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The Morning Mix

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This is the last day of a shortened holiday week for The Morning Mix. If you’re like most of us and taking it easy tonight (in order to prepare for NEw Years), then you will have a handful of quality games to watch tonight.

Considering how there was only one major game on last night, we got a lot of news and notes to get to today.

Lets hit the links.

Thursday’s Top Games:
3:00 p.m. – Rider @ Rutgers
7:00 p.m. – Iona @ St. John’s
7:00 p.m. – Providence @ Brown (NBC Sports Network)
7:30 p.m. – Bucknell @ Loyola (Md.)
7:30 p.m. – Southern Miss @ Morehead State
8:00 p.m. – Baylor @ No. 13 Gonzaga
8:00 p.m. – Jacksonville @ No. 5 Indiana
8:00 p.m. – Oral Roberts @ Memphis
10:00 p.m. – No. 7 Missouri @ UCLA
10:00 p.m. – Yale @ Nevada
 
 
Read(s) of the Day:
With the Battle for the Bluegrass taking place this weekend between Louisville and Kentucky, Dana O’Neil’s piece on the great divide is a must-read. Make sure you read it. (ESPN)

Read(s) of the Day:
It is great to see that Bob Valvano is back in good spirits following a cardiac arrest last week. Make sure you read this great piece from Tim Sullivan. Bob is one of the all-time greats and we wish him nothing but the absolute best. (Courier-Journal)

 
 
Top Stories:
Cincinnati needs to find an offensive threat in the paint, and quickly: The Bearcats suffered their first loss of the season last night in a close battle with New Mexico. But throughout the 40 minutes, it was apparent that the Bearcats had no answer for the Lobos’ 7-foot 250-pound Alex Kirk, who dominated the paint and was the main reason why Cincinnati is no longer unbeaten.

Tony Parker’s homesick tweets say more about UCLA than about Parker: The third member of UCLA’s loaded recruiting class hasn’t been very happy riding the pine while the Bruins team struggles on the hardwood. The Georgia-native sent out cryptic tweets indicating he was homesick, but it does not appear as if he intends to transfer.

UNLV forward Mike Moser returns to practice, but will he play Saturday? UNLV’s star forward has been on the shelf the past three weeks due to a dislocated right elbow, but returned to practice for the first time since December 9th. But it is still unknown if Moser will be able to go against North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Coach Cal to the Nets? Despite his remarkable success at Kentucky, John Calipari has been linked to almost every high-profile NBA opening in recent memory. With the firing of Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson yesterday, speculation swirled about Cal’s desire to return to the NBA. But like most rumors, this one has no legs.

 
 
Hoops Housekeeping
– Missouri backup forward Tony Criswell will miss tonight’s game against UCLA with a broken finger. (Rock M Nation)

– Providence guard Vincent Council is set to make his return tonight against Brown. The senior guard injured his hamstring just minutes into the Friars season opener against N.J.I.T. (Providence Journal)

– Northern Iowa freshman Chris Olivier has left the program and will transfer. The forward spent last season as a redshirt and played just once this season, in the season-opener against Wartburg (D-III). (Sporting News)

– The game between Temple and Detroit was postponed yesterday because the Titans were unable to get out of the midwest because of the intense winter storms. The game will hopefully be made up later in the season. (Philahoops.com)

– Pittsburgh sophomore center Malcolm Gilbert has decided to leave the program and will transfer elsewhere. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

– Kwamain Mitchell is set to return for the Saint Louis Billikens and should provide the talent and experience the squad needs to propel them to the top of the A-10 leaderboard. (Billiken Report)
 
 
Observations & Insight:
– Thanks to a big performance from big-man Alex Kirk, the New Mexico Lobos handed Cincinnati their first loss of the season. (Sporting News)

– Gorgui Dieng will in fact play this weekend when Louisville takes on Kentucky, and thanks to an act of generosity, his parents will be able to see him play college hoops in person for the first time. (The Dagger)

– Luke Winn makes some college hoops predictions for 2013. As is the case with most of Mr. Winn’s work, this is must-read stuff. (Sports Illustrated)

– You may not realize it, but tonight’s game between Loyola (Md.) and Bucknell could have possible NCAA Tournament implications. (Baltimore Sun)

– Jeff Goodman’s “Good N’ Plenty” column doesn’t have a lot of direction to it, but it is loaded with news and notes. Which is why I highly recommend you read it every week. (Eye on College Basketball)

– A look back at the top-5 LIU-Brooklyn games of 2012. I was at No. 2, and let me tell you, I haven’t been to many games that had a more electric environment. I’d go back in a heartbeat. (Blackbirds Hoops Journal)

