College Basketball Nation: Damian Lillard

You Gotta See This: Big Sky

October, 1, 2013
Kyle TresnakJames Snook/USA TODAY SportsBig man Kyle Tresnak averaged 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for Weber State in 2012-13.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season — from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Today: Weber State, and Damian who?

The 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year went from Weber State to the National Basketball Association for very good reasons. In 2011-12, Damian Lillard, to that point a relatively unheralded senior redshirt junior playing for a small mid-major program in Ogden, Utah, touched the ball on nearly a third of his team's possessions. Despite that burden, he posted a 124.4 offensive rating, the highest of any player with a usage rate above 28 percent, per Ken Pomeroy -- higher even than All-American Doug McDermott, who consumed fewer of his team's trips. Lillard's late-blooming offensive brilliance canceled out every concern NBA scouts had about Big Sky competition. That summer, the Portland Trail Blazers made him the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Back in Ogden, it was fair to expect Weber State to fade away. Frankly, the Wildcats were never in collective focus anyway -- they lost to all three (at Saint Mary's, at BYU, at Cal) of their significant nonconference opponents, fell short in OT in the Big Sky title game, and finished ranked No. 148 in the country in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency. For a team with a future NBA Rookie of the Year running the show, Weber State flew way under the radar. And with Lillard gone, surely the opportunity was lost.

Which brings us to the big, predictably introduced reveal: Weber State didn't get worse. It got better. Randy Rahe's team won four more games (30-7) than in 2011-12. Its defense got drastically better, zooming from 258th in the country to 99th. That would have been the biggest surprise, but for this: The Wildcats' offense didn't regress a bit. Weber State posted the fourth-highest effective field goal percentage in the country (56.0), thanks in large part to lights-out, 45.6 percent-from-3 shooting from senior guard Scott Bamforth. The Wildcats finished No. 76 in Pomeroy's efficiency rankings. They weren't just better. They were much better.

They also missed the tournament. Again. Thanks to another close Big Sky loss, and no nonconference results, again.

Which is precisely why Weber State offers such an interesting watch for the season to come. Just as the Wildcats had to overcome the loss of their ball-dominating, NBA-ready point guard a year prior, this summer they're reconfiguring without Bamforth, one of the best pure shooters in the college game, and reliable senior forward Frank Otis, arguably the team's best rebounder. But Davion Berry, who shot 41.4 percent from 3 last season in his own right, and center Kyle Tresnak, a shot-blocker and rebounder who by now has a well-rounded interior game, are both back. So is freshman Joel Bolomboy, the 2012-13 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year.

In other words, this is the season Weber State might finally break through -- just 17 months after waving farewell to one of the best young players in the NBA. I'm pretty sure that's not how it's supposed to work. But Weber State just keeps getting better.

Video: Katz with top NBA draft prospects

June, 27, 2012

Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes and Damian Lillard talk to Andy Katz on the eve of the 2012 NBA draft.

3-point shot: NBA draft in sight

June, 27, 2012
1. Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones III all returned for their sophomore seasons to be top-five picks and compete for a national title. None was invited to the NBA draft green room Thursday night. But none of them should regret a thing. Terrence Jones won a national title at Kentucky and wasn’t ready emotionally after his freshman season to leave, let alone from a basketball perspective. Sullinger reached the Final Four with Ohio State. Perry Jones III got to the Elite Eight with Baylor. Neither of them was ready a year ago, either. Revisionist history isn’t appropriate here. All three should still land in decent situations Thursday.

2. Terrence Ross was a late addition to the draft. The Washington sophomore wing could be a legit pick for Milwaukee, Phoenix or Philadelphia at Nos. 12, 13 and 15, respectively. Had Ross played in the Big East or the ACC he would probably be a household name. Having played at UW doesn’t mean he'll go higher, since teams are well aware of players all over the country (see Weber State’s Damian Lillard), but recognition of Ross wouldn’t be a question Thursday night.

3. As the NBA heads into the final two days of pre-draft drama, there are a number of teams looking to make a move. Milwaukee and Houston want to move up. Sacramento is willing to move down. Cleveland would love to get to No. 2. Charlotte could easily move back, even after the latest trade to get Ben Gordon. Golden State has plenty of flexibility and can stay where it is or move.
1. Kentucky coach John Calipari will be in Newark Thursday to see what he hopes is another record night. He has been touting a stat that is hard to beat: Every Wildcats starter for the past three seasons has been or will be an NBA draft pick. The only player that could be a question mark heading into Thursday is Darius Miller; but I expect him to go in the second round. The Wildcats will likely see five starters drafted in the first round: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague. Teague will go likely fifth among the playmaking group that includes Dion Waiters, Damian Lillard, Austin Rivers and Kendall Marshall.

2. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said the Seminoles will surprise some people next season “like we always do.’’ FSU has had a few workouts and will have even more once the next summer session starts. Hamilton reports junior forward Terrance Shannon, who didn’t play after losing to UConn on Nov. 26 due to a shoulder injury, is coming along quite well. And Hamilton said the leadership out of big shot Michael Snaer and Ian Miller is already taking shape in offseason workouts. The Seminoles were a first-place ACC team in the middle of the conference season and ended up finishing 12-4, 25-10 overall before losing to Cincinnati in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

3. Replacing Mike Dunlap on the St. John’s staff may be as important as all the players Steve Lavin signed this year. Dunlap was hired because of his player development skills and the Red Storm will once again have a young roster. Lavin needs to find a strong candidate who can handle a similar role during a critical season for St. John’s. Lavin doesn’t need a recruiter in that position, he needs a coach who will be in the trenches and in the gym.
1. The Atlantic 10 needs to go on the offensive because it could potentially get poached by the MWC-CUSA merger. Charlotte is ripe for the picking since the 49ers are going to Division I football. The A-10 actually would be better if it was slimmed down by a few teams from 14. But losing Temple for 2013-14 isn’t the answer. The A-10 could definitely use a marquee program in the footprint (like VCU or Old Dominion).

2. Louisville coach Rick Pitino was right back in the fall and his influence with John Marinatto must have paid off. Adding Temple and Memphis for football is out of necessity. But the Big East had to add two established, tradition-rich basketball programs. Everyone in the Big East should fully expect Temple and Memphis to be fulltime players near the top of the conference for the foreseeable future.

3. Weber State’s Damian Lillard and Iona’s Scott Machado may end up being the top two playmaker guards in the NBA draft. Yet, neither one will be in the NCAA tournament after Lillard’s Wildcats were knocked out by host Montana in the Big Sky tournament title game. Machado lost to Fairfield in the MAAC tournament. The NCAAs will have plenty of stars, but not having Lillard and Machado on this stage is a shame for those that hadn’t seen either play this season.

BracketBusters stats primer

February, 17, 2012

AP Photo/ Stephen Haas
Time to cram on Isaiah Canaan and others in BracketBusters action this weekend.

Your one-stop primer for this weekend’s BracketBusters games.

16 Saint Mary’s at 14 Murray State - 6 ET Saturday, ESPN/ESPN3

This is the fourth game in the 10-year history of the BracketBusters event that has pitted two ranked teams against each other. The lower-ranked team has won the three previous meetings.

Murray State’s opponents rebound 35 percent of their misses, putting the Racers in the bottom 20 percent of the country in defensive rebounding. That could be a problem against the Gaels’ Rob Jones, whose 10.8 rebounds per game ranks in the top 10 nationally.

The top four players in Division I according to Offensive Rating on will be featured in televised matchups.

F Dominique Morrison, Oral Roberts
The 6-foot, 6-inch wing has really excelled in isolation. He's averaging the third-highest points per play while turning the ball over fewer than once every 14 plays when going one-on-one (minimum 50 plays).

F Doug McDermott, Creighton
The sophomore efficiently moves without the ball within Creighton’s offense. McDermott has made nearly 80 percent of his shots off cuts to the basket and averages better than 1.5 points per play, both of which rank among the top 10 in Division I (minimum 50 plays).

G Isaiah Canaan, Murray State
The Racers lived up to their nickname this season, ranking third nationally in transition points per play. As the team's starting point guard, Canaan leads the fast-paced attack. He’s scored on 60 percent of his transition plays, racking up nearly four times as many assists as turnovers.

G Damian Lillard, Weber State
Lillard torches opposing teams as both a scorer and passer. Among players with at least 50 pick-and-roll plays, he averages the second-most points per play in Division I and created an additional 96 points on 82 passes with just six turnovers.

The record for points scored in a BracketBuster game is 35 by Norris Cole of Cleveland State at Old Dominion on Feb. 20, 2011. Another contender who could top that is South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters.

The junior topped the 30-point mark five times this season, including in his last game on Wednesday. shows that he draws 6.5 fouls per game (32nd in the nation). He’ll enjoy a home-crowd advantage as the Buffalo Bulls travel west to play the Jackrabbits at 1 ET (ESPNU).

Here are quick facts on the defending postseason NIT champs who are unranked in the ESPN/USA Today’s Coaches Poll but rank 12th in ESPN's new BPI.
" 8-3 vs BPI Top 100 teams (best among mid-majors; minimum 5 games)
" 14-4 vs BPI Top 150 teams (best among mid-majors; minimum 9 games)
" Won 13 of last 14 games (only loss in 3OT)
" Third-most experienced team in the nation (according to starting four seniors
" Four players shoot at least 38 percent from 3-point range (minimum 25 attempts)
" Joe Ragland: 68.58 true shooting percentage ranks fifth in Division I

Wichita State plays at Davidson, Noon ET Saturday on ESPN2/ESPN3.

Contributions by Mackenzie Kraemer, Katie Sharp and Harold Shelton

Player of the year straw poll update

February, 15, 2012
With a month left before the NCAA tournament begins, there is a legitimate race for the National Player of the Year.

Kansas junior Thomas Robinson, the leader in the first two National POY straw polls, is getting a major challenge from Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis.

And in the Year of the Versatile Forward, it makes sense. College basketball hasn’t seen a year of top big men like this since 2009, when the top three finishers for the Wooden Award and the top four for the Naismith Award were all forwards and centers.

