2017 NCAA Tournament Props

For your consideration:

Will Kansas Make the Elite 8? NO +110

There are land mines set up all over the place for the Jayhawks. They’re obviously a very good team, but there’s something off about them to me and they have obvious flaws. I think they’re a real threat to lose to either Miami or Michigan State in the second round. I like Miami against them better than the alternative, but the alternative is Tom Izzo.

The Sweet 16 is going to likely feature Iowa State, Nevada, or Purdue. Obviously ISU can play with them given that the Cyclones won at Phog Allen. Nevada’s got a pro or two and the guards and wings to compete with the Jayhawks. Purdue presents a monstrous frontcourt that might expose the lack of depth in that area for KU.

Will UCLA Make the Sweet 16? NO +165

I’m willing to die on the anti-UCLA hill. They’ll probably beat Kent State, but the Bruins are the most likely candidate to get overconfident and not take their first round opponent seriously. Whoever they get in the second round between Cincy and K-State, that team is gonna do their damnedest to make the Bruins grind it out in the halfcourt.

Who Has More Wins: Xavier or MTSU? XAVIER +110

In the Day 1 picks I took Xavier and bet against MTSU, so this isn’t a big surprise. You’ll get better odds if you just parlay the two, but this option at least let’s you get your money back if they both lose. I think the odds are the same they advance out of the second round, but you’d have to pay -140 for MTSU in this bet.

A-10 Wins: O/U 1.5? OVER +120

I like VCU and Rhode Island in their first round matchups and while I don’t think Dayton beats Wichita, they still have a pretty good chance. I think all of them could win multiple games.

Region to Win? SOUTH +250

Talent tends to win out this time of year and I think the South region has the most talent at the top.

Theoretically every region should be +250, but it’s Vegas and the South actually has the second worst odds.

I’m not in love with UNC, but they’re still very talented and there’s a great chance they stick around until the Elite 8. I filled out a bracket and ended up with Kentucky as my champion. I’ve repeatedly called UCLA overrated, but I could be wrong and their offensive skill could be enough to win it all. Oh, and there’s another KenPom top 10 team – Wichita – that’s in the South.

I think weird shit could happen in the other three regions. The top-end talent isn’t as recognizable.

I also liked the East region for this, but I think SMU or Wisconsin could win it and I don’t think they’ll beat the blue bloods in Glendale.

How Many #2 Seeds Make the Final Four? THREE +700

Said bracket has three 2 seeds in it, with the fourth – Arizona – making the Elite 8. Generally, I think the 2 seeds have an easier path to the Elite 8 than the 1 seeds do, largely due to my perceived weakness of the 3 seeds.

First #1 Seed Eliminated? KANSAS +240

I think there’s very little chance Gonzaga or UNC loses the first weekend, based on their draws. I also don’t value the 4/5 teams in their region very highly. I think Villanova got a pretty tough draw for being the defending national champs and the overall #1 seed, but I trust them a lot more than Kansas.

East Region Winner? SMU +600

I only see three teams possible of winning it and Nova and Duke have pretty low odds, so here we are. The Mustangs were second overall in the MLPPR.

Midwest Region Winner? MIAMI +5000

I think if there’s a region to get weird, it’s the Midwest. Might as well take a longshot and roll with Jimmy Larranaga.

South Region Winner? WICHITA ST. +1000

They’ve got a tough road, but I feel like Gregg Marshall should have our trust at this point.

West Region Winner? NOTRE DAME +1000

The weakest region by my estimation and the Irish continue to get no respect, despite their performances in the ACC regular season and conference tournament.

 

 

CBB Picks: NCAA Tournament Round 1, Day 1

I’m typically somewhat selective when picking games, but it’s the NCAA Tournament, so why not blow it out and pick all 67 this year?

Princeton (+6.5) over Notre Dame

Slow game, low amount of turnovers, minimal fouls, shooters all over the floor. It’s gonna be beautiful. I don’t know what Princeton is going to do with VJ Beachem, but they’re a tough team and they’ll make enough shots from outside to stick in the game and possibly win.

Virginia (-7) over UNC Wilmington

The Seahawks have a fun, fast paced offense that is pretty dependent on that fast pace to score. This Virginia team has its flaws, but they’ll be able to force UNCW into playing in the halfcourt and methodically break down a porous Seahawk D.

Winthrop (+11) over Butler

I just don’t trust Butler at all, specifically the defense. Keon Johnson and Xavier Cooks are both legitimate scorers from a variety of spots on the floor.

South Dakota St. (+22.5) over Gonzaga

I basically never bet big spreads like this, but every game is every game. I’ll take the Jackrabbits and, really, I’m taking the Dauminator. He’s always a threat to get hot and Tellinghuisen and Hess can shoot, too. I love the Zags, but the offense hasn’t been as crisp lately. Fair warning, it has the potential to get going against the SDSU defense, which is one of the worst in the country.

Bucknell (+14) over West Virginia

I hate the matchup for the Bison, but they’re still a good, balanced team and I think the Mountaineers would be the most overrated team in the country if UCLA didn’t exist. 14 gives you a lot of wiggle room.

ETSU (+10.5) over Florida

To me the tale of the game will be told by who’s able to generate more turnovers/steals. Both teams rely on it, but the Gators are typically better at taking care of the ball. Still, I think the Bucs can stay in it behind TJ Cromer and the fact that there’s not the usual big athleticism mismatch you typically see in these games.

Minnesota (+1) over MTSU

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I think the Gophers perimeter athleticism/quickness and bevy of rim protectors matches up really well with the MTSU offense. It hurts that Akeem Springs is out, but the Minnesota offense has been at its best lately.

Northwestern (+2) over Vanderbilt

I don’t have a great feel for this game. When in doubt, bet against the team that lives and dies by the three and has lost more games than any at-large team in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Also, THEY LOST TO MISSOURI BY 20 FREAKING POINTS.

Xavier (+2) over Maryland

Both teams kind of backed their way into the field, so it’s hard to love either one right now. I think the Muskies might abuse Maryland on the glass and I think Trevon Bluiett is the best player in the game and seems to be on a mission lately.

Villanova (-26) over Mount St. Mary’s

Even when Nova has had those failures in the second round recently, they’ve at least buried the tomato cans in the first round.

VCU (+4.5) over Saint Mary’s

It worries me that I like VCU so much in this game, but I do feel like they’re a bad matchup for the Gaels. The SMC defense has been good for so many years by driving people off the three-point line and the Rams have little interest in generating offense out there. The VCU defense attempts to do the same thing and when the Gaels aren’t getting it going from outside, it’s problematic.

Purdue (-9.5) over Vermont

I hate how much I like Purdue in this game, but Vermont doesn’t present many of the issues that have plagued the Boilers at times this season.

Florida State (-12) over FGCU

I just think it’s going to be too hard for the Eagles to deal with the size, length, and athleticism of the Noles. They have guys that can get hot from the outside, but not at the frequency worthy of betting on their side. I think FSU is going to live in the paint on the other end.

Wisconsin (-5.5) over Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech has the type of shooting that can be a problem for the Badger defense, but I’m not sure what Plan B would be if they’re not falling. The Hokies are very likely going to get thrashed on the boards and the Badgers don’t foul.

Arizona (-17) over North Dakota

I’ve fallen out of love with the Wildcats, but I’m searching for any advantage ND could exploit and I’m having a hard time finding one. They’re either going to have to force Arizona into some turnovers – the Cats take care of it well – or Crandall and Hooker are going to have to create a ton in the halfcourt.

Nevada (+6) over Iowa State

What a nightcap we have here, boys. ISU’s obviously been hot lately, but the Wolfpack are a pretty confident group that matchup fairly well here. They’ve got a couple pros of their own, so it’s not like the talent disparity is overwhelming. It’s tough to bet against Monte Morris, but I really don’t have any strong feelings on either side, so I’ll grab the six points.

 

Ranking the Probable Upsets

One of the many things that makes March Madness the greatest sporting event in the history of the world is the upsets. It’s one of the few times where it seems like all of America is together, pulling for the underdog. It’s electric television.

Then those plucky underdogs win one too many games and everybody complains when the Sweet 16 rolls around and you’re forced to watch La Salle and Wichita State play in a rather lifeless Staples Center.

There is nothing that feels greater than picking an upset correctly. But it’s getting harder. The 6/11 and 5/12 games barely count anymore. Three of the 6/11 games will basically be toss-ups and the 5/12 games aren’t far off.

If you really want to impress, you need to start calling those 13 and 14 and possibly 15 seed winners.

That’s what we’re trying to do here. Last year in this space, our top 3 most likely 11 seeds winning happened, the top 2 most likely 12 seeds happened, and the 13 seed (Hawaii) and 14 seed (SFA) that pulled the upsets were our most likely as well.

Big swing and a miss on MTSU over Michigan State, though. That’s on me. If I recall correctly, I did a bit of editorializing on that one.

