Six 13 seeds (and lower) no one wants to face in the tournament

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.

Wyoming 
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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Red Flags versus “the Season just Lags”

It’s March 1st!  Happy Madness month to all of my fellow college basketball junkies.  My first blog post of this glorious month will be dedicated to some recent losses by big programs.  I ask the question: “was this loss a red flag for bigger problems for the team?”  Or, is this just the sign of a season lagging on?  Losses are inevitable, which makes Kentucky’s run (and WIchita State’s last year) so magical.  Let’s delve into it.

Utah loss to Arizona:  Red Flag
Some context here:  Coach Larry Krystkowiak had a team that won just six games total four years ago.  I say this loss is a red flag for a team that now has aspirations of making a Final Four run.  Arizona went into the Huntsman Center and beat Utah Saturday night.  What concerns me is the volume of three-pointers Utah took to stay in this game.  They shot 22 threes and still lost 63-57.  Utah freshman center Jacob Peltl has received a lot of complements this season, and rightfully so.  However, he was outplayed by Kaleb Tarzcewski.  Tarzcewski had been averaging nine points a game, a modest total for the expectations he receives.  In this game he scored 13 on 7-9 shooting.  Peltl also fouled out of this game.  Delon Wright’s play this season has been amazing.  However, with 1:09 left in this game Brandon Taylor missed a three pointer.  Wright never touched the ball in that most crucial offensive possession.  Yes, T.J. McConnell is a good defender, but you have to find a way to get your best player the ball late.  If Utah wants to be a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, I believe they have to beat Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament.  So far this season they’ve been swept by the Wildcats.  There’s a huge difference between being a 4 seed and playing 13’s such as Stephen F. Austin, Murray State, Valparaiso or LA Tech or being a 3 seed and playing 14’s like Central Michigan or William & Mary.  The latter are teams lucky to win a conference tournament.  Those 13’s are a “who’s who” of Mid-Major powers.  

SMU loss to UCONN:  Season just lags
This is a game where I wish so-called pundits would refuse to use the term “upset.”  SMU was not “upset” by UCONN, especially not in Connecticut.  SMU has put itself in a position it was not in last season.  The Mustangs are firmly slotted in the 21st ranking nationally.  They’ve scored some key out-of-conference victories, scheduled a challenging out-of-conference lineup, and are looking at an NCAA Tournament berth.  UCONN, however, has sorely underachieved.  NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, had struggled to find his niche in the UCONN offense.  Not this game.  Purvis scored a season high 28 points.  UCONN won a game at home that desperate teams win at home.  And, until someone dethrones them, the UCONN Huskies are still national champions.  I would not be surprised if UCONN runs the table to win the American championship tournament.  This game against SMU is just what happens during a lengthy college basketball season.  SMU out-rebounded and committed less turnovers than UCONN.  The Mustangs propensity to sag off of the 3-point line on defense continues, however.  They gave up 9-20 long range shooting.  Nothing shocking here.

Isaiah Taylor out of control shot courtesy college basketball eye test dot com

Texas at Kansas loss: Red Flag
No, it is not surprising that a team outside of the top 25 loses to an 8th ranked KU team.  But, come on.  How long are we going to wait for it to “click” for this Longhorn team?  Kansas was playing without the services of big bodied freshman, Cliff Alexander in this one.  Naturally, you’d think that’d bolster the Longhorns already stacked height advantage.  But the Texas offense is tired-looking.  Isaiah Taylor dribbles down court.  Two down screens are set to try and get Myles Turner the ball.  That normally fails.  The ball is either reversed to a second or third wing.  If he gets it, that player looks for beefy Cameron Ridley.  In the end, Isaiah Taylor normally penetrates to try and create.  He took 15 shots this game, which was by far the team’s most.  Given the outcome, this formula clearly is not working.  In this four game losing streak, Taylor has taken 22% of the team’s shots (51 of 227).

Myles Turner might get fed the ball more on his next team (in the NBA).

Myles Turner might get fed the ball more on his next team (in the NBA).

VCU loses to Dayton:  Season just lags
Oh, the season has especially lagged for the VCU Rams.  It seems like a year ago they lost Briante Weber, the emotional leader of that renown full-court press.  VCU has recovered gracefully from this season-ending injury.  Sophomore JeQuan Lewis has served the point guard position well since Weber’s absence.  He is averaging 13 points since.  The guys who need to continue stepping up on offense are Treveon Graham and Melvin Johnson.  They shot a combined 7 of 20 for just 20 points Saturday.  Still, this Dayton Flyer bunch is one of the more resilient teams in the nation.  Last year they made the Elite 8 as an 11 seed.  This year they are fighting through adversity with three players excused.  This A10 outcome is just another excusable result of a lengthy season with many ups and downs.  And, for the time being, I think that this game allows for at least three A10 teams in the big dance.  These two and Temple can make it.

Suspect Spreads Saturday 2 Weeks before Selection Sunday

Of my predictions this season, my record is 35-19.  Here are my predictions for today.  Take the team on the left.

