Doug McDermott

Conference Catch-ups: Creighton is still on top, but the MVC is strong

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Missouri Valley Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Creighton

The Bluejays were the league favorite heading into the season, and despite the loss of Josh Jones to a heart condition, Creighton remains the MVC’s top team two months into the season. Doug McDermott has been as good as advertised, but the biggest reason that Creighton keeps climbing in the rankings is that the coach’s son has a slew of talented role players surrounding him. Gregory Echenique is a hoss in the block, Grant Gibbs may lead the most fundamental player in the country and Austin Chatman has done well to help fill the void left by Antoine Young.

The biggest improvement for Creighton is on the defensive end of the floor. Last year, they were 178th in the country in defensive efficiency. This year they are 32nd.

Contenders: Wichita State looked like they might actually be the best team in the conference earlier this month, but a rash of injuries means that we won’t be seeing the Shockers at full strength until halfway through league play. Illinois State has been quite impressive as Jackie Carmichael is asserting himself as a potential NBA draft pick. Northern Iowa has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but they finally picked up a quality win by beating St. Mary’s.

Biggest Surprise: Indiana State

The Sycamores weren’t exactly supposed to be down this season — not with Jake Odum, arguably the league’s best point guard, teaming up with Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop — but I don’t think many people expected to became a sleeper to finish in the top three. But that’s exactly where they stand after a terrific performance in the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas break. ISU knocked off Ole Miss in overtime in their opener and, after losing by seven to San Diego State, followed that up win an overtime win against Miami. Throw in the game last month when the Sycamores came from 15 own to force OT against New Mexico, and a trip to Terre Haute is not going to be easy this season.

Biggest Disappointment: Missouri State

This is a bit unfair, as the Bears were expected to finish at the very bottom of the MVC this year and that’s currently where they are situated. And given the success of the rest of the league, Missouri State is really the only team that has been disappointing this year.. But the depths of their struggle this season is unnerving. MSU still has not beaten a Division I team this season. Their two wins are over Philander Smith and Malone University. They already have a loss to Alabama A&M. Yuck.

Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton

There really isn’t much contemplation that goes into this choice. McDermott got off to a slow start this season, but ever since Creighton went out of Las Vegas for a tournament over Thanksgiving, he’s been playing like the uber-efficient stretch-four we all know and love.

Best Freshman: Kaza Keane, Illinois State

Keane is currently second in the Missouri Valley in assists, which is nice and will almost make you forget about the fact that the 6-foot-1 point guard from Ontario is averaging just 3.5 points on the season. That may actually be a positive sign for Keane, however. When you are a freshman and you have scorers like Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown on the floor with you, you give up the rock.

Three Predictions:

  • Creighton goes farther in the NCAA tournament than they do in the MVC tournament. The Valley is as strong at the top — and, for that matter, as deep — as it has been in a long time. And if there is anything that we know about Arch Madness, it’s that bringing home the MVC’s automatic bid is really tough to do for the tournament favorite. Creighton’s improved defense will carry them to the second weekend of the big dance, but don’t be surprised if they get picked off in the first round of the conference tournament by a team playing for their postseason lives.
  • The MVC gets at least three bids to the tournament. It’s all going to depend on whether or not those four teams can separate themselves from the rest of the pack — which will be hard to do given how few easy games there will be in conference play — but thanks to some of the non-conference performances by the top teams in the MVC, their league RPI is currently sitting at ninth. That’s a good thing.
  • Missouri State wins three league games. I don’t care how poorly they have played this season. This is the Valley, and the road in the Valley is not a friendly place. Missouri State will pick a couple people off.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Creighton*
2. Illinois State*
3. Wichita State*
4. Northern Iowa
5. Indiana State
6. Bradley
7. Evansville
8. Southern Illinois
9. Drake
10. Missouri State

Previewing Kansas-West Virginia and Virginia-Notre Dame

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 12:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks passes around Jevon Carter #2  and Nathan Adrian #11 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first half during the championship game of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 12, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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No. 2 Kansas at No. 18 West Virginia, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN): The big game of the night lost a little bit of its luster this week, as West Virginia not only dropped a home game to Oklahoma but followed that up with a loss at Kansas State.

