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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 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 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 19, 2011 2:38 pm
Edited on: December 19, 2011 4:13 pm
 

Juan'ya Green filling it up for Niagara



By
Jeff Borzello

Two years ago, if someone had said Juan’ya Green would be averaging nearly 20 points per game for Niagara as a freshman, it would have sounded pretty surprising.

Not that he was averaging 20 a night, but the university.

During Green’s junior year of high school at Archbishop Carroll (Pa.), he had offers from Temple, Maryland, Villanova and others, with interest coming from plenty more ACC, Big East and Big Ten programs.

Then Green got injured and schools slowly began backing off.

“It was kind of frustrating,” Green said by phone. “After I got hurt, I tried to work my way back up.”

Niagara continued to go after the prolific Philadelphia guard, and it paid off in a major way. Green chose the Purple Eagles over Temple and VCU.

Green and fellow Philadelphia product Ameen Tanksley wanted to play together, which was perfect for Niagara.

“I just went with what my gut was telling me,” he said.

Green, a powerful 6-foot-3 guard, ranks second in the country in scoring among freshmen. He’s averaging 19.9 points, while also dishing out 3.2 assists and grabbing 3.3 rebounds.

Everyone knew a player of Green’s talent would be a huge asset right off the bat for head coach Joe Mihalich, but this start surprised everyone.

“I just expected to get a lot of time and play hard all the time,” Green said. “I think I’m playing good, but I could get better at things.”

The most impressive part of Green’s season so far is his minutes played. He has played at least 34 minutes in every game, reaching 39 or more minutes on five occasions. Not surprisingly, he leads the nation’s freshmen in minutes, with 37.6 per game.

That would be great for any player, but it’s even more eye opening for a newcomer.

“I’m not sure [how I do it]. It’s very tiring,” Green said with a laugh. “I got used to it. I go as hard as I can in practice. It gets me prepared for games.”

Green is obviously making the most of his time at Niagara so far, and also sending a message to some of the schools that stopped pursuing him in high school. He totaled 60 points and eight assists against the two best teams in the MAAC, Iona and Fairfield.

He said he does have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when playing against BCS-conference teams. Niagara faced Missouri earlier this year, in a game where Green struggled offensively.

“I think it’s a little motivation playing against these schools,” Green said. “You backed off of me. I’m going to show you why you should have taken me.”

Niagara has gotten off to a rocky start so far this season. The Purple Eagles are 4-7 after a home loss to Drexel last week, but did hang tight with Fairfield, Buffalo and South Dakota State before falling.

In Green, Niagara has the type of player who could put the team on his back for a stretch.

“I just want to get a couple more wins,” Green said. “We need to come out with energy.”

Can he keep up his current scoring and stamina?

“I hope so.”

So does Niagara.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted on: December 19, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: December 19, 2011 10:41 am
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 5, Festivus Edition


By Matt Norlander

I just couldn’t help myself. I had to really hideous that thing up, go full-on Clark Griswold with the thing. Festivus is in four days, folks, so get your grievances ready, starting prepping for the feats of strength and if you’d like to say your grievances about anything I’ve done, you know this is the place.

As for the teams below, last week provided another tough gauge, as a lot of teams either didn’t play or went up against garbage. Ranking Xavier was the toughest, because I don’t treat the Pyramid like the polls system. If you win it doesn’t automatically mean you move up and if you lose it doesn’t automatically mean you move down. The rankings are a blend of who you play, who you’ve beat, the general state of your team and what promise it has. It’s subjective in that way, but it’s not a complete prisoner of the moment like the polls. Hey, these are my rankings.

And if you've got a problem with that, the feats of strength CAN START RIGHT NOW.

I still think Xavier’s the best non-BCS team, but without their guards they’re not, so they get docked, but not too harshly. OK, no more blabbing. Let’s get to listing, then Frank Costanza’s gonna kick everyone’s rear.

