College Basketball Nation: Michigan Wolverines
On Friday afternoon, Michigan held its usual pregame media availability, and the assembled reporters asked coach John Beilein some variation of a question he'd no doubt been asking himself: So, how do you stop Wisconsin?
Beilein didn't offer an answer. Instead, he rattled off the particulars of UW's starting lineup, describing the almost hilarious challenges it presents to opposing defenses. Wing Sam Dekker was "as good of a player as there is in the [Big Ten]." Center Frank Kaminsky is "one of their best passers, he's one of their best shooters, he's one of their best back-to-the-basket players"; Kaminsky would give Michigan "matchup nightmares no matter who is against him." Beilein said he had a game plan for the national player of the year candidate, but didn't sound too assured of its chances. By the end of it, his quotes almost doubled as sighs.
“We’ll do what we can do and hang in there as long as we can,” Beilein said. “If you hang in there as long as you can, you might be able to win it.”
And you know what? It almost kind of worked.
That impossibly balanced scoring Beilein talked about showed up Saturday, of course. Kaminsky finished with 22 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 6-of-8 from the line. Sam Dekker had 15 points and four boards; Bronson Koenig had 13 points and four assists; Nigel Hayes had 10 points on an unusually mediocre 3-of-10 shooting night, but pitched in five boards, three assists and two steals. With overtime factored in, Wisconsin ended up scoring about 1.2 points per trip, par for its elite course.
"Kind of" because, obviously, Michigan didn't stop the Badgers on the offensive end. Michigan did some nice things to keep Wisconsin off balance and out of rhythm, sure, but this wasn't a defensive stand for the ages.
Instead, Beilein's team surged forward on offense. This is actually the more encouraging sign.
For most of the 2014-15 season, Michigan has been an OK defensive team. (And better than OK against its Big Ten competition, though that did include Penn State, Northwestern and Rutgers in three of the first seven games.) Weirdly enough, for a team that led the nation in points per trip each of the past two seasons, the problems have come almost entirely when it attempts to put the ball in the basket.
The group of guards expected to emerge in the wake of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III's departures has struggled in every meaningful way. Derrick Walton Jr. entered Saturday night shooting 32 percent from 2 and 33 percent from 3. Caris LeVert, the 6-foot-7 shooting guard who played fantastically alongside Stauskas last season, was shooting just 43 percent from 2-point range before his injury (more on that in a second). In his role as a catch-and-shooter, Zak Irvin, who had attempted just 88 2s to his 125 3s before Saturday, seemed to be leaving the benefits of his size and athleticism on the table. Throw in Michigan's lack of size -- and the corresponding absence of easy post buckets, offensive rebounds and the like -- and the result was a cold-shooting team stuck hoping for its shots to go in.
Even if everyone is healthy, that's hardly a recipe for success. Of course, everyone isn't healthy: Last Sunday, Michigan announced LeVert would miss the rest of the season with a fracture in his foot. The Wolverines' season had long since taken its ugliest turn. Now its leading scorer was gone for the year. Most news reports of the injury stated the obvious: Michigan's streak of five straight NCAA tournament runs was sure to end.
But Michigan's offense was unusually good Saturday. Walton -- who finished with 17 points and made the game-tying 3 with less than two seconds to play -- was more aggressive in attack than ever, earning eight of his team's 12 free throw attempts (and making seven). Irvin had a 3 and a nifty pullup over Kaminsky in quick succession as Michigan made its 9-0 run late in regulation. Little-used freshman Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting in 23 minutes, including a batch of confident stutter-step drives late in the game. Michigan's 1.09 points per trip weren't simply a product of better shooting, but better spacing, passing and shot selection.
Whether that can be sustained remains to be seen. Maybe Walton ends up working better with the ball in his hands more. Maybe Abdur-Rahkman is Beilein's next great random discovery. Maybe not. Either way, there was more promise in this loss than in most teams' wins. Consider what the Wolverines faced: the nation's best offensive team, coming off the best performance of that team's season, in a cruelly visible broadcast slot, in front of Michigan's own slightly depressed fans, where it already lost to the New Jersey Institute of Technology ... without its best player.
That Wisconsin won is not a surprise. That it needed overtime to do so is.
