Eye Test Analysis for Every Tourney Team

Bradley 
Bradley beat the 7 seed in its conference to win the Missouri Valley Championship.  While its win against Valpairaso was impressive, you could see the 7 seed ran out of gas in its third game in 3 days.  Bradley senior Darrell Brown is the perfect point guard to run circles around you if you are on your heels.  And junior forward Elijah Childs is a prolific finisher and ambidextrous.  I just question if some of the athleticism they put on display during Arch Madness would look as impressive against a March Madness opponent.

East Tennessee State 
Returning only 1 of 5 starters from last season, head coach Steve Forbes deserves all the credit in the world for returning ETSU to March Madness after a one year hiatus.  Many people expected ETSU to be in the tourney in 2019.  This version of the Buccaneers plays similarly to the other dangerous squads Forbes has overseen.  They stretch the floor both by the perimeter and by the way of how they can penetrate.  The Bucs shot 42% from 3PT to polish off Wofford in its championship game.  But, when you watched, they also gave up some decent looks for Wofford around their perimeter.  Luckily, Wofford only hit 6 of 25.  The Bucs also lost the turnover battle, being victim to dig outs and surrendering 13.  This is a team of runs.  In its champ week win against Wofford, it came out hot leading 11-2, then got tied around half, before building a 5 or 6 possession lead early in the second half.  In its most high profile game of the season, it suffered a 5:12 minute scoring drought against LSU in the first half.  Then the Bucs went nuts.  They finished the first half on a 16-7 run and built a 21 point cushion in the second half.  (Editor’s note:  LSU has been known to have defensive lapses from the perimeter itself this season).  The Bucs are a team that can blow a high major team out of the gym.  It’s also a team that can suffer from its streakiness.  In its last lost, it jacked up 22 threes against Mercer, only hitting three in an otherwise close game (also shot 44% from FT).  Buckle up for the Bucs, it will be interesting either way.  Their pace of play won’t register high on analytics, in part because of its sound defensive metrics, but it can get hot and excite a neutral crowd.

Hofstra
For a second consecutive year, Hofstra held conference rival Northeastern’s (7th ranked in the nation) scorer Jordan Roland to 11 points in the title game.  So there’s that.  Hofstra plays like a street ball team.  When someone gets hot, they ride the hot hand.  They play four guards most of the time, and do thrive on one-on-one creation for shots.  The Hofstra Pride can also get creative in the transition game.  But heaven help Hofstra if Isaac Kante gets into foul trouble.  The 6’7″ junior serves as their lone big man for the most part.

Liberty
You will hear between now and the Thursday of March Madness dozens of times that Liberty beat Mississippi State last year as the 12 seed versus a 5 matchup.  That Liberty team lost to a very good Virginia Tech squad.  This year’s Liberty team is better.  Caleb Homesley is a red-shirt senior who looks like the Atlantic Sun version of Tracy McGrady.  He never looks like he is in a rush, but when he accelerates, it’s normally to finish with ease.  Power forward Scottie James is an enforcer, Darius McGhee is a high jumper at point guard, and Elijah Cuffee is a shooting guard adding scoring contributions at the right time.  This team looks like the 2005-2006 George Mason team.  There will be a few of us that believe that, as an 11 or 12 seed, that this team could make a Final Four run.  But those who do believe may be rewarded.

Caleb Homesley courtesy Liberty Mens Basketball

Photo courtesy: Liberty Flames Men’s Basketball/Twitter

Northern Kentucky
Jalen Tate is the straw that stirs the drink for the Norse.  He may qualify as their third guard, but he plays like a forward in the way he can get into the paint (then operate).  Northern Kentucky, and its three guards, love to shoot the three.  What they lack in efficiency, they make up for in shot attempts.  Conversely, they have shown some defensive lapses in both guarding the three point line and defending deep post position.  This is a team that can probably get embarrassed by a bigger team, but could also upset a smaller at-large if the Norse get hot from deep.  ‘

Robert Morris
It’s tough to balance the judgement of Robert Morris after an electric, athletic, energy-filled creciendo of their season with an emphatic conference championship win at home against St. Francis PA.  The Colonials share the ball really well.  It’s ironic they have two brothers from Akron on the squad, given the brotherly sharing.  Robert Morris runs a lot of down screens around the elbow and free throw line, getting action and open shots on the perimeter.  They shoot 36% from three, which is top 50 (43rd) in the country.  Junior AJ Bramah is a double-double waiting to happen.  He crashes the boards for a threat on the offensive glass.  This team does not look like a 16 seed.

