Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011-2012 College Basketball Preview: The BCSers

Champion - North Carolina
Lock - Duke, Florida State
Bubble - Miami, Virginia Tech
NIT/CBI - N.C. State, Virginia, Clemson
None - Maryland, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Boston College

-Don't read too much in to the UNLV loss.  The Rebels hit thirteen 3's.  That won't happen more than two or three more times maximum to North Carolina this season.  Not coincidentally, the Tar Heels might not lose more than two or three more times maximum this season.  They're still the favorite to win this league and, in my opinion, the whole shebang.  If Kendall Marshall's gonna dish the rock like this, it might be curtains for everyone else.  We won't get 1 vs 2 at Rupp Arena on Saturday but at least we'll get to see how the Heels respond to their first adversity earlier than expected.  Fun fun fun.
-Duke continued its undefeated lifetime in Maui run but should they have been pushed as hard as they were by any or all of their three opponents?  It's not like Tennessee, Michigan or Kansas are Ohio State.  Good thing the Blue Devils go to Value City Arena to give us our first real clue as to whether or not they belong in the national title conversation.  Seth Curry has gotten much better and Austin Rivers looks like the real deal.  Those guards against Jared Sullinger and co. and it's not even the best game of the week.  Filthy.
-Florida State is a damn good team.  Too bad Harvard is one, too and the Crimson brought all of Leonard Hamilton's worst offensive nightmares back to life again.  The Noles then lost a heartbreaker in the what-should've-been-the-championship 3rd place game to UConn in OT.  The good news from that game though was that Bernard James (11 pts, 14 reb) and Xavier Gibson (9 pts, 2 reb) held their own against Andre Drummond (12 pts, 10 reb) and literally whitewashed Alex Oriahki, who didn't score or grab a rebound in just 10 minutes.  The Noles are one of the biggest, most physical teams in the country and if they further prove it by bullying Michigan State in the Izzone, the nation will take notice.
-It's these three...and then the conference falls off a cliff.  Miami lost a heartbreaker in overtime at Mississippi on Friday, a missed chance they may rue come March.  Speaking of missed chances, Virginia Tech couldn't land any haymakers on Syracuse and then barely escaped Oklahoma State.  Two more come this week in the forms of a trip to Minnesota and then a visit from Kansas State and perhaps the best news for this team so far is that Dorian Finney-Smith looks like the real deal.  N.C. State made a heroic comeback to cop 3rd place from Texas at the Legends Classic, a comeback that may be huge in March.  Now they welcome in flavor of the week Indiana in the Challenge on Tuesday in a measuring stick game for both.  Virginia ate a really bad loss to TCU in the Virgin Islands but Norfolk State made the final in that event so it was kind of fluky all around.  If Tony Bennett's boys keep D'ing up like they have, they'll be in the hunt for the tournament.  Clemson is the third best team in its own state right now, having lost at home to both Charleston and Coastal Carolina, but I still believe Brad Brownell will have that team in the mix.  Maryland sucks but gets mysterious unbeaten Illinois, who it owns historically in the Challenge, before a struggling Notre Dame team in the BB&T Classic, annually the team's bogey game.  Georgia Tech really sucks (again.)  Wake Forest really really sucks (again.)  And Boston College might be the worst BCS school in the country (and, potentially, one of the worst of all time.)
-Somewhere between two and four of the teams between Florida State and Georgia Tech in the conference pecking order (so that's MIA/VT/NCSU/UVA/CLEM/MD) will get in but basically only because the ACC has an unwritten quota.  It's not a great league this year and I fear this week will prove that.  The thinking here is that it could honestly be a skunking if Wisconsin wins at UNC and a few other games break incorrectly, as the Big Ten has the better team or the home court advantage in a relatively even matchup in every other game.  Of course it probably won't be but the Big Ten should win comfortably.

