Posted on: February 15, 2011 12:15 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2011 12:20 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
Welcome back to our Tuesday-at-noon post that's not quite bubble-watching, not quite bracketeering, but falls somewhere in between. Rather than debate every team's chances and stake in the bracket (after all, Palm has that on lockdown here at CBSSports.com), I like to cherry-pick a couple of teams, a couple of scenarios, and compare which is superior. It's all in good fun. Consider this exercise a magnifying glass for the kind of debates that could take place within the conference rooms in Indianapolis next month, when the selection committee chooses the field of 68.
Let's get right to it. I've been waiting about a month for this, and the program hasn't let me down, so let's talk some Coastal Carolina hoop!
Or are they paper Chanticleers? And in case you need to know what a Chanticleer is: a fabled rooster. Yes, that's for real (yet isn't). I want the Chanticleers to play the Billikens at some point. Would that game even exist? I digress, of course.
Let's pit 24-2 Coastal Carolina against a perennial high-win, low-loss March guest: Utah State. The Aggies are 23-3 and in a familiar spot, having wracked up more wins than almost anyone in the country, yet see their slate void of one quality W. But the selection committee's been as fair as it has been unfair to USU in the past. In 2004, Utah State went 25-4 and was snubbed because of a miserable non-con skedge. When it was 30-4 two years ago, the Aggies were give a bid. Last year's 27-7 record was good enough. It depends on the landscape around Stew Morrill's team. This year's bubble is of course the weakest in the history of ever, so perhaps both these teams are in OK shape.
But let's pretend they're not. Let's say the final at-large comes down to these two.
Coastal Carolina has just two tournament appearance in its history ('91 and '93). It's never had a season this good; two more wins, and it eclipses the '91 team's record for victories in a season. But where's the beef? It's the question we pose to so many low-level conference teams. The Chants hail from the Big South conference, where they are 15-0 amid riding the nation's longest winning streak, 22 games. A good sign, and if it keeps on keeping on and loses in the Big South title game, I think CCU gets a bid.
But there's plenty of rub. KenPom number is 81; Sagarin 68. The only losses came in back-to-back tilts against the two toughest opponents on the CCU's schedule, College of Charleston and Georgetown. That's worrisome. The best win could be at 13-11 UNC-Asheville! Plus, four of the Chants' 22 wins are against non-D-I opponents, so in the mind of the committee, this is an 20-2 team. That many gimme games scheduled is frowned upon.
Utah State is in better shape for a few reasons. Primarily, it gets a chance Coastal won't. In BracketBusters this weekend, the Aggies play against Saint Mary's, a top-40 team. There is no BracketBusters for the Chanticleers. Utah State also has a loss to Georgetown, as well as Idaho and Brigham Young. The WAC is rated 12th, while the Big South is 24th in KenPom rankings. In Sagarin, the WAC is 14th, the Big South 20th. A tougher conference gives Utah State the nod.
Turtles in trouble
Now let's talk the BCS-conference teams. Maryland is funny. There's been recent literature about how Wisconsin, in many ways, is a team computers love and people can't embrace quite as much (that's changed some, obviously, with Wisky's win over Ohio State). How about the Terps, though? Currently, they lack one impressive win, yet are ranked No. 19 by KenPom. Sagarin? A little more accurate at No. 41. Let's stick with the Pomeroy numbers, though. Who's a team that's ranked fairly low, yet stands a better chance to earn an at-large. My pick: Washington State. More on them a few grafs down.
Here comes a huge one for Gary Williams' team tonight, a road game at equally bubbly Virginia Tech. All too appropriate that these teams have put themselves in this situation. Until now, Maryland's been considered a bubble team, even if fringe, with casual inclusion. There's not a whole lot to support that. Maryland has a miserable RPI of 89, and a SOS of 81.
I know the Pac-10's not even as good as the ACC, but Washington State has a slate that rises above the conference's stained reputation. The 17-8 Cougars (RPI of 76) have wins over Baylor, Gonzaga, Portland (that's decent, folks) and Washington. Maryland has Penn State on the road and Clemson and College of Charleston at home.
The selection committee says it doesn't take conference into account when picking teams (and I do believe that). If that's the case, Wazzu deserves a place above Maryland, pretty clearly.
Posted on: February 12, 2011 7:15 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2011 7:32 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — When seeds are dished out and bids are carefully delivered to the lucky 37 at-large teams four weeks from Sunday, if Maryland’s not in the mix, it can blame itself while simultaneously pointing to Reggie Jackson as means of an excuse.
Plenty of time and games left to play, but the Boston College junior very well could have effectively killed of two ACC bids Saturday afternoon. If it’s not that drastic, he could have torpedoed the ACC’s chances at some single-digit seeding, should Boston College and/or Maryland get dance invites.
Jackson (left) went for a career-best 31 points against Maryland, helping the Eagles complete a season sweep of the Terrapins with another four-point win — Boston College won in Maryland, 79-75, Dec. 12 — this one a 76-72 final. Now, a few pegs from the top, the ACC standings read as such: Boston College 6-5, Maryland 5-5.
