Friday, November 28, 2008

Wha' happened?

Much to my surprise, Michigan State was dropped by Maryland, 80-62 (67 possessions). The Spartans don't get slapped around like this very often, and it took something of a perfect storm for the Terrapins to pull it off. Maryland shot the lights out (9-19 behind the arc, 57.3 eFG overall), MSU didn't (2-9 on three pointers, 43.9 eFG), and MSU's turnover problems resurfaced (22.3 TO Rate). This was a tight game at halftime, with the Terps up by 3, but this just wasn't MSU's night. Goran Suton was out, they missed 15 FTs (shooting 44.4% on the game), and Raymar Morgan took all of 4 shots, scoring 4 points. Box score.

Now, Maryland isn't a bad team, but the Terps will more than likely fight to get to the NCAA Tournament this season. I still have faith that the Spartans will take the Big Ten title, but that faith is definitely shaken. The Spartans wil try and rebound against Oklahoma State tonight.

Purdue continues to hum along, taking care of Boston College 71-64 on Wednesday. Ray was spot on - the difference was all in the turnovers. Purdue's TO Rate is decidedly low on the season so far, and if they improve much on last season's solid figure (18.5), the Boilermaker offense should take off. They'll need that offense against Blake Griffin and the Sooners today. E'Twaun Moore led Purdue with 19 points on 14 shots, 6 assists (3 TOs). Box score.

Chaminade gave Indiana all it could handle on Wednesday before the Hoosiers pulled out a two point victory, 81-79. Now, there's some solace to be found in a couple items - first, this was Chaminade's home court, a few thousand miles away from Bloomington. As ESPN's crew put it during the game, this was Chaminade's "Super Bowl" (basketball guys, not football). That said, IU's defense was...subpar. Despite the fact that Chaminade turned it over on 23.4% of their possessions, they still scored 1.16 points per possession. While IU's offense will not be a thing of beauty this season, it appears that the defense is the biggest worry for the Hoosiers. Tom Pritchard has emerged as IU's go to player on offense, and that continued last night. The big man went for a near dub-dub with a 19/9 line on 10 shots. Box score.

Also on Wednesday, Butler came from behind to beat Northwestern 57-53 in Indianapolis. This is the kind of game the Wildcats needed to win if they're going to get to the tournament this season. Had they valued the basketball more, that might have happened too. Usually when you outshoot your opponent like Northwestern did (56.8 eFG to 44.4 eFG), you win. Usually. But when you turn it over on 28% of your possessions, it's very difficult to win. Also, Kevin Coble cannot disappear in games like this. Coble played 38 minutes but only took 4 shots, and frankly, Northwestern doesn't sport a supporting cast good enough to allow Coble to take nights off against quality opponents. Box score.

Also Wednesday, Minnesota rolled past Eastern Washington, 88-67. Colton Iverson led the Golden Gophers with 20 points on 13 shots. The Minnesota offense was unstoppable in this one, averaging nearly 1.4 points per possession. Box score.

Today, in addition to Oklahoma/Purdue and MSU/Oklahoma State, we have Illinois against Kent State, Rhode Island/Penn State, and Iowa takes on West Virginia.

Ray Floriani on Purdue/Boston College

Soaking up the action in New York on Wednesday was Ray Floriani, a writer for several sites focused on college hoops.

By Ray Floriani, Basketball Times, Hoopville, College Chalk Talk

NEW YORK CITY - The New Jersey Transit announcer said there would be a slight delay getting into New York. “Thank you for your patience and we apologize for the inconvenience. “What patience? I am as patient as Rick Mount (showing my age) with the green light and a three point arc. My 5:50 out of Lyndhurst should have had me at MSG by 6:20. We got there 7:30. I did get to see the latter part of a closely contested first half and thankfully all of that decisive last 20 minutes.

Purdue defeated Boston College on Wednesday 71-64 , to advance to Friday’s Pre-Season NIT final at Madison Square Garden.

The first half was close with Purdue leading 34-30. Tempo free stats really didn’t give a discernable discrepancy. Only noticeable stat at all was Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore taking 39 % of the Boilermaker attempts, (6 of 12) to lead all scorers with 14 points.

Team
Efficiency
Purdue
100
BC
88
(34 possessions).

The second half saw Purdue open a lead largely due to defense. “We got too aggressive (one on one) on some of our sets and weren’t patient, BC coach Al Skinner said. “But give Purdue’s defense a lot of credit for that.”

Team
Efficiency
Purdue
106
BC
96
Another tempo free stat that stood out on the final box was TO pct : BC 24% to Purdue’s careful 13%. The Eagles of the ACC took care of the ball in the first half but finished with 16 turnovers (10 following intermission).

Other notes and related observations…

Impressed with Robbie Hummel of Purdue (10 pts 7 boards). A 6-8 forward, Hummel entered the game shooting 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc. He’s versatile though as the team’s third leading rebounded and the owner of a gaudy 3:1 assist/TO ratio.

The defending of Tyrese Rice of BC. The explosive Eagle guard finished with a team high 17 points but was 4 0f 12 from the floor and really didn’t get a chance to dominate.

Balance. Purdue had 4 players in double figures led by Moore’s 19 points.

JaJuan Johnson, a 6-10 sophomore, had some nice power moves and finished with 12 points 6 rebounds.

Chemistry. Unless you spend appreciable time around or covering a team, chemistry might be hard to pin down. One hint that Purdue has it is the fact they communicate very well on defense. And it’s positive and informative (like warning about screens) communication not negative.

Purdue lost the rebounding battle 39-34. Boilermaker coach Matt Painter was concerned about BC’s inside strength so despite the deficit, Painter felt his team competed hard. Turnovers, or paucity of them (9) were also pleasing to Painter. The Purdue mentor felt that BC’s trimming a healthy double digit lead midway through the second half to 6 late in the contest was a good test. “Our guys hadn’t been tested like that this year,” Painter said. “We handled the (late game)situation with the clock fairly well but we have some work to do.”

Quotable : “we want to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. We can compete with anyone in the country.” - Purdue guard Keaton Grant

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

IU takes more lumps; other Big Tenners represent

Indiana continues to take severe beatings in Maui, this time by the score of 80-54 at the hands of a mediocre Saint Joseph's squad. Compared to the Notre Dame game, the Hoosiers were slightly better on both ends, but there's still not much to be happy about. Indiana did do a nice job on the offensive glass, but turnovers were a huge issue, as they've been all season. Defensively, Indiana did force a lot of turnovers (27.7% TO Rate), but also allowed St. Joe's to shoot lights out (60% from two, 56% from three). Malik Story played well off the bench, scoring 9 points on 6 shots, along with 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Matt Roth had 7 points on 4 shots, improving his 3-point shooting to 36.8% on the season. Next up is a winnable game against D2 Chaminade. Box score.

In something of an early test, Penn State went on the road and defeated Pennsylvania by a score of 85-73. Penn State's offense really shined here, posting a sparkling 119.6 efficiency. They did everything well, but the real standout was the single-digit TO Rate (just 9.8%). Stanley Pringle and Talor Battle were dynamite, combining for 49 points (on 28 shots), 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and just 3 turnovers. Throw in 4 steals for good measure and you've got an outstanding backcourt performance. They also only spent one minute combined on the bench, so you hope they can keep their legs as the season grinds on. A Friday matchup with Rhode Island, possibly followed by a Saturday game against Villanova, will provide a better barometer for just how good this Penn State team is. Box score.

On to the blowouts - Iowa torched SE Missouri State, 75-41. This was a typically slow game for Iowa (59 possessions), making their point total pretty impressive. For the third time this year, Iowa kept their turnover rate below 13%, no doubt pleasing Todd Lickliter. The Hawkeyes also shot well and got on the offensive glass. On the other end, Iowa posted a defensive efficiency better than all but two of their games last season, driven by incredibly frigid shooting by SEMO (29% from two, 0-for-11 from three). Guard Anthony Tucker put up a surprising doube-double, scoring 14 points on 11 shots and grabbing 10 rebounds. Jake Kelly had another efficient game off the bench, with 9 points on 6 shots. Box score.

Finally, Michigan embarrassed Norfolk State, 83-49. The Wolverine offense was good, but the defense was outstanding. This game was played at a fast 75 possessions, meaning Norfolk State's efficiency was only 65.2. Michigan hasn't posted a defensive efficiency that low in at least 2 seasons, possibly longer. They did it by forcing Norfolk State to an eFG% of just 31.8%. Manny Harris stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 assists. Box score.

