Posted on: January 9, 2012 9:32 am
Edited on: January 11, 2012 2:02 pm

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 8

By Matt Norlander

The Pyramid isn’t living in the same world as the rest of college basketball. At least not yet. Did you happen to look at the results from the past four nights or so? The sport’s been filled with unlikely defeats and confusing transgressions all over the map. I don’t know what the Pac-12 is anymore, and the A10 is content to eat itself, it seems.

But over here, the rankings, while shifting, aren’t completely getting jumbled; there’s a sense of propriety here. What I really look forward to is the intra-conference games that are coming up, the tilts that will jilt the order here. We’ve got two newbies to the party this week, both who jumped over a number of teams based on a collective body of work that merited more than a 14 or 15 ranking.

Let’s get to talking.

Top Tier

1. UNLV (15-2). A Sentence:  I do wonder why more people aren’t noticing how good and dangerous this team is. A Statistic: The Rebels are back to running again. UNLV averages a conference-best 70.8 possessions per game. The Schedule: at San Diego State Saturday.

Is Drew Gordon ready to step up in a big way in conference play? The Pyramid sees big things ahead. (AP)

2. New Mexico (14-2). A Sentence:  Goodman and Parrish are down on the Lobos, so be thankful the Power Pyramid is here to give love to western teams who deserve it. A Statistic: It’s not as good as Vegas’ nearly 19 dimes per game, but the 17.3 assists per game UNM’s doling out is still top 10 in the nation. The Schedule: at Wyoming Saturday.

3. Creighton (13-2). A Sentence: McDermott’s going to be getting more pub I believe, but we’re about at the point where an examination of the starting five is worth our words. A Statistic: It’s the double threat that makes Creighton so great. The fact they can pass (20.2 assists per game, second in hoops) and shoot from deep (45.4 3-point percentage is second only to Indiana, who made 16 out of 24 attempts Sunday to overtake the ‘Jays). Alm. The Schedule: vs. Northern Iowa Tuesday; at Illinois State Friday; vs. Southern Illinois Sunday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Harvard (13-2). A Sentence: Let’s try not to overreact if Harvard winds up losing two Ivy games. A Statistic: I actually asked Harvard Yanni Hufnagel, a Crimson assistant, was his favorite stat about this team is. He said the 14.1 to 8.9 free-throws-made-per-game disparity. Said that’s been a small but big thing for this team. The Schedule: at Monmouth Tuesday; vs. George Washington Saturday.

5. Iona (12-3). A Sentence: The Gaels stand a good chance of separating themselves by two or three games in the MAAC in the next two weeks. A Statistic: For such a high-scoring team, Iona doesn’t make the most of getting to the foul line. The Gaels’ free-throw attempts amount to 28.8 percent of their field goal attempts (36.5 is about the average). The Schedule: vs. Manhattan Thursday; vs. Loyola (Maryland) Sunday.

6. Murray State (16-0). A Sentence: That Austin Peay win was a lot tougher than a lot of people realize. A Statistic: You might be wondering what Murray State’s best statistical season in program history is. Surely you can recall that 1935-36 assembly of Racer whippersnappers who went 23-2. The Schedule: vs. Jacksonville State Thursday; vs. Tennessee Tech Saturday.

7. Gonzaga (13-2). A Sentence: I’m ready for Kevin Pangos time. A Statistic: For the past seven years, the Zags have averaged between 67.4 and 68.7 possessions per game. Few is consistent, even if Gonzaga remains unpredictable. I’m liking this team, just not loving it yet. The Schedule: at Saint Mary’s Thursday; at Loyola Marymount Saturday.

8. San Diego State (13-2). A Sentence: Finally, finally, finally, finally we get to see the return of SDSU, who could get some muscle shock Saturday after their patsy run of cupcakes finishes up this week at home against winless Chicago State. A Statistic: According to BBState.com, SDSU has the 126th-ranked schedule. And that doesn’t include all the non-DI opponents.. The Schedule: vs. Chicago State Tuesday; vs. UNLV Saturday.

