Can a down year in the Pac-12 open the door for Stanford?

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NEW YORK – It’s now well into Feast Week, which means we are officially in the midst of the college hoops season. And while it’s still early, it’s not too early to begin making judgements on the outcome of the handful of games that have been played.

A consensus opinion is a rarity in March, so you can imagine how difficult it is, in the age of social media and message board journalism, to get everyone on the same page as early as Thanksgiving. But if there is a consensus opinion to be had about this young season, it’s that the Pac-12 stinks. That’s not to say that by March the league is still going to stink, because there is some talent among their ranks. But as of today — November 24th — the Pac-12 stinks.

I’m sorry.

Believe me, it’s not personal.

But the Pac-12 stinks.

Let me sit back and count the ways:

– Arizona was the league’s highest ranked team coming into the season, finding its way into the top 20. But already, the Wildcats have had two players — including star freshman point guard Josiah Turner — suspended and struggle through the early part of their schedule, posting unimpressive wins over mid-major teams and losing to both Mississippi State and San Diego State.

– Cal, one of the league favorites coming into the season, got drubbed by 39 points against Missouri.

– Washington, another one of the league favorites, was handed a 13-point loss by St. Louis in a game it trailed by as much as 30 during the second half.

– Where do we start with UCLA? Josh Smith is too fat, Reeves Nelson doesn’t care, its guards aren’t good enough. Worst of all, its losses to Michigan and Kansas in the Maui Invitational were being called moral victories. It makes sense, I guess, because the Bruins have yet to earn a win this year against a Division I team.

– And then there are the personnel issues. Oregon just had Jabari Brown, its best freshman and probably its most-talented player, leave the team. Arizona State is playing without Jahii Carson, who may never end up getting cleared, and lost to Pepperdine at home. USC has too many injuries to count, which is probably why it’s able to give up 42 points to Cal Poly and lose.

Oregon State has been the league’s one bright spot this season. Jared Cunningham is playing like a superstar and a first-round draft pick while Craig Robinson has a couple of young big guys with very bright futures. But the Beavers aren’t exactly a top 25 team right now. One of their four wins came against a Div. II program, and their banner victory is against a Texas team in a down year that blew an 18-point lead against North Carolina State.

So when we say that Oregon State is a surprising team, it means that it has a shot of making the NCAA tournament, not that it is a lock for the Sweet 16.

In fact, as of Thanksgiving, the Pac-12 has just one undefeated team left: the Stanford Cardinal.

And you know what else?

This Cardinal team has a shot to be pretty good.

Stanford came into tonight’s Preseason NIT semifinal against Oklahoma State with the standard, mediocre schedule that you see out of high-major schools that are trying to rebuild. The Pokes aren’t exactly a powerhouse, but they aren’t exactly a bottom-feeder in the Big 12, either, which is why Stanford’s 82-67 win over the Cowboys raised a few eyebrows.

“I think we’re scoring the ball better than I thought we would early on,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game. “We lost our leading scorer last season. He averaged 17 ppg, a first team all Pac-12 player. Where are our points going to come from?”

Senior forward Josh Brown led the way for the Cardinal with 21 points, scoring 13 of their first 15 and knocking down his first nine shots. He scored in the paint, he finished dump-offs and, on back-to-back possessions in the first half, he jumped a passing lane and went in for a dunk. This performance was all-the-more special for Owens. He missed the entire 2009-2010 season with an undisclosed medical issue.

“I’ve never played here before,” Owens said. “Usually when I come to 34th and 7th, it’s to get to Penn Station to catch the train to New Jersey. It was a great experience.”

While Owens was providing a punch in the paint, Stanford’s backcourt was lighting it up on the perimeter. Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright combined for 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting, 6-of-11 from beyond the arc, and five assists. Bright did the majority of his damage in the first half while Randle caught fire as Stanford pushed its 11-point halftime lead up into the mid-20s.

As a duo, Bright and Randle provide an intriguing back court. Neither is really a true point guard, but both are capable of scoring the ball and running the point. Bright, a sophomore, has really come on this season. He’s leading the team in scoring and hitting 51.9 percent of his threes. While Randle is a bit bigger than Bright, he’s more of a playmaker. But Randle is still a freshman and is still plagued by freshman mistakes. He’ll only get better as he cuts down his turnovers and improves his shot selection. Wednesday may have been the start; he was 5-of-9 from the floor and only turned over the ball twice.

“We tell out guys to always stay in character,” Dawkins said. “You know the shots you’re capable of making. Be ready for those shots when they present themselves. That’s all we ask our guys to do.”