In that year, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin ran away with both awards, blowing by Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair, Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet and the 2008 Wooden Award winner, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. The top college guard that season, Davidson’s Stephen Curry, had a standout season but his team ended up in the NIT.

That season did have a lot of talented, well-known guards, led by Curry, UNC’s Ty Lawson, Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, Memphis’ Tyreke Evans and Arizona State’s James Harden. All were in the final ballot of that season's straw poll.

As for this season, the top six vote-getters in this week’s poll were forwards, and 12 of 17 players mentioned by the 54 pollsters who responded were forwards or centers. Players like Michigan State’s Draymond Green and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, now among the best players in the nation, were freshmen during that 2009 season and are now in this straw poll as seniors.

For those who missed the first two polls, here’s a recap of how it all works: Each pollster sends us their top three. A first-place vote is worth three points, a second-place vote worth two and a third-place vote worth one. Every voter is granted anonymity. Every voter has a voice in at least one of the four major college basketball player of the year awards: Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press or Robertson (the USBWA award).

Poll analysis:

-- For the third straight ballot, 17 players were represented. They come from 11 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big Ten, MAAC, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Ohio Valley, SEC and West Coast). Just one school, Missouri, had multiple players on the ballot -- Denmon and Ratliffe.

-- Four players are making their first ballot of the season -- Johnson-Odom, Canaan, Anosike and Rob Jones. Five players dropped off from the second ballot: UNC’s Harrison Barnes, Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Miami (Ohio)’s Julian Mavunga. In addition, the poll had its first returning player after being knocked off the ballot. Denmon was in the first poll, off the second and returns for the third.

-- The biggest mover was Davis, who jumped from fourth to second. Even more so, he went from being on 16 ballots to 47 ballots and from 30 points to 112 points. He also went from four first-place votes to 20. McDermott had the biggest drop, falling from second to fourth and from 70 points to 15.

-- In what is shaping up as a two-man race, only Robinson and Davis received first-place votes. On the second ballot, seven players received first-place votes: Robinson, McDermott, Sullinger, Davis, Kevin Jones and two players completely off this poll -- Barnes and Jenkins.

-- Player on the poll who should be getting more attention: Scott. This is the second poll I’ve mentioned this. His statistical numbers might not be as strong as others, but he consistently faces opponent double-teams and the exceedingly slow pace the Cavaliers play at limits Scott’s possessions to put up huge numbers.

-- Three players not in the poll who should get more attention: Iona guard Scott Machado, who continues to be one of the nation’s top passers, averaging 10 assists a game. Iowa State forward Royce White, while not putting up monster numbers, has been the key cog to the Cyclones' attempt to make a run at the NCAA tournament and is a matchup nightmare for any team facing him. Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, who while being the Orange’s sixth man, has been a major reason for their success averaging 12.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just 23.7 minutes -- minutes much lower than any other contender. Three of the four players mentioned here two weeks ago ended up in this poll. The other was Seton Hall’s Herb Pope.

So what comes next? Here is a look at the next two weeks for the main contenders.

-- Sullinger has three marquee games that could give him one last push. He’ll be on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET Saturday against rival No. 19 Michigan, then faces elite big man Meyers Leonard and Illinois on Feb. 21 and No. 17 Wisconsin on Feb. 26.

-- Davis faces Ole Miss on Saturday, goes to Mississippi State on Feb. 21 and then faces Vanderbilt on Feb. 25.

-- Robinson has a major statement game on Feb. 25 against Missouri as well as three games against three teams at the bottom of the Big 12: Texas Tech (Saturday), Texas A&M (Feb. 22) and Oklahoma State (Feb. 27).

Wooden Watch: Jason King's POY ballot

February, 8, 2012
With one month remaining in the regular season, the battle for the Wooden Award appears to be a two-man race between Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson. Right now I’m leaning toward Davis, the projected No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft. But you could definitely make an argument for Robinson, too. There are still plenty of opportunities for each to impress -- or regress. Here’s how I’d vote if the season ended today.
  1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky - The 6-foot-10 Davis averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 blocks in the Wildcats’ most recent victories over South Carolina and Florida. He shot a collective 17-of-23 from the field in those two games. Davis’ presence alone affects the game on the defensive end.
  2. Thomas Robinson, Kansas - Robinson had 20 points and 17 rebounds in a victory over Oklahoma before erupting for 25 and 13 in Saturday’s 74-71 loss at Missouri. When he’s playing his best, Robinson might be the toughest player in the country to stop in the paint. He’ll be tested Wednesday by Baylor’s Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III.
  3. Kevin Jones, West Virginia - The senior forward continues to post gaudy stats - he’s scored 20 or more points in nine consecutive games - but his team is struggling. The Mountaineers have lost three of their past four contests, with the only victory coming in overtime against Big East bottom-feeder Providence. Impossible as it might seem, West Virginia may need Jones to do even more.
  4. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State - The versatile Buckeyes forward averaged 21 points and 8 rebounds in victories over Wisconsin and Purdue. College basketball fans - and Wooden Award voters - have grown used to seeing Sullinger post impressive stat lines. It’d be a shame if they started taking him for granted.
  5. Doug McDermott, Creighton - The Bluejays sophomore has averaged 21.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three games since the last Wooden Award ballot was released. Creighton, though, lost back-to-back contests at Northern Iowa and Evansville during that span. The setbacks certainly aren’t McDermott’s fault — but it’s definitely on him to make sure they don’t become a trend. Saturday’s home game against Wichita State is huge.
On the cusp:

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State - The leader of the nation’s only undefeated team had 32 points in last week’s victory over Southeast Missouri State. Canaan averages 18.9 points and shoots 47.1 percent from the field.