9. Saint Mary’s (14-2). A Sentence: I kind of put Saint Mary’s top-10 by default, but I will say this three-game week means a lot for the Gaels, who will skyrocket to my respect if they can run the table this week. A Statistic: Clint Steindl, a starter averaging 23 minutes per game, is scoring 1.39 points per possession. That’s the fourth-best efficiency out there. Awesome! The Schedule: vs. San Francisco Monday; vs. Gonzaga Thursday; vs. Portland Saturday.

First-year coach Archie Miller has it going for Dayton..  (US PRESSWIRE)

10. Dayton (12-4). A Sentence: Welcome the Flyers, who have screamed onto the scene after wins against Ole Miss, Saint Louis and Temple. A Statistic: As of now, Dayton doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, save shooting free throws. The Flyers make 76 of their charity shots, No. 20 overall. The Schedule: at St. Bonaventure Wednesday; vs. La Salle Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. Temple (10-4). A Sentence: I wanted to believe Temple was there to take the A10, then it followed up that nice Duke W by losing to Archie Miller’s boys. A Statistic: Temple takes on the Billikens this week. It hasn’t lost to SLU in six years. The Schedule: at Saint Louis Wednesday; at Richmond Saturday.

12. Saint Louis (13-3). A Sentence: I deserve to be ripped down the road for this if I’m wrong, because there’s not much evidence to support it, but, I believe Saint Louis’ best basketball this season is behind it. A Statistic: To show some sort of belief in SLU (which I think staggers into the tournament), here — Rick Majerus has lost at least 13 games every year of his tenure at Saint Louis. He’ll be setting a record low this season. The Schedule: vs. Temple Wednesday; at Charlotte Saturday.

13. Oral Roberts (14-4). A Sentence: It’s not breaking any info to say a mid-major team is overlooked, but no mid-major team has been overlooked this season as ORU. A Statistic: Dominique Morrison has an absurd offensive rating in 156 during conference play. The Schedule: at Western Illinois Thursday; at IUPUI Saturday.

14. Wichita State (12-3). A Sentence: Like Saint Mary’s, I’m promising a boost for the Shockers if they can go 3-0 against conference foes this week. A Statistic: The Shockers are currently ranked 24th in efficiency defense (.90 points per possession), which is their best standing during the KenPom.com era (2003-on). The Schedule: vs. Illinois State Tuesday; vs. Bradley Friday; at Indiana State Sunday.

15. Middle Tennessee State (15-2): A Sentence: Six of the next eight games are away from home, including a game at Vanderbilt. A Statistic: Eight of the 12 Sun Belt teams are currently under .500. What’s it mean for Middle Tenn? Only that judging them going forward will be tough in such a bad league. Hard to see this team ever climbing above the 10 spot, even if it gets to say 23-3 in time. The Schedule: at Florida International Thursday; at Florida Atlantic Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Ohio, St. Joseph’s. In: Dayton, Oral Roberts.
♦ I still don’t buy BYU yet.
♦ The same goes for 13-2 Wyoming.
♦ Southern Miss makes the Pyramid next week by beating Memphis on the road and UAB at home. USM has a weak schedule and needs a couple of prove-it wins.
♦ 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.

Posted on: January 7, 2012 4:46 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 1:08 am

Tu Holloway isn't all the way back, but Xavier is

On Saturday Holloway scored zero points. That hadn't happened since he was a freshman. (Getty Images)

By Matt Norlander

BRONX, N.Y. — Player with All-American talent comes home, has a game in front of 70 friends and family, and takes only three shots, scoring zero points.

How do you interpret that? Bravo to said player for not trying to force the issue and make the game about him? Or is there something wrong if a guy who’s his team’s best scorer simply opts out of aggressiveness and turns his game into a one-mode mission: distribute the ball at all costs. For the first time since he was a freshman, Tu Holloway failed to score a point.

Holloway says he’s OK. Says he and Xavier got that much-needed morale boost of a win by defeating Fordham on the road 67-59 Saturday afternoon. Holloway, who grew up in Hempstead, N.Y., also had five assists and two turnovers. He looked as much the part of a natural point guard as I’ve seen him. And it looked odd.

