With just over a month until Selection Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the current NCAA bubble. It’s a bit crazy – especially with teams like Kentucky and North Carolina missing from “lock” status. We also have teams like Virginia – whose resume features quality wins, head-scratching losses, and a weak strength of schedule. How will the Selection Committee view the Cavaliers? Those are just three of many challenges within the current landscape of college hoops.
For what it’s worth, the Atlantic 10, Pac-12, SEC, and Mountain West have a variety of bubble teams. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.
Bubble Banter will ebb and flow over the next month. Teams will be added and teams will fall away. Others will move off the bubble and confirm their place in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. While we could stretch the bubble even further, we’ve limited teams to those with realistic at-large hopes at this point in time. Ask Villanova how quickly things can change, however. Beating Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games can do that.
It’s going to be a fun ride. Here’s to some great hoops and a stronger-than-usual bubble down the stretch. This edition of Bubble Banter includes results through games played on Sunday, February 10. RPI and SOS data is credited to InsiderRPI at ESPN.
UPDATED: Monday, February 11
Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.
Automatic Bids(31): None at this time
Projected Locks (14): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Should Be In (18): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
Bubble: (40): Teams projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
Spots Available (14): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Sunday, February 10.
Locks: Butler | Should Be In: Saint Louis, VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Charlotte, Massachusetts, Xavier
Charlotte (17-6 | 5-4) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 125 | – Wins over La Salle, UMass and Xavier are the 49ers’ calling cards. That probably won’t be enough. And Charlotte fell further behind the league leaders are falling at home to VCU on Saturday. A weak non-conference schedule (No. 221) means Charlotte has to right the ship and finish strong in the A-10.
La Salle (16-6 | 6-3) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 48 | – A home win over Butler and a road victory at VCU highlight the Explorers’ resume. They also have a win over fellow-bubble dweller Villanova. Overall, La Salle is 4-5 vs. Top 100 teams, but only two of those are likely NCAA squads. The only real blemish is a November loss at CCSU. The Explorers need to keep winning because other than Temple and Saint Louis, there are no NCAA-level games left on the docket until the A-10 tournament.
Massachusetts (16-6 | 6-3) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 88 | – Outside the A-10, the Minutemen’s best win is Harvard. That could be a problem. UMass did win at La Salle, which is a solid victory. And while the Minutemen are 5-4 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-2 vs. Top 50 teams. With games left against VCU, Temple, and Butler, there’s still time. A couple of wins in those games would really help.
Temple (16-7 | 5-4) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 45 | – A win over Syracuse continues to help the Owls. They also have a victory at Villanova. Within the A-10, highlights are wins over Saint Louis and Charlotte. Temple also battled Kansas to a close loss in Lawrence. So why the bubble? Until a stretch of three wins in four games, the Owls were well off the conference pace. At 1-3 vs. Top 50 teams, Temple still needs some wins.
Xavier (13-9 | 6-3) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 85 | – Wins over Butler, La Salle, and Temple (all Top 50 RPI teams) are what’s keeping the Musketeers on the at-large list, but it’s a long shot given XU’s power numbers. Xavier has five sub-100 losses, including Wofford (No. 248). Xavier closes with five potential NCAA opponents, one of which is Memphis. It’ll take a late surge for the Musketeers to have at-large hopes in March.
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State | Bubble: North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Florida State
Florida State (13-10 | 5-5) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 20 | – The Seminoles are 0-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams and dropped their fourth sub-100 game by falling to Wake Forest on Saturday. The plus side: FSU is 5-6 vs. the Top 100 including wins over BYU, Charlotte, and a sweep of fellow bubble-dweller Maryland. The SOS numbers are there, but the Seminoles have work to do down the stretch to overcome a suspect resume.
