Tag:MAAC
Posted on: February 6, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2012 1:43 pm
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 12



By Matt Norlander

The Super Bowl set all of us back a little bit. I got around to Power Pyramid sorting this morning, and here’s what we have: 15 teams that have pretty much separated themselves. Yeah, a few fringers and teams that just missed out are there, but not like the mainstays who’ve been paying rent for well over a month.

We also have a new top-ranked team.

Top Tier

1. Murray State (23-0). A Sentence: I think I’ll make the rule now that, if you get to February undefeated, you take the top spot(s) in the Pyramid. A Statistic:  Including Saint Mary’s, the average KenPom ranking of the teams Murray State has left on its schedule: 173. More and more I begin to doubt this team can get a 3 seed if it runs the table.  The Schedule: vs. Tennessee State, Thursday; vs. Austin Peay, Saturday.

2. Saint Mary’s (22-2). A Sentence: To put it is clearly as can be, I didn’t ever think SMC would reach these kind of heights this season.  A Statistic: The Gaels are not the biggest or tallest team, but they grab 73.7 percent of their defensive-rebound opportunities. I think that’s the biggest aspect to their success. Randy Bennett’s teams have never rebounded like this before. The Schedule: at Gonzaga, Thursday; vs. Santa Clara, Saturday.

3. UNLV (21-4). A Sentence:  When it lost to San Diego State a few weeks ago I didn’t flinch, but another L, this one at Wyoming, forces me to shift the playing pieces. A Statistic: Since the Mountain West is just an eight-team league now, it’s actually got a schedule where the second half mirrors the first. The league just finished the first half of conference play, so now everyone will go through the same eight-game cycle again, only switching home/away teams. The Schedule: vs. San Diego State, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Harvard (20-2). A Sentence: Ivy play comes to a head when the Crimson get a tough road game at Penn Friday, and that’s going to be the game that essentially decides of Harvard cruises to a tournament bid. A Statistic: It’s the defense that’s getting it done. Harvard’s not ranked in the top 25 in any tempo-free category. The Schedule: at Penn, Friday; at Princeton, Saturday.

5. Creighton (21-3). A Sentence: Creighton, like a lot of Pyramid teams lost this week, so it’s not really warranted to shake the cage too much. A Statistic: Creighton’s lack of urgency on defense is what came back to kill it in losing at Northern Iowa. The Panthers only turned the ball over on 3.3 percent of their possessions, and Creighton is ranked 336th in turnover percentage. The Schedule: at Evansville, Tuesday; vs. Wichita State, Saturday.

6. San Diego State (20-3). A Sentence: I feel a little dirty keeping SDSU this high after it barely got out alive playing at home against Boise State. A Statistic: Steve Fisher now has seven straight 20-win seasons at a place that was a miserable basketball school before he got there. What a coaching job. The Schedule: at UNLV, Saturday.

Temple has quietly taken control of an unpredictable Atlantic 10. (AP)

7. Temple (17-5). A Sentence: I’ve never wavered on Temple, who has no excuse not to run away with the Atlantic 10 now. A Statistic: I say that about the Owls because, to me, they’re clearly the class of the conference, yet the top eight teams are separated by two games. The A10 is so hairy it’s ridiculous, and I think unprecedented. The Schedule: vs. George Washington, Wednesday; vs. Xavier Saturday.

8. Wichita State (20-4). A Sentence: There aren’t two other games Saturday I’m looking forward to more than the one Wichita State is playing in. A Statistic: With an average experience of 2.5 years per player, Wichita State is the fifth-oldest team in the nation. The Schedule: vs. Northern Iowa, Wednesday; at Creighton, Saturday.

9. Oral Roberts (20-4). A Sentence: I didn’t expect ORU to win on the road at both of the Dakota States, so they take a little tumble in the Pyramid. A Statistic: For as good as it is on offense, ORU is hampered defensively. Effectively, teams make more than 50 percent of their shots against them, including 36 percent of 3-pointers. The Schedule: vs. IUPUI, Thursday; vs. Western Illinois, Saturday.

10. Gonzaga (18-4). A Sentence: Couldn’t beat BYU on the road last week, and now Saint Mary’s comes to town for what amounts as a reputation-staking game for Gonzaga. A Statistic: Robert Sacre now has a free-throw rate of 94, meaning he takes 94 percent of his field goal attempt total from the foul line. If you played a game and Robert Sacre shot 100 field goals, he’d also have 94 free throws. Easy enough, right? It’s the highest free-throw rate in the nation. The Schedule: vs. Saint Mary’s, Thursday; vs. Loyola Marymount, Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. New Mexico (19-4). A Sentence:  UNM has been blowing out teams but it also doesn’t have an impressive win in 2012 yet. A Statistic: This is, far and away, the best defensive team Steve Alford’s had at UNM. The team’s adjusted defensive efficiency is 87.7 points per 100 possessions. The only time Alford had a better team was the top-ranked squad at Iowa in 2005-06, when the 84.4 points per 100 possessions was best in the country. The Schedule: vs. Wyoming, Saturday.