“We didn’t want to get any technical fouls [in the last few games],” Holloway said. “Today, we had to get back to being us.”

Then, he went existential. Say what you will about Tu Holloway, at least he’s got a sense of the ethos.

“In your mind, you are who you are for so long, but you don’t realize you change sometimes,” he said.

Holloway’s definitely changed to a degree since You Know What. He said he’s back (I don’t think he’s all the way there; when we see it we’ll know it), but admitted the team was mentally rattled for the past month. That disconnect started with him and fellow guard Mark Lyons not taking control of the team.

There’s no way Xavier’s OK and all the way back if these kinds of games from Holloway become habit — not to suggest they will, either, but today’s performance was tangibly consistent with his inhibitions for the past month. Know this: The two big games Holloway was held to single digits last season, Xavier lost (to Cincy in the regular season and to Marquette in the NCAA tournament). Fortunately, Fordham, one of the younger teams in the country, is still not that strong and X could get itself right by mixing it up and trying to win in other ways. Any way to get that W was what Xavier (10-5) needed, and it got it.  

“I think today was an anomaly,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack said. “But, yeah, we need him to score. There’s no question about it. He probably went overboard the other way, but for this game, where our team is at, the only stat that mattered was the win.”

Holloway was averaging four turnovers per game the previous five games, fouling with more frequency . His scoring hadn’t dipped too much, but his on-court demeanor — and the rest of the team’s, too — altered. On Saturday Holloway wasn’t brash on the floor. His chest didn’t puff like Lyons’. Normally, the two go hand in hand in how they play, fraternal twins who dictate Xavier’s personality and mood swings.  Lyons was the reason Xavier avoided a loss — and subsequently didn’t turn this post into an obituary. Lyons remained aggressive, wanted the ball, said this was the game where he got back to not worrying about how refs would view the team and make calls. He baited Lamount Samuell into a technical after taking the ball from Samuell in a dead-ball situation and saying, “Gimme that.” It’s how Lyons plays. It’s pesky, and it showed he wasn’t afraid to be himself on the floor anymore.

It was Lyons, not Holloway, who had the ball and hit two free throws to put the game decisively out of reach, at 66-59, with 30 seconds to go after Fordham made a late-game push. Holloway’s an 83 percent free-throw shooter; Lyons 73. Yet he made sure he got those free throws.

“We’ve been worried about the media and stuff,” Lyons said. “And nowadays we’re getting back to our old ways, and we’re going to compete and be the tough and nasty team that our program is known for.”

Lyons only speaks in terms of defensive toughness. I found it refreshing that Xavier’s coaching staff and players weren’t afraid to keeping using the words “tough” and “nasty” following the win. The fight was awful PR, but it’s not going to change how the team plays. At least not anymore.

“I think a lot of people want to label our kids at times as dumb, but he’s (Holloway) a great kid,” Mack said. “He hasn’t played great at times, but I wouldn’t take any other point guard in the country.”

Here’s what’s interesting to me. Xavier was 9-5 coming into this game, and it’s Mack’s third season as coach. You know what the Muskies were last year after 14 games? 9-5. They finished the regular season 24-6. In 2009-10? Again: 9-5.  They finished 23-7. It’s what leads up to and surrounds that record that dictates how we view it, of course. Xavier could win up in the tournament and getting a 5 seed. There’s a lot left to accomplish, I just think Holloway’s got to mentally lock in and play unafraid for it to happen. Again, we’re waiting to see it come back.

“We’re gonna be fine,” Mack said as he crutched his way out of Rose Hill Gymnasium and headed to the airport; he tore his patella tendon Friday night while practicing with the team. “It’s on us to make sure the team that I see every day in practice shows up in games, and for whatever reason that hasn’t been the case.”

Out of everyone involved with the program, Mack seems the most confident and least stressed about his team’s reputation and performance and Holloway. Which is how it should be.

“If it weren’t for the fight at Cincinnati, I don’t know what our record would be, but I’m not going to apologize for it,” he said. Xavier’s done apologizing in general. Once Holloway stops feeling restricted and regains his confidence, we’ll know for sure if this team’s completely moved on.

