I've decided to being a new article series, one few of you will follow but I'll enjoy writing. I'm prone to randomly expunging large amounts of college basketball insight and information, and finally decided to create a place to do just that. This blog article series will have no regular schedule and follow no set format. Instead, at any given time, I will sit down and just write. I'm going to rattle off random information from around the college basketball landscape, based on whatever I want.
However, there will be one constant in this series. In the comment section, feel free to post any questions, objections, or statements about my article or college basketball in general. I will read them, then update my article to include them within this post and follow each quote with a response. Some brief, some not. So this series is a bit of a continuous effort by myself and the community. Participation would be much appreciated.
Also, I'm going to bold my focal points in each article. That way it will be easier for folks to scan my articles for sections that interest them.
And we're off!
My first statement is that the Pac 12 will get, at most, 3 teams into the NCAA tournament. The play of the conference as a a whole has been, to put it bluntly, disgraceful. Preseason "favorite" UCLA has spiraled out of control (something I will address shortly), losing to teams they have no business losing to. Arizona was looking strong, but was upset by Mississippi State in Madison Square Garden and by a rebuilding San Diego State team at home. Washington hasn't really played anyone and has lost to Saint Louis (not a bad loss, but not a game a Pac 12 contender should lose). California was dismissed by Missouri in a blowout. Oregon State and Oregon have looked decent, but realistically are still developing. Stanford put on a solid showing in the NIT, but the win over Oklahoma State isn't as solid as it would have been last season, and they couldn't hold on against Syracuse. Personally, I think it speaks volumes about how bad the Pac 12 is when the best showing the conference has made so far is Stanford playing a good loss against Syracuse. The conference might have some interesting games, as there isn't much talent disparity, but on a national scale, they will be a nonfactor. Maybe it's too soon to dismiss them, but that's what I'm doing.
UCLA is 1-4 featuring losses to Middle Tennessee State and Loyola Marymount, and the only win coming against Chaminade. Howland cannot control the discipline, specifically Reeves Nelson. Nelson was suspended "indefinitely" by Howland for attitude issues. Nelson missed one game. How did he responded, by correcting his actions? Nope. Nelson was late for a team bus to charter the Bruins to the airport and their flight to Maui. He had to take a separate flight. How did the incomparable Howard respond? By sitting him for half of a game. Joshua Smith has also acted immaturely, tweeting "Just lost to some straight bums lol" after the Loyola Marymount game, and faced no repercussions. This reminds me of the Mississippi State situation last season, which can't end well for UCLA. The talent is supposedly there, but this team is the most immature in the nation. Baring some drastic turnaround, UCLA will suffer.
I'd also like to briefly discuss the awful mess that is the Utah Utes. They're currently sitting at 1-3. Those four games show me no hope for this team. Utah's one win is over San Diego Christian College, by a score of 58-55. Utah never led by more than seven points and had eleven turnovers. As if that wasn't bad enough, they followed it up with three terrible losses. Utah lost to Boise State (NIT hopeful), Montana State (Big Sky nonfactor) and Harvard (potential tournament team). The losses aren't necessarily too disturbing, it's the way they have occurred. Utah went to Boise State and lost by 21 points on the road, returned home and coughed up the Montana State game by 6, and then was demolished by 28 by Harvard. It's a long season ahead for the Utes.
Creighton will be one of the most overlooked teams in the nation, but is arguably the 3rd or 4th best mid major in the nation (behind Xavier and Gonzaga, and some would say Memphis). Doug McDermott is a coach's son (his own coach at Creighton specifically), and should be getting national attention. He's averaged 21.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game for the Bluejays, who have beaten underperforming UAB and Iowa teams (the Iowa game was a 23 point blowout on a neutral court). The resume doesn't look that stellar yet, but the team is much developed from a team that lost the CBI final to Oregon last season. Expect big things from Creighton.
