College Basketball Nation: Cleveland State Vikings

Video: Michigan 77, Cleveland State 47

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
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Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 points, leading No. 5 Michigan to a 77-47 win over Cleveland State in the 2012 NIT Season Tip-Off. The Wolverines advance to the semifinals of the tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden next week.

ESPN.com's Horizon League preview

October, 26, 2012
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Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Horizon League, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:



Blue Ribbon's in-depth previews of all nine Horizon teams: Insider

Cleveland State
Detroit
Green Bay
Illinois-Chicago
Loyola (Ill.)
Milwaukee
Valparaiso
Wright State InsiderFree
Youngstown State
The matchups for the 10th annual BracketBusters event were announced Monday night, but projecting how important some of these games will be three weeks before they happen is hardly an exact science.

Nevertheless, the evidence exists that BracketBusters usually help at least one team’s profile. Historically, George Mason is the most obvious example of the event helping a team’s cause. In 2006, the Patriots’ win at Wichita State was a large reason they received a controversial at-large berth -- one they used to reach the Final Four.

Every matchup may not move the meter for the 10-member selection committee, but there is a chance. So with that mind, here are my initial thoughts on what should be the top games. (Keep in mind, the home and road designations are pre-set before the season).

Editor's Note: The non-TV matchups can be found here.

All times ET

1. Saint Mary’s at Murray State, Feb. 18 (6 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): You can debate whether the Gaels should be going to Creighton instead. I made that case in Tuesday’s 3-point shot. The Gaels are winning the WCC. The Bluejays are atop the Missouri Valley. Both conferences play at a higher level than the Ohio Valley.

That said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this matchup. If Murray State is still unbeaten, it becomes fascinating because the Gaels will be the Racers’ best opponent this season. The best matchup is Matthew Dellavedova against Isaiah Canaan at the point. Rob Jones trying to keep Ivan Aska off the glass also will be critical.

Saint Mary’s is going to be in the NCAA tournament. Murray State will be as well barring some sort of collapse. So this is a game that won’t put a team in the tournament, but could affect seeding. And for drama, this is the game that could prevent the Racers from running the table prior to March. I’m convinced Saint Mary’s has second-weekend potential. Does Murray? This game will help us find out.

2. Long Beach State at Creighton, Feb. 18 (10 p.m., ESPN2): Hey, the 49ers are on the road again. They should be used to it. Long Beach State went to Kansas, Louisville, San Diego State, North Carolina, Montana and Pitt in the nonconference. They also played in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic. This is a legit team. Dan Monson has his best unit at Long Beach with a star guard in Casper Ware. The 49ers are running the table so far in the Big West and with a 34 RPI should have a spot in the NCAAs regardless. Creighton, which is atop the RPI among these teams at 14, has a national player of the year candidate in Doug McDermott. Antoine Young will have his hands full with Ware, but he can also cause problems himself. Creighton has the Omaha home court advantage, but this is a matchup that could easily be seen in the NCAA tournament between two teams that could win a game.

3. Nevada at Iona, Feb. 18 (4 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Wolf Pack are undefeated in the WAC. Iona is tied with Loyola (Md.) and Manhattan in the MAAC. But both teams aren’t locks for the NCAAs if they don’t win their respective conference tournaments. That’s why this game will be critical to the cause. A win by Nevada thousands of miles from Reno will get the Pack credit with the selection committee. Neither team has a standout nonconference win but there is star power on the court. Deonte Burton is a legit scorer for the Wolf Pack. Scott Machado is one of the top four point guards in the country. This will likely be an up-tempo game and a good watch. Iona coach Tim Cluess didn’t want a West Coast team for return travel. But he can’t dismiss the good fortune of at least getting a conference leader.

4. Wichita State at Davidson, Feb. 18 (12 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Shockers lost in triple overtime at Drake over the weekend. Davidson lost at Samford. That takes a bit of the luster out of both teams’ ability to possibly move up in the matchups. But each team has a shelf-life win that could catch the selection committee in March. Wichita State blew out UNLV at home and Davidson beat Kansas in Kansas City. A road win by Wichita State would enhance its strength of schedule and likely bump up the 31 RPI. Davidson, at 67, could use a top-40 RPI win, too. Wichita will want to push at every opportunity. Davidson may be a bit more deliberate. No one should be shocked if both of these teams are in the tournament and in position to win a first-round game. This game may not knock the other out from contention for a bid. But clearly Wichita State may need it more since Davidson has a better shot to earn the automatic berth out of the Southern than Wichita does in the more competitive Missouri Valley.

5. Drexel at Cleveland State, Feb. 18 (11 a.m., ESPNU): The Dragons are a game behind George Mason in a cluttered group in the Colonial with ODU and VCU. Cleveland State is atop the Horizon League. Cleveland State could get an at-large bid due to its win at Vanderbilt if the Vikings lost in the Horizon League final. Drexel can’t get an at-large bid. But what if the Dragons won at Cleveland State? That’s not enough, but it would help in possible seeding. Both teams are undersized and would prefer a defensive approach. Expect a lower scoring affair that will be a grinder. And Gary Waters and Bruiser Flint, the two head coaches, love to work the sidelines in animated fashion.

6. Akron at Oral Roberts, Feb. 18 (2 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2): The Zips are in first place in the MAC and have the defensive presence in Zeke Marshall. His ability to block and alter shots will be a potential difference maker going forward. The Zips, if they can win the MAC tournament, proved that they have the ability to step up in play when they won at Mississippi State. But that was a lifetime ago. Oral Roberts is undefeated in the Summit (although that may change with a game at South Dakota State on Thursday). The Eagles’ best win was over a depleted Xavier in Cincinnati. ORU would be an interesting case for the selection committee if it doesn’t lose again and has four losses. Akron probably can’t get in without winning the MAC tournament -- the MAC can’t seem to get multiple bids.

7. Valparaiso at Loyola Marymount, Feb. 17 (9 p.m., ESPNU): The Crusaders have been the surprise of the Horizon League, a half-game behind Cleveland State. LMU has wins over Saint Louis, Villanova and BYU and is a top-four WCC team, although the Lions couldn’t stop Saint Mary’s at home last week. LMU isn’t going to make the NCAAs unless it goes on a run at the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. Valpo, though, could win the Horizon League. So this could be an opportunity to see one team in the Dance as Bryce Drew has done a solid job in his first year at Valparaiso.

8. Northern Iowa at VCU, Feb. 17 (7 p.m., ESPN2): The Rams are headed in the right direction and are a threat to win the CAA. VCU, a Final Four team last year, is tied with Old Dominion and Drexel for second place. But the Rams didn’t get any favors in this event. VCU needed a better game. Northern Iowa has slumped to 4-7 in the Valley. This game won’t move the meter for the selection committee.

The rest of the TV games (all on Feb. 18):

Buffalo at South Dakota State, 1 p.m. ESPNU: Buffalo rocked Dayton on the road and South Dakota State crushed Washington on the road. And SDSU’s Nate Wolters is a star. Oh, and I love the Jackrabbit nickname, my favorite in the sport. Go Bunnies!

Drake at New Mexico State, 3 p.m., ESPNU: Drake has come on a bit lately with the weekend win over Wichita State. NMSU is the second-best team in the WAC. This game has potential between teams that could be pests in their respective conference tournaments.

Old Dominion at Missouri State, 5 p.m., ESPNU: The Monarchs are tied for second in the CAA. Missouri State has slipped a bit to 6-5 in the Valley. This will be a grinder between teams that have been all over the place this season.

