over and grabbed the ball to inbound it to Jonathan Williams, who took an errant three-quarter court heave that didn’t go in, but it didn’t matter. Brooks then ran over to the scorers’ table immediately after the last shot to plead his case, and thank goodness he did. Because the game wasn’t over, and because Brooks wisely grabbed the ball to continue play, the fact that the Bonnies’ bench had ran on to the court constitutes a technical foul. Craziness. If the St. Bonaventure students want to be mad at anyone, they can be mad at the officials, who seemingly made no effort to corral the players or fans, nor to signal that the game was still on. In the craziness, there wasn’t much they could do, but they certainly can’t just stand idly by. So I guess if you’re looking for a take, I think that the technical was legitimate and VCU definitely won the game in overtime, and it’s a crushing loss for the Bonnies.

       

      “Is Louisville up there with Gonzaga as the team to beat?” – Brett Siegel

       

      Absolutely. Last night’s showing against Virginia aside (the Cardinals were missing two of their most important players), Louisville has been one of the more consistently impressive teams. Their success starts with their defense, as it does with most Rick Pitino-coached teams. It’s the best defense in college basketball. You want to know why? Well, dear reader, I will tell you. The Cards are loaded with skilled athletes with high basketball IQs, which allows Ricky P to switch up his defense seamlessly, based on the situation. A team like Press Virginia thrives in their press by making teams play out of control, but if teams solve that press, the ‘Eers’ defensive game plan is shot. Louisville can also force teams into chaos with a press that makes them uncomfortable, but they can also press teams to slow them down in the full court and work extremely hard to find an open shot. In the half court, they have a suffocating 2-3 zone and an efficient man-to-man. Lots of teams can play a variety of defenses to match up with the opposition, but Louisville does all of them so well that makes them so scary. The problem is their offense can go cold, as evidenced by their opening stretch in the second half last night. If they get matched up with a tough defense in the NCAA tournament, they’ll need to rely on their own defense to keep them in the game. But I certainly think they can. I also like to imagine that every team brings their A-game to the Big Dance, so a Louisville team at full strength that boasts Donovan Mitchell (15 ppg), Quentin Snider (12.1 ppg), Deng Adel (11.1 ppg) and a handful of other players that can get a bucket when they need it. If I had to give my Final Four right now, without a bracket to base it off of, Louisville would be pressing teams all the way to Phoenix.

       

      “Do you think that home-court advantage in the NCAA is losing its value?” – Josh Chodor

       

      This is a really interesting question. According to STATS (and this graphic courtesy of David Gardner at Sports Illustrated), it is. There really can’t be an exact answer, but here are a few reasons maybe as to why:

      • Officiating: Referees are the most hated-upon people in the world, regardless of sport. Sometimes fairly so, but often it feels as though they have a bias towards one team, and that’s sometimes the home team. Before the benefit of replay, a ref was pretty easily swayed by a loud and aggressive home crowd in the case of a tough call. Nowadays, they have a ton of replay angles. The rules have also tightened up a lot over the last few years, so refs call a lot more fouls on both teams that aren’t close enough to be left up to a convincingly obnoxious student section.
      • Technology: This tacks onto the replay factor some, as refs have a great replay technology (which they use a little too much if you ask me). Outside of officiating, there’s a lot better technology that helps coaches prepare for the team they are traveling to play, and a lot more metrics to be aware of. It makes scouting easier and faster, giving them more time to prepare.
      • Talent: With recruiting juggernauts like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, UNC, etc., that leaves their lower-tier conference foes with a severe lack of talent. They get dominated on their home floor at the hands of a traditional blue-blood. And ...
      • Mail Time: January 31st January 31, 2017 Connor Lagore

        What a week. After the past seven days of hoops, I’m ready for March, I’m sure you are as well. That was nuts. 15 of the top 25 teams in the country were handed a shocking L, some of them two. Naturally, we got a big shake-up in the rankings. I’m sorry if your favorite team suffered this past week, but personally, I love all this chaos. I had previously thought that college basketball this season was top heavy, but this week we finally got to see how unsteady life at the top is. There was so much going on this week, people were bound to have some questions, so I got to answering them. It’s mail time!

         

        “Is Gonzaga worthy of the #1 ranking?” – Sean Bock

         

        A couple weeks ago, I talked about why Gonzaga was legit, so I won’t get too in depth on this. While everyone else is losing games, Gonzaga just keeps on plugging away. Yes, they play in a weak conference, but they’ve bolstered their non-conference resume by playing as many ranked teams as West Virginia, UNC, Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona, and UCLA. You can argue that the teams listed have also played more quality teams that are just outside the top 25, which is fair, but I also think it’s fair to think that Gonzaga would be capable of teams of that caliber as well. Plus, they’re making teams in their conference look silly, winning all 10 of their conference games by an average of 24 points. If they aren’t really as good as we think they are, you’d have to assume that they wouldn’t be blowing every team out of the water. There are certainly a few times worthy of the top spot in the rankings, but Gonzaga is certainly one of them.

         

        “Why did Baylor jump Kansas in the #2 spot?” –Ben Auten

         

        I guess there’s a pretty simple answer here: lots of teams lost, but they didn’t, and so they were next man up. That’s a pretty easy and simple logic for the AP to use in their rankings. And I can’t really complain because it makes sense. But if it were up to me, I might have kept Kansas in the #2 slot. When you think about it, Baylor lost to the same team in the same place by a lot more than Kansas did (KU-WVU was a lot closer than the 16-point margin made it seem), and then Kansas went and beat one of the best teams in the country on their home floor with a depleted frontcourt. Baylor’s wins this week weren’t anything to write home about either, with a total victory margin of 7 over two unranked teams. I think it should also be noted that Kansas received nine first place votes to Baylor’s six. Nick Schwartz, College Pride Press’s pollster, ranked Kansas above Baylor in this week’s poll, which should just go to show that we have the top minds in the game working here at CPP. Luckily, we get to settle this argument on Wednesday, when the Bears travel to Phog Allen Fieldhouse to take on the Jayhawks.

         

        “What does Nova’s tip in at the buzzer do for the rest of their season?” – Eric Graves

         

        Confidence, confidence, confidence. Villanova didn’t play great on Sunday against the Hoos, and should feel very lucky to have pulled it out. Donte DiVincenzo flew into the lane to tip in a Josh Hart miss, and secure a 61-59 victory. I say confidence because I think the Wildcats now know that even when shots aren’t falling or Josh Hart isn’t at his best, they can rely on their defense and the toughness that Jay Wright has instilled in them to keep them in it. And that’s especially true against a team that has suffocating defense like Virginia. Their weak first half was thanks to Hart and Kris Jenkins’ lack of production, both missing all of their field goal attempts before halftime. They managed to claw their way back in it thanks to the steady play of Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. I’ve always thought Bridges and Brunson were a bit overlooked because of Hart’s NPOY campaign and Jenkins’s swagger (and he hit a relatively important shot last April), but Brunson will be a big-time point guard during his next couple years in Philadelphia, and Bridges may have a future in the NBA with his freakish athleticism. But of course, none of those guys tipped that game winner in as the clock hit zeroes. That was DiVincenzo, who’s been a pleasant surprise this season, but hasn’t been much more of a role player. DiVincenzo didn’t play great for the first 39 minutes and 57 seconds of the game, but he stepped up when they needed it. I think that says a lot about this Villanova team that they can count on the younger guys to do the dirty work and never give up on a play, an attitude that helped them cut down the nets a year ago.

         

        “Worst Power 5 (plus Big East) team?” – Noah Holley

         

        Woo boy. Pitt and Oklahoma are off the table in the ACC and Big 12, both teams aren’t a guaranteed victory, they’re just having a rough conference season. DePaul and Rutgers are both terrible, but they each have a conference win (both are a 1-point win at home against arguably the 2nd worst team in their conference, so while it’s barely a win, it shows up in the W column). That leaves two teams: Oregon State from the Pac-12 and Missouri from the SEC. I’m going to call it a tie because I think they’re both awful in their own special way. Oregon State, if you remember, was a surprise team in the NCAA tournament last year, but lost leading scorer Gary “The Mitten” Payton, Jr. (son of Gary “The Glove” Payton, Sr.) to graduation. Other than that, they brought back a lot of talent. Unfortunately, the best of ...

      • 5 Things Around College Basketball January 27, 2017 Zach Beeler

        1. What team has been the biggest surprise so far?

        Zach- There are a few good options here. Florida State has put together a great season so far, sitting atop the gauntlet that is the ACC. Also, I personally didn’t think Arizona would look this good at this point, winning 12 in a row since a loss to undefeated Gonzaga. However, I am going to go with the Baylor Bears as the biggest surprise team so far.

        Baylor didn’t get a single vote in the preseason Top 25, and most thought they’d be a middle-of-the-pack type team in the Big 12. Despite that sentiment, Baylor has put together maybe the best resume of any team, with wins over Louisville, Oregon and Xavier. Even without the most talented squad, the Bears play as one cohesive unit, something that is underrated in today’s game. They have a stud in the paint in Johnathan Motley, who has grown into a walking double-double machine. If Baylor can avoid tripping up at home, then they very well could challenge Kansas for their Big 12 Title streak.

        Ryan- Interesting question, and I was tempted to go the route of a “negative surprise” – that is, disappointment – but I’ll go the more traditional way here and say the Maryland Terrapins have been a pleasant surprise. Look, I know their schedule is a bit squishy and the Terps have yet to record a victory over a ranked opponent, but it’s hard to not be impressed at what Mark Turgeon has done with his team this year. This is a program that lost four starters from a team that finished in the Sweet Sixteen a season ago, and most people expected Maryland to take a significant step backward. Having said all this, is Maryland a legitimate good team? We will find out, and soon, as Purdue and Wisconsin, the class of the Big Ten Conference, are looming in the not-so-distant future for the Terps. Melo Trimble seems to be playing more like himself after a disastrous sophomore campaign last year and Maryland is receiving outstanding production from senior Damonte Dodd and freshman Kevin Huerter. However, consider there to be an asterisk hovering over the Terps until they can bag a marquee win.

         

        2. Who has been the most disappointing team so far?

        Ryan- Would it be sacrilegious to officially nominate Duke among this group? “Disappointing” is almost certainly a subjective term in this context, considering the Blue Devils are still ranked in the top 20 and remain in the top half of the ACC, but remember the shape in which Duke began this season: the almost unanimous choice for preseason #1, the also almost unanimous choice for National Player of the Year, a roster considered to be the most talented in college basketball by a wide margin, and a Hall of Fame coach to put it all together. The problems have piled up quickly for the Blue Devils, with much of the team struggling with numerous injuries. Heck, even Mike Krzyzewski can’t stay on the court. For much of this season, we wrote off Duke’s issues, blaming injuries, youth, and a semi-tough schedule. After a home loss this week to North Carolina State, it appears the Blue Devils have finally lost the luxury of time. They’re running out of it, and fast. This is still a very good team, but it might be time to accept that Duke is just that – good, not great, as we once envisioned they could become.

        Zach- I agree that Duke hasn’t lived up to expectations, and time could end up being their greatest opponent. However, I was really excited to see what Syracuse could do this year. They had Tyler Lydon coming back, added Nebraska transfer Andrew White III and still ran the stifling zone that they are known for. Everything looked up for them, even after losing Malachi Richardson to the draft. Their record through 21 games? 12-9. They wouldn’t even be in a projected field of 68 right now. There are a few things that have prohibited them from living up to their top 25 billing from the pre-season. The first is that Tyler Lydon just hasn’t quite developed like many thought he would. He impressed many last year, especially in March, and it was thought he could take that next step for this season. He has improved his averages from last season, but he has been inconsistent. That inconsistency has cost Syracuse a few games, especially early in the year. Along with that, their defense has taken a large step back from past years. According to Kenpom, they rank outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency. The cause? I think it’s probably due to the loss of lengthy wings Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije. The length of the top two players in the zone is what makes it so tough to penetrate. Without that length there, the defense was bound to struggle more. Add in the horrible defensive rebounding numbers, and it is no surprise that the Orange are on the outside looking in among the ACC elite, and even middle of the pack, right now.

         

        Who is your Coach of the Year right now?

        Zach- I think coaching is as good right now as it has been in a while at the division one level. Even some lesser known programs like UNC Wilmington and Akron are having good seasons that are getting some national attention. However, I am going to go with Sean Miller as my Coach of the Year right now.

        When I judge coaches, I typically look to see what their teams do over the course of a season. If they tend to improve, usually it is safe to assume they are a solid coach. Tom Izzo’s teams are usually a good example of what I mean. When I saw Arizona early this season in a loss to Butler, they looked like a typical good, not ...

      • Mail Time: January 24th January 24, 2017 Connor Lagore

        The last week was full of upsetting injuries across the country. Maurice Watson, Jr. went down for the year for Creighton with a torn ACL, and OG Anunoby is about to undergo surgery on his knee that will keep him out for the year as well. Dillon Brooks sprained his foot on Thursday night, but luckily for the Ducks, he shouldn’t be out for too long. Similarly, De’Aaron Fox left Kentucky’s game early against South Carolina, but isn’t expected to miss too much time. Unfortunately for Watson, he’s played his last college game, as he’s a fifth-year senior. That sucks. Watson did everything the right way and, after transferring from Boston University, worked his butt off to become one of the best point guards in the country. Anunoby’s injury is also crushing, mostly to his draft stock, but there’s always potential to come back to school and improve. I digress. Injuries sucks. Anyways, mail’s here!

