Saturday, December 27, 2014

StatWatch™: Nigel's Minutes

Earlier in the season I noted with surprise that Nigel Hayes was leading the Badgers in minutes. Surprisingly, it has persisted.

It is very unusual for a forward to lead the Badgers in minutes under Bo Ryan. The last player to do it was Mike Wilkinson in 2005. (Alando came close, but was narrowly edged out by Kam Taylor in both 2006 and 2007.

Right now, Hayes is leading with 76.7% of minutes played, followed by Kaminsky at 74.4% and then Gasser at 71%. Going into the season, I expected Gasser to be a guy who rarely left the floor. That may be the case in Big Ten play as Bo shortens his bench a bit, and when there will (probably?) be fewer blowouts with garbage time. But Koenig has been stealing time for both Gasser and Jackson, and I don't really expect that to stop either.

Still, I'm guessing Gasser plays more during the conference season, and that he'll have a good shot of surpassing Nigel and Frank for the team lead. It's something I'll be keeping an eye on.

Big Ten predictions

My Big Ten preview post is up over at Bucky's Fifth Quarter.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wisconsin Sports Person of the Year 2014

I'm excited to announce that the winner of the 2014 Bart Torvik Wisconsin Sports Person of the Year is:


Congratulations to Coach Ryan! This is the 13th year in a row that he has won the award.

Reached for comment, Coach Ryan said, "It's all about the players. But I can tell you that winning the Bart Torvik Wisconsin Sports Person of the Year is an honor that truly never gets old."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A-Rank final standings

I have finally got a chance to see every Big Ten team play, and several more than once so it is time to reveal the A-Rank predictions. First, a few observations. 

The Big Ten is not as talented as it it has been in the past couple years. This is still the Big Ten so there is plenty of talent, but it is not the clear cut best conference it has been. That was to be expected with the players who were were drafted or left early to follow NBA dreams (Stauskus, Vonleh, Payne, Harris, McGary, Robinson III, Ross, and Marble) and some other very good seniors graduating (Tim Frazier, Craft, Brust, Sheehey, Appling, Craword). Other than UW I don't see a team that looks to be playing a lot better than they did last season, but I see a bunch of teams that look worse. 

There are a fixed number of wins and losses in Big Ten play, so while several teams will be worse, they may have the same record due to the addition of Rutgers who looks awful. They will lose enough games to boost the other team's records. Maryland will be a good team, but not so good they balance out all the Rutgers losses. There is a remarkable balance of decent teams in the Big Ten and I almost decided to predict UW as champ and every other team except PSU, NW and Rutgers at 9-9.  This should lead to a lot of entertaining games, and a lot of teams on the bubble in March. 

The Big Ten has a very good group of freshman. With all the players leaving last season there are plenty of opportunities for young kids to play and several have taken advantage. The future is bright for the Big Ten as most of these kids look like they will play at least 2-3 years. The point guards have been especially impressive with several already starting or playing major minutes (Trimble, Robert Johnson, Nairn Jr, Nate Mason, Shep Garner, McIntosh, Tarin Smith). The star power is at the wing with Russell and Blackmon who are the leading contenders for Freshman of the year. Kam Williams and Chatman also look like future star scorers. There are few freshman big men and most are on Purdue with Haas and Edwards looking the best. There are a lot more freshman who may not put up big numbers, but will get very important minutes and have a chance to make a jump next year. 

On to the predictions.

