‘Giant Killer’ Profile: Stony Brook

stony brook logo

Stony Brook Seawolves
America East Conference
Stony Brook, NY
Head Coach: Steve Pikiell (11th Season)
Record: 17-4, 8-0 conf.
RPI: 54
KenPom: 48
SOS: 230
Best Wins: 91-77 vs Princeton, 71-68 vs Hofstra
Bad Losses: 66-67 @ Western Kentucky, 62-75 @ Northeastern
Key Players:
F Jameel Warney (18.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.1 BPG)
G Carson Puriefoy (14.3 PPG, 3.2 APG, 41.3% 3PT)
G Ahmad Walker (10.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.6 APG)

One of the most popular “Giant Killer” picks right now is the Stony Brook Seawolves out of the America East Conference. This team has been on the cusp of crashing the big party for years now, but they have a big roadblock in rival Albany, who has defeated the Seawolves in the America East Tournament three years in a row, including in the championship game the last two seasons.

Despite their disappointing finishes, Head Coach Steve Pikiell has this team on the right track, and he has done an incredible job in his 10-plus years at the helm of the program. They were 4-24 in Pikiell’s first season, and they didn’t reach double-digit wins until his fourth season, when they went 16-14. Pikiell has now led this team to 20-plus wins in five of the last six seasons, and with 17 wins already this year, they are well on their way to 20 wins once again.

The main reason they have been so great this season, as well as the last few years, is star forward Jameel Warney. Warney, a 6’8″ senior from Plainfield, NJ, has been a starter since the day he stepped on campus, and he has performed at an exceptional level. In 118 games for the Seawolves, Warney has scored in double digits in all but 18 of those games! That means he’s scored at least 10 points in nearly 85 percent of his collegiate games. That is an unbelievable statistic!

But not only is Warney an elite scorer, he also makes things happen on the defensive end, as this season he is averaging over 10 rebounds a game, as well as over 3 blocks per game. Those stats are much of the reason that KenPom has Warney among their Top-10 Player of the Year candidates, along with much more well known names like Ben Simmons, Grayson Allen and Denzel Valentine. Many “Giant Killers” have one player who can step up on the big stage and become a household name. Jameel Warney is that guy.

Stony Brook has other quality players, as they have four players who average double figures in scoring. One issue could be their depth. They play an 8-man rotation, but in actuality, it’s really a 6-man rotation. The other two players play very minimal minutes. If any of their starters get into foul trouble, they could have some issues.

Their best wins this season are against fellow potential “Giant Killers” Princeton and Hofstra, so they don’t have a win against a “Giant” this season, but they have tested themselves. They lost to Notre Dame by 25 points, but they were able to take a good Vanderbilt team to overtime, where they ended up losing by seven. Their overall strength of schedule is weak, but their non-conference schedule was rated as the 52nd toughest by KenPom. This team won’t be scared of anybody if they are to make the tournament.

Stony Brook is a very good defensive team, ranked 31st in the nation in defensive efficiency by KenPom. That is combined with a an offensive tempo that is among the slowest in the country. Some of the most effective “Giant Killers” are able to slow down the game, limiting opportunities for their opponents. Some things that could cause issues for Stony Brook is their struggles from the free throw line. They do most of their damage inside the three-point arc, but they shoot just 66 percent from the charity stripe. They shoot a very good percentage from three-point range, but they just don’t shoot many threes. That will make coming-from-behind a difficult task.

Despite all of that, this Stony Brook team is one to look out for come March. If they can get past Albany and make the tournament, they’re not a team you’d want to see matched up with your favorite team. Jameel Warney is a player that is capable of taking over a game, and every year we see at least one player step up and make a name for themselves in the Big Dance. This year, that could be Jameel Warney. When you’re filling out your bracket, watch out for Stony Brook.