         

        “Who is most likely to win the Big 10?” –Brendon Massing

         

        I have to go with Wisconsin. The Badgers aren’t a very exciting team, but they’re efficient, they’re tough, and at the end of the day, they’re the most reliable team in the league. At 5-1 in B1G play (do people call it the B1G?), they’re tied with Maryland for the lead, and a half-game ahead of Purdue and Northwestern (plus Indiana and Michigan State are still dangerous at 4-3). Four good teams all within reach of the conference title. I give it to Wisconsin simply because, after taking a look at all of four those teams’ schedules, the Badgers seem to have the easiest, especially down the stretch. I also trust them the most to not drop games they shouldn’t. Ethan Happ (13.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.0 apg) is a phenomenal talent in the post on both sides of the ball, and will only improve in the next couple of years. Plus, if they find themselves in a tight situation at the end of the game, there are few player I would want with the ball in their hands over Bronson Koenig (14.3 ppg, 41.1% 3-pt). Nigel Hayes needs to recognize his role is not that of a shooter, but other than that, this team has few holes. All that being said, it’ll be one of the more exciting races in college basketball this year, so pay attention.

         

        “Thoughts on Coach Dixon’s first few months at TCU?” –Ben Auten

         

        I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about the Horn Frogs’ start, because if you remember a couple seasons ago, TCU started 13-0 before getting demolished in conference play. But it seems to be different this year. Dixon’s alma mater is having a great first season with him on the sideline. At 14-6 (3-5 in conference) it’s certainly a step above where they were expected to be. Kenrich Williams stands out to me, averaging nearly a double-double (10.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg). I think Dixon is in good hands, as he’s good a very nice young backcourt of sophomore Alex Robinson and freshmen Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane. Their biggest problem is the lack of a resume-building win. They’ve dropped their three contests against the three-headed monster at the top of the Big 12, but they’ll get three more opportunities (at home against Press Virginia and on the road at Kansas and Baylor), plus two games against Kansas State. College Pride Press’s resident bracketologist Noah Holley has the Horned Frogs at a 9-seed right now, which they could hold if they don’t lose any games they shouldn’t for the rest of the season, but getting a win against one of the top dogs in the Big 12 would be a big boost for the Frogs to make their first NCAA Tournament since 1998.

         

        “What is Creighton’s ceiling without Mo Watson?” –Bradley Kreppel

         

        In a word, lower. In more words, I think they’re still a good offensive team, but will be pretty limited in terms of overall output. Against Marquette, the Blue Jays started sluggish on both ends of the floor, clearly missing Watson’s presence defending the perimeter, as well as his ball movement, something at which he was one of the country’s best. He really made that offense go, and the team was so fun to watch because of his energy and ability to command the floor. They should still be in pretty good shape on offense if they can adjust to not having their elite distributor. Justin Patton has blossomed into one of th most exciting young frontcourt prospects in the game, and Marcus Foster is an elite scorer. It seems that, going forward, Isaiah Zierden will be trusted to guard the ball, an experiment that didn’t go to well this oast Saturday. In short, I think Creighton can still win some games in the Big East, and is already in a good enough position to make the tournament, but it’s tough to see them being the Final Four contender they were before Watson went down.

         

        “Who is the least talked about team that can make a run March?”-Brett Siegel

         

        This is a very broad question that can go a lot of different ways, but I’m gonna go with a team that I don’t think has been talked about enough this season: the Cincinnati Bearcats. I Google Image’d a “bearcat,” and it was a scary looking son of a gun. Mick Cronin’s team is pretty scary too. They have a top-5 defense (No. 4 according to KenPom.com), but Cronin’s teams have always been physically defensive-minded. This team’s offensive output is what sticks out to me. It feels like one of the more efficient offensive Bearcat teams in the past few years, with a lot of weapons. Troy Caupain has an eye-popping statline of 10.8 points, 5.5 boards, and 4.5 assists per game, and Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington are the top two scorers at 14.2 and 13.4 ppg, respectively. Gary Clark is one of the most ...

      • Despite all injuries; Indiana moves forward January 22, 2017 Sean Bock

        It’s not easy losing two of your most versatile players in the same season.  Even with the loss of potential lottery pick OG Anunoby and Collin Hartman who served as a glue guy for last year’s Big Ten Regular Season Champions, other Hoosiers have been picking up the broken pieces in order to get this team back on track.

        After winning two state championships in high school and playing one year of college ball at the University of Vermont, Carmel, Indiana native Zach McRoberts decided to step away from the game and continue his academic career at Indiana University.  Little did he know, or anyone for that matter, that he’d be starting for the Cream and Crimson as a walk-on and play a major role in arguably their biggest game of the season to this point.

        In yesterday’s victory over Michigan State, McRoberts played 32 minutes in his first career start as a Hoosier taking over for Anunoby and Juwan Morgan who was sidelined with a foot injury.   McRoberts finished the game with 3 points on 1-1 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals to go along with a block.  Although his impact doesn’t show too much on the stat sheet, McRoberts spent a good amount of the game guarding Spartan star Miles Bridges who ended up with 13 points on 4-17 shooting.

        With the absence of Morgan and Hartman, it’s vital that Indiana has a guy who steps up and does the dirty work on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.  McRoberts has lived up to the call so far.

        Another frontcourt player worth mentioning is JUCO transfer, Freddie McSwain.  While McSwain only averages around 7.3 minutes per game this season, the 6-foot-6 athletically gifted junior has given the Hoosiers solid energy minutes off the bench in the past two Big Ten matchups.  In the thrilling victory at Penn State on Wednesday,  McSwain’s only two points on the night was a thunderous putback slam off a missed Thomas Bryant fast break layup which fired up his team.  Fast forward to Saturday against Michigan State,  McSwain did the exact same thing in the half court after not being blocked out on a Bryant layup and jammed it in for a two-hand slam.

        Indiana’s biggest concern over the past couple seasons has been turnovers on the offensive end.  The Hoosiers are 296th in offensive turnover percentage and cough-up the ball an average of 15 times a game which is good for worst in the Big Ten in that category.

        One of the main causes of their struggles has been the inconsistency at the point guard position.  It’s hard to replace a four-year starter like Yogi Ferrell with a transfer and a couple freshmen who are completely new to the system.  Pitt transfer Josh Newkirk has taken over the starting spot since Ferrell left and has shown flashes of potential but can’t seem to put a stretch of good possessions together without forcing up a bad shot or pass which leads to a wasted offensive sequence.

        The storyline lately has been the emergence of freshman Devonte Green.  Green, a 6-foot-3 guard from New York, has been the second or third guy off the bench and has seen his minutes go up recently while playing at a high level.  What differentiates Green and Newkirk is their style of play.  Although Newkirk is an inch or two shorter, he is more of a slasher than a true point guard.  On the other hand, Green is more of a combo guard who can play both the 1 and the 2 spots on the offensive end.  Green is shooting 38% from three-point land compared to Newkirk’s 34% this year.  Even though it’s one game, it should be noted that Indiana was +18 with Green on the floor and -8 while Newkirk was in the game.

        Personally, as a fan, I feel a lot more comfortable with Green on the floor.  Trust me, I think Newkirk is a great player but I’m not sure if he’s deserving of all the minutes he gets in that rotation.  I think Green fits into IU’s fast-paced offense better than Newkirk does especially as he’s gotten more time in meaningful minutes in recent games.

        After scoring 15 points in his first game as a Hoosier against Kansas, freshman guard Curtis Jones has been seeing the floor less and less.  Jones hasn’t displayed the ability to run the offense at the point which is fine for a freshman.  I like Jones’ upside and think him, Green, and potential incoming recruits could build a pretty tough backcourt in a year or two.

        With the up and downs that IU’s season has consisted of, it’s easy for fans, including myself, to panic and tweet #FireTomCrean after every loss.  With the loss of OG and day-to-day uncertainty of Morgan, I’m about as skeptical as one could be.  I have absolutely no idea what to expect as the season progresses.  But you know what, I’m fine with that.  Maybe this team can surprise me and exceed my expectations like last year’s group.

         

        Photo via InsideTheHall.com

      • Arizona provides Reality Check for UCLA January 22, 2017 Noah Holley

        The first 20 times the UCLA Bruins stepped onto the court in 2016-17 they didn’t need their defense to win.

        Yesterday was a different story.

        UCLA fans flooded Pauley Pavilion prior to their team’s matchup with Arizona with hopes of earning a win that would go a long way towards a 1 seed or a Pac-12 title.  They left with many doubts about whether their team was as good as all the hype suggested, as Arizona knocked off the Bruins 96-85 to hand them their second loss of the year.

        Tough loss, right?  Go and get ’em next weekend, right?  Doesn’t say a ton about the team, right?  Well, sort of.  UCLA is still one of the country’s best teams.  But yesterday’s loss actually said a LOT about the team, and why they might not be the Final Four locks we’ve made them to be.

        You see, as I alluded to above, UCLA hasn’t needed top-notch production with their backs to the basket.  They haven’t even needed to be remotely solid.  Lonzo Ball and the rest of the Bruins’ dazzling and high-flying offense was capable of hanging triple digits on anybody.  All they really needed to do was hold a team under 90, and that didn’t require much effort; effort that could be better spent wowing the nation.

        We all knew UCLA wasn’t good at defense, and we all knew they didn’t care.  Now we know that they have to get better and start caring, or they won’t win a national championship.  No longer can they take a play or two off here and there.

        Granted, Arizona’s win was as well-coached and well-played of a game as we’ve seen all year.  And there are few teams in the country as good, especially now that star G Allonzo Trier has returned from his suspension.  Sean Miller had his team extremely well prepared.  They excelled on both sides of the ball, not just offensively.   But he designed a game plan that could ultimately become the blueprint for defeating the Bruins – something along the line of “attack the offensive glass, control the pace, drive the basket, and create mismatches.”  The Wildcats exposed all of UCLA’s flaws, which all add up to a complete and utter inability to guard the basketball, accomplishing this by forcing UCLA to fall back on their defense, which no team had been able to do to this point.  The Bruins’ defensive inabilities were showcased in a new light.

        Coach Steve Alford after the game talked about how his players needed to play with the same intensity and unselfishness on defense they display on a regular basis on the offensive end of the floor.  That’s true, but it’s not all on the players.  It’s clear that Alford hasn’t preached the importance of a strong defense enough.  Watching UCLA, you get the sense the players just want to get the ball back as quickly as possible.  Yes, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get the point: The effort and intensity is lacking.  Heavily.

        And that lack of effort and intensity results in a lack of composure and focus.  And that lack of composure and focus results in the select few teams that can match UCLA’s talent level being able to out-flash them.  And the teams that can match UCLA in terms of talent are obviously the ones the Bruins will have to beat if they want to win it all.

        It would be absurd to suggest that UCLA with their backs to the basket has the potential of, say, Virginia.  But it could be better than it is right now.

        I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is the year offense wins a team a championship.  That could very well turn out to be true – there’s a lot of scoring talent in college basketball this year – but only offense won’t win anybody anything.  It appears Alford has taken the idea of being “offensive minded” a bit too far.

        The loss should provide a wake-up call for UCLA.  This team knows they need to play better defense.  Nobody tried to shy away from that fact in postgame interviews.  This is a legit title contender; however, there’s a “but” following that statement now.

        We know what they can do on offense.

        Now, all eyes are on the defense.