12. Southern Miss (20-3). A Sentence: The Golden Eagles will be back in the NCAA tournament if they merely beat all the teams they’re supposed to beat from here on out. A Statistic: The most surprising factor to USM’s success is, this team shoots 47.1 from the field in effective field-goal percentage. That number is surprisingly low. The Schedule: at UAB, Wednesday; vs. Central Florida, Saturday.

13. Middle Tennessee State (21-4): A Sentence: Didn’t like how MTSU was thoroughly handled on the road against a decent Denver team, but I’m willing to let one loss be a cushion. A Statistic: This team has five games remaining on its schedule, by far the fewest of any Pyramid team. No BracketBusters hurts. The Schedule: vs. Western Kentucky, Thursday; vs. Arkansas Little Rock, Saturday.

14. Cleveland State (20-4). A Sentence: With Nevada losing and Gary Waters’ team continue to roll in the Horizon, it’s time to get the Vikings back in the mix. A Statistic: No Pyramid team is worse in any category than Cleveland State is at getting to the foul line. The team’s free-throw rate is 26.1 percent, third-worst in the country. The Schedule: vs. Valpo, Thursday; vs. Butler, Saturday.

15. Iona (19-5). A Sentence: The Gaels are so tempting because they’ve got guys who can score 30 with ease, dish 14 assists like it’s nothing and run so many teams out of the gym. A Statistic: Iona’s been able to win four games in a row for the first time in more than two months. The Schedule: at Loyola, Friday; vs. Marist, Sunday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Nevada. In: Cleveland State.
♦ At 19-4, Ohio’s still right there.
♦ The 19-4 Wagner Seahawks are also getting closer and closer.
Posted on: February 6, 2012 10:50 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 10:51 am
 

Iona relishing being the MAAC's hunted

By Jeff Borzello

Momo Jones and Iona are beginning to enjoy getting everyone's best shot in the MAAC. (US Presswire)

BRONX, N.Y. – Manhattan had Saturday night’s Iona game circled on its calendar. It was on ESPN3, the game was sold out, and they were turning people away at the door.

The Jaspers came at Iona with everything they had, but came up short, losing 85-73 in a battle for first-place in the MAAC.

The intensity and pressure was nothing new for the Gaels.

Iona also received Siena’s best shot. And Fairfield’s best shot. And Canisius’ best shot. And – well, you get the point. The Gaels are clearly the hunted in the MAAC this year.

“We love it. That’s the attention we want,” guard Scott Machado said. “We go into every game like we did tonight, we’ll be fine.”

At times this year, Iona hasn’t handled the limelight very well. It lost to Hofstra in late December; blew a 17-point lead in the first meeting against Manhattan; and also lost two weeks ago to Siena after leading by 18 at one point.

The similarity of both Manhattan games wasn’t lost on Iona head coach Tim Cluess, who realized that the Gaels had jumped out to a big second half lead in each meeting. However, Iona is not the same team it was a month ago.

“Same score, same time – did we grow up or didn’t we? And we did,” Cluess said.

Iona has had a bad habit of blowing big leads, and then resting on its laurels and allowing lesser teams to comeback in the second half. It cost them twice this season, but the Gaels are realizing all eyes are on them right now.

“We can’t take a night off,” Cluess said. “Everyone’s shooting at us. There’s a lot of energy, and so teams are going to play well against us.”

Manhattan did play well against Iona for a half, getting 19 points from George Beamon in the first 20 minutes. In the second stanza, though, the Iona defense – a unit that has much-maligned this season – clamped down on Beamon, and the Jaspers’ offense struggled mightily.

There would be no miracle comeback and Emmy Andujar buzzer-beater this time around.

“We finished the last several games off better,” Cluess said. “Teams are good, so teams are going to have runs. Our job is to answer those runs. And play defense if the offense struggles.”

Iona is starting to play the role of villain pretty well. With Momo Jones heating up offensively – he had 43 points in a game last week – and Sean Armand being the team’s X-factor, it’s no longer just the Machado and Mike Glover show. That should help them in the conference tournament, where the Gaels fell short in the conference title game against St. Peter’s.

They’re also ready for whatever opposing teams – and crowds – throw at them. On Saturday night, Draddy Gymnasium was hot, loud and hostile.

And Iona loved it.

“I think it worked to our advantage,” Jones said. “We fed off of their crowd’s energy more than they did.”

A month ago, you couldn’t have said that about the Gaels. But they’re tougher now. They like having a target on their backs.

They’ve grown up. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 30, 2012 10:01 am
Edited on: January 30, 2012 10:03 am
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 11


By Matt Norlander

We keep hearing about this week bubble we’ve got. In other news, it’s 2003. Or is it 2006? Oh, 2009, you say? The year, it’s irrelevant. Each season the soft, soapy exterior of the bubble is a lament as annual and predictable as the degradation of Tom Izzo’s voice. It’s part of basketball and we need to accept it rather than moan about it.

If it’s true, if the at-large field proves to be weak once again, then I’m reinforcing my suggestion from last week to a higher degree: the teams listed below here, plenty of them, will be breaking lamps and jumping on couches at the big party in March. Too many good groups here not to have some serious “upset” potential in the big bracket. Because a lot of these teams are going to get matched up against that weak at-large competition.