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Big 12/SEC Challenge Preview: 1/29

Some teams will mix in a non-conference game or two in the middle of their conference schedules, but typically, you play non-conference for the first 1/3 of the season, and then you have conference play for the remainder. Starting last year, the SEC and the Big 12 joined up in the middle of their conference schedules for the Big 12/SEC Challenge, pitting the 10 teams from the Big 12 against 10 teams from the SEC. It is a fun little break from the conference grind, and it takes place this Saturday. This year, the schedule makers have given us some exciting match-ups, highlighted by a huge battle at the Phog between Kansas and Kentucky. Here is a preview of Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge!

#9 West Virginia @ Florida
When: 12:00 pm, ESPN
Why: A great game to kick off the challenge, two of the best defenses in the nation will go at it in “The Swamp.” Both West Virginia and Florida are ranked in the top-5 in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Florida is coming off of a 1-point loss at Vanderbilt, and they are still searching for a signature win to put a stamp on their tournament resume. West Virginia just announced that F Jonathan Holton has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, so I’m interested to see the effect not having him has on the team as a whole, on the court as well as mentally.
Prediction: West Virginia has a little more offensive firepower, but they’ll be playing their first game without Holton. They’ll have to adjust, and this game will be low-scoring and very close, but I think West Virginia will pull it out, getting a big road win.

Vanderbilt @ Texas
When: 12:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: These are two teams that are just now starting to really hit their stride. The Longhorns have wins over Iowa State, West Virginia and North Carolina, and first year head coach Shaka Smart has his team playing at an extremely high level, despite the loss of Cameron Ridley. Vanderbilt has won four of their last five games, that following a stretch which saw them lose seven of ten games. The Commodores have not lost to a team outside of KenPom’s top-70, and therefore are rated much better than their 12-8 record would suggest.
Prediction: Vanderbilt probably has the best player on the court in G Wade Baldwin IV, but Texas is a better team right now. Given that they’re playing at home, I expect them to get another nice victory.

Ole Miss @ Kansas State
When: 2:00 pm, ESPNU
Why: If you’re looking to watch a team, Kansas State is the team to look for here. They are just 2-6 in Big 12 play, but they lost to Texas by just three points, and they took West Virginia and Baylor to double overtime. They are currently on the bubble, and can’t afford a home loss to Ole Miss. The Rebels are just 3-5 in the SEC, and they have a brutal schedule coming up, where they’ll face Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M in consecutive games. A road win against Kansas State would be a good start to that stretch.
Prediction: As a bubble team, Kansas State needs every win that they can get, and on their home floor, I expect them to defeat Ole Miss.

Tennessee @ TCU
When: 2:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: Tennessee is struggling under first year head coach Rick Barnes, as they sit at just .500 two-thirds of the way through this season. They have defeated Florida and South Carolina, so they are capable of beating good teams. A few years ago they made a late-season run, made the tournament as one of the last four teams in, and ended up making it to the Sweet 16. They will look to make a similar run late in this season. TCU is at the bottom of a very good Big 12, but their lone win in conference play is over Texas. That leads me to believe that if they play their best, they can definitely beat Tennessee.
Prediction: I just don’t see TCU having enough firepower to defeat a Tennessee team that needs to win as many games as possible the rest of the season. Coach Barnes should have his Volunteers motivated enough to get this victory.

#14 Iowa State @ #5 Texas A&M
When: 2:00 pm, ESPN
Why: This is probably the most exciting match-up of the challenge, even though ESPN, Kentucky fans and Kansas fans would tell you different. Iowa State has defeated Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma this season, but those were all at home. Their best road win this season is a 2-point win over Cincinnati. They could really use a signature road victory. The Aggies had a 10-game win streak snapped this week against Arkansas, so they will be extra motivated to get back on a winning track. They have wins over Texas, Kansas State and Baylor this year, so they’ve proven that they can beat Big 12 teams. A win over Iowa State would put a nice stamp on that.
Prediction: Texas A&M will have the home court advantage, and they will not want to lose a second game in a row, but every time I watch Iowa State, I am more and more impressed by them. They need a signature road win, and I think they get it here.