Posted on: January 4, 2012 11:34 pm

Video: Seth Davis interviews Todd O'Brien

By Matt Norlander

The issue's not going away, Phil.

Todd O'Brien appeared on "Courtside with Seth Davis" Wednesday night, the latest push to free the grad student who wants a little more time in uniform before leaving organized hoops behind for the rest of his life. O'Brien resubmitted his information to the NCAA and is awaiting the latest word to see if his case can merit an override from them, since St. Joe's isn't willing to talk or budge on his release.

I originally snagged O'Brien's first media interview in the wake of his SI.com piece re: Phil Martelli and St. Joe's not letting him off the hook. Seth, using barrels of fewer words, did a much better job than I in getting information and bringing more light to the problem. O'Brien handled himself well, too.

Seth also has an accompanying column
up about this. If some think this is continued bludgeoning of a story that doesn't deserve this attention, they're missing the point. College players already wield too little power. When the system screws the little guy, we always take notice. It doesn't have to be some prominent figure; America likes to stand up for itself and fight on behalf of the person that was -- or could be -- us in some way. O'Brien represents that. Here's the interview.

Posted on: January 2, 2012 9:48 am
Edited on: January 2, 2012 9:50 am

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 7

By Matt Norlander

Well, consider me gobsmacked. I would have never believed we’d reach a point this season that Xavier wasn’t included in that there graphic. But X got X’ed after falling to Gonzaga at home on New Year’s Eve. I’m inclined to let the Muskies back in once they have a couple games rolled together that shows just how good they can be—because Xavier’s ceiling is Final Four-worthy.

Let’s get to other matters, namely, the teams actually involved in this week’s top 15.  I said it last week, and of course since I have control over such matters, it’s coming true — we’re seeing more shifting in the Pyramid now that teams are playing quality, beatable opponents on a regular basis. I’d put some serious distance between No. 1 and No. 2 now, as much as I like the boys in Cambridge, Mass.

What I really like about the Pyramid is all the teams I see listed I can see winning in the NCAAs. Even teams not involved (Xavier, VCU, BYU) have win-a-game potential. Strong crop this year, even if that recognition hasn’t picked up nationally yet.

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.

Top Tier

Anthony Marshall and Vegas are looking better each week. (AP)

1. UNLV (15-2). A Sentence: There is now no doubt: Vegas is the clear-cut No. 1 non-BCS team in hoops. A Statistic: UNLV is in the top half of every significant tempo-free category except one, free throw rate. Scoring 1.13 points per possession negates a need to earn dues at the stripe, though. The Schedule: at Cal State Bakersfield Thursday.

2. Harvard (12-1). A Sentence: I don’t think it dodges the debris the rest of the way, but the talk of Harvard getting to The Tournament with just one loss will ramp up now since the Ivy lacks a proven team. A Statistic: Harvard has 19 (!!) players on its roster. The average Ivy team has 17.6 players with a right to a jersey. This can happen because no players are on scholarship. It’s also ironic that Ivy institutions feel a need to be so inclusive. The Schedule: at Fordham Tuesday; vs. Dartmouth Saturday.

3. New Mexico (12-2). A Sentence: A huge jump for the Lobos this week, up from No. 9, because I like to take shotgun on the bandwagon before the crowd flags down the ride. A Statistic: New Mexico finds itself among the best of the Mountain West, which is an outstanding 85-25 and without any team even flirting with the .500 line. The Schedule: vs. Houston Baptist; vs. North Dakota.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Creighton (11-2). A Sentence: The Birds lose to Missouri State but beat Wichita State — so let’s just leave them be on their branch. A Statistic: Creighton is a better passing team than how its viewed. Bluejays are doling out 19.9 assists per game. Almost the best in the United States. The Schedule: vs. Drake Tuesday; at Bradley Saturday.

5. Iona (10-3). A Sentence: I can’t completely bail on the Gaels, but getting handled at Hofstra was too much to overlook. A Statistic: Friendly Monday reminder that Iona, with 20 dimes per game, is still the most opportunistic passing team in college hoops. The Schedule: vs. Siena Tuesday; vs. Niagara Friday; at Marist Sunday.