         

         

         

         

      • Noah Holley Bracketology: January 19, 2017 January 19, 2017 Noah Holley

        Past updates:

        (Key: ↑-moved up, ↓-moved down, italics-new team to bracket, *-automatic bid)

        EAST

        Buffalo

        1 Villanova* vs 16 LIU Brooklyn*/Texas Southern*
        8 TCU vs 9 Clemson↓

        Indianapolis

        5 Maryland↑ vs 12 Akron↑*
        4 Notre Dame vs 13 Valparaiso*

        Greenville

        6 Purdue↓ vs 11 Illinois State*
        3 North Carolina↑ vs 14 UNC Greensboro*

        Buffalo

        7 Xavier↓ vs 10 Arkansas
        2 Kentucky* vs 15 Maryland-Baltimore County*

        SOUTH

        Orlando

        1 Florida State* vs 16 Sam Houston State*
        8 Texas Tech vs 9 Cal↑

        Milwaukee

        5 Duke↓ vs 12 Miami↓/Marquette
        4 West Virginia↓ vs 13 Monmouth*

        Greenville

        6 Florida↓ vs 11 Nevada↑*
        3 Louisville vs 14 Georgia Southern*

        Sacramento

        7 Southern Cal↑ vs 10 Seton Hall↓
        2 Gonzaga* vs 15 North Dakota State*

        MIDWEST

        Tulsa

        1 Kansas* vs 16 NC Central*/UC Irvine*
        8 Virginia Tech vs 9 Northwestern

        Salt Lake City

        5 Cincinnati* vs 12 VCU↓/Kansas State
        4 Arizona↑ vs 13 New Mexico State*

        Salt Lake City

        6 South Carolina↑ vs 11 Middle Tennessee State*
        3 Oregon vs 14 Belmont*

        Milwaukee

        7 SMU vs 10 Michigan State
        2 Creighton vs 15 Winthrop↓*

        WEST

        Tulsa

        1 Baylor vs 16 Weber State*
        8 Indiana↑ vs 9 Dayton*

        Orlando

        5 Wisconsin↑ vs 12 Wichita State↓
        4 Virginia vs 13 Florida Gulf Coast*

        Indianapolis

        6 Saint Mary’s↑ vs 11 UNC Wilmington↑*
        3 Butler vs 14 Bucknell↑*

        Sacramento

        7 Minnesota↓ vs 10 Iowa State
        2 UCLA* vs 15 Harvard*

        LAST FOUR BYES
        Michigan State
        Seton Hall
        Iowa State
        Wichita State
        LAST FOUR IN
        VCU
        Marquette
        Miami
        Kansas State
        FIRST FOUR OUT
        Utah
        Georgia Tech
        Pittsburgh
        Houston
        NEXT FOUR OUT
        La Salle
        Rhode Island
        Wake Forest
        Georgia

         

      • Mail Time: January 17th January 17, 2017 Connor Lagore

        What a great week of college hoops. Lots of ranked match-ups, including a Press Virginia throttling of Baylor. I hope they enjoyed their time as Number 1! We’re starting to figure out the dividing line between the top teams in the country, and the scrum of teams who will fight it out for the 2, 3, and 4 seeds. I’m down to watch if you are. A quick Grayson Allen update: he definitely pushed that Florida State coach. Full extension of the arms. Perfect form, really. Granted the coach said that he did nothing of the sort, there’s video evidence! Anyways, the mail’s here, let’s answer some questions:

         

        “Is it time to panic for Xavier if they lose tonight to Creighton?” –Sean Bock

         

        Since I’m answering this in the evening, I’ll spoil it for you all: Creighton won. Xavier lost. So, yeah, I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s time to panic for Xavier. Their best win is against Clemson, which is a good win, but it’s not a marquee win. They squandered their first three opportunities in conference play, losing at Villanova, at Butler, and then the matchup with Creighton, which was at home. Luckily, they have another chance to play each team again, Nova and Butler at home, and in Omaha against Creighton. Those are three tough games, obviously. Of course, home court advantage will help, but the way they’ve played all season, it’s tough to see them rising to the challenge. Another plus, those games will be pretty spaced apart. Xavier played their first three games against those opponents within a span of six days. That is exhausting. A 1-5 record in those games won’t be impressive enough to get them a high seed, so winning two is the goal. Another must win game is January 20th against Cincinnati. A road win against a ranked team, conference opponent or not, will be huge for the Musketeers’ non-conference resume. But Xavier is floundering right now. They have to win these games, and manage not to lose any games they shouldn’t. Chris Mack has to right the ship.

         

        Who are the pretenders and contenders in the Big 10?”-Trevor Deimel

         

        I’ll make this brief.

        Contenders:

        • Wisconsin
        • Purdue
        • Northwestern
        • Michigan State
        • Minnesota
        • Indiana
        • Maryland

        Pretenders:

        • Penn State
        • Nebraska
        • Iowa
        • Illinois
        • Michigan
        • Ohio State

        Teams Who Aren’t Even Pretending:

        • Rutgers

         

        “What conference is the best in college basketball?” –Ben Auten

         

        I have to go with the ACC. There are arguments for the Big 12, Big East, and SEC (just kidding), but the ACC take it. Sure, it hasn’t played out like it was projected to, and the contenders are pretty unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it’s weaker than we thought. Notre Dame and Florida State have been the two surprises, the Irish still the lone undefeated team in the conference and FSU at 4-1 with their only loss coming at UNC (who’s a half game behind Notre Dame and a half game ahead of the ‘Noles). But while those teams have been the most impressive, the league goes much deeper. Out of 15 teams, there are 12 teams that are a tough win night in and night out. Notre Dame is 5-0, but none of those wins have been easy. Unfortunately, the result of the ACC’s depth is a lot of cannibalism. Before you freak out, it’s not real cannibalism. What I mean by that is there will be so many teams in the ACC beating up on each other, and there’s going to be a large cluster of teams hovering around .500 in conference play. It may look worse on their record, but the committee should know to take into account the number of tough games they’ll play against quality opponents. To back this up with statistics, the ACC has the most teams in the top 68 teams ranked by KenPom with 12, and has the highest overall conference RPI out of all conferences. It’s a possible double-digit conference, something we haven’t seen in a long time.

         

        “How good is this year’s Gonzaga team? And are they Final Four caliber?” -@BigPieceLeas

         

        In brief: very, and yes. To expand, I think this is a very different team than Mark Few has had in the past. Not necessarily better, but built more for a deep run. Think of the 2012-13 team that was a 1 seed and lost to Wichita State in the 2nd round. Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos were the centerpieces of an offense that didn’t give them a ton of support, and when they ran into a team that forced those guys to take tougher shots, they couldn’t rely on other guys to make shots to win. This year, they look well on their way to getting a 1 seed again, currently sitting at 17-0. The difference this year than in the past is that Few has so many more weapons at his disposal. The Zags are rich with great shooters, guards who can drive the lane, and big men who can create spacing. If one thing isn’t working, they have other options. If one player is off, they have other guys that can step up. They also have a deep bench, which isn’t a luxury Few has had very often. They’re one of two teams that are in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency (along with West Virginia). People typically knock the Bulldogs for a weak schedule and playing in a very uncompetitive West Coast Conference. Both fair arguments. But this season, the Zags have been pretty well tested, winning matchups against Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona, all on neutral courts (that’s four top 25 KenPom teams including St. Mary’s). They have yet to play a tough road game, and will only play one this season when they travel to St. Mary’s on February 11th. Their most recent, and probably most impressive, win was at home against the Gaels, a team that beat them twice in the regular season last year. They forced Jock Landale into foul trouble early, and figured out the chinks in St. Mary’s defensive armor to build a lead. Early in the second half, Landale ...

      • Mail Time: January 10th January 10, 2017 Connor Lagore

        Not a lot of basketball was played between my last column and now, as the mailbag day was now moved to Tuesday, but there was basketball nonetheless. It also felt like kind of a boring week. No one got upset on Saturday, and Purdue beating Wisconsin in West Lafayette is hardly an upset. Still, it was an eventful weekend, as it always is in this sport. Let’s address some of it together, shall we? Mail time!

         

        “Who is more likely to not win their respective conference, Kansas in the Big 12 or Villanova in the Big East?” –Duncan Hensley

         

        This is tough, because Kansas and Villanova sit at number 2 and 3, respectively, in the new AP Poll, which should make them the favorites in their conference, right? Well, that’s why it’s tough. The only team ranked ahead of the Jayhawks and Wildcats is the undefeated Baylor Bears, who claimed their first ever No. 1 in school history (congratulations to them), and Villanova just lost to Butler, a team that will challenge them for the Big East title. So things aren’t as clear as one might think. When I look at each team’s schedule, Kansas actually sticks out to me as having the toughest remaining games. Kansas has already been pushed to the limit at home against a middle-of-the-pack team in Kansas State, while Nova has only lost at Butler (not an easy place to get a win), and beat a top-10 Creighton team in Omaha. Baylor is the most immediate threat, but Press Virginia is also lurking right behind the Bears and Jayhawks. All that being said, I still foresee both teams winning their respective conferences. But if I had to pick, Kansas’s ungodly streak gets snapped. Finally.

         

        “Which win has a bigger impact on for their teams morale and confidence: Butler beating Villanova or Purdue beating Wisconsin?” –Brendan Massing

         

        I’ll keep this one short and sweet: Butler taking down Villanova. Butler beat the No. 1 team in the country at the time, and the defending national champion. Purdue’s win shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the Bulldogs put themselves firmly in the Big East conversation. Getting a win of that magnitude is huge, especially for a team that wasn’t even in the pre-season top 25.

         

        “Who is the most important player for UCLA besides Lonzo Ball?” –Sean Bock

         

        There are lots of arguments for five other players on this team, but I’m going to go with TJ Leaf, the other freshman in the Bruins’ starting lineup. While Ball is grabbing all the attention (and deservedly so), Leaf is actually UCLA’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. That’s due largely in part to his efficiency. He’s shooting a nice 65.4% from the floor, and 69.9% if you use eFG% (effective field goal percentage). Of course, being a big man, a lot of those shots are being taken around the basket, but Leaf also has a great high-low game and has a really smooth jumper, which forces defenses to play out on him. Of course, this is all at the offensive end. On defense, he’s a great rim protector, and compliments Thomas Welsh, the Bruins’ veteran inside man, really well. Leaf can move better than Welsh can, so that allows him to guard smaller forwards that like to play out along the perimeter, something Welsh is a little too slow to handle. All this, and he’s a beast on the glass, pulling down 9.1 rebounds per game.

         

        “More important to their team: Joel Berry or Frank Mason?” –Ben Auten

         

        I don’t want to overanalyze this, because these are two of the best guards in the country and both are extremely important to their team, but I’m going to go with Frank Mason. Not the first Frank Mason. Or the second, for that matter. But Frank Mason III. It should be noted that without Berry in the lineup, the Tar Heels played a couple of tough games against Davidson and Tennessee, but still managed pulled out a couple of wins. So it’s pretty evident that Berry’s presence running the point is extremely vital to North Carolina. However, I think Mason is the heart and soul of this Kansas team. After Perry Ellis completed his 17th year of eligibility, Mason took on the weight of leading the Jayhawks this season, and so far, has done a pretty solid job. Through 15 games, he’s averaging 19.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. That’s pretty insane. I mentioned this in a recent column, but I believe that Mason is the best player in the country at creating an open shot for himself or for a teammate. He uses his size and speed to an adavtage. Take a look at the end of the Duke game. He makes that game winning shot over Matt Jones, a good defender, because of how quickly he stopped and went up with the ball. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Of course, that’s just one example, but Mason makes plays like this constantly for Kansas. This Kansas team also isn’t very deep, and he’s playing 35 minutes per game (Berry is only playing 27). You take away those 35 minutes of production, and this Kansas team isn’t the No. 2 team in the country.

         

        And of course: BIFM.

         

        “What does Kentucky have to do to shore up a #1 seed? How many losses can they afford in conference?” –Reddit user LifestyleOverMoney

         

        Well, LifestyleOverMoney, that’s a great question. Knee-jerk reaction, I think UK can lose two games maximum in the regular season. That seems like so few, but if Kentucky loses more games than that, that means they had a pretty awful loss along the way. I’ll circle two games in the remainder of their season: January 28th vs. Kansas, and February 4th at Florida. Kansas isn’t a conference game of course, but seeing how it’s a home game, a loss would certainly drop them a couple of spots. But that’s early in conference season and UK would be able to work it’s way back up in the polls. ...

      • Mail Time: January 5th January 5, 2017 Connor Lagore

        The first week of conference play has been so exciting. Maybe this is a bit of recency bias, but this has been one of the most fun weeks I can remember in the last few seasons. There’s a lot going on in the world of college hoops, so instead of tackling one subject, I took some questions to take on a variety of topics. It’s mail time.

         

        “Besides Lonzo Ball, which freshman has been the most impressive to you this season?” -@likagoodnabor

         

        I could take the obvious route and give you any name like Fultz, Monk, Leaf, Markkanen, or Smith Jr. That’s not that fun, though, is it? I’m going to go with Zach Collins of Gonzaga, simply because he’s been playing so well but not getting a lot of national exposure. Collins is 7 feet tall but moves pretty well for his size, and has a pretty nice-looking jumper. He’s averaging 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in just under17 minutes a game. On a team so loaded with talent, that’s pretty impressive. His post play needs to improve a little bit more, but he plays under control and is tough on the glass, something the Zags desperately need. He most likely isn’t a one-and-done guy like some of the other names I mentioned, but staying in Spokane will allow him to develop into a dominant big man.

         

        “How many bids do you see the Big 12 getting?” -@fakedebbiemeyer

         

        This was a pretty easy answer…until Tuesday night when Texas Tech upset West Virginia and Kansas State nearly beat Kansas in Lawrence (by the way, the game winner? Yeah, four steps.). I would say that as of right now, there are three locks to be in (Kansas, Baylor, and WVU), and two locks to be out (Texas and Oklahoma). The middle is going to be the fun part of a surprisingly deep Big 12. Of all the second tier teams, Iowa State and Kansas State have the most talent to get it done. Texas Tech, TCU, and Oklahoma State will need to grab more than one marquee win in conference play to get some consideration. I’ll say six bids for now: KU, Baylor, WVU, ISU, K-State, and TCU (I think Jamie Dixon is doing a great job with a seriously underrated backcourt). Texas Tech is right on the bubble after last night, though. Also, I hope the real Debbie Meyer knows you’re a fake.