Here's tonights slate of games, including some interesting matchups for Northwestern and Purdue (all times CT):

6:00pm - Northwestern at Butler - horizonleaguenetwork.tv
6:00pm - Indiana at Chaminade - ESPNU
6:00pm - Boston College vs Purdue - ESPN2
7:30pm - Eastern Washington at Minnesota - Big Ten Network

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

(Remaining) Non-Conference Preview: Wisconsin

Wisconsin sits at 4-1 already this season, but there are still some formidable opponents left on the Badgers' non-conference slate.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Overview: Head Coach Rob Jeter, who played for Bo Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville, has had a rough go of it as the head coach of the Panthers. After guiding the team to an NCAA berth in his first season, UW-M has failed to achieve a winning season in each of the past two seasons. The Panthers were 13-16 last year against D-I competition.
What to look for: Jeter needs to find shooters, plain and simple. The Panthers were one of the worst shooting teams in the counter from both inside (44%) and outside (30.8%) the arc. Jeter knows this too - he trotted out lots of guys last season in search of someone who could put the ball in the bucket. Elevent different Panthers saw at least 10 minutes per game last season.
Who to watch: UW-M loses every single player with an eFG north of 50.0, so when I say that Ricky Franklin looks like he could lead this team on offense, I mean that in a relative sense. JUCO transfer Tone Boyle should also be a factor.
Expect the unexpected: It's tempting to look for similarities between the Panthers and the Badgers, given Jeter's background. Indeed, just like the Badgers, this is a "defense first" team, and that defense is fueled by tenacious defensive rebounding.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 90%

at Virginia Tech
Overview: The Hokies rode the bubble last season, and they were within a basket of upending UNC in the ACC Tournament. Had they done so, VT probably could have avoided their NIT fate. The Hokies return 62% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: VT sported an elite defense last season, ranking 9th nationally in defensive efficiency. That will probably be the same story this year, but nonetheless, the Hokies should finish near the bottom of the ACC. Some of that is because VT's offense needs to catch up, but that's really more of a reflection of just how strong the ACC figures to be this season.
Who to watch: A. D. Vassallo is putting together a nice career. At 6-6, he's got great size for a backcourt, and he's also a 40% three point shooter. The Badgers will be challenged to contain him. Jeff Allen also had a nice freshman season, and has the look of an elite defender.
Expect the unexpected: Virginia Tech will provide a nice data point on freshman improvement to the sophomore season. The Hokies featured four freshman who saw a lot of action last year, and for the most part, they acquitted themselves well. Whether they take a big step, or a little one, will determine which postseason tournament VT will be invited to this season.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 60%

at Marquette
Overview: Wisconsin fell to their in-state rival in Madison last season, and at the time, it didn't seem like a big deal. Marquette opened the season with a high ranking, and at that point, its only loss was to Duke. Well, it turned out that game was quite an upset. Wisconsin proved to be the superior team last year, and winning at the Kohl Center is no easy proposition. Marquette returns 81% of the minutes from last year (even if they don't return their coach), so this could be a big year for the Golden Eagles. Shows just how desirable that IU job is.
What to look for: When people think of Marquette, they probably think of their great 3-man backcourt of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews. And while those guys are good, Marquette featured excellent offensive rebounding last year. It's unclear if that will continue though, as they lose their best glass man in Ousmane Barro.
Who to watch: In James and McNeal, Marquette has two unconventional PGs, in that both are pretty lousy outside shooters. Normally, that's a recipe for disaster with guards. But James and McNeal set up teammates well, hold onto the ball, and they're effective enough inside the arc to be efficient players. But they're probably close to maximizing those other areas, and in order for them to improve their efficiency, they'll have to develop their jumpshots.
Expect the unexpected: If Junior Forward Lazar Hayward has a big year, don't say I didn't warn you. Hayward was deadly from three point range last season (45.1%), and he figures to improve his two point shooting (48.3%). He's also a dominant rebounder. He needs to take care of the ball a little better, but once he shores up that part of his game, he'll be an All Big East performer. Expect to hear his name a lot over the next two years.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 35%

Idaho State
Overview: It was a typical season for the Bengals, going 10-19 against Division I competition. The team does return a lot of minutes from last season though, so it's safe to expect some improvement.
What to look for: Despite the fact that the Bengals were very tall last season (the average height of a Bengal player on the floor last year was 6-6), the defense was awfully ineffective last year. While the two point defense was relatively better than other areas, it was merely average. Besides, opponents had no problem hoisting three pointers outside the teeth of the Bengal defense, dedicating over 40% of their shots to threes.
Who to watch: Matt Stucki and Amorrow Morgan will probably lead this team. Stucki was more effective last season, but with some additional seasoning, Morgan will probably develop into a similar player.
Expect the unexpected: If Wisconsin breaks 65 points, it will be a proud offensive display. The Bengals move very slowly, averaging under 62 possessions last season.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 90%

Wisconsin-Green Bay
Overview: The Phoenix have been hovering around .500 for three straight seasons, but they'll get off that bubble this season. Green Bay returns 88% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: The Phoenix could be one of the better shooting teams in the country this year. They were a bit above average last season, but with so many minutes returning, there's a good chance that will improve. Furthermore, the team shot 73.8% at the line, so there's clearly some shooting talent here.
Who to watch: Mike Schachtner, Ryan Tillema, Rahmon Fletcher comprise one of the better trios in mid-major basketball. Each shot 45% from 3, and at least 50% from 2. Fletcher has some freshman TO issues last season, but if he can get those down, these three will be difficult to defend.
Expect the unexpected: This team really should rebound better. On the offensive end, they lay off three pointers by and large, so they should see the opposite effect of a POT. On the defensive side - this team is tall, and opposing offenses tend to shoot a lot of 3s. A lot of things are in place for the Phoenix to take off this season.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 70%

Coppin State
Overview: It's been a few years since the Eagles have had a winning season. Last year they went 14-20, and they lose 2 of their top 3 players in terms of minutes. Expect the streak to continue.
What to look for: Coppin State does one thing well - force turnovers. They ranked 23rd in the nation in defensive TO Rate. But the Eagles fouled teams quite a bit, and they were terrible on the defensive glass as well.
Who to watch: No question about this one. Tywain McKee was the best player on this team last year, and figures to be the best again this season. His strength lies on the perimeter, though he takes most of his shots inside the arc. ESPN the Magazine did a feature on McKee last year.
Expect the unexpected: Other than McKee, nobody else on this team can shoot. Two of their top 5 players in terms of minutes last season sported an eFG under 40.0. Given how opposing defenses can ignore the other players, McKee's numbers are even more impressive.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 90%

Texas
This was covered in the Michigan State preview.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 40%

This is a pretty formidable non-conference schedule that is a lot like last year's. Springing an upset on either Texas or Marquette would be big, and I wouldn't put it past Bo Ryan's club. If they can do that, then they have a real shot at 25 wins.

Buckeyes nearly Bowled; Wisconsin has trouble in paradise

Ohio State struggled to a 61-57 victory over Bowling Green last night in Columbus. The OSU defense was good for the second straight game (including 6 blocks from Dallas Lauderdale), but the offense was mediocre in all areas (32% from three, 46% from two, TO Rate of 23%). To be fair, Bowling Green held Minnesota under 100 efficiency earlier this year, so maybe this performance wasn't that bad. In fact, it's really strange how similar Minnesota and Ohio State played against Bowling Green:





I'm not sure what to make of that, but it's interesting nonetheless. Back to last night's game - BTG favorite Jon Diebler posted 17 points on 11 shots and, through two games, seems to have rediscovered his shooting touch (6 for 13 from downtown for 46%). Evan Turner chipped in with 12 points on 6 shots and grabbed 8 defensive rebounds, but also turned the ball over 5 times. Super frosh B.J. Mullens has been surprisingly quiet thus far, averaging only 4.5 points in 15.5 minutes of action. Box score.

Wisconsin couldn't keep up with #2 Connecticut in the Paradise Jam finale, falling 76-57. The Badgers played well for much of the first half until an 11-2 run gave the Huskies a 10-point halftime lead. Wisconsin would close to within 2-points early in the second half, but another UConn run put the game out of reach. The Badgers got beat on both ends of the floor, giving up a defensive efficiency (112.3) that was higher than all but three of last season's opponents (Davidson, Marquette, and Indiana). Wisconsin's offensive effiency was bad as well, and was worse than all but one of last season's games (at Duke). Clearly, Connecticut is a very good team, and Wisconsin did go toe-to-toe with them for long stretches, but ultimately this was a very rough performance for the Badgers. Jon Leuer was efficient off the bench, scoring 9 points on 5 shots. Marcus Landry had a rough night, needing 10 shots to score 9 points and turning the ball over 4 times. Box score.

Indiana got shellacked by Notre Dame in Maui, 88-50. This was a fairly fast-paced game (73 posessions), making IU's point total look even more pathetic. It's hard to find any positives in the numbers here... let's see, IU didn't foul much... that's something, right? In all seriousness, nobody expected IU to win this game, and this experience will give Tom Crean plenty of teaching opportunities with his young team. Tom Pritchard looked solid against Luke Harangody, and indeed played him to a statistical draw (Pritchard had 14/6, Harangody 14/5). Box score.

Here's today's slate of games (all times CT):

12:30pm - Indiana vs. Saint Joseph's (in Maui) - ESPNU
6:30pm - Penn State at Pennsylvania - no TV
7:05pm - SE Missouri State at Iowa - Mediacom (local), bigtennetwork.com
7:30pm - Norfolk State at Michigan - Big Ten Network


Monday, November 24, 2008

Mini Non-Conference Preview: Wisconsin

We'll have the remainder of Wisconsin's non-conference preview up tomorrow, but I just wanted to get the UConn preview up before the game tonight.