UW- I was torn here but finally decided to go with 15-3. I almost went 16-2 because they get NW, PSU, Iowa, Minn, and Nebraska twice, but three of the singles are road games against MI, OSU, and Maryland. 
OSU- Hard to read as they have blown out a lot of bad teams, but I still think they are the leagues 2nd best team. The schedule gives them winnable single road games @NW and @PSU, and allows them to avoid @UW, @Nebraska, and @Maryland. 13-5
MSU- This might be the worst MSU team since the Drew Neitzel era, but like those teams, Izzo just won't let them miss the tourney. 11-7
Maryland-If this team gets healthy I think they may be the surprise team in the Big Ten and challenge OSU. They have yet to play with a full deck, but everyone should be back eventually. They get Rutgers, PSU, Indiana, Nebraska, and MSU twice. If Trimble, Wells, Layman, and Smotrycz all play they have 4 scorers. 10-8. 
MI- A lot of people are off the MI bandwagon ad predicting disaster after the consecutive home losses to NJIT, and EMU. This team lost a lot the last 2 years but the cupboard is not bare. Defense will be a problem all season, but they have enough scorers to win games. 9-9
Iowa- This team is not as good as last year's team, but a weaker Big Ten allows them to hold at 9-9. 
Illinois- I like the young kids on this team to step up and give this team a 2 game improvement over last season. 9-9
Nebraska- They had a magical run to finish the season and make the NCAA last year, but they will not surprise anyone this year. 9-9.
Indiana- I have softened on IU after seeing them play with the 3 returned players who were suspended. They are still bad defensively, but not as bad as I first thought. 9-9. 
Minnesota- I really like that Mason kid, but this team doesn't look any better than last years team. 8-10. 
Purdue- I like the young players on this team to help them improve over last year's disastrous 5-13 season. I won't be shocked if this team makes a tournament run. 8-10. 
PSU- Newbill will get hot and chuck this team into an upset or 2, and they'll win some home games against the mediocre middle of the Big Ten. 6-12
Northwestern- I hope I don't see any game they play other than the UW games. In addition to being bad they play UW, MSU, Iowa, MI and IL twice, Rutgers and PSU only once. 5-13
Rutgers- Also don't want to watch this team play again. 5-13

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good day for T-Rank

I gather there was some news on the Badger football front yesterday, but I was too busy watching college basketball to care.

Last night set up an unusual situation for T-Rank: it picked against Vegas in the top two TTQ games on the schedule: Kansas at Georgetown (-2) and Utah at BYU (-2.5). Contrary to those Vegas lines, T-Rank picked both road underdogs to win, Kansas by 1 and Utah by 3. And they did (by 5 and 4, respectively). So that was nice.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A-rank Northwestern

Northwestern is my last team to watch play as it took a while to get some TV games. They won't be on TV much anymore for good reason. This team will compete with Rutgers to be the worst team in the Big Ten. They have 6 guys that get regular minutes, and then it gets crazy. In their last 2 games that were both close losses they went 11 and 12 players deep. A lot of the guys getting run are freshman, so this may benefit them down the road to get these guys some meaningful experience. I would normally say playing that many guys is stupid, but maybe Collins is just trying to find anyone that can play as the regulars are pretty bad.

Olah is the leading scorer and has been the best player so far. The junior is big but not very mobile, and can't help much on defense. He uses his size against smaller players inside, but won't be able to do so against better players. He does have an outside game as well and is shooting 47%FG. He is a capable rebounder on the defensive end with his size. Sophomore Lumpkin and is playing out of position for necessity. He would be better off at the 3 but NW needs to get his athleticism and their best guys on the court. He rebounds OK despite his smaller size, but will struggle there once Big Ten play starts. He is the only NW regular shooting over 50%. NW has 3 backup front court players in sophomore Taphorn, freshman Skelly, and senior Kreisberg that are all just minute eaters.

NW has played 3 players at the point but freshman McIntosh is the key guy. He started at the point until @Butler before coming off the bench in that game, but still played most of the game and leads the team in minutes. He is averaging 5apg, but also 2.5 TO/game, and is 2nd in FGA while shooting just 35%. That seems like a lot of usage for a player that isn't very productive until you look at how awful the rest of the guards are. Senior Sobolewski plays limited backup minutes although he got a start @Butler and played 15 minutes. He is shooting 33%FG which is actually better than the 26% he shot last year. Vasser has played very limited backup minutes and probably won't play much the rest of the year.

NW has 2 upperclassmen guards in Demps and Cobb who they need to score to win consistently. Neither is able to do that which is why NW continues to lose. Junior Demps came off the bench until @Butler but plays starter minutes. He is only shooting 34%FG, so NW might hope he can't keep shooting that poorly, except that he shot just 38% his first 2 seasons so it is probably a career long problem. Senior Cobb is even worse shooting just 29%FG and is just a 41% career shooter. Freshman Law is the 6th regular and is larger at 6'7" but very slight. He helps out the front court and is 2nd in rebounding, but is also not shooting very well at 38%FG. Freshman Lindsey has got some backup minutes and may get more as the season goes on if the veterans continue to struggle.

This team was terrible offensively last year and should be no better this year. They are currently shooting 40%FG as a team which is 290th in the country against poor competition. They will slow down the pace to limit possessions and will win a few games when they get lucky and hit some shots. NW seems to have some sort of weird magic as they always seem to pull off a road game upset despite not being very good. I don't think they win as many games as last season without Crawford to help the offense.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

T-Rank Note

In case you care, I've rejiggered the T-Rank algorithm a little. The changes:

1) Originally preseason ratings had an influence through 10 games. I've upped that to 13 games (or so - because, as I explain below, some games don't count as a full game now, preseason ratings will probably still have an influence till the 15th game or so for most teams).

