Round-Up: January 15

I will be at Delaware Valley High School covering a basketball game with the crew at Blue Ridge Communications tonight, so just a quick recap of last night, along with a short preview of this weekend’s action.

#16 Iowa 76, #4 Michigan State 59

The Spartans did a nice job of making me look like a fool last night. This game was never in doubt for Iowa, who gets a huge road win in Big Ten play, also taking their first season sweep of Michigan State since 1992-1993. The Hawkeyes shot 10-22 from 3-point range, and also pulled in 13 offensive rebounds, which both helped lead them to this dominant victory.

#18 Arizona 99, Washington 67

Holding just a 3 point halftime lead, Arizona exploded in the second half, outscoring the Huskies 55-26 en route to a huge 32-point victory. Washington entered this game in first place in the Pac 12, but Arizona reminded the young Huskies team that they still have a long way to go in order to contend in the conference.

#21 Louisville 59, #20 Pittsburgh 41

Pitt was held to its lowest point total this season, and shot just 1-11 from 3-point range in an 18-point loss to ACC rival Louisville. Damion Lee led the way for the Cardinals with 18 points and 4 steals. Pitt came into this game with one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, but they hadn’t faced a defense like Louisville’s. They may have been exposed.

BYU 69, #25 Gonzaga 68

BYU was able to come away with a huge WCC victory as they pulled one out over Gonzaga 69-68, when Nate Austin was able to block Kyle Wiltjer’s (35 pts, 10 rbs) layup attempt with under 3 seconds remaining. A last-second full court heave from Wiltjer came up short, and BYU came away with an impressive come-from-behind win.

Predictions for this weekend’s biggest games:

NC State @ #5 North Carolina, Sat 1/16, 12:00 pm ESPN
The Wolfpack, led by PG Anthony “Cat” Barber, are a team that could give the class of the ACC some issues this year, but the Tar Heels are playing too well right now. They should take care of business at home.

Notre Dame @ #9 Duke, Sat 1/16, 2:oo pm ESPN2
Any other time, I’d say that this would be a chance for the Irish to sneak into Cameron Indoor and come away with an upset, but with Duke coming off the disappointing loss to Clemson, they’ll be motivated to get back on track.

#8 Miami FL @ Clemson, Sat 1/16, 2:00 pm ESPN3
Clemson has been extremely good at home against really good teams, with recent wins over Louisville and Duke. But the Hurricanes are coming off a loss to Virginia, and I expect them to get back in the win column against the Tigers.

#7 Xavier @ Marquette, Sat 1/16, 2:00 pm FS1
The Musketeers are expected to get freshman G Edmond Sumner back from injury, but this Marquette team is much better than people realize. At home, with Xavier trying to work Sumner back into the rotation, I’ll take Marquette to pull off the upset.

#11 West Virginia @ #2 Oklahoma, Sat 1/16, 4:00 pm ESPN2
West Virginia is riding high after they knocked off #1 Kansas on Tuesday, but that could work against them in this game. Oklahoma is just as good as Kansas, and I expect the guard play for the Sooners to be the difference in this one. Sooners should take care of business at home.

Michigan @ #16 Iowa, Sun 1/17, 4:30 pm BTN
Both of these teams are coming off massive victories, over #3 Maryland and #4 Michigan State respectively, but Michigan is expected to still be without leading scorer Caris LeVert, and that gives the edge to a streaking Iowa team that looks like one of the best in the country.

No post coming tomorrow, as I will be at East Stroudsburg University covering some D-III PSAC action against Kutztown. Because of that, two posts is probable for Sunday! Also, I will be in Jim Thorpe on Monday, so Bracketology will be postponed to Wednesday next week. Have a nice weekend everyone!

