Friday, November 28, 2014

A-Rank Rutgers

I suffered through 2 Rutgers losses and my eyes are still burning. I will join the chorus of people who have declared this team the worst in the Big Ten. On paper they look like they have the size to compete with Big Ten opponents, but the talent level is just so low that this team will struggle to win 3-4 games. I won't spend a ton of time on this team, as they just don't deserve it.

Back to that size. Lewis has started every game at center and is a defensive rebounder only. Just one of his 20 rebounds came on the offensive end. He has more turnovers (8) than made baskets (5). The other center is freshman Doorson who is huge at 6'11" and 275lbs. but does not offer anything but size at this point in his career. Rutgers has 3 versatile forwards and if they have any hope it is here. The best is Jack who missed the first 2 games with a hand injury. He is fairly athletic and a good rebounder. He had a break out year in his sophomore campaign, but there is just not enough talent around him. All 3 forwards are more comfortable facing up and shooting jumpers than mixing it up inside. Etou is an interesting sophomore who is averaging 10 points and 9 rebounds per game. Freshman Foreman got more action before Jack returned, but he is another 6'7" body that plays inside and out, but mostly out.

The front count may not be very good, but the back court is a bigger problem. They are lead by Mack, a senior and the teams best scorer. He is small (5'10"), doesn't shoot very well (40% FG, 29%3FG), and he turns the ball over about 4 times/game, and he's he best. The other starter Daniels shoots even worse, turns the ball over 2.5 times/game and doesn't create for teammates at all. Freshman Williams comes off the bench and is an even worse shooter (24%FG, 20%3FG). They have 2 wing guards that are just as bad in Okoro and Kone. These horrible numbers are all against poor competition, so while it's hard to imagine them getting worse, it is possible.

I feel like I have given this team more time than the deserve. I hope to not see them play except when the Badger's are destroying them.

UW Minnesota

The correction continued last week with another 0-2 to drop me to 7-5. UW is a 14 point favorite and the o/u is 50.5.
Much like against Nebraska, Minnesota's running back is hurt and questionable to play. Minnesota doesn't have another back with more than 36 carries on the year, so they will rely on their quarterback to run the ball. They don't throw the ball (123rd in passing) so they should struggle offensively. UW hasn't scored less than 27 points at home this year. Minnesota may be the best defense UW has played, but Gordon won't be stopped. UW should win and cover at home. I'm taking the under since Minnesota can't score.
UW 31- Minn 10.

A-Rank Purdue

Purdue Like MSU lost a lot of players from last years unit, but unlike MSU that is not such a bad thing. Painter likes to play a lot of guys and this year's team is no exception going 11 deep. Outside of Kentucky, no team has 11 players that really deserve minutes, so Purdue losing a bunch of mediocre guys that probably shouldn't have been on the floor anyway is not devastating. In addition to the loss of the not very efficient Johnson brothers, Purdue doesn't have Carter, Simpson, Peck and Carrol who all played in at least 26 games. If you don't recognize those names don't feel bad as none of them were memorable players. Purdue is very young this year with 8 underclassmen in their too large 11 man rotation.

Purdue is transitioning this year from Painter's pressure man, to a 2-3 zone with some token full court pressure (see my Big Ten Bottom post from 2013 about Painter's defense). They will probably mix man and zone as the year goes on. Against KSU the defense was filled with holes as KSU got lay ups and dunks at will. Maybe this is because they have so many young players, and the defense is new, but I doubt it gets much better this season. There are just too many young kids who look like they don't know what they are doing. This will be a growing year for the defense with plenty of growing pains.

Purdue has size, as they are one of only 4 teams in the country with two 7 footers on the roster. Unfortunately for them one of those is Hammons, who has to be one of the most frustrating players to watch. Physically he has everything you could want, but he suffers from a horrible case of knuckleheaditis. In the first half against KSU he did what he does all too often, picking up 2 fouls in the first 1:04 and sitting the remaining 19 minutes. He finished the game with an all too familiar line of 10 minutes, 6 points, 4 fouls. You would think the zone might help him stay on the floor but it hasn't worked out that way so far. He also turns the ball over like crazy averaging 2.5 per game in just 18.5 minutes. The bright side is freshman Haas who has shown impressive touch around the basket and rebounds well. Of course Hammons looked just as good as a freshman and look at him now. My guess is Haas will be a much better player, but time will tell.