By the way, you can see some of the hints in the schedules upcoming, but I expect this week to be the last one where real possibility for great shifts and movement in the Pyramid come about.

Top Tier

Dave Rice is proving to be quite a boss. (AP)

1. UNLV (20-3). A Sentence:  If they get a good draw I will not hesitate to put UNLV into the Elite Eight, and I’m sort of hoping they drop a game or two soon so plenty get thrown off the scent. A Statistic: The MWC owns a non-con winning percentage of .772. That’s better than the ACC (.690), Big East (.764) SEC (.734) and of course the Pac-12 (.596), but who’s including them in this, really? The Schedule: vs. Colorado State, Wednesday; at Wyoming, Saturday.

2. Murray State (21-0). A Sentence: I have only one request: give us Saint Mary’s at Murray State, BracketBusters overlords. A Statistic:  Murray State is more than 100 spots better in points per possession and points per possession allowed than every OVC team except Jacksonville State, which is 37 spots behind MSU in PPPD on KenPom.  The Schedule: vs. Southeast Missouri State, Thursday; at Tennessee Martin, Saturday.

3. Creighton (20-2). A Sentence: You think I’m all KenPom cheerleader, think again, because the man uses a special formula that somehow has Doug McDermott ludicrously ranked 10th in his player-of-the-year chase. A Statistic: When it comes to usage—what percent a player is directly involved in a play, whether by scoring or assisting—McDermott is the leader in the Valley at 31.8. The drop-off on the Blue Jays is gargantuan, as Antoine Young’s the next-highest in the Valley is No. 25 overall in usage, per BBState.com. The Schedule: vs. Illinois State, Wednesday; at Northern Iowa, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Saint Mary’s (21-2). A Sentence: It’s this simple: avoid the bad losses and the Gaels will be, at worst, a five seed.  A Statistic: The Gaels always under-schedule in terms of how many games they COULD play if they wanted. I approve of the method, even if Randy Bennett doesn’t challenge his team as much as he obviously could. What I’m getting at is, even counting the BracketBusters bonus game, SMC has completed 77 percent of its schedule already. Season is flying by. The Schedule: vs. San Diego, Thursday.

5. Harvard (18-2). A Sentence: I saw this team Friday night, and all I can say is, they’re going to be very good for years to come. A Statistic: Through four games, Harvard opponents in the Ivy are scoring 44.8 points per game. The Schedule: vs. Cornell, Friday; vs. Columbia, Saturday.

6. San Diego State (18-3). A Sentence: Was Saturday night’s 77-60 loss at Colorado State just an inevitability, or will we see a different SDSU team going forward? A Statistic: I just realized this, but something the team and coaches have to be proud of—SDSU won California this year. They went 7-0 against Eureka State competition and won’t face another Cali team this year, unless the tournament enables it. The Schedule: vs. Boise State, Wednesday; vs. TCU, Saturday.

7. Oral Roberts (20-4). A Sentence: If ORU can manage to sweep the Dakota States this week, in all likelihood they’ll be No. 4 or 5 in next week’s rankings. A Statistic: Scott Sutton’s team has compiled quite the nice 14-game winning streak, and in those games, ORU is winning by an average of 12.1 points per game. Not barely skating by by any means.. The Schedule: at South Dakota, Thursday; at North Dakota State, Saturday.

8. Gonzaga (17-3). A Sentence: Does that Thursday game give you the wary feeling that I’m getting right now? A Statistic: Since November of 2010, Gonzaga is 10-7 on the road. The Schedule: at BYU, Thursday; at Pepperdine, Saturday.

9. New Mexico (17-4). A Sentence: No-doubt-about-it wins last week at home over sneaky Colorado State and TCU is good for business. A Statistic: Drew Gordon, a player I like more than most, is taking 29.2 percent of the defensive-rebound opportunities that are presented to him. Top-10 in the country. Gordon needs to get even more aggressive for UNM to be a difference-maker. The Schedule: at Air Force, Tuesday; at Boise State, Saturday.

10. Temple (15-5). A Sentence: Michael Eric’s long-awaited, critical return is a big thing for Temple and the A10, which now could be the Owls’ league to take. A Statistic: When Eric plays, Temple is 6-1. The Schedule: vs. Fordham, Wednesday; at Rhode Island, Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. Wichita State (17-3). A Sentence: Triple-OT loss at Drake doesn’t mean Witchy must fall in the Pyramid of Swanson. A Statistic: I teased my Gregg Marshall piece last week, and since it’s run, I want to point you to it, because I’ve got a couple of charts in there worth looking at. The Schedule: at Missouri State, Wednesday; vs. Indiana State, Saturday.

12. Middle Tennessee State (20-3): A Sentence: Didn’t get embarrassed at Vandy, which was good, but now can’t dwell on the loss and have to turn around and win two conference road games this week. A Statistic: At least five of these remain, still, but what a difference a year makes. In terms of road/neutral games, MTSU lost 12 last year. Right now the number’s only two. Now, the bitch about being MTSU—realistically, the team can only afford one more road/neutral loss of any kind, lest it be NIT-bound. The Schedule: at North Texas, Thursday; at Denver, Saturday.