None of that this year. This is strictly by the power ratings. No X’s and O’s, just the numbers.

Who’s Getting Upset In Round One?

6 vs. 11 Games

11 seeds win 35.1% of the time or about 1.4 per year. I believe it’s something like six years in a row that one of the 11 seeds that wins a play-in game, wins the next game.

1. Rhode Island over Creighton

They basically have the exact same score. To make matters worse, Rhody’s score is negatively impacted by the injury issues they had during the year and they’ve been fully healthy and playing their best basketball lately. On the other hand, Creighton is positively impacted by Mo Watson playing a large portion of the season, while his services are no longer available.

The Bluejays had a nice run in the Big East tourney, but it hasn’t even crossed my mind to pick them in this game.

2. Kansas State/Wake Forest over Cincinnati

This is working under the assumption, that Kansas State wins. They have a much higher score than Wake Forest. In reality, both of them have a pretty decent shot of winning the game. Like I said, most of these 6/11 are basically coin flips. I’d definitely say that this game is the one to pick a play-in winner if you believe in that trend.

3. Xavier over Maryland

KenPom actually has the Muskies as a very slight favorite. Neither team is really headed in the right direction and I have a hard time seeing either of them in the second weekend, so I’m not really sure it matters who wins.

4. USC/Providence over SMU

USC has the better score, but I’d still consider SMU a decent-sized favorite against either of them.

5 vs. 12 Games

12 seeds win 33.1% of the time or about 1.3 per year.

1. Middle Tennessee over Minnesota

Everybody and their mother is on this one. I like MTSU, but for matchup reasons, I don’t think I will be.

2. Nevada over Iowa State

There’s some similarities between this game and ISU’s matchup with Iona last year. Difference is, I think Nevada’s a better and much more talented team than Iona. Neither result would surprise me, but what I do know is this game will bring the juice late on Thursday night.

3. Princeton over Notre Dame

Pretty similar teams. I think the biggest X-factor might be VJ Beachem. The Tigers don’t have anyone like him and I’m not sure they’ve been forced to guard anyone like him all season. In a game that will be played at a slow pace without many turnovers, it may just come down to who’s hitting from the outside.

4. UNC Wilmington over Virginia

I like Wilmington, but I think this is a worst-case matchup for them. Virginia will make them play in the halfcourt and that’s not the Seahawks game at all.

4 vs. 13 Games

13 seed win 19.7% of the time or about 0.7 per year.

1. Vermont over Purdue

I don’t like the matchup for the Catamounts, but they’re the best 13 seed. John Becker’s defensive scheme is typically to run off shooters and it leaves them kind of susceptible inside. That’s the opposite of what’s worked against Purdue this year.

Whatever he does, it better be different than last year when the two teams met and Purdue scored 107 points without their best player.

2. Bucknell over West Virginia

Two things working against Bucknell here: they turn it over at an above average rate and they shoot free throws at a below average percentage. That’s not the winning recipe against West Virginia. But they’ll have a few days to at least prepare for that pressure. If they limit the turnovers, they can guard the Mountaineers in the halfcourt.

3. Winthrop over Butler

If I were to pick one, it would actually be this one. I don’t trust Butler’s defense at all and Keon Johnson is capable of taking over any game.

4. East Tennessee St. over Florida

The Bucs will be just find defending Florida in the halfcourt, but they’re in big trouble if they turn it over 15+ times, an area that’s hampered them all year. TJ Cromer fits the same mold of Keon Johnson in this game.

 

3 vs. 14 Games

14 seeds win 16.4% of the time or about 0.6 per year.

1. New Mexico St. over Baylor

None of these stick out like SFA-WVU did last year, but NMSU isn’t a terrible bet, especially if you’re planning on SMU winning the next round anyway. The Aggies do have a win at Arizona State under their belt this year. Wasn’t even close, really.

The concern has to be what NMSU’s answer to Motley and Lual-Acuil is going to be. The Aggies are active themselves on the glass, but will the two bigs for the Bears just be able to shoot right over them?

2. Florida Gulf Coast over Florida St.

I’m not real big on the Noles, but I also don’t see many advantages for the Eagles in this game.

3. Iona over Oregon

Not a good matchup for the Gaels.

4. Kent St. over UCLA

The Flashes just don’t have enough offensive firepower to keep pace.

Image may contain: 2 people, people playing sports and basketball court

2 vs. 15 Games

15 seeds win 6.8% of the time or about 0.2 per year.

1. Jacksonville St. over Louisville

This one should be a slow, relatively low scoring game. With that in mind, if the Cardinal backcourt is having a cold shooting day, it could get interesting.

2. Troy over Duke

The Blue Devils better be ready to defend because the Trojans have three legit scorers who have all been playing well recently.

3. Northern Kentucky over Kentucky

Norse just have to make all their threes. Boom. Easy.

4. North Dakota over Arizona

Zona is the worst 2 seed by a wide margin, but UND is the worst 15 seed by a wider margin, so here we are.

1 vs. 16 Games

A 16 seed has never won.

1. NC Central/UC Irvine over Kansas

The only one that’s remotely conceivable is if NCCU wins their play-in game on Wednesday. They’re better than all the 15 seeds and Kansas is the worst 1 seed.

2. Texas Southern over UNC

3. New Orleans/Mount St. Mary’s over Villanova

4. South Dakota St. over Gonzaga

Top 2 Seeds Who Are Going Home Early

In the previous piece I mentioned that at least two of the top-2 seeds have gone home in the first weekend the last six years and three of them have done so on a couple of occasions in that span. Who are the most likely candidates this year?

1. Arizona

Xavier was our team in this slot last year and that one rang true. Arizona doesn’t rate nearly as poorly, but they’re definitely on the low end of your typical top 2 seed.

This is largely based on the prospects of them meeting Saint Mary’s in the second round. The good news for the Cats is I wouldn’t be surprised to see VCU take out the Gaels for them.

2. Kentucky

Kentucky got screwed. They were 5th on the seed list and they get KenPom’s #8 team in their pod.

3. Villanova

This is because of Wisconsin. Remember, the Badgers were the ones who took out Xavier in the first weekend last year. They’ll be comfortable in a grind it out game with Nova.

4. Kansas

The 8/9 game in their pod with Miami and Michigan State presents two teams that can actually guard the Jayhawk backcourt fairly well.

5. Louisville

They’re either gonna get scorching hot Michigan or underseeded Oklahoma State in the second round.

6. North Carolina

They’re not getting beat.

7. Gonzaga

Neither are they.

8. Duke

Duke gets the kiss of death. Michigan State was in this spot last year.

2017 Tournament Power Ratings By Region

The power ratings are back and we finally have a bracket to work with. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m absolutely jazzed for noon – 9 am if you’ll be enjoying the dude fest in Vegas – on Thursday.

I feel like if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the MLPPR by this point. If you’re not, a quick synopsis:

They’re an extension of KenPom’s efficiency ratings. Essentially every efficiency factor is weighted based upon how important it has proven to be with past Final Four teams and the results are added up to provide a rating score for each team.

This year’s field doesn’t contain many (any?) truly great teams, but it is incredibly deep, which should make for a compelling tournament. There’s about 21 teams that fit the mold of a typical Final Four team and 22 if you include teams coached by Tom Izzo.

History

The best three teams over the past 15 years were the ’08 Kansas, ’12 Kentucky, and ’04 UConn. They all had scores over 110.

The worst team to ever win the championship (in the 15 years of data) was ’14 UConn with a 79.27. It’s the only team to ever win the championship in the 70s and ’11 UConn was the only team to win in the 80s. The average and median score of a champion is right around 101.

As far as teams that make the Final Four, the average score is 90, with the median being around 94. Overall, 49 0f the 60 teams have been at least a 79.

If you look at the 11 teams that weren’t at least a 79, it’s pretty interesting (to me, at least) to break each of them down.

  • Five of them were coached by either Tom Izzo or Brad Stevens.
  • Villanova in ’09. They were a 3 seed and went on a run where they smacked two good teams in UCLA and Duke before scratching one out over Pittsburgh. That Duke team won the title the next year. Their score was pretty low because they didn’t do anything exceptionally well, but they also didn’t have any major holes.
  • Louisville in ’12. Their offense was horrible. They are by far the least efficient offense to make the Final Four since 2002. But they were also the most efficient defense that year. Michigan State was the only team that was close in defensive efficiency and the two played each other. The Cards also were on a roll heading into the tournament, winning the Big East Tourney after going 10-8 in the regular season.
  • ’10 West Virginia ramped up their defense on their way to the final weekend. Looking back, a very underrated factor for them was winning the Big East Tournament, which helped bump them up to a 2 seed. They won those three Big East tourney games by a COMBINED seven points. They didn’t play a really good team until the Elite 8, which was Kentucky. The Mounts had their best three-point shooting game in nearly two months and the Cats went 4-32(!) from deep.
  • Last year’s Syracuse team had a surge of offense and beat the 7, 15, and 11 seeds on their way to the Elite 8. And then they came back from 15 down with 9.5 minutes to go to steal the Elite 8 game over Virginia.
  • As for Wichita in 2013, I think that was just them coming together at the right time and playing some mediocre opponents along the way. That team started 35-0 the next year.
  • VCU in 2011 remains the craziest, inexplicable run. They went nuts.