Overtime didn't pan out, but Beilein's game plan -- mix defenses, beat them off the dribble and "just hang in there as long as you can" -- worked. With Selection Sunday just seven weeks away, that game plan doubles as a fitting mantra for the rest of the Wolverines' seemingly doomed season. Michigan could still turn this thing around, if it can just hang on.
That includes Saturday night's visit to the student section at Crisler Arena before UM's game against Northwestern. Harbaugh attended with his new staff and the recruits visiting campus and spent about 20 minutes mingling with the Maize Rage.
Harbaugh in with the students pic.twitter.com/72pcJ4oeK1— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) January 18, 2015
So Jim Harbaugh is all like 'hey I feel like talking to students for twenty minutes' pic.twitter.com/eFElRg8AJG— facialimpediment (@facialimped) January 18, 2015
Not in our house. Especially not when we have a special guest in house. https://t.co/IhT84HDcey— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) January 18, 2015
It's safe to say the students were pretty geeked about meeting the school's new rock star.
Jim Harbaugh in the house at Crisler. Students chant "We want Harbaugh!" Harbaugh responds by waving his arms. Students cheer.— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) January 18, 2015
Jim harbaugh just shook my hand nbd I'm still breathing— Michael (@mikewhale296) January 18, 2015
This is the first time I've seen Jim Harbaugh in person oh boy— Zach Marentay (@ZHMGoBlue) January 18, 2015
When u get to shake hands with Jim Harbaugh >>>— Chris Fredricks (@cjfredricks30) January 18, 2015
Just saw Jim Harbaugh= = =— Ben Kandah (@BKandaah) January 18, 2015
To everyone taking selfies with Jim Harbaugh in the other part of the student section.... Can I be you?— Andrea Pesch (@answer_key5) January 18, 2015
On Saturday, after the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a conference-less program with just eight seasons of membership in Division I, staged a historic upset over Michigan 72-70 in Ann Arbor Dana O'Neil asked the pertinent question: How on Earth did that just happen?
But really, blame human nature. Coaches and players all like to say they take every game one game at a time, and blah, blah, blah.
Let’s be serious. Having just come off the big game against Syracuse and with a date against Arizona slated for next week, there is no way the Wolverines gave NJIT the same sort of attention. There are 350 teams playing Division I basketball. Even with all of the conference reshuffling, only one is still left out in the cold, orphaned with no league, and that’s NJIT.
By the time Michigan realized it was time to get it in gear, it was too late.
After Tuesday night's 45-42 loss to Eastern Michigan -- also in Ann Arbor -- it's time to ask a slightly simpler version of the same question.
Really, guys? Really?
Just four days after being torched by a program that lost 51 straight games as recently as 2008-09, you put up 42 points in a home loss to Eastern Michigan? In your big bounce-back confidence-builder before a weekend road trip to Arizona, you go without a field goal for 14 minutes of the first half? In the final three minutes of the second half, when high-major home teams in nonconference scares typically stack enough good possessions to see out a win, you go scoreless? You hold an opponent to 45 points on 59 possesions, and you lose?! At home?! Really?
But still, in 2012-13 and 2013-14, the Michigan Wolverines wielded the nation's most efficient offense. You remember: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas and then a whole lot more of Nik Stauskas? Of course you do. The past two seasons, Michigan's offense wasn't just good. It wasn't even just great. It was the best offense in the country.
On Tuesday, it scored 42 points in a home loss to Eastern Michigan.
Had that happened in a vacuum, well, it would be a funky night at the office, weird things happen in 40 minutes, nothing to see here, move right along. Coming as it does, the second in back-to-back home, nonconference upsets, it's hardly hyperbole to call this an abject disaster.
But it actually gets worse because the hows and whys of the Wolverines' two losses are startlingly, disconcertingly incongruous.
Against NJIT, Michigan scored the ball well enough -- 70 points in 59 possessions, including an 11-of-24 mark from outside the 3-point line. But John Beilein's team didn't play much defense -- possibly a symptom of what Dana identified as "Come on, we're playing NJIT. How many shots are they really going to make?" But NJIT made all those shots, and Michigan couldn't turn it on in time to save the game.
Tuesday was an entirely different ordeal. The one area in which Eastern Michigan excels as habit on the offensive end is in its caution: EMU entered the night averaging turnovers on just 15.3 percent of its possessions, 14th-best in the country. The Wolverines turned Eastern Michigan over almost twice that often. The Eagles shot 32.9 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from 3. Michigan executed its defensive plan, turned its opponents' strengths into weaknesses, allowed paltry shooting and still lost at home to Eastern Michigan. This time, its offense, including a 4-of-21 affair from 3, was the mess du jour.