– Remember that crazy idea to have four basketball games take place simultaneously at Cowboy Stadium? Well, it’s not going to happen. Thank God. It would have been a nightmare. (Sporting News)

– Former-Florida State forward Bernard James has always been a favorite of ours. He’s a former-serviceman who went back to school and played hoops the way it should be played: Hard, gritty, tough and with 100% effort. This story from Mike Scotto is just one of the many reasons why James will always be a fan favorite around these parts. (Real GM)

– A top-10 list of the best basketball shoes worn by teams through the first part of the season. (Nice Kicks)

– Seth Greenberg takes a look at four teams that still have a shot to make the tournament despite a slow start. (ESPN Insider)

– Rush The Court released their all-conference non-conference team for the Big-10. (Rush The Court)

– Glen Logan explains how Kentucky can defeat Louisville as an underdog. (A Sea of Blue)

– Speaking of Kentucky, they desperately need a signature win. You know it’s bad when Dick Vitale is writing about it. (ESPN Dick Vitale)

– Portland State’s scoreboard is turning into an eyesore. (Big Sky Bball)
 
 
Picture of the Day:
Cincinnati suffered their first loss of the season last night to a tough New Mexico squad. The Bearcats shot 9-for-28 from inside the 3-point arc. This photo of Mic Cronin says it all. (The Mock Session)

source:

 
 
Video(s) of the Day:

 
 
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PHOTO: Nevada wearing pink jerseys to honor Coaches vs. Cancer this week

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Nevada announced that they’ll be wearing special pink uniforms for the next two games to promote cancer awareness.

The Wolf Pack will wear the jerseys on Wednesday (Jan. 25) on the road against Boise State and at home on Saturday (Jan. 28) against New Mexico.

“We are extremely excited and honored to release our new Pink “Cancer-Awareness” Jerseys. It was apparent very early in our time here, that many members of our Nevada Wolf Pack Basketball Program and in our Pack community have been affected or are currently being affected by cancer,” Nevada head coach Eric Musselman said in the release. “We could not be more proud to help support the cause and unite to fight this horrible and devastating disease.”

 

UCLA is no longer a Final Four contender if their defense doesn’t improve

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s win over No. 8 UCLA was massive for No. 7 Arizona for a number of reasons.

They got Allonzo Trier back into the fold. They remained undefeated atop the Pac-12 standings, keeping pace with an Oregon team that’s dealing with another Dillon Brooks foot injury and getting ready to make the nightmarish trip to the Mountain schools, Utah and Colorado, this weekend. They took a two game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-12 standings.

Perhaps more importantly, the Wildcats certified themselves as a legitimate threat to get to the Final Four. Their 17-2 record entering Saturday was pretty. A win at Pauley finally gave that résumé some substance.

So good for Arizona.

But that wasn’t the biggest story line coming out of Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

UCLA’s defense, or lack thereof, was.

Ever since the Bruins went into Rupp Arena and knocked off then-No. 1 Kentucky, UCLA has been considered one of the very best teams in the country. Villanova’s up there, too. So is Kansas, and Gonzaga, and those Kentucky Wildcats. North Carolina probably should be in that conversation as well. Maybe Baylor, maaaybe Florida State.

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You get my point. The Bruins, for better or worse, were one of the handful of teams that everyone thought would enter the NCAA tournament as a favorite to win the national title, but it’s time for us to question whether or not that is actually the case. That’s how bad the UCLA defense has been this season, particularly of late.

Against Arizona, the Bruins were a train-wreck. They gave up 96 points on 1.315 points-per-possession, which, for those of you who aren’t into advanced stats, is atrocious. That game was the culmination of a four-game stretch where UCLA’s defense had gone from concerning-but-good-enough to a major red flag. In those four games – road trips to Colorado and Utah and home games against Arizona and Arizona State – the Bruins allowed an abysmal 1.153 PPP. For comparison’s sake, the 2015 Kentucky team that went 38-1, the best defense we’ve seen in the KenPom era, gave up 0.847 PPP. UCLA averages 75 possessions a game, which is a difference of 23 points over 40 minutes.

That’s a big deal.

And on the season, UCLA has fallen the way to 125th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric.

That’s a bigger deal.

For those that don’t know, KenPom.com is a website that ranks teams based on how many points they score and allow per possession, adjusted for schedule strength. It’s widely considered the best way to determine who the best offensive, the best defensive and the best overall teams are.

It’s been around since 2002.

And since 2002, given where UCLA’s defense is today, they would be the second-worst defensive team to ever get to a Final Four.

