Eye Test Tuesday: Tipoff tourney testimonials

So the slew of tip-off tournaments already has me reassessing the top 25 I had preconceived in my head.  It may take until January to digest all of the transfer comings and goings.  However, actually watching the games so far can differentiate what teams are ready to compete versus which rosters look good on paper.

Kentucky, unfortunately, is damn good.  They’re as good as advertised, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop searching the land for the best underdogs to surprise.  I say unfortunately, because, well who can root for a team that already stands at 9/5 odds to win a championship.  On the other side of the ledger, VCU and Trayveon Graham are having trouble ramming through that next step as a program, pun intended.

My biggest take-away from the tip-off marathon (granted, I have hours left on my DVR still to consume) –that I should start listing teams A-Z and grading them.   The letter “W” jumps out.  West Virginia and Wyoming are teams at the bottom of the alphabet with a real ability to be a top sleeper this March.

Let’s start with Wyoming.  Josh Adams is a Delonte West type of point guard.  He has a Sacramento Kings Jason Williams deceptive street style to his handle, but his athleticism is dunk competition-worthy.  Pair him with Larry Nance, Junior and a fleet of swing-men and this team is very dangerous.  The cowboys defeated a very good Colorado Buffaloes team and it wasn’t even close.  Wyoming won by a final score of twenty and dominated throughout.

West Virginia could be Bob Huggins best team since a final four run some years ago.  The key difference is the size and athleticism at the forward position that allows a feisty full court press.  That versatility is most embodied in junior college transfer Jonathan Holton.  Holton is a 6-7 senior from Miami who appears to enjoy guarding the ball on an inbound.

True college basketball enthusiasts already know WVU’s guard Juwon Staten is one of the nation’s best point guards.  If they can create as many problems for opposing guards in the full court press as they did against a traditionally guard-strong UCONN bunch, it only gives better leverage to Staten and his backcourt.  West Virginia is instantly ranked 21st in the nation now after its tournament championship.  However, look for this team to disappear again from the national conversation once its conference play brings about the usual suspect headliners in the Big 12—Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma…even Iowa State, which has become a media darling with Fred Hoiberg aka “The Mayor” in charge.

Eye Test Tuesday: Transfers

The term “journey man” is now a tangible buzz phrase in college basketball.  How ironic that in an atmosphere where players are presumably recruited starting in 6th and 7th grade, that those players are leaving programs after things don’t work out perfectly.

Or, in one of many shades of the college basketball transfers, many players are joining different teams after graduating.  Players like Jon Hortford of Florida can play immediately if pursuing a graduate program.  Hortford spent four years at Michigan, but only used up 3 years of eligibility playing.  Now he is a gator boy like his older brother, Al Hortford.

To me, players like this look like people who leave the casino contemplating where to spin their final quarter.  One final play on the big wheel.  It has to be good though, I only have one more to play.

This blog post is dedicated to those guys.  These are the college basketball player who I’ve seen perform in the past and am excited to see in their new role.

This first is Antoine Mason.  Yes, I am partial because his father, Anthony Mason, was part of the New York Knicks team I grew up rooting for.  But junior’s got serious game.  After Doug McDermott, Antoine Mason led the nation in scoring last year for Niagara.  Now he rejoins another guy who is reborn: coach Bruce Pearl.  I say Mason and the Auburn Tigers finish 5th in the SEC (Kentucky, Florida, LSU, Arkansas) and entertain an invite as a bubble team.

Remember the skinny white kid who hit threes as part of Kentucky’s 2012 championship run with Anthony Davis?  Yeah, his name is Kyle Wiltjer and he’s gained lots of muscle and now plays for Gonzaga.

Unlike the boys mentioned previously, Wiltjer had to wait his turn, as he admittedly left Kentucky to find a roster spot with more playing time.  He joins a very talented team with Gary Bell Jr., Przemek Karnowski and Kevin Pangos.  If Wiltjer can play inside-and-out, that will pose nightmarish matchups for opposing teams.  As Karnowski showed in a bruising performance against Memphis last year, his size can suck many bodies into the paint.  I want to see Pangos and Wiltjer spread the floor for the pure enjoyment of watching them shoot lights out.