UConn
Overview: UConn went 24-8 last season, but was summarily dumped by San Diego in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers ruined any chance the Huskies had at getting some revenge when they defeated the Toreros last night, so maybe UConn will try to get some revenge on the Badgers for that. The Huskies return 77% of the minutes from last season, not including Stanley Robinson, whose status is still up in the air (though he says he'll be back in December).
What to look for: A dead zone inside the arc. Connecticut was the 2nd-best team in the country in terms of two point defense last year, holding opponents to 40.4% shooting inside the arc. The primary reason for that stands 7-3 and goes by Hasheem. With the inside basically off limits tonight, the Badgers need good shooting from the outside to stay with the Huskies.
Who to watch: On offense A. J. Price runs the show. He's probably a better PG than a shooter, but he does take a lot of shots and his eFG was above 50.0 last season, even if just slightly. Jeff Adrien provides some inside scoring, and top 15 RSCI recruit Kemba Walker should see a lot of time as well.
Expect the unexpected: Even though they were so tall, the Huskies were not a great defensive rebounding team last year. Unless Wisconsin is lighting the nets on fire, the Badgers will need to crash the offensive glass to pick up the misses. If they can rebound close to 40% of the available rebounds on that end of the floor tonight, they have a good chance at springing the upset. Six teams hit a 40% OReb% against UConn last year. In three of those games, the opponent shot a sub-45.0 eFG - UConn won all three games. In the remaining three games, UConn was 1-2, and that victory was a one point win against South Florida.
Chance of a Wisconsin victory: 35%

Non-Conference Preview: Purdue

Purdue is 4-0 already, but there's still enough left on the schedule to credibly call this a "preview" of the non-conference season.

Boston College
This was covered in the Iowa preview. This is part of the preseason NIT. If Purdue wins, they take on the winner of Oklahoma/UAB.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 70%

Duke
This was covered in the Michigan preview.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 55%

Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Overview: Arkansas-PB finished in the bottom half of the SWAC, easily the worst conference in Division I. And they lose their top 4 players in terms of minutes played. This. Will. Get. Ugly.
What to look for: Terrible offense. Bad defense too, but really terrible offense. Though the Golden Lions aren't terrible in terms of taking care of the ball, an area in which Purdue excels.
Who to watch: Does it matter? Not a single player cracked an offensive rating of 100 last season, and the smart money is on that trend continuing. Junior Tavaris Washington is off to a strong start...relatively speaking.
Expect the unexpected: The Golden Lions actually had an elite FG defense last season, but that was fueled by a couple of shotblocking presences that won't be around this year. Expect things to get a lot worse on that side of the floor.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 99%

at Ball State
Overview: Even by Ball State standards, last season was terrible. The Cardinals went 6-24, finishing near the bottom in the MAC. They do bring back a lot of minutes though, so there should be improvement.
What to look for: You know that sign at the amusement park next to the roller coaster that reads "you must be THIS TALL to ride?" Ball State needs that sign - they were the shortest team in all of Division I. The average player on the court for Ball State last season stood a mere 6-1.
Who to watch: There's a line somewhere between a good player suffering under a lot of offensive responsibility, and a chucker. Senior Anthony Newell has crossed that line. Sure, he attempted over 33.4% of Ball State's shots while on the floor last year, but he shot 43% from 2 and 28.6% from 3. Though to be fair to Mr. Newell, the Cardinals weren't chock full of pleasant alternatives last season.
Expect the unexpected: Ball State is somewhat odd in that they rarely shoot 3s, but they have a decent TO Rate. They'll struggle with that against Purdue.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 95%

Indiana State
Overview: This school still hasn't recovered from losing Larry Bird. Since the Hick from French Lick left town (nearly 30 years ago), the Sycamores have won twenty games twice. They went 14-16 last season, and return 57% of the minutes.
What to look for: ISU was one of the best FT shooting teams in the nation last year, but that wasn't reflected in their outside shooting (32.4%). If that "normalizes," the perimeter-focused Sycamores could see some pretty big gains in their offensive efficiency.
Who to watch: Maricon Stinson had a rough sophomore season, seeing his shooting fall off a cliff after a promising freshman season. If ISU is to advance to a postseason tournament, Stinson needs to recapture his shooting stroke.
Expect the unexpected: With Gabriel Moore gone, this team lacks a true PG. That's too bad, because it brings the better-than-average TO Rate into jeopardy.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 80%

Davidson
Overview: Davidson capped off a perfect season in the Southern Conference last year with a trip to the Elite 8, where they were one shot away from taking down eventual National Champion Kansas.
What to look for: Everyone's high on the Wildcats this season, but there are a couple of reasons to be bearish. First, the Wildcats return only 60.8% of the minutes from last season, which is a bit below average. Second, the Wildcats were third in the country in terms of "FT defense," seeing opponents shoot only 63.5% at the line last year. And finally, the Wildcats will sneak up on no one this season.
Who to watch: If Steph Curry doesn't leave after this season, there is a reasonable argument that he's the best collegiate player of all time. Statistically, he'll rank behind only Pete Maravich, but Maravich never played in an NCAA Tournament, and it's hard to imagine he took as many big shots as Curry. That aside, what continues to amaze about Curry is the fact that even when a team full of superior athletes (and the entire stadium) knows he's going to shoot, the guy still gets off a shot, and makes them at a high rate. While he's lethal with the ball, it's what he does without the ball that makes him so special.
Expect the unexpected: People keep saying that Davidson will miss Jason Richards, ball distributor, and that's true. But they never mention that Richards took the 2nd most shots for Davidson last season, and it wasn't close. Richards took 150 more shots than the next closest guy, and he's gone too (Boris Meno). Richards was 175 shots ahead of Davidson's top returning player. Those shots have to be accounted for, and given Curry's already sky-high shot diet, most of them will probably go to other guys, and they weren't nearly as good shooters as Richards was last year. Oh, and everytime I hear the name of Forward Max Paulhus Gosselin, I think of this guy. If only he had Zack's "timeout" ability.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 60%

IPFW
This was covered in the Michigan State preview.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 90%

Valparaiso
Overview: Valpo went 19-13 last year, and that included a 2nd round appearance in the College Basketball Invitational (great name, guys). But they'll be rebuilding this season, bringing backing only 37.3% of the minutes last season.
What to look for: An extreme POT, Valpo's offense wasn't terrible last year, but they lose a lot of quality shooting. And given how poorly they shot FTs (67.5%), it might have all been somewhat of a mirage anyways.
Who to watch: Urule Igbavboa and Brandon McPherson can score, but their efficiency will likely take a hit with an increased role in the offense. Valpo could sure use a better year out of Jake Diebler, the older brother of the Buckeye forward. Diebler managed just 32.1% from 3 last season.
Expect the unexpected: I'm sure I'm not alone in associating the Crusaders with Bryce Drew's incredible shot. What people don't remember about that game is that Drew actually missed a good look only seconds earlier. Valpo was forced to foul Ansu Sesay, who proceeded to miss both his free throws. Had Sesay (a 73% FT shooter) drained them, Drew would probably be most well-known for being Valpo's associate basketball coach, and the likely successor to his father. The line between hero and goat is precariously thin.
Chance of a Purdue victory: 80%

Duke and Davidson are obviously the highlights (and if it happens, Oklahoma). Between those three teams, Purdue will get a gauge on what to expect this season. In what seems to be par for the course in the Big Ten, Purdue's non-conference slate is lacking in mid-grade quality.

Well, maybe UCLA just isn't as good as everyone thought

Michigan was beat handily by Duke on Friday in the Coaches vs. Cancer final. The Wolverines stuck around with the Blue Devils in the first half, but Duke's defensive pressure proved to be too much. This doesn't mean that Michigan is back to focusing on the NIT, however. I think Beilein's crew could still get to 20 wins, but I think that's less than a 50/50 proposition. That said, there's some good news here - Beilein's turnover magic was on display against the Blue Devils, harassing Duke into a 22.6% TO Rate, while maintaining a sparkling 16.6% TO Rate on offense. That's not an easy thing to do against the Dukies. Duke took excellent care of the ball last year, and forced a lot of TOs on defense. While Michigan still has some things to work on, I feel confident in stating the TO situation appears to be vastly improved. Manny Harris continued his hot streak, scoring 25 points on just 12 shots. Box score.

Wisconsin was taken to overtime by a resilient Iona team. It's just one game, but this is a bad sign. Iona does not figure to be very good this season, so this was a pretty disappointing result. But hey, a win's a win. This game was reminiscent of the debacle against North Dakota State a couple of years ago, in which the Badgers shot only 25%. Bad shooting nearly sunk the Badgers on Friday, as Wisconsin converted only 31.3% of their field goal attempts. Not only that, but the Badgers coughed it up 19 times in a 62 possession game. What saved the Badgers? Well, a big FT gap. Wisconsin attempted 34 FTs to the Gaels' 15. Trevon Hughes led all scorers with 21 points on just 10 shots. Box score.

Last night, Hughes again led the Badgers with 22 points on 11 shots, as Wisconsin defeated San Diego 64-49. He turned a similar trick last season (he averaged over 15 points per game during last year's non-conference stretch), but the real test will come in conference play. Overall the Badgers shot much better in this contest, finishing with a 54.6 eFG. The FT gap again proved difficult to overcome for San Diego. Wisconsin attempted 23 FTs to 7 attempts for the Toreros. The Badgers advance to the final of the Paradise Jam, where they will match up with #2 UConn. Box score.