         

        “Is Lorenzo Romar the coach at Washington next year?” -@edupridepress

         

        Well, employer, I’m glad you asked. If it was up to me, no, and here’s why: Sure, Romar certainly turned the program around. He’s 293-179 all-time at Washington. He brought he Huskies to the tournament six times in his first nine years, which is pretty good. And he’s been a great recruiter for a long time, boasting a slew of NBA draftees, a few of whom had very successful careers. The problem is the last four seasons. The best he’s finished is four games above .500. Romar has had a lot to work with in his time at UDub but never really seemed to put it all together. He’s been steadily on the decline. And now, with arguably the best all-around player he’ll ever coach, this looks like one of his worst teams. It seems pretty clear to me that Romar is not the guy anymore for the Huskies, and while it will be tough to lose his recruiting skills, a coach’s first priority is to win.

         

        All that being said, it is not up to me, as I am not a staff member in the University of Washington’s athletic department, and therefore can only give you a solid “I hope not” as an answer.

         

        “Do Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, or James Blackmon, Jr. go pro after this year?” -@IUBBallNews

         

        I’m not as familiar with Indiana basketball as some other great writers on this site, but I will give you an outsider’s perspective: Anunoby will go. He seems a bit hampered by that ankle injury still, but I would bet that his play picks back up as the season goes on, and a strong finish will keep him high on the draft boards. His athleticism and raw talent is too good at this point for him to pass up this opportunity. Bryant could go either way. If he goes, I think he’s a late first rounder at best. His high draft stock last year was due to his potential around the rim, but this year he’s tended to drift out along the perimeter, and has tried to add an outside game to his repertoire, and it doesn’t seem natural. He’ll make his money under the basket, so he should stay there. I think, and hope, JBJ stays in Bloomington. He could be a very valuable 3-point shooter in the Association, but would most likely end up being a undrafted free agent this year. As a prediction, he’ll take advantage of the new draft rules (which I love), and declare, find out what he needs to work on, and come back to Crean and the Hoosiers.

         

        “How do you think Duke will handle Coach K’s absence?”-@EricGraves_97

         

        When you think about it, Duke’s been playing in crisis mode all season long. Lots of injuries (and one suspension) have kept this team as a whole from gelling. There’s still work to do. Yet, after tonight’s performance they’re still one of the best teams in the country (sure, it was Georgia Tech in Cameron, but still). I think that alone says that this team can stay afloat for a while until they get their stuff together. This isn’t the first time K has done something like this. In 1994, he had back surgery before the season, and came back to the team too early. This shortened rehab caused the problem to flare up again and he missed the whole second half of the 1994-95 season. His replacement, Pete Gaudet, went 4-15 as interim head coach. Ironically, Jeff Capel, Coach K’s replacement this time around, was a player on that team. I think ...

      • And Then There Were Three January 1, 2017 Noah Holley

        And then there were three.

        2016 seemed bent on going out destroying as many unbeaten seasons as possible, cutting the list in half.  With the previous calendar year behind us, we’re left with Baylor, Gonzaga, and Villanova.

        If the past week was any indication, it’s not easy to be undefeated.  Heck, if DePaul can nearly do the impossible, who can’t?  The unpredictability is the fun of it, I guess, but we got to write about something.  So who’s gonna last the longest?  Let’s break it down.

        The case (and prediction) for each:

        Villanova (14-0)

        Why they’ll be the last remaining unbeaten

        It’s pretty clear from what we’ve seen so far that Villanova is one of the toughest teams in the country.  Over the past few days, the Wildcats have been pushed to the limits by DePaul and Creighton but refused to be shaken.  We also can’t not talk about Josh Hart, who is one of (if not the) best players in the country.  Other teams don’t have a guy with his poise and coolness when the going gets tough.  Besides all of that, you can’t ignore the fact that they play Butler and Xavier over their next three games after two big-time tests.  We know Villanova is tough, but are they that tough?  We’ll see.

        How long, really, will the unbeaten run last?

        I imagine that Villanova loses at least once to Butler and Xavier, more likely to the Bulldogs, since they’ll meet at the historically difficult venues to play in in the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse.  If they survive that, the next roadblock is the January 29th non-conference battle with Virginia, which is going to be a slugfest.  And you know there’s gonna be a few more DePauls sprinkled in, since the team to beat draws the A-games.  I really don’t see the Wildcats making it out of January untouched.  I wouldn’t put anything past them, however, as it’s been years since I’ve seen a team this collected and mentally strong, especially with everything that’s been thrown their way.

        Baylor (13-0)

        Why they’ll be the last remaining unbeaten

        Baylor is making it look easy.  Everyone appears to be in the midst of a breakout year, especially forward Johnathan Motley, who’s going absolutely berserk, and point guard Manu Lecomte, who’s flourishing in his first chance to be a 30-minute guy.  The Bears are also a lot deeper than expected.  But the one thing that gets you really excited about Baylor is their newfound consistency.  After years of being unsure what type of team would step onto the floor, Baylor started out 2016-17 red-hot and hasn’t cooled off…. at all.  They way they’re playing, it’s tough to see anyone knocking them off anytime soon.

        How long, really, will the unbeaten run last?

        Hold up.  You don’t really think Baylor can run the table, do you?  Ha.  No.  Not in the Big 12, one of the toughest conferences to maneuver.  Its size is the X-factor.  Here are the two reasons why:

        1. The competition is tight.  There are no cupcakes in the ten-team Big 12.  None.
        2. You have to play everyone twice.  Beating a team – any team – twice is a very difficult thing to do in college basketball.

        However, we are here to discuss how long that egg in the loss column stays fresh, not whether it will ever go away, because spoiler alert: It will.  The main roadblock ahead for Baylor is January 10th at West Virginia.  If anyone’s gonna halt the Baylor train, it’s the Mountaineers and their “Press Virginia” defensive style.  I predict that the Bears lose that one and at least one other in before the showdown with Kansas on February 1st.

        Gonzaga (14-0)

        Why they’ll be the last remaining unbeaten

        Three words: West.  Coast.  Conference.  No disrespect to the WCC, but it’s no Big East or Big 12.  It’s hardly a distant cousin.  The only team in that conference that is capable of knocking off the loaded Zags is 19th-ranked Saint Mary’s.  Gonzaga will face the Gaels at home on January 14th, but if I’m picking a day for Gonzaga to lose, it’s mid-February when Saint Mary’s plays host.  Either way, I don’t see it happening.  The perfect season hype is legit.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen a mid-major team this good.

        How long, really, will the unbeaten run last?

        Like I said, probably for awhile.  I can’t deny it will be tough to beat Saint Mary’s twice and especially three times if the two meet in the WCC tournament.  And BYU can really rack up points.  But to me, the question is whether or not Gonzaga can win it all, not whether they’ll go untouched through Selection Sunday.

         

         

         

      • Noah Holley Bracketology: Best Resume In Each Power 6 Conference December 30, 2016 Noah Holley

        As the 2016-17 season turns to conference play, let’s have a look at the top NCAA Tournament resumes in each conference up to this point:

         

        ACC:

        Louisville (11-2)

        • Best win: vs Kentucky
        • Worst loss: None
        • Non-Conference SOS: 14
        • RPI: 11
        • vs. RPI 1-25: 1-0
        • vs. RPI 100-351: 7-0

        As of now, Louisville sits on the 3- or 4-seed line.  Imagine where they would be if they hadn’t lost that huge lead on Baylor (no. 5 in ESPN RPI) or completed that comeback vs Virginia (no. 7).  Anyway, they have a signature win in Kentucky and will have plenty of chances for more down the road in the potential double-digit bid ACC.

        Big 12:

        Baylor (11-0)

        • Best win: vs Louisville
        • Worst loss: None
        • Non-Conference SOS: 49
        • RPI: 5
        • vs. RPI 1-25: 3-0
        • vs. RPI 100-351: 5-0

        Early on, it appeared as if the Bears were building one of the best non-conference resumes in recent memories.  Michigan State’s fall from grace pretty much ended the chances of that, but Baylor still heads into league play in as good of a position as anybody, Tourney-wise.  If they can avoid upsets in the typically booby-trapped Big 12, they will be in the one-seed conversation throughout the winter.

        Big East:

        Creighton (13-0)

        • Best wins: vs Wisconsin
        • Worst loss: None
        • Non-Conference SOS: 70
        • RPI: 3
        • vs. RPI 1-25: 1-0
        • vs. RPI 100-351: 6-0

        In ESPN’s RPI, the Big East places 3 in the top 4 (Villanova, Creighton, Xavier.)  It would be easy to say Villanova, who holds the no. 1 rating, but I’ll go with Creighton and their convincing wins over Wisconsin, (who’s better than their no. 45 RPI) Seton Hall, Ole Miss and NC State.  No true eye-popper (a win over Villanova tomorrow would shore that up real quick) but they’ve been as good as anybody in the country so far.

        Big Ten:

        Purdue (12-2)

        • Best win: vs Notre Dame
        • Worst loss: None
        • Non-Conference SOS: 156
        • RPI: 44
        • vs. RPI 1-25: 0-2
        • vs. RPI 100-351: 9-0

        Despite the Big Ten being widely considered as a top-two conference, it failed to make any sort of statement in non-conference play.  Only two teams recorded victories vs ESPN RPI Top 25 opponents (Northwestern and Indiana).  This decision came down to whether I’m taking a team that played top-level competition and but failed to record a win against it or a team that didn’t really play anyone but took care of business.  I ended up deciding on the former in Purdue, who couldn’t get it done against Louisville and Villanova but beat everybody else.  There’s still a ton of work left to do for the Boilermakers and pretty much everybody in the Big Ten, who as of now have no one checking in higher than a 4 seed in my current bracket projections.

        Pac 12:

        UCLA (13-1)

        • Best win: vs Kentucky
        • Worst loss: None
        • Non-Conference SOS: 176
        • RPI: 21
        • vs. RPI 1-25: 1-0
        • vs. RPI 100-351: 8-0

        We could go ahead and judge a resume comparison of UCLA and Oregon by the outcome of Wednesday night’s game, but that’s not really how bracketology works.  If we’re putting the margin of victory into play, November really hurt Oregon.  Even if we don’t, the extra loss to an average team like Georgetown is something that UCLA doesn’t have, making this a fairly easy choice.

        SEC:

        Kentucky (11-2)

        • Best win: vs North Carolina
        • Worst loss: None
        • Non-Conference SOS: 10
        • RPI: 6
        • vs. RPI 1-25: 1-0
        • vs. RPI 100-351: 6-0

        Florida stands higher on the RPI rankings, but that’s only because of their top-ranked schedule.  (You can never really trust ratings systems such as that so early.)  Kentucky’s victory over North Carolina gives them the best resume in the depleted SEC.

        Others:

        Gonzaga (13-0)

        • Best win: vs Arizona
        • Worst loss: None
        • Non-Conference SOS: 51
        • RPI: 10
        • vs. RPI 1-25: 1-0
        • vs. RPI 100-351: 8-0

        I hate to fit all the other college conferences into one category like this, but I couldn’t just ignore Gonzaga, who looks like a serious championship contender.  Once again, Gonzaga loaded their non-conference schedule with Power 6 opponents, and took care of business against every single one of them, the highlights being victories over Florida, Arizona and Iowa State.

         

      • Class Acts December 29, 2016 Connor Lagore

        I’m in the championship of my fantasy football league this weekend and hoping to win big. I love fantasy football, and fantasy sports in general. I think being able to assemble a team filled with a sport’s biggest stars is a fantasy (weak pun intended) that we’ve all had as young sports fans. I got to thinking about who I would want on my college basketball fantasy team. Of course, just picking one starting lineup of five guys is boring, and that conversation could go on forever. So instead, I went ahead and found the stars that I think are five of the best players in every class:

         

        Seniors

        • G Maurice Watson, Jr., Creighton- How could I not go with the current leading assist man in the country (9 apg)? Watson’s ability to create shots for himself (12.8 ppg) and his teammates is a big reason Creighton is undefeated right now.
        • G Frank Mason III, Kansas- When the game is on the line, I’m putting the ball in Mason’s hands. His jumper with 6 seconds left to beat Duke showed that he has ice in his veins no matter what level. He has an uncanny ability to find a shot for himself anywhere on the floor, and to go with his 19.7 ppg, he’s also dishing out 5.8 assists, and pulling down 4.7 boards.
        • G/F Josh Hart, Villanova- The best player in the country in my opinion. Hart is so efficient (56% from the floor, 43% behind the arc) and so effective from everywhere on the court. For a guy who’s 6 and a half feet tall, his toughness down low allows him to play so much bigger than he is (6.6 rpg).
        • F Michael Young, Pitt- Am I crazy to think Michael Young is one of the most underrated players in the NCAA? Sure, Pitt isn’t grabbing a lot of headlines, but Young’s stat line is ridiculous (22.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.9 apg). His dominance will keep the Panthers relevant in the ACC.
        • F Alec Peters, Valparaiso- Playing for a mid-major won’t garner you a ton of attention, but Peters demands it. Averaging 26.4 points and 10 boards per game, he’s one of the games best frontcourt players (7 double-doubles). He doesn’t shy away from tough competition either (24 points, 8 rebounds in a loss at Kentucky).