Draymond Green, Michigan State - Playing on basically one leg, the senior forward matched Michigan on the boards all by himself Sunday. Green had 16 boards while the Wolverines snared a collective 16.

John Henson, North Carolina - The junior had 17 points and 12 boards in Saturday’s victory over Maryland. Henson is averaging a double-double (14.3 points, 10 rebounds) on the season.

Perry Jones III, Baylor - Jones has scored 15 or more points in each of his past four games, but he’ll need to be more assertive than ever if the Bears have any hope of defeating Kansas in Waco, Texas, on Wednesday.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky - The freshman had 13 points and 13 rebounds in Tuesday’s win against No. 7 Florida. He’s one of the main reasons Kentucky is regarded as the nation’s best team.

Damian Lillard, Weber State - The guard had 40 points in Thursday’s win over Portland and 35 in a victory over Northern Colorado two days later. Lillard leads the nation with 25.5 points per game.

Scott Machado, Iona - The nation’s assists leader dropped 23 dimes and combined for 32 points in victories over Manhattan and Canisius. Machado leads the country with an average of 10 assists per game.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State - Moultrie’s presence - he averages 17 points and 11.1 boards - has taken some pressure off of highly scrutinized forward Renardo Sidney. As a result, both players have flourished.

Mike Scott, Virginia - The senior forward scored 16 points in Saturday’s 58-55 road loss at Florida State. He’s shooting an impressive 58.8 percent from the field on the season. Scott could burst onto the national scene with an impressive performance at North Carolina on Saturday.

Tyler Zeller, North Carolina - Most people are obsessed with Zeller’s younger brother, Cody, a standout freshman for Indiana. Tyler, though, has been equally impressive. He averaged 20 points and 12.5 rebounds last week.

Thursday recap: Racers rally, remain perfect

February, 3, 2012
Player of the Night: Isaiah Canaan
Trailing at the half and down 11 points with 17 minutes to go, Murray State’s undefeated season was in serious jeopardy. That’s when Canaan took over, scoring 24 points in the final 16:30. During that same stretch, Southeast Missouri State scored just 27 points. Canaan finished with 32 points as the Racers won, 81-73. It was Murray State’s fourth win after trailing at halftime.

Scoring Star Part I: Lamont Jones
Iona cruised to a 105-86 win over Canisius behind a career-high 43 points from Jones. The Arizona transfer went 16-for-23 from the field, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range. His 43 points set a Hynes Center record that had held up since 1984. It’s also tied for the second-highest scoring game in school history, and the most points since Sean Green’s 43 in 1991.

Scoring Star Part II: Damian Lillard
The nation’s leading scorer had one of his best games of the season, scoring 40 points in a 92-79 win over Portland State. The win moved Weber State to 9-1 in the Big Sky Conference. It was Lillard’s second 40-point performance of the season, the only player who can make that claim. Last season, only Jimmer Fredette (four) and Marshon Brooks (two) had multiple 40-point games. Lillard is on track to be the first player to average 25 points, five rebounds and three assists per game since Lester Hudson in 2008-09.

Scoring Duo: Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard
Murphy (33) and Dillard (29) combined for 62 points in Tennessee Tech’s 94-88 win over Austin Peay. Both players are averaging more than 18 points per game. The only other team with multiple players averaging 18 points per game is Central Connecticut, which actually has three. Murphy and Dillard average a combined 39.8 points per game, which makes them the second-highest scoring duo in the nation behind Weber State’s Lillard and Scott Bamforth (40.7).

Strange Line of the Night: Chris Cooper
In Old Dominion’s 80-71 win over James Madison, Cooper grabbed 22 rebounds – matching the second-most rebounds in a game this season. The last ODU player with more rebounds in a game was Clifton Jones in 2001. Now for the strange part. Cooper went 1-for-7 from the field. The last time a player grabbed 20 rebounds and shot less than 15 percent? Marshall’s Tyler Wilkerson in 2009.

Behind the box scores: Thursday's games

February, 3, 2012
A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of statistical oddities and standout performances. Here are some we found from Thursday.

Iona 105, Canisius 86 and Weber State 92, Portland State 79
Iona’s Lamont Jones poured in 43 points and Weber State’s Damian Lillard scored 40 in the their teams’ victories. Lillard became the first player this season to record two 40+ point games, and Thursday marked the first time this season two players eclipsed the 40-point plateau on the same day.

Western Carolina 82, Chattanooga 76
Western Carolina’s Keaton Cole attempted 19 3-pointers in the win, tying him with Iona’s Sean Armand for the most in a regulation game this season. Cole is the only player to have three games with at least 15 3-pointers attempted; he scored 18 points in all three games. Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin attempted 20 3-pointers in the Terrapins’ 90-86 double-overtime loss to Miami (FL) on Wednesday.

