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Tag:Pittsburgh
Posted on: March 8, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2011 2:37 pm
 

Projecting the first-round destinations

Posted by MATT JONES

I am a dork. Let’s get that out of the way right up front, because otherwise what I am attempting to do below will make no sense. While everyone else on the internet is giving their latest Bracketology projections and attempting to define the bottom half of the field of 68, I have a completely different goal. I want to try and get in the tournament committee’s minds and figure out exactly where the top seeds in the NCAA tournament will play their first round games .

Now this may seem like a silly enterprise, as on the surface it seems impossible to predict. If the process was random, with 68 teams and 8 different locales, projecting any team to any first round destination would be complete folly. But the process isn’t random and there is some logical basis to the assignments. In fact, if you understand two rules, projecting the assignments of some top teams can come rather easily:

1. The committee will try to put teams seeded in the top 4  teams in their region close to home.

2.  Duke will play in the state of North Carolina

Those two rules if not officially set in stone, are nearly always followed and thus give us some logical basis to begin a projection. At this point, our resident bracketologist Jerry Palm has these teams as the top 4 seeds:

  1. Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame
  2. Duke, Syracuse, Purdue, San Diego State
  3. North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida
  4. Louisville, Kentucky, St. Johns, BYU

While the order of those teams may change a bit and a couple of teams could crash the group (Vanderbilt, West Virginia, UCONN), it is likely that the vast majority of these teams will represent the 16 top seeds. For this year’s tournament, there are eight cities hosting first round games:

Cleveland
Chicago
Denver
Tucson

Washington DC

Tampa
Tulsa
Charlotte

Each city will be the host site of two of the top 16 seeds. So using our two rules above, we can begin projecting teams to particular sites based upon location. Cleveland is just a hop, skip and a jump from two No.1 seeds, Ohio State and Pittsburgh. Tulsa is the closest to Kansas and Chicago is virtually an extension of Notre Dame. So after placing the top seeds, the list looks like this:

Cleveland: Pittsburgh, Ohio State
Chicago:
Notre Dame
Denver:
Tucson:
Washington DC:

Tampa

Tulsa:
Kansas

Charlotte

Duke is a 2 seed and Charlotte is in North Carolina, thus making the Blue Devils a lock for the banking capital of America due to Rule No. 2. Purdue is within a quick drive to Chicago and Tucson is the only host city anywhere close to San Diego State. Syracuse would probably prefer to be in Cleveland, but because that locale is full, Washington DC becomes the most likely destination.

Cleveland: Pittsburgh, Ohio State
Chicago:
Notre Dame, Purdue
Denver:
Tucson:
San Diego State
Washington DC:
Syracuse

Tampa

Tulsa:
Kansas
Charlotte:
Duke

North Carolina is apparently still located in North Carolina and thus placing the Tar Heels in Charlotte ensures a packed house for each session. Tulsa is the location closest to Texas, making the Longhorns a likely candidate for that beautiful city. Tampa is in Florida and has a huge arena to fill, potentially enticing the fickle Gators fans to make the short drive. Wisconsin has no obvious destination, as nothing left is very close to Madison. But with Denver in that same general part of America and only one other western team, the Badgers seem likely headed for the Rockies:

Cleveland: Pittsburgh, Ohio State
Chicago:
Notre Dame, Purdue
Denver:
Wisconsin
Tucson:
San Diego State
Washington DC:
Syracuse
Tampa:
Florida
Tulsa:
Kansas, Texas
Charlotte:
Duke, North Carolina

This is when it starts to get tricky. BYU is the farthest west and can’t play on Sunday, meaning that Tucson is the likely home for the Cougars. St. John’s is in New York, which likes to think of DC as its dorky extension, thus sending the Red Storm to the nation’s capital. Louisville and Kentucky are both not close to either remaining destination, but the Cardinals are slightly farther west, sending them to Denver and Kentucky to Tampa. That makes the final split look like this:

Cleveland: Pittsburgh, Ohio State
Chicago:
Notre Dame, Purdue
Denver:
Wisconsin, Louisville
Tucson: San Diego State, BYU
Tampa:
Florida, Kentucky
Washington DC:
Syracuse, St. Johns
Tulsa:
Kansas, Texas
Charlotte:
Duke, North Carolina

Of course it is just as likely that the committee follows none of these parameters and just does what it wants. But if logic is used, you can book your travel destinations now.

