Hope you had an outstanding ValLINtine’s Day. Last night, Jeremy Lin hit a game winner for the New York Knicks to continue the Linsanity.™ It’s been hard not to pay attention to a story of a guy who was living on his brother’s couch a little over a week ago and is now the starting point guard for the New York Knicks, leading them to six straight wins when their season was seemingly lost. I can only imagine the Linsanity™ if Lin and his Harvard team could have made a run in the NCAA tournament. And the cool thing about this story is that Lin continues to thank God and point people to his faith in Christ.
Many people have been saying that not even Hollywood could think up of such a crazy story, but… the’ve actually come up with much worse. Some examples: A 12-year old boy breaks his arm, gains the ability to throw 100 mph and leads the Cubs into the playoffs; a 12-year old boy becomes the manager of the Twins; Whoopi Goldberg becomes coach of the Knicks; or Michael Jordan begins a baseball career only to realize his true passion was back in the NBA (actually that movie plot was pretty much what happened, the Looney Tunes involvement seems questionable though).
Any-who, enough NBA, let’s get to some college basketball…
The week that was
- What an exciting finish in the Duke-North Carolina game last Wednesday. There’s nothing better than seeing a basketball game won at the final buzzer.
- Ditto to the San Diego State-UNLV game on Saturday. In their season series, the home team won by just two points in games decided in the final seconds. It would be great to see a rubber match in the Mountain West tournament.
- It’s been impressive to see Kansas’ team develop this year. I thought they lost too much to be a title contender this year with the Morris twins off to the NBA, but Bill Self has done a great job in getting this year’s team to improve throughout the season. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor have led Kansas in scoring most of the way, but it seems like big man Jeff Withey has found an extra gear since he was shut out at Missouri. In the past three games, just take a look at his stats: at Baylor, he had 25 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks; against Oklahoma State, he had 18 points, 20 rebounds and 7 blocks; at Kansas State, he had 18 points, 11 rebounds and 9 blocks. If Withey can continue to play with this kind of effort, it’s not unthinkable to see this trio to cut down the nets this March.
- Murray State lost their first game of the season to Tennessee State last week. A lot of pundits are now saying their at-large bid may now be in jeopardy. It sure would be a shame if Murray State missed the NCAA’s after being in the top 10 for much of the year. When it comes to the argument of taking middling majors vs. mid-majors, I always say that the middling majors have their chance to knock down the big boys in conference play and didn’t, so it’s time to give someone else a chance. (Besides, the tournament makes their money on Cinderella stories anyway)
- Temple dominated Xavier Saturday 85-72 and has shown to be the class of the Atlantic 10. Since Michael Eric returned from injury, the Owls have not lost, winning seven in a row. Right now, they are currently getting votes that make them the 26th in the AP poll and 27th in the Coaches poll. Temple will be dangerous come tournament time and has a lot of weapons in Fernandez, Moore, Wyatt, and Eric. They’ve beaten Duke and most of the A-10’s best, and hopefully the Owls will start getting a little more national recognition for it.
- Baylor had a disappointing week. While they did get a solid win Monday by beating Iowa State, they were not competitive against Kansas or Missouri and were swept in the season series against both. This is not the type of results you expect out of a team with supposed NBA-level talent. It looks like the Big 12 will be decided on February 25th, when Missouri will take on Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse.
March Madness Word of the Week
- 1. A conglomerate of six conferences who conspire to keep all of the power/money in college sports to themselves, while still putting on a front that everyone else has equal opportunity to play in a National Championship. Each year kills more and more interest in the college football product.
- 2. A conglomerate that is completely useless in college basketball due to the NCAA tournament. Isn’t that awesome!
Ranking the Conferences
About a week ago I posted a quick ranking on Twitter (Follow me @pplcallmeblue) of who I thought were the top ten conferences this season, and I got a lot of grief from some of my followers who thought my ranking of the ACC was to low. So, I decided to rank the conferences in “Old School.” I’d love to hear from you down in the comments section.
1. Big Ten – In my mind, this has clearly been the best conference in the nation. The Big Ten won the Big Ten-ACC challenge, it has the only team that beat Kentucky (Indiana) and has typically had five or six ranked teams on a given week.
