Nerlens Noel Reginald Buckner

Five sleepers and five upset specials to keep an eye on

Leave a comment

A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

It’s never to early to start thinking about the NCAA tournament bracket and your office pool. In fact, I’d say that’s the reason that 75% of the people that watch college basketball on any given night are doing it. Scouting.

I get it.

Trust me.

It’s been four years since I haven’t finished in the money in a tournament pool. So book mark this page, and consider it my gift to you: a guide of who to focus on while you “scout”.

Five lower seeds that can make a tournament run:

Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky’s on pace to end up getting somewhere around an eight or a nine seed. If I’m John Calipari, I’m hoping for a seven or a ten seed. Or lower. I don’t know if the Wildcats have the horses to knock off one of the top four teams in the country, but I think they certainly will be good enough to make the Sweet 16, regardless of seeding. They are starting to show some signs of growth, and with (at least) four lottery picks on the roster, I’m not ready to write this group off yet.

VCU Rams: The Rams play such a unique and tough-to-prepare-for style, they can spring an upset on a team with a back court that’s uncomfortable going against their pressure. The key for VCU is and always will be turnovers in the full court; given their lack of size, half court defense is not a strength for Shaka Smart’s club.

Pitt Panthers: The Panthers are almost certainly going to be underseeded as a result of their embarrassing non-conference schedule. And trust me when I tell you this is a good basketball team. They can defend, they are excellent at getting to the offensive glass, they pass the ball well and they have an underrated back court. You don’t want to see the Panthers in the second round of the tournament.

St. Louis Billikens: Tough, physical, half court defense. That’s how St. Louis wins game. And that’s out a team with less athleticism and less talent can win a basketball game. And, like Pitt, thanks to a couple of questionable losses this year, the Billikens are probably going to be seeded lower than they should be.

Long Beach State 49ers: LBSU isn’t going to be getting a seeding much better than 14 or 15, but this is a group with high-major talent and athleticism. James Ennis is legit, and he’s got a slew of talent — Michael Caffey, former top 25 recruit Keala King, DePaul transfer Tony Freeland, West Virginia transfer Dan Jennings — around him.

Five higher seeds that may bow out early:

NC State Wolfpack: NC State doesn’t defend at all, their star point guard has a bum ankle and has been up-and-down all season long, and their most talented player struggles when trying to take a game over and has been ineffective down the stretch. There’s so much to like about NC State this season, which is why it’s frustrating to see them struggle.

Minnesota Golden Gophers: I just don’t trust Minnesota offensively. So much of what they do relies on their ability to get to the offensive glass. Good teams are going to be able to keep them from getting there; it’s going to depend on the matchup. I don’t trust Minnesota to be consistent. They lost four in a row at the end of last month, and needed an impressive choke-job from Iowa to avoid losing to the Hawkeyes.

Creighton Bluejays: The Bluejays are a much-improved defensive team this season, yet they still rank 81st in the country in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. Throw in the fact that this is a team that survives because of their ability to shoot the basketball, and they are a risky play. On the nights those threes go down, they’re going to be tough to beat. On the nights they don’t, the Bluejays can be beaten.

Oregon Ducks: How healthy is Dominic Artis? That’s the biggest concern for Oregon right now, because without him, the Ducks simply cannot protect the ball. Already in the bottom third of the country when it comes to turnover percentage, Oregon has seen that number dip to 29.8% — literally the worst in the country — in the last three games without him.

Butler Bulldogs: I realize that it’s sacrilegious to say that Butler might get knocked out of the tournament early. I’m not happy about doing it. But here’s my thought process: Butler is good, but they don’t play the kind of defense that we expect out of Butler teams. They can struggle against teams that defend them physically (ahem, St. Louis) and I don’t love Butler’s point guard situation. But thanks to wins over Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette and North Carolina, Butler looks like they could be in line for a three or a four seed, depending on how the A-10 plays out.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

WEEKLY AWARDS: West Virginia shines again, but it’s time to pay attention to Oregon

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (24) drives past Arizona forward Ryan Anderson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Leave a comment

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Dillon Brooks, Oregon

The Pac-12 may not be as strong at the top as the other power conferences in college basketball, but there may not be a league in the country that is as balanced. There are as many as ten teams that are still in the running for an NCAA tournament bid, and the difference between No. 2 and No. 10 is really not all that drastic.

