College Basketball Nation: Wichita State Shockers

What we're watching while we frantically disallow Kanye from entering his zone. Submit links via Twitter, and happy New Year.
  • 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.

3-point shot: NIT format good for St. John's

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
8:00
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Andy Katz discusses how potential changes to the preseason NIT format would aid St. John's, Nebraska's loss of Leslee Smith and Wichita State is still looking for two more games.
This week ESPN.com will feature a position-by-position look at players to watch for the 2014-15 season.

The term "shooting guard" has never been so meaningless.

[+] EnlargeRon Baker, Jeremy Morgan
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWichita State guard Ron Baker averaged 13.1 points per game in 2013-14.
This is true of all of the game's positional designations; the traditional responsibilities associated with each spot on the floor have become less and less helpful in describing what players actually do. The old traditional conception of the shooting guard is the most outdated. The Reggie Miller/Rip Hamilton run-off-screens-and-get-open model is gone. The NBA is now a league full of small guards who drive and shoot first; perimeter shooting is considered a must-have tool in a pro guard's total package; off-guards must handle the ball; small forwards are knockdown shooters. The Venn diagram of perimeter skills looks more like an eclipse.

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

[+] EnlargeD'Angelo Russell
Kelly Kline/adidasTop-ranked shooting guard D'Angelo Russell, who is ranked No. 13 in the ESPN 100, could provide instant offense for the Buckeyes.
Rodney Purvis, Connecticut: OK, so this is kind of cheating: Purvis is a transfer, not a recruit. But I had to sneak him in here somewhere, because he might end up being the most important player on the list. With a post-national title Shabazz Napier graduating this spring, a suddenly starry Ryan Boatright can slide over to the point guard spot, allowing plenty of room for Purvis -- whom UConn coach Kevin Ollie called a "Ferrari sitting in the garage" at the Final Four in April -- to get big minutes and lots of touches in his first season in Storrs, Connecticut. How that configuration works may be the difference between another scrappy national title contender and an understandable step back in Ollie's third year.

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.

"Are we satisfied that everybody's saying that we're not going to win this game?" he said. "That, hey, it was a nice little story, but we're not going to beat Kentucky? I say, if they change the uniforms and gave us Kentucky across our uniforms and gave Kentucky whatever team, they would be talking about us right now as one of the best college basketball teams in the history of this great game. Do you hear anybody saying that? No. Because they don't expect you to come out and do these things. They don't expect you to be able to beat the No. 1 [team] in the country in the preseason. We have proven all year long that we can do this. This is an unbelievable opportunity. You've gotta understand if you want to be David or Goliath, or both."

Minutes before the final game of Wichita State's season, coach Gregg Marshall was speaking to his players (and Sports Illustrated senior writer Luke Winn). Marshall was firing the Shockers up, preparing his peerless team for the latest, biggest moment of their basketball lives.

The paradox was evident. Wichita State, the No. 1 seed in a loaded Midwest region, was still undefeated entering the NCAA tournament's round of 32. The Shockers had already made history: They were the first team with 31 regular-season wins, the first to get 35 wins deep without a loss. Kentucky, the No. 8 seed, was a clearly talented but altogether frustrating 10-loss team. And Wichita State was barely the favorite.

Fitting, then, that it was in the Scottrade Center locker room before the defining 40 minutes of Wichita State's season when Marshall uttered that most trenchant description of the Shockers' unforgettable 35-1 season: "David or Goliath, or both."

[+] EnlargeGregg Marshall
AP Photo/Rick BowmerGregg Marshall and Wichita State proved once again that they belonged among the nation's best.
Has any team as good as the Shockers suffered so long from such a reputation gap? In October, Wichita State was a nice little post-Final Four story with a great group of returning players and a well-deserved little boost in program profile. In December, after wins over Saint Louis, Tennessee and Alabama, the Shockers were a fun "hey, they'll be favored the rest of the way!" talking point. In January, they were an easy concept to argue against. ("No way they'll get to March unbeaten.") In February, they were already defending themselves from -- or at least being the subject of -- debates about schedule strength, about No. 1 seeds, about their theoretical record in a theoretical Big Ten.

