College Basketball Nation: Virginia Cavaliers
- Did Tom Izzo cost his team its Big Ten opener Tuesday night? SB Nation makes the case in three parts. The first error -- calling a timeout that halted a potentially game-sealing fast break, and ended up with Matt Costello on the line in the final moments of regulation -- is genuinely glaring. The second (calling a timeout to set up his defense, giving the timeout-less Terps a chance to plan on offense) is less so, especially given how well-defended the Terps' last possession was. And the third -- not fouling Dez Wells when ahead by three just before Wells hit the game-tying shot with five seconds to play -- was probably the right call. Sure, Wells is shooting 53 percent from 3 this season, but that's on just 13 attempts; he has never been a prolific long-range shooter. The shot was awkward and tightly guarded and at the end of an absolutely horrific shooting night for the Terps (who finished 2-of-19 from 3-point range). It went in, which makes the result seem questionable in retrospect. But save the first timeout, Izzo can probably live with the process that preceded it. After the game, the coach said he was "open for a lot of criticism," but that he almost never fouled when up three in his career. "They went 2-for-19 from the 3, so I went with my odds," Izzo said. "If I'm criticized for that, that'd be fine."
- Just under the wire, Gary Parrish submits a Rocky Analogy of The Year Award nominee from Virginia coach Tony Bennett: "OK," Bennett said. "So Apollo trains Rocky in that movie, and he keeps telling Rocky that he wants a favor at the end. So they end up in this little gym at the end, and Apollo wants a rematch because he couldn't live with [the loss to Rocky at the end of the previous film]. And then Apollo says to Rocky, 'You fight great ... but I'm a great fighter.' And it's a little like that for us. We don't look at ourselves as this great team. We look at ourselves as a team that, when things are right, we can play at an excellent level."
- Wichita State opens its Missouri Valley season at Drake on Wednesday night, but the Shockers had a minor issue en route to Des Moines. On Tuesday evening, WSU's plane was forced to make an emergency landing after a minor sensor malfunction with its landing gear, according to KWCH. Shortly after takeoff, the pilots noticed the issue, rerouted back to Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport, and landed the plane safely with no injuries to anyone on board. Phew.
- "My belief is that Kentucky's coach has planned, through recruitment and coaching tactics, to build a program that smothers and bullies opponents rather than play basketball the way it should be played. Inevitably, this corruption of college basketball will doom the sport at the college level. No team wants to play that kind of program. I don't understand how Kentucky's players tolerate the loss of athletic play in their present up-and-down routine where true competition is never achieved. The NCAA should reject this corrupted play before other schools reject submitting their programs to participate." That's University of Louisville emeritus professor Michael Cassaro, in a hilarious letter to the editor published by the Louisville Courier-Journal this week. He's wrong, of course -- not about the game itself, because it really was an aesthetic abomination -- but about the underlying causes. You don't need me to explain why. [Louisville's defense is just as smothering, if not more so; Louisville's offense had its share of open shots and made exactly none of them, etc.] This link is here only here because it reminded your author of his own comically overwrought college professors. Ah, memories.
- If you think Wisconsin's inherent likability comes down to just Frank Kaminsky, think again. Just as they were last season, the Badgers are pretty chill from top to bottom. Today, ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf goes deep on star junior wing Sam Dekker, future first-round pick and local Sheboygan, Wisconsin, hero.
When you're talking about a 49-point victory, as we are in the case of Virginia's utter dismantling of Harvard Sunday afternoon, a lot of things might rightly be classified as "impressive." An abridged list:
- Before Sunday, Harvard forward Wesley Saunders was averaging 20.1 points, 7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game, and doing so with a combination of high usage and high efficiency reserved for the Jahlil Okafors and Frank Kaminskys of the world. On Sunday, Saunders finished with 4 points on 0-7 from the field with one steal, one rebound, and three turnovers.
- Saunders combined with fellow starters Siyani Chambers and Agunwa Okolie to go 0-of-24 from the field.
- Harvard's five starters combined to make one -- just one -- field goal.
- Harvard made eight field goals in the entire game.