Now that’s a rundown of those that did make it, but do the ratings expose higher seeded teams that fail? Yes, to an extent.

I looked at teams that were 1 or 2 seeds that lost during the first weekend the past six years. There have been 14 of them, with at least two each year and three on a couple of occasions. Nine of them had a rating below the median of 94. Five of them wouldn’t rank in the Top 20 of this year’s field (last year’s Xavier team, ’15 Kansas, ’13 Georgetown, and ’12 Duke and Missouri). The latter three teams all lost in the first round to 15 seeds.

The other five? MSU last year. It was their least efficient game defensively all year. That’s hard to project.

Then there was Nova two years ago. They shot 30% on two-point field goals, which was their worst performance of the year and 23% below their season average.

As for Virginia that same year, they ran in to Izzo and Michigan State, who was significantly better than the 7 seed they were given. They were 17th in KenPom heading into that game.

Gonzaga in 2013 lost to Wichita, who as I said before, were good enough to start 35-0 the next year and good enough to also beat the #2 seed – Ohio State – in their bracket in 2013. The Shockers also were up 12 in the second half against eventual national champion Louisville in their Final Four game.

Pittsburgh in 2011 was a really solid team, but they just didn’t have a lot of NBA-type talent. Teams with pros always seem to do well and the best players on that team were Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. When’s the last time you heard their names? Also, they lost to Butler. Brad Stevens vs. Jamie Dixon in March just isn’t fair.

Sometimes weird things happen in one-game sample sizes. As helpful as a tool as I think this rating system can be, it’ll never be perfect.

Anyway, enough with the past. Let’s get to what to expect the next few weeks.

Rankings By Region

MIDWEST REGION

midwest

17. UC Davis (#16 / -78.6)

The Aggies are the product of a very bad Big West season, maybe the worst offensive team in the field, and unlikely to make it out of Dayton.

16. Jacksonville St. (#15 / -21.7)

The Gamecocks aren’t terrible. They were able to pull the big upset in the OVC tourney by knocking off Belmont. Ray Harper is in his first year there. His Western Kentucky squad gave Kansas a run in a 1/16 game back in 2013. Not sure that’s gonna help them beat a Louisville team that hasn’t lost to anyone outside of the KenPom top 30, but maybe they’ll make it interesting.

15. NC Central (#16 / -15.0)

They’re the highest rated 16 seed by a wide margin and better than a couple of teams seeded higher than them. I don’t think they’ll have a problem in Dayton. Probably can’t beat Kansas, but they’re your best hope at history.

14. Iona (#14 / -10.7)

Iona once again represents the MAAC instead of Monmouth. And once again, the Gaels don’t get a real favorable matchup to pull the upset in round one. Oregon is missing big time shotblocker Chris Boucher, which will help Jordan Washington, but Jordan Bell still exists and I’m not sure Iona has any shot of stopping the Oregon offense.

13. Oklahoma St. (#10 / 17.8)

I’ve discussed several times why the ratings hate the OSU defensive style and it’s made worse that the Cowboys really aren’t great at executing their style just yet. But they have Jawun Evans, which is worth a lot.

12. Vermont (#13 / 36.6)

No big deal, just a 21-game win streak for the Catamounts.

Let’s take a quick look back at the greatest moment in Vermont basketball history:

So many great things about that footage

  1. Gus Johnson
  2. Sorrentine casually pulling from 30 and icing the game.
  3. Len Elmore talking about fundamentals as Sorrentine casually pulls from 30.
  4. Tom Brennan’s offense in the most important few minutes of Vermont basketball history being “Have T.J. dribble for 25 seconds before casually pulling for 30”

Back to 2017 Vermont. They’re pretty good, the best 13 seed by a decent margin on paper. The problem with them is that they didn’t beat a top 100 team. They were 0-4 in attempts. Their best chance was a one-point loss to Houston on a neutral floor.

I don’t think Purdue is a great matchup for them, but Trae Bell-Haynes could cause some issues if he’s aggressive.

11. Nevada (#12 / 45.7)

I love the Wolfpack, but they’re kind of playing a better version of themselves in the first round. The good news for them is if they can get past the Cyclones, they could pose some real problems for either Purdue or Vermont in the second round.

10. Rhode Island (#11 / 57.1)

I also love the Rams, which was evident if you noticed me betting their side every game lately. They’re a mid-major team with some high-major talent and they’re a confident bunch that is gelling. I’d be surprised if they lost to Creighton. Oregon is a tough draw in the second round, but without Boucher they at least stand a better chance.

9. Michigan St. (#9 / 57.6)

It’s gonna take a lot of Izzo magic to get this team on a run, but he at least has Miles Bridges to lean on. I haven’t liked the way the Spartans have played away from the Breslin Center all year, so I have a hard time seeing them winning more than a game, if that.

8. Creighton (#6 / 58.0)

The Bluejays haven’t fallen off as much as I expected with Mo Watson out, but it’s still significant and I don’t see a way for them to make it to the Sweet 16.

7. Michigan (#7 / 59.6)

One of the hottest teams in the country. It wasn’t just a fluke weekend riding off the high of surviving a plane crash, either. The Wolverines have been playing really well for weeks now. Their offense is incredibly difficult to defend, but if anybody can it’s probably the Louisville team they’re likely to meet in the second round if they beat Oklahoma State.

Michigan’s also really improved their defensive presence over the past month and change. They’ll need it against the Cowboys.

6. Miami (#8 / 64.7)

The Canes never seem to get much buzz, but the two times they’ve entered the tournament under Jim Larranaga, they’ve made the Sweet 16. Their guards aren’t as good as last year, but they might be the 8/9 seed most equipped to give Kansas problems, should they get past MSU.

5. Iowa St. (#5 / 76.9)

Winners of 9 of their last 10, the Cyclones enter tournament play as one of the hottest teams in the country. They’re still not very tall, but they can rain 1,000 threes on your head from multiple guys. Any team that can go into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and win shouldn’t have any problem on a neutral floor.

With all that said, I could see the Cyclones making the Final Four. I could also see them losing to Nevada.

4. Purdue (#4 / 84.8)

I think Purdue got a favorable first round draw with Vermont. UVM is good, but they don’t present the problems for the Boilers that have plagued them all year. It really just comes down to whether Purdue can avoid puking all over themselves down the stretch. They were up 14 over UALR with 3 minutes to go last year before Josh Hagins happened.

The second round will provide a lot more issues for Purdue, regardless of which team makes it.

3. Louisville (#2 / 89.4)

I’m high on the Cardinals, but the committee didn’t do them any favors by giving them the winner of Michigan/Oklahoma State.

Their defense is the star of the show, but the offense has made big strides as the year has gone along. They ended up losing, but the fact this team could endure Donovan Mitchell going 3-14 against Duke in the ACC tournament and still have a chance to win was impressive.

They rank third in the region, but not by much. I think they have as good of a shot as anybody to win the region.

2. Kansas (#1 / 89.9)

I feel like I should like the Jayhawks more than I do. They went 28-4, winning a competitive Big 12 by four games. Their backcourt is one of the best in the country. They also have a top 5 pick whose production matches his potential.

They rarely play all that poorly, but they’re also rarely dominant. I just have a bad feeling about them. Maybe it’s the seemingly endless legal issues.

1. Oregon (#3 / 92.5)

It’s hard to know what to expect from the Ducks. They’ll still be really good without Boucher, but it’s hard for me to think it won’t affect their ceiling. I know they still competed with Arizona in the Pac-12 championship, but it’s one game.

WEST REGION

west

16. South Dakota St. (#16 / -56.5)

They have Mike Daum. He’s awesome and a legit threat to go for 40. However, their defense is still trash.

15. North Dakota (#15 / -53.5)

The Fighting Sioux have played one top 100 team all year: Iowa. They lost and Fran McCaffery refused to shake their hands.

14. Florida Gulf Coast (#14 / -9.2)

If there’s such a thing as a trendy 14 over 3 pick, it’ll be Dunk City over FSU. I have a hard time seeing it. I like the Eagles, but FSU’s interior defense is really good and I don’t think FGCU has the size to compete with them.

13. Bucknell (#13 / 14.9)

I’m bitter with Bucknell because they prevented Tim Kempton from being in the field. With that said, Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas are pretty good in their own right. However, it’s up to Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie to handle West Virginia’s pressure. I’ve got my doubts.

