Indiana Hoosiers Basketball vs. Georgetown Hoyas

Two days after Christmas, there was a bubble-wrapped gift remaining for two teams.  In their first 10 games, the Indiana Hoosiers have a horrible loss coupled with some quality wins.  Those facts put them squarely on college basketball’s bubble before conference play begins.  The Georgetown Hoyas are likely in the NCAA Basketball Tournament if the season were to end today, but their conference schedule will offer less opportunities for résumé building than the Hoosiers.
Devonta Rivera says switch
Georgetown didn’t want to flip the script at Madison Square Garden.  The Hoyas wanted to hold serve in college basketball’s highly subjective and analytic landscape.  These two historic collegiate programs matched up at MSG in a great game that went to overtime just hours after Santa Claus stopped time nationwide.  Yogi baseline jumper  Indiana proved that it has a true triple threat in this game.  Yogi Ferrell (pictured), Troy Williams and James Blackmon Jr. scored a combined 72 of the Hoosiers 87 points.  What concerned me about the Hoosiers was the lack of production offensively in the paint.  Former Oak Hill Academy star and 6’7″ forward Troy Williams even played point guard at times.  Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Indiana’s center, scored just two points.  This told my eye test that the Hoosiers struggle to match inside scoring threats.

Josh Smith
Cue Joshua Smith.  As a New York Knicks fan, this guy reminds me of Eddy Curry.  Yes, he has size, but basketball fans wait for him to truly dominate.  His 14 points were good enough to get Georgetown a win in this contest.  Not to pick on Mosquera-Perea, but he had trouble getting assistance defending the rim.  Not only did Smith score 14, but forward Aaron Bowen scored 22 off the bench (many at the rim).
smith rivera in pregameD’Vauntes Smith-Rivera had an amazingly-efficient 29 points.  He shot 50% from the field (9-18).   But that’s not what’s most impressive.  He went 5 of 7 from the 3 point line as part of that high efficiency.  Honestly, being at the game, I still didn’t realize how many points Smith-Rivera dropped because he didn’t hog the ball.  His shots came in the rhythm of the offense.
NYC Indiana Georgetown49
This was a magical holiday showcase at the World’s Most Famous Arena.  I will forever remember how I watched a future NBA lottery pick in Troy Williams.  This kid looked like Tracey McGrady around the rim and played point guard late in the game when good possessions mattered most.  This photo (above) was taken right after his running floater tied the game up late.  Ferrell, Williams, and Blackmon Jr. (pictured left, center, right respectively) would be a top 10 college basketball team next year if they would all return to school.  However, the lack of production and defense in the middle makes me hesitant to think they’ll make a Sweet 16 run.  I hate to say it, but I feel the same about the Georgetown Hoyas.  I think that this team is not Sweet 16-worthy.  Any team with a valid post scorer can find a way to get Josh Smith into foul trouble.  Without his 14 points, and magnetic size down low, this is a different game.

*Forgive me for not writing more about James Blackmon Jr.  This freshman is so smooth, he calls for his own article some time in the near future.
James Blackmon Jr.

Eye Test Tuesday: GW and the Buffalo

Leaving Lawrence, Kansas for my holiday vacation to go home to New York, I thought I’d escape the college basketball discussion being all about the Jayhawks. Alas, as soon as I turn my back, KU’s loss to the Temple Owls becomes the topic of discussion nationwide. However, when you look at it, the Owls “upset” isn’t as shocking as you’d think. Temple has some skilled upperclassmen and showed the balance of eight players contributing. The Owls only losses this year are all respectable: Saint Joseph’s, Villanova, Duke, and UNLV. Kansas, meanwhile, continues its identity crisis of who will become the lead scorer. Wayne Selden, Jr. and Perry Ellis went a combined 3-18 from the field. Point guard Frank Mason, Jr. played all 40 minutes as the loss of Devonte Graham continues to pose a challenge.

The game I really look forward to seeing in-person is Georgetown and Indiana on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. I’ll post another vlog of my observations. Going in, I’m interested to witness Georgetown’s supporting cast. I know all about Smith-Rivera, Josh Smith, and Jabril Trawick. I’m interested to see who can matchup defensively against Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell. Smith-Rivera scored 29 in the Hoyas toughest matchup to date against the Wisconsin Badgers. I think the Princeton-style offense calls for more balance and I’d like to see what the fourth, fifth and sixth scoring options look like.

Tuesday night is another bubblicious matchup. Colorado versus George Washington is the type of game that could separate a tournament team from an NIT team. When you watch this game, check out George Washington’s junior swingman Patricio Garino.  The Argentinian not only leads the Colonials in scoring, but leads a very aggressive unit on the defensive end.  George Washington fluctuates between a tough man defense and a one-three-one zone.  For Colorado, I am encouraged to see Askia Booker scoring 21.2 on average in the month of December.  The senior from Los Angeles started the season scoring 9.4 in November.  As much as Josh Scott has improved on the offensive end over his career, Booker has one of the nation’s smoothest strokes and should get at least 14 shots per game.  After this game, both teams soon begin conference play.  For Colorado, that means immediate contests against UCLA, Arizona and Utah.  Therefore, the Buffaloes could benefit by a strong out-of-conference win before possibly dropping some in conference.  Both Colorado and George Washington stand at a 7-3 record now.  A win Tuesday would also be huge for George Washington.  The Colonials have less brownie points to earn in conference.  Some of the best teams at this point include Dayton, VCU, and Davidson right now.  Scope out this game and tweet me what you think.  Follow @CBBEyeTest.

Suspect Spreads Saturday

11-4 on the season against the spread. No, I’m not a greasy cigar-smoking wise guy giving “free advice” in a Sin City lobby. I’m a guy who watches college basketball games from start to finish and maybe checks out the stats afterwards. I predict outcomes every Saturday. It’d be easy to say that Kentucky would beat UCLA, so I use the odds to challenge my knowledge.

I started exposing what I thought of as “suspect spreads” three Saturdays ago. I advised gamblers to take Green Bay, a nine point underdog, and they won the game outright against Miami. I posted a 4-1 record on that first week of predictions.
I was WAY off with my Florida State vs. Notre Dame guess. Note to self: I have to check out the Irish in earnest the next time they play a top 100 opponent. Florida State got walloped, but I still went 3-2 on this second week.

In my third and most recent week, I rocked out a 4-1 record. I was trying to carry momentum on a struggling Missouri program. However, they played Illinois tough. Still, folks around Kansas City and Missouri talk about first year coach Kim Anderson needing at least three years to get this program above water. Indiana and Butler was a tough call. In the end, I didn’t feel Butler had the athletes to defend the rim. I wasn’t surprised to see Troy Williams score a season-high 22 points. Kentucky beating UCLA by 15 was a gimme in my mind. Syracuse got a recent scare at home against LA Tech, so I felt they’d play Villanova tough. Syracuse should have won this game. The Orange played seven players, if you don’t count Chinoso Obokoh’s one minute played, which I don’t for this exercise. I find it concerning that Syracuse’s best athletes continually play games while balancing foul trouble. Chris McCullough finished the overtime game with five fouls. Rahkeem Christmas fouled out with moments left in regulation. Still, I envision Syracuse as a bubble team that gets into the tournament and of course scares any 6 or 7 seed due to that notorious zone and underclassmen with huge upside. For example, Kaleb Joseph hit some clutch shots in this contest. His confidence level is a narrative to watch closely, given the fact that he was recruited initially to backup Tyler Ennis.

A to Zags: The Eye Test Alphabet

Welcome to the Eyetestlopedia.  This is my guide to all NCAA teams I watched this year.

(University of) Albany
Strength: Resiliency
Weakness: Defensive rebounding
UAlbany is returning to its third straight NCAA Tournament via an American East Championship and has the best storyline in college basketball.  Australian national Peter Hooley missed a good chunk of the season to be with his ill mother.  She passed away earlier this winter.  He returned in mid-February after missing 8 games and hit the game-winning three pointer in the American East Championship!  From a basketball standpoint, Sam Rowley is an ambidextrous forward around the block.  He scores well (and has a brother who comes off the bench).  Two junior college transfers are playing their first year to help UAlbany fill some American East championship voids.  Unlike a great number of Cinderellas, UAlbany does not take a ton of three-pointers.  The Great Danes rebounded the ball by committee to beat NBA prospect Jameel Warney in the championship game.  Defensive rebounding is not traditionally a strength.  The Danes take good care of the basketball, however.  They’re outside of the top 300 nationally in team assists, however.  I think this team has a lot to be proud of in terms of accomplishments, but don’t expect an upset win in the tournament.

Strength: Athleticism, full court pressure
Weakness:  Offensive cohesion in the half court
More: As I wrote on Dec. 9th, Arkansas was knocked out of the top 25 unfairly after losing to a hungry Clemson team.  Arkansas has the ability to wow a neutral crowd in a tournament setting.  NBA-caliber athletes like Portis and Qualls can absolutely steal the show with their athleticism.  I believe this is the best team coach Anderson has had in his Arkansas tenure.  It’s just a question whether he can manage that athleticism, which seems over-aggressive at times.  For example, in the aforementioned Clemson game, Qualls had to be sat down because he got into a verbal back-and-forth with some players.