Pacific 60, UC Riverside 52
Pacific’s Ross Rivera made 15 free throws in 21 minutes off the bench, the most made free throws by a substitute this season.

Trillion of the Night: Eric Strangis of Southern Cal played 10 minutes without accumulating a stat in the Trojans’ 60-53 loss at Washington State.
1. A Big 12 source with direct knowledge of the expansion board said that the league continues to be told that West Virginia will be in the league in 2012-13, but doesn’t have official word yet. The football schedule isn’t done yet, but the plans are for West Virginia to be in the league, instead of schools searching for a non-conference replacement. Regardless, the Big 12 needs a decision sooner than later on West Virginia’s status. The Big 12 has two schedules working right now, one with West Virginia and one without — and it will be a scheduling nightmare if the Mountaineers are legally blocked from joining the conference.

2. Three players had a tremendous night Thursday on three teams that you might not want in your region on your bracket. Momo Jones scored 43 for Iona in a victory over Canisius. Damian Lillard put up 40 in a win for Weber State over Portland State. Isaiah Canaan scored 32 (24 in the second half) for Murray State in a win over Southeast Missouri State. Lillard and Canaan have been consistently good all season. Iona coach Tim Cluess said last week he was looking for consistency from Jones. He might have found it Thursday.

3. John Shurna scored 28 points for Northwestern in a win over Nebraska. But unless the Wildcats can get on a monster run at 3-6 in the Big Ten or win the conference tournament, Shurna will be yet another Northwestern player who had a stellar career that didn’t include an NCAA tournament berth. There have been a number of these players in the history of the program, all likely thinking they were going to be the one to lead the Wildcats to that first-ever NCAA trip.

3-point shot: Cousy list has PG variety

February, 2, 2012
1. Good to see the variety on the Bob Cousy point guard of the year finalists list. Five of the 11 finalists are from conferences outside the power six and all are deserving with a legit chance to win the award. The 11 finalists are: Scott Machado (Iona), Phil Pressey (Missouri), Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin), Pierre Jackson (Baylor), Casper Ware (Long Beach State), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Damian Lillard (Weber State), Scoop Jardine (Syracuse), Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s) and Isaiah Canaan (Murray State). But overall this may be the weakest NBA-ready point guard year we’ve seen in some time.

2. Two of the most prophetic coaches in the preseason were Southern Miss’ Larry Eustachy and La Salle’s John Giannini. Both coaches told me they had teams that could make a run, and possibly their best teams. Yet, both lost key players. The more believable was Southern Miss. Still, the Golden Eagles had to go out and prove it. They have. USM gave Murray State its toughest game of the season in the Great Alaska Shootout and after snapping an 18-game losing streak to Memphis on Wednesday, they are alone atop CUSA at 7-1. Meanwhile, La Salle beat Charlotte to stay a half-game ahead of Temple in the A-10 title chase at 6-2.

3. Once Fab Melo is back with Syracuse (per Syracuse Post-Standard) for Saturday’s game at St. John’s, the top four contenders for the national title will be set. A Big 12 champ will have a strong argument to make, but heading into February it looks like Kentucky, Syracuse, Ohio State and North Carolina are the favorites for the national title. That doesn’t mean all will be in New Orleans or No. 1 seeds (although I find it hard to believe that Kentucky, Syracuse and OSU won’t be No. 1 seeds). And no team probably, outside of UNC, could still be a national title contender after losing two preseason perimeter rotation players to injuries (Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald).
Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)

Thanks to a recent move, my video capabilities are still in a box in my new apartment somewhere. The video portion of the 'Bag will resume next week.

John in Champaign, Ill., writes: I'm an Illinois homer, and I'm happy we got a big résumé over a really good team ... but I can't be proud of that win. I'm asking seriously: Was this the ugliest game you've ever seen?

Eamonn Brennan: On Tuesday night, Illinois beat Michigan State, 42-41, in one of the ugliest games these eyes have ever seen. The Spartans' effective field goal percentage: 26.7. Illinois'? A robust 35.9. MSU turned the ball over on 28.6 percent of its possessions; at 21.4 percent, Illinois wasn't much better. Michigan State scored .73 points per trip; Illinois scored .75. At least two emailers asked the question: Was this the ugliest game of all time? The answer: no. I'll take last year's national championship game, particularly Butler's performance, as the ugliest game I've ever witnessed -- not only because it was incredibly ugly in and of itself, but also because it came on the sport's highest stage. But superlatives aside, I think we can all agree that last night's game was horrendous.

In fact, this game was so bad, that when I auto-tweeted last night's highlights post -- titled "Highlights: Illinois 42, Michigan State 41" -- a miniature Twitter roast ensued. Some of the best comments:
@sahadevsharna: assuming link leads to video of cartoon monkey playing organ grinder

@hickeybuns33: Surprised this video isn't 5 seconds long #slopfest

@johnschlenner: #OxymoronicTweets

@BK_BK_BK: just got back from the bar, where is the second half update? ... oh

@JPCIV: Highlights? None. #itsnotthe30sguys

@tuffyr: 42-41? "Highlights" seems optimistic.

