A Viewer’s Guide to Marathon Madness

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First and foremost, Tuesday’s schedule (all times ET):

12:00 AM: West Virginia at No. 19 Gonzaga (ESPN)
2:00 AM: Davidson at New Mexico (ESPN)
4:00 AM: Houston Baptist at Hawaii (ESPN)
6:00 AM: Stony Brook at Rider (ESPN)
8:00 AM: Northern Illinois at Valparaiso (ESPN)
10:00 AM: Harvard at Massachusetts (ESPN)
12:00 PM: Temple at Kent State (ESPN)
2:00 PM: Detroit at St. John’s (ESPN)
4:00 PM: Butler at Xavier (ESPN)
6:00 PM: No. 6 Kentucky at No. 1 Baylor (Women’s) (ESPN2)
7:00 PM: No. 22 Michigan St vs. No. 7 Kansas (ESPN)
7:00 PM: Wichita State at VCU (ESPNU)
8:00 PM: Cleveland State/Bowling Green at No. 5 Michigan (NIT) (ESPN2)
9:00 PM: Lehigh/Robert Morris at Pittsburgh (ESPNU)
9:00 PM: No. 9 Duke vs No. 3 Kentucky (ESPN)
10:00 PM: UNT/Alabama-Huntsville at Kansas State (ESPN2)

We’ll have quite a bit of content up throughout the marathon, but in an effort to help you manage your time (and your naps), here is a Viewer’s Guide for which games to watch, which games to TiVo and when you can grab a few minutes of shuteye:

Only miss these games to see the birth of your FIRST child:

No. 9 Duke vs. No. 3 Kentucky: The intrigue of this matchup goes well beyond the fact that it features two top ten teams. Duke may be despised nationally, but it’s because they have the reputation for being a squeaky-clean program that can do no wrong and consistently produces overrated college players. Kentucky is despised nationally as well, but that’s because they are coached by college basketball’s version of Bain, make a mockery of the idea of “student-athletes” with their approach to the one-and-done rule, and have no problem flaunting their strength on the recruiting trail. Good vs. evil, if you will. And thanks to guys like Christian Laettner and the bosses at UPS, there is no love lost between these two fan bases.

It should be quite entertaining on the court as well. Kentucky once again brings in a loaded recruiting class, but just how good that group is going to end up being is still unclear, especially if Ryan Harrow isn’t 100%. Duke, on the other hand, is coming off of a year where they lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament and returns a number of key pieces from that team. But there has been a movement promoting the idea that these Blue Devils are actually better than last year’s team. Is this group truly a title contender?

No. 22 Michigan State vs. No. 7 Kansas: Just how good is Michigan State? That’s the question that everyone has after the Spartans lost to a UConn team that was decimated by transfers, early-entry and coaching changes during the offseason. The Spartans are big and physical along their front line, but are yet to know if this is a team that has enough scoring prowess on their perimeter to be a real threat this year. Kansas, on the other hand, is a bit of a wildcard this season. They have the potential to be one of the nation’s most complete teams this year, but that will only be true if Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis can develop into legitimate scoring threats. How much will we learn from Tuesday night?

You can miss these for a hot date, but they have to be at least a nine and NOT already your significant other:

West Virginia at No. 19 Gonzaga: The Mountaineers are one of the sleepers in the Big 12 this season, buoyed by transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray. But this may end up being the best Gonzaga team in recent memory, especially if Polish import Prmezek Karnowski is as good as he looked in the opener.

Davidson at New Mexico: Davidson made the NCAA tournament last season and beat Kansas in Kansas City, and they returned EVERYONE. The Wildcats could end up being the best mid-major team in the country this side of Creighton. But New Mexico brings back quite a bit from last season, as well, and has spent the entire offseason hearing about how they don’t have a chance in the MWC this year. The only shame is the 2:00 AM east coast tip for Davidson; we may not see their best performance.

Wichita State at VCU: This is not the same Wichita State team that took the court last season, but the Shockers are still one of the top three teams in the MVC, especially with the addition of Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead. Armstead’s addition will be valuable, as WSU is going to have a serious test on their hands with VCU’s ‘Havoc’ system and 40 minutes worth of full-court pressure.

Butler at Xavier: This is actually a intra-conference game now, although it won’t count in the Atlantic 10 standings. Xavier went off for 117 points in their opener against a depleted Farleigh Dickinson, but they’ll have their hands full with the Bulldogs, who look like one of the best teams in the league. Keep an eye on Roosevelt Jones, who will be playing a similar role to that of Draymond Green for Michigan State last season.