Frank Costanza’s Favorites

1. Iona (9-2). A Sentence: No possible/probable/surefire tournament team has tested itself away from home as much as the Gaels, who now benefit from Xavier’s horrible loss to Oral Roberts. A Statistic: Nine players on this team have a KenPom offensive rating of greater than 100. That’s just stupid good. Syracuse matches Iona, but Kentucky and UNC? Seven apiece. The Schedule: at William & Mary Wednesday.

2. UNLV (11-2). A Sentence: If you missed UNLV’s win over Illinois at the United Center, it was one of the more impressive takedowns by a Power Pyramid team this season, which is saying something considering the Rebels also beat UNC in November. A Statistic: Despite grabbing 15 percent of his team’s offensive rebound chances, Mike Moser's O rating is just 104.5, which is good, but you’d think it’d be closer to 110 with so much work around the tin. The Schedule: vs. Louisiana Monroe Monday; vs. California Friday.

3. Harvard (9-1). A Sentence: I’d like to see Keith Wright get a little more involved and turn Harvard into an unquestionable top-three team in Ivy history. A Statistic: With 15.9 hacks per game, Harvard’s among the most disciplined teams in the nation when it comes to fouling. The Schedule: vs. Florida Atlantic Thursday.

On Santa’s Good List

4. Xavier (8-1): A Sentence: The loss was so bad, and the team is without its backcourt players right now, that this feels like a good compromise of what/where X really is and how it needed to tumble. A Statistic: Without Tu Holloway, Dezmine Wells and Mark Lyons, Xavier had its worst game points-wise, in 3-point percentage, field goal percentage, field goals made, free throws made, steals and rebounds vs Oral Roberts. The Schedule: vs. Long Beach State Thursday.

5. Creighton (8-1). A Sentence: Doug McDermott stands a chance at becoming a First Team All-America. A Statistic: The Bluejays’ schedule ranks 321 on KenPom right now. Fun team, going to threaten to win the Valley, but the tougher portion of the slate lies ahead. The Schedule: at Tulsa Monday; vs. Northwestern Thursday.

6. Saint Louis (10-1). A Sentence: Rick Majerus seems like a guy who absolutely would lend himself to a feats of strength battle. A Statistic: SLU is beating opponents by a 16.5 points per game average. The Schedule: vs. Arkansas State Thursday.

7. San Diego State (9-2). A Sentence: Aztecs are one of many teams in the Pyramid amid really putrid schedule runs right now. A Statistic: The Aztecs are in the midst of a 38-day stretch between playing respectable/NCAA tournament-team opponents. UNLV on Jan. 14 is the next chance for SDSU to impress. The Schedule: vs. UC Riverside Monday; vs. Elon Thursday.

8. Murray State (12-0). A Sentence:  How about many sentences on a team I like but don’t yet love. A Statistic: You want stats? How about I again direct you to this. The Schedule: vs. Tennessee Martin Wednesday.

9. Gonzaga (7-2). A Sentence: I think Gonzaga will violently bounce around within the walls this year, but doubt it ever falls out (then again, I said that about Belmont). A Statistic: Elias Harris’ (right) 25 and 8 against Arizona deserves another mention two days later. Zags need about 10 of those games from Harris this season to be a universally perceived threat. The Schedule: vs. Butler Tuesday; vs. Air Force Thursday.

10. New Mexico (8-2). A Sentence: Only because I don’t want to punish other teams’ mandatory bad scheduling in finals week—that’s the only reason why the Lobos aren’t higher. A Statistic: UNM is getting an assist on 69.5 percent of its possessions, a great trend and fourth-best in the country. The Schedule: vs. Montana State Tuesday; vs. Missouri-Kansas City Thursday.

Bottom of the Feats of Strengths Pile

11. Northern Iowa (9-1). A Sentence: They Valley presence remains strong, consistent in the Pyramid. A Statistic: Respect what this team’s done, but it’s No. 3 in the RPI as of now. Thus commences your reminder that the RPI is worse than spoiled egg nog. The Schedule: vs. D-III Loras College Monday; vs. Ohio Tuesday.