Southern Miss fell to Memphis the first time this season. It needs to avenge the loss this week to stay in the Pyramid. (AP)

13. Southern Miss (19-3). A Sentence: More than any team I’ve omitted this season, I’ve received tweets and haranguing emails from folks about not including USM, so I’ve finally caved. A Statistic: The last time Larry Eustachy had a season this good? You guessed it: ’99-00 with Iowa State, when the ‘Clones got to 22-3 before dropping a fourth game. The Schedule: vs. Memphis, Wednesday.

14. Nevada (18-3). A Sentence: The Wolf Pack (not Wolfpack!) also make their Pyramid debut—can they handle this incredible newfound pressure? A Statistic: If you’d like to know what this team does better than anything else, it’s shoot the 3. Nevada sinks 39.1 percent from behind the arc. Overall, by the way, this team does not stand out on paper, but the one impressive stat on the sheet: it hasn’t lost since the day after Thanksgiving. The Schedule: vs. Utah State, Thursday; vs. Idaho, Saturday.

15. Iona (17-5). A Sentence: The Siena loss, blowing the 18-point lead, was extremely damaging and now puts Iona on weak ice. A Statistic: Point guard Scott Machado has been so big, but it’s Mike Glover’s consistency that I think is keeping Iona going. As of Sunday, Glover was shooting 66.8 percent from the field, fourth-best in the nation in overall field-goal percentage, but more strictly, from two-point range. The Schedule: vs. Canisius, Thursday; at Manhattan, Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Dayton, which made me look foolish by losing t St. Joe’s and then Rhode f’ing Island. Saint Louis is also gone, which is deserved for losing to UMass, but also speaks to the Atlantic 10 in general, which has become the ultimate mixing bowl of a conference. In: Southern Miss, Nevada.
♦ Cleveland State is so close. I actually sat and thought and debated between Cleveland State and Iona for five minutes.  
♦ I told Weber State it would be in if it could win at lowly Sacramento State and Idaho State. The latter did not come to be, so who knows if Damian Lillard’s team ever cracks the Pyramid this year.

Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:09 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 7:12 pm
 

The tightest league races right now

Drexel and George Mason are two of five teams chasing down the CAA crown. Many conference races remain four-team-or-more chases nearly halfway through league play. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

We’re now more than halfway through the college basketball season (blink long enough and conference tournaments will be there before your eyes as you open them), and what intrigues me is the number of conferences with good races/clogs at the top. I wanted to see which leagues had the best tussles for supremacy right now, so I’ve laid them out on the table, so to speak. In three weeks, separation will become natural and many of the conferences featured below will either see the top of its respective mountains less crowded — or perhaps find a late bloomer making a spirited run.

For now, these are among the tightest, densest races and chases going in college hoops right now. Yes, there had to be some ground rules. First of all, you couldn’t be from the Pac-12. Secondly, you couldn’t be from any of the major conferences, because we’re all very aware of those marathons. Plus, those leagues are covered in a column I wrote today. To be fair to sample size, I set a bar: each team had to have played a minimum of seven conference games, eliminating C-USA for now, which could become really enrapturing, and the Atlantic 10 which, as of this post, had teams 1 through 12 with one to three losses. No one knows what’s going to happen in that league. As Tony Horton would say, “I hate it, but I love it.” Both of those conferences will get standalone posts on their prospects near the end of the month.

Lastly, conferences that qualified for this post needed at least four teams within two games of each other in the loss column in the top of the standings. You’ll notice I use points per possession and points per possession allowed in addition to league/overall marks. The format is similar to John Gasaway’s super Tuesday Truths, only I’m not using efficiency margins as means of ranking, and the PPP metrics are for all games, not in-conference, which John uses.

Here they are, college basketball’s six closest non-Big Six conference chases.

CAA

Team                     League   Overall      PPP     PPPA

George Mason          8-1       16-5         1.04    0.92
VCU                            7-2       16-5         1.04    0.90
Drexel                         7-2       15-5         1.03    0.89
Old Dominion            7-2       12-9         0.96    0.92
Georgia State            6-3       14-6         1.02    0.86

Prior to the start of the weekend, the Colonial was the only conference with a viable six-team quest. Since then, Northeastern fell out of favor. How about Mason, eh? That’s my preseason CAA pick. And it doesn’t play any of the top six teams again until Feb. 4, when it gets ODU. Speaking of the Monarchs, Old Dominion challenged itself greatly in the non-con, so the overall record doesn’t do justice to the ceiling that team has. Drexel, by the way, was the coaches’ pick for conference winner back in October. But it ain’t October no mo’.