Auburn Strength:  Skilled wings and a big man who can run transition Weakness:  Traditional point guard and post player types Anotoine Mason didn’t play in the game I watched against Colorado because of  a sprained ankle.  Cinmeon Bowers iis a 278 pound bulldog who likes to bring the ball up himself but often charges doing so.  These Auburn Tigers allowed a 24-0 run in Colorado.

Strength:  Length on defense
Weakness: Scorer as the shot clock winds down
If your NFL football team needs a Tight End, tweet your GM to sign Rico Gathers.  The Baylor Bears small forward of rebounds like a right guard downhill on run offense.  Sometimes the size and power of Baylor appears to be unbalance by a measure of polish in the mid-range game.  Taurean Prince is an inticing athlete to watch on offense.  Unfortunately, he is not a Perry Jones III yet.  (Perry Jones III plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder now but never truly peaked at Baylor in terms of his scoring potential).  Baylor’s point guard, Kenny Chery, missed the first fifth of the season with an injury.  He was re-injured in mid-January.  It will be interesting to see what his status is in March and whether Prince or anyone else steps up as a consistent 12-15 point-per-game guy.  Regardless, Baylor is a time that wants to slow the game down and slug it out.

Strength: Sharing the ball
Weakness: Rebounding
The Belmont Bruins will be undersized versus their tournament opponent, but possibly better coached. Belmont ranks 27th in field goal percentage because this team can really shoot.  In the OVC Conference Championship, they beat Murray State but out-shooting them late from the perimeter. The Bruins came back from a 8 point halftime deficit.  Combo guard Craig Bradshaw is a good orchestrator, penetrator. Belmont did throw away some balls during offensive lapses. However, despite rebounding being a weakness traditionally, Belmont out-rebounded a bigger Murray State team to win the OVC Championship game.  These Bruins also have tournament experience, which you cannot teach.  Don’t overlook the fact that Chamberlain, Mobley, Bradshaw, Turner and Laidig all logged minutes in the 2013 NCAA Tournament game against 6-seeded Arizona (in a loss).

Boise State
Strength:  One of the nation’s best scorers
Weakness:  Transition defense
The Boise State Broncos are one of America’s hottest teams.  They began the year 10-6, 0-3 in the Mountain West before going on a tear!  The Broncos have won 14 of 15 games since a loss at Wyoming, including a two game sweep against ranked San Diego State.  The eye test is still focused on what we learned from that Wyoming Cowboys loss.  For one, Larry Nance Jr. chewed up Nick Duncan in the post.  Duncan’s lack of foot speed made Nance look like the next Karl Malone.  Speaking of which, the Cowboys were able to get out and run.  Some transition buckets were entirely uncontested.  That said, since that game the Broncos have done what they do best:  score the rock.  Derrick Marks has six 30+ scoring efforts.  The only downside is that the Broncos could experience games with under 10 assists.  I like Boise State if they play against a team without a post scorer and without a shut-down defender.  A team like Gonzaga would be Boise’s worst nightmare, because they have interior scorers like Przemek Karnowski and a lockdown defender in Gary Bell Jr.  As of March 10th, Joey Lunardi has Boise State projected to play SMU.  That would be a mirror-image matchup.  Both teams drift into the AAU summer league style of wild play occasionally.

Buffalo  Strength:  Defensive rebounding
Weakness:  Taking care of the ball
It’s impressive to see Buffalo of the MAC rank in the top 25 nationwide in rebounding.  When you watch them, some thick guys upfront like Justin Moss jump out at you.  The junior from Detroit is affectionally listed at 240 pounds.  Both guards are under impressive in terms of orchestrating a traditional offense.  Lamonte Bearden and Shannon Evans each hover around 2 assists-per-turnover per game.  With some of those huskies down low, I find myself asking for the guards to let the big dogs eat.  On defense, they also have a tendency of getting lost going under picks.  But, hey, Bobby Hurley is their head coach.  He’s one of the best point guards to play college basketball in the modern era.  I would not be surprised if the Bulls continue to massage that 175th Assist-per-game rank as a team.  The good news is Bearden and Evans create their own shots at will.  Buffalo is the quintessential 15 or 16 seed to cover a first half spread because a team overlooks them (as Kentucky did this season), before adjustments are made in the second half.  A fellow Upstater and friend of the blog on Twitter, who is also a SUNY/Cornell graduate, challenged the idea of Buffalo being a 15 or 16 seed.   I agree they likely won’t be a 16.   However, I can’t see them projected as a 13.  Let’s settle on 14.5 for now on March 12th.  In the championship game against Central Michigan, when the Bulls got up-and-down the court, they looked like a 9 or 10 seed.  Freshman Bearden is high risk, high reward with the ball, but can do a lot of shake and bake.  I love the back-screen action made off the ball from the extended-wing to the rim.  Rodell Wigginton had a beautiful catch on an alley-oop dunk.  If the Bulls were a real estate property, the curb appeal would have a neutral crowd buying-in.  I liked the flashes of what I saw in that MAC Final.

Strength: Veterans Woods and Jones
Weakness:  A point guard who scares you
The Butler Bulldogs struggle to stop dribble penetration.  That was apparent in the Tennessee game in mid-December.  The UNC win was very nice in the Atlantis tournament.  Alex Barlow and Kellen Dunham are good guards, but better shooters than they are distributors.

BYU Strength: Three point shooting Weakness: Transition defense BYU is truly never out of a basketball game because the Cougars can shoot the three point ball just as well as any team. Tyler Haas is not the only scorer on this team, they have a number of guys who can score 15 per game. I watched BYU battle Saint Mary’s in mid-January.  At the time, BYU was the highest scoring team in America.  BYU struggled to guard center Brad Waldo for St. Mary’s down low in the post when he really wanted to score.  Additionally, BYU was out-rebounded 41-28 in this game.  Anson Winder was injured for this game, which was a loss of 15 points per game.  BYU lost a very hard-fought battle against Saint Mary’s that made me more a believer of West Coast Conference teams than a non-believer in the loser.  I also witnessed BYU battle with Utah earlier this season.  The Cougars also lost that game, but showed that they can score in transition very well if the other team’s guards sag in for offensive rebounds.

Clemson Strength:  Youthful exuberance Weakness:  Youthful exuberance Clemons has the athletes on the wings to compete and a veteran guard in Rod Hall to command the troops.  Click here for more. 

Coastal Carolina Strength:  Experience Weakness:  Free throw percentage The chanticleers are my pick to become this year’s Florida Gulf Coast.  Coastal Carolina returns four of five starters from last year’s team that contested Virginia during the 1-16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament.  They contest at the rim, though they don’t have a true center.  In the Big South Championship game, Coastal Carolina also fouled Winthrop often and made them earn it at the line. Warren Gillis scores well from the 2 spot. They get solid bench contributions. The one player who did not log minutes in that Virginia game, sophomore Elijah Wilson, came off the bench to score 19 critical points.  Badou Diagne is always the guy who jumps off the screen when I watch Coastal.  He’s a 6’7″ junior who looks and plays like a college version of Luol Deng.  However, he contests a lot of shots at the rim.  He registered no blocks in the Winthrop win, but was definitely a factor on defense.  Diagne grabbed 5 rebounds and used three of his fouls well.

Strength:  Three guys who can score 20 any game
Weakness:  Assist to turnover ratio
The Buffaloes would be a top 5 team if Spencer Dinwiddie were still there.  Colorado’s center Josh Scott is much-improved from previous years.  His mechanics inside are more polished.  He looks to set up the shooters around him.  Speaking of which, Isaiah Booker is one of my favorite pure shooters in the nation.  Underclassman Dustin Thomas is a 6’ 7” sophomore who plays both forward positions and likes to battle.  Xavier Johnson reminds me of James Posey of Xavier and Miami Heat fame.

Colorado State Strength: Aggressiveness Weakness:  Closing out games I witnessed two collapses in January for the Rams.  They lost a lead at Boise State in a game that may haunt them down the road.  The Rams also blew a huge lead against San Diego State and almost lost that game against the Aztecs.  Point guard Daniel Bejarano shoots only 36% from the field while taking a lot of questionable shots.  Coach Larry Eustachy echoes that type of loose canon personality.  His rants on the sideline could cost a technical foul.  J.J. Avilla is the star of this team.  The Rams power forward averages 15 points and is a very flexible distributor from the post.

Davidson Strength:  Equal opportunity offense Weakness:  Inside scoring It’s not just the residue of Steph Curry’s legacy at Davidson, but the insertion into the A-10 conference that has very talented high school players joining this school.  Davidson is one of the best coached teams in America.  They run a motion offense that keeps defenses guessing.  A back-door cut is so predictable but undetectable.  Check the roster.  There’s an international identity to this team, which adds to the mystery of its composition.  Davidson ranks among the top five schools in the nation for three pointers made per game.  A weakness I will list, for now, is inside scoring.  The coach joked earlier this season that the team has been so successful from behind the 3PT arch, that the staff would only allow them to shoot threes an entire game.  Speaking of an entire game, the Virginia Davidson game showed me something:  the Wildcats confused the Cavaliers early in the game, but struggled to have the staying power to endure an entire game with a lead.