Big East
Champion - UConn
Lock - Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette, Pitt
Bubble - Georgetown, West Virginia, Cincinnati
NIT/CBI - Seton Hall, Notre Dame, Villanova, St. John's
None - South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, Providence

-I'm sticking with the best team in the conference as the champion - UConn.  It collapsed horrifically against UCF, thanks in large part to Shabazz Napier showing Terrell Stoglin-esque care for the basketball, but that was a fluke.
-I'll get to Boeheim at some point later this week after things unfold further, but as for Syracuse, they survived game efforts from VT and Stanford to win the preseason NIT, but they'll get their first real big boy test this week when Florida comes to town.
-Louisville has conceded 48, 48, 53, 27 (!!!) and 54 in its first five games, but it's yet to face a team that can bring it offensively like Casper Ware and Long Beach State probably will tonight.  Still, the Cards showed a ton of resolve down the stretch in that Ohio game and have on the young season as a whole with all the injuries they've had to deal with.  And let it be known - the KFC Yum! Center is just as much of a cauldron as Freedom Hall was.
-There seems to be a drop off after the top three.  Marquette is a nice team but I'm not sure if it's a conference title contender like the Huskies, Orange and Cardinals.  Winning at Wisconsin on Saturday might be one way to change all of that, particularly if the Badgers can win at the Dean Dome midweek.
-The fact that Pitt is still a lock and Georgetown is still on the bubble goes to show you that this is still mostly projection at this point.  To this point, the Hoyas have clearly looked the better team but they're still virtual equals according to KenPom and I need to see more than one week of making it rain before I fully commit to the Jason Clark bandwagon.  Panthers need to keep working on their defense, though.
-Cincinnati has a pair of nasty in-state rivalry games with Miami (Ohio) and at Xavier wrapped around a trip to Georgia over its next three.  Add in a December 26th visit from Lon Kruger's revamped Oklahoma Sooners and suddenly, it's very easy to see the Bearcats ruing the Presbyterian and now Marshall losses, both awful in their own ways.  Blue Hose are 221nd in KenPom and Herd may be a bubble rival.
-Seton Hall showed surprisingly well in Charleston with valuable wins over VCU and St. Joseph's with a tight loss to Northwestern in the final.  If Herb Pope keeps playing like this, first team All Big East isn't out of the question and he and Jordan Theodore could carry these guys where Jeremy Hazell and Bobby Gonzalez never could.
-I'll make the relatively bold call that Notre Dame misses the field.  What a shame that Tim Abromaitis has become the Big East's answer to Robbie Hummel.  Real measuring stick week for the Irish at Gonzaga on Wednesday then vs Maryland at the Verizon Center on Sunday.  The latter, especially, can't be dropped.
Villanova and St. John's are really young but potentially talented teams going through early season growing pains but who have suffered bad losses.  The Red Storm might suffer another one Friday at Kentucky.  The other four shouldn't even make the conference tournament, honestly.
-By default, there should be at least 6 bids and it would take a perfect storm of failure for "only" 7.  8 is the realistic worst case scenario, 9 is the best bet, 10 would be a great year and 11 or (god forbid) 12 would mean everyone on the bubble got in.  There's a top four, bottom four and then parity and mystery among the other eight.

Big Ten
Champion - Ohio State
Lock - Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State
Bubble - Indiana, Minnesota
NIT/CBI - Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois
None - Nebraska, Iowa, Penn State