All the while, mind you, competition-adjusted analytics were telling us the Shockers were one of the best five or 10 teams in the country. Not the best, necessarily, but one of the best. And it still took until March to finally prove it.

Weirdly enough, they proved it in a loss. The 40 minutes of basketball that followed Marshall's biblical exhortation was the best of the season, and the best of the tournament -- a tournament that was already better than its own impossibly high standards. (Oh, to relive that first weekend! I'd be willing to part ways with a toe. Maybe two.)

Kentucky 78, Wichita State 76 began with some brilliant Shockers offense, gave us bruising Wildcats rebounding and surprisingly grown-up cohesion, featured an NBA-ready Cleanthony Early in a masterful second half (3s, drives, step-back sticks, you name it), saw Kentucky's Harrison twins control the game with physical thrusts to the rim, and ended with a 25-foot Fred VanVleet jumper on a sideline out of bounds that would have caused us to have a full-blown mental meltdown had it somehow gone in. It's a month later, and we still haven't caught our breath.

The game was immediately and accurately deemed a classic. It propelled Kentucky to an eventual Final Four run; it made the Wildcats look like the preseason No. 1 we expected in October. Most of all, it finally, definitively quelled any and all doubt about Wichita State. The Shockers were never David, and they fell just short of Goliath. They were both, and also neither.

What we saw last season: Of course, the biggest reason the Shockers were even in the position to be 35-0 and a No. 1 seed and still the subject of vague doubt was because the Missouri Valley Conference -- rarely a powerhouse in the first place -- had a down season even by its own standards. Indiana State was a solid team (and one that gave Wichita State some real issues twice). And Northern Iowa ended up leading the league in per-possession offense, believe it or not. (The Shockers ranked second, and No. 1 by a ton defensively.) But at No. 94, the Panthers were the only other team to rank inside the adjusted efficiency top 100. With Creighton off contending for the Big East title (and putting Doug McDermott in the history books in his own right), Wichita State treated the MVC much the same way Daenerys Targaryen treats the powerful members of Slaver's Bay.

What we expect to see: Another Wichita State hegemon.

That's the No. 1 thing to expect. Even without Early and fellow seniors Nick Wiggins and Chadrack Lufile, Wichita State will have Ron Baker and VanVleet, the reigning MVC player of the year, back next year. Another crop of juco big men join them, as do starters Darius Carter and Tekele Cotton. There is no reason to expect anything but another dominant Shockers campaign -- especially relative to competition.

How good will that competition be? Northern Iowa will have just about everyone back, most notably junior forward Seth Tuttle -- the only non-Shocker to crack the stats-based Pomeroy all-conference list. Indiana State will likely take a step back, but the Panthers should take a major step forward. A 16-15 finish is not the goal. A tournament bid is not outside the norm.

Other than that, it's hard to find other MVC contenders in the mix. The good news for Wichita State? Even if the Shockers spend another three months beating an overwhelmed conference to a pulp, no one will need convincing come March.


Video: Vitale on intriguing matchups

March, 23, 2014
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Dick Vitale looks at Sunday's most intriguing matchups and discusses which teams are ready to move on and which teams are likely to be upset in the NCAA tournament.

Top stats to know for Sunday's games

March, 22, 2014
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Sunday's NCAA Tournament slate features eight compelling Round of 32 games, and we've got you covered with a look at the key matchups in each contest.

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.

Video: Wichita State's Tekele Cotton

March, 21, 2014
3/21/14
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Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton discusses the Shockers' 64-37 win over Cal Poly on Friday in their NCAA tournament Midwest Region opener.

