College Basketball Nation: Kansas State Wildcats

3-point shot: Weekly awards

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
12:00
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Andy Katz hands out awards for the player and team of the week and points out a couple notable wins across college basketball.
Saturday turned insane late, and for reasons only tangentially related to basketball. But before that, it was a pretty standard day of basketball. Boring, even. There weren’t many great games, and there weren’t many big surprises, and thus Kansas State’s 74-57 win over Texas was one of two or maybe three notable exceptions.

Whatever the context, Kansas State’s thorough demolition of the Longhorns changes the stakes for Monday night’s home game against in-state rival Kansas (9 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Actually, that’s not quite accurate: This is Kansas State hosting Kansas in The Octagon of Doom, so the stakes are a constant. But K-State's win over Texas does change the outlook. After a few weeks of mostly mediocre output, the Wildcats suddenly look more than capable of downing the Jayhawks.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Foster
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesKansas State freshman Marcus Foster scored an efficient 34 points vs. the Longhorns but Kansas' athleticism will test him on Monday.
This has a lot to do -- first things first -- with Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster. Foster was almost perfect Saturday: He shot 8-of-8 from 2 and 5-of-8 from 3 for 34 points against one of the 15 or 20 best defensive teams in the country. It was a breakout game for perhaps the nation’s most under-the-radar freshman, and just in time for Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to come to town.

Foster is unlikely to have quite as easy a time against the Jayhawks, and not just because it’s impossible to replicate a 34-points-on-16-shots tour de force like the one he just submitted. Kansas is, probably even as you read this, spending a great deal of its time focusing on how to play Foster with one and sometimes two defenders, to deny the ball on Bruce Weber’s motion screens, and to force the action into the hands of Kansas State’s supporting players. It’s likewise safe to assume Wiggins will draw the Foster assignment for whole swaths of the game, and Wiggins -- who is as quick as any guard but is 6-foot-7 and scary-athletic -- is a nightmare matchup for an undersized perimeter.

So that’s an interesting thing to watch. But more likely, the game will turn in the paint, where both teams truly excel.

When you score 1.17 points per trip in conference play, as Kansas has, you’re usually doing a lot of things right. The Jayhawks are. They lead the league in 2-point field goal percentage (55.6) and, somewhat surprisingly, in 3-point accuracy (41.8). But that latter figure is mostly a product of shot selection. The Jayhawks don’t shoot many 3s -- just 27.9 percent of their field goals come from beyond the arc -- so the shots they do take come with a special level of consideration. The only thing Kansas doesn’t do particularly well is handle the ball: The Jayhawks are still turning it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions in league play. But when Kansas doesn’t turn it over, and especially when it gets the ball near the rim, it typically scores.

The lone exception? An 81-69 loss at Texas on Feb. 1, when the Jayhawks scored just a point per trip and had 12 of their shots blocked by the Longhorns.

Kansas State’s defense, meanwhile, is the best in the Big 12 to date. It is holding opponents to the lowest combined field-goal percentage, and the lowest 2-point field-goal percentage. In half-court sets, according to Hoop-Math.com, Kansas State opponents attempt just 30.7 percent of their shots at the rim. More frequently -- nearly 40 percent of the time -- K-State opponents have to settle for shots in the sub-optimal midrange, where they shoot just 30.3 percent. Good perimeter defense starts the process, while rotations by Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson help seal off the paint. Good shots rarely result.

The Foster-Wiggins-Embiid freshman wow factor might dominate discussion of this game, and that’s fine: Foster deserves that attention. But the Jayhawks’ trip to Bramlage Monday night is most likely to be won or lost based on if and how Kansas gets the ball to the front of the rim. Kansas State’s defense may just have a surprise in store.
Can’t believe it’s already late January. Selection Sunday is coming.

The national scene is beginning to take shape.

Last Saturday was proof. Kansas dismissed Oklahoma State with ease. Syracuse outplayed a good Pitt team down the stretch in the Carrier Dome. Wichita State remained perfect with a victory over Indiana State. And Louisville topped UConn.

My Tennessee over Kentucky pick looked solid for a chunk of the first half. But the Wildcats just had too many weapons for a Vols squad that's still looking for a signature win.

Let's see what happens this weekend. I mean, let's see what happens with college basketball.

Not the Grammys. But I can predict that, too.

Album of the Year? "Random Access Memories," Daft Punk. Best Country Album? "Based on a True Story," Blake Shelton. Best Rap Album? "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City," Kendrick Lamar. Sorry, Kanye.

Back to college basketball.

Remember, this is just one man's take. And I've been wrong before. Many times.

Disclaimer: Myron Medcalf’s views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other ESPN.com staffers, especially with regard to that ridiculous thing he said about Syracuse being better than Arizona last weekend.