A bright spot for Purdue has been the play of freshman Edwards who leads the team in minutes played, scoring, rebounds, and is shooting 61%FG, 88%FT, and 41%3FG. He is long at 6'7" and you can see why Painter would like him playing the wing defender in a 2-3 zone. He and Haas don't look like guys that are jumping to the NBA, so if they develop Purdue could have one of the better front courts in the Big Ten in a year or two. Stephens is 2nd on the team in minutes and scoring and he looks to have made a nice jump from his sophomore season. He was a good shooter last year and will likely be mostly a perimeter guy this season but he looks much more confident. Junior Davis is the other starting wing and has been wildly inconsistent. He scored 0 and 2 points against KSU and IUPUI, then went to the free throw line 18 times against Missouri and 11 against BYU. The other wings are Smotherman and Taylor who fall into the aforementioned too many guys are playing category.

Guard is not a strength. Senior transfer Octeus and Freshman Thompson are splitting minutes at the point and neither are all that impressive on offense or defense. Stephens plays most of his time at guard so that eats up a lot of minutes although they play 3 guards some. Scott and Mathias get backup guard minutes and both look young. Scott is a more of a slasher and Mathias a shooter. Purdue has been lacking perimeter shooting in recent years so Mathias may be helpful but probably not much this year.

My expectations for Purdue are not high as you may expect for a team that was a Big Ten worst 5-13 and 15-17 overall. I think this team will be improved over last season and I feel safe saying they will not repeat as the worst team in the Big Ten. They are too young and soft on defense to be an NCAA team, but I think they will be mediocre and make the NIT.

A-Rank MSU

I have caught bits and pieces of MSU this year against cupcakes, but wanted to wait to put out my A-Rank for them until I watched the Duke game. I finally got some time this morning to watch it and came away quite impressed. MSU had major losses from last years team losing stars Appling, Harris, and Payne to graduation/NBA. They also lost role players Guana (graduated and left team), Russell Byrd (transferred), and Kenny Kaminski (kicked off team). In addition MSU has injury problems again (doesn't it seem like MSU always has injuries) with Freshman Javon Bess injuring his foot before the season started, and Sophomore Alvin Ellis getting hurt in the first game. Despite all the losses MSU is not an inexperienced team. They have 2 well seasoned Seniors in Trice and Dawson, and 4 other juniors in the rotation.

MSU will play a lot of 3 guard lineups this year, especially if Bess and Ellis get healthy. With the loss of Kaminski, MSU is lacking size. Costello has been the starter at the 5, but he is a role player. He is big, can eat space and collect defensive rebounds, but that is all he offers. On offense he is a liability and can only score when guards create for him. When he got the ball unguarded against Duke he looked lost. Shilling backs him up and has been more impressive in his limited minutes. He is a physical rebounder on both ends. He has shown some touch around the hoop and I can see him developing into a very good player for Izzo.

Brandon Dawson is still around to lead the MSU frontcourt, and doing what he does. He kills you on the glass on both ends, he gets points in transition, he defends well. Another impressive youngster Clark has gotten off to a very good start in limited minutes. He has shot 9-14 on 3pt FG in his first 5 games but has also been impressive playing on the inside. Former walk on Wollenman has been forced into some minutes and performed admirably against Duke, but is clearly not a player Izzo wants on the court a lot.

Ellis worked his way into the starting lineup at guard and played all of 3 minutes before he got hurt against Navy. Once he and Bess return the guard rotation may get more interesting. Until then transfer Forbes has moved in with the starters, but he looks like only a shooter (29 3FGA of 40 FGA). Trice and Valentine have become the leaders of this team after being very good rotation players behind the players that left after last season. Both are also mostly perimeter players, and both are capable of playing the point or off the ball. Both are capable shooters, passers, and rebounders, but neither of these guys is going to the NBA. When MSU's best players are just really good college players and not future NBA guys, it is a sign this will not be a great MSU team. Freshman Nairn is a backup point and looks like he could have a bright future, but he doesn't have the confidence to be a factor this year. He will provide some depth.