And my personal favorite:
@Patrick16121: page not found

So, yeah. Ugly game, but hey, the Big Ten will do that sometimes. At the end of the day, Illinois recorded a win, and as far as the Big Ten standings and the NCAA tournament selection committee are concerned, the outcome is a thousand times more important than the process. But man, the process was bad, wasn't it?

@Chris_Mackinder writes: If MSU Draymond Green is done for the year, how do you think the committee will view MSU in terms of seeding?

Brennan: And then there's this. First of all, let's hope Draymond isn't out for the season. It appears he's going to be OK, so good news there. (There is no rooting interest here, but it would have been a shame for Green to lose the rest of his final season as a Spartan -- on a team that could very well go to a Final Four -- thanks to injury.) But to answer the question generally: It depends on how well Michigan State would have played the rest of the season without Green. If it showed few noticeable signs of decline, the committee would have to seed it the same way it would have had Green been in the lineup. But if Michigan State fell apart in the final few weeks with Green on the sideline, the committee would have to take into account the fact that the team it would be seeding in March would not be the same one that won all those games in November, December and January. Much like Purdue after Robbie Hummel's late-season injury in 2010, the Spartans' seed would be affected accordingly.

Dustin in D.C. writes: Hey Eamonn. We all know that when a team has a star player or solid glue guy get injured for a chunk of the year, the committee takes that into consideration when seeding and determining the teams in the tournament. But what about when a player is out because of different issues -- like academic or legal issues? For example, Fab Melo has been out of Syracuse's lineup for the past few games, and the team has look pretty unimpressive, although they have gone 2-1. If and Kentucky were to end the season in similar fashion, would the committee view Melo's absence in the same light as they would if he was injured? Would they say: "Oh, well with Melo, Syracuse is an undefeated team, while Kentucky can't really claim that same thing" or will they view his absence as something that was avoidable and therefore not view it in the same light? Verbose, but hopefully I got my question across here. This has always been something I've wondered about.

Brennan: At the end of the day, my guess -- or maybe my hope -- is that the committee treats each of these omission situations the same way whether it's an injury, an academic suspension, a legal issue, whatever.

Of course, each situation is different. For example, it would have been interesting to see (and perhaps it still will be) how the committee will view Xavier's bad home loss to Oral Roberts just days after the Dec. 10 brawl with Cincinnati. Xavier was playing without Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway and Dez Wells, but they were doing so for (incredibly regrettable) reasons of their own making. How does the committee view that loss? I'm not sure, exactly. But at the end of the day, the best the committee can do is to look at each team's situation relative to its performance and gauge it accordingly. If Melo isn't available by March, the committee will have to look at the team Syracuse is then, not the team it was with Melo. Of course, you don't just toss half the season out the window. It's a balance. But the calculus shouldn't change much.

JP in Stockton, Calif., writes: Why does the Pac-12 get their own weekly breakdown feature, and not more deserving conferences like the Mountain West, A-10, WCC, etc? It's absurd that having football dictates basketball coverage.

Brennan: I don't disagree! At least not this year. Here's the thing, though: Most seasons, the Pac-12 isn't anywhere near this bad. It's been bad lately, of course, but not nearly as bad as this. This is an outlier. And even so, there is still large fan support for many of these teams, which are all large, major universities with massive athletics budgets and resources most mid-majors can't touch. The league will be back in years to come.

Really, though, the power-conference power rankings aren't a matter of ranking leagues. There's no superiority or inferiority stated or implied. It's just ... kind of the way it is. If we ranked every league but the Pac-12, everyone would accuse us of East Coast bias, or something similar, and the complaints would hail down from all sides. Hopefully, we give you enough good A-10, MWC, WCC and MVC coverage throughout the week to balance it out. Either way, I empathize. Believe that. (As the guy charged with actually ranking that mess of a league every week, boy, do I ever empathize.)

@JamesGurland writes: Will the Seton Hall Pirates ever win a game? And if so, will they dance?

Brennan: The wheels appear to be coming off the Seton Hall bandwagon. It was a great story early in the year, and it'd be nice to see the Pirates -- with Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore, two guys with great and almost even inspiring stories -- get to the tournament in 2012. But it's not looking good. Seton Hall's nonconference schedule was very weak, and it lost the only game it played against even decent nonconference competition (Northwestern). The wins over West Virginia and Connecticut are nice, but with UConn struggling like it is, they don't look nearly as good as they once did. What's worse, the Pirates have now lost five in a row, with two more games on the road coming up; there's a legitimate possibility this team will lose seven in a row. If it does so, it will have to recover down the stretch in Big East play to keep their tournament bid alive.

In short: If Seton Hall was a stock, it'd be plummeting.

@kerrancejames writes: How in the world does Colorado State have the No. 3-ranked strength of schedule? The 5th-best team they've played is either Denver or Stanford.

Brennan: As yours truly plunged into the first edition of the Bubble Watch this week, I quickly realized that Colorado State might be the biggest RPI outlier in the system. No. 17? Really? It's strange.