Maryland (17-7 | 5-6) | RPI: 70 | SOS: 116 | – The albatross for Maryland is a non-conference schedule (No. 299) that gets noticed in the wrong way. While the Terrapins have no “bad” losses, they lack quality wins. Only a home victory over NC State is NCAA-worthy. Sunday’s loss to Virginia doesn’t help, as it knocks the Terps further down the s-curve. They did win at Northwestern outside the ACC, but the Wildcats aren’t likely headed to the NCAAs. All but three wins have come against teams ranked 100 or lower in the RPI.
North Carolina (15-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 35 | – Carolina has a solid home win over UNLV. After that, UNC’s resume is somewhat light. The Tar Heels’ other “notable” wins are Florida State and Maryland. With no “bad” losses and solid RPI and SOS numbers, UNC may sneak in, but it’s no sure thing. Carolina has two games left with Duke. They may need one of those. UNC was hammered Saturday in its only meeting with league-leader Miami.
Virginia (17-6 | 7-3) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 176 | – There has been much debate about UVA’s resume. And while Sunday’s win at Maryland helps, questions remain. Wins over UNC, NC State and Wisconsin (on the road) stand out. But there are six sub-100 losses, including a real head-scratcher against Old Dominion. A horrible SOS number includes a No. 323 mark in non-conference. What’s it’s all mean? Despite some good wins, Virginia has given the Committee plenty of reasons to leave them home. It’s up to UVA to erase doubts down the stretch.
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville | Should Be In: Cincinnati, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Notre Dame | Bubble: Villanova, St. John’s
St. John’s (15-9 | 7-5) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 14 | – Even with Sunday’s loss at Syracuse, St. John’s has quietly compiled a resume worth of NCAA consideration. The Red Storm have a win at Cincinnati, a victory over Notre Dame, and are 7-6 vs. the Top 100 of the RPI. Outside the Big East, however, SJU’s best win is probably Detroit, so there’s not a lot to fall back on. Strength of schedule will help St. John’s, and overall the schedule is favorable down the stretch. Besides a growing loss total, the only blemishes are early losses to San Francisco and UNC-Asheville.
Villanova (14-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 49 | – Back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse do wonders for an at-large resume. That said, ‘Nova is 0-5 against other Top 50 competition and Saint Joseph’s is the Wildcats’ best non-league victory. A loss to Columbia is certainly noticeable, as is being swept by Providence. The rest of Villanova’s resume is very average. Can two wins carry ‘Nova to the NCAAs? Four of the Wildcats’ final seven games are away from home. A .500 finish will likely put Villanova squarely on the bubble.
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State | Should Be In: Minnesota, Wisconsin | Bubble: Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa
Illinois (16-8 | 4-7) | RPI: 26 | SOS: 5 | – No bubble team had a better week than the Illini – who upset Indiana in Champaign and backed it up with a win at Minnesota. That’s two Top 15 RPI wins in a week and gives the Illini five Top 25 RPI wins on the season. If it weren’t for a 4-7 mark in the Big Ten – largely due to a home loss to Northwestern – Illinois probably wouldn’t even be on the bubble. The schedule is favorable if the Illini can avoid a let down in their next three – Purdue, at Northwestern, and Penn State. Quality non-conference wins include Butler (Maui) and at Gonzaga.
Iowa (15-9 | 4-7) | RPI: 91 | SOS: 106 | – The Hawkeyes’ may be better than their numbers suggest. But a No. 325 non-conference SOS is something that will hurt Iowa on Selection Sunday. Why so bad? A 10-1 mark vs. teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI. A non-conference win over Iowa State is noteworthy as is a home win over Wisconsin. But Iowa is just 2-7 vs. Top 50 teams. Against the RPI Top 150, Iowa is 5-8. That leaves the Hawkeyes with work to do over the next month.
Northwestern (13-11 | 4-7) | RPI: 96 | SOS: 56 | – It’s going to be a long, uphill climb for Northwestern which has lost four of six games. They are 2-5 vs. the Top 50, and just 3-10 vs. the Top 100. The Wildcats may be in for a short stay on the bubble. What Northwestern does have: road wins at Illinois and Baylor and a home victory over Minnesota. Their only questionable loss is to UIC.