Coming into this year I felt this would be a down year for MSU, but from what I have seen so far that will not be the case. MSU will not win the Big Ten, but they should be in the top half of the conference and make another NCAA tourney. I like their young players and they have a bright future, but I don't see this team coming together in time to make a big run. Unlike many MSU teams, this team is very perimeter oriented despite having only 4 shooters. Costello, Shilling, Dawson, Nairn, and Wollenman are a combined 0-4 3FGA in the first 5 games. Ellis is more a slasher than a shooter so I don't think that will improve much when he returns. In addition they are not getting to the line (just 65 team FTA in 5 games despite playing 4 cupcakes). A team that doesn't have much interior scoring, doesn't get to the line, and has limited shooters will struggle to score. For that reason I am not picking MSU to contend, but they will be a good Big Ten team.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Nigel

Great win against Gtown today. This was the type of physical game the badgers needed to get them ready for games to come. I'll try to comment more this weekend, but had to share this story I heard.

My sister-in-law's uncle is friends with a woman who works for the Kohl Center, or does the official scoring at the games or something. Anyway, she has to spend a lot of time at the Kohl center during their games and practices. He asked her for a story he wouldn't have heard about this team, and this is my version of what she told him.

Badgers are practicing at the Kohl center earlier this season and the practice is coming to a close. Nigel Hayes walks over to coach Ryan and asks him to call a team meeting right after practice. Nigel doesn't really say why, but coach Ryan doesn't have a problem with it and the team gathers. Nigel begins to give the team an impassioned speech about how special they are and how they have a chance to do something special this year. He discusses how strong they are but how they need more to reach their potential. He pinpoints that there is just one thing that may hold this team back, the fact that the other teams have so many more tats then they do.

Team erupts in laughter.

There was a story I saw posted earlier this season about practice ending just as a delivery guy came in delivered Coach Ryan a dozen roses. I can't help but think Nigel was involved in that too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Eve Basketball

Other than March Madness, this might be the best time of the year for college basketball. Michigan and Villanova played a great neutral court game last night. It looked looked like Nova was going to run away with it after they built a 13-point lead in the early part of the second half. Then Michigan came roaring back and got their own lead. (Unfortunately, I missed most of the comeback.) In the end, Villanova made just one more play -- an incredible block off an inbounds play that seemed to be a wide-open layup:
 

Easily the play of the year so far.

My streak of B1G picks came to an end, as Northwestern held off Miami OH. Northwestern gets a real test today, against Northern Iowa. I expect a UNI romp.

The Badgers play tonight, of course, but it shouldn't be much of a game. As detailed back in my Battle 4 Atlantis preview from a few months ago.

Butler and North Carolina open the tournament. Vegas has UNC 10-point favorites, which seems right to me even though T-Rank and Kenpom have it more like a 5-point game. Butler is getting some program credit in the computers, and they've dominated inferior competition so far. But we just really don't know what kind of team they are going to have. We'll know more in a few hours.

Two decent B1G games today: Purdue (23) v. BYU (47) and Minnesota (41) at St. John's (72). I like both of the Big Ten teams to win.

Green Bay beat Evansville in a close game last night, and has an even better mid-major matchup today, this time against Florida Gulf Coast. Green Bay is slightly favored (by 1, 53% chance to win) in T-Rank, but T-Rank doesn't account for the fact that this game is played in FGCU's backyard. (Kenpom terms it a "semi-home" game for them.) FGCU has been pretty good so far, including an impressive win over a solid UC Santa Barbara squad and a decent win over San Francisco. So this should be a good one - the winner of this game could well be looking at a 12-seed in the tourney.