Don't get me wrong: The Rams played a solid nonconference schedule. But it wasn't a Long Beach State-level buzzsaw. My guess: The Rams' SOS is helped in huge ways by its game at Duke, and Southern Miss -- which CSU played at home -- has a better-than-you'd-think RPI of 11, which certainly doesn't hurt. Plus, games at Stanford and Northern Iowa are solid road tests. But really, Colorado State's strength of schedule may have as much to do with what it doesn't have as what it does. Namely, lots of cupcake wins. The Rams played (and won) just seven games against foes ranked in below the RPI top 150 threshold, and the decent-to-great RPIs their conference foes (Air Force is the only Mountain West team ranked below the top 150, and the Rams play them twice down the stretch) have helped keep quote-unquote "bad" wins from weighing down an otherwise decent if unspectacular nonconference performance.

Every year, we get three or four good anecdotal reasons to hate the RPI. Or, rather, to hate its continued overuse by the NCAA. This, it would appear, is one of them.

Eduardo in Indianapolis writes: Read your blog entry on Damian Lillard, definitely enjoyed it. If for some reason he falls to a second-round draft prospect, do you think he'd consider the graduate transfer route, to a bigger program? He's a redshirt junior, so if he graduates this year, it's a possibility. What do you think?

Brennan: I don't know, and neither does Lillard, probably, but I'd be surprised if he fell out of the first round in this year's NBA draft. The class is hardly stocked with guard prospects, and teams that need a scoring point guard type will look to Lillard before nearly every other prospect on the board. Given that, it will be difficult for him to fall too far. Besides, he's having an amazing season. Concerns over his level of competition are already being brushed aside, and they should subside even further if/when Lillard plays well in pre-draft workouts the minute I'm not sure a transfer to a large, unfamiliar program -- where his talents could get lost in the fray -- would put Lillard in any better position that he is in right now. Maybe? But I tend to doubt it.

@T_Dwyer writes: What does Iowa State have to do the rest of the way to be a tourney team?

Brennan: In the immortal words of that one fish from "Finding Nemo," the Cyclones merely need to just keep swimming. Right now, given the soft bubble and the large number of bids that will likely be available to teams from demonstrably good power-six conferences -- the Big 12, Big Ten, Big East and SEC come specifically to mind -- Iowa State is in excellent position going forward.

But that doesn't mean that position is unimpeachable. The Cyclones still have to play Baylor twice, once in Waco. They still have Missouri on the road. In the next week, they'll play at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in consecutive games; it'd be good to at least split those contests. If so, Iowa State would be 17-7 and 7-4 in conference facing the following conference stretch run: Texas A&M, @Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, @Kansas State, @Missouri, Baylor. Let's be less than generous and say Iowa State beats A&M, Oklahoma and Texas Tech and loses to the three away games and the final home game to Baylor. That would make them 20-11 overall, 10-8 in the Big 12, with wins over Kansas and Kansas State, a presumably good RPI, and no losses outside the RPI top 100 to speak of. That's a solid NCAA tournament resume, in my opinion, but as you can see, it's not all that far away from the bubble.

Of course, anything can happen. Iowa State could lose both upcoming road games; A&M is playing better; Oklahoma is a decent road team; things could get ugly at Missouri or Baylor, and so on and so forth. There are plenty of possibilities here. But this team is good. Royce White is a beast. The Cyclones will make the tournament provided they don't suffer a drastic collapse, and with White playing the way he is, that possibility seems far less likely than any of the other, more middle-of-the-road scenarios.

I don't know where Hilton Magic fits into all this, but Iowa State doesn't need magic now. Mere solidity should do the trick.

Damian Lillard drawing NBA attention

January, 27, 2012
Back in December, Basketball Prospectus and ESPN Insider scribe John Gasaway -- who made a guest appearance on our podcast this week, which I will now shamelessly plug -- noticed a rather remarkable trend: In 2011-12, some of the top scorers in the country on a sheer points per game average were also among the nation's leaders in offensive efficiency. As John wrote at the time, this is not how things are supposed to work:
Are Division I coaches more savvy than they used to be, or is it just a coincidence so many of the nation’s top scorers are actually highly efficient performers? Back in the day, scoring tons of points often required two things: a high proportion of missed shots, and a mistakenly permissive coach. (Draw up a chair, young people. When I started writing about college basketball, many in the media thought that because he scored a lot of points Bracey Wright was good at basketball. I’m serious.) But early in the 2011-12 season the guys atop the NCAA’s scoring leader board are unquestionably players who make their offenses better -- much better, in fact.

Oh, Bracey Wright. Halcyon days indeed.

[+] EnlargeDamian Lillard
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezIt's safe to say that Weber State star Damian Lillard hasn't been bothered this season as the top target of opposing defenses.
Anyway, a month later, this trend still stands -- and remarkably so. Creighton's Doug McDermott, the nation's second-leading scorer (23.5 ppg) also possesses the nation's second-highest offensive rating (123.4) among players using more than 28 percent of their team's possessions. For a player to shoot and score as often as McDermott does, while also maintaining sterling efficiency numbers? That's crazy, right? (Right.)