6. San Diego State (12-2). A Sentence: Wake me Jan. 14, when UNLV comes to town. A Statistic: How about a troubling lack of a statistic? The Aztecs don’t lead the Mountain West in one major category at the moment. No other Pyramid team inhabits that personality flaw. The Schedule: vs. NAIA San Diego Christian Thursday.

Steve Prohm has coached the Racers to 14 straight wins in his first season. (AP)

7. Murray State (14-0). A Sentence: You Racers, I love what you’ve done, but the schedule gets so easy going forward, I don’t know how good this team actually is. A Statistic: Murray State is undefeated. The Schedule: vs. Eastern Kentucky Wednesday; at Austin Peay Saturday.

8. Gonzaga (11-2). A Sentence: Yes, Gonzaga’s a tournament team again, but does anyone have any grip on what this team is or its ceiling?. A Statistic: You’ve heard about how Florida needs to feed Voltron inside, but Robert Sacre is the one who will take all the touches he can get. The big man’s free throw rate is at 93.3 percent, a country mile ahead of any other big man in that category. The Schedule: vs. Pepperdine Thursday; vs. Santa Clara Saturday.

9. Saint Louis (12-2). A Sentence: Too much to ask SLU to go to New Mexico and get a win, but the Dayton game upcoming smells like more trouble. A Statistic: Brian Conklin, a 66.1 eFG shooter, is the best twine-tickler nobody even thinks of talking about. The Schedule: at Dayton Wednesday; vs. George Washington Saturday.

10. Ohio (12-1). A Sentence: Team is a five-point loss against Louisville — a game Ohio should have won, no question — from being undefeated. A Statistic: Point guard D.J. Cooper is great for how he distributes, but also great for his 2.5 steals per game. The Schedule: vs. Robert Morris Monday; at Bowling Green Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. St. Joseph’s (10-4). A Sentence: I feel the need to prove the Pyramid doesn’t work the same way the polls do; a 10-4 team in this spot does that, I hope. A Statistic: St. Joe’s should have defeated Harvard Saturday. It blew a lead and couldn’t handle Kyle Casey. The Hawks’ Carl Jones remains the A10’s leading scorer, but he will not do it all himself going forward. The Schedule: at Duquesne Wednesday; vs. Charlotte Saturday.

12. Saint Mary’s (13-2). A Sentence: I was skeptical of SMC all season, but they wait it dismantled BYU Thursday convinced me this team is deserving of getting their graphic above. A Statistic: The Gaels can chase after the ball when they don’t have, snaring 76.9 percent of defensive rebound chances—only Ohio State and Tulane are more determined. The Schedule: at San Diego Thursday.

13. Temple (9-3). A Sentence: Huge week for Temple, which likely jumps way high or gets kicked out of the Pyramid due a pair of home game that can really boost the Owls’ profile. A Statistic: Temple has the No. 16-ranked SOS according to KenPom. That’s the toughest of any Pyramid team. The Schedule: vs. Duke Wednesday; vs. Dayton Saturday.

14. Wichita State (10-3). A Sentence: Lost by seven at home against, Creighton, but I’ve got to see another loss in the next two weeks before booting the Shockers. A Statistic: WSU is only Valley team with a top-25 tempo-adjusted offense and defense. The Schedule: at Evansville Wednesday; at Southern Illinois Saturday.

15. Middle Tennessee State (13-2): A Sentence: MTSU’s resume just edges out VCU, who’s the metaphorical No. 16 this week. A Statistic: The Blue Raiders are new to the Pyramid. What sticks out to me about them: they’re the fourth-best team at getting to the free throw line (53.6 percent of their possessions result in a foul shot), yet they’re miserable when they get freebies (62.8 percent). The Schedule: at Troy Thursday; vs. Louisiana Lafayette Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦  Out this week: Northern Iowa, Xavier. In: Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee State.
♦ BYU has potential but so much to prove. Team will not win the WCC in its first year that’s for sure.
♦ VCU can make its move in a big way the next two weeks. Shaka’s guys doing more with less.
♦ Southern Miss and Wyoming, I hear you calling my name.