Dayton +6.5 @ VCU
Georgia -14 vs. Mizzou
Texas +7 @ KU
Villanova -2 @ Xavier
UNI +7 @ Wichita State

Here is a history of my selections so far this season:
(Starting with the most recent)

Against the Spread college basketball preview: Purdue and Tulsa for starters

I (Matty D.) am 68% against the spread so far this season.  That’s 30-14 record on the season (with one tie).  Scroll to the far below to see a time stamp history on Twitter to prove that my record is legit.

My first prediction for this weekend is that St. John’s won’t cover 8 1/2 points hosting Creighton.  If you have watched any St. John’s game this year, you know this:  nothing is easy.  I won’t give St. John’s a stitch of a chance of winning another game this year by 8.5+ points.  Not by a stitch of Lou Carnesecca’s sweater.  If you watched (again, Eye Test here people) the Creighton St. John’s game in Iowa, you know that the Storm fought their five-boroughs off just to be in that game.  As per usual, Chris Obekpa and DeAngelo Harrison were over-taxed.  Rysheed Jordan was MIA.  Sir Dominic Pointer was royalty as the name suggests.  This is the team storyline until they prove me otherwise.

How is Duke giving Notre Dame nine points?  The Irish could easily hit six three-pointers, which would be 18 points, hence making a 27 point 2-point field goal disadvantage unlikely.  I feel like baked into this point spread is the fact that Duke robbed a victory at Notre Dame.  However, the eye test clearly tells you that the Irish have the size, skill and altheticisim to make this a one-three possession game if not winning it outright.

Come on, Kansas is going down to Oklahoma State and winning the game.  The Jayhawks are a one point underdog.  If they win this game, they will essentially wrap-up the 11th consecutive Big 12 league title.  The significance of this is not lost on the hometown crowd in Lawrence, Kansas.  It will not be lost on the Jayhawks wings, who are playing out of their minds (Greene, Seldon, Oubre).

I have been riding this horse all year.  I can’t ignore Purdue getting 5 1/2 points against Minnesota.  The Gophers are not an NCAA team.  Mini Pitino is going through the growing pains as a head coach that’d you’d expect from any 30-something year old overseeing his first-ever team in a major conference.  Purdue’s two big men will outlast Mo Walker (Gopher’s big man).  Minnesota I think will win the ball game, but a Purdue win could clinch the inside track to a tournament berth.  Therefore, I just don’t see Purdue losing by three possession or more.

Hawaii and Texas A&M are both tempting to take this weekend.  But, the ebb and flow of college basketball won’t let me do it.  The respective home teams, UC Santa Barbara and Mizzou, have a lot of pride and an uphill battle to gain respectability on their home turf over the next month.

Tulsa will beat SMU outright and position itself as the team to beat in the American Conference (as if they haven’t already).  Speaking of Mizzou, the refugee of Columbia, Missouri, Frank Haith is coaching an inspired club that plays below the rim but outworks teams over-and-again.  I think Tulsa wins this game, Cincinnati slips-up somehow, and UCONN wins the American Conference tournament.  Memphis is just not an NCAA Tournament team (see my pick last year of the Memphis Tigers not covering the 17 point spread at Gonzaga…which they did not).  Tulsa will win.  That would place Tulsa, UCONN and Temple in the NCAA Tournament.  But, hey, that’s just me.

Here is a history of my selections so far this season:
(Starting with the most recent)

19 NCAA players with NBA dads – sons of former NBA stars in college basketball 2015

Son Team Father NBA Team of note
Shawn Kemp Jr. Washington Shawn Kemp Seattle Supersonics
Antoine Mason Auburn Anthony Mason New York Knicks
Aubrey Dawkins Michigan Johnny Dawkins Philadelphia 76ers
Juwan Howard Jr. Detroit Juwan Howard Washington Bullets
Sam Cassell Jr. UConn Sam Cassell Houston Rockets
Larry Nance Jr. Wyoming Larry Nance Cleveland Cavaliers
Isaiah Wilkins Virginia Dominique Wilkins Atlanta Hawks
Jerian Grant Notre Dame Harvey Grant Washington Bullets
Gary Payton Jr. Oregon St. Gary Payton Seattle Supersonics
Traevon Jackson Wisconsin Jimmy Jackson Dallas Mavericks
Domantas Sabonis Gonzaga Arvydas Sabonis Portland Trailblazers
Corey Hawkins UC Davis Hersey Hawkins Charlotte Hornets
A.J. English III Iona A.J. English II Denver Nuggets
Wyatt Lohaus Northern Iowa Brad Lohaus Milwaukee Bucks
Larry Johnson Jr. Youngstown St. Larry Johnson Charlotte Hornets
Brandan Stith Old Dominion Bryant Stith Denver Nuggets
Robert Sampson Georgia Tech Ralph Sampson Houston Rockets
Bryce Alford UCLA Steve Alford Dallas Mavericks
Elgin Cook Oregon Alvin Robertson San Antonio Spurs

Eye Test Tuesday: Transfers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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