-Ohio State has cruised so far, winning by 31, 44, 35, 33 and 33 in its non-Florida games.  The Buckeyes are clearly one of the four or five best teams in the country and thusly should be in the hunt for a 1 seed all season.  Will they get one?  Our first clue comes Tuesday night when they welcome in Duke.
-Nobody had scored more than 43 on Wisconsin until BYU got to 56...and still lost by 17.  Some goofy looking white kid named Ben Brust drained 7 threes in that game.  Bo Ryan just rolls them off an assembly line, doesn't he?  Hell, had I grown up in that state, I could've probably gotten a scholarship there if I worked on my trey enough, what with being 6'5 and all.  Sigh.  Anyway, Badgers go to UNC then welcome in Marquette this week.  Time to find out if they can make a run at the Buckeyes.
-Michigan had a great Maui, stifling Memphis and pushing Duke before thumping UCLA to go 2-1 and take a surprise 3rd place.  Darius who?  Trey Burke might fill his shoes and then some.  John Beilein remains one of the most underrated coaches in the game.  But they better not take tomorrow night's trip to Virginia too lightly before Iowa State comes to town.
-Purdue got stymied by Alabama in the Puerto Rico championship and looks to be a rung beneath the top two like Michigan.  Boilers draw Miami (FL) at Mackey for the Challenge, a game they might not win on a neutral floor but need to in their lion's den (particularly with the Hurricanes coming off a crushing OT loss at Ole Miss on Friday.)
-Michigan State is 3rd in the country in rebounds per game.  Shocker there.  This team doesn't look to be a Big Ten title contender on paper but who knows?  FSU at the Izzone is a must-watch game if you like physical basketball that will be determined by the big men.  Could be a game between two of the most underrated teams in the country as well.
-Indiana "only" beat Butler by 16 last night, their first win by <21.  They passed their first supposedly tricky road test at Evansville with said 21 point victory.  Now comes their second to another team who's started promisingly: N.C. State.
-Minnesota has three pretty nice wins already: Bucknell (112 in KenPom), Fairfield (101) and Indiana State (96) but getting blasted by Dayton in the Old Spice championship was ugly and they nearly blew the DePaul game.  Still, I like them, most particularly their interior defense and this league being BY FAR the deepest BCS league gets them one of the last spots in my bracket.
-I'm only keeping Northwestern out of the bracket because I want to see them against Baylor later this week (and the Gophers have a slightly better resume anyway.)  Before that, they have two layups against Georgia Tech and Mississippi Valley State.  If the field of 65 were created today, they have the resume to get in and John Shurna/Drew Crawford might be the combination that unlocks the school's first ever tournament bid.
-Illinois has been the completely forgotten team in the Big Ten so far this season.  That'll change this week when the unbeaten Illini head to Maryland before welcoming in Gonzaga.  If they're an NCAA tournament team, they win both.
-Iowa is 38th in the country in scoring under Fran McCaffery after being the epitome of Big Ten slow under Tood Lickliter but still sucks.  So do the other two.
-I personally think the Hoosiers, Gophers, Wildcats and maybe the Illini are all legitimate tournament teams...but it would be next to impossible logistically for all of them to get in.  I think three can if everything breaks right but probably not all four - that would be 10 out of 12 teams in the NCAA' way.  Too bad this league isn't the one with 16 teams this year because it's probably better than the Big East.

Big 12
Champion - Kansas
Lock - Baylor, Missouri
Bubble - Texas A&M
NIT/CBI - Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State
None - Iowa State, Texas Tech

-For now, I'll keep Kansas as the champ but they didn't wow me in Maui, getting an expected second but unable to come through in the clutch against Duke and barely escaping Georgetown on night 1.  Would've loved to see them have to play a competent team in the semis a night after that Hoya game but alas, they got UCLA.
-Missouri, on the other hand, wowed me in Kansas City by destroying Notre Dame and then, far more impressively, destroying Cal.  The Tigers are small but Frank Haith has them playing just as tenaciously on D (no pun intended) as Mike Anderson did and boy, are Kim English and the rest of that team realizing its potential it failed to all of last season.  Can they win this conference without Lawrence Bowers?  It's looking far more possible than it did the day he got hurt.
-Meanwhile, Baylor has a chance to wow me in Evanston later this week.  Bears are inexperienced/immature and that's why I think people like me are wary to take them over KU at the end of the day, but one could argue that the Jayhawks have the very same issue (and with their 186th overall ranking in rebounding, they might have Mizzou's size problems, too.)
-The top three should be fine all season...but the rest of the conference, save for Lon Kruger's surprising Oklahoma (shock finalists in the 76 Classic), is having serious issues.  Texas A&M lost to Mississippi State and barely beat St. John's for third in the 2K Classic at MSG and has really struggled to score.  They need Khris Middleton back badly.  A week later in that same arena, Oklahoma State got demolished by Stanford then barely beat by Virginia Tech for third in the preseason NIT - two costly bubble losses.  Texas can't stop collapsing - hell, it can't stop anything.  Kansas State has only played 3 times and hardly been impressive but we'll learn about the Wildcats this week when a surprising George Washington comes to town before a trip to Virginia Tech.  Iowa State is bad, as losing to Drake proved.  Texas Tech is awful, as the Old Spice Classic proved.
-This will be a four bid league but it honestly doesn't look like much more at the moment, though you get the sense that somebody's snagging a fifth bid.  Anyone's guess as to who, though.