- Harvard's first-half field goal -- again, singular -- ties the all-time first-half low set by Savannah State and Northern Illinois (against Kansas State in 2008 and Eastern Michigan in 2013, respectively).
- The Crimson scored eight points in the first half, and just 19 in the second.
- This is not your father's Harvard. This is a Harvard coming off three straight NCAA tournament appearances, a Harvard that upended Cincinnati last March, a Harvard playing top-25-level defense and hovering in around adjusted efficiency top 40.
And no, none of those things is the most impressive part of Virginia's win -- though the latter three hint at it.
On Sunday, Virginia played all 15 of its rostered players. Five of its reserves played more than 12 minutes. And, over 40 minutes, the Cavaliers still managed to accomplish all of the things you read above. This was a blowout, yes, and Harvard emptied its bench to a large degree, too.
Still, UVa coach Tony Bennett doesn't typically have a deep rotation. This isn't Kentucky, where "emptying the bench in a blowout" means throwing another five brilliant future pros on the floor. Usually, games like this, played between teams of this world, regress to the mean in the second half -- if not because of the overall skill levels, than at least because the deep-bench reserves can't maintain the pace.
Instead, Virginia finished the game shooting 60 percent. Its defense never let up. Things just kept getting worse. Of all of the eye-popping factoids available after a 76-27 win, that has to be the most insane, right?
(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.
KANSAS vs STANFORD
Stanford is the third-most efficient team in the country on pick-and-roll, ball handler plays, averaging more than a point per play on those plays.
Kansas ranks 221st in points per play allowed while defending pick-and-roll, ball handler plays.
That could be a big factor with Joel Embiid not there to protect the rim on pick-and-roll plays.
WICHITA STATE vs KENTUCKY
Kentucky ranks second in offensive rebound percentage (42.1%) and scores 9.4 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, fifth-most in the country.
Wichita State ranks fifth in the country in defensive rebound percentage (74.2%) and only allows 4.3 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, 17th-fewest in the country.
IOWA STATE vs NORTH CAROLINA
Iowa State relies heavily on 3-point shooting. The Cyclones rank in the top 25 in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made per game.
North Carolina is holding teams to 30 percent 3-point shooting in its last 14 games. The Tar Heels have held 13 of their last 14 opponents below 40 percent on 3-point shooting. They're only allowing 5.4 3-pointers per game in their last 14 games.
TENNESSEE vs MERCER
Mercer's opponents are attempting 23.1 3-pointers per game in its last 10 games. Mercer is 9-0 when its opponents attempt at least 24 3-pointers (12-1 when they attempt at least 23), including a win over Duke (37 attempts).
Tennessee hasn't had more than 24 3-point attempts all season. They average 17.1 3-point attempts per game.
UCLA vs STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
UCLA ranks in the bottom 20 of the country in turnover percentage. The Bruins only turn it over on 14.9 percent of their possessions.
Stephen F. Austin forces 16.2 turnovers per game, eighth-most in the country. However, SFA is only forcing 11.6 turnovers per game in its last five games.
CREIGHTON vs BAYLOR
Creighton is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (4-6 when shooting less than 35 percent). Creighton is 15-1 when making at least 11 3-pointers (12-6 when making 10 or fewer).
Baylor's opponents are shooting 38.5 percent on 3-pointers in its last 10 games. Baylor has allowed higher than 40 percent 3-point shooting in five of its last 10 games and at least eight 3-pointers in six of its last 10 games.
VIRGINIA vs MEMPHIS
Memphis ranks second in the country in transition offense with 21.2 points per game. The Tigers rank 21st in transition field goal percentage (59.3%).
Virginia excels in transition defense. The Cavaliers allow seven transition points per game, second-fewest in the country. Virginia also ranks in the top 25 in field goal percentage defense in transition.
Pace will be a factor, as well. Virginia has the third-slowest pace (60.7 possessions per game), while Memphis ranks 34th in pace (71.2 possessions per game).
ARIZONA vs GONZAGA
Gonzaga is very efficient on offense, ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Arizona ranks third in defensive efficiency, allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions. The Wildcats are 15-0 this season when allowing fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions.