Last week: 4-1

Overall: 24-11

Saturday

No. 21 Michigan at No. 3 Michigan State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: I’m a big boxing fan. I love the hype that builds up a big fight. The biggest letdown, however, is when one fighter suffers a cut or some other injury that ruins the match. It’s deflating. And that’s how I feel about this heavyweight bout between the Big Ten’s best teams. Both Michigan and Michigan State have proved that they can overcome significant injuries. The Spartans haven’t been healthy all season and now there’s a strong chance that they’ll enter Saturday’s game without Adreian Payne (foot) or Branden Dawson (broken hand). Michigan has played most of the season without preseason All-American Mitch McGary. But the Wolverines are not wrestling with their identity. McGary is not coming back. And they’ve adapted to that on their way to becoming an elite team as Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III have formed a potent trio. Michigan State remains a team in flux. Tom Izzo’s program has overcome injuries thus far in Big Ten play. But they’ll be costly Saturday when the Spartans suffer their first conference loss of the year. I’ll stick with this pick even if Payne miraculously returns to the floor.

Prediction: Michigan 79, Michigan State 72

Tennessee at No. 6 Florida, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: In a weird way, Florida is flying under the radar. The Gators are the best team in the SEC. And they haven’t lost since Dec. 2. But there’s a bigger spotlight on some of the other top-10 teams right now. The Gators are clearly dangerous, especially with Wooden Award candidate Casey Prather healthy. Billy Donovan’s program hasn’t been complete for most of the season. And premier recruit Chris Walker is still unavailable because of eligibility issues. But they have the pieces to compete for a national title. The Gators have forced turnovers on 21.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions, 24th in the nation per Ken Pomeroy. They’ll face a desperate Tennessee team that held its own against Kentucky for a half last weekend but couldn’t finish. The Vols need quality wins. But the SEC won’t provide many opportunities to acquire them. They’ll still be searching after Saturday.

Prediction: Florida 74, Tennessee 66

No. 22 Kansas State at No. 16 Iowa State, 1:45 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com/WatchESPN: Bruce Weber could ultimately be in the running for national coach of the year. His best player is a freshman (Marcus Foster). But the Wildcats are 4-2 in the Big 12 after playing some of the best defense in the league (15th in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). But it will be tough to get a win against an Iowa State team that has a chance to end its three-game losing streak in Ames. The Cyclones, however, are connecting on just 28 percent of their 3-point attempts in conference play. That’s a challenge for a program that has taken 40 percent of its overall field goal attempts from beyond the arc in its first five league games. It seems like a matter of time before the 3-ball becomes a more effective weapon for Iowa State again. And that’s vital. This upcoming stretch will make or break its waning Big 12 title dreams.

Prediction: Iowa State 80, Kansas State 79

Florida State at No. 18 Duke, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: There are a lot of things that make Duke an intriguing team. The Blue Devils have an offense (second in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) that’s led by a young man who could be a top-three draft pick this summer. And Jabari Parker is joined by steady offensive contributors Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook. But a unit that’s ranked 73rd in adjusted defensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy can’t be trusted. Although it might not matter against a Florida State squad that has held opponents to a 42.6 effective field goal percentage, sixth in the nation. But Leonard Hamilton’s squad has big, strong guards, plus 6-foot-9 Okaro White could be a tough matchup for a Duke team that has struggled against good big men all season. This won’t be an easy game for Duke.

Prediction: Florida State 73, Duke 70

Texas at No. 24 Baylor, 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com/WatchESPN: Baylor has been up and down. It’s a confusing cycle for Scott Drew’s program. The Bears have wins over Kentucky and a healthy Colorado. But they’ve lost four of their first five Big 12 games. What’s wrong with Baylor? It isn't playing defense. All of those athletic weapons -- Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers. But the Bears ranked 103rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. It’s a waste of talent. Baylor should be better. And maybe this game against Texas will allow it to reverse this messy start. But Texas is rolling. The Longhorns are coming off wins against Kansas State and Iowa State. Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley are bullying teams inside. Javan Felix has really matured. It's a bad time to face Texas.

Prediction: Texas 78, Baylor 74

BPI Talk: Iowa State is No. 1

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
9:28
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The Iowa State Cyclones are perhaps the least-discussed team of the six remaining undefeated teams in college basketball. Now might be the time to start talking about the 13-0 Cyclones.

Iowa State is ranked No. 1 in BPI. Why are the Cyclones ranked ahead of fellow unbeatens Ohio State, Wisconsin, Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State?

The Cyclones are the most consistent team in the country in terms of variation in BPI game score from game to game.

Their worst performance –- an 86.3 BPI game score in a two-point win at BYU –- is better than the best performance of 148 Division I teams this season.

Iowa State isn’t just some undefeated team that has played a bunch of cupcakes. Unlike the other five remaining unbeatens, the Cyclones have not faced a team ranked outside the top 300 in BPI.

