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Monday, November 28, 2011

Big Ten/ACC Challenge Preview Part 2

Well, that was interesting. The Big Ten took four out of the six games last night with Ohio St. stealing the show by routing Duke.  Tonight the BIG looks for their third straight Challenge title.

Indiana @ North Carolina St. (Wednesday ESPN2, 7:15pm)
Indiana looks improved this year and even has a couple of decent wins over Evansville and Butler as proof.  However, this looks to be their toughest game yet and will be used as a measuring stick for their progress.  They've done a great job shooting the ball and defending two point shots which may be largely attributed to freshman Cody Zeller. NC State also has been effective scoring this season and defending twos but have been burned by the three.  Taking care of the ball may be the Wolfpack's greatest strength so there likely won't be a lot of empty possessions on their end. IU will have to overcome this with excellent shooting of their own if they expect to prevail.
The Pick: IU gets hot from downtown and wins in a barn burner 80-74.

Big Ten/ACC Challenge Preview

This week the Big Ten/ACC Challenge will kick off for the thirteenth time.  ESPN created this event as a way to match the two best basketball conferences up against each other in an attempt to prove which conference had more game (ratings, anyone?).  The ACC won the first ten challenges, even winning eight of the eleven matchups in 2006 and 2007.  In 2009 the Big Ten finally proved victorious when Ohio St. beat Florida St. in the final game of the challenge. Last year the Big Ten won the challenge again by an identical score of 6-5.  With the addition of Nebraska, this year will mark the first time each conference has an equal number of teams (12) so no one will be left out.  Maryland has the longest active winning streak (6) and Iowa has the longest losing streak (5).  Here’s a look at this year’s matchups:

Michigan @ Virginia (Tuesday ESPN2, 7pm)
Virginia gets to host one of the BIG’s contenders in the tip-off game.  They’ve excelled on the defensive side of the ball thus far (Drexel only managed 35 points on Nov 19) while playing at a pace Wisconsin would be proud of.  Michigan’s only loss thus far came at the hands of Duke in the Maui Invitational.  Michigan loves to shoot a lot of 3’s but as a team are shooting 62% on their 2’s. It will be interesting to see if Michigan's offense can crack Virginia's stout defense.
The Pick: Michigan in a nail biter 61-58.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Week to Go - Top 25 (11/27/11)

I think we all know USC is banned from playing in the Pac-12 Championship and a post-season bowl game, but I didn't realize they were not even allowed to appear in the Coach's Poll and BCS rankings until this past week.

But back to pressing matters: for all the big ticket matchups and upsets of the past few weeks, the Thanksgiving rivalries resulted in almost no surprises. That sets everyone up for a weekend of Conference Championship games and last ditch efforts to play spoiler next week.

Here's where we stand.

Friday, November 25, 2011

BCS Bowl Projections

I started this post a few weeks ago, and then the big weekend of upsets happened and I didn't get back to it. Since tomorrow night I'll be hitting the bottle pretty hard (Ticknor's bachelor party), I figure tonight is a good excuse to do some blogging about the upcoming (and final) announcement of BCS qualifying schools.

Basic rules are that no more than 2 teams from a single conference can be selected to the 5 BCS Bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, BCS Title) unless the #1 and #2 teams in the final BCS rankings are from the same conference, and by some miracle, neither is the conference champion.

[Scenario for that last bit: If Arkansas beat LSU tonight (say 13-10) and the new rankings reflected Arkansas #1, LSU as #2, and Bama as #3. Then Arkansas then loses to Georgia in the SEC title game. 3 SEC schools in BCS bowls (Georgia for the automatic bid, and LSU & Bama in a rematch for the Championship).]

The SEC champion is tied to the Sugar Bowl; the Big Ten and Pac-12 to the Rose Bowl; the Big 12 to the Fiesta Bowl; the ACC to the Orange Bowl. The Big East champion is guaranteed a BCS bowl entry through 2013 but is not tied to a specific bowl.

Finally, assuming that the #1 and #2 ranked schools in the final BCS rankings represent 2 conference champions (as in 2010 with Auburn and Oregon), their corresponding tie-in bowl games receive 1st and 2nd choice of remaining automatic qualifiers and at-large teams, respectively. They cannot "steal" schools based on the previous qualifications above.

If Notre Dame finishes in the top 8 of the BCS, the Irish get an automatic bid. A top 12 finish gives them a chance at one of the at-large spots, but they have only cracked the BCS three times since its inception in 1998. Any other school from a non-major conference can crack the BCS with a few other stipulations. Boise State is the best explanation by example.

Enough talk, more NUMBERS!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Early Season Observations: 3 Good & 3 Bad

There's been a lot of games early in the basketball landscape making it hard to digest all that's happened.  It's still way too early to believe everything you see but there have been some telling signs also.  Here are some of the things that have stood out to me thus far.