The CBE Classic taught me a handful of things, none of which are too drastic but should still be noted. Missouri is number two in the Big 12, not Kansas. They demolished Notre Dame and California, and showed they are adjusting well in transition from Anderson to Heath. They will be challenged by teams like Baylor that are solid in the frontcourt, but are certainly the second most impressive team in the conference. Also, California was a favorite in the Pac 12? Their play against Missouri showed me more about the league as a whole then it did about Cal; Cal might win the Pac 12, but the conference as a whole is essentially a national nonfactor. Notre Dame lacks the talent to compete in the Big East. If they can't handle Missouri or Georgia, how will they handle UConn, Syracuse of Pittsburgh? To make matters worse, the bright spot for ND is lost for the season; Abromaitis tore his ACL. Expect the loss of talent they suffered last season as well as the toll injuries have taken to result in a freefall to the bottom half of the conference.
The Mountain West Conference isn't as interesting as it was last season, but is still a conference you should pay attention to. San Diego State was supposed to be rebuilding, but has played very well this season and is off to a solid 6-1 start, the only loss being a competitive 10 point defeat to Baylor. UNLV is undefeated, and has lofty expectations. Preseason favorite New Mexico has faltered twice to average teams, but has the talent to compete. Boise State is sneaky good, having made the WAC final last season and already playing well this year. Even TCU has sparked interest, upsetting a highly praised Virginia team. All in all, this isn't last year???s MWC, but is one that can't be ignored.
Here's a list of the upsets (ranking upsets, as well as my identified ones) so far this season, and what some of them have taught me, with the home team listed in parentheses.
Akron over Mississippi State (Mississippi State) - 11/9
Loyola Marymont over #20 UCLA (UCLA) - 11/11
Evansville over Butler (Evansville) - 11/12
Cleveland State over #7 Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt) - 11/13
FIU over George Mason (GMU) - 11/14
Middle Tennessee State over UCLA (UCLA) - 11/15
Kent State over West Virginia (Kent State) - 11/15
Long Beach State over #9 Pittsburgh (Pitt) - 11/16
Mississippi State over #18 Texas A&M (neutral) - 11/17
Mississippi State over #16 Arizona (neutral) - 11/18
TCU over Virginia (neutral) - 11/18
Houston over Arkansas (Arkansas) - 11/18
Holy Cross over Boston College (neutral) - 11/18
Presbyterian over #20 Cincinnati (Cinn) - 11/19
Cal Poly over USC (USC) - 11/19
Florida Atlantic over George Mason (FAU) - 11/19
Oregon State over Texas (neutral) - 11/19
Saint Louis over Washington (SLU) - 11/19
#15 Michigan over #8 Memphis (neutral) - 11/21
#21 Missouri over #18 California (neutral) - 11/22
Texas A&M CC over Utah State (TAMCC) - 11/22
Coastal Carolina over Clemson (Clemson) - 11/22
Georgetown over #8 Memphis (neutral) - 11/23
San Diego State over #23 Arizona (Zona) - 11/24
Saint Louis over Villanova (neutral) - 11/25
UCF over #4 Connecticut (neutral) - 11/25
Harvard over #20 Florida State (neutral) - 11/25
Marshall over Cincinnati (Cinn) - 11/25
- Mississippi State is going to be
a team that plays up to or down to the level of play of its opponent. Winning
against TAMU and Arizona is nice, but losing to Akron isn't. This team has the
talent to cause problems for every team in the SEC, and they have a real chance
of making some noise. The only problem is they'll lose plenty of games they
shouldn't. Overall though, they're a tournament team in my eyes, and should be dangerous.
- UCLA's failures have already been covered. Unless something radical changes, they're not a tournament team.
- Butler won't be making an NCAA tournament run this season. They'll struggle to even get there, especially considering how well Cleveland State is playing. I expect Cleveland State to seal up the Horizon's auto bid, and with a blemish already on Butler's OOC resume, I am skeptical that they'll be making a return trip.
- George Mason won't be as threatening as they were last year. They're wildly inconsistent, and have lost talent from a solid team last year. I think they still have a shot at a conference title, as Old Dominion is having its fair share of struggles and VCU is rebuilding, but these losses are killing any at large hopes they might have.