The Cyclones are the only team in the country that is undefeated against the BPI top 100 and hasn’t faced a team ranked outside the top 300.

Iowa State has one of its toughest tests of the season thus far when it hosts Baylor (No. 36 BPI) tonight at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

What about Pittsburgh?
What is it going to take for the Pittsburgh Panthers to get more respect?

Pittsburgh still has not entered the AP Top 25 despite being ranked No. 5 in BPI.

The lone blemish on Pitt’s schedule is a one-point loss on a neutral court against No. 26 Cincinnati. It came on a Titus Rubles offensive putback with less than five seconds remaining. That’s how close Pitt is to being undefeated right now.

Sure, Pitt hasn’t played the most difficult schedule –- its strength of schedule is ranked 90th.

But the Panthers have fared well against their toughest opponents. Other than their one-point loss to Cincinnati, they’ve won each of their other five games against top-100 opponents by at least nine points. Their average margin in those five wins is 17 points.

Thirteen of Pitt’s 14 wins are by at least 12 points. Its closest win was by nine points, 78-69 against No. 81 Penn State.

Inconsistency hurts Kansas State
The Kansas State Wildcats entered the AP Top 25 at No. 25 this week after defeating Oklahoma State on Saturday. But Kansas State is ranked No. 62 in BPI.

The Wildcats have quality top-100 wins lately over George Washington and Gonzaga, in addition to Oklahoma State. But we can’t forget about their early-season losses to No. 140 Northern Colorado at home and No. 97 Charlotte on a neutral court.

KSU is the most inconsistent team in the BPI top 90.

What happened to Drexel?
The Drexel Dragons started the season off strong, ranked No. 24 in BPI after the month of November. They had a win over Alabama and their only losses were by five points or fewer against UCLA and Arizona.

Since the calendar turned to December, Drexel hasn’t been the same. The Dragons rank 198th in BPI since Dec. 1. Their decrease in BPI is by far the largest decrease of any team currently ranked in the top 100.

In their last six games, they have three wins against teams ranked outside the BPI top 200, a three-point home win against No. 175 Buffalo and two road losses by a combined 37 points at Saint Joseph's and Southern Miss.

BPI Rankings

Big 12 team previews

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
10:30
AM ET
For the past month, Insider has rolled out its college basketball preview, including breakdowns on every Division I team, projected order of finish for every conference and essays from Insider's hoops experts.

Here are previews for each team in the Big 12:

Baylor Bears Insider
Iowa State Cyclones Insider
Kansas Jayhawks Insider
Kansas State Wildcats Insider
Oklahoma Sooners Insider
Oklahoma State Cowboys Insider
TCU Horned Frogs (FREE)
Texas Longhorns Insider
Texas Tech Red Raiders Insider
West Virginia Mountaineers Insider

Nonconference schedule analysis: Big 12

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
10:00
AM ET
This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation’s top leagues. Next up: the Big 12.

BAYLOR

Toughest: vs. Colorado (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), vs. Kentucky (Dec. 6 in Arlington, Texas)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 12), Southern (Dec. 22)
The rest: Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 17), Charleston Southern (Nov. 20), Hardin-Simmons (Dec. 1), Northwestern State (Dec. 18), Oral Roberts (Dec. 30), Savannah State (Jan. 3)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Bears will try to beat Kentucky for the second season in a row when they take on the Wildcats at the mammoth AT&T Stadium -- home of the Dallas Cowboys. Catching a freshman-laden Kentucky squad early in the season is ideal for the Bears. Baylor also will have a chance to avenge last season’s loss to Colorado in the Charleston Classic. Scott Drew’s squad meets the Buffaloes as part of a season-opening tripleheader at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Baylor has an excellent shot of getting to the title game in Maui. The Bears open against Chaminade and will likely face a vulnerable Gonzaga squad (the Zags lost Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris) in the semifinals. A victory in that contest could result in a showdown against Syracuse in the championship game.

IOWA STATE

Toughest: Michigan (Nov. 17), at BYU (Nov. 20), Iowa (Dec. 13)
Next-toughest: vs. Northern Iowa (Dec. 7 in Des Moines), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-23, 25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UNC-Wilmington (Nov. 10), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 12), UMKC (Nov. 25), Auburn (Dec. 2), Northern Illinois (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Cyclones play just one true road game, but it’s a tough one, as BYU touts one of the best home courts in the country. The Cougars should be pretty salty, too, after reaching the semifinals of the NIT last spring. No game on the schedule, though, jumps out quite like Iowa State’s home tilt with NCAA runner-up Michigan, who returns many of the key pieces from last season’s squad. Hilton Magic will have to be in full effect if the Cyclones, who are incorporating a plethora of new faces, are to have a chance against the Wolverines. Iowa State opens the Diamond Head Classic against George Mason and will likely play either Akron or Oregon State in the semifinals. Don’t be surprised if Fred Hoiberg’s squad ends up in the title game against Boise State.