2) I've rigged it so blowouts and mismatch are counted less than games between well-matched teams. I noticed that the Pythag of the upper teams was getting out of hand. For example, T-Rank was projecting Kentucky as likely to go 30-1 and 18-0 in conference. Those just didn't seem right to me, and de-emphasizing mismatches make the predictions look better to me.

3) This hasn't kicked in yet, but eventually more recent games will count more than old games. (Games within the last 40 days all count fully; games between 40 and 80 days ago drop down 1% per day; games 80 days and older are counted as .6 of a game.

I'm done tinkering with it for the year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A-Rank Illinois

Illinois being toward the end of the A-Rank was partially due to the lack of TV games for me to DVR, but also because they are tough to figure. They have 5 returning freshman who played to varying degrees last year, and 2 transfers. In addition, one of the known quantities Senior guard Abrams got hurt and removed a player who surely would have been a starter. After several games it is becoming more clear which of these guys will play, but I'm still a bit uncertain about how good this team is.

Illinois has a 3 player rotation at center. Senior Egwu has filled out some, but is still not very physical. He does not have an interior game but has a good mid range jumper and has extended his range to the 3 point line. He blocks some shots but is not a great rebounder for his size. First off the bench is one of the 5 sophomores Morgan. He has played limited minutes in every game and didn't contribute much. Against Baylor he just didn't look like kid that is ready to play at this level yet. Last year and this year he has been a hacker. In his last 2 games against Indiana St and Baylor he has played 15 minutes and committed 8 fouls. Sophomore Colbert is the 3rd center and looks even less ready to play than Morgan. He did not get as many minutes as Morgan last year and will not be much of a contributor. He has similar issues with fouling, 6 games, 52 total minutes, 16 fouls.

On the other end of the spectrum IL has 2 point guards that split the minutes. Starks is a senior transfer who is short at 5'9" and very aggressive on the offensive end. He shoots the 3 well but does not shoot well overall. This was also the case at Oregon St where he shot 37% and 40% from 3, but just 40% and 39% overall in his 2 seasons there. He has been an efficient passer with 3.5 apg to 0.5 TO/game. His backup sophomore Tate is a very different player. Tate is a big point at 6'3" and is a much better defender. He is more of a true point and also passes well 3.3apg to 1.0 TO/game, but he is an atrocious shooter. He shot 26% from the floor last year and has somehow been worse this year shooting just 21%. He is 1-3 from 3 this year after shooting .043 last year (that's 1-23) ouch.

The middle is much better for IL. They start and play much of the game with 4 guards and they don't turn the ball over much. Senior Rice was an instant impact player last year after transferring from Drake, scoring the ball and rebounding well for his size. He is not an efficient scorer though, shooting about 43%FG in his career and less than 30% from 3 while taking about 4 3FGA/game. Sophomore Hill appears to have made the biggest jump of the 5, and is the only one in the starting lineup. He is much more confident and aggressive shooting the ball and getting to the FT line. I worry he will be limited because he is playing out of position. Against teams like Indiana it won't matter, but there will be a lot of teams that will guard him with a much bigger player and force him to guard one too. Transfer junior Cosby is the last starter and is just a shooter. He doesn't give you much else. Sophomore Nunn comes off the bench to provide some scoring. He is a better shooter than Hill, but is not as physical. He does not get to the line at all, and does not rebound much. Freshman Black has looked pretty good early in the season scoring and rebounding. He gives IL some size at 6'7" but has been foul prone.

IL has been a high volume team and is currently 5th in the country in scoring. Against Miami, IL has been doing what they do, jacking up shots and not turning the ball over. I don't think this works against good teams as they will wear IL down with size. IL doesn't get easy points in the lane or at the FT line, and that is not a recipe for consistent offensive success. I think this team looks like a lot of other Big Ten teams I have seen this year in that they are an OK team, but one that will probably be on the bubble come selection Sunday.

T-Rank versus Vegas 12.2

Since T-Rank predicts the score of every D1-D1 college basketball game, you might be wondering whether you should take T-Rank to Vegas and try to beat the house.