Purdue trounced Coppin State 66-46 on Saturday. The offense wasn't great, but the defense was superb. Nothing worked for Coppin State, as the Boilermakers created misses, turnovers, rebounded those many misses, and limited CSU's chances at the line as well. Do-everything forward Robbie Hummel led the way with a 20/11 dub-dub on 12 shots. Box score.

Craig Moore and some dudes beat Brown on Saturday, 73-64. Moore led Northwestern with 31 points on just 15 shots, including nine three pointers. Michael Thompson chipped in 15 points on seven shots, and also provided 5 assists (0 turnovers). As you would guess, Northwestern's offense was clicking in this glacial 52 possession affair. But there's the flipside - the defense was awful. In fact, it wasn't a lot different than when Brown defeated the Wildcats in Welsh-Ryan last season. Now, Brown was a good offensive team last year, but this defense needs to tighten up with the Wildcats are going to play past the Big Ten Tournament. Box score.

Minnesota sweated out a 72-71 victory over Colorado State on Saturday. The Gophers are 4-0 for the first time in six seasons, and this was a road game, but CSU lost all 16 of their conference games in the Mountain West last year. I'm sure Tubby expected better, especially on defense. Even though the Gophers forced 20 turnovers in the 68 possession contest, CSU still averaged over a point per possession. This was mostly due to the effective shooting (52.0 eFG) and the incredible offensive rebounding on display for the Rams (44.6% OReb Pct.). That can't happen if the Gophers intend on making the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota got 20 points on just 10 shots from BTG fave Blake Hoffarber. Box score.

Illinois defeated Jackson State 78-64 in Champaign yesterday. The Illini offense was humming, but a couple areas of concern were also on display. On offense, Illinois turned it over 14 times in a 65 possession game, which is too high for this team to be successful. On defense, the Illini defensive rebounding was bad. Jackson State recovered 40.5% of the available rebounds on that end of the floor. This was a concern going into the season, and it doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. However, that's not going to lose a game in which the Illini post a 68.0 eFG. Mike Davis led the way with 20 points on 10 shots, and Dominique Keller chipped in 16 on 8 shots. Box score.

In more action from yesterday, Penn State took down New Hampshire 70-50 in a 64 possession affair. It was a quality game offensively and defensively. The most impressive stat was probably the 12.5% TO Rate posted by the Nittany Lions. That will win games. New Hampshire just couldn't make a shot, posting an eFG of 39.1. Talor Battle continued his torrid start, scoring 24 points on just 11 shots (oh, and he grabbed 8 rebounds too). Penn State will go as far as the sophomore takes them over the next three seasons. Ed DeChellis looked down Penn State's bench a bit more this game, as only Talor played 35 minutes. Box score.

Iowa's offense was clicking on all cylinders yesterday, as the Hawkeyes took down Oakland, 66-57. However, after taking excellent care of the ball against The Citadel, Iowa was back to its turnover ways, giving it up on 23.2% of their possessions. And although the Hawkeyes have posted a 60.0 eFG or better every game this season, that will not continue in B10 play. When the shots stop falling, Iowa will be in trouble unless they start taking better care of the ball. Anthony Tucker led the Hawkeyes with 19 points on 12 shots, Cyrus Tate posted an 11/13 dub-dub, and BTG fave Jake Kelly posted 16 points on just seven shots. Box score.

Tonight, Indiana begins play in the Maui Invitational against Notre Dame, Ohio State hosts Bowling Green, and Wisconsin faces off against UConn in the Paradise Jam finale.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ray Floriani on Michigan/Duke

Soaking up the action in New York on Friday was Ray Floriani, a writer for several sites focused on college hoops.

By Ray Floriani, Basketball Times, Hoopville, College Chalk Talk

NEW YORK CITY - Following the semifinals the idea of the ’first four minutes’ was discussed. Those key minutes, specifically at the start of the second half, proved to be significant in Duke’s 71-56 victory over Michigan in the Coaches vs. Cancer final.

Duke led 39-31 at the half in Friday’s contest at Madison Square Garden. After four minutes, the lead was 14 (47-33). The first four minutes of the half each team had seven possessions. Michigan scored only two three throws while Duke posted eight points. With a 14 point bulge, momentum and sixteen minutes to go Duke was in a position to dictate the course of the contest and was never severely threatened.

The final numbers:

Team
Efficiency
Duke
107
Michigan
85

Wolverine efficiency was down but John Beilein, while noting his team did get good looks, especially on the perimeter, credits Duke’s defense as responsible. “They (Duke) make you work so hard for everything,” Beilein said. Michigan’s effective FG percentage was 41.5% against Duke. In the semifinal win over UCLA the figure was 48.1%.

Michigan continued to take good care of the ball, a Beilein trademark. The Wolverines TO rate was 18% in the final. Duke committed 17 turnovers for a 25% rate. Ten of those were after halftime and it should be pointed out a good portion of those were in transition. Duke looked to push it if possible. One way to have success against a zone is beat it down the floor in transition.

Overall Coaches vs. Cancer was a good experience for Michigan. Three out of four games in the win column, a victory over the number four ranked UCLA team and two nights of handling the ’big stage of Madison Square Garden with poise and determination. “Michigan is a very good basketball team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They are going to be a tough out in the Big Ten.”

Manny Harris made all-tournament for Michigan. He led all scorers with 25 points in the final. DeShawn Sims played well inside for the Wolverines. Both Sims and Harris though will need consistent help in their respective areas. Others have to emerge on a nightly basis. Stu Douglas for instance, played a key role with his outside shooting against UCLA but was 1 of 5 from the floor (3 points total) against Duke. In the second half of the final Michigan scored seven field goals, six coming from Harris or Sims.

Duke took an hour of game day afternoon to prepare for the Michigan 1-3-1. Coach K noted they practice against all zones in pre-season but wanted to do specific things against Michigan. From the first possession the Duke game plan was evident as they went inside to Gerald Henderson.

Nolan Smith 16 pts, Kyle Singler 15 pts (tournament MVP) and Henderson with 12 paced the Blue Devils.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ray Floriani on Michigan/UCLA

Soaking up the action in New York last night was Ray Floriani, a writer for several sites focused on college hoops.

By Ray Floriani, Basketball Times, Hoopville, College Chalk Talk

NEW YORK CITY – Maize and blue or amazing blue? Michigan is in the finals of Coaches vs. Cancer thanks to their thrilling 55-52 victory over UCLA at Madison Square Garden.

Coaches tell us the first four minutes of each half are crucial. I decided to chart possessions during that time frame and here are the results:

Team

Possessions

Points

Efficiency

First Half

UCLA

6

9

150

Michigan

5

1

20

Second Half

UCLA

4

4

100

Michigan

5

10

200



Michigan trailed 9-1 after the first four minutes of the game. Many thought a rout was on. The Wolverines regrouped and slowly, pace-wise and figuratively, got back and kept it a two possession contest.

At the half John Beilein’s club trailed 29-23. Those first four minutes following intermission saw the score tied at 33. That slow beginning by Michigan was forgotten as everyone at MSG, especially UCLA, knew we had a game on our hands.

At halftime it was a 30 possession contest. UCLA led efficiency wise 97-77 but did struggle against the Wolverine 1-3-1 as a 37% turnover rate attested. Michigan took care of the ball (2 TO for a 7% rate). For the game Michigan had 57.9 possessions and a 95 efficiency while UCLA was at 61.2 possessions and 85 efficiency. The second half was huge for the Wolverines as they had a 117-74 efficiency margin over those final twenty minutes.

Final observations from press row…

Michigan assistant Jerry Dunn scouted Southern Illinois-Duke, and I had a chance to speak with him during timeouts. Dunn said the main attribute of Manny Harris is he’s a natural scorer. Some players can shoot but Manny has the knack to score. “He has a scorer’s instinct,” per Dunn.

Harris was defended well and ‘held’ to 15 points on 5 of 13 shooting. Liked the fact that he didn’t force things. He stayed within the offense and let the game come to him.

Stu Douglass finished with 10 points and provided that spark that opened the second half. Impressed with the play of DeShawn Sims. The game’s leading scorer with 18 points, Sims ran the floor well (during the few times Michigan pushed the ball) hit the perimeter shot and mixed it up in the paint.

Always fascinated with Beilein’s offense. Dunn said it’s called the ‘two guard offense’. “It took a good year to install,” Dunn said. “It takes time to learn but this year we have some better players and that helps in picking it up.”

Michigan was concerned with Bruin guard Darren Collison. The Wolverine defense did a decent job on Collison. He finished with 13 points but had 4 turnovers. Though the 1-3-1 showed flexibility to get out on the perimeter shooters and rotate and cut off lane penetration.

Finals tip off is 7:30 tonight.

Michigan is good, let's get carried away!

When I previewed Michigan this season, Inoticed that that although the Wolverines did not show great overall defensive numbers last year, the late-season trend was definitely inspiring. I wondered if this trend would survive the offseason. Well, last night is definitely some evidence that the defense did not leave with Epke Udoh. In a 57-possession game, Michigan held powerhouse UCLA to 52 points. The way in which they did it, however, was a bit surprising. Michigan forced the Bruins into 17 turnovers. Mind you, this was one of the best teams at taking care of the ball last year, and they returned their PG (or did they? Russell Westbrook actually had the better assist rate).