Gonzaga hasn't faced a single team all season that ranks in the top 30 in offensive efficiency.
Big 12 and Atlantic 10 stand out
The Big 12 got the most bids with seven, one more than the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big Ten and Pac-12. The Big 12’s seven bids match its most in any season (it also had seven in 2010).
It’s notable that the Atlantic 10 has twice as many bids as the SEC and the same number as the ACC. The six bids were the most for the Atlantic 10 in conference history, surpassing the previous high of five, done three times, most recently last season.
The top seed
Florida enters the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. The only other time it was the No. 1 overall seed was in 2007, when it won the national title.
The Gators have won 26 straight games, the third-longest active winning streak in the country, trailing Wichita State (34) and Stephen F. Austin (28).
It’s been a long time
Virginia is a No. 1 seed for the fourth time in school history, but the first time since 1983. Virginia is the first No. 1 seed from the ACC not named Duke or North Carolina since Maryland in 2002.
Traditional powers seeded a little low
Kentucky is seeded No. 8, the lowest-ever for a John Calipari-coached tournament team.
Duke is a No. 3 seed, its lowest seed since 2007, when it was a No. 6 seed and lost to VCU in the round of 64.
Duke has never won the National Championship when seeded No. 3 or lower. The Blue Devils have only reached the Final Four once in nine tries as a 3 seed or lower, since seeding began in 1979, in 1990 when it was runner-up.
Quest for a title
Of the 35 national champions since seeding began, 31 of them were 1, 2 or 3 seeds. The other four championships were two by No. 6 seeds, and one each for No. 4 and No. 8 seeds. Villanova was that No. 8, the lowest to win the national title, in 1985.
The last time a team seeded worse than third won the national title was fourth-seeded Arizona in 1997.
The biggest snub from a statistical perspective was SMU. The Mustangs were hurt by only having four wins against teams in the RPIs top 100 and by their non-conference strength of schedule ranking (303rd).
The state of Indiana also went without a team being selected. This is only the second time in the last 40 seasons that a team from Indiana hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament.
Thanks to Wildcats, Panthers, and Tigers, the cat family has 11 entries in the tournament. The bird family (Blue Hens, Bluejays, Ducks, Cardinals, and variations on Hawks) has nine. The dog family includes the Bulldogs, Great Danes, Huskies, and Terriers.
Three states put all their eligible Division I teams in the tournament—Kansas (3), Nebraska (2—note that Nebraska-Omaha is still provisional Division I) and New Mexico (2).
There will be at least four games in which teams with the same nickname will face each other. Mercer and Baylor will meet in the battle of the Bears. The American-North Carolina Central matchup pits a pair of Eagles head-to-head. The Pittsburgh-Milwaukee game is the Panthers versus the Panthers. And Memphis faces Texas Southern in a battle of the Tigers.
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.
After handling Miami (FL) on Wednesday, the Cavaliers defeated Syracuse 75-56 in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. Virginia averaged 1.32 points per possession, the greatest offensive efficiency achieved against Syracuse in the last three seasons. By BPI Game Score (a 0-to-100 scale), the Cavaliers earned a 99.7, their best this season and the third-best among all teams.
Not all losses are created equal
It wasn’t just that Saint Louis lost, but where the Billikens lost, and to whom.
On Thursday, Saint Louis fell 71-64 at home to Duquesne, the 142nd-ranked team in BPI. That earned Saint Louis a Game Score of 25.7 – the Billikens’ worst of the season by a margin of more than 25 – and cost the team 2.0 in BPI’s 0-to-100 scale.
On Saturday, Saint Louis lost 67-56 at BPI No. 21 Virginia Commonwealth. That resulted in a drop in BPI of 0.9.
Once the week was over, Saint Louis had fallen from No. 19 in the BPI rankings to No. 30, the biggest drop in BPI ranking this week among Top 75 teams.
In The Associated Press’ weekly Top 25 released Monday, Saint Louis fell from 10 to 17. In the NCAA’s RPI rankings, the Billikens rose one spot to 17.