Locks: Kansas | Should Be In: Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
Baylor (14-8 | 6-4) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 23 | – The Bears have lost three of four games and are 2-6 vs. Top 50 teams. An early win at Kentucky helps as does a victory over Oklahoma State. Wins over Lehigh, St. John’s, and BYU will be noticed, but won’t necessarily carry Baylor into the NCAAs. To feel somewhat safe, the Bears need a couple more NCAA-level wins between now and Selection Sunday.
Iowa State (16-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 50 | – While the power numbers look good for the Cyclones, a 2-5 mark vs. Top 50 teams suggests there work to do. ISU has Big 12 wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma at home. But a 2-6 road mark is somewhat concerning. ISU’s best non-conference win is probably BYU – which isn’t an NCAA team at this point. Iowa State lost to Iowa, and also has a “bad” loss to Texas Tech.
Oklahoma (15-7 | 6-4) | RPI: 19 | SOS: 6 | – Strong SOS numbers are boosting the Sooners’ power profile, but you have to look a little deeper. Beating Kansas at home Saturday was a major boost. Beyond that, OU is 2-5 vs. Top 50 teams. The Sooners’ best non-conference win is Texas AM, which is a fringe bubble team at this point. Odds are in Oklahoma’s favor – given the RPI numbers. But the Sooners can’t fall off the pace in the Big 12 race.
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Memphis, Southern Miss
Memphis (20-3 | 9-0) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 102 | – Once again, Memphis is in a tough spot (especially for seeding). The Tigers missed early chances against VCU, Minnesota, and Louisville. Now, after beating Southern Miss, they have a two-game lead in C-USA – and an outright title by multiple games would probably be enough to lock up an at-large. But UM’s overall resume remains light – with the win over So. Miss being the Tigers’ only Top 50 win (1-3 overall). Non-conference wins are Harvard, Tennessee, and Ohio. The positive: there are no “bad” losses on the slate.
Southern Miss (16-6 | 7-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 99 | – It was a bad week for So. Miss. The Golden Eagles dropped games to UCF and Memphis, falling two games behind the Tigers in the C-USA race. With an 0-6 mark vs. the Top 100, USM is at risk of leaving the bubble all together. Outside of a trip to Memphis, there’s little opportunity left for the Golden Eagles to make an NCAA-level statement. Right now, USM’s best win is at Denver.
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: Indiana State, Wichita State
Indiana State (15-8 | 9-4) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 53 | – The Sycamores are in the thick of the MVC title chase and have non-conference wins over Ole Miss and Miami-FL. The latter is especially impressive (although the ‘Canes weren’t at full strength in Hawaii). ISU also won at Wichita State and handled Creighton at home. Four sub-100 losses – especially to Morehead State and So. Illinois – are keeping the Sycamores on the bubble. Avoiding any more “bad” losses should be enough to earn an NCAA bid. But that might be easier said than done.
Wichita State (20-5 | 9-4) | RPI: 43 | SOS: 129 | – An early win at VCU is helping the Shockers, as is a home win over Creighton. But WSU has lost three of four, including one at Southern Illinois. Other non-conference wins of note include Iowa and at Air Force. All-in-all, it could be a short stay on the bubble, especially with a 3-1 mark vs. Top 50 teams and 5-2 mark vs. the Top 100. But the recent skid is cause for momentary concern, and the Shockers do have three sub-100 losses. Upcoming trips to Illinois State and Indiana State could be very important.
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Colorado State, Boise State, Air Force
Air Force (12-8 | 5-4) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 87 | – The Falcons’ at-large hopes took a hit with the loss to Nevada on Saturday. But it’s certainly not over. The next three games – UNLV, Colorado State, and at Boise State will be telling. A non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus won’t help AF and the Falcons’ best non-conference RPI win is Arkansas Pine-Bluff (No. 210). Which means the Falcons have to excel in the Mountain West. An average showing won’t be enough.
