- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)
Per the usual, we begin with a video. Remember: For the rest of the 2012 season, Hoopsbag will run on Tuesdays. Adjust your correspondence accordingly. (Today, because I was doing TV and traveling all day yesterday, we went ahead and pushed it back. It's hard to do the Hoopsbag when you're politely arguing with Len Elmore for three hours.)
Nick DeMott in Sterling, Va. writes: Being a high school senior, I want to highly base my decision on which college to attend on college basketball teams that could be primed for national success the next year or two (among other things). As absurd as the question may sound, I'm interested in knowing which of the following teams have the most potential: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Villanova.
Brennan: Nick, the Hoopsbag salutes you! So many high school seniors choose their colleges based on silly things like "Which major am I interested in?" and "What kind of job can I get with this degree?" and "How nice is the campus?" Or at least that's what they say. It's refreshing to hear from a young man who has no illusions about what he wants from his higher education experience. Wherever you go, you're going to be just fine, Nick. (Besides, those are all really good schools!)
If I had to advise you to select one based solely on impending basketball success, I'd probably have to say Villanova. The Wildcats are struggling this season, but Jay Wright's program has been one of the nation's most consistent over the past decade, he's got a decent batch of young talent on campus and has already landed two top-100 recruits for the 2012 class. Nova may be down this season, but it'll be back sooner rather than later, and it's hard to say the same for Wake Forest (still in rebuilding mode) or Virginia Tech (still looking for that first NCAA tournament berth under Seth Greenberg).
The other option is Virginia. The Cavaliers have done nothing but improve under Tony Bennett, and in 2011, forward Mike Scott's hyper-efficient, POY-discussion-worthy play has put Virginia back in the ACC and national conversations. Bennett is recruiting well, too: He notched two top-100 players in 2011 and three in 2012. While that is hardly a guaranteed predictor of success -- and I'd be a little concerned about a post-Scott regression next season, from a sheer fan enjoyment standpoint -- the same rule applies to the Wildcats, too. Good options, both.
Choose wisely, my boy. The 'Bag wishes you and all current or impending college students a career full of intense and devoted basketball success. When you're on campus, there's nothing quite like it.
@mcgillert writes: Is it crazy for me to think that the Big Ten deserves at least 8 tournament bids based on what we've seen so far?
Brennan: It is not crazy. In fact, eight is the exact number of bids our resident Bracketologist Joe Lunardi gave the Big Ten in his most recent projected tournament field, and frankly, I'd say that's about right. Ohio State is a lock. Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois would have to fall off in a major way to miss the tournament. Wisconsin and Purdue would be safely in if the field was selected today, but they're on slightly shakier ground. And as things currently stand, Northwestern would sneak in with the eighth bid and get a No. 11 seed, per Lunardi. I don't disagree.
The good news for the Big Ten this season is that it is regarded accurately by most college hoops observers as the best conference in the country. That status should help the likes of Wisconsin and Purdue if things start to get a little shaky around at-large bid time. It could help put Northwestern over the top. In the meantime, the down status of the Big East -- which is still an eight-bid league, per Joe -- and the "bids have to come from somewhere" nature of the soft 68-team bubble gives the Big Ten some natural advantages in sneaking in a few extra teams than it has grown accustomed to this season. The opportunities are there. If things go as planned, and the conference doesn't cannibalize a team like Northwestern -- which needs every big win it can get, and can't afford many losses to Iowa, Nebraska or Penn State -- eight bids should be the expectation.
Steve in St. Louis writes: You say that Kansas will have no problem winning the Big 12 Conference? What about when they travel to Mizzou? Travel to Baylor? Travel to K-State? They might not lose at home but neither does Mizzou, Baylor, or K-State. Also, Mizzou has a good shot at winning in Lawrence.
Brennan: Well, I'm not sure we can say Mizzou has a "good" shot of winning in Lawrence. I'm not sure any team has a good shot of winning in Lawrence, but particularly one that has two players taller than 6-foot-6 and would be trying to match up with not only Thomas Robinson but a better-than-you-think 7-foot center in Jeff Withey. That's a tough task.