I frankly don't have the time to figure this out -- managing T-Rank eats up all my hobby time, and I am not a gambler. But I did look at the results over last weekend. There were 100 non-pushed games where T-Rank differed from the consensus Vegas line by at least a half point, and T-Rank's suggested pick covered in 52 of them. So that's 52% over a small sample size, and it tells us basically nothing.

I will tell you that my intuition is that T-Rank is useless for gambling, because the people who set the lines probably have something similar to but better than T-Rank, and they can adjust it to account for news like injuries, momentum, etc.

Of course when T-Rank and Vegas disagree by a point or so, I'd expect the results to be essentially random (particularly because T-Rank predicts scores in whole numbers).

But it might be fun to track the biggest outliers, where T-Rank disagrees with Vegas by a large margin. In those scenarios either the conventional wisdom is missing something or T-Rank is missing something. Usually it's going to be T-Rank, but it's also possible that T-Rank could be on to something for a given team. That's the only way I could see T-Rank being helpful to a gambler: if a certain team is consistently under- or over-performing, and T-Rank predicts it, that might be a sign that T-Rank sees something eludes human eyes. Unlikely, but possible. (And you can bet that the window of any such advantage would close very fast.)

So here are the top five games with the biggest "delta" between T-Rank and the Vegas line. Conveniently, three of them are B1G-ACC challenge games - and in each of those, T-Rank is pulling for the ACC. #bias

Matchup T-Rank Prediction Vegas Line T-Rank Suggests Delta
269 UT Arlington @ 7 Texas Texas, 90-58 (99%) Texas -23.5 Texas -23.5 8.5
125 Central Michigan @ 234 Bradley Central Michigan, 66-63 (64%)  Bradley -3.5 CMU + 3.5 6.5
14 Syracuse @ 29 Michigan Syracuse, 61-60 (51%)  Michigan -4.5 Syracuse + 4.5 5.5
47 Pittsburgh @ 80 Indiana Pittsburgh, 72-71 (51%)  Indiana -2.5 Pitt + 2.5 3.5
52 Minnesota @ 99 Wake Forest Minnesota, 65-64 (54%)  Minnesota -4.5 Wake + 4.5 3.5

Subjectively, I do not like Syracuse over Michigan (though a close game is by no means out of the question), and Wake has been so horrible this year that I'd hesitate to bet on them even at home without more points. Texas has an injured player, which might be effecting that line, and the top of T-Rank has frankly gotten a bit out of whack (next year I will probably adjust the system so that preseason ratings maintain more influence longer into the season to avoid this). The reversal of the CMU - Bradley line is intriguing, though.

Anyhow, I'll be following these games to see whether T-Rank looks like an idiot or a genius.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A-Rank Iowa

Remember 2 seasons ago, when a sophomore class of Aaron White, Oglesby, and Olesani combined with energetic freshman Gesell, Woodbury and Clemmons to make Iowa credible again. With Marble and UW transfer Uthoff, Iowa was suppose to make the jump to the contenders of the Big Ten last season but it didn't happen. They collapsed down the stretch losing 7 of their last 8 games including the first round games of the Big Ten and NCAA tourney. Iowa struggled against the best teams going 2-6 vs. UW, MSU, OSU, and MI. They also went 0-3 vs. the other good non-conference teams they played, Tennessee, Villanova, and Iowa St. This year's team doesn't look to be any better.

Iowa's strength is their size in the front court and senior Aaron White who is a fun player to watch. White is leading the team in scoring, shooting 59%FG and 85%FT while averaging 7FTA/game. He grabs 7.6 rebounds/game and is 3rd in assists. Iowa splits the center minutes between junior Woodbury and senior Olaseni. Both are steady and productive rebounding the ball and shooting a good percentage but neither have developed much offensively. Junior Uthoff is a good shooter and all around player but like this entire Iowa team, he is a bit soft. Freshman Uhl has got some minutes but has not shown anything to make one think he will be a contributor this season.

The back court has been absolutely terrible so far this year. If Iowa has any hope, it is that they cannot possibly continue to be this bad. Gesell is the rare player whose best season was his freshman year. It is really quite shocking. Each season he has had a decrease from the season before in minutes, FGA, FTA, 3FGA, rebounds, FG%, FT%, 3FG% and of couse, points/game. Clemmons is Iowa's answer for how to replace Marble. This is the same Clemmons who was benched at the end of last season, and was so bad he couldn't get back on the court during their collapse. Oglesby is a poor defensive player who gets on the court due to his ability to shoot the 3. His freshman and junior years he shot 37% and 40% 3FG, but his sophomore year he was 27%. He is shooting 27% so far again this year. Off the bench Iowa has sophomore Jok and JC transfer sophomore Dickerson who both play limited minutes. They don't bring any relief to the shooting woes as they are shooting 29% and 31% respectively.