In my research for this article, I laughed to find a full weblink dedicated to where college basketball transfers have landed.  It lists them all.  Click here to check it out on espn.com.  I won’t get into junior college transfers, or “JuCo” guys, here because I have not studied up on my community college circuit (no shame in my game there).

Rounding out my top transfers is Kevin Ware of Georgia State and Justin Martin of SMU.  Ware only averaged 1.7 points for Louisville, but showed flashes of unstoppable quickness before breaking his leg in an unforgettable broadcast moment.  Now Ware becomes part of a team that will continue being the sexiest pick for a mid-major program to do damage in March.  Martin is a heady combo guard that does all the things Xavier guys seem to do.  He handles the ball with strength and rebounds well for a guard.  Martin can be the type of glue-guy an SMU team could use, given its appeal “on paper.”  SMU thinks it got snubbed from the tournament last year, but it really didn’t capitalize on its out-of-conference opportunities. I am intrigued to see what Martin can bring to this team in terms of stability.

My 5 underdogs for 2014-15 NCAA Hoops

Welcome to my second season as an NCAA basketball blogger.  Last year, in my first-ever article, I listed UCONN in my “starting five,” a list of five underdog teams I believe have a chance to win a championship.  How is that for a rookie perfomance?

I create my “starting five” of underdog teams with a simple method.  I pretend I have $100 to spend in Vegas.  In this hypothetical, I am trying to win at least $1,000 bucks.  I pick five teams that could win me that $1,000.  Betting $17 on UCONN at 60-to-1 odds would have earned you $1,020 dollars.  If you won on my advice last season, you’re welcome.

Here’s my “starting five” for 2014-15, according to odds published by the vegasinsiders.com.

St. John’s at 200-to-1 is attractive.  The Red Storm lost Jakarr Sampson to the NBA, but what good team doesn’t?  I personally believe coach Steve Lavin is at a turning point with this program.  I know he is a great coach, seemingly a better motivator.  Lavin has reached the point in where the team is full of “his guys.”  Sadly, the Big East is watered down from its glory days of Syracuse and so on.  This presents an opportunity for St. John’s to battle with Villanova and Georgetown for the top spot.  Don’t sleep on Providence (hello: conference champions) and Creighton.  However, I think St. John’s has a great chance of making the NCAA tournament with momentum, even if I’m wrong and they finished third place in this league.

Speaking of a coach who has a full tenure as “having his guys” in the program, Virginia is a no-brainer risk at 35-to-1.  Coach Tony Bennett brings back talented and now-experience swingmen Malcom Brogdon and Anthony Gill.  The Cavaliers have asserted themselves as one of the nation’s best defensive programs.  There’s also another player I’ll tell you more about later.

LSU is another huge sleeper of mine.  The Tigers sit at 220-to-1 odds currently.  They have two sophomore stud forwards and add the orchestration of Bruce Hornsby’s son Keith at point guard.  Yes, the son of the Grammy-Award winner will be eligible to play this season after transferring from UNC Asheville.

My fourth team makes me nervous, but that pales in comparison to what the club experienced this offseason.  A player on the team was hit by a car driven by his teammate.  You can research on your own the conditions surrounding that incident.  However, in this case, I think what doesn’t kill IU will make them stronger.  Yogi Ferrell and the Indiana Hoosiers top my preseason value picks.  Let the record show, this team is listed as a 220-to-1 underdog to win the title.  I think this team is one of a few that is not expected to win its conference, but can in fact win a national championship.  The reason is that Indiana has a point guard that is a true floor general in Yogi Ferrell.  My UCONN pick was based on point guard Shabazz Napier.  If there will be a repeat storyline in 2015, with a winning point guard taking complete command of a team, I can envision it in Ferrell.  The report embedded below is Ferrell’s reaction to the off-the-court incidents, as filed by Indianapolis WRTV-6 ( ABC) sports anchor Dave Furst.