But your point is well-taken. We talked about this on ESPNU's "The Experts" for a while yesterday. It was our first topic: What did we learn from Kansas's win over Baylor? Pretty much everyone, including myself, agreed: not all that much. Kansas winning at home -- even winning big -- probably should have been the expected result. Kansas is incredibly difficult to beat at home. But the Jayhawks, as good as they've been in league play so far (and they have been the best team in conference play from an efficiency margin standpoint, as John Gasaway revealed Tuesday) are still not a vintage Kansas buzzsaw, and it's more likely than not that they'll take their share of losses on the road in conference play this season, too. I think they're the Big 12 favorites. But it won't be a cakewalk, if that's what you're asking.
@clintonpriddy writes: What middle of the road big six conference team could you see making a run to the Final Four, a la UConn last year?
Brennan: I'm not sure there is one. Connecticut's situation was pretty unusual. The Huskies were fantastic in nonconference play, so-so for large stretches of the Big East season and fantastic yet again in Big East play, and for their trouble they received a nice little No. 3 seed, albeit one that forced them to play much of their NCAA games on the West Coast. (Not that Kemba & Co. seemed to mind.) Obviously, we don't have conference tournament play for comparison purposes yet, but even so, there aren't too many teams that fit that bill. One team that sticks out -- and fits the "good nonconference, so-so conference play" barometer -- is Marquette. Another is Indiana. But the Hoosiers' best wins came at home, not at a neutral site, so it's hard to tell how they'll look when they get to neutral-site play in the tournament.
Frankly, Connecticut was a strange team last season. The Huskies were really, really good in elimination games; they didn't lose one all season long. But sandwiched between all that delicious winning was the disgusting tuna salad (bad metaphor, but I just hate tuna salad) of a 9-9 mark in Big East play. I'm not sure we'll see that again this season. Or for many seasons to come.
John P. in New York City writes: On 'Cuse-Pitt Monday night, the broadcast team was talking about the question of whether Syracuse was the No. 1 team in the country? How can this even be a question at this point?
Brennan: Correction: Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and national hero Bill Raftery were discussing two separate things: Which deserves to be No. 1, and which is the rankings-neutral best. The only intrigue here is if you believe the two entities can currently be separated.
For what it's worth, at this point, I do not. Sure, Syracuse hasn't faced a road environment akin to what Kentucky faced at Indiana earlier this season, and it doesn't have a home win like UK's over UNC (though that victory lost a little luster after FSU's Tar Heel demolition Saturday). If Christian Watford doesn't make that shot in Bloomington, the Cats are likewise undefeated, and the consensus would probably be that their upside is higher than Cuse's. But, well, Kentucky lost. Syracuse hasn't. And while schedule and quality of wins has something to do with this, it's hard to watch Syracuse and be convinced it's not the best team in the country to date. It's deep at every position. Its attack is balanced and almost impossible to guard. Its defense -- that rangy extended 2-3 zone -- wreaks havoc with the current personnel, so many of whom are long and athletic enough to pressure defenders 25 feet from the hoop without allowing entries into the lane or creases to exploit.
It's fair to at least ask the question: On a neutral floor, is Kentucky better? Is Ohio State? The answer: maybe? Until we find out, or until Syracuse gives us reason to believe otherwise, I'm sticking with the Orange as both the deserving No. 1 (duh) and the best team in the country to date.
Steve in Asheville, N.C., writes: Do you think UNC's loss was a fluke? Or did it reveal something specifically wrong with this team?
Brennan: A little bit of both. On one hand, when Deividas Dulkys shoots 8-for-10 from 3, you know you caught Florida State on a particularly inopportune time. For most of the season, and particularly against above-average defensive teams (which UNC is) Florida State has struggled to put up even mediocre offensive numbers; on Saturday, it scored 1.2 points per possession. Much of that had to do with Dulkys, and sometimes a team gets hot in its own building, and that's pretty much that.
On the other hand, it's not like Florida State all of a sudden caught fire in its own building and matched UNC blow for blow. Or made a late charge to come from behind. Or rode the intensity of a raucous crowd to a narrow home win. No, FSU pretty much stomped on UNC's chest from start to finish. It was more physical than the Tar Heels, and when FSU punched, UNC didn't punch back. Rather, it shrank.