KANSAS

Toughest: vs. Duke (Nov. 12 in Chicago), at Colorado (Dec. 7), at Florida (Dec. 10), New Mexico (Dec. 14), Georgetown (Dec. 21), San Diego State (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: Iona (Nov. 19), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in Nassau, Bahamas)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 8), Towson (Nov. 22), Toledo (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- There may not be a team in America with a slate as difficult as the one staring at Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks. Duke and Florida are both top five-caliber teams, and Kansas faces each of them away from home. Even more daunting is that both games occur extremely early in the season, when a team featuring as many as six freshmen in its rotation will still be trying to find itself. New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State will each take a minor step back from last season, but they should all still be excellent teams, especially the Lobos. Kansas opens the Battle 4 Atlantis against Wake Forest and will play either USC or Villanova in the second round. Event organizers are surely hoping for a title game featuring the Jayhawks against either Tennessee or Iowa. Even nonconference opponents such as Iona, Towson and Louisiana-Monroe will be in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth.

KANSAS STATE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-22, 24), vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 21 in Wichita, Kan.)
Next-toughest: Long Beach State (Nov. 17), Ole Miss (Dec. 5)
The rest: Northern Colorado (Nov. 8), Oral Roberts (Nov. 13), Central Arkansas (Dec. 1), South Dakota (Dec. 10), Troy (Dec. 15), vs. Tulane (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), George Washington (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This is a pretty disappointing slate, especially considering how good the program has been over the past five or six years. Other than a tilt with Gonzaga in Wichita -- which will basically be a K-State home game -- the Wildcats don’t have a single opponent on their nonconference schedule that raises an eyebrow. The one exception would be Ole Miss, but the Rebels lost most of the key players from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Wildcats open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Charlotte and will play either Georgetown or Northeastern the following day. Michigan, VCU and Florida State are on the other side of the bracket, so the potential for a game against another top team exists. Still, the defending regular-season Big 12 co-champs should have scheduled a few more marquee games.

OKLAHOMA

Toughest: vs. Alabama (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff (Nov. 22-23 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: vs. George Mason (Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C.), vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 21 in Houston), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 30)
The rest: North Texas (Nov. 11), Idaho (Nov. 13), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec 29), Mercer (Dec. 2), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 5), Tulsa (Dec. 14), Texas-Arlington (Dec. 17)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Not a lot of games on this docket that do much for the excite-o-meter. At least not when it comes to nonconference play. That’s probably a good thing for the Sooners, who may be in for a “transition year” following the loss to standouts such as Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald and Amath M’Baye. Alabama will be tough to beat, but it’s certainly a game the Sooners could win. Lon Kruger’s squad will also be tested when it travels to Brooklyn for the Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff. If Oklahoma gets by Seton Hall in the first round, it would likely play Michigan State the following night. Some media outlets have ranked the Spartans No. 1 entering the season.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Toughest: Memphis (Nov. 19), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-29, Dec. 1 in Orlando. Fla.), vs. Colorado (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 25), South Carolina (Dec. 6), vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 14 in Oklahoma City)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 8), Utah Valley (Nov. 12), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Nov. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 17), Robert Morris (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This is definitely an improvement from last season, when the Cowboys earned a ranking of “3” in this category. Like Oklahoma State, Memphis is a potential top-10 team with one of the top backcourts in the country. The two squads could actually end up meeting twice, as Memphis is also in the Old Spice Classic. Oklahoma State opens that tournament against Purdue and will face Butler or Washington State in the next round. Beating Colorado on a neutral court also won’t be easy, especially if talented Buffs guard Spencer Dinwiddie can neutralize Marcus Smart. It still would’ve been nice to see a few more high-profile games -- and a few more true road contests -- for a team that features three potential first-round NBA draft picks.

TCU

Toughest: vs. SMU (Nov. 8 in Dallas), at Washington State (Nov. 24)
Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27, 29-30), at Mississippi State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 12), Abilene Christian (Nov. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 15), Grambling State (Dec. 19), Tulsa (Dec. 21), Texas Southern (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- This would be a terrible schedule for a program that was experiencing a moderate amount of success. But considering TCU won just two Big 12 games last season, this is the perfect slate for the Horned Frogs as they try to rebuild. Second-year coach Trent Johnson didn’t schedule the type of Top-25 squads that will shatter his team's confidence. But he also didn't produce a schedule so weak that it wouldn’t challenge his team as it continues to grow. SMU could contend for an NCAA tournament berth and, even though Washington State has struggled in recent seasons, Pullman is a difficult place to play. Tulsa and Texas Southern are both solid teams, and Mississippi State was making huge strides at the end of last season.