All of this would be much easier to analyze, if not to swallow, if these two losses revealed some quantifiable flaw on Michigan's part. They can't guard. They can't score. They're too small. They're too big. Whatever. Some aspect, some factor, something to grasp onto and say, OK, well, we definitely need to shore that up.
In addition to the facts of the losses, then, we're forced to wonder whether there's something else at work -- some chemistry issue, some vague and unquantifiable problem. Michigan can score, right? It played Villanova tight, didn't it? It handled Syracuse's 2-3 zone just last week. Michigan wasn't this bad at anything last week? So why is it playing that way now?
Maybe it's a day of bad defense followed by a night of bad shooting. Maybe it's something deep and systemic. Beilein and his staff need to find the answer quickly. Already, these two losses have jeopardized Michigan's entire at-large résumé; never underestimate the RPI-killing effect of results such as these or the importance of nonconference performance in the hive mind of the selection committee. Meanwhile, on Saturday, the Wolverines travel to Tucson, Arizona, where they will be greeted by a team that is, with all due respect, light-years more difficult to defend and score against than NJIT or Eastern Michigan could ever aspire to be.
On Tuesday night, Michigan was supposed to get right. Instead, after a second straight home upset loss -- one somehow even uglier than the first -- things in Ann Arbor have gone really wrong.
.@AustinHatch30 checks in for the first time. » pic.twitter.com/a4Jw9IiGa1 - Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) August 17, 2014Hatch checked in to Michigan's 99-60 exhibition win over Italy's Perugia Select Team on Sunday night. Afterward, he led the Wolverines in "The Victors."
Sorry, it's getting a little dusty in here.— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) August 17, 2014
Even college basketball has joined in on the fun. The official Twitter feed of Wisconsin basketball, which was knocked out of the Final Four on a late 3-pointer by Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, dreamed of a scenario in which America's new hero saved the day at JerryWorld.
A Big Ten rival, which suffered the same fate at the hands of Harrison a week earlier in the Elite Eight, found itself playing the "what-if" game as well.
@BadgerMBB Same.— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) July 3, 2014
In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on how returning to school for another year could have boosted the draft stock of Jahii Carson and James Michael McAdoo the way it did for Shabazz Napier, who was taken in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft.
The term "shooting guard" has never been so meaningless.
Everything in the NBA trickles down, which makes today's exercise -- an early list of shooting guards to watch in the 2014-15 season -- a difficult one. There might be some slight cheating involved (you'll see). Some of the below are traditional shooting guards; some are just guards. All will be fascinating to watch in 2014-15 for a variety of reasons.
Top returnees to watch
Ron Baker, Wichita State: The Shockers return both members of their starting backcourt from 2013-14, and Baker and Fred VanVleet actually do fit the traditional mold. VanVleet was a masterful pass-first point guard who steadily anchored WSU's offense; Baker attempted 179 3s and 141 2s and finished with a 120.9 offensive rating. If you're wondering why the Shockers can lose Cleanthony Early and still be the subject of huge expectations going forward, look no further.
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: It's a bit hard to believe that after a stellar freshman campaign Sulaimon found himself so deep in Mike Krzyzewski's doghouse that, in early December, Coach K buried him on the bench in the equivalent of a DNP-CD. Transfer rumors and status questions abounded. Sulaimon eventually earned his way out of purgatory and back into regular minutes, and when he did he flourished. In his junior season, Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will have to take on leadership roles alongside the most talented Duke class in decades -- one with Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow ready to gobble up perimeter minutes. It's a huge season on deck for Sulaimon.