3-point shot: BYU dealing with big injury

March, 13, 2014
3/13/14
1:30
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Andy Katz discusses the injury to BYU's Kyle Collinsworth, the long layoff for Gonzaga and Wichita State and the possibility that Dayton could play at home in the First Four.
What we’re reading while we stock up on "Cosmos" episode recordings for the offseason. Submit links via Twitter.
  • "I am watching what looks like a high-functioning practice, in that the Shockers' first-team defense is impeccable with its ballscreen coverages, and its offense is lighting up the second unit like it's done to so many Missouri Valley teams for the past two months. But a single possession where they get casual with the ball results in Marshall calling the action to a halt. 'I'm telling you guys, in some game soon, it's gonna happen," he says, in the kind of pleadingly aggressive manner that many of his statements get delivered. 'We're gonna play a team that's as active as we are, as handsy as we are. And what are we gonna do? I saw Louisville play last night and had a flashback to the national semifinal, and what they did to us. [The Cardinals forced seven turnovers in the final seven minutes en route to a double-digit comeback.] We've gotta protect the ball. Because someone is going to take it out of our hands.' You do not get to 31-0 by reminiscing about your wins. You get there by fostering a sense of foreboding. By obsessing over minor flaws and fixing them. By telling players -- and I will hear this so many times during film sessions and scouting reports -- that they CAN'T RELAX. That if they do, this run at history might get snatched out of their hands."
  • "But that doesn’t mean the Jayhawks are a shoo-in to win it. Far from it, even if they had a healthy Embiid. A potential quarterfinal game against Oklahoma State figures to be a very competitive game, even with the proximity bonus I’m assuming Kansas gets at the Sprint Center. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a third-to-last seed better than Oklahoma State in recent times. In other low-seed excitement, Baylor is the fourth choice despite being seeded seventh. The Bears get the virtual bye in the opening round and a quarterfinal game against Oklahoma will be a coin flip. The Big 12, like the Pac-12, does not have incredibly low odds for the seven-seed playing the eight-seed for the title."
  • Speaking of Kansas, Bill Self should have been the Big 12 coach of the year. Not that the coach of the year award matters. But still.
  • Green Bay's loss in this weekend's Horizon League tournament has become the latest data point in the mid-major-conferences-do-their-auto-bids-wrong argument, and rightfully so. But that doesn't mean anything for the Phoenix coach Brian Wardle, who is stuck spending a week hoping -- and doing a little gentle politicking -- that his team's season won't end in the NIT.
  • T.J. Warren earned the ACC's player of the year award Tuesday, and it has become increasingly difficult to argue with his primacy: He finished the season with back-to-back 41- and 42-point scoring efforts, he led the league in scoring with 24.8 points per game, finished eighth in rebounding with 7.1 boards per, shot 53 percent from the field and finished with a 115.2 offensive rating on 33.2 percent usage and 36.9 percent (!) shot rate. How NC State got that kind of play from one guy and isn't a going to the NCAA tournament is a mystery for the ages. (Actually, never mind: NC State was a terrible defensive team. Mystery solved!) Here's the tricky thing: If Warren was the ACC POY, does that mean he's a better national POY candidate than Jabari Parker? No, he's not; Parker had a great season and his team is much, much better than NC State. But then how … actually, forget it. Player of the year voting hurts my head.

Top-10 losses mean little in BPI rankings

March, 10, 2014
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Four teams in the top 10 of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index lost last weekend, but the impact on the BPI rankings heading into this week’s major conference tournaments was minimal. The differences between the 0-to-100 BPI ratings of top teams meant that the drop in a team’s BPI after a loss often wasn’t enough to alter the rankings.

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.

BPI Talk: Could UNC win it all?

February, 25, 2014
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Is it possible that the North Carolina Tar Heels could win the national championship?

The Tar Heels have the best BPI since Feb. 1. In each of the previous two seasons, the team with the best BPI between Feb. 1 and Selection Sunday went on to win the national championship –- Kentucky in 2012 and Louisville last year.

UNC is one of four teams with five wins against the BPI top 25 this season. The others are Wisconsin (7), Michigan (5) and Duke (5).

The Tar Heels are the only team with three wins against the BPI top 15 this season, having defeated Kentucky, Louisville and Duke.

Blind résumés: Pick your No. 1 seed

Let’s play a game called “blind résumés.” Take a look at the graphic to the right with three candidates for a No. 1 seed. Which team would you select?