Boise State (14-7 | 4-5) | RPI: 45 | SOS: 75 | – Like Air Force, a non-conference SOS in the mid-200’s won’t help. But unlike the Falcons, BSU has a non-conference victory at Creighton. They also lost a close contest at Michigan State. Inside the MTW, however, Boise has managed only a win over UNLV at home, and a sweep of now-struggling Wyoming. Combined with losses to Nevada and Utah, the Broncos need a strong finish.
Colorado State (17-4 | 6-2) | RPI: 15 | SOS: 55 | – Colorado State has a strong computer profile and a very solid mark in MTW play. At the same time, only a home win over UNLV is an NCAA-level win at this point. The win over Boise State helps, but the Broncos have work to do, too. The Rams do have a non-conference win over Washington (and Montana), which help some. An early-loss to Illinois-Chicago isn’t a huge concern. The next four games (SDSU, @Air Force, @UNLV, New Mexico) will be huge for CSU’s profile. An even split would be nice.
Locks: Arizona | Should Be In: Oregon, UCLA | Bubble: Arizona State, Washington, Stanford, California
Arizona State (18-6 | 7-4) | RPI: 65 | SOS: 104 | – The Sun Devils have Pac-12 wins over Colorado and UCLA. Their best non-conference win is Arkansas. They are 2-3 vs. The Top 50 and 4-5 vs. the Top 100. The only “bad” loss is to DePaul in early December. But … ASU is 13-1 vs. sub-150 RPI teams and has a non-conference SOS ranked in No. 267. That will be a big hurdle to overcome. The home loss to Stanford is somewhat troubling – especially with five of the Sun Devils’ final seven Pac-12 games on the road.
California (14-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 38 | – Just when the Bears needed something big on their resume, they got a huge road win at Arizona on Sunday night. Before that, Cal was a woeful 1-9 vs. the Top 100 and 1-5 vs. the Top 50. Those aren’t NCAA numbers. Now, one victory over Arizona doesn’t an NCAA profile make. But it keeps the Bears on the radar. Outside league play, Cal’s best win is probably Georgia Tech. With five of seven games at home to close, the Bears need to pile up wins.
Stanford (15-9 | 6-5) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 37 | – The Cardinal have won four of five games, including a road victory at Arizona State this weekend. Even so, Stanford is a discouraging 1-7 vs. Top 50 teams, so work remains. They are 4-8 vs. the Top 100. The best of those is a home victory over Oregon. An early win at Northwestern isn’t quite once it once was. The schedule is favorable down the stretch, and Stanford needs every win it can get as its quality wins are lacking.
Washington (13-11 | 5-6) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 33 | – Much like the other Pac-12 bubble teams, the Huskies lack a high-profile non-conference victory – their best is over Saint Louis. UW is 1-6 vs. Top 50 teams – but does have solid road wins at Cal and Stanford. Four sub-100 losses are also something UW has to overcome – including an early loss to Albany. Closing games with Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona will be critical. The Huskies may have to win all of those to be in the picture next month. Sunday’s loss at USC doesn’t help.
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas
Alabama (14-8 | 7-3) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 58 | – While Alabama’s profile has plenty of holes (and suspect losses), the Crimson Tide played without Andrew Steele in some of those games. The Selection Committee will take that under consideration. That said, an ugly low-scoring loss at Auburn last week counts. ‘Bama is 1-3 vs. the Top 50 (beating Kentucky at home) and 6-4 vs. Top 100 teams. Outside the league, the Tide have wins over South Dakota State and Villanova. Inside the league, they have wins over Tennessee, Texas AM, and Arkansas at home. But those won’t carry the Tide into the NCAAs. Closing games at Florida and Ole Miss will be telling if ‘Bama can keep winning until then.