I say No. 2 because, at this point, I think that the Ducks are the clear-cut best team in the conference. They proved that this week, as they mollywhopped Colorado in Eugene and followed that up with a double-figure win over Utah. Dillon Brooks looked like an All-American on Sunday, putting 30 points and nine assists on the Utes, who had the reputation of being one of the better defensive teams in the conference entering the day.

Brooks’ offensive arsenal is just silly, but his name doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as some of the other stars in college basketball, probably for the same reason Oregon is flying under the radar. They were injured early and suffered a couple of ugly losses early in the year, to UNLV in Las Vegas and at Boise State. But they’ve won six in a row in the league (how about this run: USC, UCLA, at Arizona, at Arizona State, Colorado, Utah) and nine of their last ten. I think Oregon is Final Four good. Let’s see if anyone else picks up on it.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Brandon Sherrod, Yale: Sherrod broke the NCAA record of consecutive field goals made in Friday night’s win over Columbia, when he scored 25 points and grabbed eight boards. He had made 30 straight shots since January 16th.
  • Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State: Iwundu had 15 points, five boards and five assists in a loss at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, but he made this list for the 22 points and seven assists he had in the win over No. 1 Oklahoma, when he also was tasked with guarding Buddy Hield, who he “held” to 23 points.
  • Darryl Reynolds, Villanova: Reynolds had 13 boards in a win over Creighton during the week and followed that up with 19 points and 10 boards in the win at Providence. He entered the week averaging just 2.3 points with a reputation for being little more than the reason that Daniel Ochefu needed to play so many minutes.
  • Ryan Anderson, Arizona: The 31 points and 12 boards at Washington State were nice. The 22 points and 15 boards at Washington were even better. The road sweep that Arizona landed? The best.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Maybe it’s Virginia’s struggles on the road. Maybe it’s because they’re a “boring” team to watch. Maybe it’s because their pace keeps his numbers down a bit. Whatever the case may be, no one is paying near enough attention to how good Brogdon has been this season. Myself included. He was terrific against in wins against Boston College and at Pitt this week.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: West Virginia Mountaineers

Here we are, the morning after the Super Bowl has ended, and none other than West Virginia is leading the Big 12.

Seriously.

It’s West Virginia.

Not Oklahoma. Not Kansas. Not Iowa State. West Virginia.

And I know what your initial reaction is going to be. “A schedule fluke”, right? Well, no. Not really. The Mountaineers beat Kansas at home. They lost to Oklahoma in Norman on a tip-in by Khadeem Lattin at the buzzer. This week alone they won at Iowa State and beat Baylor in impressive fashion in Morgantown. Bobby Huggins has this team playing some great basketball, and when they’re forcing turnovers, crashing the glass and getting Jaysean Paige to play like an all-Big 12 guard, they’re tough to beat.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Michigan State: The Spartans are back. After seeing Michigan State go into Ann Arbor and work over the Wolverines, I feel pretty comfortable saying that.
  • Louisville: The Cardinals got rocked by the news of their postseason ban, and responded by blowing out Boston College on Saturday. So good for them. The win over North Carolina was nice, too.
  • Texas: The Longhorns kicked off the week by winning at Baylor and followed that up with a better-than-you-think win over Texas Tech.
  • Oregon: Like we mentioned earlier, no one in the country is playing better ball right now than the Ducks.
  • Maryland: The Terps not only picked up a win at Nebraska during the week, but they also held serve against Purdue at home over the weekend, which gave them their second top 50 win of the season.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 10 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 14 West Virginia at No. 7 Kansas, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 5 Iowa at No. 22 Indiana, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
No. 7 Kansas at No. 1 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
Gonzaga at No. 12 SMU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.
No. 22 Indiana at No. 10 Michigan State, Sun. 1:00 p.m.
USC at No. 23 Arizona, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY: Oklahoma leads final push toward Selection Sunday

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
1 Comment

With the Super Bowl in our rear-view mirror, eyes turn toward Selection Sunday – apologies to the diehard baseball fans who toss in the start of Spring Training ahead of March Madness.  Anyway, we’re a month away from the annual NCAA Tournament Selection Show and few bracket positions have been secured.  If you’re just joining the college hoops landscape, it’s been that type of season.  Welcome, by the way.

Oklahoma continues to lead the Field of 68, but the No. 1 seed line is far from certain.  At this point a year ago, we pretty much knew that Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke would be No. 1 seeds.  This year, we can’t lock anyone into place. Positioning along the top three lines is very much in flux, even if we have a good idea about the contenders.  The bubble is no different.  Strap on your seatbelt; it could be a bumpy ride to the finish.