UNC Asheville at Ohio, 7 p.m., ESPN3: Ohio has D.J. Cooper and is one of the four best teams in the MAC. Asheville is atop the Big South standings. A bit stunned that Asheville got a TV game, but the Bulldogs have been solid.

UT-Arlington at Weber State, 8 p.m., ESPN3: Weber State has one of the top five NBA-level point guards in the country in Damian Lillard. Arlington is atop the Southland West division at 7-0, but there were probably better choices for this slot.

Notable omissions: Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos has a right to be peeved that his team was left out of the TV portion of BracketBusters. The Greyhounds and Manhattan are tied with Iona atop the always-competitive MAAC, but only Iona made the cut in terms of television selections. It is important to note that both Loyola and Manhattan were designated home teams, so they couldn't have replaced, say, UTA. George Mason is also atop the CAA, but the Patriots are nowhere to be found on this list of TV games. Butler hasn’t played well and didn’t deserve a high spot, but it’s still a stark reminder of how much the Bulldogs are rebuilding this season that they didn’t even make the TV cut. Wow.


Hopefully, you ignored college football. Hopefully, you procrastinated putting up your Christmas decorations. Hopefully, after Kentucky's thrilling win over North Carolina this afternoon, you stayed plopped in that couch groove, remote in one hand and snacks in the other, ready to flip from one hoops affair to the next.

Why? Because UK-UNC was merely this Saturday's opening salvo. Sure, it was the best and most important and most entertaining and most talented and most insert-your-adjective-of-choice-here game of the day. But it wasn't the only one. Let's run through the rest of this afternoon's action -- beginning with Xavier's remarkable comeback win over Purdue. (Tu!)

No. 11 Xavier 66, Purdue 63: Technically, a brief glance at the Game Flow illustration in the link to the left tells the story here. The Purdue lead was 20-6 after 10 minutes. It was 33-22 after 20 minutes. It was -- get this -- 55-36 after 30 minutes. Then, in the final 10 minutes, and especially the final five, Xavier staged a marvelous comeback, ending the game on a 30-8 run and holding on in the end to get the most unlikely of wins.

You can look at the box score and know this, and therefore know the story of the game. But believe me when I say this is one you had to see to believe. In particular, you needed to see X guard Tu Holloway, whose late-game transformations -- Holloway goes from inefficient to "oh my God, did you just see that?!?" -- are one of the strangest and most compelling performance storylines in college basketball this season. It pains me to say this, but in his past two games, Tu Holloway became college basketball's Tim Tebow. (I know, I know. I couldn't resist.)

As in Xavier's victory at Vanderbilt on Monday, Holloway was pedestrian to downright bad for much of Saturday afternoon. Before the final five minutes, he was borderline invisible, when he wasn't committing one of his six turnovers, that is. And then, just as it did Monday night in Nashville, something clicked. After the five-minute mark, Holloway went 3-of-4 and scored 13 of his 21 total points, including the three consecutive dagger 3s he stuck in the closing moments when his team needed them most. He won the game with his shooting and finished it off with his free throws.

It's strange, this lightbulb that seems to click only in the closing moments. But whatever it is that goes off in Holloway's head when the game is on the line in the closing moments, Xavier fans will take it. Thanks in large part to Holloway's late-game heroics, the Musketeers end this week with two crucial nonconference wins over two power-six teams, one of which came on the road.

There's a ton of season left, but would anyone want to draw the Muskies in an elimination game right now? For all its occasional struggles -- and by occasional, I mean "for the first 35 minutes of any given game" -- this Xavier team not only appears to be balanced and talented, but also appears to be as difficult an out as any team in the country. If you're up on the Musketeers, you better bury them deep. As long as Holloway's on the floor and the lead is mathematically in reach, you're never, ever safe.

As for Purdue, Matt Painter and Co. will certainly be unhappy to lose a game they controlled for so long in such heartbreaking fashion. And the sight of Robbie Hummel wincing at the end of the Boilermakers bench -- Hummel was crippled by apparently excruciating cramps for much of the afternoon -- was certainly an unwelcome one. But there are bright sides. For one, Hummel's injuries were merely cramps. (Seeing the Purdue senior, in the midst of a heartwarming comeback from two major ACL surgeries, hold his leg after contact is the quickest way this side of an Eli Roth movie to feel one's stomach turn in knots.)

More important, it should be noted that Purdue was the vastly superior team for much of the game. A loss is a loss, of course; no distinction will be made for its type during the résumé comparison season in early March. But the Boilers can take something from this game. They were the better team for its majority -- on the road, in a tough environment, against an experienced and talented team, with its best player cramping late -- and at the end of the day, maybe that's what's worth remembering.

No. 16 Marquette 61, No. 7 Wisconsin 54: Make no mistake: Marquette is a good team. Arguably a very good one. Even without star Jimmy Butler, last season's do-everything scorer, rebounder, glue guy and teammate extraordinaire, the Golden Eagles are still very good.

Even so, this is a borderline shocking result. Why? Because Wisconsin doesn't lose at home, like, ever. Before Saturday, in 11 seasons under Bo Ryan, UW was 156-11 at the Kohl Center. The Badgers were working on a 23-game home winning streak against all opponents; the last time they lost a nonconference home game was Dec. 23, 2008. So for the Golden Eagles to come in and get a win in this underrated in-state hoops rivalry -- well, yeah, that's a shocker, no matter how good this Marquette team is.

Of course, the Badgers gave Marquette the opportunity almost from the starting tip. Wisconsin posted an uncharacteristically awful shooting performance Saturday afternoon, particularly in the first half, when the Badgers scored just 22 points and found themselves in a 10-point hole at halftime. Things improved slightly in the second, but UW still finished 16-of-50 from the field and 5-of-19 from 3. For a team averaging 44 percent from 3 and 50 percent from 2 this season -- a team that relies on slowly working the ball in pursuit of a high-percentage final shot -- that simply won't get it done.

Wisconsin's slow pace -- its greatest advantage at times -- also makes it very difficult for the Badgers to mount a comeback. They tried, and cut the lead to within striking distance late in the second half even despite a tough charging call on point guard Jordan Taylor that cost the Badgers a three-point play and sent Taylor to the bench with his fourth foul. But Marquette was just as good down the stretch. Guard Darius Johnson-Odom didn't have a hugely efficient night (17 points on 15 shots), but anytime he can get his 18-foot step-back jumper off, it becomes an unstoppable offensive weapon. Meanwhile, Marquette is getting good contributions from sophomore Vander Blue and freshman guard Todd Mayo (younger brother of O.J.).

Wisconsin may have shot itself in the foot in this one -- not unlike Tuesday's close call at North Carolina -- but Marquette deserves the credit. The Golden Eagles took advantage early, made enough plays to finish the game and in the process notched one of the biggest wins of Buzz Williams' ever-promising tenure at the program. Impressive stuff.

Illinois 82, No. 18 Gonzaga 75: Maybe Gonzaga beats Illinois on a neutral court. But maybe not.

That's the feeling one got while watching this game, in which Illinois -- a young team but one with talent, which is something yours truly has been saying all season -- never looked overmatched or overwhelmed against a ranked Bulldogs team with designs on a deep tournament run. A little like UK-UNC, this win didn't feel like the benefit of home-court advantage as some deciding factor. Illinois can play with people. Now we know.