The Mountaineers have the nation’s most disruptive press, but it hasn’t been all that effective in recent weeks. In their last three games, West Virginia has committed more turnovers than they have forced. That’s not a good sign for a team that relies on the easy baskets they can get in transition to avoid having to rely on playing half court basketball, where they struggle.

And here’s the thing about these Kansas Jayhawks: I’m not sure there is a worse matchup for West Virginia when they are struggling to get their pressure clicking. I’ve always believed there is a ceiling for teams playing the way that Press Virginia plays for one, simple reason: They rely on their opponents making mistakes to win. Good teams have good guards, and good guards are good because they don’t make mistakes.

Kansas?

They have the current favorite for National Player of the Year in Frank Mason III as well as Devonte’ Graham, a potential first round pick that, if he was allowed to play on the ball full time, could probably be an all-Big 12 point guard. And that’s before you consider that, these days, the Jayhawks are essentially playing a four-guard lineup, rotating through Josh Jackson, LaGerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk.

  • PREDICTION: I like Kansas to win this game, even though I know that we are just two weeks removed from these same Mountaineers forcing 29 turnovers in a 21-point win over No. 1 Baylor, handing the Bears their only loss of the season. Kansas opened at (+6), but if you can still get them at (+3.5), I think you have to take it.

No. 12 Virginia at No. 14 Notre Dame, 8:00 p.m. (ACC Network): This is such a fascinating matchup of styles all around. Notre Dame is one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams, and the way that Virginia defends – their Packline Defense – encourages opponents to try and shoot jumpers over the top of the defense.

But Virginia is also terrific at cutting off penetration into the lane, particularly when their opponents are running ball-screen actions, and Notre Dame’s offense is built around drive-and-kick threes that come off of high ball-screens involving Matt Farrell. And frankly, I don’t know if there are five teams in college basketball that have coaches that are better and drilling home game-plans and systems than Tony Bennett and Mike Brey.

All in all, this should be a fun, well-played basketball game, even if it isn’t as uptempo as you might like.

  • PREDICTION: Notre Dame is leading the ACC right now, yet they are an underdog at home to a Virginia team that isn’t the same Virginia team that we’ve seen in recent season? Give me the Irish (+1).

No. 1 Villanova at Marquette, 8:00 p.m. (FS1): Marquette has one of the nation’s best offenses and they are coming off of a win at Creighton where they put up 102 points on the Bluejays. That said, the Golden Eagles are not good defensively, and not only will the Wildcats be able to matchup with Marquette’s small-ball lineups, but they’ll be able to take advantage of that lack of defensive discipline on the other end of the floor.

  • PREDICTION: I like Villanova (-5), but I love the over (+/- 151.5).

No. 21 Purdue at Michigan State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): This is a huge game for Michigan State, who is much closer to the bubble than Spartan fans are used to being. But the Boilermakers have a distinct advantage in one spot: the paint. That’s because Caleb Swanigan, who has played at an all-american level this season, decommitted from Michigan State and went to Purdue. Watching him go up against Nick Ward should be entertaining for those that like seeing big, physical land warriors do battle on the block.

  • PREDICTION: I think Tom Izzo works his magic and Michigan State (+2) wins outright.

NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to unveil top four seeds on Feb. 11th

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Following in the footsteps of the College Football Playoff, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will be unveiling the top 16 teams in a televised Feb. 11th special, the first-ever bracket preview show.

Michigan State AD Mark Hollis will be in studio with Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis to unveil what the bracket would look like on Feb. 11th, seeding the top four teams in each region and, essentially, giving a snapshot of how the best teams in the country stand up at that moment in time.