Falling in place
Kansas’ 72-65 loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday had an effect on the Jayhawks’ BPI rating, but not on their BPI ranking.
The Jayhawks’ BPI dropped 0.7 after they lost to the BPI No. 20 Cowboys. Kansas earned a Game Score of 73.2, its third-worst this season, with the performance in Stillwater, Okla.
Kansas maintained its spot at No. 3 in the rankings, however. The Jayhawks had enough of a cushion over the remainder of the teams that the decrease in BPI didn’t drop them in the rankings. (They did fall from fifth in eight in the AP poll and from No. 1 to No. 2 in RPI.)
Last week, the teams that BPI ranked fourth through eighth were separated by 0.1 in the BPI. There is less congestion this week, although No. 6 Louisville, No. 7 Virginia and No. 8 Villanova are separated by 0.2.
Rich Barnes/Getty ImagesVirginia clinched the regular-season ACC title with a win over Syracuse on Saturday.
Virginia trailed by one at the half, but outscored Syracuse 48-28 in the second half. Virginia especially pulled away over the final 13:54, outscoring the Orange 35-16. In that span, the Cavaliers held Syracuse to 4-22 shooting from the field, 0-10 from 3-point range.
Virginia is known for their defensive prowess, it entered the game allowing a Division I-best 54.7 points per game, but it was an adjustment on the offensive end that spurred the Cavaliers to this victory.
In the first half, Virginia had problems scoring from outside, but excelled when pounding the ball inside. The Cavaliers went 10-19 from the paint in the first half, with 68 percent of their field goal attempts coming from the paint.
However, in that first half, Virginia struggled against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense when they were unable to get inside. On possessions that didn’t include a touch in the paint against the zone, Virginia scored just five points on 2-for-9 shooting.
Syracuse responded by clogging the paint defensively in the second half, but Virginia responded by moving their offense outside, with 24 second-half points on possessions without a touch in the paint against the zone, including six 3-pointers.
Unlike Virginia, the Orange could not score from outside, leading to the loss. Syracuse shot just 24 percent from outside the paint in the game, including under 18 percent in the second half. The Orange missed their final 13 shots from outside the paint.
The Orange defense also forced just a single turnover in the second half, after forcing five in the first half.
Although unlikely to move into discussion for a No. 1 seed based on Saturday’s win alone, Virginia has made an argument for being ranked among the top-four team entering the NCAA Tournament and to be picked to advance deep into brackets:
• Best BPI since Jan. 1
• 16-1 in last 17 games
• 7-4 vs teams in BPI top 50 (12-5 vs BPI top 100)
• No losses to team outside BPI top 60
Virginia will try to replicate the performance of the only other team in school history to win an outright regular-season ACC title. The 1980-81 squad, with Ralph Sampson on the roster, was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, before being eliminated in the Final Four by a James Worthy-led North Carolina team.
Virginia leads all teams in BPI in January.
The Cavaliers were ranked as low as 55th on Jan. 2 after a 35-point loss on Dec. 30 against Tennessee. But they've won six of seven games this month, all against ACC opponents.
They're now 21st in BPI, their highest rank this season. All six of their wins this month have a BPI game score better than 95. Game score is on a 0-100 scale.
Virginia's five losses have all come against teams ranked in the BPI top 55, three of them by four points or fewer.
In the last week, the Memphis Tigers have risen 12 spots from No. 48 to No. 36 in BPI. That's tied with Arizona State for the largest jump in the last week among teams currently ranked in the top 50.
Two of the Tigers' six best performances in terms of BPI game score have come in the last week: a 23-point win against Houston and a 22-point win against South Florida.
The Tigers have two top-15 wins to bolster their resume, both away from home: a five-point win on a neutral court against No. 9 Oklahoma State and a six-point win on the road at No. 14 Louisville.
All four of their losses have come against teams ranked in the BPI top 35: Oklahoma State, Florida, Cincinnati and Connecticut.
Memphis is one of four teams with multiple wins against the BPI top 15 without any losses outside the BPI top 35. The others are Syracuse (BPI No. 4), Villanova (15) and San Diego State (22).