Andrew Zimmermann and Josh Huestis have played well alongside Owens in the front court for the early part of the season, but the X-factor this season is going to be Dwight Powell. Powell, who was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, has gotten off to a slow start in his sophomore year thanks to an ankle injury he suffered earlier this month.

If he can become the shot-blocker and interior presence that he was expected to be coming out of high school, Stanford may be able to play its way into the NCAA tournament.

Who knows, maybe a down year for the conference could end up providing an avenue for a banner year in Palo Alto.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

AP Poll: Baylor remains No. 1 in week with few changes at the top

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Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor is No. 1 for a second straight week in a college basketball AP poll that had no major changes at the top, a rare bit of stability in a wildly unpredictable season.

The Bears stayed well ahead of No. 2 Gonzaga in Monday’s poll, part of an unchanged top seven for the first time this season. In fact, the only change in the top 10 came with Villanova moving up a spot to No. 8 to swap positions with No. 9 Duke. That comes in a season that has seen seven different teams reach No. 1 this season, matching a record set during the 1982-83 season.

Baylor (17-1) hopped over Gonzaga last week to reach No. 1 for the second time in program history, then earned 44 of 64 first-place votes to keep a firm hold on the top spot after beating Oklahoma and Florida last week.

The Zags earned 19 first-place votes to remain either No. 1 or No. 2 in the poll since the middle of December, followed by Kansas, San Diego State — the last unbeaten team in Division I — and Florida State.

Louisville, Dayton, Villanova, Duke and Seton Hall rounded out the top 10.

No. 22 LSU, No. 23 Wichita State and No. 24 Penn State were the week’s new additions, re-entering the poll after appearances earlier this season. Texas Tech, Memphis and Arizona fell out of the rankings.

Here is the full college basketball AP Poll:

1. Baylor (44 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (19)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Villanova
9. Duke
10. Seton Hall
11. Oregon
12. West Virginia
13. Kentucky
14. Michigan State
15. Maryland
16. Butler
17. Auburn
18. Iowa
19. Illinois
20. Colorado
21. Houston
22. LSU
23. Wichita State
24. Penn State
25. Rutgers

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

___

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

ACC fines Brey for his officiating comments

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) The Atlantic Coast Conference has fined Notre Dame $20,000 and publicly reprimanded Fighting Irish basketball coach Mike Brey for his comments about officiating after Saturday’s loss at Florida State.

The league announced the penalties Monday, saying Brey’s comments “were in direct violation” of the league’s sportsmanship policy that states that public criticism of officiating “is not in the best interest of intercollegiate athletics.”

Brey referenced several issues after the 85-84 loss to the Seminoles, including a technical foul called on the Irish bench with 2:31 left. He also mentioned game official John Gaffney by name as he left the news conference in Tallahassee.

“We’re treated by the officials like we haven’t brought football as a full member (to the league), but yet we get a full share of the ACC Network TV, are you kidding me?” Brey said, a reference to Notre Dame’s independence in football even as it remains a member of all other league sports.

Moments later, a frustrated Brey waved both hands as he got up to leave and continued his comments as he left the room.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, man,” Brey said, raising his voice. “Come on, man. We’re in the league, too.”

The league said in a news release that the matter is closed and declined to make additional comment. The fine will go toward an ACC scholarship fund that assists athletes with pursuing graduate degrees after completing undergraduate requirements.

More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Monday Overreactions: Ayo Dosunmu, Maryland and Nick Richards’ takeoer

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Ayo Dosunmu did it again.

Illinois’ sophomore star and leading scorer finished with 27 points, none of which were bigger than the final shot of the game as Dosunmu hit a foul line jumper over Zavier Simpson with 0.5 seconds left on the clock to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor:

It’s the sixth straight win for the Illini, who have climbed all the way up to No. 21 in the AP poll, and no one has been more influential in that run than Dosunmu. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 5.4 assists over the last five games, and in a conference where winning road games is notoriously difficult, the Illini have won at Wisconsin, at Purdue and at Michigan during that stretch.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Maryland Terrapins

No team in the country has elicited a louder chorus of doubters throughout the course of the season than Maryland.

The Terps were a top ten team in the preseason, and spent the entire season ranked inside the top 20 of the AP poll and currently sit at No. 10 in KenPom’s rankings. But because of some uninspiring performances early in the season, combined with the fact that the Terps had entered the week with an 0-4 record on the road, it was easy to overlook this group as nothing more than another fraudulent Mark Turgeon roster.

This week, the narrative changed. The Terps erased a 14 point deficit on the road to knock off Northwester, 77-66, in Chicago and then followed that up by going on a 7-0 run in the final two minutes to land a 77-76 win at Indiana.