[+] EnlargeMeyers Leonard
AP Photo/Robert K. O'DaniellSophomore Meyers Leonard's second-half surge helped Illinois to the upset of visiting Gonzaga.
Of special note? Illinois forward Meyers Leonard. The sophomore missed much of the first half thanks to foul trouble, but he returned in the second with a determined style of play. The end result: 21 points and 6 rebounds on 9-for-11 shooting from the field. Those are impressive tallies any way you slice them, but considering Leonard posted those numbers while matched up with Gonzaga center Robert Sacre, they're doubly so. Throw in the balanced performances from starters D.J. Richardson (19 points), Brandon Paul (13 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) and Sam Maniscalco (10 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds) and, well, don't look now, but this Illinois team might well be better than last season's disappointing senior-led squad. It certainly looked the part Saturday.

No. 17 Pittsburgh 61, Tennessee 56: In Maui, the Tennessee Volunteers proved themselves to be a flawed but hard-nosed and pesky bunch, one that would refuse to roll over for their apparently more talented opponents. That quality was on full display against Pitt, which led UT by eight with 1:46 to go. That's when the Vols began fouling, and after an elbow cost guard Ashton Gibbs a technical foul -- and gave Tennessee the customary shots and possession -- the Panthers missed the front end of two one-and-ones and watched as Trae Golden's 3 cut the lead to 58-56 with 11 seconds remaining.

It wasn't pretty, but the Panthers pulled this one out after forcing a jump ball on Tennessee's key possession late. They'll be thankful for that when seeding time comes around this spring. But let it be known: Tennessee was supposed to be rebuilding. That may be true. But don't tell the Volunteers. Because they aren't yielding anything in the meantime.

Other noteworthy results from the afternoon: The jury is still out on Iowa State; the Cyclones don't have any truly bad losses (at Drake is forgivable, and so is a home loss to UNI), but after Saturday's 75-65 loss at Michigan, Fred Hoiberg's rebuilt team hasn't made us sit up and take notice either. ... Ryan Boatright's home debut after a six-game NCAA rules suspension went swimmingly: The freshman guard scored 23 points and led his team to a game-opening 14-2 run in what was arguably a struggling UConn team's most impressive performance of the year, a 75-62 victory over Arkansas. ... Usually, UCLA-Texas is a marquee game. Not this season. The Bruins are now 2-5 after today's home loss to the Longhorns, which was briefly interrupted by a power surge that caused the lights to dim in the aging Los Angeles Sports Arena, UCLA's temporary home. One imagines Ben Howland would have preferred the lights stay off. ... BYU played at the home of the Utah Jazz (hey, there's nothing going on there) and dusted off Oregon with a 13-0 run in the second half of its impressive 79-65 win. Noah Hartsock led the way with 23 points and 12 boards for the Cougars. In other news, the Horizon League began conference play -- yes, conference play -- on Saturday, with the two biggest results a 77-71 overtime win by Valpo at Butler and Cleveland State's 66-61 win at preseason Horizon favorite Detroit. We know to never count out Butler (or Detroit if Eli Holman ever returns), but it's becoming apparent that the Crusaders and Vikings are the teams to beat in the Horizon.

3-point shot: Road wins key for outsiders

November, 17, 2011
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1. The harsh reality for most schools outside the power six conferences is that they must play quality road games, mostly without a return, against elite teams. Win one or a few of those games and they should be treated well for at-large consideration. We’ve already seen a number of these cases so far and had more Wednesday night. Akron winning at Mississippi State, Kent State winning at West Virginia, Cleveland State winning at Vanderbilt and now add Long Beach State winning at Pitt. Creighton won at UAB, too, but that is a game between two similar conferences. Still, it’s a road win for the Bluejays, a team that is winning games it’s supposed to if they should be taken seriously. The selection committee will be mindful of these type of wins come March.

2. Six NBA teams have already come in to watch Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe, who could lead the Gophers to an upset-type run in the Big Ten to finish in the top four. Mbakwe has missed only three shots in two games and leads the Gophers with 17 points and 10 rebounds a game. The key for the Gophers will be their young guards like Chip Armelin, Andre Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi. If they mature, the frontcourt of Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams could cause fits in the Big Ten.

3. Iowa State had its first wake-up call when it lost to rival Drake 74-65. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said the Cyclones missed too many shots, missed 10 free throws, didn’t guard the dribble well and now have an early-season wakeup. The Cyclones are leaning heavily on players who have transferred into the program. There were going to be growing pains with this move. Minnesota transfer Royce White can only do so much (23 ppg, 12.5 rpg through two games). The Cyclones will need more balance moving forward.

Hoopsbag: Marathon hangover edition

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
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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 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
  • Kent State
  • Memphis
  • Ohio State
  • Gonzaga

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.

Oh, and as for Gonzaga? Kevin Pangos. I need say no more.

@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.)

[+] EnlargeTyler Lamb
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIt'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.

@DraftTeams writes: Is UCLA doomed?

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.

Physical Cleveland State outtoughs Vandy

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
10:56
PM ET

Seeking respect, Cleveland State’s Jeremy Montgomery aggressively challenged his younger foe. He bumped him and shoved him.

His opponent pushed back, and a scuffle nearly ensued in the recent exchange.

Montgomery said he never intended to fight teammate Charles Lee, a freshman guard. But CSU’s grinding practices tend to get emotional, he said.

“I hit him with an elbow. He pushed me back and we got into it,” Montgomery said after his team’s 71-58 upset over No. 7 Vanderbilt in Nashville on Sunday. “Those type of things get you ready for the game.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Jenkins
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJeremy Montgomery and his Vikings simply ran over John Jenkins and his Commodores.
Fouls are rarely called in Cleveland State’s practices. Head coach Gary Waters encourages his players to tussle with one another, so they’re prepared for in-game contact.

That philosophy fuels the brash brand of basketball that shocked Vanderbilt in the biggest upset of the season’s opening stanza.

The Vikings walked into Memorial Gym and punched the Commodores in the mouth, something they’ve been doing to one another all week in practice.

“What happens is people don’t realize, until they get with us, the intensity and the tenacity,” Waters said.

Shaken by Cleveland State’s defensive pressure, Vanderbilt -- saddled with the highest expectations in school history -- produced more turnovers (20) than field goals (18). The Dores, the SEC’s second-best 3-point shooting team a season ago, went 4-for-17 from beyond the arc.

“I felt that they were kind of out of sync, like [a win] was just going to come to them,” Montgomery said.

This wasn’t a we-miss-Festus-Ezeli-problem. Vanderbilt was simply and unacceptably outplayed on its home floor by a squad that was picked to finish third in the Horizon League preseason poll.

Ezeli’s return from a knee injury in the coming months certainly will boost the program, but his absence can’t be an excuse for what happened Sunday.

Give Cleveland State credit for a huge win. But it's also OK to question Vanderbilt.

The team entered the season amid a smattering of Final Four projections. Everyone is back. Vanderbilt has a roster full of seniors in a climate dominated by players who couldn’t vote in the last presidential election.

But Cleveland State’s pace and physicality overwhelmed the equally seasoned Commodores.

The Vikings’ experience proved pivotal. The four seniors on their roster competed with poise on the road against a top-10 opponent. And their doggedness, gleaned from a coach who demands it, turned the contest.

[+] EnlargeGary Waters
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyGary Waters was all smiles as his team wrapped up its victory against No. 7 Vanderbilt.
Waters grew up in Detroit, where he learned the game on the city’s playgrounds in the 1960s. Fouls were foreign on the Motor City’s blacktops, he said.

The sixth-year coach employs the same concept in practice. Before Sunday’s game, one of Waters’ players jokingly asked: “Are there going to be officials, Coach?”