Because of B.C.’s sweep, the distance between is more than a half-game in the standings. And now the ACC below Duke — yes, we’ll have to include North Carolina in that mix (mess?) as well — is a cluttered muck of a conference especially considering the news out of Tallahassee this afternoon, that Chris Singleton's done for about a month due to needed foot surgery. The Eagles defeated a Maryland team that still can merely boast its best win as … well, what looks better to you: Clemson at home or Penn State on the road. That’s what the Selection Committee’s working with right now.
Jackson, unprompted, addressed the at-large situation in the ACC in the post-game press conference.
“We all know, everybody in this room knows, maybe only four teams are going to make the (NCAA) tournament from the ACC,” Jackson said. “Five, maybe, if someone [unexpected] makes the championship game in the ACC tournament.”
Eagles head coach Steve Donahue gave his star player a look like, How do you know that?
Most wannabe bracketologists would concur with Jackson’s thesis. Jackson’s just one a few players willing to casually, matter-of-factly address his team and conference’s March situation in the middle of February. A refreshing zag of an approach to the way coaches insist their players zig with the one-game-at-a-time blahspeak through the season.
Jackson is a self-promoted superfan of the college game, so he knew how much Saturday’s win meant for the Eagles and the ripple effects it could have for their chances for an at-large.
Maybe that’s why he waited until now to go for 31.
Make no mistake: Jackson is the reason why Boston College has a better at-large profile today than Maryland. He simply scored when and where he wanted to (12-of-16 from the field, eight rebounds) Saturday. Fortunately for he and Donahue, the points on the floor where the points showed up on the scoreboard varied. Jackson hit 5-of-7 3-point attempts but also attacked the rim without so much as a care for Maryland big man Jordan Williams, an All ACC-level player who didn’t play like that in Silvio O. Conte Forum.
“I never really thought I was going to talk over, one-on-one. It was just play ball and teammates setting screens,” Jackson said.
Donahue’s critical scoring weapon and bread-winner is now coming back strong after an unpredicted dip in play from Jan. 19 through Feb. 5, wherein Jackson was averaging 10.4 points per game. His worst performance of the season came against North Carolina on Feb. 1. He scored six points.
But the Feb. 8 game against Clemson, on the road, saw Jackson go for 27. With the 31 against Maryland, he and Donahue believe there’ll be no more droughts for the junior this season.
“He’s playing with a renewed freshness in his game,” Donahue (right) said. “I think they were concerned with us kicking it to him (Jackson), so they’re spacing out a little bit and he’s taking advantage of it.”
Donahue got on Jackson as of late and implored him to stay aggressive and look to score more within a few feet from the hoop.
“He’s playing better and attacking with an attitude,” Donahue said. “When he attacks the rim, I don’t know if there’s anyone like him in college basketball. When he’s more upright and settling for shots, he’s a lot easier to guard. He’s got to play to those strengths.”
What isn’t strength for Boston College: defense. The Eagles are one of the worst-rated major-conference defensive teams. (Thank goodness for that potent offense.) But today Donahue said his team’s second-half performance was the pinnacle of what the Eagles can do. Still, Maryland turned the ball over less frequently — 20 percent of its possession — than B.C. (21), and shot 47 percent from the field, effectively.
“The second half is as good as we can play,” Donahue said.
Take from that what you will. Saturday it was enough, primarily, because Williams couldn’t get it going for the Terps.
“We looked at some film. I thought Virginia did such a great job on him — they do that all the time; they trap the post,” Donahue said. “We have it in the bag, but we haven’t really used it and we haven’t been really good at it. I thought we had to do it tonight.”
The Eagles didn’t disguise their trap designs, and that caused Maryland to go away from Williams in the post for the majority of the game.
Williams, who played in front of a horde of friends and family from his hometown of Torrington, Conn., a 130-minute drive from Boston, said the traps frustrated him.
“They had a double off the 4 man, so any time I had the ball I had two guys on me, and when I would dribble, another guy would come off and be digging,” Williams said. “That’s what made it toughest for me to get going.”
The indictment that’s driving Maryland fans nuts right now: a Gary Williams-coached team lacks sense of urgency and fire. Conte Forum was hopping at certain points Saturday, but it is by now means an intimidating gym to play in right now. Maryland never ceased its opportunities. Now it's in real tournament danger because of it.
“We’ve all got to get tougher,” Jordan Williams said. “The day we become tougher is the day we become better. … We’re definitely as just as talented as any team in the country, I truly believe that, it’s just a matter of being tougher than those teams. Some teams are a lot tougher than us.”
Boston College owns an identical 16-9 record to Maryland, but things are more comfortable in Chestnut Hill. Donahue, a first-year coach at Boston College after being lured away from Cornell, said he’s very confident and knowledgeable with what works best with his group for this year. He still claims ignorance on what teams fit where in the greater picture right now.
“I wish I could watch more TV,” Donahue said. “I don’t watch any TV during the season. I don’t use my computer. I have e-mail, recruiting, four kids and I got a team. I don’t know what these guys do! … I know they enjoy it, but my job is to make sure these guys are focused on the next assignment. I never talk big-picture. There’s no reason to. You chop off a little bit at a time and it will take care of itself.”
As he said this, Jackson was dressing into street clothes and heading back to his dorm — most likely, on the heels of his best day as a college player, to turn on the TV and see if and how other teams are keeping up and matching up with the Eagles.