Turnovers were the story on offense as well. Beilein's crew gave it up a mere ten times (the combined total of seniors Darren Collison and Josh Shipp, by the way). This is exactly how a Beilein offense is supposed to work. Look at all the other offensive numbers - the shooting was so-so (48.1 eFG), the offensive rebounding (the Wolverines had one offensive rebound. One.) terrible, and they attempted all of six FTs. But limiting turnovers is a powerful thing, and last night, that was clear. Congrats to Beilein and crew for springing the upset.

Now, earlier I cautioned that one game (against Northeastern) didn't mean Michigan was a tourney team. I think that still holds true today - it's a long season - but it's starting to look more and more like this Michigan team is for real, and not just in the NIT sense. If they can at least hang with Duke in the Coaches vs. Cancer final, Michigan might suddenly look like the Big Ten's best chance at 5 tourney teams this season. Box score.

In the other high-major matchup last night, Illinois knocked off Vanderbilt, 69-63. The contest was played out like I expected, and frankly I was a little surprised by what Vegas was thinking about this game. Vanderbilt's losses from last season are not unlike what Ohio State experienced after the Year of the Oden. And that kind of turnover was enough to move the Buckeyes from the Final Four to the NIT. What would it do to a Commodore team that was very much not a Final Four team last season?

In any case, I think there is a "let's not get carried away" moment in this post, and it's for Illini fans. Yes, winning on the road against a high major opponent is a good thing, and something that was in short supply last season. But Vanderbilt is not likely to be an NCAA team, and might struggle to reach the NIT. If there's something to be taken from last night's contest, it was the excellent offensive rebounding on display for the Illini. Sure, that's been something of a staple in the past couple of seasons (good thing, given the shooting), but this Illinois squad lacks the services of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle. So that makes Illinois' efforts last night all the more impressive (in fact, they actually had more offensive rebounds than the Commodores had defensive rebounds). Demetri McCamey led the way with 23 points on 18 shots, along with 6 assists (1 TO). Box score.

Ohio State kicked off its season against Delaware St. last night. The Buckeyes were dominant on both sides of the ball, but I think the offense really stood out. They lit the nets on fire (61.9 eFG) and turned it over all of seven times in a 53 possession game (so much for running). David Lighty led the way with 13 points on just 5 shots. B. J. Mullens somehow managed seven points on just two shots. Nine different players saw at least 12 minutes. Jeremie Simmons appears to have the inside track on the starter position over Noopy Crater, but it's still early. William Buford came off the bench - a spectacle I don't expect will last long. Box score.

The Nittany Lions shot well in their first two games, but what Penn State did last night was just plain ridiculous. A 75.0 eFG? I suppose that's what happens when you shoot 60% from 3 (and 60% from 2). When the offense gets this hot, I'm inclined to believe that you can throw some numbers out the window. For example, PSU's defense was rather porous for this level of competition, but a huge lead can make a team relax. However, it's harder to ignore that for three straight games now, Penn State has had a turnover problem. This is a little strange because they were good with the ball last year, and they returned their starting backcourt. Probably an aberration, but something to keep an eye on. Also, Penn State's bench continues to be thin - Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle each saw 35+ minutes last night, and Cornley played 32 minutes. If these are the kind of minutes these guys log in blowouts, will they ever catch a breather in conference play? Box score.

Todd Lickliter probably slept pretty well last night. Although it was just The Citadel, Iowa sported its lowest TO Rate of Lickliter's tenure, at 9.4%. You won't lose a lot of games like that. Obviously, this has been an area the Hawkeyes have struggled with, and that had to wear on the coach, whose system at Butler excelled in that area. Anthony Tucker rode a hot shooting performance (seven 3s) to 21 points on just 13 shots. Box score.

Tonight, Wisconsin plays Iona and Michigan takes on Duke in the Coaches vs. Cancer final.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Michigan State struggles on the road; Northwestern rolls

Michigan State struggled at lowly IPFW - the Spartans actually trailed with 11 minutes to go, then went on a 13-0 run to take control and eventually won 70-59. Raymar Morgan scored 8 in that run and finished with 22 points on just 11 shots. Kalin Lucas chipped in with 17 on 12 shots. This game was played at a typically slow Big Ten pace - 63 possessions - casting doubt on whether MSU truly will run a lot this year. Despite mediocre shooting (47% on twos, 27% on threes), the Spartan offense was still good due to low turnovers, strong offensive rebounding, and a lots of free throws. The defense wasn't as good - IPFW managed to post a 94.3 efficiency, with the exact opposite method of MSU - strong shooting (50% on twos, 39% on threes) and nothing else. That isn't a high efficiency, but we expect more of Michigan State defense against this type of opponent. Box score.

As the only other Big Ten team in action last night, Northwestern blew out Texas A&M-CC, 66-48. Yes, an 18-point win is most certainly a blowout when you're playing at a slowww 60-possession pace. Northwestern was good on both ends, and actually posted a better offensive efficiency against TAMCC than Illinois did earlier this week (109.1 vs Illinois' 105.3). The more impressive number was Northwestern's defensive efficiency - a stingy 79.4, almost as good as the Illini's 77.5. Northwestern did it by forcing turnovers and holding TAMCC to an eFG% of just 40.7%. Northwestern's defense has looked much improved thus far - we'll see if that holds up as they face better opponents. The big star for the Wildcats was freshman PF John Shurna, with 17 points and 9 boards on just 7 shots. He threw in 3 blocks and 2 steals for good measure, along with 2 assists to just one turnover. Box score.

Tonight, we've got five conference members in action, including a couple High Major matchups. Ohio State finally starts their season, and we've got several credible possibilities for the first Big Ten loss tonight - the ACC is the only other undefeated conference remaining (all times CT):

5:30pm - Delaware State at Ohio State - Big Ten Network
6:00pm - Hartford at Penn State - bigtennetwork.com
6:05pm - Iowa at The Citadel - no TV
7:00pm - Illinois at Vanderbilt - FSN Midwest, espn360.com
8:00pm - Michigan vs UCLA (at Madison Square Garden) - ESPN2

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

(Remaining) Non-Conference Preview: Penn State

Penn State is already 2-0 after taking care of William & Mary and New Jersey Tech. The remaining portion of their schedule should present more of a challenge.

Hartford
Overview: Hartford went 18-16 last season, but they probably weren't that good, ranking #3 by Pomeroy Luck. Still, that's a banner season for a team that had not enjoyed a winning season since 2002-03. That should continue, as the Hawks bring back 76.7% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: The Hawks are an extreme POT, devoting 45.2% of their shots to three point range. And this team was pretty good at converting those attempts, connecting on 38.1% of them. But although the offense was much better than the defense, it was not particularly good. As one might expect, the offensive rebounding was horrid, but lots ofPOTs manage a decent offense in spite of such shortcomings. The real problem might have been the 21.3% TO Rate, which was unacceptably high for a team that prefers to keep it outside.
Who to watch: Joe Zeglinski is the main offensive weapon for the Hawks. He's an excellent outside shooter, connecting on 41% of his 251 three point attempts. MorganSabia is a big man in the Alex Ruoff mold, preferring to shoot 3s. While he was 41.7% from 3 in his freshman season, his 69.2% FT shooting indicates that he might take a step back.
Expect the unexpected: As I alluded to earlier, the Hawks' defense was not good, in part because of how short it was. Perhaps as a result, Coach DanLeibovitz brought in two 6-9 freshman. Still, I wouldn't expect this game to be dominated by defense.
Chance of a Penn State victory: 80%

at Penn
Overview: Since 1992, there might not be a team that's dominated its conference more than the Penn Quakers have dominated the Ivy League. In that 16 year span, the Quakers have gone undefeated in the Ivy five times. They've lost only one game another 3 times. It's been nothing short of dominance, ceding the conference crown only occasionally (usually to Princeton). So last year's 13-18 record and 3rd place finish in the Ivy was a big disappointment. Quaker fans are hopeful this isn't just the beginning, as Glen Miller took over for FranDunphy (now at Temple) in 2006.
What to look for: What went wrong? In a nutshell - everything. The offense got a lot worse, and so did the defense. The cause? Well, losing IbrahimJaaber and Mark Zoller was a big part of the problem with the Quaker offense. And defense too - the duo posted impressive steal rates. The team also lost SteveDanley, a shotblocking presence on the inside.
Who to watch: The 6-6 forward Tyler Bernardini had an impressive freshman campaign, and if he takes another step forward this season, the Quakers could be right back on top.
Expect the unexpected: The Quakers lose leading scorer Brian Grandieri, and someone else needs to step up. Bernardini's shot diet was already high last season, so ideally somebody else can take on a lot of the load. The list of candidates is long, though none stand out. There just weren't a lot of good shooters last season.
Chance of a Penn State victory: 60%