Ups and downs for UNC
The North Carolina Tar Heels have had quite the turbulent season. They’re the only team with two wins against the BPI top seven this season. Michigan and Kansas are the only other teams with two wins against the BPI top 10.
The Tar Heels have defeated No. 5 Kentucky, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 14 Louisville. Michigan is the only other team with three wins against the BPI top 15.
North Carolina was No. 22 in BPI after its win against Kentucky in mid-December. But since then, the Tar Heels have been in a free fall.
They dropped outside the top 40 for the first time on Jan. 6 after a loss to Wake Forest. They dropped outside the top 50 three days later after a loss to Miami (FL).
They reached their low point on Saturday, falling all the way to No. 61. But after their 19-point win against Clemson on Sunday, the Tar Heels jumped back up to No. 50. The win against Clemson was their second-best BPI game score of the season, 98.7 (only their win against Michigan State, 99.5, was better).
Tough week for Harvard, Colorado and Villanova
Of teams currently in the BPI top 50, no teams fell further in the last week than Harvard, Colorado and Villanova.
Harvard fell 12 spots from No. 26 to No. 38 after a 15-point loss to No. 223 Florida Atlantic on Tuesday. It was by far Harvard's worst performance of the season in terms of BPI game score.
In fact, Harvard's 8.4 BPI game score against Florida Atlantic is the worst performance this season by any team currently ranked in the top 50.
Colorado and Villanova each fell 10 spots in the last week. Colorado now is No. 46, Villanova is No. 15.
Duke's BPI game score in its six-point loss against Arizona (ranked No. 4 in BPI) was higher than two of its wins (vs East Carolina, vs Vermont). Other than its wins over No. 40 Michigan and No. 63 Alabama, Duke doesn't have any other wins over teams ranked in the top 180.
Duke has the best adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, but its adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 101st.
Is Wisconsin the best team in college basketball?
The Wisconsin Badgers rank No. 1 in BPI after starting 12-0 with five wins over top-50 BPI teams -- St. John's, Florida, Saint Louis, West Virginia and Virginia. Their five wins against top-50 teams are the most by any team. Kansas and Davidson are the only other teams that have even faced five top-50 teams.
Wisconsin has the 11th-most difficult schedule according to BPI. Seven of their 12 wins are against top-100 opponents and none of them are against teams outside the top 175.
The Badgers have been successful playing a slow pace (17th-fewest possessions per game). Two of their three worst BPI game scores this season have come in the two games in which they played at the fastest pace (at Green Bay, vs North Dakota).
Michigan State barely cracks the top 25
The Michigan State Spartans, previously ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, come in at No. 24 in BPI. The Spartans only have one loss, but it was by far their worst BPI game score and it came against their second-best opponent (No. 23 North Carolina).
Why else is Michigan State's BPI lacking? The Spartans have five wins against teams ranked outside the BPI top 100. Three of those wins are by 15 points or fewer, including two by single digits, and one of the five wins is against No. 338 McNeese State. Also, they haven't played a single true road game yet.
Welcome to the top 10, Saint Mary's
The undefeated Saint Mary's Gaels are ranked No. 8 in BPI, and it's not due to any wins over top-notch opponents. The Gaels haven't faced a single top-50 team yet, but five of their eight wins came against top-100 opponents and six of their eight wins are by double digits.
Saint Mary's has performed well against top-100 teams, posting a BPI game score higher than 95 in four of those five wins.
Why isn't Pittsburgh ranked yet?
The Pittsburgh Panthers are ranked No. 9 in BPI but aren't in the top 25 in the AP Poll. The Panthers are 10-0 with each of those 10 wins coming by at least nine points and nine of the wins coming by at least 17 points.
Pitt doesn't have any top-50 wins, but the Panthers do have two wins against teams just outside the top 50 (No. 51 Penn State, No. 55 Stanford). Their three best BPI game scores came against their three best opponents -- Penn State, Stanford and Texas Tech (No. 110).
Pitt is one of seven teams ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, along with Louisville, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kansas and North Carolina.