Few leagues have been as defensively stout as the CAA. Its collective .97 points-per-possession-allowed is the best of any conference listed here. Georgia State still leads the league in efficiency margin — something to keep an eye on.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Georgia State at Drexel, Wednesday
VCU at Georgia State, Saturday

NEC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Long Island             8-0       14-6         1.06    1.01
Wagner                     6-2       15-4         1.08    0.94
Central Conn.          6-2        9-9          1.02    1.00
Robert Morris           5-2       15-6         1.05    0.96
St. Francis (NY)       6-2       9-10         0.98    0.98

The Northeast Conference’s chase has been a long time coming. Four of the five teams fared well in the non-con, even CCSU, which is treading water overall. But Central Connecticut also could have the league’s best player, Ken Horton, and the best freshman, Kyle Vinales. Plenty’s already been written about Wagner (which could easily be 14-5, not 15-4), but now that LIU is still undefeated, the defending NEC champs should see an uptick in pub, including on this here blog.

It must be noted, again, that Robert Morris is playing so well despite suspending its best player, Karon Abraham, for the season. How many teams could duplicate that?

Upcoming games between top teams:

Long Island at Robert Morris, Thursday
St. Francis (NY) at Robert Morris, Saturday

Big South

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

UNC-Asheville           9-1       14-7         1.15    1.02
Campbell                    8-2       14-8         1.08    1.03
Coastal Carolina       7-2       14-5         1.09    0.94
Charleston Southern 7-3       13-7         1.1     1.01

The Big South is the best league you don’t’ know anything about. Yeah, defense isn’t the motto — but the teams can score! And they can win out of conference, too; Charleston Southern is graded out to a top-20 non-con strength of schedule, according to KenPom.com.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Campbell at Asheville, Saturday

Rob Jones and the Gaels are off to the best start in league play since 1959. (AP)

WCC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Saint Mary’s              8-0       19-2         1.17    0.91
Gonzaga                    6-1       16-3         1.1     0.94
Brigham Young         6-2       17-5         1.11    0.90
Loyola Marymount    5-2       12-8         1.01    0.96

Who knew Saint Mary’s would be THIS good? Tough games are upcoming, but still, the Gaels haven’t ever started West Coast Conference play 8-0 before. They started 8-0 in ’58-’59, back when they were a part of the West Coast Athletic Conference, which became the WCC. Kudos to them. What I love about this race is how each team can score — and isn’t allowing more than a point per possession. Some good old fashioned domination going on. I like Gonzaga to ultimately win the league in the regular season. Marymount’s going to remain to be a problem for everyone, though.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Saint Mary’s at Marymount, Thursday
Saint Mary’s at BYU, Saturday

Horizon

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Cleveland State       7-2       17-4         1.04    0.92
Valparaiso                7-2       14-7         1.08    1.01
UW-Milwaukee        6-3       13-8         0.98    0.93
Butler                         6-3       12-9         0.97    0.95
Youngstown State    6-3       11-8         1.03    1.00

Look at cute little Butler, just hiding in the weeds at 12-9 and tied for second. It’s no secret this Bulldogs team has had trouble scoring, but at least they’re still, just barely, better on O than D. Cleveland State has done very well for itself, but I think the Horizon, which ends league play Feb. 25, before most other leagues, will see four teams own the top spot before the season ends. I don’t think Youngstown State is worth taking seriously, but they met the qualifications and are playing better than Milwaukee. Then again, the Penguins have had a much easier schedule than the Panthers.  

Upcoming games between top teams:

Butler at Milwaukee, Thursday
Cleveland State at Youngstown State, Saturday
Valpo at Milwaukee, Saturday

MAAC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Iona                        7-2       15-5         1.14    1.00
Manhattan             7-2       14-7         1.01    0.93
Loyola                    7-2       14-5         1.01    0.96
Fairfield                 5-3       10-9         1.00    0.96

In the preseason I expected Fairfield to narrow past Iona for the league title. Then it became clear the Gaels were far superior to the Stags, who are enduring one of the most disappointing seasons of any team in the country. They’re barely keeping chase to make this feature. Now Iona’s staggered after blowing an 18-point lead to Siena Monday night. Siena, as you can see, is not even in position to win the MAAC right now. The Gaels are still the best team this league has by a wide margin, but now they’re not to be trusted, despite having three all league-level players in Scott Machado, Mike Glover and MoMo Jones.

Manhattan has transformed itself in the first year under Steve Masiello. What a job. And talking to some in the league in the preseason, they expected Loyola to be a top-three team. That’s true so far.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Iona at Fairfield, Friday
Posted on: January 23, 2012 9:36 am
Edited on: January 23, 2012 11:10 am
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 10



By Matt Norlander

Each week I’m so impressed by the group of teams below because they’re all so good. You think this is a down year for college basketball? I don’t know — is it? At this level it’s not. All of these teams are good-to-great. All — yes, all — can win two games in March.

The more I examine the tendencies and DNAs of these teams, the more I think the Saturday and Sunday, Round of 32 games in March will have at least a third of the current Pyramid playing. Could easily be more, too. That’s a great sign for the “small guys,” who are anything but that. It was about six weeks ago when I thought there was a significant drop-off between the top three teams and the rest of the rankings. Not anymore. One through eight here is a narrow margin, and teams nine through 15 are just as smooshed together.