Michael Frazier II, Florida: Frazier is that rarest of modern college hoops birds: a traditional, almost literal, shooting guard. In 2013-14, Frazier shot 264 3s and made 118 of them, good for 44.7 percent -- a sterling percentage at that volume. He attempted exactly 79 shots from inside the arc. Frazier is an old-school, lights-out catch-and-shoot guy, albeit one who might need to expand his game in a Florida offense that will lose Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young. But he's already the college game's best pure shooter, and that's a hugely valuable skill to have.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Harrison, on the other hand, is a fantastic example of a player for whom the term shooting guard doesn't always quite fit. Despite a torrid postseason pace -- and those big-time clutch shots in Kentucky's surprise runner-up run -- Harrison finished the season having made just 62 of his 174 3s. That's not terrible, but it's not great, either. The presence of Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, as Kentucky's ostensible point guard drives the lack of distinction home. Still, Harrison's fundamental productivity -- and the odds of him improving his shot, and keeping defenders off balance, after a summer spent drilling in Lexington, Kentucky -- makes him as frightening a sophomore prospect as any player in the country.
Caris LeVert, Michigan: Was Nik Stauskas a shooting guard? Not really, which is why NBA scouts love him so much: As a sophomore, Stauskas flashed all of the Stephen Curry-esque tools (lights-out shooting, penetration work, athleticism and great passing) in a 6-foot-6 frame. Stauskas has NBA people all worked up, and understandably so. LeVert is a similar player. He's an excellent shooter whom coach John Beilein loves to run through pick-and-roll sets; according to Synergy an almost identical number of LeVert's possessions came in spot-ups (24.5 percent) as screen-and-roll plays (24.3). LeVert shot 40.8 percent from 3, 46 percent from 2, didn't turn the ball over often, and will get a ton of shots without Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III around this season. He has huge, Big Ten Player of the Year-level potential in his third year in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Top newcomers to watch
D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The top-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2014 arrives at OSU with a reputation for sweet shooting and deep range. The timing is perfect, because another offense-free season like last season might drive coach Thad Matta over the edge.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The best recruit Seton Hall has signed in … wait, don't answer that … Whitehead is a physical scorer who explodes to the rim and absorbs contact while there. He could make Seton Hall's season really interesting for the first time in a while.
Devin Booker, Kentucky: The return of the Harrisons shrank Booker's minutes by a big margin; the fact that he might be the fourth guy off Kentucky's bench tells you all you need to know about next season's Wildcats.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Indiana's wealth of perimeter talent gets Lannister-esque with the addition of Blackmon; whether the Hoosiers will have anybody to play on the low block is a different and more pertinent question.
The Wildcats became the fifth No. 8 seed to make the Final Four since the tournament expanded in 1985. The only No. 8 to win a national title was Villanova in 1985.
Kentucky joined Connecticut as teams that beat three top-4 seeds to get to the Final Four. Prior to this year, only three teams had ever done that: 1986 LSU, 2000 Florida and 2011 Butler.
The key to victory for Kentucky was the performance of its freshmen. Aaron Harrison made the big shot, a game-winning 3-pointer, but that was only part of the story.
Star Watch: Julius Randle leads the freshmen
Kentucky freshman Julius Randle led the Wildcats with 16 points and 11 rebounds. He became the second freshman in NCAA Tournament history to have a double-double in each of his first four games. The other was Gene Banks for Duke in 1978.
Kentucky became the first team to start five freshmen in an Elite 8 win since Michigan's "Fab 5" in 1992.
The Wildcats’ freshmen have scored 254 points, a total that trails only that Michigan team for the most by freshmen through the Elite 8.
Kentucky controls the paint,
limits Michigan outside the paint
Kentucky attempted 43 of its 58 field goal attempts in the paint (74 percent), the second-highest percentage in the 2014 Men’s Basketball Championship and third-highest in the last five.
Michigan scored 25 points outside the paint Sunday, its fewest in 11 tournament games the last three seasons. The Wolverines entered the game averaging a tournament-high 39.3 points per game outside the paint.
Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Day
Kentucky is the first team in tournament history to eliminate both the defending champion and defending runner-up from the NCAA Tournament and the first to eliminate three teams from the previous year's Final Four.
(11) Tennessee vs (2) Michigan
The Wolverines are trying to reach a second straight Elite 8 (lost in title game last year to Louisville). Tennessee has been to just one Elite 8 in its history, when it lost to Michigan State in 2010.
Michigan's hot outside shooting has carried the team in its first two wins. The Wolverines are 21 of 45 from beyond the arc and have made 50 percent of their jump shots, second-best among tournament teams.
Over its last nine games (during which it has gone 8-1) Tennessee has held its opponents to just 26.6 percent shooting on 3-pointers and 27 percent on jump shots.