Texas Tech @ Arkansas
When: 4:00 pm, ESPNU
Why: Texas Tech looked really good during non-conference play, going 10-1 so far with wins over Hawaii, Arkansas-Little Rock and Richmond, but they have come back to earth during Big 12 play, where they are just 2-6. They also have just one road win this season (against TCU), so this will be a difficult test for them. Arkansas has under-performed this season after losing Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls to the NBA. They are just 10-10, but they’re coming off of their biggest win of the season over Texas A&M. This should be an entertaining game.
Prediction: Arkansas will look to avoid a letdown after their huge win on Wednesday, and I think they’ll be fine. Advanced statistics say that Arkansas is better than their record, and with Texas Tech’s road struggles, I think the Razorbacks will pull it out.

#1 Oklahoma @ LSU
When: 5:00 pm, ESPN
Why: If you tune in to this game, you will see the two best players in college basketball on the same court. A college basketball fan’s dream this year! The sure-to-be #1 overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, LSU’s Ben Simmons, and the almost sure-to-be National Player of the Year, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. Outside of these two guys, these teams are led by their guard play (Ben Simmons plays like a guard most of the time), and that should create an exciting, high-scoring match-up.
Prediction: LSU has already beaten Kentucky on their home floor, and a win over Oklahoma is the thing that could give them a spot in the tournament. While they are playing much better now, I think Oklahoma is just too talented. The Sooners will win a close one.

Georgia @ #17 Baylor
When: 6:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: Baylor has a lot of close wins this season, but they only have four losses, and all four of those losses are to teams in KenPom’s top-20 (Oregon, Texas A&M, Kansas, Oklahoma). They are a great offensive team, and they can stifle teams with their 1-3-1 zone defense. They’re hosting a Georgia team that has, for the most part, beaten the teams they should beat, and lost to the teams they should lose to. They’re 11-7 on the year, and they need to make a late-season run if they’re going to make the tournament. A road win over Baylor would be a nice jumping-off point.
Prediction: Every time I watch Baylor, they leave me asking a ton of questions. The results tell the story, but the eye test leaves much to be desired. I expect them to play really well in this one, and get the victory.

#20 Kentucky @ #4 Kansas
When: 7:00 pm, ESPN
Why: Two traditional heavyweights going at it in the main event of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Kansas has been one of the best teams in the country this season, but they’ve lost three of their last five games, and they’re coming off a loss to Iowa State. Kentucky has been solid this year, but they haven’t been the same Kentucky team that we’re used to. PG Tyler Ulis might be the best player in this game, and they’ll need him to carry the load if they’re going to knock off the Jayhawks.
Prediction: ESPN’s College Gameday will be in town, so the home crowd will be especially pumped up for this one. Kentucky is definitely good enough to beat Kansas, but in this atmosphere, I like the Jayhawks to come out victorious.

Oklahoma State @ Auburn
When: 8:00 pm, ESPN2
Why: Unfortunately, the schedule makers messed up a little, and Oklahoma State versus Auburn will be the final game in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. That doesn’t mean this game won’t have fireworks, maybe. The Cowboys defeated Kansas a couple weeks ago, but that is their only win in their last seven games. They’ll need to play really well to win this one on the road. Auburn is under .500 on the season, but they have beaten Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky at home this season. Head Coach Bruce Pearl is trying to turn this program around, and they’re definitely on the right track, despite their struggles this season.
Prediction: Oklahoma State might be the more talented team, but Auburn has been very good at home this season. I expect them to get the win, and if my predictions hold true, that would give the SEC three wins in the challenge, giving the Big 12 the edge this year.

I hope you’re able to sit down and watch some of these games. This should be a good Big 12/SEC Challenge!

Top-25: January 28

I will be in Stroudsburg tonight for work, so we’ll go with a watered down Top-25 this week. Nothing really special, just my ranking with a look ahead to what the teams will face this coming week.