- For a vast majority of the possessions they played during the 2012-13 season, the Virginia Cavaliers were a solid college basketball team. Virginia held opponents to the 16th-lowest effective field-goal percentage in the country last season; they finished 24th in defensive efficiency; they ranked 40th overall; they beat Duke and North Carolina and nearly toppled the ACC champs (Miami) on the road; and their best player, guard Joe Harris, was an all-conference first-teamer.
If you repeated the above information to the uninitiated -- and yes, I will take credit for not shoehorning a Bane joke in here -- you would assume Virginia ended the 2012-13 season in the NCAA tournament.
Nope: UVa spent March in the NIT. There were a few reasons for this: a soft schedule, missed opportunities, a few untimely ACC flops. But more than anything, Virginia missed out because by Christmas it had already lost to George Mason (RPI: 123), Delaware (RPI: 141) and -- worst of all -- Old Dominion (RPI: 318!). The Cavaliers never did enough to recover.
On Wednesday night, Providence, Maryland and Illinois -- 2014 tourney hopefuls all -- avoided precisely that fate.
Providence's win over Brown was the most harrowing of the bunch. The Friars, a promising and talented group under impressive third-year coach Ed Cooley, handled the lion's share of their home matchup with Brown with expected ease. Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton and Co. opened an early 20-4 lead over the Bears, and stretched it to 42-27 in the closing minutes of the first half. The rout appeared to be on.
But Brown, believe it or not, came roaring back in the second half. Providence went cold. Brown's Cedric Kuakumensah got hot. By the 9-minute mark, it was 58-58. With five minutes to play, Brown led 63-60. But if not for two late 3-pointers by LaDontae Henton and Josh Fortune, Providence may well have lost to a team that finished 12-20 and ranked 240 in the RPI last season. Is it possible the Bears are much better this season? Sure. It is almost certain a home loss to Brown would have destroyed Providence's RPI? Yes.
That damage would have paled in comparison what would have happened to Maryland had the Terps fallen to -- gulp -- Abilene Christian. Mark Turgeon's team pulled away in the second half, and eventually cruised to a 67-44 win that will look fine three months from now. But Maryland actually entered halftime trailing -- yes, trailing -- the Wildcats 30-29. Heck, Abilene's lead lasted during a disconcertingly large chunk of into the second half; they were up 44-38 with 14 minutes to play. If you think a loss to Brown would be bad, try on a home loss to a team that wasn't even in Division I last season. Thanks to Maryland's bonkers 29-0 game-ending run, it didn't have to come to that. But still, what a nervy 25 minutes.
Illinois' win over Valparaiso may have been a bit less drastic. Valpo, after all, won the Horizon League last season. It is a name mid-major program. It is no Brown, to say nothing of Abilene. But still, the Cavaliers lost six seniors, including stars Kevin Van Wijk and Ryan Broekhoff, from last season and are in full-on rebuilding mode in Bryce Drew's second season, which made their mere two-point deficit at the six-minute mark of the second half in Champaign all the more troubling.
Throw Indiana into this mix, too. The Hoosiers narrowly survived LIU-Brooklyn at home Tuesday night. Don't get it twisted: The Blackbirds have made the last three tournaments for a reason. That's a good program. They schemed IU well and baited the Hoosiers into too many outside shots. But no matter. IU is supposed to beat LIU-Brooklyn at home, and a loss would have veered the young Hoosiers in an RPI ditch in the first week of the season.
Instead, all of these teams survived résumé calamity. Wednesday night hardly offered the most inspiring slate of games. It was a harsh comedown after Tuesday night's Champions Classic high. But for Illinois, Providence and Maryland, Wednesday was a season-changing night.
You know the NCAA tournament cliché, survive and advance? It's a good one. Just remember: You have to survive November first.