 

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Top-25: January 14

We have a new #1 this week, in addition to a lot of movement elsewhere. There were a few teams who had outstanding weeks, and a couple who really struggled. Four teams in the AP Top-10 have gone down in the last week. I spent more time watching games this week than I have all season, and that has changed my opinion on certain teams. That is why you will notice a ton of change from last week’s ranking. And with that, here is my new Top-25…

iowa st
25. Iowa State (12-4, 1-3)

It’s been a rough start to Big 12 play for the Cyclones. They couldn’t find any Hilton Magic in a home loss to Baylor, and then were lucky to even take Texas to overtime, where they eventually lost by 3. They host Oklahoma early next week, and that will give them a chance to get a nice signature conference victory. They desperately need it.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Kansas State; Mon 1/18 vs Oklahoma

 

Michigan-Wolverines-logo

24. Michigan (13-4, 3-1)

With leading scorer Caris LeVert on the shelf, it was looking like a tough week for the Wolverines. They struggled in a loss to Purdue, but were able to bounce back in a big way with a home win over AP #3 ranked Maryland. I don’t have them higher because I feel the win over Maryland was more a bad performance by the Terrapins than a good performance by them.
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/17 @ Iowa; Wed 1/20 vs Minnesota

 

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23. Wichita State (11-5, 5-0)

This is an experienced team, and their results thus far this season reflect that. They had an early season 3-game losing streak, but that was without star PG Fred Van Vleet. With Van Vleet on the court, the Shockers are 10-2. Led by Van Vleet and G Ron Baker, if this team gets into the tournament, they will be dangerous.
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/17 vs Indiana State; Wed 1/20 @ Northern Iowa

 

purdue

22. Purdue (15-3, 3-2)

The Boilermakers got a big win over Michigan late last week, but they followed that up with a brutal loss to Illinois. They got back on track with a dominant win over Penn State, and they continue to be a major threat to the teams at the top of the Big Ten.
Upcoming Games: Mon 1/18 @ Rutgers

 

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21. Arizona (13-3, 1-2)

What an awful week for Arizona. They lost to UCLA last Thursday, and then followed that up by losing to USC in four overtimes. Even worse, in that game, they lost freshman G Allonzo Trier to an injury. Trier has been one of the Wildcats’ best players so far this season, and it’ll be interesting to see how they do without him.
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/14 vs Washington; Sat 1/16 vs Washington State

 

sc_trojans

20. USC (15-3, 4-1)

It was a huge week for the Trojans. After defeating Arizona State and Arizona at home, they made the short trip over to Pauley Pavilion, where they defeated UCLA in dominant fashion last night. Andy Enfield, of Florida Gulf Coast fame, has this USC team riding high, as they look to be a legitimate threat to win the Pac 12.
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/21 @ Oregon

 

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19. Baylor (13-3, 3-1)

Not many teams go into the Hilton Coliseum and come away victorious. Baylor was able to pull it off last Saturday. They are a little unproven at this point, but they have a ton of talent, and if they can navigate the difficult Big 12, they will be a trendy pick come March.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Texas Tech; Wed 1/20 vs Kansas State

 

Louisville_Cardinal_Logo_New

18. Louisville (13-3, 2-1)

The Cardinals couldn’t get a big win on the road against Clemson, and that’s kinda been the story of this season so far for Louisville. They have a great record, and look great on paper, but their resume to this point leaves a lot to be desired. They have a chance for a huge win tonight against Pittsburgh.
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/14 vs Pittsburgh; Wed 1/20 vs Florida State

 

texas a&m

17. Texas A&M (14-2, 4-0)

The Aggies have won seven games in a row, and have the looks of a team that could make some noise in the tournament. Led by F Jalen Jones and G Danuel House, Texas A&M just keeps winning games. They have a tough week ahead of them though, and I’ll be watching to see how they perform.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Georgia; Tue 1/19 vs LSU

 

Duke

16. Duke (14-3, 3-1)

I was ready to admit that I was overlooking the Blue Devils, and then they go and lose to Clemson in very disappointing fashion. Brandon Ingram is a legit superstar, but the rest of the team leaves a lot to be desired for me. They lack an interior presence, and that will hurt them in March.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 vs Notre Dame; Mon 1/18 vs Syracuse

 

pitt logo

15. Pittsburgh (14-1, 3-0)

I was not sold on Pitt last week, but they have started to convince me, helped by their win on the road against Notre Dame on Saturday. That is a quality win for the team rated #2 in offensive efficiency by KenPom. They have a chance to add another feather in their cap tonight when they travel to take on the Louisville Cardinals.
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/14 @ Louisville; Sat 1/16 vs Boston College; Tue 1/19 vs NC State