         The Good
  1.             The Big Ten: In my preseason Power Rankings I listed the Big Ten as the third best conference.  If I were to do an update now I’d say they are number two.  Ohio State still seems like the only team who will contend for a national title but rest of the conference have played better than expected.  The conference has a combined record of 36-5 with the worst loss being to Creighton on a neutral floor (though Penn St. was never in their game vs. Kentucky).
    2.       Kentucky Wildcats: Every year Calipari reloads with a top-10 recruiting class. And every year Calipari’s teams are among the youngest due to players leaving early for the NBA.  Well, this Kentucky team looks good and I expect them to be in the top 5 all year.
    3.       Creighton Blue Jays: Creighton was hyped up as being one of the top mid-major teams this preseason.  ESPN pumped them up so much I was sure they were doomed. Well, so far so good for these Blue Jays.  A nice win over UAB gave me hope they would play Iowa well in Des Moines in what Vegas had pinned as a close game (Creighton -1.5).  The game was never close as Creighton led by 16 at half time and won by 23.  This bodes well for the MVC.

    The Bad

    1.       Colonial Athletic Association: A year after sending George Mason, VCU, and Old Dominion to the NCAA Tournament last year, Drexel was voted as the preseason favorite in the coaches’ poll.  They’re now 1-2 with a loss to Norfolk St. (finished 269 in the RPI last year) and a loss to Virginia in which they only scored 35 points.   Old Dominion is 3-2 but was crushed by Northern Iowa and George Mason is in another rebuilding year.  There won’t be multiple bids in the conference this year.
    2.       Utah Utes: Last year the Mountain West was a pretty formidable conference and, although not good, Utah held their own.  Now in the Pac-12 it looks like it could be a long year.  In their opening game, Utah squeaked by San Diego Christian for a three point win.  They followed that up by getting crushed at Boise St (not a good basketball school) while Saturday they lost at home to Montana State.  Things don’t look to get any better this week when they take on a Harvard squad who returns their entire roster from last year.
    3.       UCLA Bruins: If UCLA were to play Utah right now I’m not sure who would win. UCLA is 0-2 with both losses coming at home, neither of which was to a power conference team (Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee St.). Also, neither was close.  The Bruins now head off to Hawaii where they’ll play Div II Chaminade in the first round of the Maui Invitational. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Upset Weekend - Top 25 (11/20/11)

As I write, I'm watching Andrew Luck finally get his chit together in the 2nd half, and it looks like Stanford will avoid being another top 10 victim this week. The same cannot be said for 4 of my other Top 10s from last week. I'll keep the commentary short for most of the winners to save room for the upsets.

But who deserves the title game?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Miami Marlins: A Major Player in Free Agency?

I recently read on that the Marlins are looking to make a splash in free agency and have hosted Albert Pujols.  At the end of his visit the Marlins made a contract proposal which they believe to be competitive in the hopes he will be in uniform next season to kick of their new stadium.  Now Miami (doesn’t that sound weird?) is looking at Jose Reyes and has recently said they would like to sign him in addition to Albert Pujols.  They are also considered the odds on favorite to land Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes.  Last season the Marlins ranked 13th in the National League in players salary.  This was actually an improvement as they ranked 16th (last), 16th, and 14th in 2008-2010. How can a team in their economic situation expect to be able to sign one – let alone two – free agents this offseason?  Or is this just a marketing ploy to show the fans that they’re trying to improve the club as they begin the next chapter in the franchise’s history?  

Follow the jump to see how realistic these aspirations really are.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scandal Subsides, Football is Played - Top 25 11/13/11

I'm posting from abroad (Nebraska) today, so I'll keep it short and sweet. With a different channel lineup, there was less focus on the SEC games and more focus on the Big XII. Also, I had the opportunity to watch a full game featuring the Pac-12 since LSU v. Oregon in week 1.

Here's what this weekend taught me. Kansas State is better than I thought. Texas is worse than I thought. I was right about Oregon. Boise State still doesn't deserve National Championship consideration...and should focus on kicking more than trick plays.

Now, where does that leave us?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Preseason Conference Power Rankings

Obviously these rankings are compiled purely on my best guesses on what will happen during the season.  Once the games begin and we have some statistical evidence, my opinions will change. Basically, don’t put too much stock into these. Let the games begin!