        Juniors

        • G Melo Trimble, Maryland- Trimble looked like a shadow of the player he was his freshman year and made the decision to come back to school for his junior year. That decision is paying off, as Trimble is the veteran leader (and leading scorer at 18.1 ppg) for a young 13-1 Maryland team.
        • G James Blackmon, Jr., Indiana- After missing all of conference play and the postseason last year, Blackmon came back strong and is currently the Hoosiers’ leading scorer at 18.5 ppg (to go with 5.4 boards), but his most valuable weapon is his 3-ball. Blackmon is taking 7.4 three’s per game, and making a ridiculous 45% of them.
        • G/F Trevon Bluiett- Xavier’s athletic wing really broke out last season, and has continued his steady stream of production for the Musketeers, puring in 19 points a game while pulling down 5.6 rebounds. Bluiett has a pretty good outside shot, but is strongest creating for himself, and his teammates off the dribble.
        • F Dillon Brooks, Oregon- Brooks, coming off a rough foot injury in the offseason, didn’t see action until Oregon went to Maui for the Maui Invitational, and didn’t see significant minutes until December 11th against Alabama. He’s still finding his groove, but when he can, it’s scary what he’s capable of. Example A: 23 points, 9 rebounds, and the game-winner against #2 UCLA, with a picture-perfect moment to boot (top).
        • F Jock Landale, St. Mary’s- If the Aussie wasn’t on your radar before, he should be now. The Gaels are a dangerous team out West, and Landale’s emergence is a big reason why. He’s exploded for 17.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

        Sophomores

        • G Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State- Evans could very well be the best scorer in the country. Averaging 20.2 points per game, the dude is just electric. He doesn’t get a ton of help from the Cowboys, but he’ll keep the ‘Pokes in tight games because of how dominant he can be.
        • G Luke Kennard, Duke- One of the leading candidates for Player of the Year, Kennard stepped up as Duke’s primary scoring option this year, developing his outside shot and stepping up in crunch time. Not to mention, he contributes 5.9 rebounds and 2. 8 assists.
        • G/F Dwayne Bacon, Florida State- The Baconator (please let that catch on) is a guard in a forward’s body, and he can play both positions too. He’s explosive in the lane and tough on the glass (4.1 rebounds), yet can handle the ball and does a decent job from behind the arc. At 16.9 points per game, he’s scoring in your face from everywhere on the floor.
        • F Caleb Swanigan, Purdue- Swanigan entered the draft but elected to return to West Lafayette. Good for Purdue. Swanigan has been a beast this year, averaging a double-double (18.3 ppg and 12.5 rpg), and turning Purdue into a legit Final Four team. At a level where his size and strength are advantages, “Biggie” is dominating.
        • F Dedric Lawson, Memphis- Lawson (along with his brother) makes the Tigers a serious threat in the AAC, and that’s largely thanks to how good he’s been for them down low. Lawson won’t blow anyone away physically, but he’s fluid on offense and can handle the ball a little in isolation. Another guy averaging a double-double (20.7 points and 10.8 rebounds).

        Freshmen

        • G Lonzo Ball, UCLA- Ball has blown the minds of college basketball fans everywhere in the short time he’s played in Westwood. UCLA has a lot of offensive firepower, but a ton of it runs through Ball (8.3 assists). His court vision and knack for making tough passes is otherworldly, and while he’s a pass-first point guard, his other aspects of the game are thrilling (13.7 points, 5.8 rebounds).
        • G Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State- The potential top ...
        • CPP Conference Play Preview: Pac-12 December 28, 2016 Noah Holley

          With the non-conference season coming to a close, we will be previewing each of the power six conferences based on what we have learned so far this year and guide you through what to look out for as the season continues.

          Here is your guide to the Pac 12.

          Pre-Conference Play All-Pac 12 Team

          • Lonzo Ball, UCLA
          • Markelle Fultz, Washington
          • TJ Leaf, UCLA
          • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
          • Reid Travis, Stanford

          Player Of The Year Pick: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

          This one is too easy.  UCLA is Ball’s team, and the Bruins’ lightning fast yet silky smooth offensive attack is a product of Ball’s game.  His court vision and passing abilities are out of this world.  He doesn’t make everyone around him better; he makes everyone around him ten times better.  Under Ball’s watch, UCLA has the best offense in the country by a mile and a half.  Great things are to come for Ball.  Meet your favorite for the Wooden Award.

          What We’ve Learned

          1. Washington isn’t fit to be a one-and-done machine.  This year, 5-star recruit Markelle Fultz has been phenomenal, yet Washington has been decidedly average, similar to years past.  What is to be made of this?  Simply, the Huskies are not going to cut it as a one-and-done factory.  The story was the same last year, when freshmen Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray had big seasons but Washington barely managed to achieve a .500 record.  The girth of talent fails to extend beyond the big-name prospects and the defense is once again terrible.  Granted, this is a young and inexperienced team and was last year as well, but all that really says is that a gradual build-up is clearly the proper game plan for turning this program into a contender.
          2. Not to jump the gun on Oregon.  The Ducks’ Elite 8 run and four starters returning sounded like enough for everyone and their dog to put Oregon in their preseason Top 5.  Unfortunately, those lofty expectations blew up in our faces after two weeks of play, when Oregon was 3-2 with embarrassing losses to Baylor and Georgetown and a near-loss to lowly Tennessee.  All of the sudden, we went into a state of panic about the Ducks’ prospects for the rest of the season.  Since then, it hasn’t been pretty, but Oregon and their star Dillon Brooks are gradually returning to form, showing flashes of the team we all thought they would be.  Talent-wise, this team is loaded.  Are they as good as we thought they were?  Probably not, considering the hype.  But the more they discover the kind of team they can be the more dangerous these Ducks will become.  I have no doubt that they are better than they’re no. 21 ranking.
          3. LA hoops has never been this good.  The journey has been very different, but nevertheless the two LA college basketball teams – UCLA and USC – find themselves with identical 13-0 records heading into conference play.   USC isn’t as flashy, but they’ve gotten it done in close games: The average margin of victory in their four major wins (SMU, BYU, Texas A&M, and Wyoming) is 4.  Elijah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin form arguably the second-best guard tandem in the conference behind UCLA, and forward Chimezie Metu has been solid as well.  Obviously, we know less about USC than we do about their rivals, but the Trojans’ performance so far has been enough to suggest that they have a chance to seriously contend in the Pac 12.

          Storylines To Watch In Conference Play

          1. Can anyone challenge UCLA?  Before the season, it appeared as if the Pac-12 would most likely come down to three teams: UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon.  With non-conference play in the past, we can now see that UCLA is easily the most complete of the three.  Without Allonzo Trier, Arizona isn’t a national title contender, and Oregon has been wobbly this year with Dillon Brooks battling injury.  Not that UCLA will roll through conference play, of course; those two teams (especially Oregon) are very much capable of beating them, and potential upsets lurk around every corner of their conference play schedule.  For now, however, it appears that the Bruins are the runaway favorites for the Pac 12.  We’ll find out a lot about that prediction tonight when they take on Oregon.
          2. Is this league relevant in 2016?  As of now, the Pac-12 is a four bid league, three worse than last year.    Outside of Top-25 teams UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, and Southern Cal, we have Utah, Colorado, and Cal, who due to mediocre non-conference resumes appear destined to hover around the bubble all winter, and Stanford and Washington, who just flat-out don’t look capable of righting the ship and making the tournament.  And the rest have virtually no shot at sneaking in.  Beyond tournament implications, we have the undeniably discouraging number of 4-21, which is the conference’s record against ESPN RPI Top 50 opponents.  Only the SEC has a worse record.  There’s a good chance the champion hails from this conference, but overall it appears we are in the midst of a down year for Pac-12 hoops.
          3. Can the veterans catch up to the freshman?  It’s been a heck of the year for the young talent in the Pac-12.  Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Markelle Fultz, Lauri Markkanen, and Charlie Moore are some of the freshmen making major names for themselves in 2016-17.  The veteran core of the conference have not replicated the success of their young counterparts, however.  Dillon Brooks, Chris Boucher, Ivan Rabb, Dominique Collier, and Kyle Kuzma have all battled injuries this year, and obviously, Allonzo Trier hasn’t seen the court yet due to that curious suspension.  Heading into conference play, there are a ton of names that need to get healthy and return to form for the Pac-12 to repeat last year’s success.

          Sleeper Team To Watch

          It’s tough to choose.  As you read above, this league is quite thick around the middle.  I’ll go with either Cal and Utah, and Cal if I can only pick one.  I’m surprised at the Bears’ failure to pull off victories in key games.  Yeah, they ...

        • Conference Title Sleeper Teams December 22, 2016 Connor Lagore

          You know what I love most about the Christmas season? Conference play. The fat man sliding down the chimney also means that we’ll be getting some great early match-ups underneath the proverbial Christmas tree (Grayson Allen should also be expecting some coal). Next week, I’ll dish out some long form takes on what we saw in the non-conference portion of the season. For now, since we’ve gotten a pretty good look at a lot of teams, let’s check out some sleepers who can make a run at each major conference title.

           

           

          AAC: Memphis- The Memphis Tigers are under new management this year, with Tubby Smith taking over for Josh Pastner in the offseason, but the Tigers have adjusted nicely and are looking like a serious threat in the American. Their success is due largely in part to a family matter down low. Sophomore Dedric (20.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg) and freshman K.J. Lawson (14.5 and 8.6) are the number 1 and 3 scorer in the AAC thus far, respectively. Smith also has the number 4 scorer in the AAC (Markel Crawford at 13.6 ppg) and the leading distributor (Jeremiah Martin with 5.5 apg) at his disposal. The defense can be suspect at times, and 3-point shooting needs to improve from 30%, but Memphis is an offensive bulldozer.

           

          A-10: Davidson- Bob McKilliop’s Wildcats have been such a strong mid-major for so long, they aren’t sneaking up on anyone. But in what could be considered a “down year,” Davidson could still make a push for the top of the league. It’s always useful to have one of the best scorers in the country in Jack Gibbs (22.8 ppg) on your team, but add in another 20-point scorer in Peyton Aldridge (20.2) and 11 upper classmen (experience!), and that’s a team that can do some damage in an unusually weak A-10. Plus, style points for being one of the most diverse teams in the country (Davidson has players from 7 different countries stretching across Europe and Africa).

           

          ACC: Florida State, Virginia Tech- Sure, maybe picking two teams is a cop-out, but I love them both. Florida State’s biggest strength is length, length, length. Their 3-headed monster of Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Jonathan Isaac stand a combined 19 feet and 9 inches, and also combine to score about 40 points per game. Isaac has been a beast down low, and Bacon and Rathan-Mayes are also threats to score from anywhere on the court. As for the Hokies, coach Buzz Williams has taken this program leaps and bounds ahead of where they were when he came over from Marquette. Zach LeDay is one of the most underrated players in the ACC at 16.7 ppg and 7.4 rpg, and he doesn’t even start. Williams has enough weapons to start five guys and bring his two leading scorers off the bench to keep the energy up. VaTech’s stats jump off the page due to a fairly small rotation of guys, but this team’s aggressive attitude and high-energy offense will make ACC teams work to keep up.

           

          Big 12: Oklahoma State- This may be largely in part my love affair with star guard Jawun Evans, who’s averaging 21.6 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game (to go with nearly 3 steals). He is right up there with Frank Mason in the Big 12 Player of the Year race. Evans gets a lot of help from Jeffery Carroll (16.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg) and ageless wonder Phil Forte III (12.5 ppg). The Cowboys rotation regularly goes 11 deep, and aside from Forte, are a threat from downtown (and Forte is traditionally a good shooter, he should find his stroke before the season’s over). Brad Underwood’s first season in Stillwater is looking good.

           

          Big East: Seton Hall- This one is tough because really no one in this conference feels good enough to take down Villanova. Not even Creighton (who can no longer be called a sleeper). So if I had to pick, I’d go with Seton Hall. The ingredients are all there. Khadeen Carrington (19.2 ppg) should be more in the conversation for Big East POY and can shoot the daylights out of the 3-ball. Angel Delgado is an immovable object down low (14.3 ppg and 11.4 rpg). Desi Rodriguez (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Myles Powell (12 ppg) give opposing defenses more to worry about besides Carrington and Delgado. The Pirates don’t get a lot more productivity outside of their stars, but play fluidly on both offense and defense, and therefore are a threat in the Big East.

           

          Big Ten: Northwestern- How about those Wildcats? At 10-2, Northwestern is looking to make enough noise in the Big Ten to make their first ever NCAA Tournament. Their only two losses have come at Butler by 2 and against Notre Dame on a neutral court by 4. Both are strong performances against very good teams. The Wildcats are very good defensively and force teams to take difficult shots. In a December 17th win against Dayton, the Flyers made just 4 of 28 first half shots. The Wildcats are led by spark plug Bryant McIntosh, who is averaging 12.4 points and 5.4 assists. McIntosh has a strong supporting cast in leading scorer Scotty Lindsay (14.6 ppg), Vic Law (3.9 ppg, 47% 3-pt), and Sanjay Lumpkin (7.8 ppg and 7.3 rpg). Chris Collins’ guys tend to not turn the ball over very much, and a disciplined offense will earn them that first NCAA berth.

           

          Pac-12: Colorado- Experience! Colorado boasts a starting lineup of 4 seniors and a junior, one of the oldest lineups in the country. That will go a long way as the grind of conference play starts to weigh on younger teams. Additionally, the Buffs spread the ball around the court, creating a very well balanced attack offensively. Defense is their primary strength, especially down low. They force teams to take jump shots, and are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. This’ll come in handy against offense-happy teams in the Pac-12. Leading scorer Xavier ...