TEXAS

Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City), at Temple (Dec. 7), at North Carolina (Dec. 18), Michigan State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Mercer (Nov. 8), Vanderbilt (Dec. 2)
The rest: Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 15), UT-Arlington (Nov. 29), Texas State (Dec. 14), Rice (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Rick Barnes always puts together one of the toughest schedules in the country, and this season is no exception. Michigan State is an NCAA title contender, North Carolina could open the season in the top 10, and Temple is never easy to beat on the road. The Longhorns will also play high-scoring BYU in the CBE Classic, and with a win, would likely be pitted against Final Four participant Wichita State in the title game. But Texas lost its top four scorers from last seasons’s 16-18 squad and didn’t recruit as well as it has in years past. In other words, this is the worst possible season to be playing such a grueling schedule. It’ll be interesting to see if the Longhorns (and Barnes) can survive.

TEXAS TECH

Toughest: at Alabama (Nov. 14), at Arizona (Dec. 3), LSU (Dec. 18), at Arizona State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: South Dakota State (Nov. 21), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: Houston Baptist (Nov. 8), Northern Arizona (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 18), Texas-San Antonio (Nov. 29), Central Arkansas (Dec. 15), Mount St. Mary’s (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- First-year coach Tubby Smith can’t be pleased with the schedule he inherited from former Red Raiders coach Chris Walker. This is way too difficult of a slate for a program that’s in rebuilding mode. It clearly wasn’t thought out well at all. True road games against Alabama, Arizona and Arizona State and a home tilt with a vastly improved LSU squad? That’s a daunting chore, especially considering TTU is in the Legends Classic with quality opponents such as Pittsburgh, Stanford and Houston. Texas Tech returns nearly all of its key pieces from last season and could make some huge strides under Smith. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders’ confidence could take a hit before Big 12 play ever begins.

WEST VIRGINIA

Toughest: at Missouri (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 10), Purdue (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 12), Cancun Challenge (Nov. 26-27), vs. Marshall (Dec. 14 in Charleston, W. Va.)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 8), Duquesne (Nov. 17), Georgia Southern (Nov. 21), Presbyterian (Nov. 23), Loyola (Dec. 2), William & Mary (Dec. 29 in Charleston, W. Va.)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The 2012-13 season was one of the worst of Bob Huggins’ career, but the Mountaineers are hoping a standout recruiting class led by power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Macon -- as well as the return of leading scorer Eron Harris -- helps change their fortunes. There are certainly some opportunities to build confidence early. Missouri and Gonzaga are both incorporating new pieces and may not be crisp in early December. Purdue should be improved, but West Virginia will have revenge on its mind after last season’s 79-52 embarrassment in West Lafayette, Ind. West Virginia opens the Cancun Challenge against Old Dominion and could play Wisconsin the following day.
Editor's Note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. Starting Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, we'll unveil the final six: Charleston, 2K Sports, Diamond Head, CBE, Wooden and Maui. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Editor's Note: An earlier version of this bracket had a pair of incorrect matchups. We apologize for the mix-up.)

When and where: Nov. 21-22, 24 in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Initial thoughts: The bracket seems to grant Georgetown an easy path to the title game. Northeastern lost its top two scorers -- Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee -- from last season (29.9 PPG combined). And Kansas State is recovering from a tumultuous offseason that included the loss of Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder. Georgetown’s opening-round opponent, Charlotte, had offensive issues last year (187th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) and now top scorer Chris Braswell is gone.

A title, however, is not a guarantee. The Hoyas will probably travel to San Juan without Greg Whittington, who recently tore his ACL. And the other side of the bracket is much tougher, even though Long Beach State is depleted after multiple offseason dismissals. Florida State struggled last season but the Seminoles were young so most of their roster returns, although they’ll miss Michael Snaer. Michigan is the obvious favorite. The Wolverines will be led by Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, a pair of players who would have been first-round draft picks last month had they decided to leave school after their team’s national title game loss to Louisville in April. Freshman Derrick Walton will probably follow Trey Burke as the team’s new point guard. He’ll be surrounded by a strong crew. VCU will be tough, too. The HAVOC defense helped VCU acquire the nation’s highest turnover rate last season. The Rams, however, lost point guard Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Still, they haven’t lost much steam with a solid recruiting class and Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon in the mix now.

Things could get interesting on Friday in this tournament.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: Florida State has a lot to prove. Last season was a mess for Leonard Hamilton, who recently received a contract extension. His program has a chance, however, to make an early statement in the 2013-14 season with a win over a VCU squad that will be a Top 25 program entering the season. But Shaka Smart has some new faces, and his squad must identify a new leader now that Theus is gone.

[+] EnlargeMcGary/Robinson
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III could have been first-round NBA draft picks following Michigan's run to the national title game.
Potential matchup I can’t wait to see: Can you say rematch? The last time Michigan and VCU met, the Wolverines pummeled the Rams in the third round of the NCAA tournament. That 25-point victory was an embarrassment for a VCU squad that was completely out of rhythm from tipoff. But the Rams are deep again. And the Wolverines have a couple of potential lottery picks running the operation again. I’d love to see these two squads face off again in the semis.