Utah State
Utah State is a team that looked like it leaped over a hurdle in its win against San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament.  Big man Neemias Queta, who missed the first month of the season, was too much for the Aztecs to handle in the closing stanza of this game.  And that’s really what the tournament is about.  Teams take their advantage and ram it down your throat.  Utah State has no shortage of heady perimeter players.  Queta is the perfect compliment and the key to a deep run.  23-year-old senior guard Sam Merrill played all 40 minutes, dropped 27 points, and hit the game winning three.  And its was the presence of Queta that kept the Aztecs on its heels.  This experience on the perimeter and high low combo could make Utah State very dangerous.

Winthrop
The best thing I can say about the Winthrop Eagles is that they can take a punch.  Hampton had them down 22-9 in their house after one quarter of play in the Big South Championship game.  D.J. Burns is a big with girth and left-handed banger who can produce in a traditional post game.  But, at 6’9″, will that size translate on a national stage in the Big Dance?  Winthrop’s top scorer is another left-handed shooter, combo guard Hunter Hale.

 

 

 

Feast Week Eye Test Recap

Feast Week Meaning for College Basketball

College basketball’s “feast week” features special out-of-conference match-ups.  There are a few factors that make these pairings special.  For one, similar to the college basketball tournament itself, these holiday tournaments represent a cross-section of conferences big and small.  Another special factor is that games are played on a truly neutral floor.  This means that neither team has home court advantage.  This very rarely happens during the college basketball regular season.  In the case of Kansas playing in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, or Duke playing in New York’s Madison Square Garden, there are times that blue bloods are advertised as playing at a “neutral site,” but those places actually represent a hotbed of fan support for those respective programs.  Third, the championship games (and even third place consolation games) often serve as a defacto playoff game.  It may determine which teams survive the famed “bubble.”  Because of the reasons mentioned above, committee members will be looking back to November’s rare match-ups to decipher which team has a resume worthy of a tournament invite.  Lastly, there is the element of rawness to these tournaments.  You’ll see a lot of rosters loaded with new talent, but still without ironing the roles within their team.  That makes for an exciting watch!

Below are eye test analysis of games, a work-in-progress on 11/24

2K Empire Classic

The 2K Empire Classic’s invite list reads like a veiled excuse to have Georgetown battle Duke in a championship game.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Coach Patrick Ewing’s Hoya squad looked like a poised group.  Its guards went on the offensive in the first half, and Georgetown actually led by about 10 points early.  In the end, Duke’s talent (and therefore #1 national ranking at the time) took over.  However, Georgetown’s electric play under the bright lights should be noted.  Mainly, sophomore point guard James Akinjo accelerated for 19 points and 6 assists in 35 minutes of play.  He made the audacious move of wearing #3 as a Georgetown point guard…mildly acceptable.

Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament

The Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament featured a team no one is talking about.  Ironically, that team is the national champion.  Virginia returns more talent than it gets credit for.  Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite are names you’d recognize.  But fans should be excited about Jay Huff this season with long-time center Jack Salt graduated.  Huff brings more range and scoring pop.  Jay Huff had some big points in a pivitol stretch again Vermont.  This may be the marquee game worth taking a second look at come March 2020.

Battle for Atlantis

There are many layers of the onion to pull away here from the 2019 Battle for Atlantis.  Four teams in the top 13 came to paradise to see whose sand castle would stand up to the rocky waters of stiff competition.  UNC’s did not.

You watched as the Tarheels started the tournament with a sleepy performance against the inferior Alabama team.  They coughed up 20 turnovers and gave up a lot of easy baskets at the rim.  The 38% shooting percentage for Alabama won’t tell the story about some of the lackadaisical plays that UNC allowed.  Then they got crushed by Michigan.  Finally, they won against Oregon (a team exhausted by two heavyweight battles: Seton Hall and Gonzaga contests decided by a total of 3 points).

