Bracketology: Syracuse leads No. 1 seed contenders

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The bubble is much like a recent weather forecast for the Midwest or East Coast: unpredictable and generally less than welcoming.  So instead of debating the final few teams IN our OUT in today’s bracket, let’s look at the No. 1 seed contenders.  We have just over a month until Selection Sunday.

Syracuse, Arizona, Kansas, and Florida retain No. 1 seeds (same as Monday).  Syracuse is in the strongest position to hold its post – although road trips through Pittsburgh, Duke, and Virginia remain.  Arizona’s biggest question isn’t RPI numbers or quality wins, it’s a notable injury: how will the Wildcats play without Brandon Ashley?  He’s out for the season with a foot injury.  The Selection Committee will be watching how Arizona responds.  Kansas owns the top spot in the RPI and has played the nation’s top-rated schedule.  Will that offset five (or more) losses?  If the Jayhawks claim an outright Big 12 title and win the Big 12 tournament, history would suggest that, yes, KU would be a top seed given its profile.  Florida’s biggest advantage – and disadvantage – is its schedule.  Once again, the SEC isn’t particularly deep. With Missouri and Tennessee hovering around the bubble, Kentucky is the Gators’ top resume-builder.  That said, Florida is among the most talented teams in the nation when healthy.  It’s conceivable the Gators could enter the SEC Tournament with a record of 29-3.  That would be hard to ignore.

Here are some other contenders:

  • Michigan State – if the Spartans heal up and win the Big Ten, they will push for the top line.  Keep in mind, MSU has not lost a game when playing at full strength.
  • Wichita State – after winning at Indiana State, the Shockers will be favored to enter the Missouri Valley Tournament with a perfect record.  Although the MVC isn’t as strong as it’s been in recent years, one could easily argue that WSU has earned a No. 1 seed.
  • Villanova – the Wildcats are in the chase but may need help.  The new-look Big East doesn’t carry the same fortitude.  Other than a trip to Creighton, there’s not a truly high profile game left on Nova’s schedule.
  • San Diego State – Victories over Kansas and Creighton highlight a strong profile.  But much like the issues facing Villanova, is the Mountain West strong enough to carry the Aztecs to the top of the bracket?
  • Michigan – the Wolverines are right there with Michigan State in the battle for the Big 10 title.  An outright crown and trip to the Big 10 tourney title game would certainly place UM squarely in the No. 1 seed debate – depending on how the season plays out. If there’s a ding on the resume, it’s a couple of early losses when the team was still learning to play without Trey Burke.
  • Duke – it’s never wise to count out the Blue Devils. They will need some help, but a fair number of quality wins remain in the ACC.
  • Cincinnati – reaching the top line is probably a long shot for the Bearcats. But a two or three seed is there for the taking.  With some help, however, we could be looking at UC more closely a month from now.
  • Creighton – The Bluejays have a great win at Villanova.  Will that be enough to carry them?  The odds are against it.  Creighton played a good, but not great non-conference schedule, and some of the top competition on that schedule hasn’t performed as expected (Marquette, St. John’s, for example).  Of course, Creighton could win out and end the regular season 27-3.  That would turn a few heads.

UPDATED: February 7, 2014

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid based on current standings with RPI as a tiebreaker for teams with the same number of losses. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UCLA, BYU, etc).

Several new bracketing principles were introduced after last year’s tournament. 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)

  • BYU vs. Arizona State | West Region
  • SMU vs. Georgetown | East Region
  • SOUTHERN vs. HIGH POINT | East Region
  • ROBERT MORRIS vs. CHATTANOOGA | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTNew York                          WEST Anaheim
Buffalo San Diego
1) SYRACUSE 1) ARIZONA
16) SOUTHERN / HIGH POINT 16) UTAH VALLEY
8) VCU 8) Memphis
9) Xavier 9) Kansas State
San Diego Spokane
5) Oklahoma 5) Wisconsin
12) SMU / Georgetown 12) BYU / Arizona State
4) Kentucky 4) Iowa State
13) CANISIUS 13) MERCER
Milwaukee San Antonio
6) Louisville 6) Iowa
11) Tennessee 11) Missouri
3) MICHIGAN 3) CREIGHTON
14) BELMONT 14) UC-SANTA BARBARA
Buffalo San Antonio
7) Massachusetts 7) Connecticut
10) California 10) Florida State
2) Villanova 2) SAN DIEGO STATE
15) STONY BROOK 15) NC-CENTRAL
SOUTH – Memphis MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Orlando St. Louis
1) FLORIDA 1) KANSAS
16) WEBER STATE 16) CHATTANOOGA / ROB MORRIS
8) North Carolina 8) UCLA
9) Stanford 9) George Washington
Spokane Orlando
5) Texas 5) Ohio State
12) GREEN BAY 12) HARVARD
4) SAINT LOUIS 4) Virginia
13) DELAWARE 13) TOLEDO
Raleigh Raleigh
6) Oklahoma State 6) GONZAGA
11) Providence 11) SOUTHERN MISS
3) Duke 3) CINCINNATI
14) S.F. AUSTIN 14) GEORGIA STATE
St. Louis Milwaukee
7) New Mexico 7) Pittsburgh
10) Minnesota 10) Colorado
2) WICHITA STATE 2) Michigan State
15) AMERICAN 15) IPFW

NOTES on the BRACKET: Syracuse is the overall No. 1 seed followed by Arizona, Kansas, and Florida.