Dayton Strength: Good shooting team Weakness: Depth Justin Sibert, Scoochie Smith and Dyshawn Pierre return from a team that made last year’s Elite 8.  However, the Flyers lose Devon Scott and another player with a dismissal from the team.  Coach Archie Miller is working the reverse PR-spin from what Coach Calipari is doing down in Lexington, KY.  Miller says that he has the happiest players in the nation because he only has seven players eligible so they all get playing time.  (This is the same Archie Miller who gave 11 players minutes in the ’14 NCAA Tournament game against the Florida Gators).  This lack of depth will inevitably catch up with them.  Additionally, the Flyers do not have a player taller than 6′ 6.”  Credit the Flyers for exceptional conditioning. They can play a 40 minute track meet, even with seven guys.

Duke Strength:  Freshmen who play like upperclassmen Weakness:  Free throws Despite all the publicity that Kentucky’s freshmen get, Duke has the two top freshmen in the country, in my opinion.  Jahliil Okafor is the best big man in basketball.  Tyus Jones is the most clutch player in America.  Okafor showed that next-level gear against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in a street fight won by the Blue Devils.  Jones showcased his ice-in-the-veins nature against Wisconsin, St. John’s and UNC, to name a few.  Against UNC, he scored the last seven of 9 points in regulation.  Duke won in overtime, despite hitting only 15 of 30 free throws in regulation.  This team definitely plays better against bigger teams with the final Plumlee (two others played for Duke) brother.  Rasheed Sulaimon is the first suspension in Duke program history (in who can remember how long).  Freshman Justise Winslow has picked up the slack since Sulaimon’s absence.  He’s scored double digits in every game since.  He averaged 14.5 points in the first six games after the departure.

Eastern Washington
Weakness:  Rebounding
Strength:  Shooting
When I’m watching a mid-major basketball team, I’m watching for the ball to do the talking.  I don’t want to see players, especially in the post, filibuster with one-on-one stuff.  I want to see a team like SF Austin or Davidson that shares the ball.  A pass will *always* travel quicker than a dribble.  Montana and Eastern Washington each share the ball okay, but got away with moves in the Big Sky Championship that will I doubt we’ll see in the NCAA Tournament when they’re a 15 or 16 seed.  Each team has big men that were fed and got back-down interior looks after a pivot and dribble.  For example, 6’8″ Vinky Jois got to the free throw line by establishing his interior offense for Eastern Washington.  I remember the Syracuse Montana game when the Orange erupted and embarrassed the Grizzles.  That’s what I see happening this year.  Montana REALLY struggle getting out of the gates against Eastern Washington (and its game was played at home).  I also look for a STAR.  Harold the show Areceneaux and/or Damian Lillard aren’t walking through that door.  However, sophomore Tyler Harvey emerged and won the league championship game for the Eagles.  Congrats to them, I just don’t see this team’s success translating to the big dance.

Aaron Bowen Georgetown Strength:  Shooting from distance Weakness:  Defensive rebounding I was in attendance at Madison Square Garden for a key non-conference matchup between the Hoyas and the Indiana Hoosiers.  (Click here to read my full game recap).  What jumped out to me was the limitations of Joshua Smith, the center for the Hoyas.  Indiana is light on experienced and talented post players, and Georgetown was still out-rebounded while Smith committed 4 fouls and committed 3 turnovers.  Georgetown also shot only 53% from the free throw line in this game after 26 attempts.  That worries me if they play bigger teams in the NCAA Tournament.  What is encouraging:  the fact that supplemental wings Aaron Bowen and L.J. Peak supplied some pop to the offense when the guards weren’t getting shots.  Those guards, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Jabril Trawick, scored a combined 41 points. They’re the Big East’s most skilled and experienced backcourt.

George Washington Strength:  Overall balance Weakness:  Killer instinct Joe McDonald is one of my favorite point guards in America.  It’s unbelievable how much he reminds me of former Philadelphia 76ers point guard Eric Snow.  He’s reliable, steady, handles the ball to perfection, can shoot the three if dared to and do the same in terms of getting to the rim.  If international players Patricio Garino (Argentina) and Yuta Watanabe (Japan) were as aggressive when needed, George Washington would be a much better team.  Larsen is an ox on the interior.  I enjoy watching George Washington’s intelligence on defense, but I think a late season loss at home to VCU (minus Briante Weber) will keep them from the NCAA Tournament.  The color commentator during the game must have mention more than 20 times how VCU was the aggressor, not George Washington.  And I am not exaggerating.

Gonzaga Strength: Experience, inside-out offense
Weakness: Athleticism on defense More:  I truly believe this is the best Gonzaga team I have ever seen.  There was a ton of off-season hype, but they are playing up to it.  Sabonis’s international experience effectively sheds his freshman label, Wiltjer is literally a champion, and Pangos (by all accounts) is healthy this year.

Green Bay
Strength: Point guards (plural)
Weakness:  Wildly undersized on defense down low
Green Bay is a second half team.  Remember that.  Even in the box score that your smart-ass starts googling right now, I’ll guarantee you the Phoenix rose in the 2nd quarter to make it look legit at halftime.  Point guards Keifer Sykes and Carrington Love are out of control.   Love is the understudy of Sykes, who is the best Horizon League player since Butler made the Final Four.  Sykes should be drafted in the 2nd round as a long-shot to become a poor man’s Allen Iverson.  That’s the largest compliment possible.  Green Bay even has many able-bodied forwards, but just does not have depth at center.  It’s typical of a Horizon League squad or comparable mid-major club.  I think that Green Bay is this year’s Mercer.  As a 13, 14, or 15 seed, they’ll beat a Duke, Arizona, Wisconsin, Utah or UNC if they play the game of their lives.  I realize this summary is all projection.  The eye test tells you to prepare for street ball.

Hampton Strength: Guard play Weakness: Post scoringCredit the Hampton Pirates for a very strong performance in the MEAC Championship game.  This team has terrific guard play, a trio that scored in the teens and twenties apiece versus Delaware State.  Hampton double-teamed the post and stud center Kendall Gray.  Gray was kept to just 6 points and fouled out as the Pirates were relentless to the rim.  They don’t score a ton from inside, but that’s okay.  They turned the ball over only 7 times and registered 13 assists in a relatively low scoring win before the free throw shooting contest began.  I just looked up the stats.  Hampton is inside the nation’s top 50 in rebounds but outside the top 300 in assists.  I guess that’s what happens when a team’s guards can all score.  Also take into account that both Hampton and Delaware State finish the season with records around .500.  Despite this fact, I think Hampton will compete in the first half of a first round game.

Hawaii Strength:  Energy Weakness:  Passing Hawaii hosted the Diamond Classic and played like it.  They were comfortable, loose, and shooting like it was open gym.  The only issue:  they played like they were alone in open gym as well.  As the ESPN Telecast against Wichita State which I watched pointed out–there are four players in Hawaii’s starting five who do not average an assist or more. Hawaii’s point guard is very undersized, but can score.  I doubt players like himself can thrive for more than a half if a team has size and a defensive game plan in a tournament setting.  They had *major* issues in the fall where they lost two players (one to suspension, another overseas) and a coach.

Indiana Strength: Pure shooters Weakness: Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s inconsistency In my Nov. 8th article, I wrote about how Yogi Ferrell can lead this team to the tournament.  I picked them as a super sleeper to challenge for a championship.  Well, that won’t happen, although I have a small wager on it.  I feel like sophomore center Mosquerea-Perea couldn’t perform for six straight games.  Unfortunately, for the Hoosiers, they are having trouble watching him piece together a full productive game at this point.  Against Montrezl Harrell and the Louisville Cardinals, HMP began the game with two momentum-building dunks.  Guys like me thought to myself “where did this come from?”  These are the performances that standout during the NCAA tournament.  I have no doubt he can energize in this way.  Mosquera-Perea averages 8 points on the season, including that 10 point effort against Louisville.  However, he scored only 4 in a loss to Eastern Washington (you read that correctly) and 3 in a loss to SMU. I write all this, because the Hoosiers are already set in the back-court.  My belief in Yogi Ferrell is well-documented, but it’s the confident play of James Blackmon, Jr. that has me even more encouraged with the Indiana guards.  Blackmon Jr. is one of the best freshman in the country because of his silky smooth shooting and surprising athleticism at the rim.

Iona Strength:  Shooting from everywhere Weakness:  Turnovers Like its MAAC counterpart, Iona is small in comparison to the rest of the nation.  Lone senior, 6’9″ forward David Laury is often the tallest player in Iona’s lineup.  What the Gaels may give up in the measuring stick, they make up for with true shooting ability.  Iona loses Sean Armand, who seemingly played seven seasons at Iona.  Freshman Schadrac Casimir steps in as a freshman generously listed at 5′ 10.”  This kid can really shoot from anywhere.  He’ll be the MAAC’s freshman of the year.  If Iona is going to win a tournament game, it’ll have to be because A.J. English has a Harold “The Show” Arceneaux type of performance.  In recent years, Iona  actually made it into the tournament as an at-large.  In that game, they led BYU by 30 points in the first half, but ended up losing.  Not much has changed in terms of the Gaels ability to get extremely hot but struggle to guard.  If the committee has a sense of humor, which it often does, and schedules BYU Iona in another 11 seed matchup, take the over again.