Now, for that Michigan win.  Wow.  We saw that this was a team with all the right pieces.  Jon Teske was awarded the tournament’s MVP as he shows a lot more skill down low than many people thought.  Zavier Simpson is a veteran point guard who can orchestrate and defend.  Isaiah Livers looks like a lot of Michigan wings of recent years.  He can go inside, he can float out and cause matchup issues.  It’s not easy to speed him up.  His game looks some like D.J. Wilson, his predecessor at SF/PF who now plays in the NBA.   Coach Juwan Howards looks really comfortable.  When the broadcasts show his moments in the timeout, he is loose and sharing the huddle with his fellow coaches and players.  He is a pro.  Howards has incredible credentials as a professional coach.  And, what better motivational speaker for a young Wolverine?  This team passes the eye test with flying colors. Battle for Atlantis bracket 2019 results courtesy Wikipedia

Next, you have Oregon and Gonzaga.  The two Northwest schools couldn’t be more different.  But they’re about equal.  Oregon PG Peyton Pritchard is as advertised.  Last year’s 16 Sixteen run he led was not a fluke.  He is one of college basketball’s best competitors.  And Dana Altman’s attitude of just making it work year-to-year with a motley crew of junior college transfers and highly touted recruits is incredible.  This guy knows how to cultivate a winning culture on a deadline.  On the flip side, Gonzaga has its renowned international basis and the versatility that comes with it.  That said, Serbian Filip Petresev looks to be what makes this team go.  This is going to sound crazy, but his game resembles a young Kevin Garnett.  He is long, lean, crafty, can shoot the midrange jumper, and has a mean streak.  Petresev thrives on the jump hook, and likes play with his back to the basket or off the offensive glass.  Watch his activity and compare it to a rookie Timberwolf.   All in all, both these Pacific Northwest teams could be playing in an Elite 8.  I put the odds in Oregon’s favor given their strength at point guard.  But the highlights of this game is worth a re-watch in early March as you’re prepping to fill that bracket.

Maui Invitational

Michigan State losing to Virginia Tech might be the headline of this entire week.  We saw glimpses that Michigan State might not be the no-doubter #1 seed as it struggled against Kentucky’s athleticism in the first game of the season.  And then Virginia Tech happened.  The V-Tech Hokies won wire-to-wire against Michigan State by swinging the ball all around the horn and daring to hit 3’s all night.  Spartans coach Tom Izzo sat Cassius Winston midway through the first half as he had 2 fouls.  That ended up biting them in the Sparty.  Winston committed his second foul at the 9:56 mark.  They trailed 17-18 at that point.  It looked like Virginia Tech seized all the momentum in the building for the next quarter, hitting two 3-pointers and taking a 32-28 lead into the locker-room.  Virginia Tech now gets the luxury of playing the rest of the season with house money, with a 6-0 record at a top 5 win on a neutral floor already on its resume.  If the Hokies played to a .500 record in the ACC, it would be hard to argue against them getting into the NCAA tournament.  As the broadcasters said on the telecast, this team was put together with 3 players having to reclassify in order to make a roster (after the offseason departure of coach Buzz Williams).  New coach Mike Young had made noise during his tenure at tiny Wofford.  In this “Maui Wowie,” he proved his cinderella story isn’t done being written yet.

Myrtle Beach Invitational

The championship game from the Myrtle Beach Invitational was HUGE.  The 17th ranked Villanova Wildcats took on the 24th ranked Baylor Bears.  When you do the math, you can see how the winner may be rewarded with a 3 or 4 seed in the Big Dance, and the loser a 5 or 6 seed, if things remain mostly equal going forward.  The winner was Baylor.  And it seemed that the Bears learned from their disappointing loss to the Washington Huskies in another early season yet gigantic non-conference opportunity.  Coach Scott Drew got more shooters into the game late and made defensive subs as needed.  The Bears actually made it look easy in the final four minutes against a very young Villanova bunch.

Hilton Magic Continues

The Cyclones saw a storm come through its arena Thursday night.

Jarrod Uthoff, the one-time Wisconsin Badger, had his national coming out party as he looked like Dirk Nowitzi in the first half.

Iowa led 49-35 at halftime and maintained as large as a 20 point lead.

The Cyclones would, however, generate the final storm.

College Basketball Eye Test reminded folks at halftime about this Iowa State team’s historic (tied for largest ever) comeback against Oklahoma last season at the Hilton Coliseum.

Uthoff scored just two points in the second half after a 30 point explosion in the first.  Iowa still shot 52% from the field, but Uthoff missed six shots.

A last-moment bucket by Monte Morris capped off an 83-82 comeback victory for Iowa State.  It was a feather-in-the-cap effort that proved Steve Prohm’s Cyclones squad can defend as well as “just outscore” its opponent.

 

“Cheick Please” Is Coined

Cheick Diallo was as advertised.  Against Loyolla in his collegiate premiere, Diallo seemed to play angry while still under control.  He played often with the 1’s in the first half.  His first bucket as  Jayhawk came on a dunk assisted by Wayne Seldon in the second half.

