Big Ten conference tournament preview

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It isn’t exactly going out on a limb to say that the Big Ten is the strongest conference in the country this season.

What’s more debatable, however, is trying to figure out who, exactly, is the best team in the conference.

Heading into the season, the answer was simple: Ohio State. Not only were they returning the popular pick for National Player of the Year in Jared Sullinger, but they had a pair of all-conference guards in Aaron Craft and William Buford to offer as sidekicks. But as the season has worn on, its become clear that the Buckeyes are lacking some consistency to their supporting cast.

Midway through the season, Michigan State hopped up on into the favorite’s chair. They have gotten back to playing Tim Izzo basketball — defending, rebounding, out-muscling — and made a run to get into a commanding position at the top of the league. But after losing two straight games to close out the regular season and seeing star freshman Branden Dawson go down with a torn acl, all of a sudden Sparty looks beatable.

I like Michigan, but they don’t have the same amount of talent as the rest of the teams at the top of the league. And as good as Trey Burke has been, he’s a freshman going through his first-ever March Madness. Indiana has looked equal parts awesome and mediocre at different points in the season. Purdue doesn’t defend this season. Illinois has collapsed. Wisconsin has been very beatable.

What’s it all mean?

Well, this weekend in Indianapolis should be a lot of fun.

The Bracket

Where: Indianapolis

When: March 8th-March 11th

Final: March 11th, 3:30 p.m. CBS

Favorite: Ohio State

I’m going to pick the Buckeyes here for a couple of different reasons. First of all, their stars have been through the postseason before. They may have a young roster age-wise, but this group has experienced success in this setting. Second of all, having a defensive presence like Aaron Craft to hound ball-handlers all weekend is a good thing. Thirdly, I think that William Buford and Deshaun Thomas are going to have a big tournament. And, finally, Jared Sullinger. He’s one of the most dominant low-post presences in the country.

And if they lose?: Michigan State

I would have had the Spartans as the favorite, but I think the injury to Dawson is going to be costly. They still have Draymond Green, arguably the most versatile player in the country. There is size up front and capable players in the back court. But what Dawson brought to table no one else can. He’s a big, athletic small forward that crashes the glass and scores hustle points. He’s a matchup nightmare for most teams and he certainly played a large role in why the Spartans turned this season around.

Other contenders?: This is where I’ll talk about Michigan. We all know about Burke already, but Michigan is more than just a one man show, especially when Tim Hardaway Jr. is playing the way he did in the last game of the regular season. Throw in the fact that everyone is a good-to-very good three-point threat, and the Wolverines can hang with anyone.

Sleeper: Indiana

It is kind of hard to label anyone that has done what IU did this season a sleeper. That said, I think that the issues Indiana has defensively could end up biting them.

Deeper sleepers: Illinois has the talent, but talent only gets you so far. I find myself having a tough time putting any kind of faith into Wisconsin. And I think that Purdue is going to end up being overmatched inside. So I’ll take Northwestern, but mainly because I want to see John Shurna make the NCAA Tournament.

Studs:

John Shurna, Northwester: Shurna can flat out score the ball. He’s a perfect fit on the perimeter for what Bill Carmody wants to run.

Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Trust me, there is a reason he routinely sees double- and triple-teams.

Draymond Green, Michigan State: Tim Duncan is the last high-major player to average 15 ppg, 10 rpg and 3 apg.

Trey Burke, Michigan: I wonder if Thad Matta is regretting looking past the Columbus.

Cody Zeller, Indiana: The freshman has been Indiana’s most important player.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Bubble Banter: Can Maryland or Notre Dame actually get a bid to the tournament?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

MIAMI (RPI: 33, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 8): Miami added a fourth Quadrant 1 win on Monday night by going into South Bend and picking off Notre Dame. The Hurricanes are in the conversation as a bubble team for a two reasons — they have a Quadrant 3 loss to Georgia Tech, and they had lost three in a row entering Monday night. What’s interesting with Miami’s profile is that they don’t really have any elite wins. They beat Middle Tennessee State on a neutral. They won at Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Notre Dame. That’s it. Those are their four Quadrant 1 wins. Their profile is probably strong enough to get them in, but I do think there is a world where they get a lower seed than you might be expecting.

MARYLAND (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: Out): The Terps, who won at Northwestern tonight, seem to be in the mix on most of the places that I go to read about the bubble, and frankly, I just don’t get it. They do not have a Quadrant 1 win. They are 0-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents. In a year where the NCAA Selection Committee showed us just how much they value quality wins already, I’m not sure that they can build a profile that is strong enough to get a bid unless they beat Michigan on Saturday and win a couple of games against the top of the Big Ten in the Big Ten tournament. They’re at least three wins away in my mind. Like I said, I just don’t see it, but I figured it was worth mentioning here on a slow night.

LOSERS

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 68, KenPom: 33, NBC seed: Next four out): The Fighting Irish are in an interesting spot. Their profile is not exactly worthy of an at-large bid. But they’ve also been decimated by injury. Bonzie Colson is still out with a foot injury. So is D.J. Harvey. Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger have both missed tie with injuries. If Colson can get healthy before the season ends and the Irish can win a couple games at or near full strength, they will have an interesting case to make. I do, however, think that would require winning two of their last three games. One of those three games is at Virginia, so they have their work cut out for them.