Rhode Island
Overview: Rhode Island went 21-11 last season, and was bounced in the first round of the NIT by Creighton. The Rams return 63% of the minutes from last season.
What to look for: This was a well-oiled machine on the offensive end last season. They shot well, took care of the ball, and was excellent at crashing the glass. The real problem was the defense, specifically defensive rebounding.
Who to watch: The challenge for the Rams this season will be to replace Will Daniels, who took and converted a lot of shots. Jimmy Baron figures to be the likely replacement, and so far, that seems to be true. Baron dropped 24 on Duke in the Rams' first loss of the season - all points were scored from behind the arc.
Expect the unexpected: Senior Kahiem Seawright lived at the FT line last season. His 91.8 FT Rate was 8th in the nation. Keeping Seawright away from the foul stripe will be a tall task for the Lions.
Chance of a Penn State victory: 50%

at Georgia Tech
Overview: Georgia Tech experienced the downside of bringing in elite talent. With Javaris Crittendon and Thaddeus Young, this was a 20-win team. They returned just about everyone except those two this season, and went 15-17. The Yellow Jackets return 63% of the minutes from that campaign, so we can expect about the same this season, though we might see some real improvement if #22RSCI PG Iman Shumpert is as good as advertised.
What to look for: Georgia Tech was a very good offensive team last season, but the defense struggled. That's a recipe for a high scoring game (along with the Jackets' 70 possession average).
Who to watch: The Nittany Lions caught a break when senior guard Lewis Clinch was ruled academically ineligible for the first seven games. Clinch wasn't efficient, but he did consume a lot of shots. In his absence, Zach Peacock will bear a greater offensive load.
Expect the unexpected: One thing that has been a consistent under Coach Hewitt's regime is the Yellow Jackets' unwillingness to trade some defensive pressure for fewer FT attempts for opponents.
Chance of a Penn State victory: 40%

Temple
Overview: Temple won the A10 Tournament en route to a 21 win season which concluded with a first round exit against Michigan State. The Owls return 69% of the minutes from last season, so there's good reason to predict similarly strong results this season.
What to look for: For three straight seasons from 2003 to 2006 (back when John Chaney was running things), Temple boasted the lowest turnover rate in the country. That hasn't changed much under the direction of FranDunphy, but it has changed. Furthermore, Dunphy's teams pay a price for their low TO Rates on the offensive glass.
Who to watch: Penn State plays Temple in December, and they would do well to keep their eye on Christmas - Dionte Christmas, that is. Although Christmas was born in September, his game bears gifts for the Temple offense. He can hurt teams inside and out, and likely will average about 20 points a game for the third consecutive season.
Expect the unexpected: Chaney's matchup-zone was memorable, but at least in the later years, it was not particularly effective. The Owls' defense has taken a turn for the better underDunphy, and it was somewhat hidden by the Owls' poor "FT defense."
Chance of a Penn State victory: 40%

Army
Overview: Up until a couple of years ago, winning more than 5 games against D-I competition was a big deal for the Black Knights. That era might be over, as Army has posted back-to-back seasons with at least 13 wins.
What to look for: The Army offense is still awful, but the defense drives this team. The Black Knights force turnovers at a blistering rate (26.6%). And that's with opponents keeping it on the perimeter.
Who to watch: How the Black Knights replace Jarell Brown will go a long way in determining how successful they are. Brown was a bright spot on a team full of inefficient scorers. Cleveland Richard appears to be the go-to player at this point in the season, but his numbers last year were not inspiring.
Expect the unexpected: Army is one of the shortest teams in the nation, but their defense keeps things out on the perimeter so that weakness isn't exploited all that much.
Chance of a Penn State victory: 70%

Mount St. Mary's
Overview: Despite finishing in a tie for 4th in the Northeast Conference, MSMU won the conference tourney and the subsequent "play in" game in the NCAA Tournament, and was rewarded for their efforts by lining up againstUNC. It was not pretty.
What to look for: The Mountaineers sported a very good eFG defense last season, limiting opponents to 32.2% shooting from 3, and 46.7% shooting from 2.
Who to watch: PG Jeremy Goode is kind of a weird player. He's got good PG skills, but he's a 5-9 player who plays like he's 6-5. His 3 point shooting is horrid (29.9%), but his 2 point shooting is much better than you would expect of a player of his stature (47.2%). Furthermore, he gets to the line like he's Carl Landry, attempting over 250 free throws last season.
Expect the unexpected: Even though MSMU doesn't like to shoot 3s, their offensive rebounding is bad. This could be a lack of athleticism, but there's probably also a lack of height component to this. MSMU was one of the shortest teams in the country, but they did bring in three 6-7 freshmen this season.
Chance of a Penn State victory: 80%

Lafayette
Overview: The Leopards went 15-15 last season, which was a big step forward from the 7-21 record in the previous season. They lose some big minutes though, so it's unlikely that they'll replicate that success.
What to look for: Bombs away! Lafayette was one of the best three point shooting teams in the country last season. Not only did they shoot well (39.7%) from behind the arc, but they shot often (45.4% of all field goals).
Who to watch: Offensive leader Andrew Brown returns, but much of his supporting cast is gone. Bilal Abdullah and Matt Betley were extremely efficient on substantial shot diets. For the most part, the returning players were role players.
Expect the unexpected: This is another short team, and teams ate them up on the offensive glass. That's good news for a Penn State team that crashes the offensive glass.
Chance of a Penn State victory: 90%

Sacred Heart
Overview: Sacred Heart finished 18-14 for the second consecutive season last year, and although they lose some effective players, there's still enough here for this team to post a winning record again.
What to look for: A free throw attempt might be a cause for the band to break out in a fight song this season. The Pioneers were already one of the worst teams in the country at getting to the line last year, and they lose every player in the rotation that had a semblance of skill in this area, with the exception of...
Who to watch: ...Joey Henley, who is back after sitting out last season with a knee injury. Not only is he an effective scorer, but also a solid defensive presence. CoreyHassan and Ryan Litke provide an effective supporting cast.
Expect the unexpected: It's too bad this team will likely struggle to get to the line. When they get there, they make the shots (73.4%).
Chance of a Penn State victory: 70%

For a team that might find itself fighting for a postseason bid, it's imperative to "schedule for success." I think the Lions have done just that. The schedule includes a lot of bunnies, but there's also a handful of games against other teams that figure to end up on the bubble. If Penn State can snag a victory or two out of those, it will really help at the discussion table for a selection committee. Whether that committee is deciding NCAA bids or NIT bids will depend on how theNittany Lions perform in Big Ten play.

IU is better than IU and Purdue combined!

Indiana beat IUPUI last night in a squeaker, 60-57. I figured this game would be close, but that was before I knew that IUPUI's Gary Patterson was hurt. It's tempting to over-analyze every game this team plays, because there's not a lot of precedent for this kind of overhaul. For every game, half, or 10-minute stretch, there are those of us that proclaim that this is what to expect of Indiana this season, be it good or bad. Resist that urge. It's a long season, and every team has bad games and good games. I don't think we'll know what's going on in Bloomington until we reach conference play, at the earliest.

Tom Pritchard led the Hoosiers in the 60-possession game (so much for fast) with 19 points on just 8 shots. The Hoosiers need to take care of the ball better than they did last night - they won't win a lot of games with a 23.3 TO Rate. Box score.

The other half of IUPUI's name was also in action last night, as Purdue beat up Loyola-Chicago in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Anytime you hold a team under 50 points, it's probably a good defensive performance. This game was played at 69 possessions however, which means the defense was excellent. The main cause was undoubtedly Purdue's pressure with forced Loyola into committing 22 turnovers. Marcus Green provided a 12/10 dub-dub on seven shots. Box score.

Wisconsin played well on both sides of the ball in thrashing SIU-Edwardsville, 88-58 last night. On defense, the Badgers forced SIUE into a 26.4 TO Rate, and limited them to just 23.5% of the available offensive rebounds. On offense, Wisconsin lit the nets on fire with a 66.1 eFG. Jon Leuer led the way with 19 points on 10 shots off the bench, and BTG favorite Jason Bohannon added 14 on just 7 shots. The bulk of that firepower came in the second half, where Wisconsin made 20 of 27 shots. Box score.

Tonight Michigan State goes on the road to IPFW, and Northwestern hosts Texas A&M-CC.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Non-Conference Preview: Ohio State

The Buckeyes are in a familiar position this season - talented, but inexperienced. We've seen that formula take OSU to the Final Four, and we've seen it take them to the NIT. I see something between those two results for this season, as the Bucks have a bit more returning than the did last year. The non-conference schedule is a good balance of the challenging and the cakewalk, though again I'll note that there's not a lot of teams "in the middle" on Big Ten non-conference schedules.

Delaware St.