12. Wichita State (8-2). A Sentence: Taking all my power to resist as many Seinfeld jokes as possible with who the Shockers have tonight. A Statistic: Shockers nabbing punks to the tune of 20 points per game, in victory. The Schedule: vs. D-II Newman University Monday.

13. St. Joseph’s (8-3). A Sentence: There’s something so charming about the Hawks when they’re good, and they appear to finally be good again. A Statistic: C.J. Aiken blocking 14 percent of opponents’ possessions, making St. Joe’s play so much taller than they are. The Schedule: vs. Coppin State Wednesday.

14. Temple (6-3). A Sentence: Stubbornly won’t quit yet, because I believe the Owls are still one of the 15 best non-BCS teams in the country. A Statistic: Temple’s still plenty high inside the Pyramid if it doesn’t allow Texas to grab 45.2 percent of offensive-rebound chances Saturday. The Schedule: at Rice Monday.

15. Cleveland State (10-1). A Sentence: Vikings had a week off to prepare for a BCS team tonight. A Statistic: Nobody’s forcing turnovers more frequently than CSU, swiping it 29.8 percent of the time. Great rate. The Schedule: at South Florida Monday; vs. Sam Houston State Thursday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦ Out this week: Belmont. In: St. Joseph’s.
♦ Love what Nate Wolters and South Dakota State did to Washington Sunday, but that team wouldn’t make a top 20 non-BCS list just yet.
♦ Saint Mary’s gets to prove itself this week. Baylor Thursday, Missouri State Friday.
♦ Southern Miss is another team I’m keeping an eye on.
♦ OK, time for the airing of grievances. Let’s have it.

Photo: US PRESSWIRE
Posted on: December 13, 2011 10:31 am
 

Masiello earning keep at first head-coaching job

By Jeff Goodman

Steve Masiello knew what the skeptics were saying.

"Can he coach?"

Masiello was always regarded as a relentless recruiter, the former Rick Pitino walk-on at Kentucky who had a wide array of contacts - especially in his native New York.

"I think people still have questions," The Manhattan first-year coach said. "Rightfully so." But Masiello has the Jaspers -- who haven't been relevant since Bobby Gonzalez departed -- off to a 7-4 start, including a four-game winning streak (the program's longest in nearly five years). Masiello has already exceeded last season's win total and we're not even midway through December.

"We want to build this thing back up," said Masiello, a former assistant under Gonzo when in the early 2000's when Manhattan had it rolling. "I think this can be a great mid-major program -- not only because of the school, but due to the location."

Masiello admitted that he's trying to become a Triple-A version of what his mentor, Pitino, has done at Louisville.

"I don't care if you call us a mid-major or low-major version of Louisville," Masiello said. "That's a compliment as far as I'm concerned."

Masiello said being around Pitino for as long as he has (he spent the past six seasons as an assistant at Louisville), he's picked up some of the same habits.

"I catch myself folding my legs the same way," he said. "I don't even realize how much of an influence he had on me. The main things I learned from him are the unbelievable professionalism and to stay humble."

Manhattan was tabbed to finish eighth in the league in the preseason, but Masiello said that former coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen hardly left the cupboard empty. Junior guard George Beamon leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game, senior Roberto Colonette has been solid up front (7.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Rhamel Brown is averaging 9.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game in the last four games. Masiello brought in four freshmen -- three that play -- including talented local kid Emmy Andujar.

"He did a terrific job evaluating talent," Masiello said. "We have some very good pieces. I'm fortunate to step into a situation like this, and that's a credit to Barry because they set the groundwork."

Photo: AP
Posted on: December 5, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: December 5, 2011 12:02 pm
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 3

By Matt Norlander

Every Monday, we’re going to be giving you readers and fans and coaches more and more reason to hate us. How can we do this outside of just being our natural, irritating selves? By ranking as many teams in as many ways as possible, of course. And we won’t reserve our judgment for your scorn in big-boy country. No, we’d like to alienate ourselves to the fan bases around the nation, mid-major schools included.