“We allow everything, even knocking guys against the wall," Water said. "Our guys literally feel like the game is easier. We get at each other so hard. So when you get hit in the game, it doesn’t affect you.”

Cleveland State was an afterthought in preseason conversations about the Horizon League, most of which centered on Detroit and Butler.

Well, Butler lost to Evansville on Saturday. And there are serious questions about Detroit’s post presence with Eli Holman’s indefinite time away from the team.

Enter the Vikings. Last season’s Horizon League tri-champs (they split the conference title with UW Milwaukee and Butler) lost Norris Cole, a first-round pick in this past summer’s NBA draft. But Sunday was proof that they still possess serious talent. D’Aundray Brown, who redshirted last season because of a hand injury, scored a game-high 18 points.

Asked if he felt his program has been overlooked, Waters reeled off some of its accomplishments. The Vikings have averaged nearly 23 wins in the past four seasons, including 27 victories last season -- a tally that hadn’t been achieved by the program in 25 years.

“No one ever paid us any attention,” he said.

No need to worry about that anymore.

Weekend's non-Carrier action good, too

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
11:52
AM ET
Today is the big day: The Carrier Classic. It's exciting. It's fun. It's going to be one of the better spectacles in college hoops history. But for various reasons I discussed on the podcast yesterday, it not be the best-played basketball game of all-time.

Fortunately, there is far more to this opening Friday of basketball. This is really the first day of the season, and this weekend is the first time we get to see one of those familiar all-day smatterings of the sport.

An aircraft carrier's awfully cool, but actual basketball? On Saturday and Sunday? The season is back, folks, and that might be the most exciting part of all. Here's an extended primer on the weekend's most interesting games:

Friday

Marist at Kentucky (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3): For all of the excitement over the return of forward Terrence Jones, Kentucky's freshmen class is the reason this team is one of the favorites to win the national title. Thing is, we haven't seen these freshmen play -- at least not in a real college basketball game. Of course, Marist isn't going to put up much of a fight; Chuck Martin's team was one of the worst in all of Division I last season. Either way, though, it will be interesting to see just how scary this Kentucky team looks. If their recent 126-40 exhibition win is any indication, it could be a long night for the Red Foxes.

Rhode Island at George Mason (7:30 p.m. ET): Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt makes his debut at George Mason Friday night. In many ways, Hewitt's Mason move is his opportunity to prove some of the critics of his coaching at Georgia Tech -- those who say he was merely a good recruiter who couldn't often piece together actual basketball teams -- wrong. The team he inherited in 2011-12 is solid, but it lost major pieces (Cam Long graduated, Luke Hancock transferred) from last year's successful run. Hewitt's ability to get big contributions out previous role players will define his first season in the Colonial.

Belmont at Duke (9 p.m. ET, ESPNU): This is arguably the best non-Carrier game of the weekend. Duke is Duke. Cameron Indoor is Cameron Indoor. Coach K is Coach K; he's just three wins shy of breaking his mentor Bob Knight's all-time college basketball wins record, a feat he could very well accomplish in his next three games. But Belmont is far from a guarantee. On the contrary, the Bruins were 30-4 and a major tournament sleeper last season, but a tough No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchup with Wisconsin derailed those hopes. But Belmont returns almost everyone of note from 2011-12 -- they're probably the best mid-major team in the country -- and whatever advantages Duke may have on their home floor could be negated by the Bruins' experience and cohesion. We don't know if this young Duke team has those qualities yet, or if sheer talent will be enough to carry them through. But we get to find out on The U tonight. Don't miss this one.

BYU at Utah State (9 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Speaking of games you shouldn't miss, huh? Here's another must-see, and there are a handful of reasons why: Both teams are consistent winners, both teams are retooling after particularly successful 2011-12 seasons, both teams are well-coached and play smart, sharp, uptempo basketball. Those are all good reasons to tune in. But they may fall short of the two main reasons, which are:

1. This rivalry. Utah State fans do not like BYU, and yes, that is a massive understatement.

2. The atmosphere. Utah State superfan "Wild" Bill Sproat leads one of the rowdiest and most distracting student sections in the country. If he performs "I'm a little teapot" again -- just Google it -- your time will have been well spent. Trust me.

Oregon at Vanderbilt (10 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Neither coach particularly wanted to open the season with this matchup, as our own Andy Katz blogged Wednesday. But Oregon coach Dana Altman was desperate after learning Auburn had cancelled a proposed season-opener, and Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, a friend of Altman's stepped up and took the game. It's not the most opportune time for Vandy to be playing sneaky-good, well-coached Pac-12 sleepers; starting forward Festus Ezeli will be injured for another six weeks, and until his return the Commodores may be content to tread water. A loss tonight would not be the start anyone in Nashville is looking for.

Saturday


Lehigh at Iowa State (2 ET, ESPN3): As we saw Wednesday night -- just before an athletic and talented St. John's team pulled a win together in the final minutes -- Lehigh, led by third-year star guard C.J. McCollum, can really play. This is a challenge for Iowa State. But much of what makes this game a challenge for the Cyclones will come from within: Is Fred Hoiberg's transfer-heavy lineup, featuring former Minnesota flameout Royce White and former Michigan State cast-off Chris Allen, mature and focused and ready to go? Are the issues that cost those players their original roles with their original teams officially behind them? Can a team with this many transfers be even greater than the sum of its talented parts? The road to answers in Ames begins Saturday.

Butler at Evansville (3 p.m. ET): Last year, when Butler went to Evansville and promptly lost to the Purple Aces, it was fashionable to declare the Bulldogs' season over. It's important to remember, not only for Butler but for just about every team on this docket, that this is only the first game of the season. In Butler's case, it's another chance to see Brad Stevens' handful of new players, as well as check in on how Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall are adjusting to new featured roles.

Presbyterian at Duke (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): This is likely to be an easy Duke win, but it has meaning: If Duke beats Belmont Friday night, this could be the game Coach K ties Knight for 902 career wins. If Duke doesn't beat Belmont, well, it will have to wait a game or two to finish up all this record business. It's a little anticlimactic, actually: We know he's going to get this victory eventually. It's not if, but when.

Northern Iowa at Old Dominion (7 p.m. ET): Never let it be said that Northern Iowa is afraid to play anyone anywhere. The Panthers open with one of the more brutal mid-major schedules of any team that doesn't have to play crazy guarantee games to keep the basketballs inflated: UNI begins Saturday night at ODU, where senior guard Kent Bazemore is looking to continue his program's recent emergence onto the national scene. Then, after that east coast trip, Northern Iowa travels all the way across the country to Moraga, Calif., where they will play Randy Bennett's experienced batch of St. Mary's sharpshooters. Just a brutal way to open your season. Fun, travel-filled, eye-opening -- and totally brutal.

Sunday

Cleveland State at Vanderbilt (2 p.m. ET, ESPNU): If there's one mid-major team whose fans are most vocal on Twitter, it may just be Cleveland State. They swear -- swear! -- that the Vikings have been overlooked this preseason. The reasons are understandable, they say; 2011 star guard Norris Cole is in the NBA, and CSU didn't make the tournament with him, so why would people think it could do so without him? But the Vikings do have some serious talent: Everybody but Cole is back, and coach Gary Waters has added a batch of talented players to the rotation this offseason. Vanderbilt, playing without Ezeli, gets two nice tests to open the season this weekend.