- Long Beach State is impressing, but I'm not sold completely on their Big West chances. UC Santa Barbara features its own star to combat Casper Ware; Orlando Johnson. UCSB won the Big West tournament last season and went to the tournament, and returns most of its key players. It's going to be a top heavy conference, but the matchups between LBSU and UCSB should be paid attention to; they'll be plenty entertaining.
- Texas is young, and needs to mature before they can seriously compete in the Big 12 again. I doubt it happens this season, as they only beat Rhode Island by ten (while giving up 90 points) then lost to Oregon State and NC State, two teams hardly as talented as Baylor, Missouri or Kansas. While Texas might have a solid season and put together a tournament-worthy resume, they won't threaten anybody for the Big 12 title.
- Clemson is ending the bubble debate early this season, and not in a good way. They also lost against College of Charleston, two games that they should have won if they wanted to not shoot their own resume in the foot. If Clemson misses out on the tournament but is in bubble discussions, they can look to these two games for reasons why.
- Saint Louis is a real threat in the A10 this season. It's finally all coming together for the Bilikins, as they claimed the 76 Classic championship and added two solid wins to their OOC resume. Can they challenge Tu Holloway and Xavier for the A10 title? I'm not sure, but I do know they will be fun to watch games.
- Harvard is a real threat this season. After losing a tiebreaker game to Princeton last season and missing out on the NCAA tournament, the Crimson are back with a vengeance this season. After four relatively easy games (including a blowout of Utah), Harvard matched up with a very solid Florida State team. The result? A defensive battle that ended in a 46-41 upset for Harvard. Keith Wright won the Ivy League Player of the Year award last season, and returned with the goal of getting the Crimson into the NCAA tournament. After beating Florida State at its own game, I have to say they're making a great case to convince any doubters. The Ivy League should be theirs for the taking.
- UCF needs to build on this win over UConn if they want to avoid a meltdown like last season. Last year, UCF followed up an impressive OOC schedule and a national ranking with a terrible showing in conference play and missed the NCAA tournament. This year, they are led by a very talented duo in Jordan and Clanton, who should use this win as a building block and lead this team into the tournament, somewhere they belong talent-wise.
- Cleveland State is going to be a tough out. After defeating a Vanderbilt team drawing high national praise, Cleveland State further impressed me by winning on the road against another team appearing on this list, Kent State. Both should be conference champions and make the NCAA tournament, but I think Cleveland State is showing the potential to make an actual run. Can they follow in the footsteps of Horizon league opponent Butler and make their own run to the Final Four? It'll be fun to find out.
- Utah State is bringing future criticism upon themselves. Last year, the Aggies took shots for having a poor OOC showing. This year, they tried to remedy that by scheduling games against BYU, Kent State and Mississippi State. Not the best, but a solid effort. How have they responded? By dropping two games against teams they should have beaten (Weber State and TAMCC), Utah State is most likely going to have to win their conference tourney to make it to the dance.
- Cincinnati won't compete with the top teams in the Big East. They had high expectations entering this season, but if you lose a game to Presbyterian it tells me you're not ready for big time expectations. The Marshall loss isn't as bad, because Marshall is a C-USA contender, but is still a game Cincy needed to win if it wanted to prove it's ready to be a Big East factor. Problem is, they're not.
Now, I'm going to give you guys a team to watch, and hope they don't make me look foolish. The Iona Gaels will become a Top 25 team by season's end. At the point, Iona is led by Scott Machado. Machado leads the entire nation with 12.8 assists per game (he was second in the category last season) and scores 19.8 points a game to go with his passing skills. He's joined in the backcourt by Arizona transfer Lamont Jones, who is contributing 15.0 points per game. His Pac 12 and tournament experience show his talent is at a level above MAAC play, and will greatly help Iona in the grand scheme of things. The most crucial player for this team is Michael Glover. The dominant forward is the MAAC preseason Player of the Year, and has put up 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Add in solid contributors like Kyle Smyth (12.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Taaj Ridley (8.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and a solid bench (5 players average between 15 and 6.7 minutes per game) and this Iona team has the components to be dangerous.
