Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Hoopsbag: Marathon hangover edition
By Eamonn Brennan
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 also can 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 answer:
@camoz71 writes: Which team you were most impressed with during the Marathon?
I'll give you my top five, in order:
Kentucky played about as bad a first half as it could against Kansas. The Wildcats were forcing shots, missing defensive assignments, turning the ball over constantly ... but still went into halftime tied.
The second half revealed more of what we're going to see from this team all season long. There will be frustrating moments, yes, but as Scott Van Pelt put it on Twitter on Tuesday night, there will be just as many times when they "dump truck" people. They're just so talented. Anthony Davis is a force; even if he doesn't score, he'll erase or affect every interior shot Kentucky's opponents take. Terrence Jones is a beast. Doron Lamb is going to get so many open shots. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 1 small forward in the Class of 2011, could turn into a ruthless defensive specialist. This is a scary, scary team, and it took only 20 minutes to figure out why.
Kent State gets the nod at No. 2 for the sheer reason that it bombarded West Virginia in the second half after ESPN's cameras caught Rob Senderoff's halftime speech, including his guarantee that WVU would "crumble under the pressure." The Golden Flashes are a deep, veteran, athletic team -- they're good, and a win in Morgantown proves it.
In the meantime, Memphis looked like a totally new team, one that might actually be worthy of its top-10 ranking to begin the season. Few of the offensive problems the Tigers suffered last season -- when they were the worst offense in C-USA -- showed up on Tuesday. They did whatever they wanted against Belmont. Ohio State handled business against a good Florida team at home; the most encouraging bit coming from the Buckeyes' backcourt, where Thad Matta rotated frequently and got good contributions from a variety of players. This team may be much deeper than the ones he's had in recent seasons. We already know his players are talented.
@fakegimel writes: Which conference's bad losses are more disappointing: Pac-12 or SEC?
Eamonn Brennan: Can it be a tie? Here's how I see it: The SEC has more ugly losses total: LSU lost at Coastal Carolina, South Carolina lost at Elon, Vanderbilt lost to Cleveland State, Mississippi State lost to Akron. But the Pac-12's losses may be more damaging thanks almost entirely to UCLA. Sure, Arizona State's home loss to Pepperdine on Tuesday night wasn't good for anyone, but ASU is still waiting on the eligibility of recruit Jahii Carson, and the Sun Devils were likely in for rough year anyway. And USC's losing to Nebraska at home isn't dandy, but Nebraska's a veteran, high-major team with an outside shot at the NCAA tournament this season. It's forgivable.
UCLA's losses are anything but forgivable. The Bruins are 0-2 at home -- their temporary home in the L.A. Sports Arena, anyway -- to start the season, and they've arguably suffered the worst two losses of any high-major team in the country. The first came by 11 points to Loyola Marymount, a team that lost 21 games last season. The second, Tuesday night's disaster was an 86-66 drubbing at the hands of ... wait for it ... Middle Tennessee State. That's right, folks. MTSU came to L.A., saw L.A. and beat the Bruins by 20 points on their home floor in L.A. Reeves Nelson, the key suspended forward who sat this game out, tweeted "WOW." That's an appropriate reaction.
I don't think anyone expected the nether regions of the SEC to do much this season. South Carolina and LSU are not good teams. Vanderbilt's loss to Cleveland State was ugly, but the Vikings can play. UCLA's losses, on the other hand, create the impression that this season is already on the path toward a repeat of 2009-10, when the Bruins opened with a loss to Cal-State Fullerton, lost to Portland in their fourth game of the season, went 3-7 in their first 10 games and ended up with a 14-18 season that no UCLA fan is eager to remember. (I'm sorry for bringing it up.)
It's hard to imagine the season getting off to a worse start for the preseason Pac-12 favorite Bruins.
There's still time for UCLA to turn it around, of course, but if the Bruins are even nearly as bad as they've been in their first two games this season, the Pac-12 will lose its consensus preseason favorite and likely NCAA tournament team. From a conference perspective, that's just devastating.
Brennan: It's too early to say, but I don't think so. The biggest key is getting Nelson off Twitter, back on the team and back to playing hard-nosed basketball. Nelson's occasional mood swings are a huge hindrance to this team figuring things out early; the last thing that young backcourt needed was one of the team's best players sulking throughout the game. There is still plenty of talent, and UCLA rounded into form over the course of an entire season last year, and let's maintain some perspective: We're only two games in. So no, they're not doomed. But you can't start any worse than this.
@ross_bernhardt writes: Did Belmont set expectations too high after these first two games or will they be around for the long haul?
Brennan: Belmont will be around for the long haul. Anyone who saw the Bruins' one-point loss to Duke -- or even the much more lopsided loss to Memphis -- saw why this team is getting so much buzz in the first place: It's good. The Bruins had a very tough matchup with Memphis; they simply don't have the kind of athleticism to hang with a team like that. And they were playing their second road game against a top-10 team in, what, four days? That's a tall task for a program like Michigan State, let alone one that plays in the A-Sun. But there's a reason Belmont won 30 games last season. It's as fundamentally sound as any team in college basketball. It has guards who can shoot and create off the dribble. It has excellent mid-major post play in Mick Hedgepeth. It's not going anywhere.