Five players to watch:

Treveon Graham, VCU: The Rams are often praised for their defensive strengths. Last season, however, VCU proved its worth on offense, too -- averaging 78.0 points (11th in the nation). Graham, the team’s top scorer, was a catalyst. He averaged 15.1 PPG and 5.8 RPG. He also hit 36.6 percent of his 3-pointers. Graham doesn’t waste minutes, either. He had the Atlantic 10’s top offensive rating (118.1 per KenPom.com, among players who used at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions). Last season was a breakout campaign for this guy. If VCU reaches its ceiling, the 6-foot-5 guard/forward could earn All-American consideration.

Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, Michigan: After the Wolverines rumbled to the national championship game in Atlanta, many expected McGary and Robinson to take their talents to the NBA. The two youngsters had a chance to turn pro and make millions. But their decision to return means that the Wolverines will enter the season as Big Ten contenders again. There’s a huge gap at PG, a spot that was occupied by Wooden Award winner Trey Burke last season. With McGary and Robinson back, John Beilein has one of America’s top centers and one of the nation’s most versatile wings. This tournament will be an early opportunity for the duo to prove that Michigan is still potent without Burke.

Okaro White, Florida State: There’s a lot of pressure on White right now. Florida State will enter 2013-14 without top scorer and veteran Michael Snaer. Terrance Shannon transferred. And Leonard Hamilton will be forced to rely on some young players again in a league (ACC) that could be the nation’s best conference with the arrival of Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse. But White made major strides in his junior campaign. The 6-8 forward averaged 12.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks. He hit 81.5 percent of his free throws, and he was 10th in the ACC with a 4.13 block percentage (KenPom.com). But can he lead this group? We’ll find out in Puerto Rico.

Markel Starks, Georgetown: Greg Whittington’s torn ACL jeopardizes his entire season and it also jeopardizes the Hoyas’ season. Three other starters from last season return. But it was much easier to view Georgetown as a threat to win the inaugural title in the new Big East when Whittington was healthy. To maintain that hope -- if Whittington can’t return -- Starks has to guide a team that still has some talented pieces from last season and will add UCLA transfer Josh Smith after the first semester. Starks did it all for Georgetown last year (12.8 points, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 41.7 percent from the 3-point line). But the Hoyas might need him to do even more in 2013-14.

Title-game prediction: VCU over Georgetown.

The Hoyas should reach the title game, but I think they’ll face a VCU squad that’s equipped with a multitude of talent and depth. Smart has a rotation that could be 10-11 players deep. And even though he has lost a few veterans, he will gain the services of former top recruits Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess, two players who were academically ineligible for competition last season. And Shannon, the Florida State transfer, will be available, too. Smart’s HAVOC attack demands talent and depth, and he has both. This is the most skilled squad that he has had at VCU. That’s just too much for Georgetown to overcome, especially with VCU’s interior advantage (see Shannon and 6-9 forward Juvonte Reddic). These Rams will be dangerous. They’ll prove it in San Juan.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: VCU over Georgetown
Jeff Goodman: VCU over Northeastern
Seth Greenberg: Michigan over Georgetown
Andy Katz: Michigan over Georgetown
Jason King: VCU over Kansas State
Dana O'Neil: VCU over Kansas State
The stars aligned for Angel Rodriguez. In the same span of weeks in which Rodriguez decided to leave Kansas State and play basketball closer to his family in Puerto Rico, Miami point guard Shane Larkin decided to leave for the NBA draft. Suddenly, Miami needed a point guard. Rodriguez went to high school in Miami. Miami is close to Puerto Rico, or as close as you'll get on the continental United States. It isn't exactly the plot of Primer, but the loop was successfully closed. It all came together.

Naturally, Jim Larranaga was thrilled:
Larrañaga agreed: “You have to feel fortunate when a player of his caliber and character calls you and says, ‘I need to play closer to home.’ He will be very much at home here in Miami, where so many people speak Spanish, so many people know him, and he is a short flight from his family. He’s also a very bright young man and serious about academics."

But there is one remaining question. Will Rodriguez be able to play this season?

That's a bit trickier. Rodriguez has made it clear he plans to apply for a hardship waiver, which, if granted by the NCAA, would allow him to skip the customary transfer season. What are the chances? They depend on information we can't (and shouldn't) know, unless Rodriguez deigns to tell us himself. The hardship waiver is for student athletes who are compelled to transfer because of financial hardship or illness or injury to themselves or a family member. Rodriguez has frequently mentioned his mom and two brothers in Puerto Rico, but we don't know if any of them are ill or if there is a financial component related to the transfer. Surely the flights home will be cheaper.

