It was a Crazy Week in the Top 25

8 Feb

It’s Monday which means it’s time for the new college basketball polls to come out.  After another tumultuous week for ranked teams Villanova finds itself in the cat bird’s seat for the first time in school history and a total of eight different teams received first-place votes in the AP and Coaches Poll.

We are four weeks away from the beginning of conference tournaments and over the past week nearly half of the top 25 suffered losses including two by #2 North Carolina, #8 Texas A&M and #15 Baylor.

#1 Oklahoma was defeated by Kansas State and #2 North Carolina fell at the hands of #19 Louisville and Notre Dame to finish a shakeup in the top two.

Maryland also took out #18 Purdue on the road while once top ten team Providence went winless thanks to a bad loss at DePaul and falling to Villanova.   #13 Iowa State was taken down by #14 West Virginia who is now the leader in the Big 12.

#12 SMU suffered its second loss of the year at Houston while Baylor felt the wrath of West Virginia and the coming on strong Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns.

In the back part of the poll Kentucky was taken out by Tennessee, Wichita State took a hit at Illinois State.  Indiana suffered a bad loss at Penn State and South Carolina suffered one at the hands of Georgia.

This past week was a microcosm of what this season has been so far; a perfect balance of crazy, unpredictable and fun and it’s only February.

As Conference Tourneys Approach,the Bubble Picture is Far From Clear

5 Feb

Even before the season started people were talking about how there could be no dominant team this season resulting in a very unpredictable year.  We are less than four weeks away from the beginning of conference tournaments and it looks like that prediction is coming true.

Top ten upsets seem like a nightly occurrence and the weekly rankings have become a game of musical chairs and noted bracketologists who are updating their projections at a faster rate are having a harder time than usual sifting through the pool of eligible teams.

Over the next month or so the fog may clear and teams may separate themselves from the pack but right now the difference between some of these teams is razor thin.  To illustrate this point here is a pair of blind resumes where one team is firmly in the field of three noted bracketologists; Joe Lunardi of ESPN, Jerry Palm of CBS Sports and Shelby Mast of USA Today and the other is on the outside looking in.

Example 1:

Team A: 19-4 (7-3 in conference), RPI Rank 22 (non-conference RPI: 18), Strength of Schedule 82 (non-conference SoS: 107), Record vs. RPI top 50 3-2, Record vs. RPI top 100 3-1, 13-1 vs. the rest.

Team B: 13-8 (2-6 in conference), RPI Rank 47 (non-conference RPI: 23), Strength of Schedule 7 (non-conference SoS 49), Record vs. RPI Top 50 2-6, Record vs. RPI top 100 1-2, 10-0 vs. the rest.

Team A has a better record and RPI but does have one bad loss, something team B has avoided.  Team B has played a much tougher schedule.

Team A is Purdue who is currently listed as a 4 and 5 seed by the three bracketologists.

Team B is Texas Tech who is currently on the wrong side of the bubble.

Example 2:

Team A:  18-4 (7-2 in conference), RPI Rank 19 (non-conference RPI: 49), Strength of Schedule 60 (non-conference SoS: 205), Record vs. RPI top 50 3-3, Record vs. RPI top 100 3-1, 12-0 vs. the rest.

Team B: 15-7 (4-6 in conference), RPI Rank 62 (non-conference RPI: 30), Strength of Schedule 74 (non-conference SoS: 184), Record vs. RPI top 50 1-5, Record vs. RPI top 100 3-1, 11-1 vs. the rest.

Team A has a slightly better record and performed better during conference play.  They also have a better RPI but that is mostly due to conference play.  Team B has a better non-conference RPI but has failed miserably against the RPI top 50.

Team A is Louisville who is seen as a 4 and 5 seed by the bracketologists.

Team B is Butler who is not a tournament team according to 2 of the 3 bracketologists and is one of the last 4 in according to the other.

***Note*** Louisville announced this afternoon that they will self-impose a post-season ban this season due to NCAA violations.

This last example is two teams currently in the field, one is an 11 seed the other a 5 or 6.  Can you guess which one is which?

Team A:  17-5 (6-3 in conference), RPI Rank 18 (non-conference RPI: 29), Strength of Schedule 44 (non-conference SoS: 78), Record vs. RPI top 50 4-4, Record vs. RPI top 100 4-1, 9-0 vs. the rest.