And yet, somehow, McDermott isn't the paragon of this virtue. That would be Weber State's Damian Lillard. What Lillard is doing deserves special, even constant, consideration. The Wildcats guard leads the nation in points per game with 24.8. He also just so happens to lead the nation (among players in the plus-28 percent usage category) in offensive rating, where he is seven points ahead of McDermott at 130.7. It's hard to describe how amazing this is. It almost never happens. Usually, when you score a lot of points, you take a lot of shots, and a good portion of those shots fail to fall through the hoop. Not with Lillard. He's averaging 24.8 points per game because he shoots at a 46 percent clip from the field, a 45 percent clip from 3, and a 91 percent clip from the free throw line, where he finds himself nearly eight times per game. And the scoring is just the half of it: Lillard also leads his team in rebounds (5.8 per game), assists (3.7) and steals (1.3). If he played for a power conference team, he'd be the runaway favorite for national player of the year. There's a chicken-egg argument there, of course; maybe if Lillard played for a power-six school he wouldn't be playing the same level of competition, the numbers wouldn't be as good, etc. But however you want to slice it, the dude is having an insane college basketball season. Frankly, he's nearly been perfect.

Given all this, perhaps it's no surprise Lillard is garnering the attention of NBA scouts. But it is surprising -- and encouraging -- to hear that other NBA types have made his games appointment viewing, too. That was the case Thursday night, when the Lillard-led Weber State Wildcats scored another road win at Sacramento State. From the Sacramento Bee:
Representatives from at least nine NBA teams, including Kings president Geoff Petrie, came out to scout Lillard. Kings players DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson, along with Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson -- a Fairfield native -- also were at the game.

Lillard, an Oakland High School graduate, said the attention does not faze him.

"I'm more comfortable with it now," he said. "It never bothered me, but I'm more used to it now because I know they're there. It doesn't bother me because I know what I need to do for my team."

Boogie Cousins in the building? If that's not an affirmation of your ability, Damian, I don't know what is.

In any case, the NBA clearly likes what it sees. According to ESPN Insider Chad Ford, Lillard is currently slotted as a potential mid-first-round pick in a loaded 2012 draft, albeit one that lacks "top-flight point guards," to use the scouting terminology. In his most recent analysis, Ford says Lillard has probably benefitted from the early success of former Cleveland State star Norris Cole, who fell to the Miami Heat thanks to concerns about his size and the lack of elite competition he faced in his career with the Vikings.

The NBA doesn't like to make the same mistake twice, apparently, and with Lillard, it shouldn't: If you don't want to draft a player that can do this much for your team -- or even, at the very least, put up these kinds of scoring numbers while maintaining such a high rate of efficiency -- you should immediately relinquish your position as an NBA general manager. Because you're bad at your job. And Lillard is going to be very good at his.
McDermott fever taking over Omaha

Doug McDermott scored a career-high 44 points in Creighton’s 92-83 win against Bradley on Saturday. It’s the sixth-most points in a game in school history, and the most since Benoit Benjamin’s 45 in January 1985. It passed IUPUI’s Alex Young and his 43-point effort against Western Kentucky for the most points in a game this season. He’s one of only four players to top 40 points this season.

McDermott, who had 31 in the second half alone, went 18-for-23 from the field. That 78.3 field goal percentage is the highest for a player who attempted at least 20 shots since Reggie Williams (86.4) for VMI in January 2008.

Lillard leads the nation
Overshadowed by McDermott’s big game, the nation’s leading scorer also exploded on Saturday. Damian Lillard scored 38 points in Weber State’s 88-81 win against Portland State. He also added five rebounds and five assists. He’s the first player to reach all three of those totals in a game since Norris Cole’s epic 41-20-9 game last February. Lillard leads the nation at 26.3 PPG, and has topped 30 points on five occasions.

Royce White’s Triple-Double
Royce White recorded the fourth triple-double in Iowa State history in Saturday’s 74-50 win against Texas A&M. He joins Curtis Stinson (2006), Jamaal Tinsley (2000) and Marc Urquhart (1989). White finished with 10 points, 10 assists and 18 rebounds.

Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996-97, there have been five triple-doubles in conference play. Three of those were by Cyclones. The 18 rebounds are the most in a triple-double since Cole Aldrich had 20 in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

A Chris Dudley comparison
There’s no better compliment for a Yale big man than to be compared to Chris Dudley (unless it’s regarding free throws). On Sunday, Greg Mangano had the most rebounds by a Yale player since Dudley in 1987. Mangano finished with 35 points and 22 rebounds in a 101-86 win against St. Joseph’s of Long Island. He joins Jeronne Maymon and Thomas Robinson as the only D-I players with a 30-20 game this season.

Four OT classic in Corvallis
Stanford needed four overtimes to beat Oregon State, 103-101, on Saturday. It marked the longest game in both schools' histories. Oregon State had its highest scoring total in a conference game since 1994. The teams combined for 171 field goal attempts and 108 rebounds during three hours and eight minutes. Chasson Randle’s bucket with 37 seconds left in overtime proved pivotal. He led all scorers with 24 points despite having only two at halftime.