Posted on: December 29, 2011 3:06 pm

UMass on an upswing

By Jeff Goodman

It's tough to tell whether it's experience, the addition of a legitimate point guard or jettisoning Vance Walberg and his now-infamous Dribble Drive. Whatever the case, Derek Kellogg finally appears to have his alma mater, the UMass Minutemen, on track.

The first three seasons haven't exactly gone as planned, but UMass had 10 wins under its belt prior to Santa Clause arriving at the Kellogg Household - and that's a significant sign of progress. Sure, there aren't a ton of eye-popping victories -- the most impressive is a home win against Davidson last week -- but it's about steady progress these days for this once-storied program. The three losses are all legitimate: Florida State in the Bahamas, against a quality College of Charleston club and also at Miami.

Hofstra transfer Chaz Williams leads the team in scoring (14.5) and has a near 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, putting up 6.2 assists per contest. There's no one else averaging double-figure scoring, but guys like Raphiael Putney (8.8 ppg) and even Freddie Riley (8.7 ppg) are starting to mature after coming into the program undisciplined and unprepared. The new players -- Cady Lalanne and Max Esho -- aren't putting up staggering numbers, but give UMass quality depth it truly hasn't had since Kellogg took the reigns from Travis Ford.

"I think it's a combination of having some older guys and having Chaz helps," Kellogg said. Kellogg has also made wholesale changes to the system. The Dribble Drive is basically history. These guys get out and run more, set screens, toss the ball inside on occasion -- and on the defensive end, they press. It's resulted in more points (the Minutemen are averaging 75.6 points per game) and also forcing mistakes by the opposition (teams are averaging 19 turnovers against UMass).

"We're one of the few teams out there that presses all 40 minutes," Kellogg said. And Kellogg is hoping that it won't be quite so easy to prepare for the Minutemen once league play hits.

"Teams aren't accustomed to it," Kellogg said. UMass goes for its fifth consecutive win Friday night against a Central Connecticut team that may not appear imposing, but it one that crushed the Minutemen last season, 92-63.

"We've still got a ways to go," Kellogg said. "But we're definitely making progress."

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 27, 2011 4:12 pm

Rhode Island kicks leading scorer off team

By Matt Norlander

The only way Rhode Island's making it into the blog with a standalone post this season:
  • Amazing buzzer-beater
  • Involved in a brawl that rivals Cincy-Xavier
  • Jim Baron shaves his mustache while wearing a cape
  • Its leading scorer gets dismissed from the team
Option No. 4 applies today, as the Rams have removed Jamal Wilson from the team, according to the Providence Journal. This voids them of their leading scorer. URI is abysmal this year, 1-11, and prepping for a Thursday tilt against James Madison.
Guard Jamal Wilson has been dismissed from the University of Rhode Island basketball team by head coach Jim Baron for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Wilson, a senior from Pennsylvania, is the team's leading scorer, averaging 16.4 points per game.

Wilson had been suspended from URI's game against Yale, but returned for the annual rivalry against PC Friday night. URI lost both games.

In particularly bad seasons, it's rare for a team to shove its best player off the team, but when it's really bad, who knows how much worse it can be in a locker room. Coaches get fed up; everyone's frustrated. For a senior to get the boot, though? Even more surprising. Baron's in his 10th year at URI, and it's on pace to be worse than his 2004-05 campaign, when the Rams went 6-22. The Rams have averaged 22.5 wins the past four seasons.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 26, 2011 12:21 pm

Power Pyramid, Week 6: No resolutions required

By Matt Norlander

Hope your Holiday season continues to go well — this week in between Christmas and New Year’s is always odd in that so many get the week off, but there’s still plenty goings on going on. We won’t slow here with a lot of basketball ahead. I did this week’s Pyramid today, Dec. 26, at Mom and Dad’s house, gifts still under the tree and dogs tearing apart at opened boxes.