25. Saint Mary’s (17-2, 8-1)
Last Week: Win 70-67 vs Gonzaga; Win 89-74 vs Portland
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Pacific

24. Baylor (16-4, 6-2)
Last Week: Loss 72-82 vs Oklahoma; Win 69-65 @ Oklahoma State
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Georgia; Mon 2/1 vs Texas

23. Michigan (16-5, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 81-68 @ Nebraska; Win 68-57 vs Rutgers
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Penn State (in NYC); Tue 2/2 vs Indiana

22. Purdue (18-4, 6-3)
Last Week: Win 75-64 vs Ohio State; Loss 71-83 @ Iowa; Win 68-64 @ Minnesota
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Nebraska

21. Notre Dame (14-5, 5-2)
Last Week: W 76-49 vs Boston College
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Syracuse; Sun 1/31 vs Wake Forest; Wed 2/3 @ Miami FL

20. Oregon (16-4, 5-2)
Last Week: Win 89-81 vs USC; Win 86-72 vs UCLA
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Arizona; Sun 1/31 @ Arizona State

19. Kentucky (16-4, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 80-66 @ Arkansas; Win 76-57 vs Vanderbilt; Win 88-54 vs Missouri
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Kansas; Tue 2/2 @ Tennessee

18. Wichita State (15-5, 9-0)
Last Week: Win 88-54 vs Bradley; Win 80-54 vs Loyola Chicago
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/31 @ Evansville; Wed 2/3 vs Southern Illinois

17. Iowa State (16-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 73-60 @ TCU; Win 85-72 vs Kansas
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Texas A&M; Tue 2/2 vs West Virginia

16. Arizona (16-4, 4-3)
Last Week: Win 71-57 @ Stanford; Loss 73-74 @ California
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 vs Oregon; Sat 1/30 vs Oregon State; Wed 2/3 @ Washington State

15. Providence (17-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 82-76 @ Villanova (OT); Loss 68-75 vs Xavier
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Georgetown; Tue 2/2 @ DePaul

14. Maryland (17-3, 6-2)
Last Week: Loss 65-74 @ Michigan State
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 vs Iowa; Sun 1/31 @ Ohio State; Wed 2/3 @ Nebraska

13. SMU (18-1, 7-1)
Last Week: Loss 80-89 @ Temple
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Memphis; Mon 2/1 @ Houston

12. Miami FL (16-3, 5-2)
Last Week: Win 77-63 vs Wake Forest; Win 80-69 vs Duke
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ NC State; Wed 2/3 vs Notre Dame

11. Kansas (16-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 76-67 vs Texas; Loss 72-85 @ Iowa State
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Kentucky; Wed 2/3 vs Kansas State

10. Louisville (17-3, 6-1)
Last Week: Win 75-71 @ Georgia Tech; Win 91-83 @ Virginia Tech
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Virginia; Mon 2/1 vs North Carolina

9. Michigan State (17-4, 4-4)
Last Week: Win 74-65 vs Maryland
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Northwestern; Sun 1/31 vs Rutgers

8. Texas A&M (17-3, 7-1)
Last Week: Win 66-53 vs Missouri; Loss 71-74 @ Arkansas
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Iowa State

7. Virginia (16-4, 5-3)
Last Week: Win 73-65 vs Syracuse; Win 72-71 @ Wake Forest
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Louisville; Wed 2/3 vs Boston College

6. West Virginia (17-3, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 80-76 @ Texas Tech; Win 70-55 vs Kansas State
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ Florida; Tue 2/2 @ Iowa State

5. Xavier (18-2, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 84-76 vs Seton Hall; Win 75-68 @ Providence
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ DePaul; Wed 2/3 vs St. John’s

4. Villanova (17-3, 7-1)
Last Week: Loss 76-82 vs Providence (OT)
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/31 @ St. John’s; Wed 2/3 vs Creighton

3. Iowa (16-3, 7-0)
Last Week: Win 90-76 @ Rutgers; Win 83-71 vs Purdue
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/28 @ Maryland; Sun 1/31 vs Northwestern; Wed 2/3 vs Penn State

2. Oklahoma (17-2, 6-2)
Last Week: Win 82-72 @ Baylor; Win 91-67 vs Texas Tech
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 @ LSU; Tue 2/2 vs TCU

1. North Carolina (18-2, 7-0)
Last Week: Win 75-70 @ Virginia Tech
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/30 vs Boston College; Mon 2/1 @ Louisville

This weekend, 10 teams from the SEC will battle 10 teams from the Big 12 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, a fun event in the middle of the conference grind. Tomorrow, I will have a preview of the 10 games taking place for this event, highlighted by a battle between heavyweights Kentucky and Kansas.