 

Kentucky

14. Kentucky (13-3, 3-1)

I may have been a little too harsh on Kentucky. This is a quality basketball team with very good players. PG Tyler Ulis gets better with each game, but at the same time, Kentucky’s three losses look worse with each passing day. A January 30 date with Kansas looms, and that will be followed by a 10-game season-ending stretch where they will not face a team outside of KenPom’s top-100 teams.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Auburn

 

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13. Iowa (12-3, 3-0)

It has been 9 days since the Hawkeyes last took the court, but they return tonight in a big way, as they head to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. The Spartans lone loss of the year came a few weeks ago to this Iowa team, but that was without Denzel Valentine. This is a revenge game for MSU, and if Iowa can find a way to beat them again, the Hawkeyes will officially be for real.
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/14 @ Michigan State; Sun 1/17 vs Michigan

 

miami

12. Miami FL (13-2, 2-1)

Unfortunately for Miami, they ran into Virginia at the wrong time. The Cavaliers needed a win, and it came at the expense of the Hurricanes. This is still an extremely good basketball team, and they will look to get back on the winning track against Clemson this weekend.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Clemson; Wed 1/20 @ Boston College

 

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11. Providence (15-2, 3-1)

Kris Dunn saved his Friars with a last-second jumper to put away Creighton, but it’s only going to get more difficult from here for Providence. They struggled big-time offensively against Creighton, and their next four games are against the teams joining them at the top of the Big East. They need to figure it out quick.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 vs Seton Hall; Tue 1/19 vs Butler

 

virginia-logo

10. Virginia (13-3, 2-2)

Virginia was able to recover from back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech with an impressive home victory over Miami, who was riding an 8-game winning streak coming into the game. This team has wins over West Virginia and Villanova this year, and they don’t miss many shots. They still have a great chance to win the ACC.
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/17 @ Florida State; Tue 1/19 vs Clemson

 

SMU_med

9. SMU (16-0, 5-0)

The more I watch this team, the more upset I am that we won’t get to see them play in March. Nic Moore is one of the best players in the nation, and he is leading this team to an incredible season. With their schedule, 30-0 is realistic. It’s not likely, but it’s definitely possible.
Upcoming Games: Sun 1/17 @ Tulane; Tue 1/19 vs Houston

 

maryland

8. Maryland (15-2, 4-1)

Of the basketball that I have been able to watch this season, I can’t remember a more disappointing performance than the one put forth by Maryland earlier this week in a loss to Michigan. Freshman center Diamond Stone played well, but star PG Melo Trimble disappeared for much of the game. This is a talented team, but a performance like that would doom them in the tournament.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 vs Ohio State; Tue 1/19 vs Northwestern

 

xavier

7. Xavier (15-1, 3-1)

If it wasn’t for a blowout loss to a very good Villanova team a couple weeks ago, Xavier would be undefeated. They are currently without star freshman G Edmond Sumner, but they are still winning ballgames. The Big East is going to wear down every team in it, but Xavier has the looks of a championship-caliber basketball team.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Marquette; Tue 1/19 vs Georgetown

 

west virginia

6. West Virginia (15-1, 4-0)

The first place team in the Big 12, I admittedly did not know very much about West Virginia, and I hadn’t seen them play. I watched them face Kansas on Tuesday, and I was sold. This is a team that can win a championship. Their defensive pressure will disrupt any team, and they can get the job done on the offensive end. They won’t keep up this pace all year, but they’ll stay in the conversation.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Oklahoma; Wed 1/20 vs Texas

 

villanova

5. Villanova (15-2, 5-0)

Off to a 5-0 start in the treacherous Big East, Villanova has all the makings of a team that could make a run to the Final Four. They are one of the most efficient offensive and defensive teams in the country, and they look like they’re on their way to a Big East Championship. But we know it won’t be easy.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 @ Georgetown; Wed 1/20 @ Seton Hall