12. Xavier (#11 / 29.9)

Admirable effort from the Muskies in the Big East tournament just to make the field. They’re still reeling without Edmond Sumner. With that said, their pod isn’t exactly loaded. Maryland might be struggling even more right now and FSU might be the weakest 3 seed.

11. Princeton (#12 / 35.4)

I know everyone likes to think of the Ivy League as a bunch of nerds, but the league winner has won a game in three of the last four NCAA tournaments. The lone opening round loss was Harvard a couple of years ago and that was only by two to North Carolina.

The Tigers are pretty solid defensively and they haven’t lost in almost three months. The game against Notre Dame may just come down to who hits more threes and that’s a toss-up.

10. VCU (#10 / 48.9)

I’m not in love with the Rams, but they’ve got dualing point guards and that’s usually pretty helpful this time of year.

The ratings love Saint Mary’s, but matchup wise I think VCU is going to create some problems for the Gaels with those point guards and their ability to run shooters off the three-point line.

They certainly won’t be fazed by the moment.

9. Vanderbilt (#9 / 56.5)

Spare me your SOS arguments, if you lose 15 of your 34 games, you shouldn’t be a 9 seed. Especially if you lose by 20 points to Missouri.

But here the Dores are. As much as I hate that they got a 9 seed, they’re not bad. They’ll chuck a bunch of threes and hope to make some.

8. Maryland (#6 / 58.7)

It was a tough end of the year for the Terps, but they’re still capable of winning a game or two with their pod. Melo Trimble seems to make every big shot he takes. Like VCU, Anthony Cowan provides a dualing point guard aspect for the Terps. It’s a young team, but it’s never really appeared that they get rattled in tight games.

7. Northwestern (#8 / 59.9)

As exhausted as I am by Northwestern alums in the media, this is a likable team. We’ll see how they react, but I think the Wildcats have a good chance to make the second round. They’ll get themselves into trouble if they try and shoot with Vandy, though. They’re at their best when they get themselves in the paint on offense.

6. Notre Dame (#5 / 68.5)

The raw talent never jumps out when you watch the Irish, but they still managed to tie for second in the ACC and nearly win the tournament championship. Their defense on the inside still makes things a little scary, but they’re just so clean offensively. They’re a good shooting team, but not really at an elite level. Their post man – Bonzie Colson – is 6’5″, but he’s really versatile. At the end of the day, they’re not the most lethal team, but they don’t turn the ball over and they have the highest free throw percentage in the country. They’re just not going to beat themselves.

5. West Virginia (#4 / 69.6)

I guess we’ll see if the press works. It’s gonna have to if the Mountaineers are going to go far because that halfcourt offense still isn’t working.

4. Arizona (#2 / 79.7)

I really liked the Cats up until that homestand with the Washington teams and Trier started playing more. Then, I got a little skeptical. Now they’re fresh off winning the Pac-12 tournament and beating UCLA and Oregon in the process. I don’t know how to feel at this point and I don’t think their second round is going to be a walk in the park.

3. Florida St. (#3 / 85.9)

I have no idea what Leonard Hamilton is doing with his rotation and I’m not sure he knows either. They’re still really good, but that just concerns me. You know Dwayne Bacon is going to show up, but it’s tough to know what Rathan-Mayes, Isaac, and Mann are going to bring from game-to-game. Fortunately for them, they’ve got the worst 6/11 matchup in their pod. That’s assuming they get past FGCU, which is kind of a big assumption.

2. Saint Mary’s (#7 / 87.0)

The Gaels are extremely solid, but I don’t know that I like them as much as the ratings tell me I should. For starters, I don’t really like the matchup with VCU or the potential one with Arizona. But at the same rate, they’re such a good shooting team, it’s hard to count them out against anybody and they’ve got a variety of guys who can score.

1. Gonzaga (#1 / 101.6)

What can I say? The ratings love the WCC.

Basically everything I believe in is riding on the Zags. I’m so exhausted with the tired takes with this team. Every jabroni on Twitter acting like he’s breaking new ground by pointing out that the WCC isn’t exactly as strong as the ACC.

The offense has slipped a touch for them lately, but they’re still top 10 in ADJUSTED efficiency on both ends of the court.

No, they haven’t gotten to a Final Four yet, but that basically has nothing to do with this year’s team. If recent history in the tournament is your reasoning for betting against a team, you probably lost a million units on Villanova last year and deserved it.

GO ZAGS.

EAST REGION

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18. Mount St. Mary’s (#16 / -74.2)

They played six games against other tournament teams. All were on the road sometime before Christmas. They were 0-6 and the closest they came was 13 points at Arkansas.

17. New Orleans (#16 / -63.1)

They were kind of a longshot in the Southland heading into the year and ended up winning both the regular season and conference tournament. That’s nice, but their 0-3 record against the rest of the field with an average margin of -38 doesn’t exactly inspire the confidence that they’ll beat the defending national champions and #1 overall seed.

16. Troy (#15 / -22.3)

The Trojans won the Sun Belt as a 6 seed. They gave USC all they asked for in LA earlier this year and they absolutely wrecked Sun Belt champs UT Arlington when they came to Troy. Two pretty impressive performances. But they have to play Duke.

15. UNC Wilmington (#12 / 0.3)

UNCW is one of my favorites and a highly entertaining team to watch. They’re like the homeless man’s version of UCLA. High scoring, but a suspect defense.

However, they’re the lowest rated 12 seed for me, and not by a small margin. Their defense, specifically on the interior is a real problem and they’re about to play a Virginia team that will really slow down the potent Seahawk offense. Without a doubt, the Cavs were the worst matchup UNCW could’ve drawn from the 5 seed pool.

14. New Mexico St. (#14 / 4.6)

The Aggies are 28-5, but their best win by KenPom standards was probably at Arizona State. Baylor will be their first Tier A game. They’re not likely to win, but Baylor has been slipping lately.

13. Marquette (#10 / 25.9)

The Golden Eagles have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, but the defense still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s basically 50-50 that they get out of round one, but highly unlikely they make it to the second weekend.

12. East Tennessee St. (#13 / 26.3)

The Bucs are pretty formidable as far as 13 seeds go, but they’re playing my highest rated 4 seed in Florida. They still have a shot, but it won’t be easy to pick up the first NCAA Tournament win for the program since 1992.

11. Providence (#11 / 28.3)

The Friars ended the regular season on a six-game win streak, but they’ll have to beat USC for the second straight year just to make the real field. They’re stout defensively, but I don’t see them having enough juice offensively to take down SMU if they get past the Trojans.

10. South Carolina (#7 / 30.3)

Nobody fades at the end of the year better than the Gamecocks. They’re elite defensively and…not offensively, which creates some intrigue in their meeting with offensive-minded Marquette. A trip to the second weekend would require a heroic effort from Sindarius Thornwell.

9. Virginia Tech (#9 / 39.7)

I think the Hokies are a legitimate threat to make it out of their pod. They have the unfortunate draw of having to play Wisconsin in round one, who really doesn’t have any business being in an 8/9 game.

Although I have the Badgers and Villanova – their potential second round opponent – rated much higher, the Hokies will be comfortable with competition coming out of the ACC. They’ve beaten the likes of Duke and Virginia this year and nearly won at Louisville.

8. USC (#11 / 49.1)

I think the Trojans look a lot better coming off the bus than they actually do when you see them play. The record is good, but they didn’t do a whole lot away from Los Angeles.

Their defense creates a lot of big plays, but if they don’t, they’re often getting torched from the perimeter when they go zone.

They’ve got a good chance to beat Providence, but I don’t see much more than that. They’ll have confidence against SMU because they beat the Mustangs at home the day after Thanksgiving. The difference is, it’ll obviously be played on a neutral floor and I think SMU has gotten a lot better as the season has gone on. Not sure you can make that case for the Trojans.

7. Wisconsin (#8 / 81.6)

A lot’s been made of the Badgers’ seed and it still remains a bit baffling.

That stinks for Wisconsin. You know who it really stinks for? Villanova.

The Badgers were often found stubbing their toe on repeated occasion down the stretch, but they’re still a really experienced team with one of the best defenses in the country. They’re an 8 seed, but they’re at a 5 seed level based on my ratings.

Getting past Virginia Tech will be no easy task in its own right, but they’ve got potential upset written all over them if they make the second round.

6. Florida (#4 / 86.2)

As I said, the Gators are the top 4 seed for me, but they still only find themselves in the sixth slot for their own region.

They’re good enough to reach the Final Four, but I also think they’re vulnerable to lose in the first round.

The Gator offense scares me a little. They rely a lot on their defense to generate them points in transition and they’re not very efficient in the halfcourt. If a team is able to turn them over and keep them off the offensive glass, they’ll really struggle.

5. Baylor (#3 / 87.6)

Baylor is kind of a scary team to believe in. They weren’t expected to be much of a contender before the season, they got off to a blazing start, beating good teams on their way to the #1 ranked team in the country. Almost immediately they got buried by 20 points at West Virginia. As soon as February rolled around, they slowly slipped back to the team I think a lot of people expected to see from the jump.