1.       Big East - Every year this conference sends at least eight teams to the tournament. I expect that to hold true to form in 2012 with multiple teams vying for a 1 or 2 seed.
2.       Big 12 – No more Nebraska! No more Colorado! Really, these two schools weren’t that bad last year but they’re not tournament contenders either.  A ten team conference that sends five or six schools dancing plus a national title contender in Kansas make this conference look good.
3.       Big 10 – The BIG lost a lot of talent after last season but there are some great freshmen on campus.  Six teams will likely go dancing with the possibility of eight come March.
4.       SEC – Last year the SEC was just mediocre.  That’s partly due to it being young. Now Alabama is ranked, Kentucky seems poised to grab a 1 seed, and a few other schools look to join them in the Big Dance.  The divisions remain imbalanced so we’ll have to take it for it’s worth.
5.       Atlantic Coast – This is going to be a down year for the ACC.  Duke and North Carolina look good as usual but the bottom of this conference could be awful.  That’s never a good thing for your Strength of Schedule (SOS).
6.       Atlantic 10 – This conference isn’t really a power conference but it’s no mid-major either.  Xavier and Temple are two excellent programs who will make some noise this year. The middle of the conference appears average so expecting four bids again may be a stretch.
7.      Pac 12 – New additions Utah and Colorado won’t help this year.  This conference has been plagued by mediocrity of late and I’m not sure it’ll be any different in 2012.  Arizona is overrated in my mind while other contenders Washington, UCLA, and Cal all have big time flaws. The Pac12 is helped by its solid second tier.
8.       Missouri Valley – With the supposed reemergence of Creighton, the MVC appears to gaining steam as the top mid-major.  Also worth watching are Wichita St., Indiana St., and UNI.  This conference is always fun to watch; it’s kind of like the Big 10’s little brother in terms of style.
9.       West Coast – This is Gonzaga’s year!  I doubt that to be true but all the previews I’ve read expect a big improvement from last season. St. Mary’s remains very good, but the team that pushes this conference into the top ten is BYU.  That’s a very nice trio.
10.   Mountain West – New Mexico St. and UNLV appear to be the front-runners this year. No BYU will hurt the RPI but Colorado St. is improving and San Diego St. will still be good. Two bids is a safe bet and three won’t be a surprise.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011-12 BIG Basketball Preview: Season Predictions

Now that the individual team previews are complete I'd like to do my predictions.  Hopefully these will turn out to be more accurate than my 2011 MLB predictions.  Remember, the season kicks off Friday but Big Ten conference games won't begin until the final week of December.  That's a lot of games before the real season starts. We'll likely learn who's really good and who's really bad but won't learn how the middle of the conference stacks up until they begin playing each other head to head. 
A special thanks goes out to Ken Pomeroy for making advanced statistics available to everyone on the internet. His website made information gathering simple and has been a valuable tool in many of my NCAA basketball posts. 
Take a look after the jump to see my guess at how it'll all shake out:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2011-12 BIG Basketball Preview: Wisconsin

Coach: Bo Ryan – 242-91 (.727)
Lost:  F Jon Leuer, F Keaton Nankivil, G Tim Jarmusz
Returning: G Jordan Taylor (Sr), G Josh Gasser (So), F Mike Bruesewitz (Sr), F Ryan Evans (Jr), C Jared Berggren (RS Jr), G Rob Wilson (Sr), F Duje Dukan (So)
Jordan Taylor can do it all. If not for some guy named
Sullinger Taylor would likely be the #1 candidate for BIG POY.
New faces:  G Traevon Jackson, G George Marshal, C Frank Kaminsky, PF Jarrod Uthoff(149), C Evan Anderson (Redshirt)

Preview: Every year Wisconsin finishes in the top third of the Big Ten. This year they’ll have their work cut out for them as two very important cogs graduated.  Luckily for Badger faithful 1st Team All Big Ten guard Jordan Taylor returns.  In 2010-11 Taylor only turned the ball over on 8.5% of his possessions while playing point guard. Low rates like that are unheard of. He’ll need to sustain his excellent shooting touch while taking more shots this season if the Badgers are going to remain at the top of the conference.  Also returning is sophomore Josh Gasser who shot 60% on his two’s but only 30% on threes.  He’ll need to improve his accuracy from long range to spread the defense and help relieve the load off Taylor.  Wisconsin returns a plethora of large bodies, none of which do anything that stands out but all of whom can be expected to be excellent rebounders while solid post defenders.  Typically freshmen do not make much of an impact in Madison but the team may be looking for that to change specifically in regards to Jarrod Uthoff.  Uthoff is listed at 6’8” and has a pretty good looking outside shot.  I think the team will hope he can take the role left by Keaton Nankivil as he grows into his body and learns the system. He may be the most athletic player on the team, too.  Regardless of how Wisconsin attempts to fill the void left by their departing seniors, I don’t think it would come as a surprise to expect them to play even slower than last season (58.0 possessions per game) in an attempt to maximize offensive possessions and to try to keep the game close.  Bo Ryan has his work cut out for him.
Shot in the dark at the starting the 5:
PG Jordan Taylor
G Josh Gasser
F Mike Bruesewitz
F Ryan Evans
F Jared Berggren