It's hard to say. Larranaga will obviously be hoping the answer is yes, because Rodriguez's presence on both ends of the floor (he was second-team All Big 12 and a first-team defender) would be huge for a team losing not only its starting point guard but much of the rest of its senior-laden team. Stay tuned.

Upset win no surprise for La Salle

March, 22, 2013
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- La Salle coach John Giannini refused to let his players hang their heads.

His team had just followed up a loss to Saint Louis in the regular-season finale with a setback against Butler in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Instead of chastising the Explorers, Giannini smiled and delivered a simple message.

“I told them not to feel bad,” Giannini said, now in his ninth year as head of the Explorers. “I told them, ‘You’re far better prepared for the [NCAA] tournament than you realize. You just lost to two Final Four teams.

“You’re not going to play against anyone in this tournament that’s tougher than Saint Louis or Butler.”

Or VCU or Temple, for that matter.

It might not be a part of the "power six" conferences, but the Atlantic 10 has proved over the past 48 hours that it's as tough as any league in the nation. The A-10 is 6-0 in tournament games so far, and no win was as head-turning as La Salle’s 63-61 victory over Kansas State on Friday at the Sprint Center.

[+] EnlargeLaSalle/Kansas State
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesRamon Galloway had 19 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists in La Salle's upset win over Kansas State.
The victory was the second in three days for the No. 13 seed Explorers, who defeated Boise State in a First Four match Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. It's La Salle's first NCAA tournament since 1992, and it now faces No. 12 seed Ole Miss on Sunday at the Sprint Center.

“Part of the reason you see these scores is because everyone takes basketball seriously,” Giannini said. “People have made great commitments. Whether it’s salaries, budgets, facilities ... people want to be where we are right now, and people [are] willing to invest to make that happen.”

Indeed, Friday’s victory over the Big 12 co-champion Wildcats hardly seemed like an upset. A day before the game, someone joked with K-State coach Bruce Weber that "No. 13 seeds aren’t what they used to be."

“No kidding,” Weber said. “Did you watch them play Boise State? Wow.”

Talent-wise, there wasn’t much of a difference between the two teams. At some positions, La Salle was simply better. La Salle led by as many as 19 points in the first half and was ahead 44-26 at intermission.

Even more impressive about La Salle’s performance is that it came in front of approximately 18,000 purple-clad K-State fans in Kansas City. Make no mistake: This was a road game for La Salle -- and a tough one at that.

“It was by far the best arena I’ve ever played in,” La Salle guard Ramon Galloway said. “The crowd was great. They were quiet in the first half because we had a lead. But when the game got tough, when [the Wildcats] were making their run, they made sure we heard them.”

Kansas State went on a 31-12 march in the second half and took a 61-60 lead on a free throw by Jordan Henriquez with 2:25 remaining. The score remained the same until the waning seconds, when Rodney McGruder missed a 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining. Jerrell Wright snared the rebound and was fouled by Henriquez. Wright swished both free throws to put La Salle ahead 62-61.

A 60 percent foul shooter, Wright had gone 1-for-5 in Wednesday’s win over Boise State.

“There were no butterflies,” Wright said. “Coach just told me every time I shoot a free throw to have the same form and to keep my focus.”

Henriquez missed a short hook shot on K-State’s next possession, and again, Wright grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made his first free throw and missed the second, giving KSU a chance to either tie or win with 9 seconds remaining and with La Salle leading 63-61.

Point guard Angel Rodriguez, however, failed to put up a quality shot -- he ended up taking a baseline jumper in traffic -- as time expired. Weber was screaming for a timeout but he either was ignored or wasn’t heard.

“I yelled it as loud as I could,” Weber said, “but we couldn’t get the call. La Salle ... that was a hard No. 13 to play, to be honest. Somewhere along the line they probably had some inconsistency that led them to be [a No. 13 seed].

“We can’t complain. We had the advantage of an extra day off and of playing in Kansas City. Sometimes things just aren’t meant to be.”

And sometimes they are.

That was certainly the vibe in La Salle’s locker room following Friday’s “upset” victory. The Explorers watched two years ago as VCU went from the First Four to the Final Four.

They don’t see any reason they couldn’t do something similar.

“Why not?” guard Sam Mills said. “Why not?"

Tournament Challenge: 2 perfect brackets

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
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There are just two perfect brackets left (out of 8.15 million) in Tournament Challenge following victories by Creighton and La Salle on Friday afternoon.

La Salle was the biggest bracket buster, as just 6.1 percent of the brackets picked the 13th-seed Explorers to beat 4-seed Kansas State, knocking down the number from 59 to 2.

Video: Kansas 70, Kansas State 54

March, 16, 2013
3/16/13
9:34
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Jeff Withey scored 17 points and had nine rebounds as No. 7 Kansas cruised to the 70-54 win over No. 11 Kansas State to win the Big 12 tournament championship.