        • Conference Title Sleeper Teams December 22, 2016 Connor Lagore

          You know what I love most about the Christmas season? Conference play. The fat man sliding down the chimney also means that we’ll be getting some great early matchups underneath the proverbial Christmas tree (Grayson Allen should also be expecting some coal). Next week, I’ll dish out some long form takes on what we saw in the non-conference portion of the season. For now, since we’ve gotten a pretty good look at a lot of teams, let’s check out some sleepers who can make a run at each major conference title.

           

           

          AAC: Memphis- The Memphis Tigers are under new management this year, with Tubby Smith taking over for Josh Pastner in the offseason, but the Tigers have adjusted nicely and are looking like a serious threat in the American. Their success is due largely in part two a family matter down low. Sophomore Dedric (20.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg) and freshman K.J. Lawson (14.5 and 8.6) are the number 1 and 3 scorer in the AAC thus far, respectively. Smith also has the number 4 scorer in the AAC (Markel Crawford at 13.6 ppg) and the leading distributor (Jeremiah Martin with 5.5 apg) at his disposal. The defense can be suspect at times, and 3-point shooting needs to improve from 30%, but Memphis is an offensive bulldozer.

           

          A-10: Davidson- Bob McKilliop’s Wildcats have been such a strong mid-major for so long, they aren’t sneaking up on anyone. But in what could be considered a “down year,” Davidson could still make a push for the top of the league. It’s always useful to have one of the best scorers in the country in Jack Gibbs (22.8 ppg) on your team, but add in another 20-point scorer in Peyton Aldridge (20.2) and 11 upper classmen (experience!), and that’s a team that can do some damage in an unusually weak A-10. Plus, style points for being one of the most diverse teams in the country (Davidson has players from 7 different countries stretching across Europe and Africa).

           

          ACC: Florida State, Virginia Tech- Sure, maybe picking two teams is a cop-out, but I love them both. Florida State’s biggest strength is length, length, length. Their 3-headed monster of Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Jonathan Isaac stand a combined 19 feet and 9 inches, and also combine to score about 40 points per game. Isaac has been a beast down low, and Bacon and Rathan-Mayes are also threats to score from anywhere on the court. As for the Hokies, coach Buzz Williams has taken this program leaps and bounds ahead of where they were when he came over from Marquette. Zach LeDay is one of the most underrated players in the ACC at 16.7 ppg and 7.4 rpg, and he doesn’t even start. Williams has enough weapons to start five guys and bring his two leading scorers off the bench to keep the energy up. VaTech’s stats jump off the page due to a fairly small rotation of guys, but this team’s aggressive attitude and high-energy offense will make ACC teams work to keep up.

           

          Big 12: Oklahoma State- This may be largely in part my love affair with star guard Jawun Evans, who’s averaging 21.6 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game (to go with nearly 3 steals). He is right up there with Frank Mason in the Big 12 Player of the Year race. Evans gets a lot of help from Jeffery Carroll (16.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg) and ageless wonder Phil Forte III (12.5 ppg). The Cowboys rotation regularly goes 11 deep, and aside from Forte, are a threat from downtown (and Forte is traditionally a good shooter, he should find his stroke before the season’s over). Brad Underwood’s first season in Stillwater is looking good.

           

          Big East: Seton Hall- This one is tough because really no one in this conference feels good enough to take down Villanova. Not even Creighton (who can no longer be called a sleeper). So if I had to pick, I’d go with Seton Hall. The ingredients are all there. Khadeen Carrington (19.2 ppg) should be more in the conversation for Big East POY and can shoot the daylights out of the 3-ball. Angel Delgado is an immovable object down low (14.3 ppg and 11.4 rpg). Desi Rodriguez (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Myles Powell (12 ppg) give opposing defenses more to worry about besides Carrington and Delgado. The Pirates don’t get a lot more productivity outside of their stars, but play fluidly on both offense and defense, and therefore are a threat in the Big East.

           

          Big Ten: Northwestern- How about those Wildcats? At 10-2, Northwestern is looking to make enough noise in the Big Ten to make their first ever NCAA Tournament. Their only two losses have come at Butler by 2 and against Notre Dame on a neutral court by 4. Both are strong performances against very good teams. The Wildcats are very good defensively and force teams to take difficult shots. In a December 17th win against Dayton, the Flyers made just 4 of 28 first half shots. The Wildcats are led by sparkplug Bryant McIntosh, who is averaging 12.4 points and 5.4 assists. McIntosh has a strong supporting cast in leading scorer Scotty Lindsay (14.6 ppg), Vic Law (3.9 ppg, 47% 3-pt), and Sanjay Lumpkin (7.8 ppg and 7.3 rpg). Chris Collins’ guys tend to not turn the ball over very much, and a disciplined offense will earn them that first NCAA berth.

           

          Pac-12: Colorado- Experience! Colorado boasts a starting lineup of 4 seniors and a junior, one of the oldest lineups in the country. That will go a long way as the grind of conference play starts to weigh on younger teams. Additionally, the Buffs spread the ball around the court, creating a very well balanced attack offensively. Defense is their primary strength, especially down low. They force teams to take jump shots, and are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. This’ll come in handy against offense-happy teams in the Pac-12. Leading scorer Xavier Johnson ...

        • Who’s Hot and Who’s Not? December 15, 2016 Connor Lagore

          Christmas comes late this year, as it does every year, when conference play finally rolls around. Northwestern and Penn State kick things off at 2 P.M. on December 27th, and the next day the Virginia Cavaliers travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals. These marquee matchups every few days have been fun, but I’m ready for the intensity and importance of conference play. Let’s see who’s riding a hot streak into the conference slate, oh yes folks, it’s time for Who’s Hot and Who’s Not!

           

          HOT

          UCLA Bruins- Did anyone see this coming? Maybe you did, because offensively, the Bruins’ lineup is stacked. Lonzo Ball has been probably the most impressive freshman, ugly jumper and all, but TJ Leaf has also been extremely productive and only helped his draft stock. Both guys have filled major voids in what was a disappointing UCLA team from last year. Their marquee win, and one of the best wins of any team thus far, was a 97-92 win at Kentucky. Sure, the defense is suspect, but it doesn’t seem like any team in the country will be able to outgun the Steve Alford’s boys. The scariest thing about this team? They’re shooting 47% from behind the arc.

           

          Duke- I would argue that Duke hasn’t done anything ridiculously impressive yet this season. They came back against a great Kansas team, but still lost. The reason I consider them hot is that they’re finally getting their injured freshmen back. They’re heating up, and when they reach their boiling point, they are the best team in the country. Of course, we haven’t seen them at full strength and this is just a hunch, but it’s a pretty widely accepted hunch. You know who’s been hot, though? Luke Kennard. Grayson Allen obviously started the year as Duke’s go-to scoring option and a Player of the Year Candidate, but he’s been hampered by a pesky ankle injury. Kennard has stepped up for the Blue Devils, especially against #21 Florida, dropping 29 points. The dude has swag.

           

          USC- Shout out to the city of Los Angeles being undefeated in basketball so far (hush Pepperdine, you don’t count). Sure, UCLA is getting the attention and deservedly so, but the upstart Trojans have yet to lose a game. Their best win is on the road at Texas A&M, which is a great win, but have yet to really test themselves besides that. Jordan McLaughlin has been exceptional at the point, averaging 12.6 points and 5 assists. USC has five guys, including McLaughlin, averaging double figures, but one of the most impressive thus far has been De’Anthony Melton. The freshman guard is averaging 9.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists off the bench. Efficiency!

           

           

          NOT

          Vanderbilt- The Commodores, for the second year in a row, have been one of the biggest disappointments in college hoops. In their first year under new coach Bryce Drew, Vandy has yet to obtain a quality win, losing to Marquette, Butler, and Minnesota in all of their marquee games. A big part of the disappointment has been Luke Kornet’s lack of production. Since his sophomore year, Kornet’s efficiency has gone way down. In his sophomore year, he shot 49.5% from the floor and 40% from 3. Now, as a senior, he’s shooting 36% and 23%. If Vandy wants to be competitive in the SEC, Kornet needs to start making shots.

           

          Washington- Another colossal disappointment in Seattle. Even with freshman phenom Markelle Fultz, the Huskies are 4-5 and lacking a quality win. Washington lost their opener to Yale before reeling off four wins against lesser-quality opponents. That’s been the highlight of their season, however. They then managed to get blown out by TCU twice, lose by 27 to Gonzaga (and it wasn’t that close), and gave up a last second shot to Nevada to lose again at home. Fultz has been fantastic and has done nothing to hurt his potential to be the first overall draft pick, but one guy can only do so much. The players around Fultz aren’t giving him the production he needs. They lack toughness in the post, and they turn the ball over as often as they assist on a basket. Lorenzo Romar has been living off of mediocrity for the last few years, and in a tough Pac-12 conference, a weak season may spell doom.

           

          Florida and Xavier- You may see these teams on the NOT list and think “Whoa, Connor do you really think these teams aren’t as good as they seem?” No, dear reader, you are mistaken. These teams are purely going through a rough patch. Xavier has lost two of their last three to Baylor and Colorado. There’s no shame in losing to Baylor at this point, they’re one of the best surprises of the year. And you certainly can’t hang your head after a close road loss to the Buffaloes, who four seniors and a junior. That’s some experience. I fully expect Xavier to regain their footing in conference play and challenge Villanova for the Big East, but currently, they’re letting the winter weather get to them. The Gators are in a similar situation. Their recent skid certainly doesn’t spell the end. They’ve lost to Duke and Gonzaga on a neutral court, and on the road at Florida State. That’s two Final Four contenders and an ACC sleeper. Mike White is still finding his identity as a coach, and playing tough games of this caliber with strengthen his team down the stretch. I just think that both of these teams have failed to play to their potential as of late. Keep your eye on them, though, because they could very easily hop to the top half of this list.

           

          Fun Fact of the Week: When legendary UNC coach Dean Smith died, he sent all of his former lettermen a $200 check and said “enjoy a dinner out compliments of coach Dean Smith.” What a legend.

          (Picture via ESPN)

        • Power 5 (Plus 5) Conference Power Rankings December 8, 2016 Connor Lagore

          The college basketball season has been well underway for about a month, and early returns have been positive. One critic says: “it’s been fun!” (Disclaimer: I was that critic.) Before we head into conference play in a couple weeks, let’s take a quick inventory on the most impressive conferences thus far. It’s the 2016-17 season’s first edition of the Power 5 (Plus 5) Conference Power Rankings!

           

          1. Big 12- The class of the Big 12 so far has been Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears, who have been led by Johnathan Motley and Manu Lecomte, and a surprising group of role players, to an undefeated record and an AP top 5 ranking. Kansas, of course, is right behind them and still the favorite to win the league, their only loss being a tight one to Indiana. TCU, unsurprisingly, couldn’t continue it’s undefeated season, with a loss on the road to SMU, but the Horned Frogs are still looking stronger than anyone thought. Kansas State, West Virginia, and Iowa State are all off to strong starts, and Oklahoma State still has Juwan Evans.
          1. ACC- Syracuse is currently the 2nd worst team by record in the ACC. Syracuse is still a pretty good basketball team. This conference is loaded, top to bottom. Notre Dame is actually sitting on top of the ACC currently at 9-0, but even 6-2 NC State could be dangerous. The ACC this year I think will be one of the best conferences in recent years and is certainly capable of getting double digit teams to the NCAA Tournament. A Duke team that has yet to play at full strength has still looked like the best team, but North Carolina’s firepower, Louisville and Virginia’s defense, and athletic teams like Florida State and Virginia Tech will keep this conference interesting.
          1. Big East- Reigning champion Villanova has picked right up where they left off, currently holding the AP ranking’s top spot. The loss of Ryan Arcidiacono is barely noticeable, as Jalen Brunson has come into his own as starting point guard and freshman Donte DiVincenzo has been consistent off the bench. Creighton has yet to lose and the addition of Marcus Foster has made the combination of him and Maurice Watson Jr. one of the best backcourt tandems so far. Xavier lost 2 tough road games to Baylor and Colorado, but has the talent and experience to keep them in the top 15 all season. Butler lost in a stunner at Indiana State, but still look like a traditionally scrappy Butler team (with a nice win over Arizona). As for the remainder of the conference, Marquette and Seton Hall’s offense alone could get them into the Big Dance.
          1. Big Ten- Talk about top heavy. Indiana, save a shocking upset to Fort Wayne, has been one of the best teams in the country, and Wisconsin’s only two losses are on the road to Creighton, and against North Carolina in Maui. Purdue has looked strong, losing only at home to Villanova and at Louisville, but it’s tough to see them competing for a league title with the Hoosiers and Badgers. Michigan State is injury plagued and looking to turn things around after playing a tough opening schedule and teams like Michigan, Ohio State, and Maryland have good records but inconsistent play. The Big Ten actually has the 3rd best conference RPI with .592, but the lower tier teams have played pretty easy schedules.
          1. Pac-12- It’s the Bill Walton Conference of Champions! With the way they’ve been playing, Walton’s alma mater, the UCLA Bruins, have been a championship contender. Beating Kentucky on their home floor is one of the hardest things to do in this sport, and they did it convincingly. The defense is lacking, but the offensive fire power is ridiculous, and Lonzo Ball has launched himself into the POY conversation. Oregon overcame some early struggles without Dillon Brooks, who is still being integrated into the offense, and Arizona has been coping with the loss of Allonzo Trier. The biggest surprise has been USC, who has yet to lose and owns a tough win at Texas A&M, but also lost Bennie Boatwright for 6 weeks. Cal, Utah, and Colorado have all looked strong and in the hunt for a tourney bid, with Colorado getting an impressive win on Wednesday against Xavier.
          1. SEC- It just means more in the South Eastern conference, so maybe it means more that Kentucky lost on their home court. UCLA is a great team, but the young Wildcats certainly showed signs of weakness. Still the favorite to win the league, Kentucky will most likely be joined in the NCAA tournament by Florida and Texas A&M. Florida’s two losses are to Gonzaga and Duke, while A&M has lost to USC and UCLA. Those are certainly not resume-killers. South Carolina took a huge blow recently when it was announced Sindarius Thornwell, their leading scorere and rebounder, was suspended indefinitely, so it remains to be seen how they will handle it going forward.
          1. West Coast Conference- The bottom of the conference is very typical: bad. However, the WCC could have one of the most exciting conference title races in all of college basketball. The Gonzaga Bulldogs and the St. Mary’s Australians Gaels are a combined 15-0 and owners of a slew of impressive wins. Gonzaga has beaten Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona on neutral courts, and St. Mary’s went to Dayton and came out on top (not an easy thing to do). BYU played USC and Valparaiso tough (but lost to Utah Valley), and should give the top two teams a bit of a scare, but this conference is largely a two-team race, and boy, is it a good one.
          1. Atlantic 10- The A-10 certainly isn’t as dangerous and deep as last year, but still has some strong teams that can make a run at the tournament. Dayton is still the strongest team and also has a player named Scoochie, which is tough to beat. Rhode Island’s best win is against a very tough Cincinnati ...
          2. Who’s Hot and Who’s Not? December 1, 2016 Connor Lagore

