R.J. Hunter (Georgia State athletics)

Who will wear the glass slipper? 11 potential ‘Cinderellas’ in 2013-2014

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R.J. Hunter (Georgia State athletics)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Every March, the nation falls in love with a new Cinderella, as a team from off college hoops beaten path puts together a run in the NCAA tournament. Florida-Gulf Coast, Wichita State, Lehigh, Butler, VCU, George Mason. The list goes on and on and on. 

To help you prepare for your college hoops viewing schedule this season, here is a list of potential Cinderellas. We can differ on what, exactly, makes a team eligible to be a ‘Cinderella’, but here’s criteria I used to make this list:

  • Cannot be from one of the top nine conference, meaning no new Big East, no Atlantic 10 and no Mountain West.
  • Cannot be a team that got preseason top 25 consideration. So no Harvard and no Wichita State. 
  • Cannot be a program that is “known”, so send my apologies to the folks at St. Mary’s, BYU, UTEP and Southern Miss. 

Essentially, I’m just looking for a way to give you a list of teams you don’t know about that will be a double-digit seed yet have a chance to make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance. Feel free to quibble away:

Boston University: The Terriers have arguably the best back court at the mid-major level this season. D.J. Irving can score with the best of them, and his counterpart, Maurice Watson, is a terrific point guard and a former top 100 recruit that really has no business playing outside a power conference. Good guard play can take you a long way in March.

Florida-Gulf Coast: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Everyone knows about #DunkCity already so they shouldn’t be on this list. Whatever. I don’t care, because Florida-Gulf Coast brings back enough talent to once again make a run in the tournament. Bernard Thompson is back, as is freewheeling point guard Brett Comer. The Eagles have a slew of long, athletic big men that can run the floor as well. The biggest question will be whether new head coach Joe Dooley let’s #DunkCity be #DunkCity again.

Georgia State: Ron Hunter has himself as talented of a perimeter attack as you’ll find at the mid-major level. R.J. Hunter averaged more than 17 points as a freshman, and he’s not the only returnee, as Devonta White and Manny Atkins are back as well. Throw in the addition of Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, who is eligible immediately, and the Panthers are some production from their front court away from being a real threat to make the Preseason NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

Indiana State: Jake Odum is a stud. Anyone that remembers the run he led the Sycamores on as a freshman back in 2011, winning the MVC tournament, will agree with me. Manny Arop and Justin Gant also return for a team that beat Creighton, Wichita State, Miami and Ole Miss last season. ISU lost seven of their last nine games last year, however. Can they avoid a collapse this season?

Iona: The Gaels are loaded with high-major transfers. Sean Armand and David Laury is as good of a 1-2 punch as you’ll find at the mid-major level, and Tre Bowman, Mike Poole and Tavon Sledge all started their careers playing in BCS conferences. Iona gets up and down the floor in a hurry, plays five guys that can handle the ball and shoots a lot of threes. They’ll be inconsistent, as all jump-shooting teams are, but on the nights that those shots are falling, they’ll be able to compete with just about anyone. 

Louisiana Tech: What I like about the Bulldogs is that head coach Mike White has this group playing a system that is tough to prepare for. Tech presses. A lot. They force a lot of turnovers and can overwhelm teams that don’t have strong back court play. The Bulldogs won a lot of games last season, but utterly disappointed in two marquee road games against WAC powers Denver and New Mexico State to end the regular season. Will Raheem Appleby and company be able to dominate in their first year in Conference USA?

Mercer: With all the attention that Florida-Gulf Coast got last season, would it surprise you if I told you that Mercer was actually the best team in the Atlantic Sun during the season? They also knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville during the NIT, bring back all but one contributor from last year and will have as experienced of a rotation as you’ll find anywhere.

North Dakota State: Taylor Braun returns to Fargo to lead a team that brings back all five starters from a season ago. The Bison were arguably the best team in the Summit League last season and could have knocked Nate Wolters and South Dakota State from their perch had Braun not gotten injured midway through the year. Look for NDSU to right that wrong this season.

Towson: Pat Skerry engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country last season, and he did largely on the backs of transfers from high-major programs. Namely, Jerelle Benimon, a Georgetown transfer that ended up averaging 17 points and 11 boards. With sharpshooter Four McGlynn eligible this season, the Tigers could end up being even more dangerous this year. 

Weber State: The Wildcats lost Damian Lillard, Scott Bamforth and Frank Otis in the last two years, but with Davion Berry, a Big Sky Player of the Year candidate, leading a team with one of the better front lines at the mid-major level — you might have heard of Kyle Tresnak but keep an eye on Joel Bolomboy — Weber State is favored to finally win a Big Sky title.

Wright State: The Raiders were one of the most surprising teams in the country last season, finishing third in the Horizon and coming a few possessions from making the NCAA tournament after getting picked dead last in the preseason. Wright State brings back all five starters from that team.

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.

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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