Iowa Strength: Defensive tenacity Weakness:  Guarding scorers in the backcourt Iowas is a team that fluctuates its defensive schemes and does so well.  That is not an easy thing to do.  It is difficult enough to coach young men to run a sound offense.  When you start subbing guys in and out on the defensive end while alternating between zone, match-up zone, full court, man and a heavy-handed double team, you have heads spinning as if you just finished reading this sentence.  Coach Fran McCaffery has smart guys who can pull it off.  I was happy to see Coach McCaffery also substitute out point guard Mike Gessell in late-game defensive scenarios against Ohio State in the first conference game.  In fact, McCaffery played 8 Hawkeyes 16 minutes apiece or more.  Gessell, like his counterpart Peter Jok, struggle in guarding stud combo guards.  Employing some taller more athletic defenders such as Jarrod Uthoff (who looks quite comfortable in his return to his native state as former Iowa POY).  On the offensive end, the Hawkeyes share the ball as well as any team in America.  Aaron White will graduate as one of the best scorers in Iowa’s history.  He surpassed the 1500 career points mark just before the ball dropped on New Year’s.

Iowa State Strength: Amphibious Weakness:  Vulnerable to bullies on the block When I say amphibious, I mean that this team can play underwater, in the air, in the paint, from the free throw line and on the three point stripe.  The Cyclones game travels.  Everyone on this team can hit a three pointer.  George Niang is the quintessential Cyclone.  He is a power forward playing center.  Niang lost some 50 pounds in the last year.  He played high school ball with Norleans Noel and Wayne Selden Jr.  Despite his evolving frame, he knows how to get a shot off.  By having defenses respect Niang’s three point prowess, Fred Hoiberg’s pro sets opens the entire floor on offense.  In fact, they can score in transition too.  Brice DeJean-Jones, Naz Long, Montae Morris and Dustin Hogue can all get red hot, I mean NBA Jam hot, at any time. Perry EllisKansas Strength:  Depth Weakness: An established go-to scorer Most people who watch Kansas agree that Wichita-native Perry Ellis should be fed more often in the offense.  Ellis is the team’s leading scorer by far.  However, you’ll notice the Jayhawks experience long stretches where they don’t run the offense through him.

Kentucky Strength: That you don’t need me to explain them Weakness:  That you haven’t seen them lose yet Turn on ESPN or any other mainstream analysis.  Talk to me on April 1st.

Strength:  Shooting
Weakness: I haven’t seen this team, but the size
I have not seen this team play, but reading its stats, I don’t like the blowout losses to KU, West Virginia, Yale and, especially, Loyola Maryland.  The Leopards ranks 8th in the nation in assists, which is great for them.  The Patriot League has been competitive in recent years, but I don’t think that trend continues here.

LA Tech Strength: Execution of offensive gameplan Weakness: Rebounding The bulldogs came into the Carrier Dome and back-screened the zone, making Cuse look silly. However LA Tech went 2-9 from the 3-pt line early, with many of those shots wide open.  Speedy Smith is one of the best defenders in Conference USA and play point guard.  LA Tech passes the eye test on effort. The bulldogs almost stole a game in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse based on tenacity..

LSU Strength: Transition offense Weakness:  Guard play (especially tracking Josh Gray’s injury) LSU is great in transition but lacking in half court offense.  Point guard Josh Gray is a little selfish with the ball and Keith Hornsby has an awful hitch to his shot.  Gray may be the reason this team doesn’t make the big dance.  He is not a good distributor.

Manhattan Strength: City toughness Weakness:  Three point shooting Shane Reynolds is one of the best three point shooters in the country, yet Manhattan shoots under 20 percent from behind the arch.  If Reynolds gets hot, he could get NBA Jam-type hot.  Ashton Pankey is the Maryland transfer who does a bit of everything for the Jaspers.  If a team can make him really work on defense at the power forward spot, that’d be a huge positive.  Pankey has range on offense, shot fakes and has a great face-to-the basket game driving the lanes.  Jermaine Lawrence is very good all-around player at 6′ 10.”  Guard Emmy Andujar is probably your poster boy from the team that gave Louisville a challenge in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament.  Manhattan is very deep, but still only returns two starters from that 2013 tournament team.  That said, any team that can fatigue an upbeat Iona offense because the sheer number of contributors, is deep.  It’s rare to see Iona with tired legs (yet, as I alluded to below, they were victim to a monumental collapse at the hands of BYU in 2012).

Maryland Strength: Dez Wells Weakness: Youthful turnovers I was SHOCKED to see Maryland ranked 12th in the nation as they played a fragile Michigan State team for the first game of conference play.  Naturally, the game went to double overtime and Maryland got the win; thus solidifying its high ranking (which I still poke holes in).   Maryland beat Iowa State in November.   Aside from that high quality win, the Terrapins really do not have another impressive win.  Michigan State has lost Adriean Payne and Gary Harris in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.  For whatever reason, Brandon Dawson does not look like the offensive enforcer he could be.  Travis Trice is a nice complimentary player, but cannot be relied on as a go-to guy.  However, this blurb is not about Michigan State.  It’s about the fact that Maryland (new to the Big 10) will sustain this top 25 ranking by default over the course of non-conference play.  Come the NCAA Tournament, look for them to be a major candidate for upset alert as a 4 vs. 13 seed.

Minnesota Strength: Feeding Mo Walker Weakness: Drifting from Mo Walker When you look at this team, a lot of ink is written about guard Andre Hollins, but I think their success hinges on getting senior center Maurice Walker the ball.  Take the North Dakota romp as exhibit A.  Exhibit B would be the first five losses in Big 10 play that essential jolted the Gophers (around Groundhogs Day) out of the tournament conversation.

Michigan State
Strength: Ability to get red-hot shooting
Weakness:  Free throws Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, this is a transitional year for Michigan State.  Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice can get super hot from 3 at any point.  However, I question when the Spartans do not feature senior stud Brandon Dawson late in games.  A cast of youngsters like “Tum-tum” are carving a niche for themselves with ninja-like stealthiness.  However, my face turns purple like Tom Izzo in a much-needed timeout when I try to brainstorm who on this team can go get a bucket at the rim.  When they do get to the free throw line, Sparty is in last place in the Big 10 in free throw percentage.  It hovered in the low 60’s for a percentage.  Late this season, the answer has been Trice and Valentine from behind the line.  Live by the three, die by the three.  We shall see what happens.

New Mexico State
Strength: Competitiveness
Weakness: Turnovers
New Mexico State hasn’t been blown out of a game all season.  The Aggies worst loss of the year was its first game of the year.  They lost to Wichita State by 17 but matched the Shockers point production in the second half.  The Aggies also turned the ball over 20 times in that contest.  They have two seniors in the post who get the job done.  You may remember Sim Bhullar, the 7’3″ center from the Aggies recent tournament teams.  Well his brother is a sophomore but also the fourth big man off the bench.  That gives you an idea of the size they maintain.  They also hit 8-15 3PT’s in the WAC Championship game, showing some real balance.

North Dakota State
Strength: Versatile bigs in transition
Weakness:  Finding easy baskets Red shirt freshman A.J. Jackobson is playing like a veteran at this point with a lot of confidence.  This is not the same team that defeated Oklahoma in the 5-12 matchup in last year’s tournament. Just guards Lawrence Alexander and Kory Brown return from that starting lineup.  (Sophomore Carlin Dupree also passes the eye test).  They even have a new coach in David Richman.  I like that the only returning starters are guards.  Alexander helps the bison with the 7th best turnover ration nationwide.  North Dakota only turns the ball over 9 1/2 times per game on average.  On offense, there is a ton of ball-sharing on the perimeter.  Guards dribble hand-off and weave to try and find a driving lane.  There is not a terrific amount of moving away from the ball and towards the rim.  The Bison rarely find an easy or open shot on a backdoor cut.  North Dakota has some lumberjacks down low that will give up some foot speed but never girth.  Important to note:  those lumberjacks had the wood laid to them early in the season to both Texas and Iowa.  both team beat them by more than 30 points.

North Florida  Strength: Defensive rebounding Weakness:  Streakiness North Florida won the Atlantic Sun Conference, AKA the league that sent Mercer and Florida Coast toward successful NCAA Tournament appearances.  North Florida is big.  North Florida has so much size, it beat Purdue.  The Ospreys have a 6’6″ guard who is a leading scorer in Jalen Nesbitt.  Demarcus Daniels is the defensive player of the year, but scored in the post well against SC Upstate in the championship game.  In fact, he single handedly won the game with 22 points off of the bench.  What concerns me is that the Ospreys gave up a 12 point halftime lead at home to SC Upstate during a home-court championship game.  Therefore, the Ospreys are streaky and also rank outside the top 200 on total rebounds nationwide.  Despite its size, this team also takes a lot of three-pointers. North Florida shut down one of SC Upstate’s dominant scorers in their tournament win.