North Carolina at UNC Asheville (4 p.m. ET, ESPNU): You might be curious: Why would North Carolina go to UNC Asheville to play an early-season nonconference game? In most cases, your incredulity would be warranted. In this instance, it's a gesture of good faith: Asheville is opening a brand new basketball arena on Sunday afternoon, and Williams and the Tar Heels decided to help their satellite campus christen the new digs by dropping on the first weekend of the season. UNC may want to be careful, though: Any Carrier-lag or hangover, and they could find themselves in a battle with a scrappy Asheville squad. No good deed goes unpunished?

Lamar at Louisville (4 ET, ESPN3): Pat Knight is like his father Bob in at least one way: He's a thoroughly enjoyable character. Unfortunately, the younger Knight didn't display the kind of program-building prowess that for decades made his father the king of Indiana basketball. Then again, it's a bit harder to build a program at Texas Tech. It's not exactly "Hoosiers" in Lubbock, you know? Either way, Knight's post-Tech career with Lamar begins Sunday night at Louisville, where the Cardinals are gearing up for what Rick Pitino hopes can be his most successful season since 2009.

Southern at Texas A&M (4 p.m. ET): Texas A&M cruised past Liberty in their debut Wednesday night, and that should be the expectation when Southern comes to town Sunday, too. But the underlying concern here is for new coach Billy Kennedy's health. Kennedy was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's, and he is yet to make his return to the team after leaving to begin treatment earlier this month. Could he come back Sunday?

Chattanooga at Indiana (5 p.m. ET): Indiana fans are as excited for this season as any in recent memory; the addition of top forward recruit Cody Zeller to a slowly improving lineup bodes well for the Hoosiers' chances of avoiding the Big Ten cellar -- and competing for at least some form of tournament presence -- in 2011-12. But Indiana should be careful here: Chattanooga is one of the SoCon's best squads this season, and they could spring an upset on Indiana before you can say "cream and crimson."

Rider at Pittsburgh (6 p.m. ET, ESPN3): There are questions about Pittsburgh this season, questions that may either take a month or two, or no time at all, to answer. Can the Panthers rebound as well without senior forward Gary McGhee? Can point guard Travon Woodall capably handle his larger and more important role? We'll get a glimpse at some of these answers Sunday night, as Rider should at the very least provide a frisky early test for Jamie Dixon's team.

Florida Atlantic at Washington (8 p.m. ET): Are the nation's scribes just a little too low on Washington? It's starting to feel that way. The Huskies received minimal top 25 love this season, and they do have big holes to fill: Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning were this team's two most important players, and both are gone. But Lorenzo Romar does have a bunch of talent in Seattle, namely Terrence Ross and star freshman Tony Wroten, Jr., who may eclipse most, if not all, of the other star freshmen guards with his ability to smoothly score and distribute in Romar's fast-break game.

George Washington at Cal (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): There are high hopes for Cal this season; many believe they're the rightful Pac-12 favorite. If so, they'll have to get nice contributions from Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs, who has played well during exhibitions and could be a nice complement to experienced guards Allen Crabbe, Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp.

The numbers you need to know

February, 17, 2011
2/17/11
10:33
AM ET
An inside look at the numbers behind Wednesday's top performances:

1. Kemba Walker broke out of a prolonged shooting slump, scoring 31 to lead Connecticut to a 78-70 win over Georgetown. He took the game over in the second half with 21 points, more than he’s been averaging in his previous eight games (17.3 ppg). Walker also added 10 assists and seven rebounds. He’s just the third player this season to post a 30-point, 10-assist game (Myron Strong, D.J. Cooper). The last time a power-conference player did it was March 12, 2009. That’s the date of the epic six-overtime Connecticut-Syracuse marathon where both Jonny Flynn and A.J. Price went for at least 30 and 10.

2. At halftime against Georgia, Vanderbilt was a mess. It had shot just 21.6 percent, and the top two scorers had done nothing. Just one game removed from his career-high, John Jenkins was scoreless. Jeffery Taylor was 0-for-10. But in the second half, Jenkins came alive with 21 points, including five 3s. Georgia scored only three points in the final 9:46 as Vanderbilt came from behind to win 64-56. The win is particularly impressive when you look at Taylor’s shooting performance. He went 2-for-18 from the field, and is just 3-for-25 over the last 2 games. It’s the worst shooting performance (min. 15 attempts) by an SEC player since Florida’s Matt Walsh went 1-for-15 against Alabama in 2004.

3. The most shocking result of the night was in San Diego, where the 5-21 Toreros knocked off No. 23 Saint Mary’s 74-66. Consider that two of San Diego’s wins had come against non-D-I schools and it’s even more improbable. But a team with only one player averaging over 10 ppg had four starters in double figures. This one was all about the second half. Trailing by eight going at halftime, San Diego shot 66.7 percent in the second half and hit 6 of 7 from 3-point range. For Saint Mary’s, Mickey McConnell and Mitchell Young combined for 45 points on 20-for-30 shooting, but the rest of the team shot just 26.7 percent. The Toreros now have more wins over the RPI top 50 than teams like UAB, Utah State and Cleveland State.

4. Speaking of Cleveland State, Norris Cole hit the court for the first time since his 41-point, 20-rebounds effort on Saturday. He didn’t quite have a repeat performance against Wright State, but the Vikings still came out on top 74-72. Cole finished with 16 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. He’s averaging 20.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 5.6 apg on the season. Since 2000, only three players have averaged 20-5-5 over a full season: Evan Turner, Ricky Minard and Speedy Claxton. Cleveland State got all 74 of its points from the starting lineup, and has now gone three consecutive games without a point off the bench.

5. Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum is listed at just 6-3 and 185 lbs, but plays like a much bigger man. On the season, he’s averaging 22.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg, which puts him in the top 10 in the nation among guards in both categories. On Wednesday, he did his best Norris Cole impersonation. McCollum posted 31 points, 15 rebounds, five steals and two blocks, but the Mountain Hawks fell short in overtime to Colgate. As impressive as McCollum was, this game actually belonged to Colgate’s Mike Venezia. He scored 11 of his career-high 27 points in overtime, and connected on 5-for-8 from 3.
Each Wednesday, 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 pageby clicking the link under my name in the upper righthand corner of the blog. You can also e-mail me or send me your entries via Twitter or Facebook. Per the usual, we begin in video form.

Jeff Hullinger from Dublin, Ohio writes: Eamonn: I have no complaints about your excellent coverage of the bubble. My problem is with the committee, which continues to pay homage to the RPI when superior performance predictions are provided by Sagarin and Pomeroy ratings. Why doesn't the NCAA recognize the inherent fallibility of RPI and go to Pomeroy, Sagarin or some combination thereof instead?

Eamonn Brennan writes: Good question, Jeff! The answer is ... well, I'm not exactly sure what the answer is, actually. A good place to start is the simple fact that the RPI is the NCAA's official "supplemental data" method, and any organization is going to tend to lean toward the formulas it creates. Throw in tradition, familiarity, understanding, and perhaps a bit of inflexibility -- the RPI has been around since 1981, after all -- and it's probably no surprise the committee is still clinging to the outdated formula.

So, just how much does the committee actually use RPI? The next few paragraphs come from the "NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship Principles and Procedures for Establishing the Bracket," a title so long you'd think a publishing house wrote it:
The RPI is one of many resources/tools available to the committee in the selection, seeding and bracketing process. Computer models cannot accurately evaluate qualitative factors such as games missed by key players or coaches, travel difficulties, the emotional effects of specific games, etc. [...]

Each committee member independently evaluates a vast amount of information during the process to make individual decisions. It is these qualitative, quantitative and subjective opinions -- developed after hours of personal observations, discussion with coaches, directors of athletics and commissioners, and review and comparison of various data -- that each individual ultimately will determine their vote on all issues related to selections, seeding and bracketing.