Calipari defends Diallo and gives insight into his own philosophy

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John Calipari was asked a question about struggling freshman Hamidou Diallo. He ended up giving an answer about his general coaching philosophy.

“Making them be responsible for who they are. In his case, I’m with Hami. He’s trying. He’s working,” Calipari said. “If he’s willing to do that and put in extra work, I’m for him. If you’re playing awful, I may not play you as much, but I’m going to play you and if you’re doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you.

“It would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly to say you’re out and i’m going with these seven I’m just not going to do that.”

Calipari likened the approach to what a well-intentioned parent might say to him about their son who is struggling.

“I would say (a parent) would say, ‘Coach, he’s responsible for himself, but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable,’” Calipari said. “‘If he’s not going to listen to you you should not play him. That’s what I think a parent that’s not trying to enable their son (should say).”

On the other hand, Calipari discussed what the opposite of that situation would look like.

“If they’re listening to an enabler, whoever that enabler is, I can’t help you,” he said. “I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first and I’m trying to stay that course but they are responsible for themselves.

“If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when they’re not performing, you can’t be in there.”

Calipari can oftentimes be full of bluster – it’s an essential part of his Always Be Selling philosophy that’s won the hearts of countless five-star recruits and a national championship. But this looks to be an honest look into the way he views his job and role with his players. Give ultra-talented guys opportunity, but keep them accountable. It’s a simple thought, but one that few execute as well and as consistently as he does.

Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans “day-to-day” with toe injury

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It would appear that sixth-ranked Texas Tech may have avoided its worst-case scenario with star guard Keenan Evans.

The senior is considered day-to-day with a toe injury suffered Saturday in a loss at Baylor, and could play as soon as Wednesday against Oklahoma State, Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said Monday.

“It’s going to come down to just pain tolerance and can he move,” Beard said, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “We all know Keenan is a warrior. He’s going to do everything he possibly can to play. … At the end of the day, just kind of how he reacts to his body.”

Evans is averaging 18.2 points per game for the Red Raiders, and his health is paramount for their attempt to unseat Kansas atop the Big 12. Texas Tech and the Jayhawks are locked in a first-place tie with matching 10-4 league records with four games to play. After the Red Raiders’ trip to Stillwater on Wednesday, they host Kansas on Saturday in a game that very well could decide the fate of the Jayhawks’ 13-year run of conference championships.

While the Big 12 race is certainly front of mind, the fact that Evans is potentially going to be able to play this week is a great sign for Texas Tech. Even if Evans does need to miss a game or two to get his toe fully healthy, the timeline and conditions Beard laid out Monday suggest that he’ll be good to go before the NCAA tournament for a Red Raiders team that certainly is a contender to finish its season in its home state – at the Final Four in San Antonio.

NCAA tourney chair addresses non-conference strength of schedule and quadrant system

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The way the NCAA tournament selection committee picks teams for inclusion into the sport’s crowning event is always under intense scrutiny. It’s a national past time, really.

One of the easiest targets is the RPI, an obviously flawed metric. It was the topic of discussion recently in the Omaha World-Herald, most notably the non-conference strength of schedule component.

That post spurred a lengthy response from Creighton athletic director and selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, who defended the committee’s work with a metric that it acknowledges to be imperfect.

Here’s Rasmussen:

“Non-conference SOS is not a predominant tool in selections.

In fact, each year that I have been on the committee, we have discussed why you have to look beyond the number to evaluate a team’s non-conference strength of schedule, and even with this qualifier, non-conference schedule ranks well behind other factors such as how you did against other tournament caliber teams, did you win the games you were supposed to win, and how did you do away from home since winning away from home is difficult and the tournament games are all games away from home.

“I have argued each year that I have been on the committee that non-conference SOS should be taken off the team sheet, but until we develop a new metric it is staying. However, understand that the committee understands its fallacies (as we also recognize other weaknesses in the current RPI formula) and it is not a prominent factor in decisions.”

Rasmussen also examined the quadrant system being used:

“Many think that the first and second quadrants are silos and that every win in the first quadrant or every win in the second quadrant is treated equally.  I think it is important that while we refer to first and second quadrant wins, we also better communicate that this is only a sorting mechanism and each game in these quadrants is looked at differently. They don’t have the same value.”

So while it’s fair to question NCAA selection committee’s decisions and the way in which they make them, it’s clear there is an extensive amount of well-intentioned thought put into the process.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Michigan State moves atop the Top 25

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Michigan State is your new No. 1 team in the country, according to the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Spartans received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes after their comeback from 27 points down to beat Northwestern on the road on Saturday.

Virginia is still sitting at No. 2 while Villanova and Xavier round out the top four. Duke climbed a few spots to No. 5.

Here is the full coaches poll:

1. Michigan State (20 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (8)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Gonzaga
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Wichita State
13. Auburn
14. Arizona
15. Ohio State
16. Michigan
17. Clemson
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Saint Mary’s
21. West Virginia
22. Nevada
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee State
25. Arizona State