Posted on: February 27, 2011 6:10 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2011 3:04 pm
 

Young Cardinals show poise in win

Posted by Jeff Borzello

After Pittsburgh’s Brad Wanamaker hit a shot with 17 seconds left in regulation to forge a tie against Louisville, followed by Wanamaker and Gary McGhee both coming up with blocks on the ensuing defensive possession, many people thought the Cardinals would fold in overtime to a more experienced Pittsburgh bunch.

Think again.

In the extra session, Louisville scored the first four points en route to a 62-59 victory. In fact, if not for a moronic cheerleader earning a technical foul, the Cardinals would have held Pittsburgh to just one point in overtime.

The Cardinals forced three turnovers and allowed the Panthers to attempt just one shot from the field in the first four minutes of overtime.

There’s only one senior on Louisville’s roster, but the Cardinals demonstrated poise normally reserved for a team like Pittsburgh. Moreover, junior Terrence Jennings and senior Preston Knowles struggled throughout the game, combining for 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting.

The key for Louisville was its perimeter trio of sophomores Peyton Siva and Mike Marra, and junior Kyle Kuric. Kuric had 12 points, including a 3-pointer and clinching dunk in overtime; Marra went for 11 points, knocking down timely shots; and Siva finished with 14 points and three assists.

Heading into March, the Cardinals are starting to turn some of their detractors into believers. On short notice, they are going to be a difficult team to face, due to their pressure defense and half-court zone defense. Offensively, they are nearly impossible to stop when their 3-pointers are falling. Additionally, Siva is a player who can create shots at the end of games – something that every successful NCAA Tournament needs.

Most importantly, their young players are developing into battle-tested players who show composure when it matters. 

Photo: US Presswire

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 21, 2011 1:39 pm
 

Duke No. 1 in Coaches' Poll...Why?



Posted by MATT JONES


The Coaches' Poll is a joke. I know it, you know it and the American people know it. The actual coaches who allegedly participate (you and I both know that in reality it is the Sports Information Director or some assistant to the coach who completes the poll each week) never do as good a job of analyzing the teams as those in the media. Thus you inevitably end up with some odd assortment of teams, usually based upon a pick by number "which team didn't lose this week" system that requires little thought and no analysis.


But even with my usual low expectations for the poll of coaches, this week was still shockingly bad. I will freely admit that picking a No. 1 team in America this week was difficult. With the top four teams all losing last week, figuring out which to place on top of the heap could lead to a varying set of opinions. But one thing is certain. You couldn't really decide which team was the best in America by simply going down the list and finding the highest team that didn't take a loss. No group of minds would be so simplistic as to use that strategy to pick a top team, would they?


Yes they would. For reasons only known to the underlings in the athletic departments who made the list, the coaches picked Duke to be the No. 1 team in America. Ignoring every bit of logic or reason that exists, the coaches went with the one indefensible pick for the top spot.  You can make a reasonable case for the other five contenders:


Ohio State: Two losses, both to teams who are perfect at home on the season. The Buckeyes were in both games and both teams to which they lost will be a top four seed in March. Ohio State is also the most complete all around team in America and probably the best suited to face the variety of attacks they will face in March.


Kansas: The Jayhawks are No. 1 in the RPI (although that is becoming less and less important as our statistical knowledge increases), are 7-2 versus the top 50 overall and one of the two losses is to a fellow Top 5 team. The Kansas State loss was bad, but for a team that has otherwise dominated opponents, they can't be forgotten on the heels of one effort.