As a reminder, Louisville self-imposed a post-season ban last Friday, which eliminates the Cardinals from bracket consideration.  SMU did the same before the season.  Thus, two at-large teams will be Dancing on Selection Sunday courtesy of the Cards and Mustangs.  Today, those two teams are Clemson and Saint Joseph’s.  In the Tigers’ case, a solid group of ACC wins (mostly at home) is lifting up non-conference schedule ranked No. 341.  Ultimately, that could cost Clemson a month from now – we’ve seen it before.  When a team goes 7-5 against one of the worst non-conference schedules in the nation, it takes an exceptional conference season to overcome the disparity.

Enjoy your week of college hoops.  You can find the complete Seed List at Bracketville.

UPDATED: February 8, 2016

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. In the event of a tie in the loss column, RPI is first tiebreaker. Notes: To simulate actual bracket conditions, we’ve used current conference leaders to receive the automatic bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (ex: UCLA)

Several new bracketing principles were introduced a couple of years ago. You can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Cincinnati vs. Saint Joseph’s | Midwest Region
  • Clemson vs. George Washington | East Region
  • BUCKNELL vs. WAGNER | Midwest Region
  • HAMPTON vs. TEXAS-SOUTHERN | South Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

SOUTH – Louisville MIDWEST – Chicago                            
Oklahoma City Des Moines
1) OKLAHOMA 1) Kansas
16) TX-SOUTHERN / HAMPTON 16) BUCKNELL / WAGNER
8) WICHITA STATE 8) VCU
9) Colorado 9) Syracuse
Raleigh Denver
5) DAYTON 5) Arizona
12) VALPARAISO 12) MONMOUTH
4) Miami-FL 4) Texas AM
13) AKRON 13) ARK-LITTLE ROCK
Spokane St. Louis
6) Providence 6) Baylor
11) SAINT MARY’S 11) Cincinnati / St. Joseph’s
3) OREGON 3) Michigan State
14) UAB 14) NC-WILMINGTON
Brooklyn St. Louis
7) Duke 7) Pittsburgh
10) Seton Hall 10) Washington
2) Maryland 2) Xavier
15) BELMONT 15) NEW MEXICO ST
EAST – Philadelphia         WEST – Anaheim
Brooklyn Des Moines
1) VILLANOVA 1) IOWA
16) NORTH FLORIDA 16) MONTANA
8) CONNECTICUT 8) Florida State
9) Florida 9) SAN DIEGO ST
Providence Spokane
5) Kentucky 5) USC
12) Clemson / Geo Washington 12) CHATTANOOGA
4) Purdue 4) Texas
13) STONY BROOK 13) UC-IRVINE
Providence Denver
6) Notre Dame 6) Utah
11) LSU 11) Gonzaga
3) WEST VIRGINIA 3) Iowa State
14) YALE 14) SO. DAKOTA ST
Raleigh Raleigh
7) Indiana 7) South Carolina
10) California 10) Michigan
2) Virginia 2) NORTH CAROLINA
15) NC-ASHEVILLE 15) S.F. AUSTIN

NOTES on the BRACKET: Oklahoma is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Iowa, and Villanova.  Next in line: Virginia, North Carolina, Xavier, Maryland

Last Four Byes (at large): California, Seton Hall, Michigan, Gonzaga

Last Four IN (at large): Cincinnati, George Washington, Clemson, Saint Joseph’s

First Four OUT (at large): Oregon State, Butler, UCLA, Wisconsin

Next four teams OUT (at large): Georgia, Kansas State, Vanderbilt, Temple

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Virginia, Miami-FL, Notre Dame, Duke, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Syracuse, Clemson

Pac 12 (7): OREGON, USC, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Washington, California

Big 12 (6): WEST VIRGINIA, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Baylor

Big 10 (6): IOWA, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan

SEC (5): LSU, Texas AM, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Providence, Seton Hall

Atlantic 10 (4): DAYTON, VCU, George Washington, Saint Joseph’s

American (2): CONNECTICUT, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): SAINT MARY’S, Gonzaga

Mountain West (1): SAN DIEGO STATE

MAAC (1): MONMOUTH

Missouri Valley (1): WICHITA STATE

ONE BID LEAGUES: UAB (C-USA), Ark-Little Rock (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), Stephen F. Austin (SLND), Chattanooga (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), North Florida (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), UNC-Asheville (BSO), Hampton (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Stony Brook (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)