(8) Kentucky vs (4) Louisville
Get ready for another epic showdown of these Bluegrass state rivals. This is the fourth time in NCAA Tournament history that the previous two national champions will play against each other in the NCAA Tournament.
In each of the three previous occurrences, the defending champion has defeated champion from the previous season.
There will be two key matchups to watch in this game.
The first one is on the offensive glass. The Wildcats rank second in the country in offensive rebound percentage and average 15.6 second-chance points per game, the best among major conferences.
Louisville is not a great defensive rebounding team, ranking 241st in the nation, and was outscored 17-6 in second-chance points by Kentucky in their meeting on Dec. 28.
The other key matchup is whether Kentucky can handle Louisville's pressure defense, which forces 17.4 turnovers per game, the second-most in the country. Louisville is 19-0 this season when forcing 17 or more turnovers; Kentucky is 16-2 when committing 11 or fewer turnovers.
(7) Connecticut vs (3) Iowa State
The only other time these two teams met in the NCAA Tournament was in a Round of 64 win by the Cyclones in 2012. That was Jim Calhoun's final game.
With Georges Niang out for Iowa State and Connecticut lacking a dominant post offense, this game could come down to who executes better on the perimeter.
Iowa State ranks in the top 25 in 3-point attempts per game and 3-pointers made per game this season, while UConn ranks 22nd in the country in 3-point field goal percentage.
Both teams allow their opponents to make more than a third of their shots from beyond the arc, though the Huskies do a better job of limiting 3-point attempts (18.3 per game) than the Cyclones (21.2).
(4) Michigan State vs (1) Virginia
Virginia is hoping to avoid the fate of another recent first-place ACC squad. Last year Miami was the regular-season and postseason ACC champs, and they lost in the Sweet 16 vs Marquette.
The Michigan State seniors are trying to avoid making history as well. Every four-year player under coach Tom Izzo has reached the Final Four, and this is the last chance for Adreian Payne and Keith Appling to make it.
The key matchup to watch in this game will be whether Virginia can slow down the Spartans' fastbreak offense.
Transition makes up 21.9 percent of Michigan State’s offensive plays, the eighth-highest rate in the country, and the Spartans average 18.9 transition points per game, 14th-most in the nation. Virginia allows 7.4 transition points per game, third-fewest in the nation, and only 10.9 percent of Virginia’s defensive plays are transition, the fifth-lowest rate in the country.
Are choosing No. 1 seeds about who the best four teams are? Or are they about selecting the best 4 resumes using RPI data?
Using RPI data, Louisville doesn't have the best resume based solely on quality wins.
But there's certainly an argument that Louisville is one of the best four teams in college basketball, maybe even the best team.
Louisville has the best net efficiency in the country. Net efficiency is the difference in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions).
The Cardinals are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Louisville ranks No. 4 in BPI, which takes into account scoring margin, opponent strength, pace, location and key players missing.
The Cardinals also rank No. 2 in KenPom rating. They rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, which take into account opponent strength.
Louisville has 19 wins by at least 20 points this season. No other team has more than 15 such wins.
The Cardinals have no bad losses, something that can't be said for Duke, Michigan and Villanova. Each of Louisville's five losses are by single digits against teams ranked in the top 50 in both BPI and RPI.
It's often mentioned that the NCAA selection committee evaluates how a team performs at full strength -- if that team is entering the NCAA Tournament at full strength.
If that's true, then Michigan State should be a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan State is 13-3 with all of its key players (defined as top five players in minutes per game among players who have played at least half of their team's games): Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne.
Michigan State has the fifth-best BPI of any team with all of its key players.
The Spartans are 20-3 with Branden Dawson in the lineup (5-5 without him). Their only three losses with Dawson in the lineup are North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio State.
With all of their key players, the Spartans are 6-2 against the BPI top 50 and 8-3 against the BPI top 100.
Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are the only teams that rank in the top five in RPI, BPI and KenPom.
Kansas has the No. 1 overall strength of schedule, the No. 1 non-conference strength of schedule, the most RPI top-50 wins of any team (12) and the most RPI top-100 wins (18).
The Jayhawks have no losses outside the RPI top 100.
Michigan has 10 wins against the RPI top 50. Only Kansas (12) and Arizona (11) have more.
If Virginia and Florida don't win their conference tournaments, Michigan could be the only "major conference" team to win its regular-season conference title outright and its conference tournament.