I liked Iowa last year, but I am officially off the Iowa bandwagon. They recently gave McCaffrey a contract extension which is fine by me, as I don't think he is a very good coach. They have the look of a team destined for the NIT for the foreseeable future. I don't expect them to improve over last year and I think they will be on the outside of the bubble looking in this year.

A-Rank Maryland

Maryland is difficult to figure as they have yet to have a full team due to injuries. They have experience with 4 seniors, but also have 4 freshman in the rotation. After missing the first month of the season with an injured foot, Smotrycz made his debut off the bench, but will take some time to get his conditioning back. The game before Smotrycz came back, leading scorer Wells hurt his hand and will now miss about 4 weeks. The youngsters are getting an opportunity with the seniors out. Both should be ready by the start of Big Ten season and I think this team will be petty good.

Maryland has some size with 5 players in the front court. At center they have been rotating sophomore Dodd, and freshman Cekovsky. Dodd is a big physical rebounder and rim protector, but doesn't give much on the other end except offensive rebounding. Cekovsky is an international who appears to have a mid range game but is not confident enough to be very good this year. Smotrycz is a stretch 4 who hits the 3 at a good percentage. Junior Layman also has good perimeter skills and can play the 3 or 4. Senior Graham is a space eater and rebounder but offers little but fouls to use.

The back court will be  pretty strong once senior Wells returns. He has scored in double digits every year since transferring from Xavier and shoots a good percentage. He is not much of a 3 point shooter but was showing improvement in this area before his injury, albeit in a small sample size. He is joined in the back court by freshman Trimble who is on the short list for Big Ten freshman of the year. He takes most of his shots from 3 and shoots a good percentage, but has also been successful in getting to the line. Pack is a senior transfer who has started at the 2 and has not played well. I can't see him continuing to get as many minutes if he doesn't improve. Both freshman Nickens and Wiley look good and will provide depth at the 2+3. They will be solid players in years to come.

Maryland should be OK in their first season in the Big Ten, once they get healthy. They have 4 legit scorers in Wells, Trimble, Layman and Smotrycz. They like to play up tempo and will have chances to do so against many Big Ten teams. They have plenty of size to bang with the bigger teams, although there aren't a ton of teams with quality size in the Big Ten this year anyway. They look like a team that can make the NCAA, although they may be on the bubble.

A-Rank PSU

PSU looks a lot like the other PSU teams of recent years. They have a very good perimeter scorer, but no one else who can score. They have some unskilled bigs to give them size, but they often don't play them in favor of smaller more skilled forwards who suffer by playing out of position. The defense is not very good even when they leave in the bigs, and the offense is ugly because they have a ball stopper as the only scorer. This team is not as unskilled or ugly as Rutgers, but I don't see how they will be any better than last years team.

PSU has a 3 headed center rotation, but they also go small sometimes and play 2 forwards and 3 guards. It's a tough spot because they get bullied without one of the centers on the floor, but all 3 are liabilities on the offensive end. Junior Jack gets the start and plays about half the game. He is not very big, strong or skilled. His primary role is to let Travis and Taylor play the 3+4 instead of the 4+5. PSU brings junior Dickerson off the bench and he has legit size at 7' and 240lbs. Like many 7 footers his only talent is his size. The 3rd center is the freshman Moore who may be an effective player in a couple of years but will not be very useful this year.

PSU has 2 versatile forwards if they are able to play them at forward. Travis is a senior and is the more physical inside player of the 2. Taylor is the junior and has more perimeter skills but is also a good rebounder. Neither one offers much in terms of post up offense, and as a result neither gets to the free throw line very much. I feel like PSU would be better offensively if they got these 2 more involved, but their attempts are limited by Newbill and the other guards.

Newbill is the best scorer and shoots the ball a ton, but he also can play point. It's hard to argue with him hogging the ball so much as his production is pretty good (25ppg, 3.1apg, 49%FG, 82%FT 50%3FG). PSU starts a freshman Garner at the point who looks like he could be the next PSU scoring guard. His opportunity to play as a point is limited because Newbill controls the ball so much. Senior Johnson is a back up guard and is a mediocre shooter/player. Sophomore Thorpe has improved from his freshman year and should provide some depth at guard. He does not appear to be anything special but should give them some backup minutes.