Notre Dame Strength:  Can score from all 5 positions Weakness:  Not a great defensive team Is it just me, or has this team been a perennial 6 seed my entire lifetime?  (That would be 32 years, for those counting at home).  A six seed and no Sweet 16, in most cases.  On defense, my theory is that they don’t see an overwhelming amount of dribble penetration in practice.  Therefore, when players put their head down and don’t look to pass, sometimes the Ole’ defense is employed to let them score.  The guy who jumps out at me in watching is the center, Augustine.  He can run the floor as well as accept feeds on a half court set.  Jackson, Cauvington and Grant are the mainstays you can count on.  I think this team will be one of the best value picks to make a Final Four.  I’d imagine they’d register somewhere between 50/1 and 125/1 depending on the timing and/or casino.  Watching this team playing offense can be a beautiful thing.  The ball really does continuously move.  There isn’t a ton of dribbling into dead-ends, which plagues the college game in my opinion.  Of course, literally as I’m writing this, Notre Dame is blowing an enormous lead against Miami.  The defensive rebounding, and toughness in general, made me question whether that 6 seed will ever develop to a Sweet 16 after all.

Ohio State Strength:  Pure shooters Weakness:  Free throw game I know, putting the free throw game as a weakness appears, in itself, weak.  But as a jump-shooting team, Ohio State should be in the top 100 in the nation in free throw attempts, but is not.  They rank 181st in the nation in free throw percentage (69%) and only shoot about 23 free throws per game.  Watching Ohio State, I always wish for Amir Wiliams to be more aggressive.  After watching him for four years, I think what you see is what you get.  The guy is 6′ 11″ and averages 7 points and 5 rebounds.  The guy who has had a meteoric rise is De’Angelo Williams.  We knew he was good as a McDonald’s All-America. But, as a freshman, who could have expected a triple double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) in a late-season game against Rutgers?  Ohio State ranks in the top 10 in the nation on assists and shooting percentage.  Ohio State looks a lot like its Big 10 counterpart, Indiana.  They get a majority of scoring from the guard spots.  However, late this season that is all in question as second-leading scorer Marc Loving was excused from the team.

Oklahoma Strength:  Heady guard play Weakness:  Elite athletes in the paint Coach Lon Krueger is the only coach in D1 history to lead five programs to NCAA tournaments.  I think this is the best team he has ever had at Oklahoma.  I’ve liked Spangler’s toughness for the past two seasons and know he gets the added janitorial services of TayShawn Taylor.  As well as those big guys do the dirty work down low, they will rarely posterize players with above the rim athleticism.  You’ve seen this liability at the rim on display in matchups this season against larger Wisconsin and Texas clubs.  It could be their Achilles heal. Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard could possibly be the most balanced back-court trio in America.  Only teams like Wichita State, Gonzaga and Villanova come to mind for comparison-sake.  Watching the Sooners, I don’t think of their identity as a transition scoring team.  However, they quietly are 3rd in the nation in transition scoring!

Old Dominion Strength:  Outside shooting Weakness: Playing down to competition Old Dominion is one of the nation’s teams I’m looking most forward to seeing as a 12 or 13 seed.  I saw them play twice against LA Tech this season, a team that could also make noise in the tournament.   good analogy by the broadcaster comparing Old Dominion to a football team that is orchestrating it’s offense, while LA tech struggles to get a first down.  Old Dominion is much bigger, which is a reason I love them as a sleeper.  Trey Freeman averages about 18 points a game and has a sweet pull up jump-shot.  Aaron Bacote is another guy who can create his own shot at will.  Look for the headband.  Richard Ross is a Dwight Howard look-alike.  The red shirt senior had 40 blocks on the season at the 22 game mark.  His stats actually are less impressive than his play according to the eye test.  You’ll see that his frame and position in the paint alters more shots than what can translate in the stat sheet. In the game against LA Tech, ODU got NBA jam hot from three-point land.  They hit 7 of 18, LA Tech struggled by draining only 3 of 20.

Strength:  One of the nation’s best scorer’s in Joe Young
Weakness:  Scoring from roll players
I think that Oregon has overachieved this season, after losing players to both shenanogans and injuries.  The one constant has been Joseph Young, who can score from everywhere.  He is reminiscent of Oregon Duck alum’s Tajuan Porter and Aaron Brooks.  Conversely, I don’t like waiting for a second and third scorer to step up.  Fellow back-court mate Jalil Abdul-Bassit failed to score in the Pac 12 Championship game.  The Oregon Ducks like playing an up-tempo game, but if their role players are consumed with overcompensating for a lack of height at the rim, it could be a long night of eventually fatigued basketball.  I think the X Factor for this team is generally Elgin Cook.  Like Dustin Hogue for Iowa State, when he scores on 6-10 possessions, Oregon is tough to beat.

Oregon State
Strength: Guard play
Weakness: Depth
With this team, the headline is always about Gary Payton Jr.  I think the sub-headline should be about the Beaver’s terrific home court advantage.  They beat Arizona by two points at the Gill Coliseum.  In a season following UCLA losing three players to the 1st Round of the NBA Draft and the Washington Huskies losing Robert Upshaw for the year, this could be an opportunity for Oregon State to sneak in.  The Beavers play a type of matchup zone where they swarm the post.  Active hands lead to a lot of turnovers.  The Beavers only have seven scholarship athletes.

Strength:  The threat of Hammons and Haas playing together
Weakness:  A true “high-low game”
Apparently NBA prospect A.J. Hammons is okay with being the Boilermakers 6th man.  At least, that’s what Purdue’s S.I.D. would have you believe.  In fact, that role was sponsored in the “Motel 6th Man of the Game” during his 7th consecutive appearance off of the bench against Wisconsin.  Purdue is going to crush some team that sneaks into the NCAA Tournament if that team lacks any sort of size.  I actually believe that Purdue’s coach is withholding this Ace in in the pocket.  He will wait until the NCAA Tournament to play Haas and Hammons together and totally overwhelm any other 8, 9, 10, 11 or 5 seed.  Hell, Purdue could be a 12 seed.  Bottom line, if they sneak in, watch out. For tonight, the night that I’m writing this, the Purdue Bolermakers missed an opportunity to win.  They had Wisconsin on the ropes in their house.  However, I couldn’t name for you the Purdue point guard.  That’s a lie.  He’s not Megatron, but his name is Jon Octeus (Prime). I feel Octeus can help the Boilemakers take that next step if he rotates away from the post-feed to find himself some open jump shots and knock them down.

Providence Strength: Scorers with upside Weakness: Defense at the rim Senior LaDontae Henton epitomizes what the Friars dynamic is, and I’m sure many underclassmen on the team will grow to become.  By NBA standards, he is a summer league try-out at shooting guard.  By NCAA standards, he is a guy who can drop 35 points in a game and change the complexion of it.  Tyler Harris (brother of Orlando Magic’s Tobias Harris) and Kris Dunn (McDonald’s All-American and former Connecticut Mr. Basketball) are similar minded-guys on offense.  They can score when the play breaks down and the team needs a bucket.  However, I feel like they really miss a Rick Mahorn-type in Kaem Batts down low.  In the 2013-14 campaign, Batts really gave the Friars an edge in the toughness department.  He grabbed rebounds and guarded some post options to help propel Providence into the NCAA Tournament (and Big East Crown).  Providence can cut into a deficit quickly with all of its athletic scorers.  I just don’t know that they can out-defend you at the game’s end.

Robert Morris Strength:  Good on-ball defensive tenacity Weakness:  Defensive rebounding Robert Morris allowed St. Francis to score16 second-chance points in the first half alone in the NEC conference championship game.  Not surprisingly, neither team was extremely tall, so it came down to hustle plays.  Robert Morris has three 2nd team all-NEC players, all of whom are prototypical Tri-State ballers.  Lucky Jones, Rodney Pryor and Marquiese Reed are all between 6’3″ to 6’6″, handle the ball and can shoot.  They’ll also attack the glass for a board and get in their players gym shorts on defense.  Robert Morris hit a very appropriate 8 of 16 from the 3PT line.  I liked seeing the judgement in which they shot the three-point shot.  Despite being down 6 at halftime, there was no panic.  In fact, St. Francis was down to Robert Morris by 4 points with 18 seconds remaining.  Brooklyn hit a three to cut it to one point.  Robert Morris made two free throws, then made the most mortal of sins by fouling a three pointer shooter.  Despite the lapse, Robert Morris escaped with a 66-63 victory.

Rhode Island Strength:  E.C. Matthews on offense Weakness: Sharing the ball Although Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell are blossoming late in the season, Rhode Island at times appears to be a one trick pony.  E.C. Matthews averages five points more than the second leading scorer on the team.  The Rams are also outside of the top 200 teams nationwide in teams of sharing the ball (assists).  In watching the early season game against KU, I just didn’t see where Rhode Island would get the offensive punch.

St John’s Strength: Dribble penetration Weakness: Depth Even if St. John’s has the depth, coach Lavin has yet to use it.  In the Syracuse game, for example, the lineup of Obekpa, Green IV, Harrison, Pointer and Jordan logged 178 minutes total.  When Rysheed Jordan left the team for “personal and family reasons,” the Johnnies lost a second straight game during the pivotal transition to conference play.