But despite losing 6 of 11, they still find themselves as a 3 seed. The ratings still like them. They still have Johnathan Motley.

BUT they haven’t been playing at a consistent level defensively and I don’t know if you can really trust them at this point.

4. Virginia (#5 / 88.5)

The MLPPR have been a big champion of Virginia’s style and even the MLPPR have regressed on their love for the Cavs. They’re still ranked #9 overall, but that’s quite a drop from where they were in January.

They’re still a threat to a lot of teams, however. Anybody that can hold North Carolina to 43 points has to make you nervous.

The problem with backing the Cavs is that you almost have to count on them putting in a performance like that every game because they just don’t have the scorers to keep up with the best teams around the country.

3. Duke (#2 / 90.0)

I’ve compared their season/progression as a team so much to the 2015 team that I almost feel obligated to pick them to win it all. It helps by the fact that I think there’s almost a 0% chance they lose in the first weekend.

However, that second weekend won’t be any walk in the park.

The Blue Devils still aren’t a great defensive team, but they’re not horrendous and I think they’re as good as anyone offensively. People are skeptical of their lack of a true point guard. It’s a valid point because basically every national champion the past decade has had a good one, but trotting out Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson seems to suffice as a replacement.

2. Villanova (#1 / 90.8)

They’re the defending national champions and the #1 overall seed and I think I’ve heard more about Syracuse, Vanderbilt, and every other title contender than I have the Wildcats.

I think there’s two reasons for that: they’re not the sexiest team in their style of play or their talent and – probably most importantly – they don’t play on ESPN.

I’ve heard the theory that Nova can’t repeat because they can’t repeat their three-point shooting from last year.

It’s probably true that they won’t. They shot at least 46% from beyond the arc in five of their games. It’s also true that they don’t need to. Four of those five games they won by an average of 29 points. The other was the national championship against North Carolina.

The game they didn’t shoot well was against title favorite Kansas and they still won.

It’s not the exact same team, but Nova is still really good on both ends of the floor, they can win in a variety of ways, and they’re 31-3 because of it.

1. SMU (#6 / 94.4)

Yeah, I know. Surprising.

There’s only one glaring hole in the SMU efficiency resume and that’s their schedule. The AAC isn’t exactly a mid-major conference, but I wouldn’t call it a high-major either. The Mustangs and Cincinnati are the only two from the league to make the field.

SMU is just solid across the board. They can really shoot and when they miss, they’re one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They only play six guys and they’re all between 6-5 and 6-8. Their length and their zone gives some reminders of past Syracuse teams.

I’ve liked the Stangs for a while now. Unfortunately they got saddled with a 6 seed and put in the same region as the defending champs and the hottest, possibly most talented team in the country. That may put a ceiling on what they can accomplish, but they’re capable of making it to Glendale.

SOUTH REGION

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17. Texas Southern (#16 / -66.6)

Third trip to the dance for the Tigers in the Mike Davis era. As if the talent disparity wasn’t enough between them and North Carolina, the Tigers don’t shoot it well and they give up a lot of offensive rebounds, which means they might lose by 50 points.

16. Northern Kentucky (#15 / -30.8)

We get the Norse as a result of the Horizon League bracket getting blown to smithereens and they get the big bad wolf of their state. Stopping Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox is gonna be a real issue.

15. Kent State (#14 / -30.5)

Kent was the survivor of the mediocre MAC tournament. They were okay defensively in conference play, but they don’t have nearly enough juice to take down UCLA in the first round.

14. Winthrop (#13 / -6.6)

While I like some of the other 13 seeds better, Butler has shown a knack for playing down to competition. The Eagles do have Keon Johnson and he’s got the potential to be the guy this year who goes nuclear and wins a game for his team.

13. Wake Forest (#11 / 29.4)

I have no idea if they’ll beat Kansas State or not, but I don’t think either will beat Cincinnati. For the Deacs, they’ll at least have the best player on the floor in both matchups.

12. Seton Hall (#9 / 35.9)

Stop if you’ve heard this before: a Kevin Willard coached team that can defend, but struggles to score. If they’re able to get past Arkansas, we at least get to see Angel Delgado go up against the UNC frontline. For my money, Delgado is the most underappreciated big man in college basketball.

11. Middle Tennessee (#12 / 49.7)

The Blue Raiders beat Michigan State last year, have you heard?

I’m a big fan of MTSU, but people are acting like they’re a shoo-in for at least the second round. Which is ignoring the fact that Minnesota is kind of the perfect foil for MTSU.

I’m not sure who’s going to win the game, but I’d feel a lot more confident in MTSU beating Butler if that meeting happens.

10. Arkansas (#8 / 51.7)

To be totally honest with you, I didn’t watch a lot of Arkansas this year, nor much of the SEC outside of the top 3 teams. In my defense, who really gives a shit about SEC basketball?

Moses Kingsley vs. Delgado should be intriguing in the first round, at least.

9. Butler (#4 / 52.3)

Inconsistency and shaky defense has been the name of the game for the Bulldogs the past couple years. Handing Villanova two of their three losses this year shows how good Butler can be at their best, but they’ve also lost at home to mediocre teams and on the road to bad teams.

It’s hard to believe in a team like that.

8. Dayton (#7 / 56.1)

Congratulations to the Flyers on winning a very competitive A-10 outright! Your reward? A 7 seed facing the most underseeded team in the bracket, a game in which you’ll be projected to lose by 7 points!

Dayton has a wealth of experience and a greatly improved offense from a year ago, but they got the short end of the stick with their draw.

7. Kansas St. (#11 / 60.8)

See the Wake Forest write-up. They rate decently well, but they’ve shown a unique ability to lose when they shouldn’t.

6. Minnesota (#5 / 62.4)

The Gophers had a tough break losing Akeem Springs for the rest of the year just this past weekend. However, while Springs was occasionally explosive offensively, he was streaky and had only scored 9 points in his last three games.

They’re not a great offensive team, but they’ve got quick, athletic guards and a wealth of rim protectors on defense.

If they can get past MTSU, I like them to make the Sweet 16.

5. UCLA (#3 / 83.1)

Sometimes I feel like the only basketball fan in the world who doesn’t fawn all over UCLA. Sure, they’re exciting to watch and they’re potent offensively.

But the offense was made out to be like it was revolutionary and something we had never seen before. It’s very good!

It’s also regressing. The Bruins have played four games in March. Three of their six least efficient games on offense have come in those four games in March.

Oh, and they’re not very good at defense. They’ve been a little better lately, but not exactly championship level.

With all that said, UCLA is obviously still very good and capable of winning the national championship, but history also tells you that the likelihood isn’t as good as their Vegas odds would tell you.

4. Wichita St. (#10 / 84.5)

I’m not sure they’re as good as their #8 KenPom ranking, but they’re definitely better than your typical 10 seed. Beating Dayton’s not a given, but the Shockers will have a good shot of beating Kentucky.

Much like Florida State, I don’t love how they play so many guys, but I trust Gregg Marshall a little more than Leonard Hamilton.

3. North Carolina (#1 / 85.6)

Nothing’s really a given, but I feel like you can pretty much pencil the Tar Heels into the Elite 8.

They don’t really shoot great percentages and their defensive shooting percentages aren’t any better, but their size and rebounding ability really is overwhelming.

And that really is the key with the Heels. A lot of teams are dependent on how well they shoot. Obviously it’s still beneficial for UNC to make shots, but their offensive rebounding numbers have a stronger correlation to their success. Of the six games where the Heels had their lowest offensive rebounding percentage, five of them were losses.

2. Cincinnati (#6 / 86.2)

The ratings are also apparently high on the top 2 of the AAC, although Cincinnati really isn’t that close to SMU.

I’m not quite as high on the Bearcats. They’ve maintained their stifling defense and the offense has upgraded from bad to fairly decent, but the points still take quite a bit of work.

I might be the only one, but I would find a Cincinnati-UCLA second round matchup highly intriguing.

1. Kentucky (#2 / 89.0)

As if the Wildcats needed more guard help, Dom Hawkins has been playing great lately.

If there’s one thing that scares you about betting on Kentucky, it would be their defense around the rim when they’re not blocking shots, but everything else on that side of the ball is pretty solid.

They’re not a great shooting team, but Malik Monk is always capable of going scorched earth himself. Even if they’re not hitting from deep, they can basically get to the rim whenever they want.

Big Ten Postseason Awards and Conference Tournament Preview

The postseason is among us, which means it’s time for a couple of things: the Big Ten Tournament and award season.

I’m assuming the awards will come Tuesday simply because they did last year, but you never know with the Big Ten anymore. The conference tourney is in Washington D.C. this year because apparently the consistently great attendance in Indianapolis and Chicago was just getting old. Next year it’ll be in New York a week earlier than usual because I guess Jim Delany is looking to capture some of that Missouri Valley and old Big East mojo at the same time.