Harvard at UMass: This game got a lot less intriguing when Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were forced to miss this season. That said, the Crimson still have quite a bit of talent, albeit youthful talent, at their disposal this year, while UMass is a sleeper in the A-10. Keep an eye on Chaz Williams, the point guard for the Minutemen. He may be the nation’s best kept secret.

North Texas/UA-Huntsville at Kansas State: Here’s top hoping that North Texas wins tonight against Huntsville. I’d love to see Tony Mitchell taking on the Wildcats in Manhattan.

Lehigh/Robert Morris at Pitt: Ditto for Lehigh and Pitt. CJ McCollum is fresh off of a 36 point performance at Baylor.

You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:

Temple at Kent State: Kent State is looking to go 2-0 against the city of Philadelphia this season, as they are coming off of an overtime win against Drexel. Temple’s Khalif Wyatt is the real deal, however.

Detroit at St. John’s: It’s unclear whether or not St. John’s will have a pair of still-ineligible JuCo transfers this season, and without them they could be in trouble. Detroit is led by the talented-Ray McCallum Jr.

Cleveland State/Bowling Green at No. 5 Michigan: Michigan should be able to knock off either of these teams, but the Wolverines have been labeled as overrated by most of the computer rankings. This will be their first game against a Division I opponent.

You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I ain’t even mad:

Houston Baptist at Hawaii: Root for HBU coach Steven Key. He’s one of the good guys in the business.

Stony Brook at Rider: Stony Brook is the favorite in the America East, but Rider just whipped up on Robert Morris thanks to 26 points from St. John’s-transfer Nurideen Lindsay.

Northern Illinois at Valparaiso: Valpo is the favorite in the Horizon this year.

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

Texas fans helped raise over $100,000 for Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund

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Texas fans have helped raise over six figures in support of the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund after the sophomore guard was diagnosed with leukemia last week.

The University of Texas helped launch the fund, with all donations heading towards the medical and necessary family-related expenses for Jones that are allowed within NCAA rules.

Although Jones’ diagnosis was tough for many around college basketball, the fund has helped raise over $104,000 in just over five days.  Over 1,300 people have donated towards the fund, which is the only family-approved way to help Jones and his family with medical costs.

The website for the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund can be found right here.

A former McDonald’s All-American, Jones was in the midst of a solid sophomore season with the Longhorns before the public announcement last week. Jones averaged 13.5 points and 2.0 assists per game in 10 games this season.

Without Jones in the lineup, Texas won an emotional double-overtime thriller over TCU at home. After the win, Texas coaches and players honored Jones with signs of support. The Longhorns lost their lost Big 12 game by a point on the road at Oklahoma State as the Cowboys honored Jones before the game with special shooting shirts in his honor.

TCU’s Fisher out indefinitely with knee injury

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TCU announced on Wednesday that point guard Jaylen Fisher, one of the most important players on their roster, will be out indefinitely after suffering a knee injury in practice on Tuesday.

Fisher is the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.3 points and leads the team with 5.4 assists per game.

Nothing will be official until after an MRI, but a source told NBC Sports that the injury is not thought to be to the ACL but still may end Fisher’s season.

TCU has had a brutal run of luck this year, becoming the first casualty of the depth of the Big 12. They’re 1-4 in the league this season, but those four losses have come by a combined eight points in a combined three overtimes as TCU missed a combined two game-winning shots at the buzzer.

We discussed the Horned Frogs on the most recent CBT Podcast.

Kentucky’s loss to South Carolina isn’t surprising, it’s just who they are

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It happens all the time.

A good team will go on the road in league play, take a loss to a team they probably shouldn’t lose to and suddenly we all will starting talking about why this team stinks and how we knew it all along.

It happened with Duke when they lost at Boston College. It happened with Villanova when they lost at Butler. It happened with Michigan State when they lost at Ohio State. It happened with Arizona when they lost at Colorado.

And it happened last night when Kentucky lost at a rebuilding South Carolina team.

The only truly surprising part of Kentucky’s 76-68 loss to the Gamecocks was that it came after Kentucky held a 14-point second half lead. South Carolina has never exactly been known as an offensive juggernaut and, this year, they are still adapting to playing without Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. They closed the game on a 36-14 run just three days after winning a game where they shot 27.1 percent from the field.