Here are previews for each team in the ACC:
Boston College Eagles
Clemson Tigers (free)
Duke Blue Devils
Florida State Seminoles
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Virginia Tech Hokies
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
1. Kentucky: There may be a lonely faction out there in the Internet hinterlands who would assume this argument is about John Calipari. Sorry, but no: Calipari has nothing to prove. Yeah, Robert Morris in the NIT, I know, I know, but come on: We're not even two full years removed from Kentucky's national title. Remember that? When Calipari got the top two picks in the NBA draft to happily settle for the fourth- and fifth-highest percentage of their team's shots en route to a 38-2 championship season? You remember that, right? Clearly, Calipari can mesh a class of hyper-talented freshmen with a mix of almost-equally-talented returners and win a national title, which is the be-all goal of Kentucky's 2013-14 campaign. That exact thing just happened!
No, this designation is about Kentucky's players. Forget Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; forget John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins; forget Derrick Rose. Calipari has had a lot of crazy recruiting classes in his career, but none of them have come close to this kind of hype. In March, less than 15 hours after the Wildcats' embarrassing loss to Robert Morris, Julius Randle committed to Kentucky. A few hours later, ESPN.com recruiting guru Dave Telep wrote that Calipari's class was the best ever -- better even than Michigan's Fab Five, "the standard bearer for recruiting classes."
So, yeah, Randle and his classmates -- No. 5 ranked Andrew Harrison, No. 7-ranked Dakari Johnson, No. 8-ranked James Young, No. 9-ranked Aaron Harrison, and No. 25-ranked Marcus Lee -- have something to prove. That goes double for disappointing sophomore holdovers Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. The ceiling here is unfathomable -- like, undefeated-season-unfathomable -- and it's almost impossible to envision Calipari presiding over another disaster. Not with this talent. But it is incumbent upon a very confident, cocksure group to come together, to sublimate their individual desires for the good of the team — all of that boring, cliche stuff. The inverse of "best recruiting class ever" is "most disappointing recruiting class ever," and that's a legacy no one wants to leave behind.
2. Creighton: Doug McDermott's shot to become the first player since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing to win three straight first-team All-Americans is -- well, it's a lot of things. It's fantastic shorthand for the evolution (devolution?) of college basketball in the past 20 years. It's a fascinating footnote in the narrative of a player whose father didn't even recruit him to play at Iowa State. And, of course, it's testament to McDermott's consistent individual brilliance. What it is not is a sign of Creighton's collective national success. McDermott has been must-watch viewing these past two seasons, and his teams have been just as brilliant offensively -- free-flowing, smart, up-tempo, fun. But because the Bluejays have never quite built a solid defense on the other end of the floor, they've been limited -- unable to get big stops when they need them in the NCAA tournament. This year, individual brilliance and offensive aesthetics will be old hat. This year, Creighton is expected to do even more. First, they have to prove they can guard.
3. Tennessee: Last fall, when myself, Myron Medcalf, Fran Fraschilla and Joe Lunardi convened for our first-ever college basketball draft, I got lost in the Jarnell Stokes hype. A young freshman who joined Tennessee a semester early in 2011-12, Stokes had helped the Vols surge late in a previously nondescript season, and looked poised to dominate the low block all season in 2012-13. Not so much. Part of that was Stokes' fault -- his desire to prove his power forward bonafides to NBA scouts took him away from the basket, which is a bad idea -- and part of it was the injury to senior forward Jeronne Maymon, who redshirted thanks to a knee injury. After a brief, well-reasoned dalliance with the NBA this spring, Stokes is back, as is Maymon, as is leading scorer and All-SEC first-teamer Jordan McRae -- there's a huge year ahead in Knoxville, Tenn. Now the Vols have to make good on it.
4. Memphis: A lot of this comes down to Joe Jackson. We've discussed this in depth before this offseason, in our list of seniors facing the most pivotal seasons of their careers. (I also discussed that at more length on ESPN Radio in Memphis back in July.) Jackson was No. 1 on that list. But Memphis isn't limited to just one beleaguered-but-still-promising would-be hometown hero. After getting the NCAA tournament win monkey off Josh Pastner's back, this season the Tigers return a veteran backcourt and a massively talented frontcourt and should, by all accounts, be capable of a deep tournament run. (Oh, and there's the new league: The American may not be the old Big East, but it's not recent-vintage Conference USA, either.)