Saint Mary’s Strength: Transition offense Weakness: Point guards at times fall in love with the jumpshot Brad Waldo and the St. Marys Gaels can run the floor well. They have a couple of very wiry forwards who can rebound and defend well. They are not as soft as I originally thought.  I watched BYU and St. Mary’s in mid-January.  It was one of the toughest battles I’ve seen this season.  What center Brad Waldo might lack in eye-candy athleticism he makes up for with great hands.  A strength of St. Mary’s basketball team is its transition offense because, in part, Brad Waldo can catch and finish.  While analyzing Saint Mary’s game versus BYU, they were ranked 14th in the nation in team assists.  That said, one of its guards, Kerry Carter, averages below 2 assists per game.  He joined the Gaels as a high-scoring junior college transfer.  Saint Mary’s is also an experienced team.  Its forwards Garrett Jackson, Desmond Simmons and Emmett Naar average a solid 18 points and 10 rebounds combined.  Enough of the stats, however.  My eye test tells me that this is the type of team that can call on between 4-6 heroes in any given game.  Garrett Jackson was that guy in the BYU game.  He grabbed 9 rebounds and scored 20 points on 70% shooting.  Saint Mary’s aggressiveness on the glass made the difference.

San Diego St. Strength:  Double-teaming the post on defense Weakness: Tendency for scoring droughts Arizona transfer Angelo Chol joins the Aztecs to join a team that lost great PF Josh Davis.  He adds some general toughness in the paint, but cannot be relied on as a go-to scorer.  Dwyane Polee and Skylar Spencer need to be effective on the offensive end for San Diego St. to continue its momentum.  I especially feel like this team goes as junior forward Winston Shepard goes.  Shepard averages 10 points per game 10 games into the season.  I feel, and it appears that he feels, he can be a 15 point per game guy.  JJ O’Brien is also the All-American of glue guys on this team (and has been for years).  San Diego State is like Virginia when it comes to its defense.  An eight point lead for them is equal to an 18 point lead for some other teams.  San Diego State and Utah played 25 minutes and produced a score of just 24-20.  Another one of the Aztecs defensive accomplishments include double-teaming Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. and beating a hot Cowboys team in Laramie.

Strength:  Coach Larry Brown, pro-style attack
Weakness:  Guarding the three point line
I witnessed the Mustangs give Indiana some (literally) wide open looks which led to a first half where the Hoosiers shot 7-16 from the 3-pt stripe.  I saw them later in the year, after losing Keith Frazier, and Nic Moore and the crew looked in control.  They beat Tulsa handily in a game in Oklahoma.  Despite the players SMU lost, they still have a lot of athleticism.

Stephen F Austin
Strength: Sharing the ball
Weakness: No rim protection
SF Austin has little rim protection (bottom third in blocked shots in its own conference).  However, there are so many good things to say about this team.  They lead the country with more than 17 team assists per game.  They look more athletic than the team that beat VCU in last year’s tournament.  10 players get minutes.  SF Austin did not have any big quality wins, losing in convincing fashion to Baylor and other.  I would imagine this unit has retooled and improved over the course of the season since some of those non-con losses, because they looked well-connected in the Southland Championship.  SF Austin reminds me a lot of Davidson in the way they share the ball but allow some easy baskets at the rim.I’m concerned about Bobby King’s injury.  He is one of the most athletic players in a more athletic bunch.

Stony Brook
Strength: Transition offense
Weakness: Amount of team assists
You might have to go back to Vin Baker in 1993 for the last American East big man to play in the NBA.  Stony Brook is scary because of Jameel Warney.  He will be the newest American East player to get an audition in the NBA.  The 6’8″ junior can not only operate in the post, but plays terrific defense.  He plays taller than 6’8.”  A ton of blocked shots might not pop up in every box score, thought he averages 2.5.  But Warney affects more shots than he blocks.  Stony Brook’s biggest advantage is also its weakness at times.  The Seawolves can sometimes be a two-man band.  Worney and point guard Carson Purlefoy occupy a large majority of the offensive touches.  Purlefoy is a score-first player by nature but puts in work trying to orchestrate an offense.  Defenses shouldn’t let their guards down at the end of a shot clock with the ball in his hands.  He’s also a master in transition.

Syracuse Strength:  Upside of underclassmen Weakness:  Point guard Kaleb Joseph forced into leading role Syracuse  has a ton of athletes under a class athletes such as Chris McCullough from New York City. Surprisingly, Syracuse lacks that quintessential big post defender.  Normally coach Jim Boeheim has an anchor of that defense of zone. I’m thinking of Hakeem Warrick, Etan Thomas, Craig Forth, Fab Melo, Baye Moussa Keita and others.  Hwever, against LA Tech, simple screens were not being fought through, mostly because of size and fight. In the end, Trevor Cooney did what upperclassmen do at home in this game:  he will the Orange to victory with 25 points.

Strength: Size
Weakness: Bad three-pointers taken
When you can out-muscle a team like Kansas and beat the Big 12 power by more than 20 points, you know you have some strength.  Temple is one of the best teams to consistently sit outside of the top 25.  They pass the eye test when it comes to defensive bodies in the paint.  Will Cummings, a senior point guard, is a Bob Cousy finalist for one of the best leaders at the position nationally.  As Mike Patrick said during a late season telecast versus SMU, “They have a lot of guys who don’t shoot the ball well from behind the three-point line, but are more than willing to do so.”  This team won 7 straight games late in the season and still is not ranked.  In the words of Rodney Dangerfield: “No respect!”  By the way, Patrick also commented how confidently they played in Dallas.  Additionally, Coach Bob Knight even gave them credit for working hard to get back on defense.  Not easy to impress!

Texas Strength: Leads the nation in blocks Weakness: Shot-happy point guards In a late season game down in Norman, Oklahoma, the Longhorns showed why they still have final four potential.  Freshman Miles Turner guarded veteran big man TaShawn Taylor down low.  This just illustrates the embarrassment of riches the Longhorns have as far as players with length.  They have five players 6’9″ or taller and most built like Houston Texans linemen.  For example, Turner is reportedly being pushed around in practice by ineligible Maryland transfer Shaquille Clear (6′ 8″ 290 lbs.).  Still, Turner will be a lottery pick this spring in the NBA draft and I think could take a few tournament games over.  I write with mixed feelings that Texas’s point guard play is a liability.  Isiah Taylor is a score-first mentality player.  If Rick Barnes, a coach who gets criticized all the time as a recruiter over a teacher, can motivate Taylor to better distribute, I think this team can win a championship.  That said, Texas lost by only 6 points down in Kentucky this season without Taylor (hand injury).  If Texas had Taylor, they could have won that game.  I like to see point guard Kendal Yancey get more run at point guard with backup Javan Felix playing point as needed.

Texas Southern
Strength: Redemption
Weakness: Size
I’ll keep this short and sweet.  Texas Southern doesn’t pass my eye test.  I know they beat Michigan State and Kansas State, but I’m not buying their stock.  Coach Mike Davis does an excellent job in giving volatile players a final opportunity to play college basketball and to play in meaningful games.  I just didn’t like how they struggled to score against the Southern team in the SWAC Final.  I’m not on that bandwagon.  Because of sanctions, Southern couldn’t have entered the Big Dance even if they had won.  Still, Texas Southern got looks at the rim with penetration I don’t believe they’ll get anything close to in the tournament.  As for those quality wins, K-State was a train-wreck this year and Michigan State had growing pains of its own.  Everyone is hungry to find the next #15 team to beat a #2, but it won’t be Texas Southern.

Strength:  Distribution of the wealth on offense
Weakness:  Interior defense Tulsa was a smaller team when Danny Manning coached them to an NCAA tournament last year.  That size remains as Frank Haith takes over.  The good news is that Tulsa spreads the ball on offense and has a lot of guys who can score.  The bad news is that when you need to get a defensive stop, Tulsa has issues down low.  They do, however, rebound the ball very well on defense.

Strength:  Bulldog baskets
Weakness: Transition defense
UAB has some players who like to catch the ball at the free throw line, bang with a back to the basket, and score on a hook shot or floater.  UNC killed the Blazers earlier this season in transition baskets and also back door screens from the high elbow opposite of the ball.  I take into consideration that they won the Conference USA on their home court.  I would have much rather see LA Tech or Old Dominion win that tournament and compete in the Big Dance.  Alas, they’ll probably be over-seeded as an 11-13.  They’re athletic, but not dynamic.  I don’t love the Blazers.

UC Irvine
Strength: Size
Weakness:  Guarding the three point line
Mamadou Ndiaye is the biggest man in college basketball.  He has some foot issues and it’s evident he has trouble getting up and down the floor in a fast paced game.  That said, he had a top ten play block against Hawaii in the Big West Championship game.  Ndiaye scores well of course because of his size, but he also has decent touch for a giant.  I also like UC Irvine’s team surrounding Ndiaye.  There are other big men to spell him.  Irvine’s unit with Ndiaye on the bench represented itself well. Will Davis II is a good looking 6′ 7″ senior who leads the team in scoring.  I’m putting down guarding the perimeter as the weakness.  Hawaii stretched the floor and got out to a 17-7 lead immediately on IC Irvine with their 4 guard lineup.  If UC Irvine wins a 14-3, 15-2 matchup, it will be no surprise.  UC Irvine won six straight to finish January.  It also beat fellow-bubble tournament team Green Bay in a non-conference championship game in Las Vegas.