This feature serves as a complement to the weekly Top 25 and One, which you can read right here.

No more ado — here’s how we see it, the 15 best non-BCS teams in college basketball as of Monday, Dec. 5, at 11 a.m ET.

Top Tier

1. Xavier (6-0). A Sentence: There’s a considerable difference between X and everyone else, when you take into account the Muskies’ wins over Vandy on the road and the comeback W against Purdue last week. A Statistic: The only major flaw with Chris Mack’s team right now is the free-throw shooting. X is under 60 percent as a team. Will get them eventually. The Schedule: at Butler Wednesday; vs. Cincinnati Saturday.

2. Iona (6-1). A Sentence: Saw this team in person a week ago, and no joke, they look incredibly dangerous for pretty much any team outside of the top five right now. A Statistic: The Gaels are scoring 1.14 points per possession, which is definitely good, but a little less than I expected from the highest-scoring and highest assisting team in the country. The Schedule: at Denver Wednesday; at Marshall Sunday.

3. Harvard (8-0). A Sentence: I’d love for Harvard to justify me putting them this high with a win Thursday, but they merely need to keep it compelling. A Statistic: The Crimson have been helped by a “defensive” stat they have such little control over: free throw defense. Opponents are shooting an NCAA-worst 54 percent from the line against them. The Schedule: at Connecticut Thursday; at Boston University Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. UNLV (8-1): A Sentence: Beating North Carolina, then losing on the road at a Power Pyramid Wichita State team equates to a UNLV team smelling the Pyramid’s ceiling. A Statistic: 52.2 was the percentage from 3-point range the Shockers put up against UNLV over the weekend. It was the first time this season Vegas has had a team shoot better than 50 percent against them from downtown. The Schedule: vs. NAIA Cal State San Marcos Wednesday; at Wisconsin Saturday.

5. Creighton (7-0). A Sentence: Greg McDermott’s team is playing so well because his son is on his way to an Adam Morrison-like year in terms of offense. A Statistic: Remarkably, the Jay’s effective field goal percentage has rise, up to a still-tops-in-the-U.S. 60.9 clip. The Schedule: at St. Joseph’s Saturday.


6. Gonzaga (5-1). A Sentence: I’m not quite sure what Gonzaga will become, but I do know they’ve got plenty of chances, plenty of talent, and believe they’d beat everyone below them here on a neutral floor more times than not (as of today). A Statistic: The game, and loss, to Illinois was the first road game of Gonzaga’s season. Last year, the team was 7-5 on the road, and didn’t get above .500 in that category until the end of the year. More road woes coming this year?. The Schedule: vs. Michigan State Saturday.

7. Saint Louis (7-1). A Sentence: Have been impressed with Saint Louis so far, but for reasons I won’t expound upon here and now, I still remain wary. A Statistic: Saint Louis is in the shorter half of D-I teams, and they’re rebounding like it. The 24.2 offensive rebounding percentage will eventually need to come up, unless the team’s able to keep the eFG% above 58 (which it is now). The Schedule: vs. Vermont Wednesday; vs. D-II Illinois Springfield Saturday.

8. San Diego State (8-2). A Sentence: Interesting about this team right now: the numbers don’t love it, but boy have I and so many others been impressed. A Statistic: Despite the strong start, Aztecs are 58 in KenPom. Where’s the love? BYU is 21! The Schedule: at San Diego Wednesday.

9. Memphis (4-2). A Sentence: Tigers had a couple of patsies last weeks, so they fall slightly be default. A Statistic: Just take notice of the team above and the team right here. One’s played 10 games, the other six. There is a lot of room to flex between groups right now; we’ll have a better sense of the Pyramid’s hierarchy in about three weeks. The Schedule: at Miami Tuesday; vs. Murray State Sunday.