The individual components (i.e., win-loss record, opponents' record, opponent opponents' record, where the game is played) of the RPI in and of themselves, are important in the evaluation process.

In other words, the NCAA's official stance is that the Ratings Percentage Index is, as I wrote above, "supplemental data." According to the NCAA's own prescriptions, RPI shouldn't be determinative. Rather, it should be used to challenge or buttress perceptions about teams based on a whole host of other factors, including and up to the "eyeball test." In reality, as I observed at the mock bracket selection exercise last year, the RPI is all over the selection committee's information. Official NCAA nitty-gritty sheets are organized the same way Insider as the ones at ESPN.com are organized -- by columns based on top 50 wins, top 100 losses, and so on. There's no question the RPI is the NCAA's dominant statistical formula. That, as Jeff writes, is a bit of a problem.

The problem with this is not that the NCAA is using formulas to help select the tournament. It's that the committee is using the wrong formula. Ken Pomeroy's rankings are entirely more enlightening; they measure what teams do on a per-possession basis, and they adjust those results based on the competition a team faces. This is not only simpler and more intuitive than RPI, but it is a better predictor of future success, and KenPom's individual team sheets can tell you a good deal of information -- certainly more than the RPI -- about each team's strengths, weaknesses, and individual performances.

Pomeroy and Sagarin's rankings were listed in the mock committee's materials as "other sources of information" when I went to Indianapolis last year. This is both encouraging and frustrating. It's encouraging because the NCAA clearly seems to recognize the value of numbers. Not only that, but it's aware that tempo-free stats are out there, and that they're useful. Otherwise, why list them? But some evidence points to the simple fact that the committee doesn't glance at Pomeroy or Sagarin when it selects or seeds the bracket. The RPI is still king.

Why is this? I honestly don't know. We've established that a) the committee is perfectly willing to use numbers to create and supplement its perceptions, b) it believes that the best committee is one that combines all possible perspectives and sources of information and c) it is well aware of the Pomeroy/Sagarin ratings systems. Perhaps it's just a matter of time. Perhaps the committee just needs a few nudges in the right direction. Perhaps we'll get there soon. Let's hope so, anyway.


Greg from Los Angeles writes: I'm sure you've been hearing this more and more the past week, but it bears repeating with a logical argument: Michigan would certainly not have the worst resume on your list. RPI of 58, 6-7 in a top-two conference, No. 18-ranked schedule. They've won 5 of 6 which means they're actually going in the right direction.True, their best wins are at Clemson and at Michigan State, but they have to be ahead of both of those teams, which are on your list. I admit they wouldn't make the tourney today, but a 3-2 finish gets them to .500 in the conference and would include a couple more quality wins. It's not a long shot -- and that's the definition of the bubble, right? Keep up the good work.

Joe White from Lansing, Mich., writes: What is the justification for Michigan State over Michigan at this point? Or maybe more importantly, why are they not both on the "work left to do" list? I think they both deserve a spot. Definitely concerned after wins at the Breslin and at Penn State (who was killing everybody at home, even top 25'ers), that Michigan is nowhere to be found on your list. Same record as Illinois, better record than MSU with a win over them to boot, crazy SOS, good road wins, etc. How about this: If Michigan drops the Illini tonight in Champaign, you get 'em in the mix? Fair?

Dan from New York writes: Big Michigan hoops fan. I'm sure you've gotten a couple comments. Fan of your column. My goal for the Michigan season was to make it onto bubble watch throughout February so I could pretend we'd have a shot at making the field. Make my dreams come true!

Brennan: Michigan is getting closer and closer with every game they win, but the truth is that five-out-of-their-last-six mark Greg mentioned is essentially five wins over teams (Michigan State, Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana) on the bubble, in the NIT, or worse. The computer profile is decent, though that RPI could certainly use a boost. The overall record isn't sexy, but it's on par with what some bubble teams have. The only problem is quality wins. Michigan's two top 50 RPI wins have come at Michigan State and over Harvard. The Wolverines have lost their other seven top-50 RPI tests. That's why Wednesday night's game at Illinois is so huge. If Michigan gets a win at Illinois -- which is doable, considering the Illini's ongoing struggles -- then I think they can seriously enter the conversation.

In other words, Joe, you've got a deal. And Dan, you keep reaching for the stars, buddy. Dreams do come true!


Nick in Lincoln, Neb. writes: Fighting for my case, Nebraska has an equal chance to make the tournament as Oklahoma State in my eyes. Although not impressive in the non-conference schedule, they have still held their own in the big 12 (minus hiccups at baylor and TTU). What are your thoughts on them at this point?

Brennan: If Nebraska has as good a chance to make the tournament as Oklahoma State, that says less about the Huskers' chances of getting in than it does about the Cowboys' chances of missing out. Frankly, neither team is all that impressive, but Oklahoma State has a much better RPI, a better record against top teams, better nonconference results, and no loss as bad as Nebraska's Nov. 19 defeat against Davidson. We had Nebraska in the Bubble Watch for a while there, but the Huskers are a big time long-shot from here on out.


Bob in Moraga writes: Eamonn, I really enjoy your detailed analyses of the bubble. My question: Will St. Mary's ascend to the "should be in" Line if they beat San Diego and Utah State this week, and to "lock" status if they beat Gonzaga next Thursday?

Brennan writes: Both scenarios are probably a little optimistic. Let's just say this: If Saint Mary's wins all three games, they're in very solid, "should be in" territory going forward. I don't think the Gaels will ever be a "lock" -- that status is lofty and difficult to attain, especially for a team with so few opportunities for quality wins in the WCC -- but it would very difficult to imagine them missing out if things play out as you describe.


DJ in Cleveland writes: Even though I am a Buckeye fan (it's an Ohio thing), I live in Cleveland and follow Cleveland State basketball. WHERE IS THE LOVE? I know that they are 0-3 against RPI top 50 WV, Butler twice, but you can't ignore a 22-5 record. Two years ago a 23-11 CSU team got into the tournament (granted they won the Horizon Tournament), but they went in and shocked Wake Forest. In a year where everyone is talking about a soft bubble, where is the love? Why are they not even considered at-large contenders?

Brennan: DJ busting out the Black Eyed Peas! Trust me, I have love for the Vikings. Norris Cole is the kind of mid-major player that demands the NCAA tournament spotlight. And I think CSU could do some serious damage if they got in. Unfortunately, their decent RPI is belied by the fact that Cleveland State didn't win any of the big games it needed to this year. It lost two games to Butler. It fell short at West Virginia. It lost at Detroit (RPI: 153). Its only three top-100 RPI wins have came at home against St. Bonaventure, Kent State, and Valparaiso. Sorry, but there isn't anything on that record to recommend the Vikings, and the loss to Detroit probably means the Vikings won't be able to salvage their record before the season is over. In other words, get ready for the Horizon League tournament. It should be a doozy.


Chuck from South Bend, Ind., writes: Is Notre Dame underrated? The Irish don't always play exciting basketball -- controlling the tempo makes bad television -- and I think they suffer from a media bias on account of that. I understand my location reveals my current hometown and mutes some of my enthusiasm for the team, but ND's win resume is as good as anyone's in the country. They share the ball, shoot it well and have an experienced, savvy lineup.

Brennan: I don't disagree with any of that, except for the part about ND being underrated. It's hard for me to see Notre Dame as underrated when the Irish are nestled in the AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls next to San Diego State, BYU, and Georgetown. Coaches, media, and everyone in between knows this team is good, and they have for a while now.