If there is a concern here, it’s that Kentucky collapsed.

“This looked like a bunch of freshman playing,” John Calipari said afterward. “First time this year,” later adding that, “there’s an unwarranted arrogance that when we get up, we look really good. ‘I’m really good. I’m going to do what I’m choosing to do and I’m not going to listen.’ That’s what happened. It started rolling and all of a sudden we couldn’t stop it.”

Coach Cal is notorious for speaking to his players through press conferences. He knows that everything is said is going to get plastered all over social media and every Kentucky website, particularly after a loss like this. He knows it will pop up on his players’ twitter feed or when they are watching Sportscenter, so taking what he says publicly with that in mind is important.

And while there is some merit to what he’s saying, it’s also important to remember these three things:

  1. Kentucky is not only the youngest team in America, they were playing without their starting point guard (Quade Green) while trying to acclimate yet another freshman (Jarred Vanderbilt) into the rotation. Vanderbilt saw minutes at the point last night. Brad Calipari saw minutes, too.
  2. All of that happened against a team that just so happens to be one of the nation’s toughest and most physical defenses. South Carolina may lack some of the talent they had last season but they are still tough, strong kids that play for Frank Martin and are never going to back down. I guarantee there is nothing the kids on that roster love more than landing a shot against a team full of cocky future lottery picks.
  3. I’m going to say it slowly, so pay attention: Kentucky. Is. Not. That Good. We know this. They are ranked 21st in the AP Poll. They are rated 29th on KenPom. They don’t have a star. The only reason anyone is freaking out about this game is because of the name on the front of the jersey. If Auburn or Tennessee or Clemson blew a 14-point lead on the road against South Carolina we would chalk it up to a pretty good team falling victim to that home court advantage that is so prevalent in college hoops.

We will all save ourselves quite a bit of time and energy if we just accept what has become obvious: This is not a typical Kentucky team in the Cal era.

There is still Final Four upside should Cal figure this thing out, and with the way things are going in the SEC, a conference title is certainly still within reach.

But Kentucky is going to take some more lumps in league play. They’re going to end up getting a seed somewhere in that 5-7 range. Getting to a Sweet 16 would be good for them. A Final Four isn’t an impossibility, not with the upside on this roster, but dropping out of the dance before the final weekend certainly wouldn’t be a massive disappointment.

That’s just who they are.

What can KenPom’s efficiency rankings tell us about this year’s title contenders?

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Yesterday, we took a look at whether or not Duke’s issues on the defense end of the floor will affect whether or not they can win a national title, and barring a dramatic turnaround over the final three months of the season, the answer appears to be yes.

No one with a defense that ranks lower than Duke’s currently does has ever reached the national title game, and only two that are in the same vicinity have even played on the final Monday of the season.

That’s concerning.

But Duke is far from the only good team with major red flags this season, so today we are going to take a look which of the other national title contenders compare favorably with past Final Four teams.

(All the data in these charts come from KenPom.com. They are the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rankings for each team, from prior to the start of the NCAA tournament as well as from the end of the season. We cannot use the adjusted efficiency margin because that data does not translate across seasons. KenPom’s database only goes back to the 2001-2002 season.)

Since 2002, just 13 of the 64 Final Four teams have had an offensive efficiency ranking outside the top 30 when the NCAA tournament began. Only four of those teams reached the national title game, while 2014 UConn is the only one to win a ring with an offense that wasn’t among the best in the country:

This season, there are a handful of top ten teams – teams that are largely considered among the best in the country – that are ranked outside the top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency, including a pair of Big 12 title challengers.

Some of these teams you would expect to be on here. Virginia hasn’t lost a step defensively this year, but without a killer like Joe Harris or Malcolm Brogdon, they aren’t among the elite on the offensive side of the ball. The same can be said for Cincinnati, Texas Tech and West Virginia. We know they win with their defense.

The surprise is Michigan.

John Beilein is widely regarded as one of college basketball’s best offensive tacticians, and to see him put together a team that is winning with their defense is … well, it is weird. He and Brad Stevens are the only two coaches to take teams to a title game with a defense that ranked outside of the top 40.

I know that the saying is “defense wins championships,” but that doesn’t hold water in the college basketball realm. While there have only been 11 Final Four teams that ranked outside the top 30 in defensive efficiency prior to the start of the tournament, three of them won the national title and three more reached the title game.

Put another way, it’s easier to win in March with a great offense and future NBA players than it is to win with a great defense that can sometimes struggle to score.