Blind Resumes: January 27

I can imagine that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee members have one of the toughest jobs in sports. They have to take a pool of 350-plus teams, and narrow it down to 68 teams, 32 of which will automatically qualify. It seems like every year, the Bubble grows more and more, and it makes the committee’s job that much more difficult. An exercise that can help to separate Bubble teams is a blind resume test. In this exercise, you remove the school and the record, and you look at certain rankings and specific records to see how that separates them. The following are what we will look at for today’s blind resume test, and why we’re using them:

  • RPI – Standing for Rating Percentage Index, this ranks teams based on wins, losses and strength of schedule. It is believed that RPI plays a huge role in the selection of at-large teams to the NCAA Tournament.
  • KenPom – KenPom is an advanced analysis of college basketball, and they rank teams based on a number of very specific statistics, many of which involve advanced algorithms. This gives an idea of how good these teams are based on their stats.
  • SOS – Looking at strength of schedule alone can separate teams that otherwise might be super close. The committee likes to see teams that challenge themselves with a tough schedule.
  • Conference W/L – The committee wants teams to be successful in conference play, and a lot of times, if a team performs extremely well in the beginning of the season, but struggles in conference play, that can keep them out of the tourney.
  • Road W/L – Obviously, no team plays home games in the tournament, so teams that show the ability to win games on the road or on a neutral floor will have a head up on those teams who just dominate at home, and struggle on the road.
  • W/L vs RPI Top-50 – The committee holds the RPI in very high regard, so a team’s record against the RPI Top-50 will be used as a measuring stick in some cases. Not only beating them, but just playing a lot of teams in the RPI Top-50 can enhance a team’s strength of schedule.

For today’s exercise, we will look at the blind resume for seven Bubble teams, with the idea that we need to select four of them for the final four at-large spots in the tournament. In the future, I will reveal the teams the next day, or two days later. But for today, I will reveal the teams at the end of the post, and which teams I would choose and why. So, without further ado, here are the blind resumes:

Team A
RPI: 67
SOS: 92
KenPom: 33
Conf. W/L: 5-3
Road W/L: 5-3
vs RPI Top-50: 2-3

Team B
RPI: 37
SOS: 123
KenPom: 48
Conf. W/L: 5-1
Road W/L: 8-1
vs RPI Top-50: 0-3

Team C
RPI: 48
SOS: 17
KenPom: 61
Conf. W/L: 3-4
Road W/L: 3-6
vs RPI Top-50: 3-5

Team D
RPI: 49
SOS: 68
KenPom: 41
Conf. W/L: 3-4
Road W/L: 5-4
vs RPI Top-50: 2-4

Team E
RPI: 92
SOS: 99
KenPom: 59
Conf. W/L: 5-2
Road W/L: 2-5
vs RPI Top-50: 4-3

Team F
RPI: 65
SOS: 65
KenPom: 92
Conf. W/L: 5-2
Road W/L: 4-3
vs RPI Top-50: 4-3

Team G
RPI: 20
SOS: 30
KenPom: 55
Conf. W/L: 4-3
Road W/L: 5-4
vs RPI Top-50: 3-4

The first thing that I like to look at is conference win/loss. Recent history shows that if you don’t go at least .500 in conference play, you won’t make the tournament. I tend to agree with the committee in that sense, and that eliminated Team C and Team D from consideration for me. I considered keeping Team C in the running because of their great strength of schedule, but they need to be better in conference play. Team C is UCLA, and Team D is Seton Hall. Two teams that could easily argue inclusion at this moment.