10. Belmont (5-2). A Sentence: I’ll take this moment this week to say: Unless Belmont starts ripping up opponents by 20-plus on the regular, they’re just going to be a really good, nondescript team off most non-Pyramid radars until late February. A Statistic: Last year, Belmont was one of the best teams in the country at turning you over. This year, it’s the opposite. The 14.1 offensive turnover rate is third-best nationally. The Schedulevs. Tennessee State Tuesday.

Base Blocks

11. Northern Iowa (7-1). A Sentence: The Valley is going to be a multi-bid league this year, and UNI will be making the NCAAs — yes, I’m saying that on Dec. 5. A Statistic: The Panthers’ D, giving up .93 points per possession, hasn’t been given enough love so far. Let’s see if this team can become as good on the D end as the 2009-10 group. The Schedule: vs. Iowa Tuesday; vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee Saturday.

12. Temple (4-2). A Sentence: Pretty sure Owls are in a tough spot this week; they’ll most definitely need to go 2-0 to remain inside the Pyramid’s walls on Dec. 12. A Statistic: Owls senior Michael Eric is currently taking more of your misses than anyone else. He possess a 34.6 success rate at grabbing defensive boards. The Schedule: at Toledo Wednesday; vs. Villanova Saturday.

13. New Mexico (6-2). A Sentence: Sophomore guard Kendall Williams has turned into a better player than I’d expected and is the reason UNM keeps a logo on this graphic. A Statistic: 23-4. That was the opening run to start Saturday’s game against Missouri State, which was in the Power Pyramid last Monday. The Schedule: at USC Saturday.

14. Wichita State (5-2). A Sentence: Valley swaps one team for another, as the Shockers replace Missouri State this week, keeping three teams in the rankings. A Statistic: In the out-of-nowhere performance to date this season, senior Joe Ragland scored 31 in the 89-70 WSU W over UNLV, thanks to eight 3s. Ragland boosted his PPG average to 11.9. The Schedule: at Tulsa Wednesday; vs. Utah State Saturday.

15. Murray State (9-0). A Sentence: Small surprise of the season: Billy Kennedy’s former team has started out terrifically without him. A Statistic: Three of the nine wins have been against foes outside of D-I, so that’s a big caveat. Wins over So. Miss and Dayton were convincing, though, so I’ve got the heart to put them in, just ahead of Tulane and College of Charleston. The Schedule: at Memphis Sunday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦  Out this week: Missouri State, Marshall. In: Murray State, Wichita State.
♦  Marshall gets its chance to get back into the Pyramid if it beats Syracuse this week, and I think Murray State’s visit could be short-lived due to the Memphis matchup forthcoming.
♦  I know you’re unbeaten, Tulane. If you get through next Sunday with wins over Wofford and Jacksonville State — even though those aren’t great wins — I’ll get you in with an 11-0 D-I record.
♦ Brigham Young is the only highly ranked KenPom team not to make the Pyramid. Let’s see what happens Dec. 17 against Baylor and then we’ll assess.
♦ I considered ranking Northwestern until it got mollywhopped by Baylor. (I keed!)

Photo: US PRESSWIRE
Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:23 am
Edited on: November 29, 2011 12:26 am
 

Scott Machado: the best point guard in the game?



By Matt Norlander


NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — There is no player as hot on NBA scouts’ radar right now as Iona senior point guard Scott Machado. After barely registering as a prospect worth tracking in his first three seasons with the Gaels, the buzz about Machado has only grown with each game this season.

That trend will continue after his 10-assist performance Monday night in a 100-84 routing of Long Island. The Gaels improved to 4-1, looking like a top-25 team in the process, even if Long Island, which went to the NCAA tournament last year, is most definitely not of that caliber right now.

“That’s a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament right now,” Long Island coach Jim Ferry said. “They should’ve beat Purdue. You have try to contain Machado. MoMo Jones is the fourth option, and he was the second-leading scorer at Arizona last year, and he’s the fourth guy you’re worried about guarding? This might be the best team in this area [greater New York City] in the past 10 years. They have three Big East-level players playing in the MAAC.”