The one difference here is that the floor is not as low.

North Carolina’s 2009 team is the lowest-rated defense at 39th to win a title and they had four players still in NBA rotations today and two more than saw time on an NBA roster as some point.

Where this discussion gets really interesting is when looking at the teams that do not have great defenses this season.

Duke, who currently ranks 72nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, is the team that we always talk about, but there are nine teams that have been ranked in the top five of the AP Poll at some point this season are currently outside the top 25 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric: Wichita State, Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova, Oklahoma, Xavier, Duke, Arizona and Arizona State:

So who can actually win a title this season?

Of the last 16 national champs, 12 have ranked in the top ten of either offensive or defensive efficiency and 15 of the 16 have ranked in the top 20. The only team to win a national title while entering the NCAA tournament ranked outside the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency was Kemba Walker’s 2011 UConn team, and they ranked 22nd and 25th, respectively.

Remember, this can all change rather quickly. If you look at the difference in the pre-tournament ratings vs. the post-tournament ratings below, you can see how much getting hot for a six-game stretch can change things, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

So this is a snapshot of how things stand today. In a two week’s time, these numbers could end up being irrelevant.

With that in mind, here are the six teams that – as of today – ranks in the top 25 of both offensive and defensive efficiency.

 

For reference, here are the rankings for every national champion of the last 16 years.

Trae Young’s turnover-plagued night costs No. 4 Oklahoma at Kansas State

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When Stephen Curry was a freshman at Davidson, in one of the first games of his college career, he turned the ball over eight times in the first half of a game at Eastern Michigan. Head coach Bob McKillop toyed with the idea of benching his star freshman, instead opting to turn him loose again in the second half.

Curry scored 13 second half points – to go along with five turnovers – and then went out and dropped 32 in his next game.

Those 15 points and 13 turnovers were his first career double-double, and I’m not sure that he’s slowed down since.

I say all that to say this: It is a minor miracle that the first time that Trae Young looked mortal came on January 16th.

No. 4 Oklahoma went into Manhattan on Tuesday night and got worked over by Kansas State. The Sooners ended up losing 87-69. They trailed by 14 points within the first 10 minutes of the game. Young finished with 20 points and six assists – numbers that would be phenomenal for literally any other point guard on the road in conference play – but he shot just 8-for-21 from the floor, finished 2-for-10 from three and turned the ball over 12 times.

12!

In a vacuum, this performance really wouldn’t be anything to worry about. Young is Oklahoma’s offense. When he has a bad game, the team is going to struggle. That’s the risk of relying this much on one player. It is that simple, and the idea that we should expect a freshman point guard to make it the entirety of conference play in a league as difficult as the Big 12 is ludicrous. He’s going to throw up a dud every now and again, and that’s what happened on Tuesday.

“I played terrible,” Young said. “I blame a lot of this loss on me.”

Where this becomes a concern for the Sooners is that the turnover problem that Young dealt with on Tuesday is not exactly an isolated incident. Young is leading the nation averaging 5.2 turnovers per game, and while that number is inflated by opportunity – Young plays in the nation’s third-fastest offense with the highest-usage rate we’ve ever seen in the KenPom era – his turnover rate of 19.2 is somewhat concerning. For comparison’s sake, Jalen Brunson’s turnover rate is 10.5. Joel Berry II’s is 11.7. Devonte’ Graham’s is 17.0.

The biggest worry is that the number keeps rising. Young has set a career-high in turnovers in each of the last two games, three of the last four games and four times total since the start of Big 12 play. There are a lot of good coaches, good teams and great point guards in the Big 12. Teams may have started to solve the riddle, which means that Lon Kruger and Young are going to have to start making some adjustments.

And that will come.

Kruger is one of the best pure basketball coaches in the business.

He’ll find an answer.

Which is why the most disappointing part about this loss is that it puts Oklahoma in a tough spot in regards to an outright Big 12 regular season title. With how strong the top of the conference is, losing games against anyone outside of the top four is a major disadvantage, and Oklahoma is now the only team amongst that group – West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas included – that has lost one.

But credit where credit is due: Bruce Weber put together a game-plan to stymie Young, got 24 points and five assists out of Barry Brown and 21 points, seven boards and seven assists out of Dean Wade.

The Wildcats kicked Sooner tail on Tuesday, and in the process, earned themselves a win that is going to carry quite a bit of weight on Selection Sunday.