5. VCU: Word out of Richmond is that this may well be Shaka Smart's most talented team, which is something considering the Rams (A) went to the Final Four in 2011 and (B) finished the 2012-13 season ranked No. 16 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings and (C) lost seniors Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. In some ways, the Rams have very little to prove: They have a young, in-demand coach who has quickly morphed an OK basketball program into a very good one; a unique, effectively branded defensive style ("HAVOC"); and a pretty great pep band. So why are they here? Because last season, HAVOC got a little bit gimmicky. That's fine, in so far as it works; I want to go on record saying how much I love watching VCU chase hapless guards around the park. But in 2012-13, the Rams became so dependent on turnovers on the defensive end (and were so bad at checking opposing shooters and chasing down rebounds) that good teams with good point guards -- see, Michigan; Burke, Trey -- could dismantle them with relative ease. This season, the goal is to meld all that HAVOC with some good old-fashioned convention.
6. Virginia: The Cavaliers, like the team directly below them, were a very good team in 2012-13 whose results -- specifically their performance against a dreadful nonconference schedule -- doomed them to the NIT. That can't happen this season, not with Joe Harris shooting 42.5 percent from 3 and looking like a sleeper candidate for ACC Player of the Year, not with senior Akil Mitchell doing quality work on the block, not with all the returning players so expert at Tony Bennett's grinning Wisconsin-style flavor. It's tournament or bust for Virginia, and even that bar is probably too low.
7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are your other obvious breakout candidate of 2013-14, for many of the same reasons as Virginia: A bad nonconference schedule and a series of brutally close losses during Big Ten play kept an otherwise worthy team (which finished with a top-25 efficiency defense) from gaining widespread national acclaim. Now the hype has turned, and everyone is spending less time talking about the Hawkeyes vis-a-vis the NCAA tournament than their status as a Big Ten title contender. I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but it's clear Iowa has a huge opportunity here. Fran McCaffery finally has a deep, experienced group peppered with genuine high-level collegiate talents, and a defense that will give most of the Big Ten fits. Carver-Hawkeye, so quiet for so much of the past decade, is reaching peak rowdiness levels again. It's time to seal the deal.
8. Boise State: The Broncos did manage to get into the tournament last season, albeit it as a play-in team that failed to survive Dayton. But the appearance was an accomplishment in itself for third-year coach Leon Rice, who has assembled an impressive group of previously unheralded players -- all of whom are back this season. Derrick Marks is an inconsistent but genuinely gifted scorer; Anthony Drmic is a versatile wing with deep 3-point range; Jeff Elorriaga is an even better shooter who made 44.7 percent of his 3s last season; and on down the line. It's the kind of talent that makes any celebration of a No. 12 seed feel quaint. This group is capable of ascending much more notable heights.
9. Oklahoma State: OK, OK, so everyone agrees that Marcus Smart is good at basketball. Smart's decision to return to college despite his Freshman of the Year award-worthy campaign, and the lofty opinions of him at the highest echelons of USA Basketball, have put the Cowboys on the short list of the teams you absolutely need to see this season. Trust me, I'm excited too. But that excitement shouldn't overshadow the fact that Oklahoma State had some issues on the offensive end last season, or the fact that it was summarily stumped by Oregon in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Le'Bryan Nash was the highly touted savior before Smart arrived; he has to live up to his potential. Markel Brown needs to make his overlooked contributions impossible to ignore. And Travis Ford's team needs to find some shooting somewhere -- Phil Forte? Brown? Bueller? -- to compete in the same space as Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas and
10. Louisville: Yes, Louisville is on this list. Weird, right? I know! But hear me out. Last spring, after four months of (almost) uninterrupted dominance, the Louisville Cardinals won the national title. Soon thereafter, their best player -- arguably the country's best player, period -- announced his intentions to return to school. So did the power forward who put up 15 and 12 in the national title game. So did the swingman who made 12 of his 17 3s, and scored 42 total points, in two Final Four games. This team, by the way, is also adding a universally heralded point guard prospect and two other ESPN 100 recruits. And despite all that, this team is probably not going to start the season ranked No. 1 overall. Even worse? Their rivals, the Kentucky Wildcats, probably will. How's that for something to prove?