Top Tier

1. UNLV (18-3). A Sentence:  Check out this cool, dotted chart on Vegas’ Mike Moser. A Statistic: UNLV is shooting 54.4 percent from two-point range — they’ve never finished so high in the past decade. The Schedule: at Boise State, Wednesday; at Air Force, Saturday.

2. Murray State (20-0). A Sentence: I may think this team will lose a game before the end of February, but I’m not stubborn enough to not vault them after reaching 20 wins, zero losses. A Statistic:  And this is what speaks to how tough it is to go undefeated. The Racers have nine games left. KenPom still has them well under 50 percent (45.3) to finish the regular season without a loss. And that’s only taking into account the rest of the crummy OVC. There’s a worthy, tough, home BracketBusters game still coming, so you’d think the real percentage is somewhere around 40.  The Schedule: vs. Eastern Illinois, Saturday.

The only thing holding the Racers and head coach Steve Prohm back is apparently this tie. (AP)

3. Creighton (18-2). A Sentence: Doug McDermott is firmly at No. 2 in our Player of the Year chase. A Statistic: There’s a correlation to Creighton’s winning I’m seeing. The Bluejays have been at the top of effective field goal percentage all season long (currently leading hoops at 59.1 percent), and they sort of have to shoot that well, because they don’t turn teams over. The 16.9 charity rate is among the bottom five percent. The Schedule: at Drake, Wednesday; vs. Bradley, Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Saint Mary’s (19-2). A Sentence: I wonder how many coaching offers Randy Bennett will seek/get after this season.  A Statistic: The Gaels have started 8-0 in conference play. The last time that happened? No, seriously, can anyone tell me? This resource doesn't seem to be available online. UPDATE! A Richard Kilwien has emailed to link me to the SMC record book, which indicates the last time the Gaels started this strong in conference was '58-'59. Yowza! The Schedule: at Loyola Marymount, Thursday; at BYU, Saturday.

5. San Diego State (17-2). A Sentence: Steve Fisher has had one hell of a career, but I bet he’d tell you this is among his most charmed, rewarding seasons. A Statistic: I have to use three. Four players average double figures; five players grab more than four rebounds per game; and only two players commit more than two turnovers per contest. The Schedule: at New Mexico, Wednesday; vs. Air Force, Saturday.

6. Harvard (16-2). A Sentence: Crimson could be just as good as any other two-loss team you see listed here. A Statistic: The Crimson play out to 61.9 possessions per game, which is the slowest of any Pyramid team (beating Saint Louis’ 62.1). The 61.9 is ranked 326th out of 345. The Schedule: at Yale, Friday; at Brown, Saturday.

Dominique Morrison and Oral Roberts are plowing through the Summit League. (AP)

7. Oral Roberts (18-4). A Sentence: Tearing through the Summit, when it was Oakland or South Dakota State, by most, who was expected to win the league. A Statistic: the Golden Eagles’ offense is operating a clip it never has in the KenPom era prior to this season. With an adjusted efficiency of 112.7 points per 100 possessions, ORU has become one of the most potent “mid-major” scoring teams, and it’s led by Dominique Morrison, who scores a scorching 1.26 PPP. Spicy. The Schedule: vs. South Dakota, Thursday; vs. Missouri-Kansas City, Saturday.

8. Gonzaga (16-3). A Sentence: I ask just to have you ask this to yourself. Do you think Mark Few passing on so many jobs in the past five, six years was a good thing for him? A Statistic: You can’t call the Zags soft. Their foul shots make up for almost half of their fields, a rate of 48.3, which is top-10 in the nation. The Schedule: at Portland, Thursday.

9. New Mexico (15-4). A Sentence:  I’m a hopeless romantic in that I won’t just abandon ship entirely because New Mexico couldn’t beat San Diego State and UNLV in their first tries. A Statistic: I remain troubled that New Mexico doesn’t lead its conference in one major statistic right now. The Schedule: vs. Colorado State, Wednesday; vs. Texas Christian, Saturday.

10. Iona (15-4). A Sentence: Once the Pyramid’s top-rated team, Iona needs to prep for what I think is going to be a strenuous three-week stretch in the MAAC. A Statistic: Iona should chase down its third straight 20-win season, making it the first time since 1998 the Gaels have gone through straight years hitting the acclaimed benchmark. The Schedule: at Siena, Monday; at Fairfield, Friday.

Base Blocks

10. Dayton (14-5). A Sentence: The Archie-Miller-looks-so-young jokes are coming, folks. A Statistic: But you want to know why Dayton can win like this? It’s top seven minutes-getters are juniors or seniors. The Schedule: at St. Joseph’s, Wednesday; vs. Rhode Island, Saturday.

12. Wichita State (17-3). A Sentence: I kind of hate myself for refusing to put Wichita State in the Swanson category, but I’m making it up to you by posting a Gregg Marshall feature later today. A Statistic: Marshall has been a head coach since 1997. Only once, his first year at WSU, did he have a team finish under .500. The Schedule: vs. Evansville, Wednesday; at Drake, Saturday.