 

unc

4. North Carolina (15-2, 4-0)

Roy Williams has another fantastic team, and a team likely to find itself playing into late March, and possibly even in April. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are stars, and they will carry this team to great things. Their back-loaded schedule is a potential roadblock though, as seven of their last ten games are against teams ranked in KenPom’s top-30.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 vs NC State; Wed 1/20 vs Wake Forest

 

oklahoma log

3. Oklahoma (14-1, 3-1)

A 3-OT loss to Kansas is the only thing that has stood between this team and perfection thus far. Buddy Hield is the early-season favorite for Player of the Year, and he is mostly the reason they have been as good as they are. That is, unfortunately, also part of the problem. I see a team that will go only as far as Hield takes them, so if he has an off game in March, that could be the end for the Sooners’ season.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 vs West Virginia; Mon 1/18 @ Iowa State

 

kansas logo

2. Kansas (14-2, 3-1)

Kansas looked all sorts of bad in their loss on Tuesday to West Virginia. They get a pass because they had been playing terrific basketball before that game, and I think WVU is a better team than given credit for. Kansas is still one of the most talented teams in the nation, and they stay above Oklahoma (for now) with the win they have over the Sooners.
Upcoming Games: Sat 1/16 vs TCU; Tue 1/19 @ Oklahoma State

 

mich st

1. Michigan State (16-1, 3-1)

Denzel Valentine is back, and Michigan State is once again the best team in the nation. Their only loss came a couple weeks back to a tough Iowa team. Tonight, the Spartans get their chance to exact some revenge on the Hawkeyes. Valentine did not play much in his return to the court against Penn State, but they’ll need him to contribute in a big way tonight if they’re to beat Iowa.
Upcoming Games: Thu 1/14 vs Iowa; Sun 1/17 @ Wisconsin; Wed 1/20 vs Nebraska

There is my Top-25 teams as of today. Lots of movement this week, and there could be lots of movement again next week. Some good action tonight, look for a recap tomorrow morning.

Recap: January 12

If last night is a sign of things to come, we are going to have a lot of fun on the road to March Madness! We saw 3 top-10 teams go down last night, reassuring the notion that there is no dominant team this season. That always means unpredictability and loads of fun come tourney time! Here is a recap of last night’s action.

#11 West Virginia 74, #1 Kansas 63

holton

This game lived up to its lofty expectations, as Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers took sole possession of 1st place in the Big 12 with a convincing 74-63 triumph over #1 Kansas. The Mountaineers were led by G Jaysean Paige (26 pts, 5 stls) and F Devin Williams (17 pts, 12 boards), and as a team, forced 22 turnovers and shot a whopping 47 free throws! Perry Ellis had a great game for Kansas, totaling 21 points and 7 rebounds, but the rest of the team really struggled with West Virginia’s pressure. The Mountaineers can’t celebrate too long, as they visit Norman to take on #2 Oklahoma on Saturday. Kansas returns home for a bounce-back game against TCU on Saturday.

#15 Texas A&M 71, Florida 68

jalen jones

The Aggies are off to an impressive start this season, and last night, they were able to hold off a surging Florida team to escape with a 71-68 win. G/F Jalen Jones was the star of the game for Texas A&M, finishing with 26 points on 8-13 shooting. Danuel House shot just 2-10 from 3-point range for the Aggies, but he still finished with 22 points to help contribute to the victory. Texas A&M will hit the road to take on Georgia on Saturday, while Florida will stop off in Oxford, MS to take on Ole Miss.

#13 Virginia 66, #8 Miami (FL) 58

perrantes

It has not been the start to ACC play that Virginia wanted, but they got back on track last night ending Miami’s 8-game winning streak with a 66-58 home victory. Defensively, Virginia was able to keep Miami on the perimeter, holding Hurricane star center Tonye Jekiri to just 5 points on 2-4 shooting. The 58 points is a season-low for Miami. Malcolm Brogdon led the way with 20 points for the Cavaliers, while Anthony Gill chipped in 15 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Virginia will travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State on Sunday, while Miami will visit Clemson for a big match-up on Saturday.