Strength:  Athleticism in the open floor
Weakness:  Defense UCLA ranked 80th something overall in the nation in points scored, but outside of the top 200 in field goal percentage.  What does that tell you?  It tells me that they play little defense, play an up-tempo game and take a lot of three-point shots.  This UCLA team also reminds me of many others.  When you say “UCLA basketball,” names come to mind.  Last year it was Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams drafted round one of the NBA.  Two years ago it was Shabazz Muhammad’s team, but other guys don’t come to mind.  This year names like Kevon Looney, Norman Powell and Tony Parker jump off the page.  But can this team play as a team?  My eye test tells me there’s too much street basketball, one-on-one type of stuff for them to excel.  Bryce Alford is an awesome point guard, not just a coach’s son, but he seems to be the only one committed to running an offense.

Strength:  Ball-handling against pressure
Weakness:  Very raw post players UCONN has a good problem to have, in my opinion.  Coach Kevin Ollie has an abundance of talent to play at any given time.  This could test the morale of those players who don’t get 15+ minutes per game.  I watched the young Huskies battle out the first conference game of the season against Temple.  Ryan Boatright left the game just before halftime with a thigh bruise.  Rodney Purvis, Terrance Samuel, and Sam Cassell Jr. immediately picked up the slack for point guard responsibilities.  Daniel Hamilton is a skilled 6’7” swing man who can grab a rebound and launch right into transition.  Center Foreign players Amida Brimah and Kentah Facey (Ghana and Jamaica respectively) continue to develop a very raw skill set with basketball still being relatively new to them.  Like last year’s campaign, this is a young team that could gel at the end of the season when it counts.  As for that Temple game, UCONN embarked on a character-building comeback to force overtime against the veteran Owls.  Temple ended up winning.  However, don’t pass or fail the Huskies on the eye test just yet.  Wait til late February and see what the injury and leadership dynamic looks like.

Strength:  Athletic, play hard and press well
Weakness:  Inconsistent guard play
Trey Davis and Derrick Gordon handled the point guard responsibilities in a game against Dayton that I watched.  They had played well but the broadcasters repeatedly mentioned how they’d struggled of late.  Maxie Escho is one of the most athletic guys in the A-10 and reminds me of a college version of Shawn Marion.  Cady Lalanne is a big man who can run the floor and defend.  He struggles against a double-team.  Lalanne is not a go-to post option per se, but a lot of Minutemen possessions are treated as such.  Still, at 21 games in to the season, I felt UMASS is much better than its record indicated (flirting with .500 at that juncture).

UNC Greensboro
Strength: Three point shooting
Weakness: Depth
Yes, I am scouting even UNC Greensboro.  I watched them play Indiana.  They had onlly seven players dressed for multiple reasons.  Despite that and their 1-4 record, they challenged in Bloomington.  UNCGB confused Indiana with its zone defense.  They also came back from a 20 point deficit to cut it to eight points before losing.  R.J. White is a big man, with an emphasis on girth. Christian Wood at point courtesy college basektball eye test dot comUNLV Strength:  Forwards who can stretch the defense Weakness:  Free throw shooting I saw UNLV play in-person at Allen Fieldhouse.  This struck me as a team that has two or three pro players, but struggled to run a college offense.  UNLV’s point guard was overwhelmed with the size of KU’s guards and had trouble feeding the post.  Christain Wood, the centerpiece sophomore of this young bunch, averages more than 15 points and 9 rebounds per game.  At times he seemed unable to establish a post game.  He also wasn’t given opportunities to create his own shot from the perimeter.  The Running Rebels jacked up some threes to make the game look closer than it appeared, but they truly got beat more than the 76-61 final score reflects. Utah pick and roll courtesy collegebasketballeyetest-com

Strength: Point guard play
Weakness: Transition defense
Utah point guard Delon Wright is the real deal.  He is a scoring point guard who can create open jump shots with his penetration.  You’ll hear plenty about him–I’m sure you already have.  However, don’t wait for the Jakob Poeltl train to come rolling into the station.  The Running Utes don’t plan on getting on board his low-post scoring anytime soon.  For now, he is collecting put-back baskets.  As the “Running Utes” nickname would suggest, Utah is just not the team to slow the game down and let its big dog eat. P.S. Junior forward Jordan Loveridge re-joined the team just before conference play began:

Strength:  Resiliency
Weakness: Offensive rebounding
I write this while shaking my head, because I truly wanted to see Keifer Sykes in the NCAA Tournament.  But Valpo beat Green Bay in an energetic comeback on its homecourt to capture the Horizon Championship.  Valpo put taller players on Sykes, an Allen Iverson-like scorer for Green Bay.  The pressure bothered Green Bay and Valparaiso was able to score in transition.  The Crusaders are known as a 3PT shooting team, but actually only drain about 38% of their threes.  That ranks outside of the top 40.  Vashil Fernandez is a special defender who, at 6′ 9″, can handle a team’s top scorer.   Ball denials and larger defenders frustrated the Phoenix late.  I have to put “resiliency” as the strength for Valpo, after overcoming a 6 point halftime deficit to then outscore Green Bay by 16 in the second half.  Offensive rebounding is a weakness, as they grabbed just 6 and 7 in a Missouri loss earlier this year and championship game against Green Bay (respectively).

Strength: Full court pressure
Weakness:  Susceptible to easy transition baskets
VCU’s Havoc defense is like lining up nine guys in the box on defense in football down three points at the two minute warning.  Yes, most likely you’ll stop the run.  But, if the offense lobs the ball up, you could also get beat on a home run.  Enough sports analogies mixed in there?  Okay, let’s get back to basketball then.  VCU’s offense is finding itself after the loss of Briante Weber and settling in of Travean Graham.  Guys like JeQuan Lewis, Jordan Burgess and Jonathan Williams are answering the call by being more aggressive on offense.  Melvin Johnson is knocking down threes and stretching defenses.  Mo Ali-Cox is defending the rim.  I can’t overstate how large of a win the game at George Washington on Valentine’s Day was.  The Rams not only stopped the bleeding (avoiding its first 3 game losing streak in a decade), but they showed a blueprint for how to avenge Weber’s loss deep into March.

Strength: Physicality
Weakness:  Defending the high-ball screen
Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston joins Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma St.) on the all-forgotten team.  They have been playing so long, flirting with NBA candidacy for so long, that their actual consistency and gradual progress is overlooked.  In fact, that is how I feel about a couple of Villanova players. Daniel Ochefu has blossomed from a very raw bully inside into a feed-the-post scoring option.  Coach Jay Wright is always known for stretching the defense.  This Wildcats team does that as well as any past generation.  Villanova’s guards and wings are terrific at giving a shot fake.  I think they’d be so much better if they could knock down a mid-range jump shot consistently.  Oftentimes if the shots aren’t falling from three, and they’re not getting to the rim (or free throw line), you’ll notice Villanova is suddenly in a tight game.  For example, they took ten more three pointers (10-23) than St. John’s did to beat the Red Storm by 18 points.  In the Big East Championship game against Xavier, I like how Villanova extended its defense past the half-court line to double team Dee Davis (point guard) full court.  It was just another nice adjustment by Jay Wright to disrupt what Xavier does.

Strength:  Athleticism that can win over neutral crowd
Weakness:  Strength in the post
I love the Cowboys.  Let me say that up front.  I saw Wyoming beat Colorado in an early season contest.  They did it in convincing fashion.  I also saw the Cowboys get beat by San Diego State because the Aztecs double-teamed Larry Nance Jr. and the Cowboys had little answers.  Wyoming is one of the worst rebounding teams among all of the power conference teams in the country.  However, they shoot lights out.  Despite the loss, they shot 92% from the free throw line against San Diego State.  The Cowboys have also consistently ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage during the season.  What my eye test tells me, is that point guard Josh Adams makes the Cowboys compete in the wild west.  Adams creates for guys like Hankerson, Jr. and Cooke Jr., who have great athleticism to finish a play.  Wyoming’s other strength is that multiple guys can create shots for themselves.  If you find a resource that records how many dunks each team has on the season, please let me know.  Until then, I’ll claim that the Wyoming Cowboys have more dunks this season than any other NCAA squad.  In the Mountain West Championship game, the Cowboys really endured the San Diego State Aztecs putting the clamp down on defense for an entire game.  Nance was red hot from the start.  He hit two threes in the first sequence and was solid on defense.  The Cowboys held tough, hitting two free throws to seal it.  Do not look at the 180+ RPI (or whatever number) and underestimate this team!

Strength: Head Coach Chris Mack
Weakness:  Vulnerable to slow starts
I watched Xavier lose to Butler then really struggle out of the gates in the following game against Villanova.  The Musketeers really lack size at a lot of positions.  Xavier struggles on ball-screen defense at times.  Xavier’s center, senior Matt Stainbrook, probably brings the most stability to the team.  He passes very well out of the post and has some traditional back-to-the-basket game.  Look for the goggles.  (They are Eye Test-approved).  Point guard Dee Davis can get beat by bigger, aggressive, scoring point guards.  But Davis can run an offense!  Xavier will also make you work on your transition defense.  J.P. Macura is a young linguini who can get the net wet when left open.  Let’s do this:  call the Jalen Reynolds the all-America “X” Factor.  Check his stats and status before Xavier enters its respective postseason tournament.  He could be a guy who takes the next step and scores the double digits consistently.  