Champion - Arizona
Lock - None
Bubble - Stanford, California, Washington
NIT/CBI - Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State
None - Washington State, USC, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah

-Arizona clearly is a shell of the Derrick Williams/Momo Jones led team from last season.  It has endured back-to-back losses to Mississippi State in the Garden and San Diego State at McKale.  It has struggled in each of its four wins over the powerhouses that are Valparaiso, Duquesne, Ball State, and a completely rebuilding St. John's.  Fine, those teams aren't total pushovers but a top 20 team that's the heavy favorite to win a BCS league should be winning those games by more than 7 to 10 points.
-And yet, the Wildcats are still the easy pick for champ because right now, Stanford is the second best team in the conference thanks to its dominating win over Oklahoma State and surprising run at Syracuse in a tough loss in the Preseason NIT final.  But with all due respect to the great job Johnny Dawkins is doing on the Farm, they went 15-16 (7-11) last year and were picked to finish in the middle of this pathetic pack.  They have another potentially big bubble battle on Sunday when N.C. State rolls in.
-California beat the crap out of Georgia and looked like it was in for a real fight with Missouri for the CBE Classic...and then the Bears simply didn't show up for that game, losing 92-53.  Jesus.  Putting them on the bubble after a performance like that one might be generous and they better not overlook McNeese State before heading to San Diego State later this week.  And yet: (a) they're still my second choice out of this conference (maybe even first if the 'Cats don't get it together) and (b) they don't even have the most humbling Pac-12 loss in Missouri this year...
-...that honor goes to Washington, who trailed mid major flavor of the week Saint Louis by 25 at the half and got blown out of Chaifetz Arena.  That result looks slightly less embarrassing now that the Billikens won a weak 76 Classic but only slightly.  Next four: @Nevada, Marquette, Duke, UC Santa Barbara.  1-3 might be the best case scenario.
-Oregon picked up a decent enough win at Nebraska, particularly after super recruit Jabari Brown abruptly left the program.  He was one of the big reasons I had them as one of my last teams in my rough draft but obviously that changes now.  They've got a "neutral site" game against BYU in Salt Lake City over the weekend where we'll learn more.
-I don't even want to talk about anyone else.  I really don't.  Washington State just got 8th place out of 8 in the 76 Classic.  Utah just got 8th place out of 8 in the Battle 4 Atlantis and looks like it might be severely overmatched even in this awful league.  FIVE Pac-12 members - Colorado, UCLA, USC, Arizona State and the aforementioned Utes - are under .500. The only other BCS conference teams under .500 are Boston College and South Carolina, both of whom are affronts to the game of basketball.  Not much else really to say here.  I wish this would be a one bid league but it'll get three or four by default (and one will make the Sweet 16.)

Champion - Kentucky
Lock - Florida, Alabama, Vanderbilt
Bubble - Mississippi State, Tennessee
NIT/CBI - Ole Miss, Georgia, Arkansas
None - LSU, Auburn, South Carolina