Michigan 70, #3 Maryland 67

michigan vs maryland

Michigan has been searching all year for a signature win, and they finally got one last night when they knocked off #3 Maryland at home 70-67, despite leading scorer Caris LeVert sitting this one out due to injury. G Zak Irvin led the way for the Wolverines with 22 points, while PG Derrick Walton was terrific down the stretch, as he finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Maryland’s star PG Melo Trimble was nowhere to be found in this one, as he ended with a season-low 2 points on 1-4 shooting, with 4 boards, 3 assists, and 4 turnovers. The Terrapins will look to get back on track at home Saturday against Ohio State, while the Wolverines will head to the road to take on a red-hot Iowa team on Sunday.

#12 Providence 50, Creighton 48

kris dunn

I feel like we’re going to have a lot of games like this in the Big East this season, but more often than not, the cream always rises to the top. Providence was able to eek out a 50-48 victory over Creighton when superstar PG Kris Dunn hit a step-back, fadeaway jumper at the buzzer, just one possession after his 5th turnover led to a game-tying layup by Blue Jay G Maurice Watson. Dunn finished with 20 points and 8 boards to lead the way for the Friars, who will return home Saturday to take on Seton Hall. Creighton will look to get back in the win column on Sunday in Chicago against DePaul.

Texas 94, #17 Iowa State 91 (OT)

isaiah taylor

Iowa State has fallen to 1-3 in the Big 12 after an overtime loss to Texas last night. PG Isaiah Taylor was fantastic for the Longhorns, finishing with 28 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Iowa State got big games from F Georges Niang (27 pts) and F Abdel Nader (10 pts, 16 rebs), but it wasn’t enough to outlast Texas. A controversial no-call sent this game to overtime, when it appeared that Taylor was fouled on a last second, game-winning shot attempt. Iowa State will now travel to Manhattan, KS where they look to end a 2-game skid against Kansas State. The Longhorns will look to keep their momentum going as they host Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Here is a look at what’s on tap for tonight:

#9 Duke @ Clemson, 7:00 pm, ESPN2
Houston (AAC Leader) @ Cincinnati, 7:00 pm, ESPNU
Marquette @ #6 Villanova, 8:30 pm, Fox Sports 1
Penn State @ #24 Purdue, 8:30 pm, Big-Ten Network
#19 South Carolina (15-0) @ Alabama, 9:00 pm, SEC Network
#2 Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State, 9:00 pm, ESPNU
Oregon State @ Colorado, 11:00 pm, ESPNU
USC @ UCLA, 11:00 pm, ESPN2

If you get a chance, check out some of these terrific games! My new Top-25 will be posted tomorrow, so be on the lookout!

 

Game Preview: Kansas @ West Virginia

There’s no question that the Kansas Jayhawks have been the best team in the country thus far. They were without freshman forward Cheick Diallo in a 79-73 loss to Michigan State, in what was only their 2nd game of the season. Since then, they have rattled off 13 straight victories, including wins over UCLA, Vanderbilt, Oregon State, Baylor, Texas Tech and a 3OT victory over #2 Oklahoma just last week.

The Jayhawks are on a roll, but standing in their way tonight is another red-hot team in the Big 12, Bob Huggins’s West Virginia Mountaineers. Huggy Bear has his team playing at a very high level, with their lone blemish a 70-54 loss to Virginia. The last time Kansas visited Morgantown, they were stunned by a game-winning layup from Juwan Staten, as West Virginia pulled off the 63-62 upset.

There is much more on the line this time around, as the winner will have sole possession of 1st place in the Big 12.

Key for West Virginia: Pressure Defense

The Mountaineers are known for their intense defensive pressure. They go into a full-court press after any made basket, and the stats show that they are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and are almost definitely the toughest defense that Kansas will have faced so far this season. KenPom has WVU ranked 7th in defensive efficiency, thanks mostly to their #1 rating in turnover percentage and steal percentage. They play a defense similar to the “Havoc” style defense implemented by Coach Shaka Smart at VCU. They are led by Daxter Miles Jr. (2.1 SPG), Jevon Carter (2.0 SPG) and Tarik Phillip (1.9 SPG). These guards will make life very difficult for the likes of Wayne Selden Jr., Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason.