Team B:  18-5 (10-2 in conference), RPI Rank 28 (non-conference RPI: 8), Strength of Schedule 121 (non-conference SoS: 20), Record vs. RPI top 50 2-2, Record vs. RPI top 100 4-0, 9-3 vs. the rest.

Team A has a better overall RPI and strength of schedule but team B clearly challenged themselves more outside of their conference.  Team B has also performed slightly better against the RPI top 100 winning six of eight (one being against team A), while team A has won eight of 13.  One thing that knocks team B down is the three losses to with an RPI of 201 or worse.

Team A is Southern California who is either a 5 or 6 seed.

Team B is Monmouth who is an 11 seed.

These are just a few examples of how close the difference is between being safely in the field and on the fringe or even being left out of the Big Dance.

Weber State has Struck Basketball Gold Again with Bolomboy

1 Feb

The Big Sky conference and specifically Weber State are no strangers to hiding basketball talent away in Ogden, Utah.  It started with Damian Lillard who has found stardom in the NBA with the Portland Trailblazers.  Lightning may be striking twice for the Wildcats, this time with senior forward Joel Bolomboy.

Bolomboy made his way to Weber State by way of Fort Worth, Texas.  As a freshman he appeared in all 37 games for a team that went 30-7 and made the CIT Championship game, losing by three to East Carolina.  He also had a team-high four double-doubles, which was surely a sign of things to come.

As a sophomore there was no slump for Bolomboy.  He was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and registered a conference high 11 double doubles all while finishing third in the country at 11 per contest.  The Wildcats finished 19-12 and won the Big Sky Tournament.  The win earned them a 16 seed and a date with Arizona in the NCAA Tournament.  The Wildcats fell by nine but Bolomboy had 11 points and 16 rebounds in the loss.

Last season Weber State experienced a downturn finishing 13-17 but Bolomboy continued to improve.   He averaged double figures in scoring for the first time with 13.3 and again led the Big Sky in rebounding at 10.2 per game and double doubles with 12.  He also finished 4th in the conference in blocks with 51.

This season Bolomboy has exploded.  He not only leads the conference in rebounding at 13.4 and double doubles with 19, those numbers are good enough for 2nd in the country in rebounding and the top spot in double doubles.  Bolomboy also ranks 2nd in the country in defensive rebounds per game with 9.81.  He had a career-high 28 points and 20 rebounds in a double overtime loss to Utah Valley and had another 20-20 game with 20 points and 23 boards in a win over North Dakota.

With 10 games remaining in the regular season Bolomboy and the Wildcats are 15-6 and 7-1 in the Big Sky, currently a half game behind Montana.  Of the Wildcats six losses five of them have come by a combined 13 points and after dropping their first two games of the season they won five straight before suffering a hard luck road trip with losses to BYU, Utah Valley and Denver by an average of three points.  After returning home they have run off nine of 10 with the loss coming on the road at Idaho State 69-68.

Weber State will likely have to battle Montana, who they will welcome to Ogden for their lone regular season tilt on Feb. 27 for the top spot in the Big Sky Tournament.  If the Wildcats are fortunate enough to punch another ticket to the Big Dance, Bolomboy will be a big reason why and will be the focus of any team they face in March.

What to Make of the American

31 Jan

The calendar is turning to February and this season has been as unpredictable as any in recent memory.  Whether it’s the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or any other conference in the country they all have their questions and instability.  One of the most confusing conferences so far has been the American Athletic Conference.   The best team in the conference, SMU is ineligible due for post-season to NCAA violations and the seven teams behind the Mustangs are within a game of each other.

Cincinnati (16-6, 6-3) currently sits in a first-place tie with Tulsa but hold the tiebreaker over the Golden Hurricane by virtue of their 76-57 win over them in early January.    The return bout takes place in Tulsa on Feb. 18.   The Bearcats have an RPI of 58 but are just 4-6 against the RPI top 100 with their best win coming against VCU in December.  Even though they have six games remaining with teams in contention the only real chance at improving their RPI comes when they host SMU in the regular-season finale on March 6.

Tulsa (14-7, 6-3) has won six of their last seven and even though they have a slightly worse RPI than Cincinnati at 61, they have a much better strength of schedule 67 compared to the Bearcats 95.  Tulsa’s best win though is much better thanks to a win over then #9 Wichita State way back in November.     Frank Haith’s squad will have a chance to make its mark on the American with eight of its final nine games against the teams they are competing with.