            “It’s getting cold outside but the action on the court is heating up!” That’s a phrase you’ll probably start to hear a lot as we delve deeper into the 2016-17 college basketball season, which is unfortunate, because it’s a terrible phrase. That being said, it’s true. Teams are hitting their stride, marquee matchups are on the way, and there’s a team making noise seemingly every other day (hi Fort Wayne!). The first few weeks of the season were nothing short of exciting, with both surprises and disappointments galore. Let’s recap these events in a November edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

             

            HOT

            The Big 12 (besides Texas)- As of the morning of November 30th, the Big 12 (besides Texas) is 48-7 overall. That’s pretty darn good. The most surprising team so far has been Baylor, which has rocketed to the number 9 ranked team in the AP poll (they’re even receiving a first place vote). The Bears went 4-0 against a tough slate of Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, and Louisville, thanks to stellar performances from Johnathan Motley and Manu Lecomte. The only other Big 12 team without a loss is none other than the TCU Horned Frogs. Jamie Dixon’s new team and alma mater has won their first six, most notably a 93-80 win over Washington. I don’t expect it to continue but it’s certainly the start Dixon was hoping for. As for the rest of the league (besides Texas), Kansas is Kansas, Steve Prohm looks like Doug Gottlieb (and is also keeping Iowa State relevant after losing a ton), and Press Virginia just forced Manhattan into 40 turnovers. Additionally: Jawun Evans is pretty good.

            South Carolina- Remember last year when South Carolina started the year 15-0 and no one could really tell how good they were because they didn’t play anyone? Not a problem this year. The Gamecocks are currently 6-0 with not one, but two really good wins. On November 23rd, they forced a good shooting team to take bad shots (good strategy) and beat number 25 Michigan by 15. Three days later, they forced 17 turnovers against 18th ranked Syracuse and won by 14. Senior guard Sindarius Thornwell is averaging 20 points per game, up from 13.4 last season, and 7 boards, but the real difference is on the defensive side of the floor. As evident in their two best wins, Frank Martin’s team is forcing bad shots (no team has shot more than 40% against them) and turnovers, and capitalizing on the other end.

            Alabama Recruiting- How about Avery Johnson? In just his second season as head coach at Alabama, Johnson is already making recruiting waves. In the early signing period, the Crimson Tide signed three top 100 recruits in Collin Sexton (7th overall in class of 2017 per 247sports), John Petty (31st), and Alex Reese (86th). In total, Johnson has nabbed 5 recruits, which currently make up the 5th best recruiting class in the nation. Maybe there’s some sort of NBA prowess he brings with him, but Johnson is well on his way to making Alabama a relevant name in the college basketball landscape.

             

            NOT

            Texas- You may have been wondering “why is Connor excluding Texas from the red hot Big 12?” Well, dear reader, the answer is simple: they do not deserve to be included with the red hot Big 12. Texas started the year in the AP top 25 as a young team with high hopes and a coach that we all know can “Shaka” the world (I’m sorry). They won their first three games against some not-so-good teams pretty convincingly, as they should have. But that’s where it went downhill. The Longhorns have lost three straight, two on a neutral court to Northwestern and Colorado, and one at home to UT-Arlington. Northwestern and Colorado are good teams, but Texas should have put up more of a fight than they did. UT-Arlington is almost inexcusable, especially in Austin. Most of their problems stem from their point guard situation. Kerwin Roach Jr., their safest bet at PG, is averaging 2.5 assists and 2 turnovers per game. Not pretty. As a whole, the team averages more turnovers than assists per game (12 and 10, respectively). With no ability to take care of the basketball, or to create good shots (42.7% as a team, 26.2% behind the arc), Shaka Smart has a lot to figure out as the season progresses.

            Austin Nichols- Well, that was fast. Nichols was expected to be one of the best impact transfers this season, after moving from Memphis to UVA. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as many hoped it would. Nichols was suspended for the season opener against UNC Greensboro for violating team rules, but returned against St. Francis and scored 11 points in 16 minutes. Not bad. But only 3 days later, coach Tony Bennett announced that Nichols had been dismissed form the team. There weren’t really any specific details, but it’s not shocking. The forward had been a headache over at Memphis, which prompted his transfer. The Cavaliers will definitely suffer from the dismissal, but I give major props to Tony Bennett for keeping his priority on the integrity of a great program.

            Eron Harris– Michigan State as a whole is pretty not-hot after a 4-4 start, but a lot of the blame has to fall on Harris’s shoulders. A great pickup via transfer from West Virginia, Harris settled into a nice role last year under Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes, but has struggled this year with an increase in his role. Sparty played a tough opening slate of games, but Harris was nowhere to be found in any of them. He scored a combined 12 points against Arizona, Kentucky, and Baylor. He’s gotten the job done in their other contests, and played considerably better in a tough loss at Duke on Tuesday with 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting, but he needs to consistently play that well and be a leader on the team if MSU wants to bounce back from a rough start.

             

            Fun ...

          3. Brad’s Video Column 7/13/16 July 13, 2016 College Pride Press

            Brad Kreppel gives his thoughts and analysis on what is going on in college basketball today. He discusses Thon Maker, Tim Duncan, and the Duke non-conference schedule being released.

             

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bcpo6juOOjU

          4. NBA Draft Breakdown by Conferences and Classes June 27, 2016 College Pride Press

            We have been covering everything involving the NBA Draft and now that all the picks have been made I wanted to take a step back and look at the big picture of the draft from a college basketball perspective. 16 international players were selected on Thursday night making that 44 college players selected throughout the night. The first stat I wanted to look at was the players selected by conference.

            Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 6.13.12 PM

            The ACC is always considered one of the best basketball conferences if not the best conference in the country. The talent level is extremely high and it shows on their teams. The one thing that really surprised me was that the talent was very well spread throughout the ACC with no team having more than 2 players selected on Thursday night.

            The Big Ten, Big-12, and SEC all tied for second with 6 picks. Kentucky had a down year with only 3 players getting selected. Most years the SEC has 6 just from Lexington.   The Big Ten seemed to have a down year with Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio State all not having a draft pick. Of those three Indiana was the only team with 2 undrafted players. The conference should rebound next year with loads of talent coming into Michigan State and Indiana developing future NBA players.

            The PAC-12 was on of the most interesting conferences because two of their five selections came from middle tier team Washington. Conference champion Oregon retained all of their future NBA players. The conference had two consensus first round picks return to school with Allonzo Trier (Arizona) and Ivan Rabb (Cal). Next year will be a big year for the PAC-12 with more talent in the draft.

            The Big East brings up the rear of major conferences with 4 draft picks. The national champ Villanova Wildcats did not have any draft picks. Providence had 2 players selected with Marquette and Seton Hall representing the other two picks. The Big East has been very successful competing with the bigger conferences without tons of NBA players on their rosters.

             

            Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 6.15.10 PM

            The class standing of the draftees was a little surprising to me with more seniors being selected than any other class. The 2015-2016 year was a big one for seniors all over the country. Four of their draft picks were in the first round inferring that NBA teams still value experience and readiness somewhat. 14 freshmen were selected in the draft to go along with 10 sophomores and five juniors.

            Next year should be a heavy year for the freshmen and sophomores. The 2016 recruiting class is loaded with future NBA players and expected “one and done” careers. Combine that with some of the freshmen who decided it would be wiser to spend another year in college and the underclassmen may rule the next draft class.

             

            Brad Kreppel

            Indiana University ’18

          5. Should College Athletes Be Paid? May 31, 2016 Zach Beeler

            Should college athletes be paid? This is a question that could sustain a debate for hours. There are dozens of reasons to support either side of this question. Although athletes are technically not “employees,” the NCAA certainly profits from the product, their talent, in a big way.

            “March Madness,” the nickname given to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, is one of the most popular sporting events in the country. 68 teams, representing various institutions across America, are chosen to compete in it each year. The winners of 32 Division I conferences receive automatic bids to the tournament. The rest of the 68 teams consist of 36 teams that receive an at-large bid, meaning that although they did not win their conference tournament, they played well enough throughout the season for the NCAA selection committee to give them a spot in the madness.

            This set-up leads to a mosh pit of perennially successful teams such as Duke, North Carolina and UCLA, and mid-major teams like Butler and Dayton. Perhaps this is the reason for the tournament’s popularity. David vs. Goliath situations become reality, and students and alums of participating schools rally behind their teams.

            The athletes that participate in the tournament work extremely hard to get to this point, and they have to ramp up their efforts in order to succeed during March. Monetarily, their hard work proves extremely valuable. The NCAA netted $740 million in total from rights fees that they collected from CBS and Turner Broadcasting corporations. In total, the NCAA brings in about $900 million in revenue from March madness. This year, each game is worth nearly $1.6 million, which is paid out over time to the participating school’s conference, which then distributes the revenue to its member schools that participated in the tournament. Schools that succeed in the tournament make even more; final four teams make about $8.3 million from their tournament run.

            Interestingly enough, the student-athletes that work practically full-time between practice, team meetings, and games on top of full college workloads see none of this money. Instead, coaches like Duke’s legendary Mike Krzyzewski have annual salaries upwards of $9 million. It doesn’t end there, as many coaches receive performance-based bonuses. Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall received a $36,000 bonus this season for getting his team in the tournament.

            Although not in the form of a check or spending money, college athletes do receive compensation. Most division I athletes receive scholarships that allow them to receive a free college education. Athletes on scholarship at Syracuse University are technically paid $62,000 per year, as they are awarded free tuition for playing for one of the teams. They also earn degrees that allow them to earn much more on a yearly basis in the future if they choose to stay four years.

            The problem is that many athletes are forgoing their senior, junior, and even sophomore seasons as college athletes to try to make it in the pros. While it is understandable that many of these athletes need and want to make money immediately, it is a risky decision to make. Many of these athletes’ potentials are never fully realized in American professional sports, and many of them wind up spending their careers in the minor leagues (where pay can be as low as $13,000 per year) or playing overseas. It’s hard to beat the incentive that the pros can offer. With the amount that pro teams are allowed to pay players constantly increasing and getting as high as $29 million per year, it is extremely tempting for young athletes to leave college early. However, if the NCAA could bring about a system where all division I college athletes received monetary compensation upon graduating, more would be willing to stay and graduate. This would result in a more educated American work force and would give athletes a security blanket in the case of a career-ending injury or extenuating circumstance.

            If we do decide to pay athletes, how much should we pay them? According to the NCAA, only 3 percent of men’s basketball teams generated surpluses in 2013. Should teams that don’t bring in any profit and pay coaches less than $500,000 per year be forced to pay staggering salaries to players in order to compete with teams like the Kentucky Wildcats, who brought in $7.5 million in profit last season? The answer is no. Perhaps the most redeeming quality of college basketball is that it puts every team on an even playing field. Although many top recruits choose the “big” schools as is, even more would choose only big schools if money was involved. Athletes would be choosing schools for the amount of money they could make rather than the campus, proximity to family, type of education and other factors that are important in choosing a school.