Key for Kansas: Balance

The two things that I believe have allowed Kansas to be successful this year are depth and balance. The Jayhawks have 10 players who average at least 10 minutes a game, and that does not include Cheick Diallo. In addition to that incredible depth, they are one of two teams (Oklahoma) rated in the top-10 in offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom. The Jayhawks are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation, but West Virginia is one of the best at defending the 3-point line, which could mean that Kansas will have to rely on their presence in the paint, led by Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor.

WVU Player to Watch: F Devin Williams

devin williams

Williams, a 6’9″ forward from Cincinnati, is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Mountaineers, averaging 14.5 points and 8.6 boards a game. That being said, he did a lot of his damage early in the season. After scoring 18-plus points in five of WVU’s first seven games, Williams hasn’t scored more than 15 points in a game since December 5. I believe that Williams must return to his dominant form if West Virginia is going to pull off the upset tonight.

KU Player to Watch: G Wayne Selden Jr.

3.13.14 - Kansas' Wayne Selden Jr.

While Perry Ellis is the seasoned veteran of the team, I think the Jayhawks will only go as far as Wayne Selden Jr. takes them. Selden is averaging 15.5 points per game, and he is shooting just over 50 percent from 3-point range. West Virginia defends the 3-point arc better than any team Kansas has faced this season, so it will be interesting to see how much trouble, if any, Selden has finding open shots. The Jayhawks will try to do a lot of damage in the paint, but they’ll still need Selden to produce if they’re going to win this ballgame. In two games against West Virginia last season, Selden only scored a combined 8 points, including an 0-5 clip from distance.

Prediction:

This will be a fun basketball game to watch. Kansas is arguably the most balanced team in Division I basketball, but this is going to be one of their toughest tests. Morgantown is a crazy sports town, and it’s going to be a very hostile environment. West Virginia’s defensive pressure will bother the Jayhawks, and this game will come down to the final few possessions. I would not be surprised at all if West Virginia is able to wear down Kansas and pull off the victory, but this Kansas team is much better than the one that took the heartbreaking loss last year. I believe Kansas will win this game 68-64.

Bracketology: January 11

It’s Monday afternoon, which means it’s time for the first Bracketology of the season! This is what I think the bracket would look like if yesterday was Selection Sunday (which we all know isn’t until March 13). A few notes before we get started:

  • Bracketology is a very inexact science. The selection committee has an extremely difficult job, and there are a number of factors involved. This bracket will be based on my opinion and what I think of the teams. With the committee, you get a collection of multiple opinions.
  • My bracket will look different from other bracket predictions you will see online. There are expert “Bracketologists” out there who know much more than I do, but if you devote the time, and research these teams, anyone can be a “Bracketologist.”
  • As far as the automatic bids go, I took the team who is currently in first place in each conference. In the event of a tie, I chose the team rated highest by KenPom. This does not mean that I think these teams will end up winning their conferences, but it does do a nice job of representing some of the chaos that occurs during Championship Week.
  • The 1-seeds get placed in the region closest to them, chosen based on how the committee ranks them 1 through 4. The 5th best team does not go in the same region as the 4th ranked team. The 2-seeds are placed in regions the same way the 1-seeds are. Therefore, the 1st and 5th best teams could be placed in the same region. The committee looks to avoid early conference match-ups as best they can.
  • The First Four is played in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15-16. The Round of 64 then begins on Thursday in Providence, Raleigh, Des Moines and Denver. Friday games are in St. Louis, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City and Spokane.
  • Keep in mind that this is what I think the bracket would look like TODAY. The actual bracket will almost definitely look a lot different, as there is still a lot of basketball to be played, and crazy things happen in sports.

Without further ado, here is my first bracket prediction of 2016!

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As my top-rated team, Kansas was placed in the South Region, playing their Round of 64 game in Des Moines. While I have Miami as my 8th ranked team, that is not why they were placed in this region. It was simply for geographic reasons. Many people have Kentucky still on the 2-seed line, but they have struggled as of late, and that made me drop them to a 3-seed. USC is a team that is rising quickly, and many have them even higher than a 9-seed. They could rise further in the coming weeks. One surprise in this region is San Diego State. Boise State currently leads the Mountain West, but I think San Diego State has played well enough thus far to deserve an at-large bid. I expect the Aztecs to win the Mountain West, so it may work itself out.