Temple (11-8, 5-3) is the only team to not only hand SMU a conference loss but a loss overall.  The Owls jumped out to an early lead and controlled the contest in an 89-80 win over SMU just last week.   Temple is 5-2 in their last seven with the two losses being at Memphis and East Carolina by a combined five points.  They have played a strong schedule ranked 52nd but because of a weak non-conference slate, with their best win coming over Minnesota whose RPI is 216.

Connecticut (14-6, 5-3) have good peripheral numbers with an RPI of 67 and strength of schedule at 74.  They also hold a road win over Texas that is looking better and better and a neutral-court win over Michigan.  The Huskies have gone 8-3 since big man Amida Brimah went down with a broken finger in December, he could return next week, in time to give coach Kevin Ollie’s squad the boost it needs to close out the season.

Kelvin Sampson has his Houston Cougars (15-6, 5-4) in the thick of the hunt in the American.  They started conference play with three wins including a 27-point thumping of Temple on the road but then they hit the skids suffering a four game losing streak but have rebounded with wins over Tulsa and East Carolina.  With one of the worst non-conference strength of schedules in the country (336) and RPI in the 130 range the Cougars may have to win the AAC Tourney to sniff the NCAAs, but as of now they are in striking distance.

Memphis (13-8, 4-4) has the athleticism and talent to compete in the conference but with no top 50 wins and their best non-conference win was over a down Ohio State team and with and RPI north of 120 the Tigers might have to rely on the conference’s auto bid to make the NCAA Tournament.

Currently Central Florida (10-8, 4-3) is 6th in the conference but with no top 100 RPI wins, two losses to teams (Miami (OH) and Detroit) with RPIs over 200, a strength of schedule nearing 250 and an RPI closer to 200 than it is to single digits, the Golden Knights may have to run the table in order to make the NCAA Tournament.

The good news for the conference is the teams battling for position will have ample opportunity to improve and while SMU will have some input over where teams finish, it will be the seven teams behind them with the most to say.  Who finishes where is as up in the air now as it was six weeks ago, flip a coin.

The Aggies Quietly Lead SEC

28 Jan

They aren’t Kentucky.  They aren’t Michigan State.  They aren’t Virginia but despite hearing much more about those teams, the leader in the SEC is ranked ahead of all of these teams, Billy Kennedy’s Texas A&M Aggies.

Even though they suffered their first conference loss last night at Arkansas the Aggies still sit atop the SEC(1 game ahead of Kentucky) at 7-1 and 17-3 overall.  The other two losses for A&M came at the hands of Syracuse just after Thanksgiving on a neutral floor and on the road at Arizona State about a week later.  Since then the Aggies reeled off 10 straight wins prior to last night.

One popular adage in college basketball is that to be successful in March you need senior leadership and good guards.  Billy Kennedy’s squad has five of them, four of which see significant floor time.  They are led by three guys offensively that coincidently did not begin their college careers at College Station.    Jalen Jones who transferred from SMU after two seasons leads the team with over 17 points a game, potential NBA draft pick Danuel House who averaged 15.8 ppg did the same after two seasons at Houston and for a team that ranks 12th in the country and leads the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.57, a graduate transfer from South Florida Anthony Collins leads the team in that category at 3.21,  which is good enough for 23rd nationally.  The Aggies are also successful on the defensive end, ranking 18th in the country in turnover margin at 3.4 and are 67th in the country in rebound margin at 4.5.  The SEC leaders have also gotten contributions from a trio of freshmen from Texas.  Tyler Davis and DJ Hogg from Plano and Admon Gilder from Dallas combine to give the Aggies 25.2 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

A&M has wins over Texas, Gonzaga and Baylor in the non-conference portion of their schedule but it is the backend of the schedule that will tell the story.  They have Iowa State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge on Saturday as well as home-and-home with Vanderbilt, a road game at LSU and home tilts with Kentucky and South Carolina all before the SEC Tournament.

The Aggies may drop some in the polls on Monday after last night’s loss but the lack of pub doesn’t equal a lack of talent, they are after all leading the SEC.