PSU will live and die with Newbill as is the case when one player so completely dominates the offense. He has already had a game in which he attempted 33 shots, and has taken 50 more shots than any other player on the year. That's an average of 7 more attempts/game then the next guy, and he takes about 30% of the total team FGA. Newbill will have hot games and PSU will win some of those, but they just can't win consistently playing that way. This team will be fortunate to make the NIT, but should make a lesser post season tournament.

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


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


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%)

Monday, November 17, 2014

A-Rank Minnesota

Minnesota started off the season with a real test against a very good Louisville team. Montrezl Harrell was the difference in this game and he dominated both inside and out showing off a new perimeter game. Terry Rozier combined with Harrell for 48 points on 23 shots. Minnesota looked to be on the ropes trailing in the first half trailing by double digits. They made a run toward the end of the half but Louisville responded to push the lead back out at the half. After half Louisville pushed the lead to 20 and the game was never close despite the respectable 13 point loss. Give Minnesota credit for not folding as they continued to chip into the lead in the 2nd half, although they never got over the hump.

Minnesota has size, but they are not very versatile. Seniors Walker and Eliason return to give the Gophers bulk, but not much else. Buggs and Konate are more athletic but young and raw. King is a shooter but doesn't give you much down low or defensively. Still, having size is valuable and Minnesota has a lot of it. Harrell dominated Minnesota, but he will dominate a lot of teams so that is nothing for Minnesota's bigs to be ashamed of.

As expected Hollins was Minnesota's best player and they will have to lean on him again this year. He struggled in that role last year shooting just 37.7% with defenses focused on stopping him. Against Louisville he had 22 points on 8-15 shooting. His backcourt mate Mathieu was one of the bigger surprises in the Big Ten last year. The Big Ten Geeks did a very good piece on him in their Minnesota preview. He is an unusual player, in that he is a little guy who does all his damage at the rim. Against Louisville he struggled with 4 fouls, 4 turnovers and 1-4 shooting. Freshman Nate Mason was a pleasant surprise at the point and looks like a player with a bright future. He had 10 points on 2-5 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Most impressive was 10 his FTA in his debut.

Junior Carlos Morris and sophomore Daquein McNeil round out the rotation on the wing. Neither one jumped out in the Louisville game, and they seem to be like most of the guys on Minnesota team- Pretty good players, but nothing special. Minnesota looks a lot like they did last season when they won the NIT- Pretty good team, but nothing special. I don't know where the improvement on this team comes from so I'm not expecting them to be any better than last year. I expect them to end up about where they did last year, hovering around .500 in the Big Ten and with a long day on selection Sunday that results in them finding their way into the NIT.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Northern Kentucky

Finally getting a chance to post something about the first game.

This is why people love Bo Ryan. He has a preseason 1st team all American and Big Ten player of the year in Frank Kaminsky, and after some shaky decisions in the first 6 minutes culminating in a horrible baseline bounce pass turnover, he benches him for Vitto Brown. No one is above sitting the pine. Frank had also jacked up a 3 way too early in the clock, put up a soft jumper from 10 ft when he could have gone to the hole, and got caught between help and blocking out and picked up a bad foul when his man got the offensive board. Now this was 6 minutes in, so Frank was about ready for a rest anyway, but a message was sent.

Frank did some very good things the rest of the way. He and Dekker were both very aggressive and both were looking to take charge. Both were unafraid to rebound and push the ball up the floor rather than wait for a guard. When Frank got tripled in the post on the first possession he quickly kicked out to an open Dekker for 3. Frank did not hesitate and let the defense collapse on him as he did too often last year. Frank will routinely get double and triple teamed this year and how he passes out of it will be very important to the UW offense.

Any time a team doubles the other teams score, the winner has played well. However I'm sure there will be talking heads who see only 62 points scored and say this is the same old UW that can't score with elite teams. This is foolishness as Northern Kentucky routinely held the ball for 30 seconds on offense. They kept moving the ball from side to side but couldn't get in the post and ended up with a lot of contested jumpers. Slowing the pace would frustrate other teams, but UW was as patient and methodical as they always are despite limited opportunities to push the ball.

UW started a big lineup as expected with Frank, Nigel and Dekker in the front court. Koenig was the first guy off the bench and played starter minutes (26). Vitto took full advantage of his opportunity with Dukan still on suspension. He was active on defense and rebounded well. He also got himself open to receive some nice passes as ended up 3-3 from the field with 4 FTA (but missed 3). If he continues to play well it would be a great luxury to be able to get him in to give Nigel and Frank some rest.