Last Five teams in (at large): Tennessee, Arizona State, SMU, Georgetown, BYU

First Five teams out (at large): LSU, Oregon, Indiana, Clemson, Richmond

Next five teams out (at large): Dayton, Ole Miss, Baylor, Louisiana Tech, Saint Mary’s

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 12 (7): Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas

Pac 12 (6): Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, California, Stanford, Arizona State

Big Ten (6): Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota

ACC (6): Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Virginia

American (5): Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati, SMU

Big East (5): Creighton, Villanova, Xavier, Providence, Georgetown

SEC (4): Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee

Atlantic 10 (4): Massachusetts, VCU, Saint Louis, Geo Washington

Mountain West (2): New Mexico, San Diego State

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, BYU

Missouri Valley (1): Wichita State

Conference Automatic Qualifiers … Southern Miss (C-USA), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Georgia State (Sun Belt), American (Patriot), IPFW (Summit), Green Bay (Horizon), Chattanooga (Southern), Utah Valley (WAC), Canisius (MAAC), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Toledo (MAC), Mercer (A-Sun), Harvard (IVY), UC-Santa Barbara (Big West), Delaware (Colonial), Stony Brook (American East), Weber State (Big Sky), NC-Central (MEAC), UNC-Asheville (Big South), Robert Morris (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

Vanderbilt lands five-star forward Simi Shittu

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Vanderbilt continues to build a monster recruiting class under head coach Bryce Drew as five-star 2018 forward Simi Shittu pledged to the Commodores on Wednesday.

The second five-star commitment for Vanderbilt in the Class of 2018, Shittu joins top point guard prospect Darius Garland to form one of the best freshman combinations in the country for next season. The Commodores also have a top-150 forward in Aaron Nesmith.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Shittu is coming off of a monster summer in which he became a major problem and top-ten recruit. The No. 8 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, Shittu is a huge get and an instant starter for Vanderbilt next season.

By landing prospects like Garland and Shittu, Drew is also becoming a major player in a short amount of time as a high-major coach. Always a noted recruiter at the mid-major level at Valparaiso, now Vanderbilt is seeing Drew’s hiring workout as he’s bringing top talent to the program.

If Drew can continue to recruit like this then Vanderbilt could be in position to be in the top half of the SEC as the league has seen some of its rebuilds go poorly over the last few years.

Kansas still without freshman Billy Preston

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Kansas freshman Billy Preston has yet to make his debut for the Jayhawks and it appears he’ll have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

Head coach Bill Self met with media earlier this week to discuss the Preston situation, saying that nothing has changed about his status quite yet. Preston was previously suspended for violating a team rule when he missed the game against Tennessee State. Before Preston was set to debut against Kentucky in the Champions Classic he was also withheld from the contest after the revelation that Preston had been in a single-vehicle accident the previous weekend.

“I have actually been out, until I just pulled back in, so as of this morning, there was no movement. The last time you guys asked me was Friday and so you don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, so there is nothing new on that situation,” Self said.

“Sure, I’m worried,” Self also added. “I’m concerned and I do think that it can work itself, based on what I’ve been told. I also think that it obviously hadn’t happened yet.”

It’s uncertain when the next step in any of this will play out but Self doesn’t appear to be too concerned over it. Kansas has won without Preston so far but they could definitely use his size, scoring punch and overall depth to a team that isn’t very deep right now.

A matchup nightmare, Preston could help the Jayhawk offense while also giving Udoka Azubuike additional help on the glass and protecting the rim.

(H/t: Jesse Newell, Kansas City Star)

Brian Bowen not allowed to play at Louisville

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Louisville announced on Wednesday that freshman wing Brian Bowen will not be allowed to play at the school. The former McDonald’s All-American will be allowed to remain on scholarship but he can’t participate in any team activities.

Bowen was tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball this fall as an adidas company executive is alleged to have been part of a scheme to deliver $100,000 to Bowen’s family, according to court documents.

Bowen hired attorney Jason Setchen to fight the case and seek reinstatement as Setchen had experience dealing with college basketball scandals before. When DeQuan Jones was suspended from Miami after the Nevin Shapiro case in 2011, Setchen helped Jones re-gain his eligibility as Miami.

With this case, Bowen was not allowed back at Louisville as the school has fired head coach Rick Pitino and most of his previous staff. Athletic Director Tom Jurich also lost his job, so the Cardinals are definitely cleaning house and trying to detach themselves from anyone involved.

It will be interesting to see what Bowen opts to do in light of this news. He’s talented enough that other schools could want him, if he’s eligible, but he’s also a former five-star prospect who could have pro aspirations. But since Bowen won’t be playing this season, he also hasn’t had a chance to spotlight his game to potential pro suitors.

 

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

ACTUAL HOOPS COVERAGE: Scott Drew’s coaching gem | Porter Jr. out | Toledo player’s Thanksgiving feast
MORE HOOPS COVERAGE: Player of the Year Power Rankings

LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.