Eye Test Tuesday: Against the Spread Season Record

I pick five teams every Saturday morning based on odds published by the Vegas Insider.  I look for college basketball odds from Vegas that look wrong.  For example, it seemed odd that Green Bay was a 9 point underdog recently to Miami.  Green Bay beat the Hurricanes outright.  That’s one of my seven wins so far this season.  My 7-3 record is authenticated by the tweets I send pregame.

Check out my future picks on Twitter by using the hashtag #SuspectSpreadsSaturday.  I clearly write what teams you should take and what the point spread is.  This past weekend I registed a 4-1 record against the spread.  Again, the personal highlight included an underdog in Xavier (+3.5) that won the game outright in Columbia, Missouri.
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Eye Test Tuesday: On the fence

College basketball’s bubble is like a stick of bubble gum itself.  Right now the flavor of every team is bursting with freshness.  The out-of-conference match-ups allow us to get a true taste for each team.  Two months from now we will be chewing on that same piece, working it over trying to find something new about the teams.  There will be injuries, mental fatigue and, by the way, these kids actually have school to attend.

The first team that strikes me with that type of early season clarity is Clemson.  Sure, they’re a young bunch that will lose games to the Gardner Webb’s of the world, but could be dangerous as they mature later this season.  The athleticism is what passes the eye test.  I find it ironic that AP voters kept LSU and Arkansas from the top 25, in part, because they lost to Clemson.  However, Clemson is young, extremely athletic, and the type of team that steals a seed in early March because it reaches the ACC Championship game.  We’ve seen that script play out before in the past.  The program has a lot of momentum.  They’ll build a new arena next year.  Coach Brad Brownell signed a six-year extension in May.  Yes, they lost dynamic scorer K.J. McDaniels to the Philadelphia 76ers.  However, they add 6’8” freshman Donte Grantham (video embedded below).    They also retained a senior point guard in Rod Hall who led them to the final four of last year’s NIT.

Congratulations to Northern Iowa for entering the AP Top 25.  The two players I like on this team are seniors Seth Tuttle and Marvin Singleton.  Both have size and are tough under the basket.  In Northern Iowa’s impressive win at Stephen F. Austin, Jeff Van Gundy called Tuttle a “draft-able as a big man.”  But, to better understand what’s going on with this team, I go directly to the source.  Here is highlights posted by the UNI Men’s Basketball team’s YouTube channel of its third win of the season (the Panthers are now 8-0).

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And one of my 5 preseason underdog teams, St. John’s, continues to roll.  The Johnnies one upstate in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse.  That’s an impressive win any year.  But my one concern would be the amount of minutes played by the same core group of 5 guys.  Steve Lavin has the exact opposite of John Calipari’s “platoon” system.  Lavin’s combination of Obekpa, Green IV, Harrison, Pointer and Jordan are on the floor together for a majority of these games.  For example, during the Minnesota game, the unit logged 176 total minutes.  Against Syracuse they played 178 combined.

Speaking of Minnesota, watch out now for Mo Walker.  On the heels of learning that fellow Gophers big Josh Martin is leaving immediately, Walker put up a career high 22 points on 9-11 shooting.  Walker has reportedly lost 70 pounds since Richard Pitino took over at Minnesota.  With Martin leaving and Daquein McNeil suspended on charged he assaulted his girlfriend, the Gophers are in need of someone stepping up.

Across the Big 10 landscape, a pair of twin towers will challenge the size of the Twin Cities.  Purdue’s freshman Tyler Haas is bringing some infectious energy to the Boilermakers.  Last season, Purdue center A.J. Hammonds looked sleepy, despite being a sure-fire NBA prospect.  Now word is that he and Haas have made a solid friendship through battling each other at practice.  It is evident in watching the games, that the chemistry between these two is strong.  When one scores before a time out, the other jumps off the bench to mug his teammate.  In their dominant performance against N.C. State, Haas and Hammonds took turns jumping on each others back before shaking hands with the Wolfpack.  Don’t ask me how the Boilermakers lost to the North Florida Osprey’s, I didn’t see the game.

The teams I believe do not belong in the AP Top 25 are as follows:  Notre Dame, Washington, Miami and Maryland.  I’d replace them with LSU, Purdue, Green Bay and Arkansas.  Baylor is a tempting pick, especially because the Bears are 7-1 despite losing Kenny Chery to injury the last four games.  However, I give Arkansas the slight edge because of my previous argument about Clemson.  Texas also had an impressive showing this week in Kentucky without one of their best guards, Isaiah Taylor.  In closing, I recommend watching these out-of-conference games while you can, fellow hoops fans.  Make a judgement on these teams now before the grind of conference play lands your opinion squarely on the fence.

Eye Test Tuesday: Turbulence

College basketball enthusiasts like myself are still eating.  After the Thanksgiving serving of holiday tournaments, our DVRs are full of games left to digest.  I employ anyone like myself to also check out ESPN3’s replay function, where a ton of under top 25 games are available to watch.  Take, for example, a classic matchup in Massachusetts vs. Harvard recently.  Although these teams are quote unquote “Bay State rivals,” it was the first time since the early eighties that the Minutemen visited Harvard’s gym.  Harvard’s leader, Wesley Saunders, made a clutch basket and a few key free throws to win the game.  Because I pride myself on watching these games, this is the type of situational basketball I love to SEE.  Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker got the ball in his leader’s hands at the end of the game.

But, unfortunately, this blog cannot be dedicated to raving about every basketball team in the land.  I have to be critical at some point, because on the first Thursday and Friday we’ll all be eliminating 32 teams in our bracket.  The teams that did not get the ball to their big weapons late in games are two giants in our game:  North Carolina and Michigan State.

UNC lost to Butler in Atlantis during a holiday tournament.  Normally we would chalk this up to “Butler being Butler,” but I’m going to throw a flag on this upset specifically.  If recent history has taught us anything about the anatomy of an upset, it’s that some basketball teams do not respond well early in the day.  Just like the “Eye Test Tuesday” tradition itself, basketball players like getting into a rhythm and act as creatures of habit.  However, March Madness is all about cracking that habit.  A huge upset that comes to mind is  when 10-seeded St. Mary’s defeated 2-seeded Villanova in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.  At the time, Jay Wright’s bunch led by point guard Scottie Reynolds was a vogue pick to make the Final Four.  But, this game was played at one o’clock eastern time and, if you remember being in college, that might as well be 8 a.m.  The sand trap of the first slate of games captured the Wildcats.  Going back to this UNC loss, they struggled to find their identity.  Although big man Kennedy Meeks averages almost 14 points on the season, he struggled to score just 7 in this one (a season low).

The same was true in Michigan State’s mind-boggling offense against Kansas late in the Orlando Classic Championship game.  Folks back in Flint, Michigan could hear Dick Vitale hollering for the Spartans to feed Brandon Dawson the ball late.  But they didn’t.  Kansas won a game which was, in reality, much closer than it should have been.  Travis Trice made a fast-break three pointer to make the score look closer than the play dictated.

Because I’m a basketball junkie, I like listing things in increments of five. Therefore, I’ll round out this Eye Test Tuesday with three more highly-ranked teams that I think are suspect.  I believe the Florida Gators have lost way too much in terms of veteran scoring to justify its 40 votes in the latest top 25 ranking.  Utah, although I listed them as a preseason darling, really disappointed when I watched them against San Diego St.  Delon Wright went 2-13 from the field, not scoring in the first half in that game.  It was an offensive dumpster fire and I personally don’t see how the loser of that ranked matchup can remain in the top 25 (currently 25th).  And, lastly, I really don’t believe Miami is the number 15 team in the nation.  Did it ever occur to you that Miami ranked 15th and Illinois ranked 24 could have something to do with their primetime matchup tonight on ESPN?  Maybe the match of these AP rankings and the primetime programming have some odd connection?  I am not convinced just because Miami beat Florida in some last minute heroics by Angel Rodriguez.  They 7-0 resume includes more cupcakes and back-to-back wins against Charlotte (the last in which they squeaked out a two point win).   These are the sort of gold glove-styled rankings.  By default, Miami earns a 15 ranking, plays Illinois which also falls into a 24 ranking, and these teams are grandfathered into the top 25 for weeks to come.  I encourage more AP voters to watch the tape on teams like Wyoming, Green Bay, St. John’s, Georgetown and, yes, vote with your eyes.

In closing, I’d like to specify that all of these teams have incredible kids that make the game so fun to watch.  Even though I write about so-called flaws to the UNC and Michigan State’s of the world, I do so knowing how high these programs have raised the bar over the decades.  Kennedy Meeks would beat me and two of my clones 11-0 in one-one-one.  I am merely parsing out the cream of the crop as I try to brainstorm months in advance what the bracket could look like.  Enjoy the games everyone!