Arkansas (14-9 | 5-5) | RPI: 92 | SOS: 81 | – Arkansas has yet to win a true road game, so the Razorbacks are probably looking at a short stay on the bubble. They arrive, however, with a 2-4 mark vs. Top 50 teams, including a home victory over Florida. They also beat Oklahoma outside the conference. But at 3-7 vs. Top 100 teams, it doesn’t look promising. The lopsided loss at South Carolina was ugly.
Kentucky (17-6 | 8-2) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 72 | – The Wildcats are inching their way toward “Should Be In.” But with a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams (4-6 vs. the Top 100), it’s hard to consider UK a for-sure NCAA team at this point. The SEC is down – especially at the bottom, making quality wins harder to find. Beating Ole Miss on the road was a solid step. But other than a win over Maryland, UK’s non-conference resume is light (11-0 vs. sub-150 opponents). With trips to Florida and Tennessee up next, it’s a big week for the Wildcats.
Mississippi (18-5 | 7-3) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 119 | – With a non-conference SOS ranked 250-plus, Ole Miss has to maintain a strong profile in the SEC. The Rebels’ best non-conference victory is Rutgers, so yes, work remains. Inside the SEC, Ole Miss has a win over Missouri at home but lost to the Tigers over the weekend in Columbia. That leaves the Rebels at 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams – which is hardly lock status. On the plus side, Ole Miss has not had any “bad” losses, and, in fact, has not lost to anyone ranked outside the RPI Top 50. The bad news? Ole Miss doesn’t play any remaining SEC opponents that are certain NCAA teams.
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s, BYU
BYU (17-8 | 8-4) | RPI: 64 | SOS: 89 | – The Cougars’ at-large NCAA hopes took a serious hit after back-to-back losses to San Francisco and San Diego. It drops BYU well off the WCC pace with just five games to play. Overall, BYU is 0-3 vs. Top 50 teams and just 2-6 vs. the Top 100. And both of those are victories are over Santa Clara. The Cougars have to beat both St. Mary’s and Gonzaga down the stretch to have any realistic at-large hopes.
St. Mary’s (20-4 | 10-1) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 183 | – A weak overall schedule is hampering the Gaels. SMU has played just one Top 50 opponent (0-1 overall) and only four Top 100 teams (3-1). The Gaels best non-conference win is Harvard. That said, they can still tie Gonzaga for the WCC if they beat the ‘Zags at home this week. It might take a tie for St. Mary’s to grab an at-large spot. It’ll be interesting to see how the Committee weighs a volume of decent wins vs. a lack of quality wins. History would suggest that quality wins tend to be more important.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech, Lehigh
Akron (18-4 | 10-0) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 158 | – The Zips have not lost since December 15 (at Detroit). That said, Akron’s only Top 100 win during that stretch is Ohio at home. An early win over Middle Tennessee State helps, giving Akron a 2-3 mark vs. the Top 100. The other problem? The Zips are 15-1 vs. sub-150 teams – meaning all but three wins are against the lower half of Division I. Akron has to win an outright MAC title and probably reach the conference tourney final to have a realistic shot at this point.
Belmont (18-5 | 11-1) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 61 | – Good scheduling and a 5-4 mark vs. Top 100 teams has put the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. A win over Middle Tennessee State is the Bruins’ best RPI win, although a victory at Stanford might be equally important. There are no “ugly” losses on the Bruins’ resume. A loss last week to Murray State keeps the Racers only a game back in the OVC. Belmont has to win the league outright. After that, the Bruins’ at-large hopes depend on the overall landscape come March.
Bucknell (19-4 | 7-1) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 186 | – A victory over La Salle highlights a resume that shows a lot of wins but not a lot of high-quality W’s. Bucknell has beaten New Mexico St and won at Purdue. Unfortunately, the latter hasn’t help up quite as much as expected. Could the Bison win a game if they reach the NCAAs? Sure. But getting there won’t be easy. The negatives are losses at Penn State and Princeton.