But I digress. It’s time for the awards. When they’re announced, it’ll provide some fodder for a couple of days until the conference tourney starts up and everyone forgets about them forever.

I base mine solely on performance in the 18-game conference schedule and most of the statistics I mention are conference-only numbers.

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Player of the Year

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

I understand that I have an inherent bias, but I don’t treat this blog as a Purdue fan site and I try to be as rational and impartial as I can possibly be and hopefully that comes through. With that said, I didn’t find the POY race to be particularly close this year, especially after the last couple weeks.

I love Ethan Happ. I drove the Happ Train in December of LAST season, begging for the Badgers to get him more involved. He’s a better defender than Swanigan and doesn’t turn it over quite as much, but Swanigan is just a different type of force.

In conference play, Swanigan led the league in points (18.9) and rebounds (12.6). The next highest rebounding average was 9.3 from Jordan Murphy. And while he’s not the defender that Happ is, he’s not exactly a turnstile either. At times he would sacrifice challenging a shot in order to avoid foul trouble, but he still ends the year in the top 6 of all major defensive analytics (rating, win shares, box plus/minus).

And finally, nobody was more consistent in the league. He scored in double figures in every Big Ten game and made those double-doubles in 15 contests. His versatility and dominance on the glass allowed him to positively affect every game in a big way.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

This one also wasn’t very close to me. As a post defender, Happ still managed to lead the league in steals and was sixth in blocked shots, while also being one of the top rebounders in the league. He’s a monster whether you look at traditional, raw statistics or the new-age analytical numbers and it’s confirmed every time you watch Happ play defense. His activity on that end jumps off the screen and that’s why he deserves it.

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Freshman of the Year

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

In a league that doesn’t often have many surefire one-and-done guys come through, guys like Bridges stand out. He’s 6’7″, 230 pounds and he can hit a contested three on one possession and dunk on your entire team the next. He was among the league leaders in points, rebounds, blocks, and three-point percentage. I imagine if they kept track of dunks, he’d be among the leaders in that too.

And he did all that as the best player on a team that’s going to make the NCAA Tournament and will be the #5 seed in the league tournament after coming back from an injury that kept him out the last five games of non-con and the first two games of league play. His consistent production was only rivaled by the two guys previously awarded in this blog.

 

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Sixth Man of the Year

Isaac Haas, Purdue

To be honest, there weren’t a lot of great candidates for this award. I guess there rarely is in college basketball, really. The NBA features quite a few guys that come off the bench, but still play more than half the game. You don’t often see that at this level.

Haas wins the award because, at times, he was the most productive player in games for the championship team. He certainly has his flaws and those are often picked apart, but at the same time he came off the bench and scored in double figures on more occasions than he didn’t, he rebounded at a high percentage, and only Nick Ward drew fouls at a higher rate. That last part might be his most important attribute as it pertains to his own team’s success. Swanigan draws a lot of fouls by himself. By the time Haas got into the game and made his impact, some teams essentially fouled themselves out of competing.

 

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Coach of the Year

Richard Pitino, Minnesota

There are probably four coaches you could pick here and I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it: Pitino, Chris Collins, Matt Painter, and Mark Turgeon.

I imagine Collins will get some votes because he’s taken Northwestern to the highest heights it’s ever been to as a program. That’s a worthy argument.

Matt Painter’s team won the league by two games. Also a pretty good argument.

Mark Turgeon’s team was picked to finish 10th and the ended up tied for second while starting three freshmen.

I’m going with Pitino. His team finished 2-16 in the league last year, they had a lot of roster turnover, and now they find themselves in a position where they’ve been playing for NCAA Tournament seeding for weeks now.

I base the awards off league performance only, but the Gophers were 12-1 in non-con and they started off 3-1 in B1G play, including wins at Purdue and Northwestern. They then lost five games in a row. That’s tough to come back from, but they did by winning their next eight.

Admittedly, in a way, that’s giving him credit for getting his team to bounce back from its own failures, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Like I said, I would have no problem with any of the four I mentioned. COY means something different to everybody and everyone has their own set of parameters. For me, I like to vote for the guys who get their teams/programs to bounce back from adversity and seemingly improve as a coach along the way. And I’ve been hard on Pitino, possibly too hard, but they had no business only winning two games last year. But this year his team has been stout defensively from the jump and they’ve made great strides on offense.

First Team

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Derrick Walton, Michigan
Melo Trimble, Maryland

These teams are hard, man. It’d be easier to separate them in to tiers with no defined number on each tier.

The first three on the list should be unanimous and actually Walton probably should be too. He was special at the end of the year and his improved play is the biggest reason why Michigan turned their season around.

The fifth spot is up for debate and I personally had a tough time choosing between five guys. I landed on Trimble because of his consistency, importance to his team, and the fact that his team ended up in second place, the highest of the five I considered.

I don’t love everything about Trimble’s game – particularly his infatuation for shooting a lot of threes despite the fact that he’s not very good at it – but he was important to the Terps in a lot of different areas. The success of the three freshmen was a big storyline for Maryland this year, but at the end of the day Melo was the biggest constant and the guy that carried the weight of the game’s outcome whenever it was tight down the stretch.

I think you can make an argument for any of the other four to be on the first team, but I found it most difficult to argue against the merits of Trimble.

Second Team

Malcolm Hill, Illinois
Peter Jok, Iowa
Nate Mason, Minnesota
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
Tai Webster, Nebraska

The “other four” I was referencing are the first four listed.

I can’t say anything other than what’s been said about Malcolm Hill’s production the last three  years. It stinks that we’re probably never going to see him in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t know whose fault that is, maybe it’s John Groce, maybe it’s his teammates, maybe it’s Malcolm’s. Probably a combination of all three. Hill has been really good, but never has taken his game to quite the next level where he could carry his team. He’s got a weekend left to change that.

I love Peter Jok and he’s probably the most natural scorer in the league, but he’s not always the most engaged defender, and it didn’t really help his cause that Iowa played two great games without him.

Mason’s production doesn’t always match his volume, but he’s still one of the best playmakers in the league, both for himself and his teammates. The Gophers basically hopped on his back and were along for the ride in two of their bigger wins of the year.

For me, McIntosh was the hardest to leave off the first team. There’s a lot about his game to like and him and Chris Collins might share equal importance in the Wildcats’ season. I ultimately went with Trimble because he’s more efficient and his team was better, but McIntosh certainly has a case.

Webster had a great year and was one of the most improved player’s in the league, but his team went 6-12.

Third Team

Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Tony Carr, Penn State
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State

The third team is pretty much a crapshoot. There’s like 20 guys you could probably make a case for.

Although Wisconsin’s season seemed like a bit of a disappointment and Koenig had some health issues, he still had quite a good season himself. I’d still prefer my point guard to get teammates involved a little more, but Koenig is still worthy of recognition here.

Bryant didn’t live up to expectations this year, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Maybe he lingers on the perimeter too much, but, in his defense, his teammates ignore him too often when he’s on the block.

Carr is a personal favorite of mine and I think he’ll be on that first team by the time his career is over. I figured Shep Garner would be the star of the show for the Nittany Lions this year, but by the time February hit, it was fairly clear that Carr was the best offensive player on the team.

Maybe Mathias is a bit of my bias showing and the fact that Purdue’s the only team that I watched play every single minute, but his improvement this year was a huge factor in Purdue winning the league. He’s turned himself into one of the best defenders in the conference, one of the best shooters, and a great passer, which comes in handy when your team feeds the post more than anyone in the country.

I love Jae’Sean Tate. His skill level might not be among the 50 best in the Big Ten, but his effort, energy, and will level is as good as anybody. He’s 6’4″, plays with rebound-hog Trevor Thompson, and he still gets 6.2 rebounds a game. He’s 6’4″, a terrible shooter, not particularly a great ball handler, and still averaged 14.1 points a game.

Freshman Team

Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Tony Carr, Penn State
Tyler Cook, Iowa
Justin Jackson, Maryland
Amir Coffey, Minnesota
Anthony Cowan, Maryland
Nick Ward, Michigan State

I couldn’t pick just five and I probably could’ve picked five more because it was a great year for freshmen in the league. This blog has gone on too long, but all of these guys are going to be great college basketball players in years to come. Unfortunately for them, a former walk-on who’s upset that his two favorite teams aren’t good this year thinks the Big Ten is dead now so it won’t matter.

Defensive Team

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Reggie Lynch, Minnesota
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
Josh Reaves, Penn State

I’ve already talked about the first two, so let’s knock out the obvious one in Reggie Lynch, who lives to block your shot and embarrass you in front of everyone you love.