Next, I chose to look at the teams’ record against the RPI Top-50. I feel that this is a very good measuring stick, and two teams stuck out for me here. Both Team E and Team F currently have winning records against the RPI Top-50. I hesitate for now with Team E due to their lackluster RPI rank and SOS, but the rest of Team F’s resume looks good enough for me to have them as one of my four teams in. Team F is Washington. They are flying a little under the radar, but they are currently tied atop the Pac 12, and if they can win a couple more big games this year, and avoid bad losses, they should get in.

With four teams remaining, I decided it was time to look at the whole package to determine which teams I would have in. The first team that jumps out at me is Team G. Ranked 20 in RPI, with a very good strength of schedule and three wins over the RPI Top-50, I felt that they definitely deserved inclusion here. Team G is Colorado. I kept Colorado out of my field in Bracketology yesterday, but having done this blind resume test, I can see that their rankings and records are those of a tournament team. I’ll have to watch them more closely from here on out.

I love the fact that Team B is 5-1 in their conference and 8-1 away from home, but they don’t have a win against a Top-50 RPI team, and they have a weak SOS, so I hold off on them. Team A, meanwhile, has a winning record away from home, two wins over the RPI Top-50, and KenPom ranks them among the top 35 teams in the country. For those reasons, I decided to put them in. Team A is Cincinnati. They are a team that I have watched numerous times, and they have yet to impress me. They lost to my Temple Owls twice, and while talented, they seem to always under-perform. But without their name, they deserve inclusion at this stage. Their best route to the tournament is to win the AAC.

With the two teams left, the biggest differences are in RPI and wins versus the RPI Top-50. Team B is 55 spots ahead of Team E in RPI, but Team E has four wins over the RPI Top-50, while Team B has failed to defeat those teams in three attempts. The separator for me is Team B’s eight wins away from home. That put them over the top for me. Team B is St. Joseph’s. The Hawks have one of the best players in the country in DeAndre Bembry, but they haven’t been able to defeat a really good team yet this season. They have a road match-up with George Washington and a home game against Dayton left on their schedule. It would really help their resume if they can win both of those games. Team E is Clemson. The Tigers had a nice 3-game home winning streak against Louisville, Duke and Miami, but their overall resume still leaves a lot to be desired. They still have a lot to prove if they want to move off of the Bubble.

A blind resume test is a really good exercise in determining which Bubble teams have the best shot at making the tournament. Let me know which teams you would have in and why!

 

Bracketology: January 26

With each week, we move closer and closer to Christmas, I mean, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (Same thing, right? Only for me? Okay, fine). This is such a wonderful time of year. A lot of teams are starting to round into form, and the others are falling back to where they truly belong. We are seeing exactly what these teams are made of as they deal with the brunt of their conference schedules. If we’ve learned anything so far this season, it’s that it is anybody’s year. While that sounds a little cliche, it is the truth. There are more teams than ever that could argue their ability to win a championship, and that should result in a legendary tournament in March. Here is my bracket prediction for January 26!

*Regions in order of #1 seed ranking. Auto-Bids are in bold*

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The Tar Heels are on a nice roll right now, having won 11 consecutive games. They have a difficult three-game road trip coming up that includes games against Louisville and Notre Dame, so it will be interesting to see how they perform there. West Virginia has dropped back to the 3-seed line after a difficult week, which saw them fall at home to Texas, and then narrowly escape Lubbock with a win over Texas Tech. Michigan picked up a couple more wins this week, and they will only get better when leading scorer Caris LeVert returns from injury. I have them facing a tough task though, with 11-seed Monmouth, who has beaten UCLA, Georgetown, Notre Dame and USC this season. Clemson hangs on to a spot in the First Four, having not played a game since my last Bracketology. They still have something to prove, and not many opportunities.
Rising Teams: Virginia, Michigan, Washington
Falling Teams: West Virginia, Maryland, Butler