The most interesting thing of the night for me, happened before the game even started. Every year the Badgers upgrade their pregame lineup announcements with videos, music, fanfare etc. but they always keep the same format for how they announce the players. The last player announced is always the star senior expected to be the leader, and get the biggest fan applause. Last year it was Brust, the year before it was Berggren, Jordan Taylor before that and so on. This year the last guy announced wasn't future NBA 1st rounder Dekker, Big Ten preseason player of the year Kaminsky, or Mr. Clutch point guard Jackson. It was my favorite player of the past 4 years, Josh Gasser. I doubt many fans noticed this and I don't know if this was a decision made by Bo or the players. My guess is both. People may see this as Dekker and Kaminsky's team because they will fill the box scores. I know better. This is still Gasser's team.

Sunday's B1G games - T-Rank versus Vegas.

Here are today's Big Ten games, with T-Rank prediction:

Matchup T-Rank Prediction Vegas Line
George Washington @ Rutgers George Washington 73-69 (64%)  None
Fordham @ Penn St. Penn St. 78-66 (86%) Penn St. -12.5
Chattanooga @ Wisconsin Wisconsin 85-57 (99%) Wisc. -29.5
Northern Kentucky @ Nebraska Nebraska 77-58 (96%) None
IUPUI @ Purdue Purdue 84-60 (98%) Purdue -23.5
Coppin St. @ Illinois Illinois 80-58 (97%) None

Hmm, that's funny. T-Rank is now essentially predicting Vegas lines. Or is it the other way around?

Anyhow, no B1G pick of the day.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Opening day predictions

As you've hopefully noticed, I've created a page (over there on the right) that will have updated T-Rank predictions for every college basketball game. The way I publish the results is quite kludgey and it takes a long time to load, so be patient. Maybe somebody can teach me a better way.

In case you're interested, here are the T-Rank predictions compared to the Vegas line, for Big Ten games in which there is a line:

Matchup Vegas Line T-Rank line
Georgia Southern at Illinois -23 -15
Samford at Purdue -23.5 -22
Michigan St. at Navy -15.5 -13
Northern Kentucky at Wisconsin -28.5 -25
Minnesota v. Louisville -6 -8

In each case, T-Rank recommends taking the non-B1G team to cover. Obviously T-Rank is infused with anti-B1G bias. (FWIW, Kenpom's predictions are very similar to T-Rank's—within a point in each case—so Kenpom also hates the Big Ten.)

In any event, the T-Rank B1G pick of the day is Georgia Southern to cover against Illinois. Go Eagles!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A-Rank Nebraska

Is Nebraska for real. No.

When I saw they were 21 in the preseason rankings I actually had to look it up to make sure it wasn't a mistake. This is why preseason rankings are a joke. Nebraska got an 11 seed in the tournament last year based entirely on an 11-7 Big Ten regular season record that included winning 10 of their last 12 regular season games. They had wins @MSU and vs. UW in that streak to give it some legitimacy. Nebraska was obviously playing some good basketball during that streak, but a season doesn't consist of 12 games. Overall Nebraska was 19-13 (no other team in the preseason top 25 didn't have 20 wins last year, and almost all were over 25).

What Nebraska did have last year was an electric new arena that gave them a serious home court advantage. The new arena and the rowdy Nebraska fans were alive in every game I saw there, preseason or Big Ten. Nebraska rode that home court advantage to an impressive 15-1 home record (7-0 preseason, 8-1 Big Ten) including wins over UW and OSU. On the road or at neutral sites Nebraska was a woeful 4-12 (1-4 preseason, 3-6 Big Ten, and 0-2 post season). I don't expect Nebraska to be able to repeat their home court dominance this year, rowdy crowds or not. I don't know that they will be all that much better on the road though.

Nebraska looked god awful in exhibition against Southwest Minnesota State. Their offense looked unfortunately a lot like it did last year, which isn't good for a team that finished 272nd in points per game and 257th in FG%. Their basic sets resemble what you see from an NBA team playing the 2nd night of a back to back during an opposite coast road trip. Lots of one on one isolation plays from the wing, weak ball screens with no passing from the ball handler, and jacking up contested 3s. The defense wasn't any better. They mix man and zone but do neither well. The announcers kept saying how hot SMSU was from 3 but didn't mention once that every 3 was wide open. How hard can it be to contest 3s against SMSU?