Thompson doesn’t get near the attention that Happ and Lynch do around the league, but he should. He “only” blocks 1.3 shots a game, but he makes life incredibly difficult for other bigs by just being so solid in defending on the block. There’s two elite big men offensively in the Big Ten: Swanigan and Happ. He played three games against those two. It wasn’t all his doing, but it’s important to note that he only gave up 26 points (8.7 ppg) on 27 attempts in those three games. His individual defensive numbers don’t jump out, but it helps if, you know, watch him.

Reaves probably won’t get as much recognition as he deserves either, but he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He was second in steals per game and the only guard among the league leaders for blocks.


Conference Tournament Preview

Favorite

Purdue

The Boilers ended up winning the league by two games, so I guess you have to consider them the favorite. Their road wins over some of the top teams in the league is traditionally a good sign for success in the postseason and the fact they won a couple of those without shooting well helps.

With all that said, they could lose to 11 or 12 different teams in the conference and it wouldn’t be all that surprising. And their half of the bracket isn’t the most favorable. They’ll have to beat Michigan/Illinois and then probably Minnesota or Michigan State to reach Sunday. The Wolverines just eviscerated their defense a couple of weeks ago, Illinois did the same a year ago despite being the significantly worse team, Minnesota won their only matchup this year in West Lafayette, and MSU is a talented team that’s starting to figure things out.

The Boilers probably have to be the favorite, but if you were given the option of Purdue or the field, I think most everyone would take the field in a heartbeat.

Runner Up

Wisconsin

The Badgers have mostly stunk lately, but they’re still the most experienced team in the league with by far the most postseason success already under their belt. They’re also on the more favorable side of the bracket. They got hot against Minnesota on Sunday and if that continues, they’ll have as good of shot at winning as anybody.

Darkhorse (single bye team)

Indiana

Even though the Hoosiers went 2-3, their last five games were all pretty decent showings. Four of those games were on the road. If Rob Johnson keeps his hot shooting from the Ohio State game going, they’ll be really tough to defend. They open with Iowa, who has been playing really well in their own right, but IU almost won in Iowa City a couple weeks ago. They’ve beaten Northwestern and nearly won at both Maryland and Wisconsin, so there’s reason to believe the Hoosiers could get through their side of the bracket.

Super Darkhorse (no bye team)

Ohio State

Winning five straight games is basically impossible, especially when the top 4 teams will have an extra two days of rest. However, if anybody that plays Wednesday can do it, it’s the Buckeyes. They’ve beaten or nearly beaten every top team in the league.

CBB Picks: 3/4

UTAH (-8) over Stanford

Stanford stinks on the road. Their only road win of the season was at Oregon State and that’s barely a real basketball team. Their only chance in this one is if Reid Travis scores 30 and they force a bunch of turnovers. The Utes have been perfect at home against everybody that’s not in the KenPom Top 20.

VIRGINIA TECH (-1.5) over Wake Forest

Hokes at home, always and forever.

RHODE ISLAND (-7.5) over Davidson

The Rams might be the A-10 team most equipped to shut down the Davidson offense. The one guy who did have a lot of success for the Wildcats in the first meeting – Will Magarity – isn’t playing at 100%.

Season: 142-123-2 (53.6%)

CBB Picks: 3/2

UTEP (+4) over Old Dominion

Really hard to bet against the Miners right now. At one point, they were 2-13, 0-3 in the C-USA. They have now rattled off 11 of 13 and those two losses were by a combined four points. They just won four straight road games. This game is going to be a slow, defensive battle. UTEP forces you to shoot a lot of perimeter shots and I don’t think ODU can hit enough to cover here. They’ve hit a decent average in conference play, but it’s not something they do at a high volume.

Iowa (+12.5) over WISCONSIN

I could see the Badgers bouncing back from this skid and winning by 25, but Iowa has been playing pretty well lately. They’re fresh off of dominating Maryland in College Park. They also have the shooters to hurt Wisconsin’s defense. I also think their length inside might be a problem for Happ, who’s been struggling lately. The Hawekeys have like six guys that are around 6’7″ to 6’9″ and they’re all long and active.

Season: 140-123-2 (53.2%)

CBB Picks: 3/1

Arkansas (+11) over FLORIDA

The Hogs have been playing about as well as anybody in the SEC lately. They’re almost a lock to make the tournament, but winning this game would definitely cement it. I think this is another game where Egbunu’s absence will be noticeable for the Gators. Arkansas attacks the rim and is aggressive on the offensive boards.

Rhode Island (-8) over ST. JOSEPH’S

The Hawks still haven’t figured anything out with their injuries and it doesn’t appear they’re going to. The Rams are going the other direction. After the embarrassment at home against Fordham, they’ve been trending the right way. Not sure how SJU bridges the talent gap at guard in this one.

CLEMSON (-8.5) over NC State

I’m still going to bet against the Wolfpack. The key in this one for me is three-point shooting. NC State can’t (doesn’t try?) to defend it. In 6 of their last 9 they’ve given up a double-digit amount of threes. The reason they won at GT is the Yellow Jackets can’t shoot, don’t want to shoot, and only made four. Clemson has six capable shooters and they’ve hit 38% of their attempts from out there as a team in ACC play.

Nevada (-7) over SAN JOSE ST.

Nevada just never seems to have any problems in these games. SJSU will limit Nevada’s perimeter game, but they don’t have much of an answer when they drive. The Spartans are going to have to have their most efficient offensive games of the year because the Pack won’t be giving them many second chances.

Season: 138-121-2 (53.3%)

CBB Picks: 2/28

SOUTH CAROLINA (-13) over Mississippi State

The second-worst offense in the SEC travels to play one of the best defenses in the country likely without the services of their top scorer.

DAVIDSON (-3) over St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies haven’t beaten a team in the Top 120  in seven tries, but now they’re going to go in to Davidson and win on Jack Gibbs’s senior night? The Wildcats are the least turnover prone team in the A-10, so they should be able to hand the Bonnie’s pressure just fine.

IOWA STATE (-3) over Oklahoma State

Feels like it’ll be one of those nights where Hilton alone is going to get a win for the Cyclones, especially with the fact they’ll be honoring six seniors. Outside of that, ISU shouldn’t have much of an issue with an overaggressive Cowboy defense that’ll give them plenty of opportunities to score. OSU’s been on a tear, but I’m not sure anybody could win in Ames tonight.

Season: 137-120-1 (53.3%)

Big Ten Bracketology: One Week Left

 


Five Stars From the Past Week:

Nick Ward, Michigan State – averaged 21.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in two wins

Malcolm Hill, Illinois – averaged 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in two wins

Moe Wagner, Michigan – 24 points (22 in first half), 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in win over Purdue

Jordan Bohannon, Iowa – 24 points (8-10 from three), 3 rebounds, and 5 assists in win at Maryland

The Team, Minnesota – significant contributions from everyone in the rotation on the way to two wins

Five Seven Games to Watch This Week:

Indiana at Purdue, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Michigan at Northwestern, Wednesday, 7:00 pm EST, BTN

Michigan State at Illinois, Wednesday, 9:00 pm EST, BTN

Indiana at Ohio State, Saturday, 12:00 pm EST, ESPN

Michigan State at Maryland, 2:00 pm EST, BTN

Purdue at Northwestern, 4:30 pm EST, CBS

Minnesota at Wisconsin, 6:00 pm EST, BTN



 

Locks

Purdue – 4 Seed (4.16 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

The Boilermakers still somehow find themselves in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten, despite not playing particularly well in both games last week.

Let me get out my fire barrel take now: I thought they actually played better at Michigan than they did at Penn State. They didn’t make a lot of smart decisions in Happy Valley, they were careless with the ball even by their own poor standards in that department, and I didn’t think they gave great effort until they realized they just might lose. But they hit 12 threes and the Nittany Lions only hit two, despite getting many open looks.

That’s not to say they were without flaw in Ann Arbor, but that game largely came down to Michigan hitting a lot of shots that they hit on pretty much everyone that walks into Crisler Arena and Purdue missing what seemed like every attempt they had near the rim.

Purdue is very likely going to be a Big Ten champion sometime this week. What form it comes in, we’ll see. Bart Torvik gives them a 66% chance to win it outright and a 96% chance for a share.

I think my favorite outcome of the Big Ten season would be the 0.2% chance (my own calculations) that there’s a four-way tie for first at 12-6.

This week: home for Indiana, at Northwestern

Minnesota – 5 Seed (5.59 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

At one point, Minnesota was 3-6 in the conference. With a week left to go, they now find themselves in that “0.2% chance of happening” spot where they could potentially have a share of the Big Ten title. And that’s probably why Richie Pitino is going to win the COY award for the Big Ten. I’ve been hard on Mini-Slick Rick, but he deserves it.

Remember last week when I made all those graphs showing the volatility of scoring coming from Murphy, McBrayer, Springs, and Curry? Well, this week the former three all scored double figures in both games and Curry scored four in each game.

It turns out having five guys all score a lot of points is really helpful in securing wins.