Team A has the No. 1 RPI and No. 3 BPI with 11 top-50 wins, 17 top-100 wins and no bad losses against a very tough schedule that ranked No. 1 in nonconference play.

Team B and Team C have comparable BPI and RPI ranks, significantly lower than Team A's. Team B has just three top-50 wins and seven top-100 wins but had a fairly tough nonconference schedule.

Team C has eight top-50 wins and 16 top-100 wins but has a bad loss and played a nonconference schedule that doesn’t even rank in the top 100.

It seems as if Team A is the obvious choice, right?

That doesn’t seem to be the case. Team A is the Kansas Jayhawks, a No. 2 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. Team B –- the Wichita State Shockers –- and Team C -– the Syracuse Orange –- are both No. 1 seeds.

If Syracuse and Wichita State both get No. 1 seeds after being ranked outside the top eight in RPI, it would be the first time since 2000 that two No. 1 seeds were ranked No. 9 or worse in RPI.

That year was the only year in the past 20 seasons in which a team ranked outside the top eight in RPI earned a No. 1 seed over the team with the No. 1 RPI. The reason? The Cincinnati Bearcats were No. 1 in RPI and lost Kenyon Martin for the season with a broken leg in the Conference USA tournament.

Is Oklahoma State’s résumé underrated?

The Oklahoma State Cowboys have had quite the turbulent season. After losing seven straight, they’ve rebounded by winning two straight since Marcus Smart returned from suspension.

With Smart out (from Feb. 9 to Feb. 21), the Cowboys ranked No. 133 in BPI.

With Smart playing (all other days this season), Oklahoma State is ranked No. 18 in BPI.

The Cowboys are right on the bubble, according to Lunardi.

Oklahoma State doesn’t have a single loss outside the BPI top 100. The Cowboys also have three top-50 wins and seven top-100 wins.

Their biggest flaw on their résumé is nine losses against the BPI top 50.

Of teams currently ranked in the BPI top 100, only three teams have more than nine top-50 losses: Maryland, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Maryland is the only other top-50 team with at least nine losses against the BPI top 50.

Despite all of the losses, the Cowboys are still ranked No. 20 in BPI, although they're No. 47 in RPI. Why? They have eight losses by six or fewer points, two of which were in overtime.

Two of Oklahoma State’s losses –- against Kansas and Iowa State by a combined three points –- rank as two of the top 15 BPI game scores among losses in college basketball this season. No other team has two losses with BPI game scores that high.
A few months ago, Kansas state Sen. Michael O'Donnell did something politicians are typically loath to do: He tried to legislate a rivalry into existence.

O'Donnell, a Republican from Wichita, introduced a bill that would force both Kansas and Kansas State to schedule Wichita State at least once a season. Initially, O'Donnell proposed making state funding contingent on satisfactory scheduling; he later removed that provision, saying, as the Lawrence Journal-World related, that he "didn’t want his proposal to be confrontational."

The law failed, which surprised nobody -- but neither were many surprised by its introduction in the first place. There's a reason why a politician from Wichita might think it expedient to introduce such a bill: Shockers fans want nothing more than a regular-season shot at Kansas.

A few weeks after O'Donnell introduced his bill, Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz wrote that the Kansas game — or the idea of it — was the "one topic I hear about more than any other."
Shocker basketball fans love their team, no doubt about it. But they can become obsessed with KU. I don’t really get it, but it’s real. Perhaps it’s all the success the Jayhawks have had over the years. Perhaps it’s a perception that KU fans think they’re a little better than the rest. Perhaps there is some class envy here.
I think Wichita State-Kansas could develop into one of the finest basketball rivalries in the country if the two schools ever decided to give it a chance. It’s KU, of course, that does the most to hold it back. And by “the most,” I mean the Jayhawks virtually ignore the fact that Wichita State even exists.

On Monday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall expressed that program-wide desire, telling Fox Sports Kansas City that he hoped the game would happen, and that he had offered Kansas a three-game home-and-home series, but that he wasn't "going to be bought … I'm not going to go to Allen Fieldhouse for a check."