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In my projection, North Carolina is the worst of the 1-seeds, matching up their East Region with the South. Many have Maryland as a 1-seed, but I think North Carolina is the better team right now. Virginia has struggled lately, with losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, but I still have them as a 3-seed. South Carolina remains undefeated, and while their resume leaves a lot to be desired, their perfect season so far cannot be ignored. Jackson State vs Wagner and Cincinnati vs Michigan are two First Four games with winners advancing to this region. Everybody knows about Monmouth’s bench, but their team is pretty good too, with wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown on their resume. Iona currently leads their conference, but I think Monmouth’s resume would have them in as an at-large.

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Oklahoma heads out west in my projection, as the 3rd ranked team. They would face the winner of Tennessee Tech vs Hampton in the First Four. Iowa is surging and Arizona is falling. Last week, these two teams’ seeds would have been flip-flopped. My bracket has two WCC teams in the tourney, and they are both here in the West Region; Gonzaga as a 7-seed and Saint Mary’s a 9-seed. It will be interesting to see which team wins that conference, but both teams are good enough to get in. Washington is not a team I expect to be in the tournament come March, but they are the early leaders in the Pac-12, so they get in here.

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Michigan State will head to the Midwest Region as my #2 team, with Big East leader Villanova, Duke and West Virginia rounding out this region’s top-4 seeds. Baylor got a big road win over Iowa State on Saturday, and that has sent them from bubble team to 6-seed. The final First Four game can be found in this region,with Oregon State and Marquette battling for a chance to head to Providence to take on Baylor. My first “Giant Killer,” Arkansas-Little Rock, is a 12-seed as the Sun Belt leader in my first bracket. I would have this region rated toughest of the four regions in this first projection.

Last Four Byes: Notre Dame, San Diego State, Utah, Monmouth
Last Four In: Oregon State, Michigan, Cincinnati, Marquette
First Four Out: Clemson, George Washington, Georgetown, UT-Arlington
Next Four Out: Texas, St. Joseph’s, LSU, BYU

And there’s the first installment of Bracketball’s Bracketology! The bracket will be updated again next Monday. Tomorrow, look for a preview of this week’s biggest game, Kansas @ West Virginia in a battle for 1st place in the Big 12!

 

Primetime Player: Buddy Hield

Teams win championships, but on most occasions, these teams have at least one player who makes the ultimate difference on their path to a title! Leading up to this year’s tournament, I will look at a number of players who should have a major impact on the road to a national championship. Bracketball’s first “Primetime Player” of 2016 is Oklahoma G Buddy Hield.

hield 2

Buddy Hield, G #24
Senior
6-4, 215 lbs
Freeport, Bahamas
2015-16 Stats:
26.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG
52.0% FG, 52.0% 3PT, 90.1% FT

A major contributor from the moment he stepped on campus in Norman, Buddy Hield is the perfect example of a player who has used his entire college eligibility to become a better basketball player, and in the process, has become an elite professional prospect.

Hield is without question one of the best all-around players in the nation. The 6’4″ guard from the Bahamas is a lethal shooter, a terrific slasher and a willing passer and board-crasher. Buddy can do it all, and he proved that last week against #1 Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Hield exploded for 46 points on 13-23 shooting (8-13 3PT) with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. He is not perfect though, as he turned the ball over 5 times, including on an inbound pass late in the 3rd overtime, allowing Kansas to extend their lead.

Draft Express’s Mike Schmitz posted this video, analyzing Hield’s performance against Kansas:

As you can see in the video, Hield is a fantastic offensive talent. He has a very quick trigger, which allows him to get off shots before the defender can bother him. He is also great in transition, where he can drive it to the hole and finish, dish it to an open teammate, or even hit a pull up jump shot with ease. Hield crashes the boards better than most guards, and is able to get his team lots of second opportunities.

There are things that he struggles with, namely turnovers and defense. Because he is asked to do so much, sometimes Hield forces things, which leads to turnovers, as happened numerous times in the Kansas game. He also has a tendency to lose focus on the defensive end, leading to easy scoring opportunities for his opponents.