            The best thing that the NCAA could do is create mid-size trust funds for athletes that compete in “revenue sports” such as men’s basketball and football that are only paid out upon graduation. This money would not come from the schools themselves, so those that have a bottom-line loss would not be required to pay athletes. Instead, the money would be a small fraction of the enormous profit that the NCAA takes home every year by exploiting the talents of these young athletes. If feasible, the NCAA could also create funds for athletes competing in non-revenue sports such as swimming, golf, and baseball, but the funds would not be as large because the athletes do not earn as much money for the NCAA.

            At the end of the day, it is important to acknowledge the hard work that student athletes put in and the amount of money that is earned from their talents. It’s time to give them their share, but a share that is even across all players and schools.

            – Sam Gozinsky

          6. Ryan Berry’s Column January 31, 2016 College Pride Press

            It’s Time, Purdue – Show Us What You’re Made Of

            They believed it before anyone else did. Even before preseason workouts began in West Lafayette, the players all agreed: this team could get to the Final Four.

            Can they? Sure – the ingredients are all in the mixing bowl, so to speak. If Purdue receives favorable matchups down the stretch in the NCAA Tournament, a deep run to the national semifinals certainly seems feasible. When AJ Hammons is dialed in at the level he reached in yesterday’s victory over Nebraska, Purdue is darn tough to beat. Caleb Swanigan pulls down rebounds to the tune of nine per game – tops in the Big Ten Conference. A future superstar is evolving in Vince Edwards, arguably Purdue’s best all-around player. Also anchoring the wing is reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Rapheal Davis. Purdue’s depth is also team strength, with multiple three point snipers at Coach Matt Painter’s disposal. Add in serviceable point guard play from PJ Thompson and Johnny Hill, and the Boilermakers have the looks of a team capable of beating anyone in college basketball. The talent and determination are there.

            The turnovers and inconsistencies are also there, however. The Boilermakers average slightly less than 13 giveaways per game, and are extremely vulnerable against trap defense press schemes. Opponents want to avoid allowing Purdue to settle into its half-court offense, where its big men can be lethal. When Purdue is playing sloppily, it can be beaten, as evidenced in the matchup with a struggling Illinois team. Purdue struggled to take care of the ball and suffered through countless defensive lapses, allowing Illini guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn to score 30 and 22 points, respectively. The Boilers have also fallen twice to the Iowa Hawkeyes, when Iowa ramped up defensive pressure leading to Purdue leads dissipating. If presented with an unfavorable matchup, Purdue could certainly exit the NCAA Tournament earlier than expected. Coach Painter says it best – sometimes, opponents don’t necessarily beat Purdue. The Boilermakers bury themselves.

            And here’s the good thing: Purdue’s February schedule is brutal. For better or worse, we will know much more four weeks from now regarding this question – what is Purdue made of?

            The Boilermakers will take this week off until Saturday, when they will visit the Xfinity Center and the host Maryland Terrapins, currently ranked eighth in the nation. After returning from College Park, Purdue will host the #12 Michigan State Spartans three days later inside the comfort of Mackey Arena. Next, Purdue will travel north to Ann Arbor for a rematch with the sharpshooting Michigan Wolverines. Bryant McIntosh and Northwestern visit West Lafayette before Purdue heads to Bloomington, Indiana for the rivalry game taking on Indiana. To close out the month of February, the Boilermakers will welcome the same opposition that opened the month – Maryland.

            Make no mistake; this is a tough, tough schedule for a Purdue team laden with talent, but deficiencies. The Boilermakers currently occupy the fifth spot in the Big Ten Conference standings, with opportunities to climb the ladder with a strong finish down the stretch of the regular season. The schedule for Purdue this February will be a true test, the toughest of the season for a team claiming to aspire to reach the Final Four. Although there could be middle ground, it is likely Purdue will either pass this examination with flying colors or fail miserably. We will see the true identity of this Boilermaker team. The home games will be tricky, and the road contests even more difficult. We all want to know the answer: can this squad truly measure up to college basketball’s elite?

            So show us, Purdue. We’ve seen what you can do and heard of your lofty season aspirations. Looking ahead at the schedule, you’re certainly not devoid of opportunity. Show us some backbone.

            Show us what you’re truly made of.

             

            Ryan Berry

            Purdue University

          7. Opinion Piece: 10 Reasons to Go to Assembly Hall December 11, 2015 College Pride Press

            I recently read a piece by Kent Sterling that stated 10 reasons why to stay away from Assembly Hall (link below). As I read this piece I was disheartened by the broadcasting of this negativity especially when some of the facts were false. I am here to get the IU student bodies attention and to negate this article. I will give a little rebuttal to all of Kent Sterling’s points and then a list of why to go to Assembly Hall.

            Before I go into my list I just wanted to introduce you to College Pride Press. You may have not heard of us but we are a group of college students who are passionate about college basketball. We write about the school’s we attend and have fun doing so.

            1. “Like I wrote, regardless of his impressive efforts, Tom Crean isn’t a ringmaster capable of organizing a circus like those I enjoy.” Congrats! We’ve known that Tom Crean isn’t Coach K for a while now. I am sure that every ringmaster needed to improve his craft throughout his tenure.
            2. “Finals.” Take a break from studying. Mr. Sterling said that students would rather study or go out to the bars than go to Assembly Hall. Yes studying is important but a nice 2 hour break for some basketball will help clear your mind and you will be more relaxed after the game. And Mr. Sterling to comment on your point about the bars, most of the IU student body is not 21 and/or does not go out during dead week.
            3. “Quality of competition.” Yes, fine I will give you that we don’t have Kentucky coming to Assembly Hall any time soon but come on. If you stay away from Assembly Hall because Kentucky won’t play us and the opponents aren’t top 25 teams then please stay away forever. The players can only play the teams on the schedule. Don’t become less of a fan because of that.
            4. “Players seem aloof.” This was the point that pushed me over the edge. I am happy that the dozen students you talked to didn’t party or have personal relationships with the basketball players. I have had multiple interactions with the guys and they always say hello. I will never complain about not being able to party with them considering that the team has had issues with underaged drinking. I am sure these guys would love to party with other students every weekend but thats against the law for most of them and could prevent them from getting a free college education. Use your mind Kent.
            5. “Parking is a little more difficult.” I didn’t know Assembly Hall was in New York City. The amount of spots lost due to construction is very minimal. Alumni and other fans can certainly find a spot near Assembly Hall most the time for free. I am sure that many 18-21 year olds are capable of walking or getting on a bus to Assembly Hall. It also hasn’t snowed yet so it is great weather for a little walk to exercise in some 50 degree weather.
            6. “Minus one Big 10 Championship, Indiana has been mediocre over Tom Crean’s Tenure” This team was ranked in the Top 15 before the season. The talent is there to compete at the top of the Big 10. Every season is different. But if you are going to harp on Tom Crean and be negative then feel free to watch the games at home. The fans that believe in this group of guys will go cheer them on. Also many students were not alive when IU won its last national title and were too young to remember them being relevant back in the late 90’s. That Big 10 championship in 2013 is all that most of us students know. 
            7. “More Entertainment Options” Believe it or not Kent people would rather watch a game they have an invested interest in than watch two top 25 teams that means nothing to them. The Ringling Brothers circus isn’t coming to Bloomington anytime soon so we will stick to IU basketball.
            8. “Consistent Mediocrity” Kent you are a broken record. You can’t just reword numbers 1 and 6. We understand the past. Bandwagon fans can sell their tickets to real IU fans.
            9. “Purdue and Butler are bringing consistent efforts” I am not going to start cheering for Butler or Purdue because they have had more consistent success. You and I both have a connection to IU. But then again, if you think about Purdue and Butler compared to IU then hand in your jersey.
            10. “Fans don’t like being conflicted” A couple hundred seats being empty against IPFW is not going to force administration to fire the coach. Show that you are a real IU fan and show up to support the team. This isn’t a tanking situation. 

             

            10 Reasons Why You Should Come to Assembly Hall

            1. College Students: You only have 4 years. Yes the opponent may be overmatched but you only get so many years to be apart of the student section. You don’t want to miss any opportunity. 
            2. Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell. This will be the last year that Yogi wears the cream and crimson at Assembly Hall. He has been an all time great player in the programs history and you can tell your grandkids that you saw him play. Go and watch Yogi do his thing because there are limited chances remaining. 
            3. Troy Williams.  Troy is a highlight waiting to happen. Between the coast to coast drives and the spectacular dunks Troy is a fun player to watch. This will most likely be his last year in Bloomington as well. Enjoy the Top-10 plays while you can because athletes like him aren’t walking through the door every year. 
            4. The Team is Fun to Watch. The old saying is that “offense sells tickets” and well this Indiana team can certainly put points on the ...
            5. Freshman To Watch In The 2015-2016 Season August 17, 2015 Phil Wells

              Image-1Photograph

               

              Ben Simmons/6’10/Forward/LSU

              Ben Simmons will be one of the most special and exciting basketball players to watch in Division 1 basketball. The Montverde graduate was the number one high school recruit of the 2015 class. The 6’10 forward can do it all. I am very impressed with his athleticism and his versatility. Simmons can guard anybody on the court; he is very quick laterally for his size. Watching him play at Montverde was something special and when Simmons is on the floor he makes his presence known. The lefty shooter has an excellent touch and a pretty release. Simmons is such a rare player, having skill around the post and perimeter. His vision and passing is very mature for his age. It is not often that a 6’10 forward has passing attributes of a 6’2 Point Guard. My only question with Simmons attending LSU is his development. Johnny Jones is not known for developing his players into NBA prospects. Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey did not progress into the superstars they were supposed to be. Even with the question of development, I truly believe Simmons has the skill to be the 1st overall pick of 2016 draft. LSU fans should be very excited about their number one recruit.

               

              Jamal Murray/6’5/Point Guard/Kentucky

               

              Jamal Murray made his impression on me and many others in the Pan Am Games while playing for Team Canada. Murray was originally a part of the class of 2016 but reclassified to the class of 2015. It is scary to think that he is actually a class behind. At the Pan Am Games the Canadian native averaged 17 points and 2.4 assist per games. Those are some good numbers for someone who is 8 years younger than the average age of the players in the games. Murray has the ability to penetrate and finish on any defense. While watching Murray I noticed how much he favors his left hand, which is his off hand. At 6’5 Murray has the ability to be a 2 guard, along with having the handles and passing of a point guard. Along with his handles and passing, Murray has the outside shot that is hard to defend. I believe he has the ability to pull up on the dribble around the arc. Murray going to Kentucky brings a National Championship in sights for 2016. It is going to be scary having Isaiah Briscoe, Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray on the same team. It’s going to be very interesting to see how Murray reacts to playing with two other superstars. For him to be at his best, he needs the ball in his hands. At Kentucky he will have other guys around him that are just as talented. The Orangeville Prep Graduate is going to have to learn to help his team off the ball. But there is no question when he does have the ball, Murray will be something special for the Wildcats.

               

              Brandon Ingram/6’8/Small Forward/Duke

              With Tyus Jones, Justice Winslow and Jalhil Okafor gone, Brandon Ingram has the skill and leadership to help the Blue Devils reload their roster. Duke is bringing in 6’10 center Chase Jeter who will fill in for Okafor’s; this leaves Brandon to fill in for Winslow. With Jeter down low, I believe Coach Krzyzewski will have Ingram at a 2 or 3 in his lineup. Ingram went to high school where Jerry Stackhouse (former Tar Heel) coached. UNC fans should be very disappointed that Jerry did not persuade Brandon to attend Chapel Hill. Ingram brings a lot of versatility for Duke. Ingram has the handles of a guard and uses a quick first step to get to the basket. The small forward always remains in control and doesn’t let defenders make him feel uncomfortable. While watching Ingram I noticed when he drives in the lane he looks for contact every time. He wants to draw a foul and is not afraid to get bodied down low. Ingram is a very lanky and long with plenty room for muscle. Blue Devil fans should have another championship in sights with Ingram in the lineup.

               

              Stephen Zimmerman/7’0/Center/UNLV

              Along with a few others in his class, Zimmerman has size and athleticism. At 7 feet Zimmerman looks very smooth handling the basketball. Zimmerman was sought out by many top programs, but decided to stay in Nevada to attend UNLV. The skill I was most impressed in watching Zimmerman was his basketball IQ. He knows where everyone is on the court when he has the ball. His passing ability is very impressive; it is very smooth and fun to watch. The lefty also can shoot from mid-range, but I do not think his shot from behind the arc is at a high level yet. With development and coaching the Bishop Gorman graduate will be able to score from all over the floor. One question for the UNLV center is his frame and strength. Scouts say there is still more room for muscle and some say he needs it to go to the next level. Zimmerman has gained 20 pounds the past couple months, but we do not know if it is enough to fill out his lanky body. Expectations are very high going into UNLV as Zimmerman is expected to help the team bounce back from an average season while losing in the second round of the Mountain West. UNLV fans will look to have Zimmerman producing and excelling right when he steps on campus.

               

              Cheick Diallo/6’9/Power Forward/Kansas

              Cheick Diallo could be the best post player in this class. It is fun to see him down low against defenders. Fans will love watching him throw it down on the fast break and in the post. The Our Savior New American School graduate has outstanding rebounding ability. Cheick has the vertical, aggressiveness, and wingspan that ...