“We are excited about giving the fans a glimpse to what the men’s basketball committee is thinking at this point of the season, and creating a buzz as we look towards Selection Sunday,” Hollis said in the NCAA’s release. “It’s important to recognize after this list has been released, there is still a significant portion of the regular season to be played and every league must stage its conference tournament. There’s potential for quite a bit of movement until we do it for real March 12, but this early peek will give everyone insight as to where the committee stands as we hit the stretch run of the regular season.”

On the one hand, I hate the idea of this. It’s a way to create ratings for a TV show that is going to make the public at-large expect the committee to hold to their projections, and it helps to spoil one of the best things about Selection Sunday: the shock of the bracket reveal. This is a slippery slope. If millions and millions of people tune in, the next step is to make this a weekly occurrence the way that the College Football Playoff reveal is a weekly occurrence.

The other issue is that it will box the committee into decisions before we have all the data. Forming an opinion when there are still a third of conference play and conference tournaments left is a dangerous thing to do.

But the show is also going to create buzz.

There’s no denying that, on Tuesday nights during college football season, the biggest story in all of sports is how the college football rankings shake out. Who is projected to be in the Final Four? Who is getting left out? It dominates social, it dominates the blogosphere, it dominates discussion on sports talk radio and shows like First Take and PTI.

And how often do we lament the fact that college basketball doesn’t dominates headlines or sports talk until the tournament starts? How often do we say that this is a sport that only matters in March? How often do we try and drum up different events in November and December as ways to drive interest in college hoops?

This show will do that, and for the most part, it’s generally harmless. There is more than a month between the bracket preview and the bracket reveal. That’s a quarter of the season, before you factor in conference tournaments.

It’s also worth pointing out that there really is no difference between this reveal and bringing on any other armchair bracketologist to discuss who might end up being a No. 1 seed. These discussions are had on every show and in every college basketball story written between the end of the Super Bowl and the start of the NCAA tournament. This show cuts out the middlemen and goes straight to the source: the Chair of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike its college football counterpart, this reveal will include 16 teams everyone knows are locks to be in the NCAA tournament. So someone projected as a No. 1 seed falls to a No. 3 seed because their late-season schedule was weak and they lost two games they shouldn’t have. Whatever. That team is still in the tournament. If the NCAA really wanted things to get interesting, they’d project the 10 seeds, 11 seeds and the First Four, which are usually the last 8-10 teams to receive at-large bids.

All in all, this is probably a net-positive for college basketball, and it seems unlikely that we’re only going to have one bracket reveal in future years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this turn into a weekly deal.

I don’t have to love it.

But we might as well make peace with it.

CBT Podcast: Reminiscing about a road trip and the NCAA Selection Committee meeting

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MARCH 19:  Mississippi Rebels and Xavier Musketeers players run by the logo at mid-court during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Here is the latest episode of the College Basketball Talk podcast, featuring my former colleague Troy Machir talking about a road trip we took five years ago and Andy Glockner going over what was discussed at the meeting of the analytic minds in Indianapolis with the NCAA Selection Committee this weekend.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Arizona’s Miller elaborates on Trier’s suspension

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 21: Allonzo Trier #35 of the Arizona Wildcats goes up for a layup against TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins during the first half of the game at Pauley Pavilion on January 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Arizona sophomore guard Allonzo Trier sat out the first 19 games of the season for reasons not made clear until last week.

Now that Trier has been cleared to play after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, Wildcats coach Sean Miller is able to elaborate on the process and the need to be so tight-lipped through it.

“It’s a process that had no history,” he said during his weekly news conference Monday. “I think the NCAA did the best they could. They were extremely fair. I think they really had the student-athlete welfare at the forefront of a lot of things. It might not have felt that way to the outside, but they were very communicative, very direct, vert cooperative, trying to hold to the standards that they need to hold these types of issues to.”

Trier was expected to be the key cog for No. 7 Arizona after bypassing a chance at the NBA to return for his sophomore season. Instead, he was replaced at the last minute for Pac-12 media day and spent the first three months of the season on the bench unable to play.