We also got to see what it looks like for Reggie Lynch not to foul himself out of the game and it looks like eleven (11) blocks.

What we saw this week was Peak Minnesota. Peak Minnesota is a really good team and could go far in March. We’ll see if it lasts.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Wisconsin

Wisconsin – 6 Seed (6.01 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Turns out that second half against Maryland didn’t jumpstart the Badgers to take off. It’s starting to become a little clearer now that was more likely just part of Maryland’s quick descent to mediocrity.

There were a lot of things I was wrong on when I was projecting the Big Ten this year (Minnesota, Ohio State, and Thomas Bryant come to mind), but here’s what I wrote about Wisconsin when I picked them to finish fifth:

I don’t think I’m giving you any new information when I tell you that the Badgers are returning everyone from last year. To me, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors with the second half of their season last year. Their offense still left a lot to be desired. They pulled out a few one or two possession games at home or on neutral courts. They caught Maryland and Iowa at the right times.

I’m not saying they’re not good. They’ll still win a lot of games. But they’re not the team that went to back-to-back Final Fours. They don’t have two lottery picks on the roster. Their highest usage player wasn’t very efficient last year and is now a social advocate!

Call me a skeptic, but I view them more as “typical Wisconsin” and not “peak Wisconsin”, if that makes sense.

The Badgers aren’t going to finish fifth, but there’s a semi-decent chance that they finish 12-6, which in a typical Big Ten season is the record of the #5 seed in the conference tourney. The rest of the league didn’t live up to my personal expectation, but Wisconsin is largely what I thought they would be.

I think this week they hit some unfortunate luck in Columbus with Ohio State being uncharacteristically lethal from outside, but the Badgers aren’t in a position to complain. Before this stretch of five games, they came out on the right side of every close game they played. Sure, experience helps in those situations, but the real analytics guys will tell you the outcomes of those close games are largely luck.

With all that said, the Badgers still have a decent chance to get a share of the Big Ten championship this week, same as every year.

This week: home for Iowa and Minnesota

Maryland – 7 Seed (6.84 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Yikes. There’s been a lot of talk about the freshmen hitting a wall when they saw a dip in their scoring and now it’s on to Melo Trimble’s scoring. But the biggest reason for the drop recently is the Terp defense taking a nosedive.

maryland.png

The strength of schedule is obviously vastly different, but in the first 20 games the Terps only allowed six (30%) of their opponents to score more than a point per possession. In the nine games since, seven (78%) of opponents have eclipsed that mark. Not ideal.

At this point, it looks like Maryland might have to play in one of the dreaded 8/9 or 7/10 games in the tournament.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Michigan State

Almost Locks

Michigan – 9 Seed (9.12 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

The win over Purdue likely locks the Wolverines into the tournament, but they probably need to win one this week to feel truly comfortable and that’s not going to be an easy task.

The good news is that Michigan is playing really well right now. Moe Wagner basically won the Purdue game in the first half with his hot shooting and Derrick Walton put it on ice in the second half of his senior day.

But the most underrated part of that game may be the emergence of Xavier Simpson. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he got 11 minutes, scored 7 points, and made a couple of really nice plays for his teammates. If he can be another guy in the rotation for John Beilein, that would be huge.

Typically you’re only trying to shorten your rotation at this point, but there’s only six solid in there for the Wolverines right now. Sure, Mark Donnal plays, but it seems like it’s more for the purpose of giving the other bigs a break and not so much that he actually brings any real contribution.

But it’s just one game for Simpson. He had a very similar outing against Michigan State at home and responded by scoring two points over the next four games. Something to keep an eye on this week.

This week: at Northwestern and Nebraska

Northwestern – 9 Seed (9.28 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Ohhhhhhhhh boy.

I guess it’s only fitting that Northwestern would make this harder than it needed to be. The good news is that they’re still in a pretty favorable position and would without a doubt make the field if it were set today. The other good news: if they win either game this week they’ll essentially be a lock.

The bad news: they’re going to have to play a lot better than they have in recent weeks to win this week. Michigan and Purdue, along with Minnesota, have been the three best teams in the Big Ten over the last month.

And both the Wolverines and Boilermakers will have a lot to play for this week. I’d expect Welsh-Ryan to be very fervent this week, but both visiting teams will be equally motivated.

They could use a hot shooting day, something that’s only happened a couple of times in the past month and a half.

This week: Michigan and Purdue at home

Michigan State – 10 Seed (9.42 Average| 113/113 Brackets)

Big week for the Spartans. As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, they’re really tough to beat at home. The Breslin Center was like a super power for them this Big Ten season. Don’t believe me? Just look at a few things Matt McQuaid did in that Wisconsin game:

And my personal favorite:

But now they hit the road and they’ll only be in East Lansing for practice the rest of the way. These next two weeks we’ll find out just how dangerous they are when it matters.

This week: at Illinois and Maryland

BACK FROM THE DEAD

Illinois – Next Four Out (11.30 Average| 10/113 Brackets)

Time for an overused GIF:

Image result for undertaker coffin gif

I’ll admit it. I recently declared Illinois as the clear 13th best team in the Big Ten. That appears not to be so. They have lately been doing this thing where they win a lot of games.

How has it happened? Improved three-point shooting and really good defense. That part is not a surprise. That’s the same formula as when they went on a tear from post-Brooklyn trip up until Big Ten play. Also not a surprise because making threes and preventing other teams from scoring is a really good way to win in modern basketball.

Now the Illini get another chance for a Top 50 win with Michigan State coming to town. Given the way the Spartans have played on the road, it’s a really, really good chance.

It would be extremely 2016-17 Illinois basketball to beat Michigan State and then lose at Rutgers over the weekend.

This week: home for Michigan State, at Rutgers

Not Officially Dead

Indiana – Others Receiving Votes (12.00 Average| 1/113 Brackets)

The Hoosiers got a big win over Northwestern, but they still have a lot of work to do. The only bracket that currently has IU in the field also has Kansas as 2, Baylor as a 4, Wichita as a 6, and Princeton as a 12. Point being, it’s a terrible bracket.

But they have a great opportunity this week to partially undo that 1-7 stretch. Winning at Purdue, a rival and a team that’s trying to clinch the championship, would be about as impressive a win as they’ve had all season. It doesn’t look probable on paper, but they do have some matchups that prevent problems for Purdue. Parlay that with a win at Ohio State, get themselves a bye out of the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, and all the sudden they’re in business.

Now what are the chances of that happening? Roughly 7%, according to KenPom. Not great, but the odds were probably similar that Indiana would lose 7 of 8 at any point this year.

This week: at Purdue and Ohio State

Iowa – N/A Seed (0.00 Average| 0/113 Brackets)

Beating IU and Maryland in the same week is bigger in terms of beating brand names than what they’re actually worth in terms of a 2017 NCAA Tournament resume, but it still keeps the Hawkeyes hanging around.

Along with Reggie Lynch’s 11 blocks against Penn State, Peter Jok scoring 35 points on 12 attempts is probably the most bizarre stat line of the week. It would be less bizarre if it was someone like Melo Trimble, but Jok’s a volume guy that doesn’t typically spend a ton of time at the line. He had only had double-digit free throw attempts six times in his career with a high of 12. He had 23 against the Hoosiers.

Now if the Hawks can get a win in Madison, that’ll really get them some momentum heading into the postseason, assuming they take care of business against Penn State on Jok’s senior day.

Their best chance to beat the Badgers is the same way they beat the Terps and that’s by burying 1,000 three-pointers (actually 16). That’s obviously tough to do, but it is the weak spot of the Wisconsin defense.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Penn State

Ohio State – N/A Seed (0.00 Average| 0/113 Brackets)

Their only game of the week was a big win over Wisconsin. I’m not sure the Buckeyes really played any better than they have been, though. The Badgers are obviously scuffling and the only real noticeable difference for OSU was their 10-16 (63%) three-point shooting and 23-27 (85%) free throw shooting.

I’d like for it to be a sign of things to come, but I don’t think that’s a repeatable formula for them. They did a great job defending down low, but I think they’ve done that well all year. It was impressive that they kept that going despite Trevor Thompson only playing 11 minutes due to foul trouble.

If they manage to win both this week and do a little damage in the Big Ten Tournament, they have to at least be in the conversation for the NCAAs, right? I would have to think so, although that FAU loss has been the albatross around their neck all season.

This week: at Penn State, home for Indiana

Dead

Penn State

They nearly beat Purdue, despite only going 2-18 from three. They’ll be a problem for a lot of teams next year.

This week: home for Ohio State, at Iowa

Nebraska

I backed the wrong horse last week. I went with the Huskers, turns out it should’ve been Illinois.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Michigan

Rutgers

They seem to be on a mission to ruin someone’s tournament resume. They’ve just barely failed to close the deal against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan. This week they get stumbling Maryland and surging Illinois at home. Best of luck to those two.

This week: Maryland and Illinois at home