Duke has five wins against the RPI top 25, the most of any team. The Blue Devils have a head-to-head win against Michigan, another team competing for a No. 1 seed. They also have wins against Virginia and Syracuse.
Villanova has 16 wins against the RPI top 100. Only Kansas (18), Arizona (17) and Wisconsin (17) have more. The Wildcats have a head-to-head win against Kansas, another team that could potentially receive a No. 1 seed.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) measures how well each team performs based on game result, margin, pace of game, location, opponent strength and the absence of any key players.
Using BPI, we are able to project the chances for each team to win its major conference tournament. The probabilities take into account the matchups in each bracket based on each team’s BPI. The team with the best BPI isn’t necessarily always the favorite if that team has much tougher matchups than other teams in the tournament.
According to BPI, the Arizona Wildcats have the best chance of any team in one of the seven major conferences (American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) to win its tournament. They have a 63 percent chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament.
Arizona has more than a six times better chance of winning the Pac-12 tournament than any other team. The UCLA Bruins have the second-best chance at 10 percent.
Pac-12 best chances: Arizona 63 percent, UCLA 10 percent, Oregon 10 percent, Arizona State 5 percent, Stanford 4 percent
The Florida Gators are the prohibitive favorites in the SEC tournament with a 57 percent chance to win it. The Kentucky Wildcats (25 percent) are the only other SEC team with better than a 7 percent chance. The No. 9 seed Missouri Tigers have a slightly better chance to win the SEC tournament than the No. 3 seed Georgia Bulldogs.
SEC best chances: Florida 57 percent, Kentucky 25 percent, Tennessee 7 percent, Arkansas 3 percent, Missouri 2 percent
American & Big East
The Louisville Cardinals (American) and Villanova Wildcats (Big East) are both close to 50 percent in terms of their chances of winning their respective conference tournaments.
The Memphis Tigers have an edge playing on their home court in the American Tournament, but they still have a significantly worse chance than Louisville and Cincinnati. Memphis does, however, have a greater probability of winning the tournament than higher-seeded teams Southern Methodist and Connecticut. With its home-court advantage, Memphis would be a favorite against any team in the tournament other than Louisville.
American best chances: Louisville 49 percent, Cincinnati 18 percent, Memphis 14 percent, SMU 12 percent, Connecticut 8 percent
No team other than Villanova or Creighton has better than a 6 percent chance to win the Big East tournament. There’s a 44 percent chance that Villanova and Creighton meet in the Big East championship game.
Big East best chances: Villanova 48 percent, Creighton 31 percent, Xavier 6 percent, St. John’s 6 percent, Providence 4 percent
Perhaps the most interesting conference tournament is the ACC, where the No. 3 seed Duke Blue Devils are the favorites at 27 percent. The No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers (25 percent) and No. 2 Syracuse Orange (23 percent) are close behind.
ACC best chances: Duke 27 percent, Virginia 25 percent, Syracuse 23 percent, Pittsburgh 12 percent, North Carolina 7 percent
Another interesting conference tournament is the Big Ten, where four teams have between a 17 percent and a 26 percent chance of winning the tournament. The No. 2 seed Wisconsin Badgers are the favorites at 26 percent, while the No. 1 seed Michigan Wolverines are only the third favorites.
Big Ten best chances: Wisconsin 26 percent, Ohio State 19 percent, Michigan 19 percent, Michigan State 17 percent, Iowa 11 percent
The Kansas Jayhawks have a 37 percent chance to win the Big 12 tournament, but their path isn’t easy. They could face the teams with the fourth- and second-best chances of winning the tournament in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
The No. 8 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys, with a 10 percent chance of winning it, could face Kansas in the quarterfinals. The No. 4 seed Iowa State Cyclones, with an 18 percent chance, could face Kansas in the semifinals. Both teams have a 35 percent chance of beating Kansas, according to BPI.
Big 12 best chances: Kansas 37 percent, Iowa State 18 percent, Oklahoma 16 percent, Oklahoma State 10 percent, Baylor 6 percent
BPI No. 1 Arizona fell 64-57 at Oregon on Saturday and lost 0.7 in its BPI rating. But the Wildcats had enough of a cushion over No. 2 Florida that they maintained the hold on the top spot. Similarly, No. 9 Wisconsin, which lost at Nebraska on Sunday, maintained its ranking despite a 1.0 drop in BPI.