Pittsburgh: The forgotten team in the group. Pittsburgh has beaten 7 teams in the Top 25.  No one else is close. The Panthers play in the best conference and have a win over fellow contender Texas. Dropping Pitt to sixth means that you as a voter simply saw they were in 4th last week and thought, "well I must punish them by dropping them two spots," without recognizing that the loss occurred on the home floor of a team with five Top 20 home defeats.


Texas: The team playing the best basketball in America. The Longhorns have the most talent, have only lost once in conference and are crushing teams in every manner possible. Plus, they have the best win of the season, a road victory at Kansas. Yes there are four losses on the resume, but if we are picking the best team, Texas is it.,


San Diego State: I don't like the case for the Aztecs, but one at least exists. They only have one loss, it is to fellow Top 8 team BYU and they have beaten Gonzaga, Wichita State, St. Mary's and UNLV, all of which will be NCAA contenders. If total losses are most important to you, then San Diego State wins. Plus, at least this year, the Mountain West is pretty close to the ACC overall.


The only team I can't understand putting in the top spot is Duke. The Blue Devils were embarrassed at St. John's (contrast that with how Pittsburgh played the Johnnies this week) and have only ONE game (nevermind win) against the Top 25 in college basketball. The ACC is painfully weak and all of Duke's best victories are over likely bubble teams. With the same number of losses as Ohio State and Kansas, a much weaker resume than Pittsburgh and Texas and less overall wins in a similar conference than San Diego State, how can you pick the Blue Devils?


Oh, I know. Because they were the highest team that didn't lose last week. Nice job once again coaches. 
 


Posted on: February 12, 2011 8:33 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 1:41 am
 

The inevitable debate: Who should be No. 1?

There's going to be no escaping it tonight, tomorrow and even Monday, after the polls come out and the predictive nature of the debate is no longer a factor.

With Ohio State becoming the final team to lose today (and isn't it great that we don't have  that melodrama surrounding the final team that loses, like what happens with the 1972 Dolphins in the NFL?), the discussion simply must be had: Who should be ranked No. 1?

Now, this means very little, really. You know that, yes? Because the teams being debated for the No. 1 ranking in Monday's polls are all considered No. 1 seed-worthy as of now, and that's what really matters. But we can have some fun and address some resumes. So let's do that. Gary Parrish is making the case for Ohio State. You can read his take here.

You know where Parrish stands. What follows are the cases for Texas (Matt Norlander), Kansas (Matt Jones) and Pitt (Eric Angevine).

Norlander says Texas

To me, with rankings (something I find myself caring about less and less each year), it's as much about how good you are on the court as it is the scalps on the wall. Nobody is dominating like 22-3 Texas, who improved to, hello, 10-0 in the Big 12 this afternoon. Yes, the Longhorns have yet to lose in the Big 12, unlike Kansas. Oh, right: Texas beat Kansas.

And that was in Lawrence, ending the Jayhawks' 69-game streak of wins at home.

I've told you this a couple of times already just how good Texas is in regard to other teams. They're winning by double-digits on the regular in the conference. Heck, today's nine-point win over Baylor may as well be considered skin-of-the-teeth variety. The Longhorns are ferocious-yet-disciplined on D, and that's only one of six or seven things that makes this team a great one within the context of the 2010-11 season.

Cory Joseph (right) is playing well as a freshman point guard. Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson: these are future high-first-round draft picks. Maintaining a win streak is the ultimate criterion for keeping a No. 1 ranking. Texas' upcoming schedule (home vs. Okie State, at Nebraska, home vs. Iowa State) doesn't seem to indicate any losing soon.

Before Ohio State lost I considered Texas the top team in America. This just helps build my case.

Jones says Kansas

When the Top 25 is released on Monday, the smart money is on Kansas being No. 1 once again. And in the same way that contestants were usually well-served to go with the answer most favored when using the “ask the audience” lifeline on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” the selection of the majority is correct in this case as well.