2011-12 BIG Basketball Preview: Purdue

Coach: Matt Painter - 138-64 (.683)
Lost: F JaJuan Johnson, G E’Twuan Moore
This was the last time Robbie Hummel stepped foot on a court in a
NCAA game.  Purdue fans are ready to put this image behind them
and hope Robbie can lead this young team back to a BIG championship.
Returning:  F Robbie Hummel (RS Sr), PG Lewis Jackson (Sr), G Kelsay Barlow (Jr), F DJ Byrd (Jr), G Ryne Smith (Sr), G Terone Johnson (So), F/C Travis Carroll (So), F/C Sandi Marcius (RS So), G John Hart (RS Jr),
New faces:  F Donnie Hale, PF Jacob Lawson, G Anthony Johnson (Redshirt)

Preview: Each of the last two seasons Boilermaker fans believed not reaching the Final Four would be considered a disappointment. We all know what happened.  Now Hummel is healthy (presumably) but without fellow classmen JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore.  Perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in the conference, Hummel is able to score from anywhere on the floor, is a strong rebounder, excellent passer, and a solid defender.  He will need to transform his game from facilitator to scorer in order for the offense to be successful, no small task for an unselfish player.  Also returning is waterbug point guard Lewis Jackson.  LewJack is grease lighting at getting to the rim but his inconsistent outside shot allows defenses to sag and clog up the middle. His intense on-ball defense and improved free throw shooting make him an asset to have on the floor.  Fellow guard Ryne Smith hit 44% of his threes last year and will need to duplicate that success again to keep defenses honest.  Kelsay Barlow and DJ Byrd are excellent role players capable of guarding the 1-4 positions while scoring just enough.  Without JaJuan Johnson a quartet of players will be looked upon to make up for his lost production. Travis Carroll and Donnie Hale are the more gifted offensive players while Sandi Marcius and Jacob Lawson (if he doesn’t redshirt) can cause nightmares on defense.  There will likely be a lot of mixing and matching throughout the season to maximize matchups.  But the team will be looking most anxiously at guards Terone and Anthony Johnson to be scorers. Terone struggled with his shot last year but showed he can slash to the basket.  Anthony can fill it up but will need to show his defense is ready to play for Painter.  It will likely take several games for these players to gel and find their roles on the court - and with Painter’s track record there’s little reason to expect they won’t – but once they do, with their bullying defense and methodical motion offense Purdue will be a team no one wants to face. 
Shot in the dark at the starting 5:
PG Lewis Jackson
G Ryne Smith
G Terone Johnson
F Robbie Hummel
F Travis Carroll

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

2011-12 BIG Basketball Preview: Penn St.

Coach: Patrick Chambers- 0-0
Lost: G Talor Battle, F Jeff Brooks, F David Jackson, F Andrew Jones, G Taran Buie (transfer)
Returning:  PG Tim Frazier (Jr), G Jermaine Marshall (RS So), F Billy Oliver (So), G/F Cammeron Woodyard (Sr), F Sasa Borovnjak (RS So), G Nick Colella (Jr)
Tim Frazier will need to continue his great passing
but also add some scoring for the Lions this year.
New faces:  PG Trey Lewis, SF Ross Travis, C Patrick Ackerman, C Peter Alexis, F Jon Graham (Redshirt), G Matt Glover (transfer)

Preview:  You’ve got to feel for the returning players at Penn St.  Gone are four starters who all played more than 75% of available minutes including the best player in program history (Battle).  Also leaving is head coach Ed DeChellis who did a great job in his last two seasons even getting the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament last year.  Now four new starters will need to be found under new head coach Patrick Chambers.  Tim Frazier is the one returning starter and will need to be the floor general.  He is an adept passer who can get to the rim at times but is not a strong outside shooter and often has trouble taking care of the basketball.  He’ll need to improve in these areas to help a team with serious offensive deficiencies.  Freshman Trey Lewis is the most highly regarded recruit and will likely start a lot of games this year. Hopefully he’ll be capable of picking up some of the offensive slack. Sasa Borovnjak seems another likely candidate to take a starting spot.  Borovnjak has a series of post moves and can rebound but it will be interesting to see how he stacks up against other big men in the conference. Finding two other legitimate starters will be difficult.  Of all the remaining players Billy Oliver seems to have the most promise but has had trouble staying healthy.   Patrick Ackmeran could see a lot of playing time but will probably need to add girth to take the pounding he’ll encounter during the season.  There’s not a lot to like here for this season but there is talent that over time can develop and help this program become a middle of the conference team.  That year is not this year, however, so expect some ugly losses and a last place finish.
Shot in the dark at the starting 5:
PG Tim Frazier
G Trey Lewis
F Jon Graham
F Billy Oliver
F Sasa Borovnjak