Kansas falls after Shockers’ victory
A 92-86 loss at West Virginia brought Kansas’ BPI rating down 0.7, and the Jayhawks kept their No. 3 BPI ranking after Saturday’s games.
After Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game Sunday, the Shockers got a bump of 0.2 in their BPI – a small bump, but large enough for Wichita State to move from No. 4 to No. 3 in the rankings, leapfrogging Kansas. The Jayhawks, who have the toughest schedule among BPI Top 15 teams, are No. 3 in the NCAA’s RPI rankings but fell from eighth to 10th in the weekly Associated Press poll.
Of the BPI Top 10 teams that lost, only Virginia (a 75-69 overtime loser at Maryland on Sunday) dropped in the rankings immediately after the defeat, from No. 7 to No. 8.
Pac-12 climber and faller
Oregon, in its BPI rating, gained less than Arizona lost after their game Saturday but climbed four spots in the rankings Sunday to No. 16. The Ducks have won seven games in a row (earning a BPI Game Score of at least 90 in five of them) and exceeded a 90 Game Score in its loss at Arizona on Feb. 6. The NCAA’s RPI has Oregon at No. 25, and the Ducks have the third-most votes among teams finishing out of the top 25 in the AP poll.
The biggest faller in BPI rankings among the Top 50 was UCLA. The Bruins lost 73-55 at No. 175 Washington State on Saturday and fell from 11th to 21st. UCLA earned a Game Score of 10.6 against Washington State, 10 points lower than any other game score for a team currently ranked in the BPI Top 25.
In the eye of the beholder
BPI and other team ranking systems weigh different factors, which explains why teams such as Michigan and Louisville can be regarded so differently.
Michigan is eighth in the AP poll, ninth in RPI and a No. 2 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. In BPI, however, Michigan is 22nd. Of the Wolverines’ seven losses, four have been by at least 10 points; of their wins, seven have been by five points or fewer. Also, Michigan is 8-1 with an 88.7 BPI against opponents missing at least one of their top five players (in terms of minutes per game), and BPI de-weights those games.
Louisville rose from 11th to fifth in the AP poll, but the Cardinals are a projected No. 4 seed in Bracketology and are 22nd in RPI. BPI ranks the Cardinals fifth. All five of Louisville’s losses have been to BPI Top 50 teams and have been by an average of six points, whereas its five wins against Top-50 opponents have come by an average of 13.4 points.
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer, designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
Do Michigan State’s injuries matter? In the words of Orlando Jones’ magazine salesman in “Office Space”: that all depends.
On Saturday, when the Spartans fell at home to hated rival Michigan -- a hard-fought and thrilling game that included a “Just-in Bei-ber” chant, Mitch McGary’s brilliant coaching advice (“win the game”) and a loving Nik Stauskas farewell -- they did so without forwards Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Payne, foot be-booted, missed his fifth straight game. Dawson, who broke his hand in a self-inflicted outburst during an apparently intense Thursday film session, missed his first, with many more to come. Tom Izzo found himself plunging deep into his frontcourt reserves: Alex Gauna and Gavin Schilling made appearances. Matt Costello’s 28 minutes were a season high. Russell Byrd, who hadn’t played more than five minutes in any non-guaranteed blowout all season, ran for 13.
It was tempting, then, to attach an asterisk to the entire affair, a temptation ESPN’s Chantel Jennings discussed -- and convincingly dismissed -- Saturday night. The Wolverines were missing McGary, after all, and the adjustments they’ve made since December have been stunning. Besides, Izzo wouldn’t hear of it.
The real question is how these injuries will affect Michigan State in the long run. For starters, there is the Big Ten race, where the Spartans are now staring down a one-game deficit and a much more difficult remaining schedule than John Beilein’s team. But the most interesting fallout could be in the NCAA tournament seeding.
The selection committee weighs a team’s performance during and after injury, and does its best to take the “true” measure of a team based on the gulf between the two. If Michigan State doesn’t slide too far in Dawson’s (and Payne’s) absences, and then looks brilliant upon their various returns, they’ll be seeded accordingly. But if the Spartans nosedive for the next two weeks? Or the next month? The committee can apply only so many asterisks. It’s unlikely, but what happens then?