Conference RPI (realtimerpi.com): 1
Likely Tournament Teams: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana
On the Bubble: Purdue, Illinois
2. Big East - The depth of the Big East always separates themselves from other conferences. Almost every game is a tough out. Though it helps that there are about 100 teams in the Big East, but I digress.
Conference RPI: 2
Likely Tournament Teams: Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville
On the Bubble: Cincinnati, West Virginia, Seton Hall, UConn
3. Big 12 - The Big 12 will have either five or six teams in the NCAA tournament, which is more than half of the league. And you could see Kansas, Missouri and/or Baylor all making runs to the Final Four.
Conference RPI: 3
Likely Tournament Teams: Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State
On the Bubble: Kansas State, Texas
4. ACC - After Duke and North Carolina, the quality of teams dip a bit. Only Florida State and Miami have given those two teams any problems. Virginia has had a solid season but lost to some teams towards the bottom of the league (Clemson, Virginia Tech). And traditional powers Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Maryland have been downright awful.
Conference RPI: 6
Likely Tournament Teams: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State
On the bubble: NC State, Miami
5. Mountain West - The Mountain West is the best conference out west. There’s no arguing that fact.
Conference RPI: 5
Likely Tournament Teams: San Diego State, New Mexico, UNLV
On the Bubble: Wyoming, Colorado State
6. SEC – The SEC is being carried mostly by Kentucky. Florida has been disappointing at times (losing to Tennessee twice and to Rutgers) and Vanderbilt has not been the top 10 team people thought they would be in the preseason. There isn’t much depth to this league, and some of the teams who are usually good (Tennessee, Georgia) haven’t been good or have dealt with discipline issues (Alabama).
Conference RPI: 4
Likely Tournament Teams: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State
On the Bubble: Arkansas
7. Atlantic 10 - The A-10’s strength has been the depth of their league. There are many teams with marginal difference in talent, leading to many close games and results. Unfortunately, sometimes that ends up killing them in regards to tournament bids because teams have trouble setting themselves apart. This should be a four-bid league based on the strength of the league, but they may all eliminate each other.
Conference RPI: 7
Likely Tournament Teams: Temple
On the Bubble: Saint Louis, UMass, Xavier, Dayton
8. Missouri Valley - The MVC also has this problem. There are only two bad teams at the bottom of the conference, a lot of teams in the middle, and just two who have established themselves as tournament teams in Wichita State and Creighton.
Conference RPI: 8
Likely Tournament Teams: Creighton, Wichita State
9. West Coast Conference - The WCC is very top-heavy. Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU are clearly the best of the league, but there is a severe drop off in good teams after that.
Conference RPI: 11
Likely Tournament Teams: Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga
On the Bubble: BYU
10. PAC-12 - I was tempted to put the WAC here just because the PAC-12 went 1-50 against top-50 RPI teams in non-conference play. Considering the resources of the schools in this conference, this has been a complete disaster of a season for the PAC-12. The only tournament bid out of the PAC-12 may come through their automatic bid. Pathetic.
Conference RPI: 10
On the Bubble: Everyone, whoever wins the PAC-12 tournament will get the bid.
A couple weeks ago, I defined the term “bracketbuster” and reviewed a few of the teams to watch this March. This Saturday will be ESPN’s set of bracketbuster games. ESPN picks some of the top teams from the top mid-major conferences and schedules games to be played on their networks. There are tons of great matchups and I am planning on being in person to see Wichita State play at Davidson. It should be an exciting atmosphere as the Shockers come to Belk Arena as a top 25 ranked team. Davidson typically has to play those types of games on the road, so I’m sure the students will be all fired up. Here are some of the best bracketbuster games and a player to watch from each team. Rankings are from the coaches’s poll unless otherwise noted.
Noon – #24 (AP) Wichita State (22-4,13-2 Missouri Valley) at Davidson (19-6, 13-2 Southern)
The Shockers are riding high after taking command of the Missouri Valley Conference by beating Creighton last week. This game probably more crucial for Davidson’s at large profile. Outside of an outstanding win at Kansas, the Wildcats don’t have much to brag about except for some close losses to Vanderbilt and Duke.
Players to watch: Davidson’s De’Mon Brooks is its most important player. He’s the best athlete on a mostly not-so-athletic team and leads the Wildcats in scoring (16 PPG). Wichita State has many offensive weapons and are led by Garrett Stutz (14.1 PPG), but it’s Joe Ragland to watch out for from beyond the arc. He’s been scorching the nets all season long, shooting 47.3 percent.