The best TTQ games of the day are UCLA vs. Oklahoma in the Battle 4 Atlantis and Arizona vs. San Diego St. in the Maui championship. I like Oklahoma and SDSU to win those games. Arizona doesn't quite have it together yet. On the other hand, SDSU has trouble scoring - they rank 47th in T-Rank adjusted offensive among the top-50 T-Rank teams. So expect a low-scoring slug fest in this rematch of last year's Sweet 16 game.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

B1G Pick of the Day: Northwestern to lose

Purdue is again playing early out in Hawaii, and they killed Missouri .

Yesterday I predicted that Indiana would lose at home to Eastern Washington. And it happened. So I might as well stay on the horse. Today's mystery line is Northwestern -8 against Miami of Ohio. Northwestern is 4-0, but that includes one-possession home wins over Elon and North Florida, and a 7-point home win over Houston Baptist. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Their one "good" win is a 13-point win at Brown.

Miami is no good, but neither are the Wildcats. I don't see Northwestern winning this one by much. In fact, they are overdue for a loss, so I'll go ahead and call this one for Miami straight up.

If the excitement of Northwestern-Miami is too much for you, you could settle for Maryland (27 in T-Rank) v. Iowa State (20) or Villanova (12) v. Michigan (21). These are the top two TTQ games of the day. Both the Big Ten teams are about 4.5 point underdogs, and I think both will lose. But these could be really good games.

Green Bay (72) plays Evansville (91) in an under-the-radar bracket-buster type game. T-Rank has Green Bay two-point favorites; Vegas says 3.5. It would be a nice win for Green Bay, which we can cheer for to help the Badgers' RPI. (Not that the Badgers are going to need any help.)

Miami FL plays Charlotte again. You might recall that Miami just beat Charlotte by 19 on Sunday, in the Championship of some tournament. Now they are playing again in a non-bracketed game of this same tournament. Weird. Anyhow, Miami has been one of the breakout teams of the season, and they're all the way up to number 10 in the T-Rank. A road win over Florida does wonders. This will be a real test for them though—few things are harder in sports than mustering up the energy to play a team that you just beat handily. And this game is at Charlotte. I expect a close game, and I'll actually be pretty impressed if Miami wins.

Going to be a fun week of basketball and football and food! And drinking!

Monday, November 24, 2014

B1G Hoops day

A bunch of Big Ten teams are in holiday tournament action today, and most of the match-ups figure to be sneakily interesting. Every B1G team will be favored, but I expected at least 1 or 2 losses. In fact, it looks like Purdue might lose to Kansas St. already (they're down 9 in the second half as I write this).

Matchup T-Rank Prediction TTQ
26 Purdue vs. 52 Kansas St. Purdue, 70-66 (64%)  73
22 Michigan vs. 51 Oregon Michigan, 74-70 (65%)  73
64 Arizona St. vs. 27 Maryland Maryland, 69-64 (67%) 68
126 Eastern Washington @ 49 Indiana Indiana, 85-73 (84%) 52
135 Pepperdine @ 23 Iowa Iowa, 81-66 (91%) 50
137 Santa Clara @ 18 Michigan St. Michigan St., 79-63 (93%) 46
200 Brown @ 24 Illinois Illinois, 81-62 (95%) 42

A few of the B1G teams seem overrated based on cupcake victories and are facing their first significant competition. Notably Purdue.

I think Michigan handles Oregon, which is overrated even at 51. But it will be a decent neutral court test.

Maryland is another squad that's too high at 27. They could easily lose to ASU.

The sneakiest of the sneakers is Eastern Washington at Indiana. Hoosiers struggled a bit against Lamar. Eastern Washington is a lot better than Lamar. This is my first UPSET SPECIAL PICK of the year. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

UW-Iowa

I have reverted toward the mean with an 0-2 performance last week to drop to 7-3. UW is a 10 point favorite on the road vs a 7-3 team, and the o/u is a surprisingly low at 50 1/2.

With the home field advantage points of about 3, Iowa is viewed as about 2 touchdowns worse than UW. Iowa was a bit of a dark horse coming into this year, but they have not looked very good. Their only win against a team with a winning record is the opener vs. Northern Iowa by 8. They have beat up on the bottom feeders of the Big Ten, generally winning by about 2 touchdowns with the exception of the Northwestern game which is their best win of the year 48-7.  Iowa lost at home to Iowa St, @ Maryland, and Minnesota destroyed them.