Sandy in Austin, Tex., writes: Kansas may have lost to Texas, but you keep forgetting that it was under rare circumstances. Thomas Robinson had just found out his mother had died suddenly and at a young age the night before. Most players were operating on one hour of sleep. Kansas was kicking Texas's butt until they ran out of gas. Kansas will not lose to Texas again this season, keep your eye on the Big 12 tournament championship, and please, before you keep making Texas out to be all that, please note the real reason why they won. Oh, and I guess you can also note that Texas struggled with Baylor on their home court.

Brennan: First, a little background: Sandy was far from the only Jayhawks fan to hit the inbox with a reminder that Texas won at Kansas the day after Robinson's mother tragically passed away. These emails are in response to Monday's Poll Thoughts, in which I questioned the reasons behind Kansas' jump to the No. 1 overall spot in both polls. I didn't note the Robinson situation in that post for a couple reasons. For one, I thought Kansas was a deserving No. 1 ... just not as deserving as Ohio State (and arguably less deserving than Texas). Two, it's really hard to know just how much of an effect outside situations have on games like that. You can take them into account, but it's impossible to quantify them, and at the end of the day you just have to go with what you see on the court.

What I saw on the court when Texas won at Kansas was Texas' stifling defense take over the game down the stretch. Does Kansas win a rematch? Maybe. But for Jayhawks fans convinced that home loss was a fluke, take note of exactly what Texas has done to conference opponents on the defense end this season. I'll let Basketball Prospectus's John Gasaway take it from here:

1.02: That’s the average number of points the Longhorns’ conference opponents are scoring on possessions where they do not commit a turnover (what I call an effective possession). In other words, if every team that played Texas was given a magic pill that would make it impossible for them to give the ball away, ever, those teams would still be scoring just 1.02 points per trip. That would make UT the second-best D in their league, behind Kansas. An imaginary Texas D with zero turnovers forced over 653 possessions would actually be better than 10 out of 11 real-world Big 12 defenses.

That. Is. Insane. If Texas keeps this up, they'll finish the regular season with one of the single most impressive defenses, like, ever. Which brings me back to my original point. Maybe Kansas beats Texas in a rematch. Kansas is very, very good. But Texas is pretty freaking good, too. Tragic circumstances or not, that's what we saw in Lawrence on Jan. 22, and that's worth keeping mind as these two duke it out for Big 12 superiority down the stretch.

Oh, and by the way, Ohio State should still be No. 1. Truth.


Tom from Twin Falls, Idaho, writes: YOU SUCK BRENNAN! I have no basis for the previous statement, I just have the urge every time I read the last paragraph of Bubble Watch. I am sure I am not the only one and I guess that makes this kinda lame, but there you go.

Brennan: Nope, not lame at all. Actually kind of awesome, in fact. Keep the questions and comments coming, kids. The 'Bag's office hours are always open.
Saturday was not the most enticing day of college hoops we've seen this season. Saturday night's "College GameDay" feature, a 9 p.m. ET tilt between No. 11 Kentucky and No. 23 Florida, is the only matchup of two ranked teams on the schedule. But I'm not complaining. Why? Two reasons:

1. You should never complain about a full Saturday of college hoops. The offseason is way too long. You have to appreciate this stuff while it lasts. It'll be July (ugh) soon enough.

2. Saturday's games have actually been pretty solid. We've had a handful of shocking upsets (I'm looking at you, Washington), a menagerie of one-possession squeakers, and most noticeably -- especially for the first Saturday of February, which still feels too early to spend too much time worrying about the bubble just yet -- a variety of important long-term ramifications for a variety of teams on all sides of the bubble.

So, no, I'm not complaining. Instead, I'm recapping, analyzing and enjoying. Below is a look at some of the more intriguing bubble-oriented games of the day. Join me, won't you?

Baylor 76, No. 16 Texas A&M 74: Just when you thought the Bears were done for good, they go and do something like this ... and totally redeem themselves! OK, so not totally; Baylor still has plenty of work to do to build a solid NCAA tournament résumé. But the Bears' huge win at Texas A&M this afternoon does salvage what appeared to be an all-but-cooked NCAA tournament at-large candidacy after they lost an ugly game at Oklahoma Wednesday.

So how did Baylor get this win? Two obvious areas of the game stick out. The first is pure shot conversion: The Bears made 51.8 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from the 3-point line, and notched an effective field goal percentage of 58.0 percent. A&M, on the other hand, went 42.9 percent from the field, 34.8 percent from 3, and 50 percent eFG, a product of Baylor's length and athleticism in Scott Drew's preferred zone defense. The second advantage area for Baylor? Rebounding. The Bears rebounded a higher percentage of theirs and the Aggies' misses on both ends of the floor. This is the way to beat A&M -- a very good rebounding team -- at home.

That's how Baylor got its two crucial buckets of the game, both of which came in overtime. The first came off a Perry Jones rebound and putback with just a minute left in the game. The second came with 3.1 seconds remaining, when Anthony Jones grabbed an offensive board and scored a layup to give Baylor the decisive bucket late.

For Texas A&M, the loss caps a brutal week. The Aggies lost at Nebraska last Saturday and were blown out at home by Texas Monday before this disappointing defeat. A&M appears to be backsliding; if they do, it's possible this win won't mean quite as much for Baylor down the stretch as it does Saturday. But no matter. The Bears desperately needed something resembling a marquee win, and they got one here.

Northwestern 71, No. 24 Illinois 70: Speaking of apparent backslides, Bruce Weber's Illini have now lost five of their past seven games, including a loss at Indiana and, now, Saturday's ugly performance at Northwestern. The Illini have a whole host of problems, some of which have been year-long bugaboos -- poor shot selection, lack of an interior presence, Demetri McCamey's inexplicable passivity, soft perimeter defense -- and all of which showed up in the loss to the Wildcats. If there's anything we know about college basketball, it's that you don't want to overreact to road conference losses; they happen to every team regardless of relative superiority. But given their recent results, this loss feels like an especially pertinent one for Illinois. It seemed the Illini were set to turn things around after a convincing win over Penn State this week. Instead, suddenly, the talented team that entered the season with Big Ten title hopes finds itself slowly, but surely, looking like yet another bubble candidate. If Illinois fans aren't already engaging in much wailing and gnashing of teeth (and I'm pretty sure they are), then now is the time to start.

George Mason 62, Old Dominion 45: How about some love for the George Mason Patriots? Entering the season, most observers pegged Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth as the Colonial's two main title contenders. Jim Larranga's team rarely got that sort of love. But after Saturday's double-digit home win over ODU, Mason is now 11-2 in league play, good enough to tie VCU for the Colonial lead to date. (VCU got a solid win at James Madison Saturday to move to 11-2, too.) That's especially impressive considering the unusual depth we're seeing in the Colonial this season. VCU, ODU, Mason, Hofstra and even Drexel are all solid, and more than one of them could eventually warrant consideration for an at-large berth by the time the season is over. If the past week -- which, besides Saturday's game, featured a 21-point win over Hofstra -- is any indication, Mason just might be the toughest of the bunch.