I’m loving that nearly everyone’s got two games awaiting them this week, as the pace of conference season takes hold of the sport. I do still have Xavier ranked, because I think X is one of the 15 best non-BCS teams in college basketball. The rules of the polls don’t apply here. This is more about a general acknowledgment of a team’s ability with some credence to opponents played and beaten than just a move up/move down if you win or lose. That said, continuing to win almost always helps a cause.

Top Tier

1. Iona (10-2). A Sentence: I’ve been driving the Iona bus for about a month now, and you’re all welcome to take a seat. A Statistic: With 2.42 years of experience, no Pyramid team is older than Iona. The Schedule: at Hofstra Thursday.

2. UNLV (13-2). A Sentence: Enjoying UNLV’s run because now it’s starting to look like this team can realistically snag a 5 or 4 seed. A Statistic: Further testament to why Vegas should be ranked this high, look at the games played. Fifteen is more than anyone in the Pyramid. The Schedule: vs. Central Arkansas Wednesday; at Hawaii Saturday.

3. Harvard (10-1). A Sentence: Well, well … lookie there at that big game coming up this week, meaning there’s potential for serious Pyramid swappage. A Statistic: How often does a bench player get involved in more than 28 percent of a team’s action? Quite rare, but the Crimson’s Jonah Travis, a freshman, is plenty involved when his name gets called. The Schedule: at Boston College Thursday; vs. Saint Joseph’s Saturady.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. Creighton (10-1). A Sentence: You’ll see this line in my Valley primer this week: If his name was Jimmer McDermott, a lot more people would be talking about his remarkable season. A Statistic: The past four seasons, the Valley’s only had one tournament team. Creighton will lead the way in getting the MVC at least three bids this year. The Schedule: vs. Missouri State Wednesday; at Wichita State Saturday.

5. Saint Louis (11-1). A Sentence: Now’s the time, the next 16 days, for SLU to definitively make its statement on being a no-questions-asked at-large team. A Statistic: Billikens are beating teams by an average of 70-53 right now. The Schedule: vs. Texas Southern Tuesday; at New Mexico Saturday.

6. San Diego State (9-2). A Sentence: Could/should be punished for playing such terrible teams at this point in the season. A Statistic: With a healthy assist rate of 58.9 percent and 5.4 assists per game, sophomore Xavier Thames is the Mountain West’s best point guard right now. The Schedule: vs. D-III Redlands Friday.

7. Murray State (13-0). A Sentence: Either no Murray State fans are reading the slave labor I put into the Pyramid each week (because I haven’t gotten any complaints about where the MSU placed), or Racers fans are incredibly well-reasoned. A Statistic: The Racers have three players averaging more than 1.2 points per possession. That’s hard-to-find formula for big success. The Schedule: at Eastern Illinois Friday.

8. Gonzaga (9-2). A Sentence: It’s nearly reaching the point where Gonzaga is underrated, but that will soon pass if it beats Xavier this week and beeps loud and clear onto the radar. A Statistic: It’s not often a freshman leads Gonzaga in scoring, but 6-1 Kevin Pangos, at 14.5 PPG, is doing it. The Schedule: vs. Portland Wednesday; at Xavier Saturday.

9. New Mexico (10-2). A Sentence: No ranked team here has a tougher week ahead than New Mexico, which I think I’ll have to slot around fifth if it goes 2-0. A Statistic: The 50th-tallest team has the fourth-best block rate (5 percent). The Schedule: at New Mexico State Wednesday; vs. Saint Louis Saturday.

10. Wichita State (9-2). A Sentence: I maintain we’ve yet to see the best of this team. A Statistic: You saw the Iona stat above — Witchy State is second-oldest in the Pyramid at 2.38 years of experience. The Schedule: at Bradley Wednesday; vs. Creighton Saturday.

Base Blocks

11. St. Joseph’s (9-3). A Sentence: It’s a pleasure to research and read up on this team in purely a basketball sense. A Statistic: Few teams work players as much as the Hawks use Carl Jones, who takes up 91.6 percent of available minutes. The Schedule: vs. Morgan State Wednesday; at Harvard Saturday.