There are really only three contenders for the No. 1 slot. Pittsburgh and Duke have nice teams, but as a quick glance of the stats on kenpom.com showcase, when it comes to the best combination of offensive and defensive efficiency, only Texas, Kansas and Ohio State are worth discussing. 

I eliminate Norlander's pick, Texas, from the outset because it has three losses. The polls don’t exist to simply tell us who is playing the best at this very moment. If that were the case, Georgetown and its seven game win streak would be in the conversation. The overall body of work does matter and the Longhorns have two more losses than either the Buckeyes or Jayhawks. That two game spread is decisive, regardless of how dominant Texas has been in recent weeks.

That leaves Ohio State and Kansas and for my money, the Jayhawks get the nod because they have the better overall resume. While Ohio State has been squeaking by teams in a variety of Big Ten slugfests, Kansas has been blasting its opponents in every way imaginable. Bill Self’s team has won its last five games by an average of 21 points, and unlike the Buckeyes, has put on a clinic for all of its opponents. All but three conference games for Ohio State have been a battle. All but three conference games for Kansas have been a beatdown.

Plus, the Jayhawks loss is a better one than the one Ohio State took today in Madison. Kansas lost at home, immediately following the tragedy involving Thomas Robinson’s family, against a great Texas team. That Longhorn team is better than the Wisconsin group that took down Ohio State and would beat them on a neutral court. Advantage Kansas.  

But most importantly, the Jayhawks are just better. While Jared Sullinger is the national Player of the Year, no team has as many diverse scoring options as Kansas. With the Morris twins, Josh Selby, Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor and others, no team can shut down all of the weapons in the Kansas arsenal. If I were an opposing coach, I would want no part Selby’s athleticism, the Morris twins’ field goal efficiency or the entire teams’ defensive pressure. Give me Kansas at No. 1 both now, and when the nets are cut down in early April. 

Angevine says Pitt

Each of these teams is worthy. I just think Pitt is more worthy. Both Big 12 teams handled easy opposition today to make their cases for No. 1. The other two teams we're considering were in flat-out heavyweight slugfests. Ohio State lost theirs, and Pitt won.

What I like about Pitt is their ability to take a punch. Literally and figuratively. They bounced back immediately from the news that Ashton Gibbs would have to sit while rehabbing an injury, and Travon Woodall has stepped in and played his role on offense and defense with no problems. When I say they can literally take a punch, I'm referring to a moment in the Villanova game where Nasir Robinson was tapped on the chin by Isaiah Armwood. He could have lost his cool and started a brawl. Instead, he absorbed the contact and let the resulting technical foul turn the tide of the game in Pitt's favor.

That's why I think the Panthers prove worthy of the honor based on present factors that should weigh in their favor going forward. Here's why they deserve it based on past performance:

Pitt has had more wins against more tough teams, both in conference and out, than any of these other contenders for the top spot. For quantity and quality of wins, our new number one team has to be Pitt.

Photos: AP

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 7, 2011 11:30 am
Edited on: February 7, 2011 7:00 pm
 

Does Gibbs' injury affect Pitt's chances at a 1?

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Heading into Sunday afternoon, the popular opinion on the Big East pecking order was that Pittsburgh seemed like the favorite and everyone else was at least a couple of steps behind the fourth-ranked Panthers.

Now, with the news that junior guard Ashton Gibbs, the team’s leading scorer and one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters, will miss at least 10 days with an MCL injury, that might not be the case.

In the next two weeks, Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1 in the Big East) has to go on the road to face West Virginia and Villanova, then come back home for South Florida before finishing at St. John’s on Feb. 19. Not the easiest trek for a team without its best scorer.

Pittsburgh’s biggest problem this season has been its lack of playmakers on the offensive end, leading to stagnant half-court offense and struggles down the stretch of games. The majority of the Panthers’ points are coming off offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities.