Which, yeah, them's fighting words, and on Wednesday Bill Self responded:

Read more here:
“This isn’t knocking Wichita State,” Self told The Star on Tuesday. “But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of talk about them wanting to play us so bad; Gregg Marshall’s never contacted me about playing.”

Hold on, though, there's more. Self related his experience as coach at Tulsa, when he couldn't get Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to schedule his team.
“And they wouldn’t play,” Self said. “But I didn’t blame them. And I didn’t make a big deal of it.”

This, of course, is surely the attitude that drives Wichita State fans bonkers -- and the attitude that gives Kansas fans that extra taste of hegemonic joy: We're Kansas and you're Wichita State. Know your place, please. Don't make a fuss. We're not going to play you, because what do we stand to gain? Pipe down. Extra-maddening, no doubt, is that they're right. Even Wichita State fans, who can do no more than turn Marshall's old use of the term "chickenhawks" into a message board/school yard insult, would have to agree with such an obvious dynamic.

But college basketball schedules need not always be about sheer strategic or monetary gain. You can be pragmatic, and live in the real world, and still remember why the whole regional sports fandom thing kicked off in the first place: because it's fun.

Look how hot the Kansas-Wichita State rivalry is sans actual basketball. Maybe O'Donnell's law is a good idea after all.
Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we turn our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules, and anywhere in between -- in a series we're calling Season of Change. Today: Why would Wichita State change now?

CHICAGO -- A school's first trip to the Final Four in nearly 50 years is supposed to change things, and not just enrollment. It's supposed to make a coach a household name, a well-compensated new hire or both. It's supposed to vault players to NBA stardom. It's supposed to make preseason stars of key returners. It's supposed to "legitimize" a program, make it a national "brand" and flood this great nation's mall kiosks with officially licensed colorways.

[+] EnlargeGregg Marshall
Harry How/Getty ImagesWichita State coach Gregg Marshall says his team won't change the way it plays despite the success of reaching the Final Four.
"Supposed to" doesn't apply to Wichita State. It certainly doesn't apply to coach Gregg Marshall, who has turned down a wide array of elite high-major jobs in the past two seasons (including UCLA last spring) in favor of enjoying what he has explained to anyone who will listen is a "good life" in Wichita.

Here's the spoiler alert of Missouri Valley Conference media day 2013: "Supposed to" won't apply to the Shockers on the court any time soon either.

"I've been doing this for 15 years; this is my 16th year as a head coach," Marshall said. "We've won a lot of games, and we're not going to change."

A wandering eye could find reasons for at least some evolution. Along with Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams and 7-foot reserve center Ehimen Orukpe, Wichita State lost forward Carl Hall -- a dominating offensive rebounder and physical force crucial to the Shockers' identity on both ends of the floor last season -- to graduation. Marshall has three forwards arriving (one freshman, Shaquille Morris, and two junior college transfers, Earl Watson and Darius Carter) to help pick up the slack. But his best ostensible frontcourt player, star 6-8 wing Cleanthony Early, is good enough to tempt any coach to spread the floor, play smaller and faster, and stretch defenses to the breaking point. Early is good enough, in other words, to make a coach feel experimental.

Not Marshall. There are plenty of things Early has been tasked with improving this offseason -- such as maintaining his emotions, better outside shooting and avoiding silly fouls -- but they are all iterations on an already successful formula.

Instead, Marshall plans to hew things that made last season's Shockers such a tough March out and made his previous group, a No. 5-seeded 2011-12 team that won 29 games and graduated five senior starters prior to last season's success, every bit as consistent.

The rule changes, though, might force Marshall's hand. A program "defined by our defense and rebounding," as guard Ron Baker put it Wednesday, could struggle with the NCAA's offseason changes to rules governing contact -- designed to increase freedom of movement and make the college game less overtly physical.

But even that aspect, and whatever change it might require of the Shockers, is as yet unknown. How strict will officials be in November? Will their calls evolve as the season progresses? How long will it take everyone -- players, coaches and officials -- to understand where the new boundaries lie? How many free throws will be shot in the meantime?