One game is rarely enough cause for concern. Weird things happen in college hoops. North Carolina is still one of the two or three most talented and complete teams in the game. All of this is true. So, yeah, on one hand, that game was a fluke. But on the other hand ... the Tar Heels looked awfully soft Saturday. Fluke or no, that's disconcerting.
Robert Treiman in Los Angeles writes: Watch for UCLA to win the Pac-12. A lot of things had to go right for Stanford to hold off UCLA at Palo Alto. If any of those things went the other way, UCLA would be 4-1 in the Pac-12 with a Bay Area split. The key has been improved guard play. Don't forget Jerime Anderson was not available the first couple of games, and UCLA's freshman Norman Powell took a several games to adjust.
Brennan: I don't disagree with much of this. I don't think UCLA is the best team in the league from a talent standpoint (that's probably Washington) nor have they given observers overwhelming reason to trust their slight uptick in efficiency in the past few weeks (the most efficient team in the league is still Cal, and it hasn't been all that close). But UCLA does have talent. This is a decent team. The Pac-12 is full of easy wins, or what should be easy wins, anyway. And while last season's early struggles don't compare to this season, Ben Howland's team did constantly improve in 2011 and finished the season looking downright solid. Could the same thing happen this year? Sure! Will UCLA win the Pac-12? I have my doubts. But it'll be in the hunt going forward.
Gary Hudson in Cordova, Md., is this week's winner of the "best" (read: worst) email of the week. He writes: I take umbrage at your "teaser" saying "Power Rankings for every conference" when you know you are only going to rank your choice conferences. As is the norm, you take your cream of the crop and ignore the rest without consideration as to the readers, their fans or college basketball fans as a group. Has it ever occurred to you that you and your foul ilk are the cause and not the cure? You demean and downplay for your own benefit, and delusional self-gratification. There was a day when Sports writers [sic] attempted to be journalists, not sensationalists, but it is apparent that day has passed. However, again [sic] I do not really believe this is of any concern to you as long as you can see your name in print and think yourself a celebrity without putting forth any true effort, thought or analysis. Your methodology appears to be regurgitation of the propaganda and diatribe issued forth by the other sports pundits, without innovation or original thoughts. Keep up your good work, sucking up to the ?power conferences? [sic?]and maybe one of them will toss you a bone. Then you can wet on yourself, twist and wag like the lapdog you are and tell the world the wonderful things they have done. Perhaps if you say it enough even you will start to believe it!
Brennan: Dude! As far as I know, the power rankings teaser on the men's home hoops page says "Power Rankings" with the subhead "Big Six conferences." Perhaps this was not always the case; perhaps there was a misleading teaser on the page at some point in the recent past. But "propaganda?" Come on, man. Really?
Here's the thing: I wish we could power rankings for ever conference, big and small, mid- and high- and low-major alike. But we can't. Those power rankings take time, they're not always easy to assemble, and we only have so many hours in the day and days in the week and writers on staff -- there are just limits, you know? Every week, 10 or 11 people respond to my Pac-12 power rankings with "Here's an idea: Just stop ranking the Pac-12 and start ranking the Mountain West, because it's a way better league." And I agree! But then I'd have to rank the Atlantic-10 and maybe even the Missouri Valley, too, and you see where I'm going with this. There are limits.
Plus, it's not like there aren't other places on the Internet to see rankings of non-power six schools within their own leagues. There are probably hundreds of options. KenPom.com will give you data-rich ranking for every conference and team in the nation. Or you could write thoroughly weird emails to the guy who does the Pac-12 ranking because you're mad about an apparently inaccurate home page tease? That seems reasonable.
As always, I blame the Pac-12. Down with power-six propaganda, man! Occupy the Pac-12! (#occupyp12?)
Stephen in Evansville, Ind., writes: Since cranking out a Pac-12 power ranking is such a chore each week given the sorry state of the play in that league, have you given any thought to combining that with the Bottom 10 column so you can spend your time on more worthwhile endeavors such as watching good basketball?
Brennan: More thought than you know, Stephen. More thought than you know. (I wrote that while staring longingly into the distance and listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska." It fit the mood well.)