Without Gibbs in the starting lineup, head coach Jamie Dixon will turn to sophomore Travon Woodall, a quick point guard who can get into the lane and create opportunities with his passing ability. On the flip side, he’s nowhere near the shooter Gibbs is and doesn’t require the same defensive attention in end-game situations.

The only other player that can create his own shot on a regular basis is Brad Wanamaker, but he’s been inconsistent scoring the ball lately, averaging just more than 10 points and shooting barely 42 percent from the field in his last six games. When he and Gibbs play off each other, the Panthers’ backcourt duo is successful. Whether Wanamaker will be able to become a go-to-guy in Gibbs’ absence remains to be seen.

Now, on to the schedule.

The Panthers head to West Virginia tonight to face an angry Mountaineers team coming off a 16-point loss to Villanova. After that, it’s off to Villanova, which has only lost one home game all season. Lose those two games, and Pittsburgh drops to 9-3 in the Big East, falling back into a quagmire of eight teams that will have three or four conference losses. Throw in a road game at St. John’s on Feb. 19, and the Panthers could have four Big East losses by the time Gibbs returns from health.

While the NCAA Selection Committee will take into account Gibbs’ injury when assessing Pittsburgh’s resume, it might not matter.

A Pittsburgh team that is clearly a cut above the rest of the Big East equals a No. 1 seed.

A Pittsburgh team that is bunched up with multiple teams in the Big East standings simply isn’t as attractive, even if the committee disregards its losses without Gibbs. The next two weeks will likely determine whether Pittsburgh is a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.

Unfortunately, the Panthers will have to do it without their best player.

Photo: US PRESSWIRE
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 2, 2011 10:17 pm
 

Villanova only team that can challenge Pittsburgh

Posted by MATT JONES

With half of its season now completed, the Big East conference race is a muddled mess. Pittsburgh stands alone at the top, with an 8-1 conference record and a commanding two-game lead over its nearest competitors. But after that, the conference looks like a wide-open free for all, with nine teams bunched behind with either three or four losses.  Thus it could be seen as an unpredictable race, with 8-10 potential winners. But upon closer inspection there is only one likely contender that can stop a Pittsburgh Big East coronation.

Not only does Pittsburgh have a two-game cushion, it is also the beneficiary of what could be classified as an easy (at least by Big East standards) second half of the schedule. The Panthers only play three games against ranked opponents, instead facing South Florida and West Virginia twice, and Cincinnati and St. John's one time a piece. Whereas UCONN, Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova have all gone through mini-losing streaks due to rough patches with multiple consecutive games against Top 20 teams on their schedules, Pittsburgh will avoid most of the toughest opponents down the stretch, making it difficult to forsee them giving many games back to the pack.

But the one team that Pittsburgh does have to deal with twice is Villanova, which got back on track Wednesday night with a 75-70 home victory over Marquette. The Wildcats found strong play once again from their big man tandem, Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena, who combined for 32 points and 17 rebounds to help spark an end to the team's recent four game malaise. Corey Fisher added 17 in the victory as Villanova built up a 14 point second half lead and withheld a late Marquette run for the victory.

The win ends the most difficult stretch of the Villanova schedule with a 2-3 record, as Jay Wright's club paired wins over Syracuse and the Golden Eagles with losses to UCONN and Georgetown and an embarrassing 15 point defeat at Providence. However even with those bumps in the road, Villanova finds itself as the only real team with a shot to knock off Pittsburgh for the conference title. The Wildcats have upcoming games against conference doormats Rutgers, Seton Hall and Depaul over the next three weeks, while also hosting winnable games against West Virginia, St. John's and Syracuse at home.

Most importantly however, Villanova still has a crucial home and home series with Pittsburgh yet to come.  Amongst the top contenders in the Big East, that gives the Wildcats a chance to add two losses to Pittsburgh's total, something the other contenders without Pittsburgh on their schedule cannot accomplish. Winning the Big East will likely take a sweep of the two-game series by Villanova, but unlike with the rest of the teams in conference, at least Villanova's best punch at the conference leader is ahead, rather than already passed by.

