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.