"We've just got to be smart, and I've got to adapt and our players have got to adapt," Marshall said. "But the other teams have to adapt as well. And if we get called for a foul and the other team shoots free throws, then we have a chance to go down on the other end and do the same thing.

"You just hope you don't lose games early [and hurt your NCAA tournament chances] because of it. That's the biggest thing. We've just got to find a way to win those games early and be good in the preconference."

On Wednesday, Marshall was asked whether the Final Four had changed his program, whether there was a different "feel."

"I've never had this many reporters standing around when I've had to give interviews, so that's a change," Marshall said.

Other than that?

"I don't see much difference," Marshall said. "We're going to try to adjust to the officials, but the way we play? That's not going to change a whole lot. I don't know why you would change at this point."
Gregg Marshall Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesGregg Marshall is in position to stay at Wichita State for a long time.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Wichita State's moment in the sun.

In March, after Wichita State's Sweet 16 win over La Salle, one more stop en route to the 2013 Final Four, Gregg Marshall sat in a chair deep inside the Staples Center, holding court with a handful of reporters. When one told him he had to be a leading candidate for the recently vacated job at UCLA, Marshall came dangerously close to scoffing. Then he explained.

"I'm already making seven figures," Marshall said to the group. "You can eat a lot of steak and hamburger and pizza for what we're making at Wichita State . … I live on the golf course. We have a beautiful backyard. My wife has four dogs. She gardens. We fly around on private planes to Napa and back to South Carolina. We have a good life, man."

There were a lot of implications rolled up into that quote. It said a lot about the current state of college basketball coaching, about why Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart didn't leave for the jobs everyone expected them to take (no one expected the Boston Celtics hire). But it also said a lot about Wichita State -- not just the team Marshall has built, but the community around it.

Wichita State fans are wondering what took the rest of the country so long.

Sure, the Shockers played in the Missouri Valley Conference, a non-power league unencumbered by Division I football, but the Shockers are hardly your traditional mid-major. The Charles Koch Arena is a 10,000-seat arena typically packed to the rafters for Shockers basketball, and the fans are, well, loud. Really loud. That level of steady local support has allowed the Wichita State administration to splurge here and there -- to give Marshall access to charter jets for recruiting, for example. There are few perks elite programs can boast that Wichita State doesn't have.

Meanwhile, with Creighton and All-American forward Doug McDermott beginning a new season in the Big East, Wichita State and its host of players (Cleanthony Early most notable among them) returning from last year's run to the Georgia Dome (and near-upset of No. 1 Louisville once there) get to take the proverbial center stage. What's funny is that Marshall's best team -- the 27-6, No. 5-seeded, five-senior-starters-led 2011-12 Shockers -- were almost certainly the better team, better even than last year's group. Which only highlights the fact that very little has changed in Wichita. It's just that now, everyone has noticed.

The nonconference games we'd love to see

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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We’ve officially judged and juried every nonconference schedule.

Kudos to the teams that had the nerve to schedule bravely. Your just rewards could come in March, when the selection committee recognizes the merits of playing tough opponents, even if there’s a risk of a loss.

And shame on those who scheduled meekly. Enjoy the NIT.

Now, it’s time to play Armchair Scheduler -- or King/Queen of the Basketball Universe, whichever title floats your boat -- and offer up 15 nonconference games that won’t be played this year, but we wish would be:

Kansas vs. Missouri: Let’s just file this under an annual request. One of the greatest rivalries in college basketball ought to be played this year, next year and every year. We don’t care who left what conference. We don’t care who’s angry. This is like two divorcing parents sparring over the china with the kids stuck in the middle. Here the two schools’ fan bases and fans of the game in general are the kids. So hire a good mediator, work this out and play ball.

Georgetown vs. Syracuse: See Kansas-Missouri argument above. The two teams here at least have agreed that continuing the rivalry at some point is a good idea and it appears a multiyear contract is imminent, but there’s nothing yet on the schedule. Let’s fix that. Soon.