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Oklahoma continues to look like one of the top-4 teams in the country, and this past weekend, they went into Waco and wiped Baylor off of their own court. Michigan State got a much needed win this weekend, as they snapped a 3-game losing streak with a win over Maryland at home. Louisville and Providence are two teams that are making big impressions, and if they continue to win, they will find themselves moving up ranks. A Round of 32 match-up between those teams would be fun to watch. Notre Dame finds themselves in the Top-25 this week, but they remain on the 8-seed line. Another big win, and they could jump up to the 7-seed line, and potentially even further. Valparaiso suffered a brutal loss to Wright State, pretty much ruining their chance at an at-large bid. They’ll need to win the Horizon League to make the tournament.
Rising Teams: Oklahoma, Xavier, Kent State
Falling Teams: Baylor, Pittsburgh, Valparaiso

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Iowa continues to play really well, as they took care of business on Sunday against Purdue, their ninth win in a row. They move up a spot in my 1-seed rankings with Villanova’s loss. Iowa State has worked their way back to the 3-seed line with wins over Oklahoma and Kansas on consecutive Mondays. If they play their best, they can beat any team in the country on any given night. Indiana and USC have swapped seeds this week, after a Hoosier win over Northwestern and back-to-back losses for USC to Oregon and Oregon State. The mighty continue to fall in Durham, as Duke lost another game yesterday, against Miami, and they have dropped to a 7-seed in my bracket prediction.
Rising Teams: Iowa, Iowa State, Texas
Falling Teams: USC, Duke, South Carolina

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Villanova played a thriller on Sunday, falling in overtime to Providence. It was a great basketball game between two great teams. With that being said, Nova must fall, but they remain a 1-seed this week. Miami picked up a big home win over Duke yesterday, and with three wins this past week, they have moved up to a 3-seed. One of the fastest rising teams in my eyes is the Oregon Ducks, who are now up to a 6-seed in my projection. They are tied with Washington atop the Pac 12, and they have a huge road game against Arizona coming up on Thursday. Another team rising up the ranks is the current West Coast Conference leaders, the Saint Mary’s Gaels. They got a huge win last week over rival Gonzaga, and I have them up to a 7-seed.
Rising Teams: Miami FL, Oregon, Saint Mary’s
Falling Teams: Villanova, Kansas, Georgetown

And there is this week’s Bracketology. Let me know what you agree or disagree with! And I’ll leave you with one more little thing. Today is the 28th anniversary of one of the greatest dunks in college basketball history, and subsequently, the greatest call in college basketball history, courtesy of the great Bill Raftery. “SEND IT IN JEROME!”

Bubble Watch: Week of January 25

At this point in the season, the Bubble is bigger than ever, as there are many teams trying to jockey for position and impress the selection committee. Here is a quick look at some games this week that could have a major impact on the Bubble!

Creighton @ Georgetown
Tues 1/26, 6:30 pm FS1
Georgetown is a team squarely on the bubble at this moment, as they try to navigate the treacherous Big East. They recently got a big win at Xavier, but followed that up with a non-conference road loss to UConn. They also have eight losses already, and can’t afford another. One of those eight losses was against Creighton, who can get back on the Bubble if they can complete the season sweep of the Hoyas.

Texas Tech @ #1 Oklahoma
Tues 1/26, 7:00 pm ESPN2
You know Oklahoma isn’t on the Bubble, as they may have already cemented their spot in the tourney. Texas Tech on the other hand, is fighting to stay alive. They are struggling in Big 12 play, and I currently have them out of my field of 68. They nearly knocked off West Virginia over the weekend, but they couldn’t finish the job. They get another huge chance on Tuesday in Norman. If they can upset the Sooners, they’ll be right back in the conversation.

Tulsa @ Houston
Weds 1/27, 8:00 pm ESPN News
The American Conference is an interesting case this year. They could have anywhere from one team in the tourney, to four teams. It could have been even more if SMU were eligible for the postseason. Tulsa is your current AAC leader, but that is a very fluid position. Houston was the early leader, but now they are just trying to desperately hang on to a Bubble position. A win over Tulsa would help them out, while Tulsa needs this win to help their at-large chances.