Overview:While the Hornets weren't a great team last year, they were competitive in the MEAC, going 12-16 after a 21-win 2006-07 campaign.
What to look for: S. L. O. W. These guys make Northwestern look like UNC, averaging 57 possessions a game last year.
Who to watch: DSU will struggle to replace Roy Bright last season. The senior forward took 35.8% of the shots while on the floor last year, 8th most in the country. Senior Donald Johnson will take some of those, but his shot diet was already substantial last season. How efficiently the Hornets convert those outstanding 450 shots will go a long way to determining how effective the offense is.
Expect the unexpected: B. J. Mullens should have a field day. Hornets opponents shot 55.4% from 2 point range last season. That should continue this season, as the Hornets' roster features no one taller than 6-7 this season.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 90%

Bowling Green
See the Minnesota preview.
Chance of an Ohio State victory:80%

Samford
Overview: Samford went 12-16 last season, but they weren't quite that "good" last year, faring relatively well in Pomeroy Luck.
What to look for: S...L...O...W. The Bulldogs ranked dead last in pace last season. There are football games that see more possessions than a Samford basketball game. Also, despite the fact this was the best 2 point shooting team in the country, nobody shot more 3s than the Bulldogs last year.
Who to watch: The Bulldogs lose their best two players from last year. Junior Trey Montgomery figures to be the go-to man this season. He'll need to cut down on theTOs significantly for Samford to have an effective offense.
Expect the unexpected: This is another team Mullens should beat up on, as no one taller than 6-8 is on the roster. And as you would expect from an extreme POT, the Bulldogs were horrible on the offensive glass.
Chance of an Ohio State victory:90%

at Miami (FL)
Overview: Miami is a trendy pick to join Duke and UNC at the top of the ACC this year. And why not - the Hurricanes return 79% of the minutes from a team that went 22-11 against D-1 competition last year.
What to look for: The Hurricanes are somewhat of an anomaly in the sense that despite the fact they were not a very good shooting team (specifically, two point shooting), they nonetheless had a very effective offense last season. They key was doing everything else - rebounding, holding onto the ball, and getting to the line - well.
Who to watch: Senior Jack McClinton was named to the All-ACC Preseason First Team, and for good reason. One of the best three point shooters in the country, McClinton took 28.6% of Miami's shots while on the floor last season, and his 42.7% three point shooting put a lot of points on the board. Forward DeQuan Jones is the #21 freshman in the country by RSCI. He should get a lot of playing time.
Expect the unexpected: This is a good matchup for the Buckeyes, who figure to have one of the best interior defenses in the country (again). Miami tends to get its points inside the arc.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 35%

at Notre Dame
Covered in the Indiana preview.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 30%

Butler
Covered in the Northwestern preview.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 80%

Jacksonville
Overview: The Dolphins might be somewhat of a dangerous team this year. They went 17-13 last season (though they ranked high in Pomeroy luck), and return 90% of the minutes.
What to look for: Jacksonville Head Coach Cliff Warren likes a challenging schedule. Last year, the Dolphins took on UAB, Michigan State, Florida, and Georgetown - all on the road (and all losses). This season, they face Florida State, Georgetown, Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Ohio State. They're going to need to hold onto the ball more this season (23.3 TO Rate) if they're going to spring an upset.
Who to watch: Marcus Allen is effective all over the floor. He can shoot from two (58.9%), three (35.1%), he can rebound, get to the line, and even block a few shots. Okay, he's not a great creator.
Expect the unexpected: Another Buckeye opponent that doesn't defend well from two point range. Jacksonville opponents shot 51.9% inside the arc last season. Mullens is going to look awfully good early on.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 75%

Iona
Overview: Iona fell off a cliff two years ago. In 2005-06, the Gaels went 23-7 and went to the NCAA Tournament. In 2006-07, they won 2 games. Last year, they worked their way back to 12 wins. The Gaels return just 48.2% of the minutes from last year, so their upward progress will take a hit.
What to look for: The Gaels are pretty careless with the ball. They turned it over on 25.1% of their possessions last year. I'd argue that they ought to keep it on the perimeter more, but the 31.7% three point shooting speaks against that idea.
Who to watch: Iona loses forward Dexter Gray, who was the team's offensive leader last year. It'll be interesting to see who grabs the lion's share of shots in his absence. It could be Milan Pradanovic, Devon Clarke, or Gary Springer. My money's on Springer, who in addition to being Gaels' an efficient scorer on a high shot diet, was also an elite rebounder and shotblocker.
Expect the unexpected: What's a Gael, you ask? According to the internet, "the Gaels are an ethno-linguistic group which originated in Ireland and subsequently spread to Scotland and the Isle of Man." Think of them as the Fighting Irish from New York state.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 90%

UNC-Asheville
Overview: The Bulldogs had a pretty successful season last year, winning 19 games before getting blown out by the Buckeyes in the first round of the NIT.
What to look for: This game could have been a lot more interesting if 7-7 center Kenny George stayed healthy. Unfortunately, George had his right foot partially amputated after he was diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is a potentially life-threatening staph infection. Here's hoping George is doing well on the mend and gets his degree.
Who to watch: Other than George, UNC-Asheville loses their most prolific offensive players last season. Reid Augst was a capable scorer in his role last season - but with increased shots I expect his efficiency to take a hit.
Expect the unexpected: The Bulldogs' defense was amongst the worst in the nation at forcing turnovers last year. That's good news for a team that might struggle in that area.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 80%

West Virginia
Overview: Huggy Bear's first season at WVU was a success. The Mountaineers advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to Xavier in overtime. WVU returns 59% of the minutes from last year's campaign.
What to look for: Somehow, Huggins kept Beilein's low TO ways while shooting a lot less three pointers. Of course, Huggy Bear has experience with this - his 2003-04 Cincinnati team was 10th in the nation in TO Rate, but was very much balanced inside and out.
Who to watch: Joe Alexander and Darris Nichols are gone, but WVU still has plenty of talent. Senior Alex Ruoff will lead this team, and is one of the best shooters in the country (over 60% on his 2s, and over 40% on his 3s last season). Number 30 RSCI recruit (and ex-Indiana commit) Devin Ebanks will also contribute early. The Mountaineers also snagged two more top 100 RSCI recruits.
Expect the unexpected: Despite the fact that none of its top seven players by minutes were taller than 6-8, the Mountaineers were one of the tallest teams in the country last season, which was certainly a factor in their excellent defense last season. That's what happens when only one guy on the floor is shorter than 6-6. Will that continue? Well, none of those top 100 recruits were shorter than 6-8...
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 50%

Houston Baptist
Overview: The Huskies, formerly of the NAIA, are returning to Division I after the school left in 1989.
What to look for: The Huskies went 13-15 last year in the NAIA, so this has the potential to get ugly. Though they did outscore their opponents, so this team was a bit better than their record indicates.
Who to watch: Senior Gordon Watt will once again lead this team. He's not the best shooter (49% from 2, 24.5% from 3), but he takes on the lion's share of points, and is by far the most effective rebounder for the Huskies.
Expect the unexpected: If Thad's serious about running, this game could be pretty high scoring. HBU games were played in the 80s last season.
Chance of an Ohio State victory: 95%

Miami and Notre Dame are very challenging road games, and the WVU matchup figures to be pretty exciting. There's a good chance OSU will be in the bubble discussion this season, but there aren't a lot of bubble teams on the schedule. Certainly victories over Miami, ND, or WVU will be helpful on Selection Sunday, but a win over an Illinois State or a Western Michigan is an easier proposition, and could have nearly the same effect.

Big Ten Hoops Review - November 17, 2008

Last night, Purdue destroyed Eastern Michigan, 87-58. The Eagles actually took an early 8-0 lead, prompting a Matt Painter timeout and thorough ass-chewing. The Boilers responded with intense defense, forcing turnovers on 30% of EMU's possessions and holding them to a paltry 79.1 efficiency. On the offensive side of the ball, Robbie Hummel led the way with 18 points on just 9 shots. Purdue again took great care of the ball with only 10 turnovers, and they shot it well from all over the floor (55.8% on twos, 34.8% on threes). The pace of 73 possessions was faster than all but two of Purdue's games last season - combined with the 71-possession game on Friday, it's certainly looking like Purdue will be more uptempo as promised. Purdue is firing on all cylinders, although rebounding may become an issue against better teams - Eastern Michigan rebounded 37.1% of their misses. Purdue did have six games worse than that last season, and only lost one of them, so maybe this isn't much of a concern. One of those poor rebounding games was against their next opponent, Loyola(IL), who they defeated by 31 points despite giving up a 39.3 OR%. Box score.

Penn State shook off a sluggish start to blow out New Jersey Tech, 74-47. The 75-possession pace was faster than all but one of Penn State's 2007-08 games, but this primarily comes from the high turnover rates posted by both teams. Penn State's defense was outstanding, holding NJIT to a paltry 62.7 efficiency - only Canisius fared worse against Penn State last year. Penn State's offense was kept below 100 efficiency by turnovers and poor free throw shooting (54.2%). Talor Battle led the way with 16 points on 10 shots, along with 6 assists to one turnover. Battle is 7 for 14 from downtown in two games, seemingly unfazed by the deeper arc. He shot only 28.4% from three last season. Box score.

Iowa ended up in a dogfight with Texas-San Antonio - despite a 12 point halftime lead for Iowa, this was a 2-point game with 33 seconds left. Iowa made their free throws to hold on for a 73-67 win. As We Geeks predicted, turnovers kept Iowa from making this a blowout - Iowa had a TO% of 27.4%. Despite all the turnovers, neither team played good defense - the shooting was off the charts, as Iowa posted an eFG% of 63.1%, led by Cyrus Tate's 8 for 9 from the field. Tate finished with 18 points on those 9 shots, and was helped by the all-around game of freshman Matt Gatens - 10 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. Junior Jermain Davis had a strange line off the bench - 10 for 10 from the foul line and 0 for 4 from the field. BTG favorite Jake Kelly had a rough game - 2 points and 3 turnovers in 15 minutes. Box score.