Machado (who I ranked No. 26 at point guard in October -- whoops!) also put up 14 points and had five turnovers, but a few of those came late, in garbage time. (If it was going at full speed, Iona could have put up 115 on LIU without a fight, and Machado would’ve had 13 or 14 assists if it weren’t for some bunny layups that didn’t fall.) Machado leads the nation in assists per game (12.2), as does his team (22.6). The Gaels are also the nation’s most potent offense through the month of November, scoring and scorching at a 95.4-points-per-game clip. Machado’s the primary point guard, but Jones had a career-high six assists Monday night, and Kyle Smyth, a senior who plays the 3, also dished out six dimes.

Iona is extremely good and undoubtedly underrated right now. This team’s only loss came to Purdue, in the first game of the year, after Robbie Hummel hit a clinching 3-point shot to bail out the Boilers. While a lot of factors have serendipitously come into play, Machado’s leap to the elite class of college point guard is the biggest reason why Iona is the best team within a 130-mile radius of its campus.

“He’s a completely different player, not even close,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said. “It’s like having a sophomore to a senior. Like, he didn’t make one year’s worth improvement, he made two. ... I think going to Brazil helped him see other guys’ work ethics and trying to become professionals. Now, it’s like a night-and-day player.”

The biggest reason for this Hulk-like change into an elite point guard was Machado’s time with the Under-21 Brazilian national team over the summer. The smaller reason: Cluess asked Machado to shed off 10 to 12 pounds. He did that. He’s also now a gym rat, which was never the case with him prior to this fall.

“He deserves this,” Mike Glover (who scored 28 Monday night) said of his teammate. “Him going to Brazil was the best thing to ever happen to Scott. But at the same time, I’m pretty sure he’s not satisfied with where he’s at right now.”

Where he’s at is sharing sentences with North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, who’s considered by many to be the best 1 in the game along with Xavier's Tu Holloway and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. Now people believe Machado’s a top-five point guard in college basketball, and his coach thinks he’s No. 2 behind Marshall. As does Jay Bilas, who said he's the second-best passer in the country. Could the best pure point guard in college basketball really be playing in the MAAC?

“The guy he’s fighting against plays for North Carolina,” Cluess said. “Think about if Scott were throwing to those guys. He’d average 20 assists per game. It’s no shot on our team, but it’s a different level.”

It wasn’t expected to go this way. Jones coming in meant Machado would acquiesce some time at the 1 to allow Iona to split point guard duty, making them tougher to scout in the process. Turns out they’re tougher to play against no matter what, with all the running and Machado becoming basically indefensible so far this season. His mindset is this:

“I’ve noticed there’s a lot of point guards in the league that like to score the ball and not a lot that to distribute the ball and get their teams involved before they get themselves involved,” he said. “That’s so much easier to play the game when you get your teammates involved. When you’re getting your teammates dunks and layups, it makes it makes it easier for you.”

Machado’s at the 1 about 80 percent of the time for the Gaels. Jones is bringing the ball up the floor — when it’s not a fast break — the remaining 20 percent. Machado credits how Cluess has quickly works this team into a condition that's already paying big dividends. It's not going to stop, either, which could be this team's mantra. Iona’s practices are now essentially three-hour track meets.

“A 40-minute game, it’s like a joke to us,” Glover said. “When competition comes, 40 minutes is nothing, and we wore them out tonight.”

They will try to gas every team they play this year. If they can do that and remain efficient with passing the ball and not turning it over (which they haven't been), this will unquestionably be one of the best mid-major teams out there.

“Honestly, our goal was 20 assists per game,” Cluess said. “We’ve done that in every game so far, and I can’t tell you I expect that from every game, but it’s what we strive for. The fact we’re doing that means we must be playing better than anticipated right now."

Anticipation and expectation are getting adjusted in New Rochelle, where the best team in the northeast not named UConn is playing catch-your-breath basketball thanks to the most surprising new NBA prospect the sport has so far this season.

Photo: AP

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