Suddenly, the Terps are on a three game winning streak with back-to-back home games coming up next.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. NICK RICHARDS IS THE SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Richards has been one of the most improved players in the country this season, but Saturday was really the first time that we saw him completely take over a game.

He finished with 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks in the 76-74 overtime win at Texas Tech, scoring the game-winning points with 10 seconds left.

This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26  against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.

Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.

I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.

As it stands, he’s now the leading scorer and rebounder for the Wildcats. He’s probably the leader in the clubhouse for SEC Player of the Year, and very much in the mix for an all-american team.

2. TEXAS TECH HAS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF WORK TO DO TO GET TO THE TOURNAMENT

I’m not sure people realize just how little there is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

As it stands, the Red Raiders are the very last team in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection.

3. THE BIG TEN IS GOING TO DISAPPOINT IN MARCH

The biggest reason that I believe this is the lack of elite point guard play. I’ve made this point roughly 18,000 times by now, but in the last decade, the only team that won the national title without having two lead guards playing together was the 2012 Kentucky team that had the top two picks playing together.

And the thing about this year’s Big Ten is that the lead guard play is not great. Cassius Winston, when he’s right, is the best in the country. Ayo Dosunmu, the way he’s been playing for the last month, is right there with him. Anthony Cowan is, in theory, on that list. Zavier Simpson? Maybe. Marcus Carr? At times.

I think that’s it.

So that’s a concern.

As is the fact that every team in the Big Ten is built around their frontcourt play.

I was struck over the weekend as I watch Michigan and Illinois down the stretch play with four centers on the floor — Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili for the Illini and Jon Teske and Austin Davis for the Wolverines. Iowa is at their best when they play with Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener. Tom Izzo loves to play Xavier Tillman with another big man. I could keep going if I had the time.

That is the only league in the country where that happens, and I think it is fair to wonder how well that will hold up in March.

4. ARIZONA IS NOT FAR AWAY FROM BEING REALLY DANGEROUS

More than anyone else in college basketball, the Wildcats are the team that appear to be the darling of the predictive metrics this season.

(I would say Ohio State, but they spent the first half of the season absolutely bludgeoning really good teams and still don’t have a loss to a team outside the top 40.)

They have one win against a top 30 team and just two wins against top 55 opponents. Their best win away from home is against Wake Forest, yet the Wildcats, at 13-6 overall, find themselves sitting at 10th in KenPom and 12th in the NET. This is what happens when you find a way to lose games close. Five fo their six losses came by five points or less, and it hasn’t always been the same formula. Arizona erased leads to land backdoor covers against Baylor, Gonzaga and Saint John’s. They blew leads on the road in league play in losses to Oregon and Arizona State. They completely collapsed in the second half against Oregon State.

So I’m not sure there is a clear-cut answer to what ails the Wildcats right now.

But I do know that with the talent on their roster, they are not as far away from being an actual top ten team as the average Arizona fan on twitter will have you believe.

5. IS SYRACUSE THE FOURTH-BEST TEAM IN THE ACC?

Someone has to be the fourth-best team in the ACC, and as far as league standings go, the Orange currently qualify. They are 6-3 in the conference, having won their last five games, and they have fully embraced the idea that this roster needs to fire up as many threes as possible to have a chance to win.

That said, they still haven’t beaten anyone. Their best win came at Virginia in overtime, but Virginia may not be a tournament team this season. The trouble is that the Orange only get the other top teams in the conference — Duke, N.C. State, Florida State and Louisville — once each.

They probably need to win at least two of those games to have a real shot at a tournament bid.

Bracketology: Baylor strengthens its grip on the No. 1 overall seed

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Baylor continues to strengthen its grip on the No. 1 overall seed.  The Bears won their fifth true road game (5-0 in opportunities) of the season at Florida on Saturday.  They are No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games and 10-1 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents combined.  Baylor hasn’t lost since November 8, a nearly two-month stretch of perfection.