Iona's offense is high octane, as the Gaels lead the nation in points per game. Their one loss this season was by one point to Purdue, and they dismantled Maryland on a neutral court. OOC games against Richmond, Vermont and Hofstra as well as MAAC matchups against Fairfield should show how good this Gaels team is down the road. All in all, I expect a few slip-ups, but overall, the Gaels will roll into the NCAA tournament and most likely give a school a scare. Don't forget Iona.
And now for a Syracuse Orange update. Syracuse clinched the NIT Tip Off title with a come-from-behind win over a tougher than expected Stanford team. They sit at 6-0, with wins over Virginia Tech and Stanford of note (both in the NIT). Syracuse is a team that returns everyone besides Rick Jackson, and brings in highly touted freshman Rakeen Christmas. This team has the most depth and uses it better than any other team in the nation (sorry Belmont) and is a real Big East and national contender.
Personally, I'm impressed with the improvement Fab Melo has shown. Last season was clearly a disappointment for Melo, as he sagged under preseason expectations. During the offseason he lost weight and continued to develop his game, and is currently contributing well for the Orange. Melo averages 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, good for third on the team. He's not the player that was expected at the beginning of last season, but he's much improved from how he played last year.
Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters have led the way for Syracuse, with plenty of others chipping in. Syracuse has 10 players average at least 12.8 minutes per game (5 average 20+ minutes per game, 4 average 15+ and 1 averages 12.8). The poise that this team has shown in coming from behind twice in the NIT for wins, combined with the experience gained from last season and the great depth it possesses, creates great expectations from me this season. The one knock people try to make against the Orange is that they lack a bonafied scorer. Joseph is putting that false claim to rest. With his team trailing Stanford by 8, Joseph scored 12 of his 18 points in the final seven minutes, coming up big and scoring when Syracuse needed it most. With UConn and Pitt unable to close out teams they should have beaten, Syracuse has to stand alone as the Big East favorite.
So there are my thoughts on the college basketball landscape so far. Please, feel free to share your thoughts and opinions.
:) - assassin
Nice blog, Ogre. It's awfully early to write off the Pac-12, especially UCLA. - Djroxalot
It's early to write off anyone. - assassin
Eh, with the entire conference faltering in national games, and UCLA playing awful, I'd disagree. This conference sucks. I feel like with the showings they've already put up, I can say for sure that the Pac 12 won't make much national headlines against other conferences.
I'm very saddened by the turn of events for the Bruins. They need a
makeover, for sure. When Howland first came aboard, it looked like he would
return the Bruins to the national scene on a regular basis.
Wrong. - TnerB
I thought when the hire was made it would be a good one, but Howland has already lost control. Unless something drastic changes, he's lost this team.
I am eating my words
regarding Melo. Holy shiyt, he actually looks like a ball player.
You mentioned depth, did you see how fast ol' JimB ran back to his top six? MCW, Xmas and even Scoop riding the pine. It will be interesting, but this year will be up and down. The slow starts will not keep us in the top 5.
Oh, and this better be a very Orange slanted blog! - Pickle T Johnstone
I'm shocked by Fab Melo as well. He's had a drastic turnaround. His stats might not show it, but he's much improved. I do think that the top 6 are the key for Cuse, but this depth can't be underestimated. Of course it will be Orange slanted! GO SYRACUSE!
No mention of Duke or IU? I think Duke will surprise a LOT of people this year. They aren't dependent on one player. Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee have all led the team in scoring at some point. Austin Rivers has yet to have a good stretch of games, yet their undefeated, have played 11 games together by the end of November, and have faced a brutal schedule. Given how weak the ACC is, I think they could come away with 1 loss, more likely 2. - Rudedog
Not until now! Indiana is impressing me, especially the way they handled Butler. Even in a down season, beating a Brad Stevens team by 16 is a good result. Something tells me they could make it to the tournament. Duke is deep and scary good, but I don't know for sure if they have a go to, guaranteed scorer when they need it. Maybe I'm wrong. But I do see them as a top 5-7 team for sure.
Hey the NBA is back! No need to use your time writing on the minor leagues - CubanMissile
NBA games suck.