12. Temple (7-3). A Sentence: With Juan Fernandez not playing up to his skill level, it’s now official: Outside of Temple fans, Ramone Moore is the most undervalued player in the country. A Statistic: The Owls have the second-best 3-point defense in the country, allowing 23.3 percent of bombs to fall. The Schedule: vs. Buffalo Wednesday; at Delaware Friday .

13. Ohio (11-1). A Sentence: Have been waiting for the chance to include Ohio for a while; it’s worthy. A Statistic: The Bobcats are 11-1 for the first time in 70 years. The Schedule: vs. Kennesaw State Friday.

14. Northern Iowa (10-2). A Sentence: Falling 76-59 to the Bobcats last week only means UNI does a tumble and allows Ohio to pop into the picture. A Statistic: Anthony James is taking great care of the ball, only turning it over 8 percent of the time, which is No. 21 in the nation, per KenPom. The Schedule: at Illinois State Thursday; vs. Evansville Sunday.

15. Xavier (9-3): A Sentence: The Pyramid doesn’t run its rules the way the polls do, so it’s simple: Beating Gonzaga Saturday clearly means X should stay, and if it loses, then see ya. A Statistic: The team is no longer shooting well, falling below the 50-percent mark in effective field goal shooting last week. The Schedule: vs. Gonzaga Saturday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦  Out this week: Cleveland State. In: Ohio.
♦ Saint Mary’s and BYU are going to have to prove it in conference play. Schedules too weak and both lost to Baylor last week. Can’t get them in.
♦ This will be the last week where you see a lot of consistencies between each week in the Pyramid, I think. Conference play and intra-Pyramid matchups will mandate some shifting and moving a lot going forward.

Posted on: December 24, 2011 11:17 am

Xavier now 0-3 since the Cincy brawl

By Matt Norlander

Has anything gone right for Xavier since around 1:50 p.m. on Dec. 10? In the dead of the night, while you were sleeping and getting in as much rest before your Christmas Eve festivities, the Musketeers got knocked off in overtime, 84-82, by 6-5 Hawaii. Prior to last night, Hawaii hadn't beat a team ranked higher than 297 in KenPom's system. Xavier was once 8-0 and looking Final Four-caliber. Now does anyone have any idea what's happening?

It's bizarre. Only Dezmine Wells was missing from last night's game for X, still serving his four-game suspension for his involvement in the brouhaha with Cincinnati. Tu Holloway scored 26, Mark Lyons had 18. X was better on the boards, forced more turnovers and hit nine 3s to Hawaii's four. But it still lost. It still can't correct itself in the wake of college basketball's ugliest moment this season.

I've said before I would try my best to never schedule my team between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26 due to the holidays and all distraction/homesickness that comes with it, but Xavier's problems have little to do with being preoccupied by Christmas -- they'll be playing on Dec. 25 as is, only in the lowest-tiered bracket of the Diamond Head Classic. The game will be against 3-6 Southern Illinois. This is a tournament Xavier should have won; it's really something to see how everything's changed in the past two weeks.

This team is spiraling down right now, obviously. It's a turn of events no one saw coming. The power of punches and the side effects have led to three straight losses and certainly damaged this time psychologically. The last time the program lost three in a row was early in the 2004-05 season, which was Sean Miller's first year as Muskies head man.

Can you get healthy off of Southern Illinois? I don't know, but Gonzaga comes next, on New Year's Eve, and the Bulldogs will be ready and awaiting the challenge -- if it ends up being that. The good news is X gets that game at home.

I can't call it karma -- Cincy was just as at fault for the fight, and it's averaged 96 points in four straight wins since the brawl -- but in no way did I think Xavier would fall apart like this. You didn't, either. Seasons can get away from teams fast in college basketball. We've seen many examples of promising starts spin out into NIT bids. I don't think Xavier's hurtling toward that inferior tournament, but I do think a team that claimed to be proud, brash, unwilling to back down to anyone has looked rattled and intimidated for the past two weeks.

"Zip 'em up" was first a Xavier tough-guy motto. Then it became a point of criticism. Now it's a mocking call.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
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