Oregon 81, No. 19 Washington 76: At the risk of encroaching on Bill Raftery's well-established choke hold on the "Sleepless In Seattle" pun market, let's just say Huskies fans are about to start having some serious REM-cycle issues. What appeared for much of the season to be the Pac-10's best team -- not to mention one of the most underrated and efficient teams in the country -- Washington suffered its second straight disaster in Oregon. Thursday's loss to Oregon State cost UW its spot at the top of the Pac-10 standings. Saturday's loss throws the whole conference title picture into whack. But it also does something worse: It casts doubt on this Washington team, which appeared to be rolling after the loss of Abdul Gaddy and the transition of Isaiah Thomas to the point guard spot. Clearly, that's not the case. Even worse, Washington, like Illinois above, is suddenly in frightening bubble territory, with no notable nonconference wins to speak of. (And we need to give some love to these Ducks, too, specifically coach Dana Altman. This team has no business beating Washington State and Washington in back-to-back games, but that's exactly what Altman and Co. just did. Impressive.)

Butler 73, Cleveland State 61: Has Butler found its defense? Brad Stevens will be hoping so, at least. Stevens' disappointing bunch has scored at a high rate -- but yielded points far too easily -- throughout the 2010-11 season, and the result has been a mediocre Horizon League record, a handful of ugly losses (including Thursday's loss at 8-14 Youngstown State) and a steep fall from the national title-type heights they scaled during the previous season. This game won't put Butler back on the good side of the bubble -- sorry, but no team with five Horizon losses is going to be an at-large candidate anytime soon -- but it does do two things. First, it damages Cleveland State's already tenuous at-large hopes. Second, in holding the Vikings to a point per possession on the road, Butler has provided some hope that it can still find ways to defend with something resembling previous season's tenacity. That has been missing all season. But if Butler finds it, and slots it in next to that super-efficient offense, the Bulldogs might not be dead yet.

Kansas State 86, Iowa State 85: Before this season started, you can bet Kansas State coach Frank Martin wasn't circling a Feb. 5 date at Iowa State as a likely "must win." But that's actually what this game was for the Wildcats. Or, perhaps more accurately, it was a "must not lose" game. A loss might have officially doomed Martin's team to the sub-bubble scrap heap. With a win over the scruffy and surprisingly tough Cyclones, Kansas State's bubble hopes -- which are buoyed by a strong computer profile and a few solid wins here and there -- remain alive. The next step? Seeing if Jacob Pullen's 17-point second-half explosion and game-winning last-second layup can key a return to the preseason All-American's formerly high-flying form.

Memphis 62, Gonzaga 58: And, finally, the loss that officially broke the Gonzaga at-large berth camel's back. (In case you're wondering, yes, every team has a camel, and every loss is a straw, and ... ah, nevermind. Dumb metaphor. Let's move on.) Gonzaga was already on supremely shaky NCAA tournament territory after its lost weekend in the Bay Area Jan. 20-22, when the Bulldogs lost at Santa Clara and at San Francisco. The Bulldogs have some good wins but nothing truly great, and they just lost a home game to a Memphis team that is fully on the bubble itself. Whether the Tigers get a boost here is up for debate. What seems certain is that if Gonzaga plans on extending its 12-year NCAA tournament appearance streak, it's probably going to have to win the WCC tourney to do so.

Other notables from the afternoon:

Matchups for BracketBusters released

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
7:06
PM ET
The matchups are in for the ninth annual BracketBusters. See below for the televised games and check back in later for Andy Katz's early analysis of the event. For a complete list of the non-televised games, click here.

Friday, Feb. 18 (all times ET)
7 p.m. - VCU at Wichita State (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
9 p.m. - Kent State at Drexel (ESPNU)

Saturday, Feb. 19
11 a.m. - Hofstra at Wright State (ESPNU)
1 p.m. - Austin Peay at Fairfield (ESPNU)
3 p.m. – Iona at Liberty (ESPNU)
5 p.m. – Missouri State at Valparaiso (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
5 p.m. – Vermont at Charleston (ESPNU)
7 p.m. – George Mason at Northern Iowa (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
9 p.m. – Utah State at Saint Mary’s (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)
11 p.m. – Montana at Long Beach State (ESPN2/ESPN3.com)

Sunday, Feb. 20
1 p.m. - Cleveland State at Old Dominion (ESPN or ESPN2)

Of the 15 conferences involved in BracketBusters, 13 are included in the television schedule:

BracketBusters national TV appearances, by conference
5 - CAA
3 - Horizon, Missouri Valley
2 - MAAC
1 - America East, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, MAC, Ohio Valley, Southern, WCC, WAC
0 - MEAC, Summit, Independents (Seattle)

Butler may yet round into form as the Horizon League's dominant team. It's hard to imagine a Bulldogs team this talented, experienced and well-coached not winning their conference by the time all is said and done in 2011.

The only difference between this year's dominance and last year's? This year, Butler will have some competition.

It's still early, of course, but there are already signs that Cleveland State -- which is off to a surprising 15-1 start with its only loss coming at West Virginia -- are a team to be reckoned with in the Horizon. Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway cast his tempo-free gaze at the Horizon League Monday and found that through four league games, Cleveland State is already outperforming Butler on a per-possession basis. The Vikings are scoring 1.22 points per possession on offense and allowing only .95 ppp on defense, giving them the largest conference play margin of any team in the Horizon. Butler, through two games, is second thus far.

Of course, it's still very early, and Cleveland State is likely due for a return to normalcy at some point. The Vikings are currently outpacing Butler's 2009-10 conference performance, in which the Bulldogs stormed through the league with an undefeated 18-0 record. That's not a sustainable pace.

But it is worth keeping an eye on. On Friday, Cleveland State will travel to Butler for the duo's first league matchup. Butler travels to Cleveland State in about a month. The Vikings might not keep up this pace forever, but they appear to be a viable challenger to Butler's usually untouched Horizon League throne.

Observations from Saturday's games

February, 13, 2010
2/13/10
4:57
PM ET
Four o’clock thoughts on Saturday’s action:

  • Bradley 68, Northern Iowa 59. You had been warned. Northern Iowa hadn’t been playing great basketball lately, muddling through four unimpressive victories before this. Shocking stat from this game was the fact that the Panthers gave up 45 second-half points two a team that made just two 3-pointers all game. That’s the most points UNI has surrendered in a half this season. More shocking stat: This is the first time Bradley beat a ranked team in Carver Arena, which opened in 1982.
  • Butler did what Butler does, extending a two-point halftime lead to an 11-point victory at Cleveland State. Past three games combined, the Bulldogs have been a plus-one point in the first half and a plus-36 in the second. That’s the sign of a veteran team that knows how to execute when the going gets serious.
  • Sharaud Curry’s technical foul helped turn Providence’s potential shocking upset of Villanova into a Wildcats' victory.

    With 8:07 left in the game and the Friars down four, Curry was called for a foul off the ball defending ‘Nova star Scotty Reynolds. That was Curry’s fourth personal -- and when official Doug Shows banged him with a technical for reacting to the call, Providence’s second-leading scorer was gone after putting 19 points on the board.

    From that point, ‘Nova outscored the Friars 28-21 to the final gun, and cruised with a double-digit lead for most of the final four minutes. The loss cannot be blamed completely on that T -- but for a team with virtually no margin for error on the road against a top-five opponent, losing Curry for the final eight minutes was a huge factor in Providence’s sixth straight defeat.

    While admittedly having no idea what Curry might have said or done up to that point during the game, his reaction to that particular call didn’t look like an obvious technical response. It probably explains why Providence coach Keno Davis was so exorcised. Big East officiating has been under scrutiny a few times this season, and this is one more talking point.
  • Wisconsin’s 28-point mauling of Indiana extends the Hoosiers’ misery. That makes three straight losses by 17 points or more. Tom Crean’s team overachieved for a while after losing Maurice Creek for the season, but the bottom seems to have fallen out since a gutty home loss to Purdue.

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