Rice Firing a Part of the New World of College Sports

21 Jan

We often hear about how college athletics is becoming more and more like the pro game, whether that be football or basketball, good or bad.  The professional game is seeping more and more into the intercollegiate side of things.  So I was a bit surprised in the uproar over the in-season firing of Dave Rice at UNLV on January 10th.  Many saying it was not the right move to fire him midseason, and the school should have waited until the end of the year, and that Dave Rice was a nice guy and deserved better.

While I agree Rice was a nice guy, perhaps too nice for today’s college athletics.  His firing is just another example of the pro game becoming more prevalent in college sports.  Dave Rice returned to UNLV five seasons ago after being an assistant at BYU the prior seven seasons.   Rice was thought of as one of their own at UNLV, having played on the 1990 National Championship team under legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian.  It was hoped Rice would be the one to lead the Rebels back to glory, whatever glory would be.

In his first two seasons in Vegas Rice led the team to a 51-19 record and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.  While those numbers looked very good to outsiders, fanatics of the program would point out that the team never finished higher than third in the Mountain West and lost their first game in the tournament both years despite being a 6 and 5-seed respectively.

One thing Rice was always good at was recruiting, having recruited NBA first-rounder Rashad Vaughn, #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and current five-star recruit Stephen Zimmerman to UNLV.  However many of Rice’s detractors would say that the recruiting classes never translated to success on the court as evidenced by the yearly decline in wins for the Rebels.

So despite having non-conference wins over Indiana and Oregon UNLV decided to make a change following losses to Arizona and Arizona State and 0-3 start to conference play with losses to Fresno State, Colorado State and Wyoming.  Assistant coach Todd Simon was named interim coach and the team has won three straight.  Whether that is a coincidence or not and whether making the change now was the right move or not, it is something you see in pro sports all the time if you don’t perform you are out.   Yet another philosophy that has made its way into college sports, get used to it.

Some of this Season’s Surprising Teams

21 Jan

In this season of unpredictability there have been quite a few surprising programs thus far.  Here are just a few of them.

Beginning in the SEC, Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks were picked to finish smack dab in the middle of the conference, seventh out of 14 teams.  On January 21st they are second in the conference (4-1) and are 17-1 overall.  Currently ranked 24th in the country South Carolina has exceeded preseason expectations by a longshot and with only two games remaining against current top 25 teams , at #10 and conference leader Texas A&M on Feb. 6 and welcoming #23 Kentucky to town a week later the Gamecocks can really rack up some wins before the SEC Tournament.  Despite going only seven deep on most nights South Carolina still has four players in double figures led by senior Michael Carrera and junior Sindarius Thornwell at 12.1 per game.

In the ACC, while the conference is pretty deep the surprise has to be Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers.  Even though the Tigers are 12-7 overall they are third in the conference at 5-2.  They began conference play with a loss at North Carolina, no shame in that, then reeled off five straight wins with victories over Florida State, Syracuse, #16 Louisville, #9 Duke and #8 Miami before being stopped by #13 Virginia.  With only a home rematch with Virginia remaining on its schedule in terms of ranked opponents Clemson has time to reset itself, build on a successful first half and ready itself for March.

Outside of the power six conferences there are a couple of teams that are having fantastic seasons that deserve to be highlighted.  In the Sun Belt Conference the Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock are 15-2 and 5-1 in the conference.  During their non-conference slate The Trojans went 10-1 under first-year coach Chris Beard including wins over Tulsa, DePaul and San Diego State.  In fact they won 10 straight before falling to a team knows well, Texas Tech, a place he used to serve as an assistant.  After the loss they then won five straight to begin conference play before falling to second-place Arkansas State by three on Monday.  UALR does it with success on the defensive end, allowing over 60 points just three times this season and over 70 just twice.

At 14-4 and undefeated in the Ohio Valley (5-0) the Tennessee State Tigers could be a team to watch.  While their 9-4 non-conference record is far from gaudy with losses to Illinois State, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State and Ohio and their best win being arguably over Lipscomb, they are 12-2 since a pre-Thanksgiving loss to MTSU.  Coach Travis Williams, who has been with the program since 2009 has a senior-laden squad with five of his seven seniors seeing significant minutes has gotten off to a fantastic start in the OVC and has done so quietly and in the shadows of bigger conferences and schools.

With post-season play not that far off, these are just a few teams to keep an eye on to see if they can finish the season as strongly as they started it.

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