Matty D Media 1

While Cheick dominated the second half, suspended player Brannon Greene had the look of, “check please.”  This photo is not a troll-job, or a random “gotcha” moment.   This is how Brannon Greene’s posture looked the majority of the second half.  Click here to read the background, courtesy The Kansas City Star.

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Cheick did it.  He put on a show.  He played with fellow freshmen Carlton Bragg Jr. and Lagerald Vick as if he were the elder-statesman.  Tuesday night he motioned with one finger to the sky, like “throw that up to me.”  His teammates clearly responded by continuously looking for him in the post.  Cheick even put his palm to the back of his neck while taking off from just below the free throw line.  Enjoy.
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North Carolina Debrief

Kansas State is not very good.

Northern Iowa lost its National Player of the Year candidate, Seth Tuttle.

Yet, both teams made North Carolina look very pedestrian this past week.

As you know, Northern Iowa defeated North Carolina 71-67 while hosting them November 21st.  Senior point guard Marcus Paige watched from the sidelines in what was scheduled to be a homecoming in his native state.  However, his hand injury kept him out and his teammates failed to raise a hand to guard the 3-point line.

The Panthers shot 39.3% from behind the arc on 28 attempts.  To put that into perspective, Reggie Miller averaged 39.5% for his NBA career.

The Panthers trailed by 16 with 16 minutes left in the game.  They won by four points.   We’re learning that North Carolina is a team that can go on a run, but is also susceptible to those swings.

Marcus Paige is clearly a catalyst for the offense, but the Tar Heels defense is showing major deficiencies in this recent rut.

Two days before Thanksgiving, North Carolina again failed to guard the 3-point line.  A very inexperienced Kansas State squad shot lights out, especially in the first half, taking a 32-30 lead into the lockerroom.  The Wildcats finished the game shooting 50% from three-point-land (8-16).

In the game North Carolina’s guards contributed a total 7 assists to their combined 7 turnovers.  That’s not the type of production you’d want from a bench in a Sweet Sixteen game against Michigan State or UCONN, let alone K-State.

The Tar Heels rallied with a 14-1 run on 2:59 game-time to avoid a bad loss in front of a boisterous Kansas City crowd.

If Roy Williams wants his bunch poised for the Final Four, it’s going to take more than just getting Marcus Paige back.

Eye Test Tip-Off All Stars

Here are the guys who not only stood out while watching the Tip-Off Marathon, but also led their teams to victory.
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First Team All Eye Test Tip-Off All Stars 
G Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
G Charles Cooke, Dayton
F  James White, Georgia Tech
F  Patricio Garino, George Washington
Second Team All Eye Test Tip-Off All Stars 
 Paul Jorgenson, George Washington
G  George King, Colorado
G  Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
F  Nick Faust, Long Beach State
Jordan Loveridge, Utah
First Team Notes:
Tyler Ulis played near-mistake free basketball.  Denzel Valentine was quiet in the first half but chipped away at a triple double and willed his team to a win over Kansas Tuesday night.
https://twitter.com/ESPNCBB/status/666706686263091201
Charles Cooke scored a third of his team’s points as Dayton led 57-31 at one point against Alabama.  Cooke, a James Madison transfer, shot 66% from the field.  That included two threes and a dunk in transition to put a punctuation early on what amounted to an 80-46 win.
 James White led Georgia Tech with 17 points in the first half to help the Yellow Jackets set the tone and fend off Rick Barne’s Tennessee Vols.
Patricio Garino looked like Tony Kukoc against Virginia.  His length on defense bothered Cavalier wings and he finished with a 14 point second half for the upset of the marathon.
                                                 Second Team Notes:
Paul Jorgensen was another star of a huge team win for George Washington.  We all know about Josh Scott for Colorado, but George King dropped 32 on Auburn to get a quality road victory.  His contribution could greatly help in the scoring void left by Xavier Johnson’s season-ending injury.  Jeremy Morgan was known last year as a defensive stopper for Northern Iowa, but on Tuesday he showcased his offensive moves early.  Morgan scored seven in the opening moments as Stephen F. Austin was made to look pedestrian for a second consecutive game.  Nick Faust, the Maryland transfer, did it all for Long Beach State in its win against BYU.  He scored 10, grabbed 8 rebounds, had an assist and dove on the floor late for an important loose ball and a resume building victory.  Jordan Loveridge missed this holiday stretch portion of the college basketball season.  Monday night, he benefited from a fluid balance to the Utes offense and scored 21 on 55% shooting for a home court win against San Diego State.