In 2011, VCU ranked 138th in defensive efficiency as of Selection Sunday*, and they are the only team to ever rank outside the top 80 in defensive efficiency and make it all the way to the Final Four. Only three other teams have ranked outside the top 50 and made it to the final weekend of the season: Marquette in 2003 (76th), Butler in 2011 (72nd) and Michigan in 2013 (66th). Two others ranked outside the top 40 and won at least four games in the Big Dance: Texas in 2003 (46th) and Wisconsin in 2014 (50th):

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*(All of this info is via KenPom.com and as of Selection Sunday in those given seasons. That’s important to note, because winning games against good teams in the tournament changes those stats.)

The precedent is there.

UCLA, unquestionably, has to get better defensively if they want to win a national title.

But all hope is not lost.

The two teams with the lowest defensive efficiency entering the NCAA tournament to win the national title – North Carolina in 2009 and Duke in 2015 – both had top three offenses nationally.

UCLA leads the nation in offensive efficiency.

AP Poll: Villanova, Kansas neck-and-neck for No. 1

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Head coach Jay Wright and Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats congratulate Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion on December 13, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Temple Owls 78-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova maintained a slim lead over Kansas for the No. 1 spot in this week’s AP poll, with Gonzaga being the only other program to receive any first place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

After losing to Arizona at home, UCLA dropped to eighth as the Wildcats vaulted them into No. 7 in the poll.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned | Top 25

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1. Villanova (35 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (28)
3. Gonzaga (2)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. Florida State
7. Arizona
8. UCLA
9. North Carolina
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Virginia
13. Louisville
14. Notre Dame
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Saint Mary’s
22. Maryland
23. South Carolina
24. Xavier
25. Florida

Coaches Poll: Kansas remains No. 1, Villanova No. 2

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 21: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the goal against Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns in the first half at Allen Field House on January 21, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Kansas remained No. 1 in the Coaches Poll this week, getting 18 of the 32 first-place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

Villanova sits at No. 2 in the poll, with Gonzaha in third, the only other team to receive a first-place vote.

After beating UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, Arizona jumped up to No. 9 but still sits two spots behind UCLA at No. 7.

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1. Kansas (18 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (11)
3. Gonzaga (3)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. North Carolina
7. UCLA
8. Florida State
9. Arizona
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Notre Dame
13. Virginia
14. Louisville
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Sainy Mary’s
22. Xavier
23. Maryland
24. South Carolina
25. Florida

College Basketball Talk Top 25: It gets muddy after a clear-cut top four

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in front of Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the first half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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This week’s rankings were probably more difficult to put together than any week so far this season.

The top four, frankly, seem pretty obvious. I have Villanova No. 1, but I would have no qualms with ranking any of Kentucky, Kansas or Gonzaga in that No. 1 spot. I expect those to be the four teams that get votes for No. 1 in the AP and Coaches Polls this week.

After that, however, is when it gets difficult. Are you going to rank North Carolina above Florida State? UNC beat the Seminoles when they squared off this season but that was the Seminoles lone loss in a six game run against ranked teams. I went with Carolina over them because, simply, I think UNC is a better team.

Then there’s the question of what to do with the top three teams in the Pac-12. Arizona just won at UCLA and they got Allonzo Trier back. Oregon also owns a win over the Bruins, but there’s came at home on a buzzer-beater from Dillon Brooks, who is dealing with a foot injury again. And while UCLA has consistently proven to be one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country, they are a nightmare defensively right now.

Where does West Virginia slot in after a pair of losses? What about Creighton without Mo Watson Jr.? Butler’s profile looks great but their performance on the floor has been less than stellar since their win over Villanova. Is Duke actually back?

You can find the rankings below. What did I get wrong?

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1. Villanova (19-1, Last Week No. 1)
2. Kentucky (17-2, 2)
3. Kansas (18-1, 4)
4. Gonzaga (19-0, 5)
5. North Carolina (18-3, 5)
6. Baylor (18-1, 7)
7. Florida State (18-2, 8)
8. Arizona (18-2, 16)
9. UCLA (19-2, 3)
10. Oregon (18-2, 10)
11. Louisville (16-4, 11)
12. Wisconsin (16-3, 13)
13. Purdue (16-4, 15)
14. Notre Dame (17-3, 17)
15. Cincinnati (17-2, 18)
16. Duke (15-4, 19)
17. West Virginia (15-4, 10)
18. Butler (17-3, 14)
19. Creighton (18-2, 12)
20. Saint Mary’s (17-2, 20)
21. Virginia (16-3, 22)
22. South Carolina (15-4, 24)
23. Maryland (17-2, 25)
24. Kansas State (15-4, NR)
25. Iowa State (12-6, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Xavier, No. 23 Florida
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 24 Kansas State, No. 25 Iowa State