Video: Bill Self after Kansas' Big 12 title

March, 16, 2013
3/16/13
8:20
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Kansas coach Bill Self discusses his Jayhawks' 70-54 victory over rival Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament championship game.

Video: Kansas State 68, Oklahoma State 57

March, 16, 2013
3/16/13
1:23
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Rodney McGruder scored 25 points as No. 11 Kansas State beat 14th-ranked Oklahoma State 68-57 to advance to the final of the Big 12 tournament against rival Kansas.

Video: Kansas State 66, Texas 49

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
11:07
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Rodney McGruder's 24 points helped No. 11 Kansas State put away Texas 66-49 and advance to the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.

Wooden Watch: King's POY ballot

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
12:45
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This year’s race for the Wooden Award may come down to a missed free throw attempt and a layup that never found its way through the net. With the NCAA tournament less than a week away, those are the only things separating Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke in the battle to be named national player of the year.

At least in my opinion.

Burke and Oladipo faced off in the Big Ten regular-season finale Sunday. In a high-stakes game that decided the conference championship, Burke wilted when it mattered most. With his team leading 71-70 with 28 seconds remaining, Burke clanked the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, and Indiana capitalized on a layup by Cody Zeller that gave the Hoosiers a 72-71 lead with 14 ticks left.

Burke had a chance to win the game on the ensuing possession, but he missed a contested layup, and Jordan Morgan’s putback attempt in the final seconds was off target. Indiana celebrated the outright Big Ten title on Michigan’s court. The Wolverines finished in a tie for third place and will be the No. 5 seed in this week’s Big Ten tournament.

Burke has had a tremendous season, but in a race this close, winning and performing well in the clutch are the deciding factors. Here’s my latest ballot.

1. Victor Oladipo, Indiana -- The junior wing does everything for the Hoosiers. He averages 13.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists and sets the tone on the defensive end. He’s the key reason why Indiana emerged as the champion of the nation’s toughest conference.

2. Trey Burke, Michigan -- The sophomore averages 19.2 points and 6.8 assists -- and he also leads the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. Michigan, though, has lost five of its final 10 regular-season games. As a point guard, Burke needs to provide more leadership as the Wolverines prepare for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

3. Doug McDermott, Creighton -- As one of the top offensive players in the country, McDermott is the focal point of every opposing defense. Still, the junior forward is averaging 23.1 points on 56.1 percent shooting for the Bluejays, who won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship along with the league tournament.

4. Otto Porter, Georgetown -- NBA scouts love the versatility of the 6-foot-8 sophomore, who can bring the ball up the court like a point guard on one play and get down and dirty in the paint the next. Porter helped Georgetown win a share of the Big East title despite the loss of the top three scorers from last season.

5. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga -- What’s not to like about the 7-foot Canadian? In just 25.7 minutes per game, Olynyk averaged 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds for a Zags squad that finished 31-2 and won the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament trophies. Gonzaga will likely be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history thanks to Olynyk.

On the cusp:

Erick Green, Virginia Tech -- Despite being on the last-place team in the league standings, Green was named ACC Player of the Year this week following a regular season in which he averaged a nation-best 25.4 points while shooting 48.2 percent from the field.

Shane Larkin, Miami -- It’d be a crime not to include the leader of a team that won its first ACC title in more than a decade. A sophomore point guard, Larkin averages 13.7 points, 4.4 assists and 2 steals.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State -- The senior wing led K-State to its first conference title since 1977 by averaging a team-high 15.1 points and 5.2 rebounds. The first-team All-Big 12 selection had 22 points in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State.

Ben McLemore, Kansas -- The freshman was one of the few players who performed well in Saturday’s 23-point loss to Baylor. He scored 23 points and is now averaging 16.7 points for the Big 12 co-champions.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA -- Projected as a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft, Muhammad led the Bruins to the outright Pac-12 title by averaging 18.3 points and 5.1 boards. He shot 45 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Mason Plumlee, Duke -- The 6-10 Plumlee was back in beast mode Saturday, when he scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a blowout win against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He’s a lot better with Ryan Kelly in the lineup.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State -- The freshman point guard is averaging 22.5 points in his past two games along with 7 rebounds. He was named Big 12 Player of the Year, a high honor considering he had strong competition from KU’s Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes enter this week’s Big Ten tournament on a five-game winning streak thanks, in large part, to Thomas. He’s averaging 17.8 points during that span and 19.7 points on the season.

Jeff Withey, Kansas -- The 7-foot center ranks second in the nation among active players in blocks with 4.1 per game. The first-team all-league selection averages 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds and shoots 58.2 percent from the field.

Cody Zeller, Indiana -- The Hoosiers center was the best player on the court during Sunday's Big Ten title-clinching win at Michigan. He finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds and made the winning basket with 14 seconds remaining.

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