While he does have some aspects of his game that could use some work, Buddy Hield has easily been one of the best players in the country this season, and he is probably the early leader in the clubhouse for Naismith Player of the Year. He is on pace for career highs in points, rebounds and assists, and his 3PT FG percentage is up 28.3% from his freshman year.

Oklahoma has been good for the last few years, but with this new and improved Buddy Hield, the Sooners are a legitimate championship contender. Look for Hield to be a major player in March.

I’d like to take a moment to thank everybody who has been supporting Bracketball through the first few days of its existence! I am doing this for my love of the sport, and I hope you are all enjoying the content! Come back tomorrow for my first Bracketology of the season!

‘Giant Killer’ Profile: UALR Trojans

Each weekend leading up to the tournament, I will be profiling a team that you may not know very much about, but will want to when you are filling out your brackets in March. Stealing a term used by Peter Keating and Jordan Brenner of ESPN, these teams will be referred to as “Giant Killers.” These are teams that, if they can find their way into the NCAA Tournament, could take down the best teams in the country, even if you have never heard of them. The first “Giant Killer” that I will be looking at is the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans.

UALR logo

Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
Sun Belt Conference
Little Rock, Arkansas
Head Coach: Chris Beard (1st Season)
Record: 13-1, 3-0 conf.
RPI: 54
KenPom: 42
SOS (Strength of Schedule): 182
Best Wins: 49-43 @ San Diego State; 64-60 @ Tulsa; 66-44 @ DePaul
Key Players:
PG Josh Hagins (11.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.6 SPG)
G Marcus Johnson Jr. (14.6 PPG, 44% 3PT)
F Jalen Jackson (9.7 PPG)

In his first season as a Division I head coach, Chris Beard has his UALR Trojans primed to win the Sun Belt Conference, and go into the NCAA Tournament with a good chance to upset a few high seeds and make a nice little run. Beard has been an assistant coach with Texas and North Texas, and he was an associate head coach at Texas Tech from 2001-2011. He spent the last two seasons as head coach at D-II Angelo State.

Beard has inherited a very experienced team, as the Trojans’ entire rotation is made up of juniors and seniors, led by senior Josh Hagins. Hagins, a 6’1″ point guard from Bossier City, LA, has been a major contributor for UALR since his freshman season in 2012-2013. Hagins puts up numbers all across the board, averaging 11.5 points and nearly 5 assists a game. He also does some work defensively, averaging just over 1.5 steals a game.

The Trojans really struggled last season, finishing with a 13-18 record, which resulted in the end of former head coach Steve Shields’ run at the helm of the program, a position he held since 2004. Beard has stepped in this season and completely turned this team around, as they would be perfect had it not been for a 65-53 loss @ Texas Tech on December 22.

There are a couple key statistics that give UALR great “Giant Killer” potential. KenPom has the Trojans ranked 10th in the country in defensive efficiency. They have held all but two opponents (Texas Tech, Central Arkansas) under 65 points this year. They are also the only team rated in KenPom’s top-10 in both offensive turnover % and defensive turnover %, meaning they force turnovers at a tremendous clip, while also limiting turnovers on the offensive side of the ball.

There is one particular stat, though, that separates UALR from other “Giant Killers,” and that is their free throw shooting percentage. The Trojans are 2nd in the country in FT shooting at 79.8 percent. Only Pitt, at 79.9 percent, is better. Every player in UALR’s rotation shoots over 70% from the free throw line. When it comes to the tournament, bad free throw shooting can lose games. If the Trojans have a lead late in a tourney game, there won’t be a weak FT shooter on the court for the other team to foul.

The Trojans are now the favorites to win the Sun Belt, but potential road blocks include UT-Arlington (12-2, 3-0) and defending league champion Georgia State (9-3, 2-1). If UALR earns the Sun Belt’s auto-bid to the tournament, expect them to be in the 11-13 seed range, and be a legitimate threat to advance to the Sweet 16, and maybe beyond.

That does it for Bracketball’s first “Giant Killer” profile of 2016. Stay tuned tomorrow for the first “Primetime Player” profile, where I will look at a player that could have a major impact on the race towards a National Championship.