My fifth and final underdog value pick is Utah.  Coach Larry Krystkowiak is more likely to tweet a photo of a snowman than his own basketball team, but don’t send the Utes “packing” just yet.

Utah is listed at 85-to-1 now.  Las Vegas seems to be catching on, as I saw them 200-to-1 a few weeks ago.  Bleacher Report wrote an entire article about how Delon Wright, the brother of NBA player Dorrell Wright, is the best prospect you’ve never heard off.  Put $11 fictitious dollars on Utah, $5 apiece on LSU, Indiana, St. John’s, and $28 on Virginia.  That leaves me with $46 and plenty of room left to write about my counter to the AP’s top 5 players.

Once again, I am again shaking my head at the Associated Press preseason top 5 All-Americans.  The only guy who deserves to be there is Montrezl Harrell.  Have you ever wished for Gold Glove Awards and season MVP’s to be handed out *after* championship are decided.  In many leagues, like the MLB, that is not the case.  Apparently, in the NCAA preseason top 5 selection, the reverse logic is at play.  Whichever player has performed well in postseason is a shoe-in for the preseason 2014-15 projection.  Frank Kaminsky, Fred Van Vleet, and Marcus Paige all made the list.  Sure, they had fine seasons and performed in the tournament.  However, I feel the selection is more a reflection that these guys playing for teams with huge expectations for March 2015.  The Associated Press has to assign a player to carry those flags.

To replace Paige and Van Vleet, I am choosing Ferrell and London Perrantes.  Sure, the hardcore NCAA fans could note that my Perrantes pick is a hypocritical stance, considering my previous argument.  His Virginia squad surged last season.  However, my argument is that his ceiling is much higher than Van Vleet and Paige’s (when it comes to room for growth).  I think Paige and Van Vleet are terrific.  Both will play in the NBA.  Van Vleet is the best chance at a future Jason Kidd the NBA will have.  Both players were squarely on the radar in 2013-14.  However, Perrantes himself only scratched the surface last season as a freshman.  He played with the confidence of a baller whose team has held court all afternoon and has never had to call “next.”  He plays point at Virginia, but I am listing him in my top 5 at shooting guard because of his range and ability to play away from the ball.

I look forward to telling you about my front court selections.  Treveon Graham of VCU has waited for his opportunity.  He averaged 7 points as as freshman, then became a consistent scorer for the Rams with an average of 15 points the past two seasons.  Now it is unquestionably his team.  Juvonte Reddic is gone, which will help Graham’s cause from the standpoint that he is absolutely the late-game option.  Graham scored the game-winning basket a couple times for VCU last season, and I expect more of the same this year.  Graham is a physical, big bodied, swingman who reminds me of Jason Richardson of the Golden State Warriors fame.  He is not as freakishly athletic, but will probably end up with a better jump shot in the end.

My second forward is Jarell Martin of LSU.  On a team where J.J. O’Brien and Jordan Mickey had high expectations, Martin was able to play his third-ever season of basketball and grow into his ability.  See that snapshot below on the LSU season highlight?  Yeah, that’s number 12, Mr. Martin throwing one down in transition.  As big men, he and Mickey love getting out in transition.  Martin wears number 1 headed into this season and has dropped numbers when it comes to his playing weight as well.

Martin and LSU are one of three teams I’m pointing to for a possible and serious Cinderella sleeper run.

Rounding out my top 5 player board that consists of Martin, Graham, Perenthes and Ferrell, I am going with a guy who is unseen in plain sight.  Kaleb Tarczewski should be talked about the way Tyler Hansborough was in the offseason leading to his 2009 UNC Championship.  This guy is an absolute beast.  To see that a freshman made the AP list over him may be an indictment on the Arizona offense.  It’s going to be time to feed the post and get Tarczewski his touches.  Give collegebasketballeyetest.com your own personal touch.  Follow the blog with wordpress.com or on Facebook and Twitter.