Elsewhere, the top line remains in tact.  There’s room for debate across lines two through four. It’ll be interesting to see how the Selection Committee views the profiles of teams like Florida State, Louisville and Duke in the weeks ahead.  Unless something changes, there will be fewer Quad 1 opportunities in this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

Tracking the Bubble is going to keep you busy.  It’s several lines deep into the bracket today.  The margins between a nine seed and an 11-seeded play-in team are minimal.  And that’s not factoring in the next 8-12 teams knocking on the door.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 27, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION NC State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION VCU vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  ROBERT MORRIS vs. NORFOLK ST
MIDWEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. PR VIEW A&M

SOUTH Houston WEST – Los Angeles                         
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) ROB MORRIS / NORFOLK ST 16) NORTHERN COLORADO
8) Wichita State 8) USC
9) Saint Mary’s 9) Oklahoma 
Sacramento Tampa
5) Penn State 5) LSU
12) YALE 12) AKRON
4) Kentucky 4) West Virginia
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Cleveland Albany
6) Marquette 6) Colorado
11) VCU / Texas Tech 11) BYU
3) MICHIGAN STATE 3) Villanova
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) COLGATE
Tampa Spokane
7) Indiana 7) Wisconsin
10) Saint John’s 10) Memphis
2) Florida State 2) OREGON
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) UC-IRVINE 16) MONMOUTH / PV A&M
8) Ohio State 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Arkansas
Greensboro St. Louis
5) Butler 5) Creighton
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) VERMONT 13) LIBERTY
Greensboro Cleveland
6) Auburn 6) Illinois
11) DePaul 11) NC State / Arizona St
3) Duke 3) DAYTON
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany St. Louis
7) Rutgers 7) Arizona
10) Stanford 10) Michigan
2) SETON HALL 2) LOUISVILLE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) WINTHROP

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Michigan Arizona State Rhode Island Purdue
BYU NC State Virginia Tech Tennessee
Saint John’s VCU Richmond Xavier
DePaul Texas Tech Minnesota Georgetown

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (6)
SEC (5)
Big 12 (5)

ACC (4)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor, Gonzaga lead the way

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A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

I sat down at my laptop to write out a column about why I ranked certain teams in certain spots and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find a way to give a damn.

As I’m sure you all know, Kobe Bryant died today. He was in a helicopter along with eight other people, including his daughter, Gianna, and her teammate, Alyssa Altobelli along with her mom, Keri, and dad, John. They were on the way to play in a travel team game. At least two, and certainly more, families were gutted, and while we are going to be talking about Kobe for the most part, I do think that should be emphasized.

Nine people died on that helicopter. Nine.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why so many folks — like myself — spent Sunday completely torn up about the death of a person that we never met, a person that may or may not be deserving of the outpouring of love and adoration coming his way. What I came up with is this: The true heartbreak in this story is that Kobe was on the plane with one of his four daughters, the one he has spent the last couple of years proudly and publicly developing into a full-blown middle-aged sports dad with. It was awesome to see. This was not how their story was supposed to end.

Kobe and his wife also have three other daughters: a 17-year old along with a three year old and a newborn that is just seven months old. The Altobellis left a family behind, too, and what that family is going through is crushing as well, but I can’t stop thinking about what Vanessa, his wife, is going to be forced to deal with. She’s post-partum, with one daughter that will never know her father, and now has to cope with the loss of her husband and the loss of a child while trying to keep that 17-year old sane and explain to a three-year old why daddy and her big sister are never coming home.

That’s unfathomable to me.

But the reason I think this hit me so hard is that I keep putting myself in that helicopter. As a parent, the only goal in your life is keep your kids safe and happy. At any cost. It’s that simple. How do you deal with being on a helicopter with your child — and, for the Altobellis, with your spouse — knowing that something has gone wrong? Knowing what’s going to happen? Knowing the inevitability of your situation? Knowing that there’s nothing you can do to stop it, to keep your baby safe?

I don’t think that I’m alone there.

So I spent as much time as I could today playing with my kids, because arguing about ranking college basketball top 25 teams has never seemed dumber.

We can yell at each other next week.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



1. BAYLOR (17-1, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (21-1, 2)
3. KANSAS (16-3, 3)
4. FLORIDA STATE (17-2, 4)
5. LOUISVILLE (17-3, 5)
6. SETON HALL (15-4, 6)
7. DUKE (17-3, 7)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (21-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (18-2, 9)
10. OREGON (17-4, 13)
11. KENTUCKY (16-5, 14)
12. WEST VIRGINIA (16-3, 15)
13. VILLANOVA (16-3, 17)
14. ILLINOIS (15-5, 24)
15. AUBURN (17-2, 12)
16. MICHIGAN STATE (16-3, 10)
17. IOWA (14-5, 18)
18. MARYLAND (16-4, 23)
19. HOUSTON (16-4, 20)
20. BUTLER (16-4, 11)
21. CREIGHTON (16-5, 25)
22. COLORADO (16-4, NR)
23. PENN STATE (14-5, NR)
24. RUTGERS (15-5, NR)
25. ARIZONA (13-6, 19)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Colorado, No. 23 Penn State, No. 24 Rutgers
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 Texas Tech, No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Michigan