Kentucky vs. Indiana: Ibid. Or is it op. cit.? Whatever, reference the Kansas-Missouri, Georgetown-Syracuse arguments cited above. Two states separated by a river. Great rivalry. Lousy excuses. Figure it out.

North Carolina vs. Raleigh News & Observer: The Tar Heels’ crimes, misdeeds and lack of punishment have been well documented in the news media, but nowhere as thoroughly and as well as at the local newspaper. The staff at the N&O has been relentless and thorough in its coverage. We suggest a game of H-O-R-S-E (with the African-American studies department excused from judging) at the Newseum to settle this once and for all.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Wiggins
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsEveryone wants to see Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, the nation's top-ranked recruit, square off against the best competition.
Wichita State vs. VCU: Both come into the season as the smaller-budgeted darlings (they’re not mid-majors, so we have to retire that term), each with a Final Four berth in its hip pocket. Both have extremely talented teams coming back; both play nasty defense, albeit in different ways. The two on the same court, as has been the case several times over the past decade, would've been a ton of fun to watch this season.

Harvard vs. Duke: Smart school versus smart school. Mentor versus mentee. Easy storylines for reporters. What’s not to like about this matchup? Not to mention it would feature two top-25 teams and give the Crimson a chance to show how good they really are.

Kansas vs. Kentucky: Yes, we will get to enjoy Kansas (Andrew Wiggins) versus Duke (Jabari Parker) in Chicago, but we’re selfish. We’d like to see Wiggins go up against Kentucky, one of the schools he spurned. Not to mention it might be fun witnessing what could essentially be a freshman All-American game, with Wiggins, the Harrison twins, James Young, Julius Randle and Joel Embiid together on one floor.

Florida Gulf Coast vs. Georgetown: Let’s see if the slipper still fits when last season’s Cinderella goes rematch against its Madness victims, the Hoyas. Georgetown doesn’t have Otto Porter anymore and Greg Whittington is hurt, but hey, Dunk City lost its drum major when Andy Enfield headed to USC. Seems about even.

Michigan vs. Notre Dame: No one would dare call Mike Brey a chicken, would they? The two schools called the football rivalry quits this year amid acrimony and an endgame Wolverine chicken dance, but maybe the basketball schools can extend the olive branch and play for the first time since 2006.

Michigan State vs. Duke: Tom Izzo may not want to see the Blue Devils very often -- he’s 1-7 against Duke in his tenure -- but this game never disappoints. The two schools have met nine times and only twice, in 2003 and in 1958, has it been a blowout. The two have gone head-to-head over top recruits, including Jabari Parker, and come into the season as top-10 locks.

Memphis vs. Arizona: Josh Pastner revisits his coaching roots in a game that will answer the biggest question facing the Wildcats -- how good is point guard T.J. McConnell? If the Duquesne transfer can handle the Tigers’ onslaught of Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon, he can handle everything.

Louisville vs. Oklahoma State: You like good guard play? Imagine this one. Russ Smith, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier (and maybe Kevin Ware) against Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and incoming freshman Stevie Clark. The coaches would be miserable -- with Rick Pitino going up against his own beloved point guard, Travis Ford -- but the rest of us would enjoy it tremendously.

Oregon vs. Creighton: This game stacks up on merit, not just on the storyline of Dana Altman facing his old squad. With Doug McDermott back in the fold, the Bluejays are legit. Their schedule is less so, a sort of meandering plunder of nonconference nothingness. Adding the Ducks, a team Altman has reconstructed, and his impressive backcourt would be helpful. And OK, old coach/old school is fun.

New Mexico vs. Florida: The Gators already have a pretty impressive nonconference slate, but hey, what’s one more? This one would be a nice tussle between pretty skilled, albeit different, big men in Alex Kirk and Patric Young. Kirk enjoyed a breakout season last year, but facing Young would be a real test of the 7-footer’s abilities.

Ole Miss vs. Ohio State: Why? Because it would be nice to watch Aaron Craft hush Marshall Henderson (presuming his indefinite suspension is lifted) once and for all.


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