Trier issued a statement last Wednesday saying he tested positive for a banned PED he received to treat an injury from someone not affiliated with the university. Trier was conditionally cleared to play in November, contingent upon the PED leaving his system. He was cleared before Saturday’s game against UCLA, finishing with 12 points in the Wildcats’ 96-85 victory.

“There are just too many unknowns,” Miller said of not providing information on Trier’s suspension before last week. “The No. 1 here is to protect the student-athlete privacy of a situation that was very complicated and to not at all harm him in any way. There are no secrets, nobody is hiding anything. It’s just a matter of trying to do right by the young man. We would much rather have the criticism pointed toward us than to do something that is unnecessary and could potentially harm a young person.”

Arizona (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) has played well through Trier’s suspension and a string of injuries, winning 11 straight games before his return on Saturday. Their 12th consecutive win moved the Wildcats up seven spots in Monday’s AP Top 25.

No. 3 Gonzaga improves to 20-0 with win over Portland

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Zach Collins had 13 points and No. 3 Gonzaga remained the nation’s only undefeated Division I team with an 83-64 victory over Portland in a game Monday night that was rescheduled because of a winter storm earlier this month.

The Bulldogs have won 20 straight games, their longest streak since winning that many in the 2005-06 and 2003-04 seasons. Gonzaga is now 8-0 in West Coast Conference play.

Silas Melson and Jordan Mathews each added 12 points for the Zags, who led by as many as 33 points and had four players in double-digits.

Rashad Jackson and D’Marques Tyson had 15 points apiece for Portland, which won its first two games in conference but has lost six straight since then. The Pilots (9-11, 2-6 WCC) are playing their first season under former NBA player and coach Terry Porter.

The game was originally scheduled for Jan. 7, but a winter storm in Portland forced it to be postponed. Portland opened up extra seats and Gonzaga’s fans outnumbered the home team’s crowd.

The two teams had met just two days ago in Spokane, with Gonzaga leading from the start to win 73-52. But Portland, playing without top scorer Alec Wintering, out-rebounded the Zags 41-33 and held them to 45 percent shooting.

The Zags fared better on Monday, out-rebounding Portland 41-36 and shooting 42 percent.

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who left the game against Portland because of a left hip injury with about five minutes left, was questionable against Portland but started.

But freshman forward Killian Tillie appeared to injure his right leg under Portland’s basket with 9:38 to go in the game, and teammates helped him from the floor. The 6-foot-10 Tillie, who is from France, is averaging 4.8 points this season.

Wintering, a senior, was hurt in last Thursday’s game against San Francisco and the Pilots announced this weekend that his college career was over because of a torn left ACL.

Wintering averaged 19.5 points and 5.6 assists a game this season. He was on Portland’s bench in street clothes, but during warmups before the game and at the break he was on the court, offering his teammates advice and encouragement.

Gonzaga jumped out to a 9-0 run but the Pilots closed within 9-8 following Philipp Hartwich’s dunk. Portland was competitive, answering Melson’s 3-pointer for Gonzaga with Jackson’s 3 that got the Pilots within 22-19.

But the Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 run to go up 30-19 and went into halftime with on a 16-4 run for a 38-23 lead. Melson and Jonathan Williams led Gonzaga at the break with eight points apiece. Jackson’s 13 first-half points for Portland were a new career high for a game.

Gonzaga extended the lead to 50-26 on Przemek Karnowski’s layup with just under 16 minutes to go, the Bulldogs were on the way to their 20th straight win.

THE BIG PICTURE:

Gonzaga: The Zags have won eight straight against Portland. … The Bulldogs’ longest winning streak was 22 games, set in the

Portland: Portland Trail Blazers President Neil Olshey was at the game. … The game, originally scheduled to be played over winter break, was sold out. So despite school being back in session, the usual student section wasn’t as large for the televised game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS: Gonzaga rose a spot from No. 4 and only trails No. 1 Villanova (19-1) and No. 2 Kansas (18-1) in the AP rankings released earlier in the day. The Bulldogs were also ranked No. 3 in the Feb. 23, 2015 poll.