On Tuesday, Michigan State faces Iowa’s offensive onslaught in Iowa City. On Saturday, they play an even-more-hobbled Georgetown. How the Spartans look next time this week should tell us a lot about just how important their injuries will look in March.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Arizona shrugs off Utah, moves to 20-0. Just after the Wildcats finished their 65-56 brush-off of Utah Sunday night, the Fox Sports 1 crew placed the rosters of the greatest Arizona teams of all time next to Sean Miller’s team -- Steve Kerr, Kenny Lofton, Miles Simon, Richard Jefferson and all the rest. It was a sobering comparison: On paper, this Arizona team now ranks above the greatest Wildcats teams of all time. On the floor, it’s hard to argue otherwise, something the dominant final few minutes of an otherwise so-so performance showed. (It was also, for what it’s worth, a pretty impressive performance from Utah, which continues to look miles removed from the six-win disaster of 2011-12.)
Cincinnati keeps winning. Sshh. You can look at Cincinnati’s 80-76 win at Temple Sunday night one of two ways. You could note that the Bearcats were outscored 29-15 in the final 10 minutes against a bad team. Or, you could note that Cincinnati was outscored 29-15 in the final 10 minutes and went ahead and won anyway. You should also note that the Bearcats have ever so quietly jumped out to an 8-0 AAC record, are 19-2 overall, suffered their last loss Dec. 14 against Xavier, beat Pitt three days later, rebound 40 percent of their own misses and have one of the stingiest per-trip defenses in the country.
North Carolina avoided ignominy. Given North Carolina’s horrendous January -- which included a road loss to Wake Forest, a home loss to Miami, a 45-point effort at Syracuse and a throttling at Virginia -- and Clemson’s surprisingly capable defense, you could practically hear people getting ready to laugh at UNC when it inevitably lost its first-ever game to the Tigers at home. Giant clouds of schadenfreude were gathered on the horizon. It was going to be a thing! And then Roy Williams had to go and reminded his team it beat Louisville and Michigan State. North Carolina scored 80 points in 61 possessions Sunday, and the storm broke apart in the atmosphere.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(For two more in-depth previews of big games week to come, check back for Monday morning’s “Planning for Success” series.)
Michigan State at Iowa, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: How’s this for a quick Saturday-Tuesday turnaround? As we discussed above, Michigan State’s road trip week starts in Iowa City and ends vs. Georgetown in Madison Square Garden, and the first fixture is the more challenging by a factor of 10. The Hawkeyes, who rank with the nation’s best by every meaningful statistical measure, drilled Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., after Wednesday’s loss in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Iowa State at Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: For most of the season, Iowa State’s offense ranked among the nation’s best; it was certainly, in all its shape-shifting uptempo glory, one of the most entertaining. Since the start of Big 12 play -- and roughly coinciding with DeAndre Kane’s sprained ankle at Oklahoma -- the Cyclones’ offense is scoring just 1.06 points per trip, ninth best in the Big 12. What better time for a trip to Lawrence?!
Cincinnati at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: For all its travails this season -- the bad nonconference slate, the loss at rival Kentucky, the departure of Chane Behanan -- the Louisville Cardinals have, for the most part, played pretty excellent basketball. (The latest? A 41-point win at South Florida Saturday.) Cincinnati can identify with the whole “good basketball going largely unnoticed” thing. Thursday’s winner should get everyone’s attention.
Arizona at Cal, 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network: Before we get all crazy: Arizona still has to play at Stanford on Wednesday. It still has a back-to-back road trip to Arizona State and Utah in mid-February. It still has two dates against Oregon. And now, with those important caveats out of the way, if the Wildcats win at Cal on Saturday, it is conceivable -- not likely, not probably, barely possible, but conceivable -- they could run the regular-season table. Gird loins accordingly.
Duke at Syracuse, 6 :30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Two weeks ago, this game would have been a harder sell, because two weeks ago the Blue Devils were coming off back-to-back losses against Notre Dame and Clemson, and freshman star Jabari Parker looked like his face had become intimately acquainted with the notorious freshman “wall.” No more: Duke has won four straight, the latest, a 78-56 rout of Florida State (in 63 possessions) its most complete performance of the season. OK, so it’s Duke-Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. It was never actually a hard sell. But now the Orange don’t look quite so likely to dominate.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
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
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