13. Middle Tennessee State (19-2): A Sentence: This would be a 20-1 team if not for a three-point, double-overtime loss to Belmont in mid-November. A Statistic: You’ll often see effective field goal percentage referenced here. It’s a truer gauge of a team’s shooting than actual field goal percentage, which sometimes can get really off-balanced. Middle Tennessee State is 19-2, primarily, because opponents are shooting 42.4 percent in eFG. That’s fifth-best in the nation. The Schedule: vs. Troy, Thursday; at Vanderbilt, Saturday.

14. Temple (13-5). A Sentence: The Owls remain worthy of inclusion after not letting the outcome enter into a discussion of doubt against Maryland Saturday. A Statistic: Ramone Moore is continually playing too many minutes. He’s in the game 90 percent of the time, up from 83.7 percent last year. As a result, he’s now scoring less than a point per possession (.99; last year it was 1.05) and his effective field goal percentage has dipped from 49.9 last year to 46.1. Moore’s going to need more breathers if Temple’s going to win big in the long-term. The Schedule: at Charlotte, Wednesday; vs. St. Joseph’s, Saturday.

15. Saint Louis (15-4). A Sentence: I’ve got a funny feeling Saint Louis is spending its last week inside the Pyramid here — for the rest of the season. A Statistic: By any credible measuring system — KenPom, Sagarin, Palm, LRMC—the Billikens haven’t beaten a top-100 team since Nov. 27 (Oklahoma). The Schedule: at Xavier, Wednesday; at UMass, Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Just like last week, we have no changes. OK, so here’s what I’ll do. I’ll address each fringe three- or four-loss team and what it needs to do to earn inclusion next week or the week after.
♦ Southern Miss. I’m perhaps unreasonably skeptical. The tempo-free numbers don’t look good, plus this team has yet to beat a legit squad. Long way to go.
♦ Nevada. Two road conference game Ws this week are all that stand between standing on the outside and entering the tomb.
♦ Cleveland State. Not even the Horizon’s best team yet. Take control of the league first, which is a one-bid league, too.
♦ Weber State. Fairly certain the Wildcats replace Saint Louis in next week’s Pyramid, so long as they win both of their games this week.
♦ Ohio. Once a Pyramid team, now 3-2 in the mediocre MAC. May not get back if it endures one more loss.
♦ Central Florida. Donnie Jones’ team is the only one of any featured that hasn’t been able to string together a really long win streak. Can it do that going forward? Not seeing it.


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Posted on: January 16, 2012 9:39 am
Edited on: January 16, 2012 10:08 am
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 9


By Matt Norlander

It was a long weekend — in a good way. But no time to dilly nor to dally. Let’s get to the tally. A few sentences before the rankings. You’ll notice the teams involved this week are the same from last week. There’s some jiggering in the standings, but that’s it.

For fans of teams not involved in the Pyramid, once more, here goes: the rankings are assembled only according to my chicken brain and involve a combination of 1) how good, in general, I think the team is at the second I post the Pyramid, 2) Has the team proven itself and gone against better teams than others? That plays a factor, as does a lack of good opponents, even if that’s in conference play. I know a lot of teams play in bad conferences, but I’m not going to continue raising their ranking if other teams are playing tougher opponents, losing the occasional game. Thirdly, this is not an AP or Coaches Poll. If you lose you don’t necessarily drop. If you win you don’t necessarily rise.

Finally, when it comes down to a “tiebreaker” of sorts, if all things are equal, I pick the team I think would win this afternoon in an empty gym somewhere in the middle of Vermont. The Peter King-ism of the Pyramid.   

I’m loving, and appreciating, the attention the Pyramid’s been getting, at least enough to make a number of your email/tweet your disagreements. You’ve been civil and I’ve been sad to see that. Let’s get inappropriately angry already.

Top Tier

1. UNLV (16-3). A Sentence:  I do not necessarily punish for losing close, on the road, against a tournament team who also happens to be in your conference. A Statistic: What does this mean to you? UNLV is undefeated at home, but 3-3 on the road. The Schedule: vs. TCU Wednesday; vs. New Mexico Saturday.

2. New Mexico (15-2). A Sentence:  Just take a look at the schedule and you’ll see that top of the Pyramid, or as low as 7 or 8, hangs in the balance this week. A Statistic: Uncommon amongst Pyramid teams — New Mexico last on Thanksgiving. The Schedule: vs. San Diego State Wednesday; at UNLV Saturday.

3. Creighton (16-2). A Sentence: Barring some real stinkers in the MVC, I don’t see how Creighton possibly falls out of the top five the rest of the way. A Statistic: I asked Patrick Marshall, who runs @wildjays, what his favorite stat about this team is. He offered up the fact Doug McDermott hit 1,000 points in 57 games. It took Creighton’s all-time leading scorer, Rodney Buford (’95-’99), 59 to do it. The Schedule: at Missouri State Wednesday; vs. Indiana State Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Saint Mary’s (17-2). A Sentence: To put it simply: I didn’t think the Gaels had a shot to win 18 of their first 20 games, which they’ll do Thursday night. A Statistic: The Gaels are scoring 1.15 points per trip, which is good for No. 9 in the nation. Yes, very good, and so good that they’ve not finished this high in efficiency in the past decade — or more. The Schedule: vs. Pepperdine Thursday; at Santa Clara Saturday.