Lehigh (16-5 | 7-1) | RPI: 77 | SOS: 210 | – Other than a win over league foe Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks resume is suspect (1-3 vs. Top 100) teams. They also have home losses to Bryant and Lafayette. At this point, an at-large bid is a long shot. But we’ll keep Lehigh here as they are tied with Bucknell atop the Patriot League standings.
Louisiana Tech (21-3 | 12-0) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 242 | – La Tech’s strength of schedule is a major hurdle to overcome – reflected by 16 games (15-1 record) against sub-150 opponents. The Bulldogs’ best win is over bubble-dweller Southern Miss. There’s also an ugly loss at McNeese State. Despite a high volume of wins, an at-large bid is unlikely.
Middle Tennessee (22-4 | 14-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 111 | – An early win over Ole Miss helps but the Blue Raiders’ only other Top 100 win is Central Florida. Like some others on this list, a 15-1 mark vs. sub-150 teams is a drag on the schedule. Middle Tennessee also has losses to fellow bubble-dwellers Belmont and Akron – although both were on the road.
Twelve minutes is a staggering amount for a video like this, but it captures multiple seasons and even goes into the future.
But it definitely doesn’t beat this Villanova song released by MRG after the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament run.
So now that we’ve seen the baseline for videos and songs, do any other fanbases have anything better in them this summer? There’s still a lot of time until college hoops begins next season and there are plenty of fans who can jump in with a submission.
Throughout the summer, we’ll post the best fan submissions on CBT (as long as they’re clean and original) and see which group of fans has the best at the end of it all.
Canisius finds a new head coach following Jim Baron’s retirement
Canisius has found a new head coach following the retirement of Jim Baron, as the Griffins have hired former Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, according to a report from Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News.
The 55-year-old Witherspoon was formerly the head coach at Buffalo from December 1999 until after the 2012-13 season and was recently an assistant coach at Alabama and Chattanooga the past two seasons.
During his time at Buffalo, Witherspoon went 197-225 while making four postseason appearances. He takes over a Canisius program that went 14-19 and 8-12 in the MAAC last season.
As a Buffalo native who has coached in the area as a high school, junior college and Division I head coach, Witherspoon should be familiar with the landscape of being a basketball coach in that city. It’s hard to say if Witherspoon can lead Canisius to prominence at this stage in his career, but he’ll certainly know the area enough to hit the ground running.
UNC’s Roy Williams recovering from knee replacement surgery
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams is recovering from knee replacement surgery.
In an email Friday, athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner says Williams is “resting comfortably” after the procedure on his right knee performed by Dr. Walt Beaver in Charlotte. Kirschner says there’s no exact recovery timetable but Williams is expected to be on the road for July recruiting “as usual.”
The 65-year-old Williams had procedures on both knees last year but experienced discomfort during the season as the Tar Heels won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles before losing in the NCAA title game on a last-second shot to Villanova.
A week later, Williams said he was considering surgery options for a “bone-on-bone” condition and noted: “I’ve got to be able to move around.”
Utah to play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah will play rival BYU in basketball again in 2017 in a game that will end a “cooling off period” Utah demanded due to events at recent games.
Utah said in a news release Thursday that the two schools have agreed to play in 2017 at BYU. The school’s athletic directors are talking about scheduling future games.
The decision to cancel the rivalry upset BYU and ignited a controversy that lit up sports talk radio and triggered legislators to order a state audit of Utah athletics. The game had been played every year since 1909 except for during World War II.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said in January that the rivalry had become a “venomous and toxic environment.” BYU guard Nick Emery was ejected from December’s game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor.
Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation
The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs.
After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).
But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.
All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?
Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.
The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.
With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.
The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.
Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.
Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.
But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?
These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.
After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.
By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.
Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.
Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.
Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.