@Spherologue writes: Is there a clearly dominant conference this year?
Brennan: I don't think so, but if there is, that conference is probably the Big East. If Connecticut and Syracuse are as good as we think they are -- and all early indications seem to point that way -- that duo plus Pittsburgh form a top-end threesome that has to be the best in the country. (At least until Vanderbilt can prove otherwise.) Toss in Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette in that second tier, and I think the Big East has the most best teams in the country, if that makes sense.
Is it clearly dominant? Eh. More like "slightly better than the other high-major leagues, from what I can tell." The Big Ten may get there eventually, but we have to see it first. At this very early point of the season, the Big East still looks like it should be ranked No. 1.
@Purdue_Rant writes: How do you evaluate Purdue after two games? They've shot 60 3-pointers and have lacked inside game.
Brennan: I haven't had a chance to see Purdue yet, but a quick look at its Synergy scouting information reveals the type of tendency you'd expect to see when a team shoots 60 3s in two games: Purdue never goes down low. According to Synergy, only 1.4 percent of the Boilermakers' offensive possessions have been post-ups. That's the lowest number of any play type. In comparison, 57.1 percent of Purdue's offensive attempts come on spot-up shots. The next-highest -- transition attempts -- happen about 12 percent of the time.
This dovetails nicely with what we think we know about Purdue this season. Its backcourt will be very solid: Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith will be efficient offensive players from the perimeter, just as they were last season. Hummel will play outside-in, facing the hoop more often than he posts. And the Boilermakers won't get much, if any, offensive production from their post players. That's not necessarily a bad thing; if the aforementioned trio can handle scoring responsibilities, all Purdue's unheralded bigs need to do is defend well, block out on defense and occasionally snatch an offensive rebound. I think Purdue can compete in the Big Ten that way. It may not be the ideal balance, but you have to put your role players somewhere.
@MBJohnston12 writes: Does Jeff Bzdelik have this Wake Forest team on the right track?
Brennan: It's way, way, way too early to say. Wake is 1-0 with a 12-point win over Loyola (Md.). Last season's Wake team was historically bad, and a season-opening cupcake win isn't nearly enough to prove the program is moving forward in the right direction. That may be the case! It's just too early to say. Let's check in again in a month or so, shall we?
@pbyrnett writes: Given Detroit's strong roster, Cleveland State's upside, and Butler still having Brad Stevens, can the Horizon League get three bids?
Brennan: There are two factors here. Are the teams that good? Yes. Can they impress the committee with nonconference wins? Maybe.
Detroit, which lost a close one at Notre Dame the other night, has more opportunities in the form of games at Alabama and versus Mississippi State. Butler's biggest chance will come at home Saturday against Louisville, but it also has tilts with Xavier, Purdue and, if the Hoosiers end up looking like a bubble team, Indiana. Cleveland State doesn't have many more chances to impress the committee in the nonconference portion of its schedule: Its next-best opponents after Vanderbilt are at Kent State -- which looks like a much better game now -- at Rhode Island, versus Akron (which also looks better) and at South Florida. If CSU wins, that Vanderbilt road victory could very well carry it through. If it surprises us and drop a few of those, it could have a hard time convincing the committee that an early-season win against a team missing its dominant frontcourt force (Festus Ezeli) is enough to warrant consideration.
In short, it's absolutely possible. But all three teams have plenty of work to do. Only one of them can win the conference tournament.
Nameless Mailbag Submission Author Writes: WHY DON'T THEY LET THE UNDERCLASSMAN (DRAFTED BY THE NBA) GO BACK TO THEIR NCAA COLLEGES TO PLAY THIS SEASON
Brennan: Usually the all-caps rants are directed at yours truly. It's refreshing to read one -- from someone who didn't take the time to enter a name, no less -- that directs its capitalized rage elsewhere.
The straight answer is because when you enter the NBA draft after the May 8 deadline, you forfeit your eligibility and become, in the eyes of the NCAA, a professional. Many players, like Derrick Williams, have signed shoe and apparel contracts; there's no way you can play college basketball when cashing checks from Under Armour.
The decidedly un-straight answer is I DON'T KNOW WHY PROBABLY BECAUSE THE NCAA IS CORRUPT LOL. I think we should go all the way with it: Any NBA players, veterans or otherwise, who have remaining collegiate eligibility should be allowed to take the court for the team they originally played for or signed with as amateurs. On Tuesday, that means Rhode Island-Texas would have featured Kevin Durant vs. Lamar Odom. You could probably give me 10 more examples from Marathon matchups alone. The possibilities abound.
Alas, as the immortal Rivers Cuomo once sang, back when Rivers Cuomo still made good music: Only in dreams. Oh well. I guess we'll just have to make do.