-10.  Kentucky is 10th in the country in field goal percentage.  If that continues, forget it - pretty much only UNC has the horses to take them down.  I really believe if those two both play like they're capable of, we may see the most high quality college game in a long time on Saturday but we're probably not that lucky.  The Wildcats only beat Kansas and Old Dominion by 10 but have wrecked everyone else.  Also, Anthony Davis is averaging 4.3 blocks per game.  That's not human.  Hell, the team as a whole is averaging 10.  Ten blocks per game.  What a freakishly long and athletic team.  It's Kentucky, you know the issues - youth, free throws, perimeter shooting, will the NCAA hammer come down on Calipari this season, etc.  But this team might be Cal's most deep and complete.  God, I can't wait for Saturday.
-They say guards win in college basketball, right?  Well then maybe Florida is a national title contender because they're deeper at that position than anybody else in the country.  Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal, Mike Rosario and Erving Walker might not be the college basketball equivalent of the Philadelphia Phillies Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt staff but it's probably the closest we're gonna get.  All four of those kids can light it up and each bring their own specific strengths.  Walker and Boynton: slashing ability, chemistry/cohesion as they've been backcourt mates for a few years now, experience.  Rosario: pure scoring ability, Big East experience (transferred in from Rutgers, where he was the only good player of course), hunger to win after leaving a moribound program.  Beal: pure shooting, youth, raw talent that may exceed the rest.  They have a great shot at Syracuse on Friday with the Bernie Fine mess swirling around that program. Win that one and suddenly with Arizona, Texas A&M and Florida State all remaining on the nonconference schedule, a 1 seed becomes a real possiblity again.
-Alabama is doing pretty much the exact opposite of what it did last nonconference season.  It won a solid Puerto Rico field with two legit wins over Wichita State (in an NIT final rematch) and Purdue (in a rematch of OOC games the past couple seasons), avenging three painful losses in the process and took out VCU last night.  Anthony Grant might be the hottest young coach in the country and is among the best teachers of defense in the country.  Tony Mitchell looks like he's taken his game to another level as well, adding range to his jumper and working even harder on D and on the boards.  Him and JaMychal Green may be the most underrated 1-2 punch in the game and Trevor Releford has a case for most underrated point guard.  Regardless, if these guys keep playing the way they have, they won't be underrated for long.  Georgetown comes in in a real interesting mix of styles and philosophies on Thursday.
-I'm not sure why peole thought putting Vanderbilt in the preseason top 10 was a good idea but the team has clearly buckled under the pressure and only seems to be loosening up now that they've blown the Cleveland State game and struggled through the Legends Classic.  Of course, Xavier coming to town tonight will give us more definitive answers.  You kind of know the deal with the 'Dores already - great at home and/or when shooting well and not turning the rock over a lot.  Otherwise...
-Yes, Mississippi State is still a bubble team.  Wins over Texas A&M and Arizona aren't THAT great and there's still the home gaffe to Akron from opening day and the fact that MSU under Rick Stansbury has been inconsistent at best and a gross underachiever at worst.
-Tennessee has a chance to be one of the surprises of the 2011-2012 season if it plays like it has so far this season.  Much more competitive against Duke than many thought before a tough loss to Memphis in double overtime and their three wins are by 23 or more.  There's certainly more talent on the roster than anyone was giving credit for at the ignominous end of the Bruce Pearl era (Trae Golden in particular looks like he could make people forget about Chris Lofton very quickly) and Cuonzo Martin, who won the tournament at Missouri State before fielding last year's wunderteam that won the Missouri Valley regular season title and was a bucket away from the tournament title, seems like a really good hire who knows what he's doing and is getting the most out of his players.  They have a REALLY interesting test at Oakland tonight before welcoming in Pitt over the weekend in what will be a revenge game for the Panthers.
-Hasn't Andy Kennedy been on the hot seat at Ole Miss pretty much ever since he came over from Cincinnati?  Regardless, the Rebels have started life after Chris Warren well, save for that 30 point disaster against Marquette in a Paradise Jam semi.  But they rebounded nicely to beat TCU for third place the next night and then held off Miami (FL) in overtime on Friday.  Very good growth experiences for a team with 9 underclassmen and just 2 seniors on the roster.
-I like both Georgia and Arkansas because I like their coaches and I like their systems (even though they're very different in all aspects) but both have eaten some ugly early losses (Georgia to Cal by a lot in KC, Arkansas to a completely rebuilding Houston in North Little Rock) that have already hurt their bubble chances.  At least the Dawgs surprised Notre Dame for third place.
-As for the other just won a national title in football, one's probably about to and...well, poor South Carolina.

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