Notre Dame @ Syracuse
Thur 1/28, 7:00 pm ESPN2
Notre Dame is on the right side of the Bubble currently, while Syracuse is on the wrong side. But that could change for both teams depending on the result of this game. The Irish recently got a big road win over Duke, but a road win over Syracuse would definitely enhance their profile. The Orange have been much better since Coach Jim Boeheim’s return, and a win over Notre Dame would move them up the Bubble for sure. How much might depend on the final score and their overall performance.

Washington @ UCLA
Thur 1/28, 10:00 pm FS1
The Pac 12 has been an extremely competitive league this season, and they are looking to put upwards of eight teams in the tournament this year. These two teams are currently on the Bubble, and every Bubble game in the Pac 12 is important right now. These two teams opened Pac 12 play on New Year’s Day, with Washington getting the 2OT win. If they can sweep the season series against the Bruins, that would definitely be a boon to their tournament profile. With eight losses already, UCLA just needs all the victories they can get.

If you get a chance, be sure to tune in to these games. It could help you when you’re filling your bracket out in March. This week’s Bracketology will be posted tomorrow, so be on the lookout!

‘Giant Killer’ Profile: UC Irvine

uc irvine logo

UC Irvine Anteaters
Big West Conference
Irvine, California
Head Coach: Russell Turner (6th Season)
Record: 16-5, 5-0 conf.
RPI: 41
KenPom: 72
SOS: 78
Best Wins: 61-60(OT) @ UCF, 54-52 vs New Mexico State, 58-54 @ Long Beach State
Bad Losses: 71-64 vs Boise State (neurtal court)
Key Players:
C Mamadou Ndiaye (12.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 64.7% FG)
G Luke Nelson (12.5 PPG, 3.6 APG, 94.9% FT)

It will be fun to see who comes out on top of the Big West Conference, and earns that league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and one of the top contenders for that bid is the defending Big West Champions, the UC Irvine Anteaters. This team is led by their defense, which is ranked 10th in the country in efficiency by KenPom.

One of the biggest reasons their so good defensively is the brick wall they have in front of the basket, and his name is Mamadou Ndiaye. Ndiaye, a 7’6″ junior from Senegal, is one of the most lethal shot blockers in the country, which is no surprise given his massive height. Ndiaye was a big prospect when he made his intentions to play college basketball clear, and UC Irvine has reaped the benefits.

The Anteaters won the Big West last season with a 21-12 record, and went into the tournament at a 13-seed, taking on the Louisville Cardinals in the Round of 64. UC Irvine gave Louisville quite the challenge, but the Cardinals survived with a 2-point victory. This year’s team is looking for another crack at knocking off a big team in the big dance.

This is a veteran team that has tested itself in a big way this season. They lost two games in a holiday tournament to Boise State and Evansville (two fellow Giant Killers), and then lost in road games against Saint Mary’s, Oregon and Kansas. This team won’t be intimidated by anybody if they make it to the tournament.

The one problem with the Anteaters is that they haven’t beaten any great teams this season. A lot of times, a “Giant Killer” will pull off a big upset during the season, proving that they can get it done, but the closest UC Irvine has come is a 15-point loss to Oregon.

But they possess “Giant Killer” qualities for sure. Ndiaye is a complete difference maker in the middle. Depending on the match-up, he could create all sorts of problems. You know defense wins championships, but it also makes a “Giant Killer.” The Anteaters have one of the best defenses in the country, as according to KenPom, they are in the Top-10 in the country in effective defensive FG% and defensive 2PT%.

Another thing that UC Irvine does that makes them a “Giant Killer” is their ability to slow down a game. They are among the slowest playing teams in the nation, and in many cases, if you can slow down a game, you increase your chances at pulling off a big upset.

We got a glimpse of what this team is capable of last year in a near major upset of Louisville. If UC Irvine is able to win the Big West, they are not a team that you’ll want to see in the Round of 64.