4 p.m. – Nevada (22-4, 10-1 WAC) at Iona (20-6, 12-3 MAAC)
Nevada has won 19 of their past 20 games with their only loss coming to a team who’s name starts with the letter “i,” Iowa. Could their next loss be to another four lettered “i” team?
Players to watch: Iona’s Scott Machado is a wizard with the ball, dishing out assists (10 APG, first nationally) to the second highest scoring team in the nation (83.2 PPG). Deonte Burton and Malik Story both score 14 points a game for Nevada, though Story shoots at a much higher percentage from three point range.
6 p.m. – #16 Saint Mary’s (23-3, 12-1 WCC) at #14 Murray State (24-1, 12-1 Ohio Valley)
This game would have had a lot more hype around it if Murray State was still undefeated. Nevertheless, this should still be a good one. Murray State will want to prove its worth by beating a ranked team. Their at-large profile will gain some solidity with a win against Saint Mary’s.
Players to watch: The Gaels Rob Jones (15 PPG, 10.6 RPG) could be the muscle inside that Murray State cannot handle, though the Gaels may have trouble slowing the Racers’ scoring machine Isaiah Canaan (19.6 PPG).
10 p.m. – Long Beach State (19-6, 12-0 Big West) at Creighton (22-5, 12-4 Missouri Valley)
During Creighton’s three-game losing streak and the primary culprit has been poor three point shooting, making just 14 threes while taking 61. They shot much better in their win at Southern Illinois, shooting 12 of 14 from the 3-point line. Long Beach State played an aggressive non-conference schedule that took them across the country playing tough road games against anyone and everyone who would play them (close losses at Louisville, North Carolina and Kansas to name a few). It prepared them to dominate the Big West; they’ve gone 12-0 in conference play. Both teams could really use the win for their at-large resumes.
Players to watch: Casper Ware has been the man for the 49ers, scoring 17 points a game. Creighton’s Doug McDermott is third in the nation in scoring, scoring 22.7 points a game.
The week that will be
#7 North Carolina at Miami – Miami beat Duke last week to really help their resume. Can they beat North Carolina?
New Mexico at #15 San Diego State – Both teams are 20-4 and 6-2 in the Mountain West. If New Mexico can win this one, we may see three teams in the top 25 next week from the MWC.
Purdue at Illinois – These two are both bubble teams, and the best way to get on the right side of the bubble is to beat other bubble teams. (Anyone have a yearning for bubble gum right now?)
#17 Wisconsin at #8 Michigan State – After beating Ohio State, the Spartans have put themselves in great position to get the league title, but they will need to take care of tough teams like Wisconsin to maintain momentum.
#6 Ohio State at #19 Michigan – A great football rivalry. A Wolverines win certainly would strengthen the basketball side of the rivalry, and if they can, they will be neck and neck with Ohio State for the Big Ten title.
#11 UNLV at New Mexico – This could be a HUGE week for New Mexico. All year we’ve assumed that UNLV and San Diego State were the frontrunners of the Mountain West, but New Mexico could take that title by beating them both.
Kansas State at #10 Baylor – After losing badly to Kansas and Missouri, Baylor rebounded by beating a pretty good Iowa State team. Beating Kansas State would notch another quality win.
#12 Florida at Arkansas – Florida has been upset by lesser teams this year, Tennessee twice and Rutgers, so don’t be shocked if the Razorbacks pull this one out.
#21 Florida State at NC State – NC State could really use this game on their resume. They have had a solid season, but no stand-out wins. This would change that.
Dayton at Xavier – Since their first meeting, where Dayton blew out Xavier at home, neither team has really set the world on fire, but this game is a heated rivalry and fun to watch.
#8 Michigan State at Purdue – Bubble teams benefit big time when they beat top 10 teams.
#1 Kentucky at #23 Mississippi State - Despite being ranked, I don’t think there is any chance of the Bulldogs pulling off the upset.
#7 North Carolina at NC State – NC State fans have been dying for this game to become relevant again. The Tar Heels blew them out in the Dean Dome earlier this season, maybe it will be a different story at NC State.