Jay Wright expressed disappointment in the play of his team last week and he surely can't be pleased with the slow finish against Marquette that allowed the Golden Eagles to make the game competitive late. But in a tightly-packed Big East, where the margin of error between second and tenth place in the conference is woefully small, Villanova is the only team with a schedule suited to presenting Jamie Dixon's team a challenge. Pittsburgh's current two-game lead is significant and its only real hurdle to the title is the two-game Villanova swing. The Big East Championship likely will hang in the balance.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 27, 2011 5:03 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2011 5:05 pm
 

The March Five debuts

Posted by MATT JONES

When March comes around every year, we get told the same story about the unique nature of the NCAA Tournament. Because it’s “one and done,” anyone can win, making the field of 68 the most unpredictable sporting event to prognosticate. It’s a great story and is certainly true if one is only analyzing an individual game. Valparaiso can take down Ole Miss, Cleveland State can shock Wake Forest and Northern Iowa can outgun Kansas in a given matchup on a given night. These upsets are what make up the fabric of the Tournament and are the reason the first four days are the best sporting 96 hours of the year in my humble opinion.

But is that notion true beyond the first few rounds? Is it really the case that anyone can win the NCAA Tournament? If history is any guide, clearly the answer is no. No school outside of a BCS conference has won the NCAA Tournament since UNLV, and Tarkanian’s super-talented Runnin’ Rebels could hardly be considered a group of spunky underdogs. While the first two rounds are for the little guys, the overall title is for the big boys and schools outside the elite conferences need not apply.   

In fact, the group of potential winners for the NCAA Tournament in a given year is so small, that it can actually be easily predicted. When one looks at the field of 68, the possibilities may seem endless, but in reality they are quite small. Trying to forecast a given winner of a particular edition of March Madness can be difficult, as any person whose bracket was anchored by Kansas or Kentucky last year can attest. However, if a person worries less about picking one winner and instead attempts to select a group of teams from which the winner will certainly come, that proposition is surely a winner.

It is from that premise that a few years ago I created the concept of the “March Five.” The March Five is actually a very simple notion. Each year going into the NCAA Tournament, I pick the five teams with the greatest likelihood of winning the whole thing, and then it is almost certain that the overall champion will come from that group. I began applying the concept in 2000 and it has yet to fail me. Every year I go into the Tournament with five teams and I guarantee a winner from the selction to anyone that will listen. And for 11 straight years, I have been correct. In fact, even if we were go back to 1990 and retroactively apply the concept to the Tournament in those years, only one season (1997 Arizona), would have seen a champion that wouldn’t have been in nearly everyone’s March Five (in fact in a future edition of the March Five, we will run the analysis for all the past seasons).

Looked at in this way then, March Madness becomes much less unpredictable and instead becomes an exercise in selecting five teams that collectively present a 95% chance or better of containing the eventual champion (or at least present that chance in our small sample size). Pick the right teams and you can be all but certain that the highlight montage you select for your “One Shining Moment” will only need five potential closing shots.

Over the next few weeks, I will give you my thought process on picking this year’s edition of the March Five, while adding and removing teams based on performance. Here are our initial five entrants if the Tournament were held today:

OHIO STATE

March Five status: LOCK

I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Buckeyes do not become the anchor of this year’s March Five group. Thad Matta’s team has all the ingredients for March success. It is led by the best Freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger, who controls the paint with such authority that it becomes difficult to defend him on one end and nearly impossible to score on him on the other. His ability to take up space ensures that no team can get an advantage on the glass and he has showcased surprising leadership at such a young age. The Buckeyes present six legitimate scorers and as Purdue found out on Tuesday night, there is no scenario in which any can be forgotten on the defensive end without being burned. Most importantly, Ohio State can adapt to a number of styles of play, thus allowing them to avoid potential mismatches that are the death knell of other non-March Five worthy teams. Matta’s team is the best in the land in January and only injury can keep it from being a March Five member come Tournament time.