I don't like giving 10 points on the road in a rivalry game, especially when a young team like UW is coming off an emotional win. This could be the let down game I have been waiting for from this team. However I've been waiting for a let down and this team just hasn't done it. They are more mature than their years, and I'm going to run with them. Mostly, this team is hot and I don't expect Iowa to cool them off, so I'm taking UW and the over.

UW 42-Iowa 10.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Today's Games

Today is the first huge day for college basketball, with two monster match-ups (KU vs. UK, and Duke vs. MSU) and two other pretty good games (Wich. St. at Memphis, Utah at San Diego St.). Then there are a bunch of intriguing games, including Marquette at Ohio St.

Actually one of the best games of the day has already ended: Northern Iowa at Stephen F. Austin, an OT thriller. SFA had a layup lip-out at the buzzer - HUGE road win for Northern Iowa, which was #30 in the preseason T-Rank. That's the first home loss for SFA in almost three years.

But let's talk about the games to come.

Kansas vs. Kentucky - Vegas Line: Kentucky -6.5; O/U 143.5 - T-Rank: Kentucky, 72-70.

I'm a Kentucky skeptic. If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that they were not among my predicted one-seeds in the NCAA tournament:


This doesn't mean I think they suck, just that the hype is way, way over the top. Seth Davis is talking about 40-0 again (or, at the "very least" an undefeated SEC campaign). It won't happen. The Platoon is a terrible idea if your goal is to win basketball games. It is a good tool for maintaining your identity as "a Player's Program," where recruits are promised playing time even at the expense of team performance. And that's what will happen.

For a while. Eventually Cal will abandon the Platoon and settle into a normal 8 or 9 man rotation, because that's what works. But then what will happen with the benched 5* guys on the bench, especially if there's an upset loss? I foresee too many losses to get a 1-seed. But obviously they have the talent to win the national title.

In any event, the T-Rank line is diverging almost a full five points from the Vegas line, so T-Rank's money is on the Jayhawks.

Duke vs. Michigan St. - Vegas Line: Duke -7.5; O/U 144.5 - T-Rank: Duke, 77-67

Duke has risen to number one in the T-Rank power ratings on the strength of gigantic blowouts over cupcakes. So it's reasonable to think the T-Rank line is inflated.

But what do we have in Michigan St.? They squeaked by Navy, which then proceeded to lose to Notre Dame by 39. In fairness, the MSU game was at Navy. But still.

The 2.5 point difference between the line and the T-Rank is enough for me to go ahead and take Duke to cover in this game.

Wichita St. at Memphis - Vegas Line: WSU -8.5; O/U 142.5 - T-Rank: Wichita St. 72-71

Big delta in the lines here, and that's explained by the fact that T-Rank doesn't know about Memphis's exhibition loss to Christian Brothers. Given that, I wouldn't bet on this game. But exhibition games are notoriously weird, and I don't expect Memphis to get rolled over at home. Could be a good one.

Utah at San Diego St. - Vegas Line: SDSU - 4.5; O/U 130.5 - T-Rank: 70-64

A nice west coast match-up.  T-Rank was slightly less optimistic about SDSU (#32 preseason) than most humans (#16 in both polls). Utah was #25 in the T-Rank and the polls. But the T-Rank power ratings incorporate Dan Hanner's ratings and the Pomeroy ratings, and Utah's opening win over lowly Ball St. wasn't terribly impressive, so the current rankings are SDSU #24 and Utah #38. Still, I have a lot of questions about these teams, and will be interested to see if any of them get answered tonight.

Other B1G games:

Matchup Vegas Line T-Rank Prediction
Marquette @ Ohio St. OSU -12; O/U 136 Ohio St., 75-63 (87%)
Western Kentucky @ Minnesota Minn. -11 Minnesota, 76-64 (87%)
Central Arkansas @ Nebraska No line Nebraska, 87-58 (99%)