5. Murray State (18-0). A Sentence: Plenty think I’m anti-Murray State, and that’s simply not the case. A Statistic: The Racers have a 37.4 percent of finishing unbeaten in the regular season, according to KenPom.  My brain calculus says it’s about an even 50/50 of getting into the NCAAs unscathed. And I still don’t think they do it — BUT I WANT THEM TO DO YOU HEAR ME HATERS I AM ROOTING FOR THIS. The Schedule: at Morehead State Wednesday; at SIU Edwardsville Saturday.

6. San Diego State (15-2). A Sentence: After about 40 days of playing garbage competition, the Aztecs pull out a two-point win in Saturday’s most exciting game (against UNLV), officially making Steve Fisher a wizard. A Statistic: Most incredible aspect to SDSU’s win over UNLV was the glaring difference in offensive-rebound rate (40 to 20). UNLV had 19 second-chance opportunities; Aztecs had six — and didn’t even shoot better than 50 percent, effectively, from the field. The Schedule: at New Mexico Wednesday; vs. Air Force Saturday.

7. Harvard (15-2). A Sentence: It’s not that I’m down on Harvard, I’m just higher on the higher teams, who’ve been getting chances to prove more and win more definitively than the Crimson. A Statistic: Some more crowd-sourcing was done here. I asked John Ezekowitz, who helps run the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective blog, what his favorite Crimson stat is. He offered up a few, but this one’s great. The program has set, plus broken. its record for fewest points allowed in a half twice this year. Earlier this season it was just 14 allowed against Florida State, and on Saturday, Harvard held George Washington to 13. The Schedule: at Dartmouth Saturday.

8. Gonzaga (14-3). A Sentence: Gonzaga has notable wins, but look closer and you’ll see they’re not great — merely good. A Statistic: Robert Sacre reaches the foul line 93 percent of the time compared to the field goal attempts he has. That’s an incredible rate—third-best in this fine nation. The Schedule: vs. San Francisco Thursday; vs. San Diego Saturday.

9. Iona (14-4). A Sentence: Gaels did not mess around Sunday night, winning by 11 over Loyola (MD), who was playing with the MAAC conference lead on the line. A Statistic: Iona’s averaging 81.1 points per game, but in its four losses, that number falls to 75. Reduce possessions and reduce your risk — you’ve got a chance. The Schedule: vs. Manhattan Thursday; vs. Loyola (Maryland) Sunday.

10. Dayton (13-5). A Sentence: We do not overreact here and discriminate for one loss. A Statistic: According to BBState.com’s metrics, Dayton has the 10th-toughest schedule. But KenPom has it at 38. Seems too stark. The Schedule: vs. Xavier Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. Oral Roberts (16-4). A Sentence: Golden Eagles are already halfway (8-0) to going undefeated in the Summit. A Statistic: Dominique Morrison is in the top 10 percent in minutes played, offensive rating, usage, effective field goals and free-throw rate. Only Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan shares that distinction. The Schedule: vs. IUPU Fort Wayne Thursday; vs. Oakland Saturday.

12. Wichita State (15-3). A Sentence: While the rest of the Missouri Valley cannibalizes itself into a two-bid league, the Shockers have dodged all but a loss to tournament-bound Creighton. A Statistic: WSU’s opponents are only getting 24.1 percent of O-board chances, fourth-best in the country. The Schedule: at Northern Iowa Wednesday; vs. Southern Illinois Saturday.

13. Middle Tennessee State (17-2): A Sentence: Blue Raiders playing themselves into an awesome position, but I’m worried the committee isn’t going to value this team and will stick them with a 14. A Statistic: Blue Raiders have won all but four of their games by double digits. The Schedule: vs. Arkansas State Thursday; at South Alabama Saturday.

14. Temple (11-5). A Sentence: I want the mustache back, Fran Dunphy. A Statistic: Fran Dunphy has gone 102 days without a mustache. The Schedule: vs. La Salle Wednesday; vs. Maryland Saturday.

15. Saint Louis (14-4). A Sentence: I’ve been trending down on SLU and that continues this week; home against Duquesne likely means they’ll be in the 15 spot again next week. A Statistic: Billikens have been cheating KenPom.com’s rankings all season long. They’re currently sitting at 18, which is about 20 spots too high for my ignorant tastes. The Schedule: vs. Duquesne Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: No one. In: No one!
♦ Three-loss non-BCS teams not in the Pyramid: Wyoming, Southern Miss, Wagner, Nevada, Cleveland State, Weber State. My guess is you’ll see three of those in the Pyramid in the next two weeks.
♦ I do not, nor will I ever, account for RPI. I love the emails, but you lovelies gotta stop referencing this unicorn stat. Kthxbai.
♦ And if you’d like to ever send me any worthwhile info or complaints about this, I encourage a follow on Twitter or emailing: matt.norlander@cbsinteractive.com.


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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com