DUKE

March Five Status: STRONG

This edition of the Blue Devils is probably better than the team that cut down the nets last year, particularly if Mike Krzyzewski gets Kyrie Irving back by March. Kyle Singler is similar to the player we saw last year, but Nolan Smith has substantially improved and provides such a diverse set of skills that he represents an upgrade from Jon Scheyer as a primary scoring option. The Plumlees are playing well enough and even though the depth hasn’t been where we thought it would be, Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry do provide other scoring options. Without Irving, this team does have problems matching up against top-tier athletic teams but if it is shooting the ball well, that won’t matter. Like last season, the Blue Devils are actually slightly under the radar, but their chances of being in the Five at the end are strong.

PITTSBURGH

March Five Status: MEDIUM

If you wrote off Jamie Dixon’s team after the home loss to Notre Dame, you are making a mistake. The Panthers are probably the team with the most ability to adjust to physical opponents and the combination of Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown make them very tough for any team to defend. The emergence of Gary McGhee inside gives Pittsburgh a big body who can control the lane defensively and limit offensive rebounds. Notre Dame did expose how best to attack Dixon’s team, by limiting possessions, working the ball around on offense and exploiting the holes in the Panthers’ mid-range defense. But Jamie Dixon is smart and will adjust to what many are claiming now is a blueprint for success. This is the best equipped team Dixon has had for a March tournament run and the odds suggest that now is the time to do it.

TEXAS

March Five Status: MEDIUM (and rising)

Texas had the most impressive week of any of the top teams last week, surgically dismantling Texas A&M and then ending the nation’s longest winning streak in Lawrence against Kansas. Rick Barnes’ team has the best overall starting lineup of any of the contenders, with each player averaging at least 9.7 points a game. Jordan Hamilton has evolved into one of the best (and most underrated) scorers in the nation and the combination of Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph makes Texas almost impossible to defend when it shares the basketball. Two of the three teams that have beaten the Longhorns (Pitt and UCONN) did so by attacking on offense and playing physical on the defensive end. The Big East/Big Ten would give Texas the most trouble in March and matchups problems will be an issue. But when clicking, there may be no team with more overall firepower, making Texas a member of the March Five as of now.

KANSAS

March Five Status: SHAKY

Even before the loss to Texas, I didn’t like Kansas’ chances in March. I think the Jayhawks should still be the favorite to win the Big 12 (Texas has a more difficult schedule and is more vulnerable to upsets), but I worry about a team led by the Morris brothers come Tournament time. The game against Texas involved a difficult set of circumstances, with the death of Thomas Robinson’s mother surely on everyone’s minds. Still, to go as long without a basket as Kansas did and, more importantly, lose poise in the midst of a Texas run, was troubling. But with Josh Selby and the Morris twins, Kansas has the ability to attack on offense like few others and will bring a physical toughness matched by few teams. This is a team that can rise over the next few weeks and I expect that by the final edition of this list, the Jayhawks will be on it. But for now, consider them a shaky addition.

NEXT FIVE

Connecticut, Villanova, Missouri, BYU, Kentucky

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 27, 2010 11:01 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2010 11:34 pm
 

Four takeaways from Monday night

Posted by Matt Jones

The night began with excitement, as two of the top six teams took the court in Pittsburgh for what was supposed to be a glorious start to the college basketball season here on the College Basketball Blog.  Instead, we were treated to old school Big East Basketball at its worst, full of needlessly physical play and game-stifling whistles that make the ultimate product nearly unwatchable.  So rather than wallow in the stench of a game so bad it had me yearning for some Stephen Bardo commentary, let’s look at the five things we learned on an otherwise forgettable Monday night in college basketball:

Indiana Still Stinks

If you had the misfortune of listening to an Indiana fan talk over the past few weeks, the same refrain could be heard over and over.  “We are back!  Crean has the recruits coming in, we are going to make the NCAA Tournament this year and IU is a cool program once again.”  Leaving aside the obvious retort that no program can be “cool” so long as they are wearing those warm-up pants, the 69-60 loss proves that by no means is Indiana “back”, unless “back” means on pace to coast into an NIT berth.  The loss followed a familiar script for Tom Crean’s crew…refuse to guard the outside shot, go through sustained runs in which they are unable to score and then falter in key moments down the stretch.  The fact that it happened at home against a Penn State team without one of its top players makes the loss all the more egregious.  The next five games for Indiana are Ohio State, at Minnesota, at Northwestern, Michigan and at Wisconsin.  How can even the most optimistic Indiana fan look at that stretch and see anything but a 2-3 record at best?  Tom Crean, future recruiting success or not, your seat is officially warm.

Pitt is the Big East Favorite

I expected a lot from the first Big Monday game of the year and actually got very little.  Jay Bilas wasn’t on the broadcast, the referees took over early and turned it into Big East basketball at its eye-bleeding worst and Kemba Walker seems to have trimmed his goatee to a length that makes it slightly less awesome.  So while the night as a whole was disappointing, one thing did become certain.  Pittsburgh is the clear favorite in the Big East.  I questioned UCONN from the outset, mainly because we had seen little out of Calhoun’s club outside of their magical run in Maui.  However I didn’t expect a team that has arguably the Player of the Year thus far in college basketball to look so thoroughly ordinary on the road.  Credit Pittsburgh, who continues to utilize the Jamie Dixon blueprint for success: tough defense, physical around the rim and hit open shots. They do it every year and create boring basketball for the masses, but also victories like the one over UCONN that make its home court the place where Top 5 teams go to die.

Rick Pitino Can Score Quickly

Well actually, we already knew this after the infamous trial last summer, but Pitino is now showing that his renewed energy in coaching has produced a Cardinals’ team that can put big points on the board in a hurry.  The Cards’ 104-74 victory over Morgan State may not seem impressive on the surface, but hidden underneath the final score are some tidbits that should make the country take notice.  While Ricky P has often been thought of as a Coach who likes to have his teams run up and down the floor, that has not been his modus operandi at Louisville.  Pitino has become more of a half-court defensive minded coach in recent years and some versions of Louisville teams over the past five Big East seasons would not have seemed out of place coached by Bob Huggins or Jim Boeheim.   However this group is returning to Pitino’s roots.  The Cards shot 17-23 from behind the three point line against Morgan State and by scoring over 100 points, the team became the first Pitino group to get over 100 in back-to-back games since 1995.  Pitino’s light non-conference schedule means that it remains to be seen how this team will stack up against top competition.  But with a group of Wildcats from Lexington coming to town on Friday, the Cards have served notice that if the three-point shot is falling, they are capable of lighting up the scoreboard quickly.

Ohio State is the Second Best Team in the Land

Beat any team 100-40 and I do not care if it is a bottom feeder from the OVC like Tennessee-Martin, I take notice.  When the year started, we all assumed that the Big Ten team that could compete for a title with Duke would have been Michigan State.  While the jury is still out on what type of team Tom Izzo will bring to March, it is clear that if the tournament started today, the Buckeyes would be the hardest nut for Coach K to crack.  Their lack of a true Point Guard has yet to seem to matter and Jared Sullinger has surpassed the expectations heaped on him preseason and added those dropped by Harrison Barnes for good measure, in order to become the most dominant player in the country up to this point.  When he is playing as well as he has early, it is hard to see very many teams that can match up with the Buckeyes on either end of the court and their potential becomes scary.  Ohio State will be tested in Big Ten play and we will see if teams exploit their propensity to turn the ball over, but for now, Ohio State is the country’s clear #2.

Photo: Getty Images
 
 
 
 
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