Here's tonight's slate of games (all times CT):

5:30pm - IUPUI at Indiana - Big Ten Network
6:00pm - Loyola(IL) at Purdue - ESPNU
7:30pm - SIU-Edwardsville at Wisconsin - Big Ten Network

Monday, November 17, 2008

(Remaining) Non-Conference Preview: Northwestern

Northwestern has already tipped their season off, crushing Central Arkansas 81-39 on Sunday (yeah, yeah, this is late. Damn those day jobs). So I'll run down the remainder of the Wildcats' non-conference schedule.

Texas A&M Corpus Christi
We already covered this in the Illini preview.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 70%

at Brown
Overview: The Bears were the only team in the Ivy League that posed a legitimate threat to Cornell for the Ivy League championship. Brown finished the season at 19-9.
What to look for: Much like Cornell, Brown lit the nets on fire last season. As a team, the Bears shot 52.1% from 2, and more importantly (as a POT), the Bears shot over 40% from 3. But unlike Cornell, that might really change last year. The Bears lose Damon Huffman and Mark McAndrew, each of whom shot over 42% last season from 3 point range. They leave big shoes to fill, as the duo combined for 45.3% of all of Brown's shots last season.
Who to watch: Chris Skrelja saw a lot of action last season, and though he was productive enough, he was a very timid shooter (but he shoots his FTs with one hand, which is indisputably awesome). A more likely candidate to bear (no pun intended) the offensive load might be sophomore Peter Sullivan, who will likely see his 48.1% three point shooting percentage dip as he attempts more shots.
Expect the unexpected: This is a pretty good matchup for Northwestern. Brown opponents tend to exploit the perimeter (even though Brown is very short), and Brown rarely grabs an offensive board, which will be a nice way to ease in Northwestern's young front line.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 75%

at Butler
Overview: Todd Lickliter's old team motored along as if nothing changed. Butler went 29-3, and took Tennessee to overtime in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
What to look for: Expect Butler to take a big step back this season. The Bulldogs bring back only 29.4% of the minutes from last season.
Who to watch: Sophomore Matt Howard had a great freshman season last year, shooting 58.3% on his twos and blocking 5.3% of the other teams' 2 point shots as well. Oh, and he was an elite offensive rebounder as well. But with so much talent gone from the previous season, it might be unrealistic to expect Howard to match last year's numbers. Call it the Dee Brown Syndrome.
Expect the unexpected: Lickliterball was alive and well last year, as the Bulldogs dedicated just under half of their field goal attempts to three pointers (they were 6th in the nation in that category). The Bulldogs exhibited all the traits you expect with a POT - low TOs, and terrible offensive rebounding most notably. The style works when you can shoot it at a decent clip from the outside, but with so much gone from last season, that probably won't be the case this year. Will the Bulldogs adjust, and play more to their strengths this season (Howard in the interior), or will they continue to keep it outside? Stay tuned...
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 60%

Cal-Davis
Overview: UCD was one of the worst teams in Division I last season. The Aggies went 7-22, which equaled their highest win total since joining Division I play three years ago.
What to look for: Bad defense. They don't come much worse than the Aggies, who were 338th in D-I in defensive efficiency.
Who to watch: Senior Vince Oliver will be the main weapon on offense, though he should probably cool it a little on the outside shooting. He was just 31.5% from behind the line last year.
Expect the unexpected: What's strange about the Aggies' season was that they really got abused inside the arc last year (56.4% 2 point shooting for opponents). This despite the fact that UCD was relatively tall.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 90%


So apparently the Wildcats play UC-Riverside on Dec. 1, not UC-Davis. I'm blaming Yahoo! for this one. In any case, here's the outlook for UC-Riverside:

UC-Riverside
Overview: UC-Riverside hasn't been in D1 for very long, and last year (its third season) was the high water mark, as the Highlanders went 8-21.
What to look for: If there's an area of concern for this game, it's that the Highlanders were an excellent defensive rebounding team last year. For a POT like Northwestern, that could spell trouble if the Wildcats go cold. The bright side is that few teams go cold against UC-R.
Who to watch: The biggest hole to replace is the school's career scoring leader, Larry Cunningham. Few players carried a larger load than Cunningham last season. UC-R welcomes 10 newcomers, most of whom do not have D1 experience (USC transfer Kyle Austin will not be eligible for this game). The burden will probably fall on Aaron Scott and Sean Cunningham (no relation).
Expect the unexpected: The talent might be upgraded, but experience will be a factor. The Highlanders are susceptible to turnovers, and Northwestern's trapping style could make this game ugly.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 90%


Florida State
Overview: The Seminoles always seem to be on the bubble. Last season was their third in a row where they won at least 19 games and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. They're more likely to end the streak of 19 wins than they are to make the tournament. It's been a decate since FSU was last in the tournament.
What to look for: The Seminoles return 46% of the minutes from last season, so a setback is expected.
Who to watch: Toney Douglas will make the Seminoles go this season. He's not spectacular in any specific areas, but does a lot of things efficiently while consuming a lot of shots.
Expect the unexpected: The frontline will feature a couple of imposing talents in top 30 RSCI big men Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton. Alabi missed most of last season after being diagnosed with a stress fracture.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 40%

DePaul
Overview: Jerry Wainwright has brought plenty of talent to Chicago, but that has not resulted in victories. DePaul finished 11-19 last season, and failed to make the Big East Tournament last season.
What to look for: While DePaul's non-conference defense was by no means good in the non-conference slate, the Blue Demons were lit up in conference play - the worst defensive team in the Big East.
Who to watch: Dar Tucker is the engine behind DePaul's offense. While his freshman season was undoubtedly a success, there's some room for improvement here. Dar either needs to shoot better from the outside (32.1% last year) or stop shooting so many 3s.
Expect the unexpected: The offense was pretty good last season, but could take a real turn for the worse this year. The only Blue Demon who shot above 68% at the free throw line last season is departed Draelon Burns.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 70%

Missouri-Kansas City
Overview: UMKC has been on a steady decline since 2003-04, when they went 15-14. The Kangaroos went 9-21 last year.
What to look for: Sometimes, even when you play to your strengths, it's not enough. POT UMKC (acronyms!) shot a respectable 37.8% from 3 last season, but the putrid 41.6% from 2 ensured the offense was subpar.
Who to watch: Dane Brumagin is definitely a GPOABT ("Good Player On A Bad Team" - acronyms!). He took 30% of the shots while on the floor, and converted with ruthless efficiency (57.0 eFG). But he just didn't have much of a supporting cast.
Expect the unexpected: I'll go on record here and state that Kenny Simms should see the floor more. Sure, he's not the best offensive player, but he flashed some serious rebounding and shotblocking skills last year. For a team that allowed opponents to post a 54.0 eFG, that's a valuable commodity.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 80%

at Stanford
Overview: The Lopez twins led the Cardinal to 28 wins and a Sweet Sixteen birth last season. Ex-Blue Devil Johnny Dawkins steps in for the departed Trent Johnson (now at LSU) this season. The Cardinal return 55% of the minutes from last year.
What to look for: While the Lopez twins were gifted offensive players, their presence might be most felt on the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinal was one of the tallest teams in the country last year, and it showed, as opponents managed only 42.1% from 2. That will change. As a Duke disciple, Dawkins will likely emphasize perimeter defense.
Who to watch: Anthony Goods and Lawrence Hill figure to be the main threats on offense. Both are capable three point shooters, but also terrible inside the arc. If Dawkins brings the outside outside shooting philosophies to Palo Alto this year, that's a good thing.
Expect the unexpected: One thing that might make Dawkins' job easier is the defensive philosophies of the Cardinal last season. Despite the fact that the Lopez twins were waiting in the paint, Stanford got out and guarded the perimeter, funneling all of the shots into the teeth of the defense. That same attention to the perimeter is staple of the Duke system.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 25%

SMU
Overview: SMU has been a consistent doormat in Conference USA since joining in 2005. The Mustangs went 8-20 last year.
What to look for: SMU returns 58% of the minutes from last season, so don't expect any drastic improvement. The Mustangs really struggle on the offensive end, and will likely do so again this year as they lose leading scorer Jon Killen.
Who to watch: The duo of Papa Dia and Alex Malone will serve as an excellent case study on freshmen predictors of success. While Dia and Malone were woefully inefficient last season (about a 43.0 eFG for each), they also took a lot of shots while on the floor last season (27.0 and 28.1 Shot%, respectively). It will be interesting to see if that high Shot% is an indicator of talent, or just an indicator of a chucker.
Expect the unexpected: The Mustangs were about as tall as Stanford last season, but the results were markedly different. Sure, the Mustangs weren't quite as adept at shotblocking as the Lopez twins (though they were good), but I think there's something else here at play. While the Cardinal forced opponents to take shots over the Lopezes, SMU opponents got plenty of open looks out on the perimeter. If the Mustangs force things toward 7-1 Bamba Fall, the defense will likely improve.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 70%

Chicago State
See the Illinois non-conference preview.
Chance of a Northwestern victory: 90%

While the schedule isn't littered with Goliaths, it's an appropriate schedule for the Wildcats, a team that will fight to get to the NIT this season. It should be strong enough to get an accurate read on Northwestern's chances at a postseason tournament.