Now that I have that off my chest, Nebraska is not a bad team, just over hyped. They did play better defense in the 2nd half, but the offense was still ugly.

Nebraska returns an experienced group including 6 of the 8 players in last year's rotation. It would have been 7 but Leslee Smith hurt his knee and will have to sit out. They also add senior graduate transfer Moses Abraham from Georgetown. There are 4 freshman, although only Nick Fuller got first half minutes vs. SMSU. 6'10" freshman Jake Hammond was ready to redshirt before the Smith injury, but may get forced into minutes this year.

Nebraska's preseason ranking is based largely on the return of 3 quality Juniors Petteway, Sheilds, and Pitchford. Sheilds and Petteway are wings that thrive on dribble penetration, and getting to the free throw line. Pitchford is a big that lives on the outside and gets open 3s off the wings penetration. They were all somewhat one dimensional last year. The wings can't really shoot (both barely over 30% from 3), and Pitchford who is 6'10" took over half his shots from 3 (hit 41%). If they are to be better than last year all 3 need to expand their games.

They are joined in the starting lineup by senior forward David Rivers and 6'4" sophomore guard Tai Webster to give Nebraska some decent size. They don't really have any post up game though despite having 4 guys 6'6" or taller and a 6'4" guard. In addition to no post game they also don't shoot 3s well, hence the horrible offensive rankings. Rivers isn't a perimeter threat (only 3 attempts from 3 last year) and Webster hit just 17% of his 35 attempts from 3. The only high percentage shooter is the big man Pitchford.

Nebraska has 2 point guards they can bring off the bench in Junior Benny Parker and Freshman Tarin Smith. Parker is also not a shooter (0-5 on 3s last year) and is limited to transition and penetration for offense. He is a pest on defense (all players under 5'10 are required to be called pests). Smith looks more like a true point but also looks too young to do much this year. In the front court freshman Nick Fuller will likely be forced into some minutes although he doesn't look ready to contribute. Transfer Moses Abraham looks like a goony space eater at best, and Hammond may or may not play at all.

I don't believe Nebraska will repeat their tournament run from last year, but they are good enough to be a bubble team and likely NIT team. Petteway, Shields and Pitchford are good enough to carry them to some big wins.

Bucks start

The Bucks are off to a mildly surprising start this year and won back to back games for the first time in about a year and a half (since March of 2013). The roster is not greatly different than last year but it is much healthier. At this time last year the Bucks were already missing several players due to injury-Caron Butler, OJ Mayo, Larry Sanders, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia, and Brandon Knight were all hurt. By the time the Bucks started getting players back they were already in tanking mode. This season all hands are on deck and they have been competitive in every game. I don't expect this team to be very good just because they are healthy, but there is improvement over last year.

Giannis has made great strides. His jumper still needs work, but it looks better and he is playing with much improved confidence. Parker is playing like a rookie who is trying to prove too much, but he also makes plays that other players don't. There is lots of upside with him, and it seems like just a matter of time before he becomes a quality scorer. Mayo is not fat. Sanders is not getting in bar fights, yet.

It's a long season and this team probably only wins 25 games, but it's been nice to see them play some good ball.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A-Rank MI

MI has some issues similar to Indiana, starting with a lack of size (this will be a common refrain in the Big Ten as there is little quality size). After the graduation of Jordan Morgan, transfer of Horford, and McGary leaving early for the NBA, MI is decimated down low. Like IU the talent on this team is in the backcourt so expect to see lots of 3 and 4 guard lineups. Against Wayne St MI rotated 4 guys through the center position and none looked all that good. 3 Freshman took turns in the 1st half as Mark Donnal got the start, Ricky Doyle came in 2nd, and then DJ Wilson. In the 2nd half Junior Max Bielfeldt got minutes at center as well. This is clearly a position Beilein is trying to figure out, and this will probably be a problem all season. No shot blocking and poor rebounding will not help a MI defense that is usually not all that great anyway.

The point guard position has some returning talent in Walton Jr and Albrecht. They shared the point guard minutes and played some together too against Wayne St. Their load is easier because Lavert does a lot of the ball handling, especially in the half court. Albrecht is more of a short shooter than a point guard, but he has shown he can hold down the fort for 15 or so minutes a game as a backup. Walton Jr had a solid freshman season shooting 43%, 41% from 3 and he had a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio. He will have to maintain that efficiency with a lot more opportunities for MI to be successful.

As young as IU is this year, MI is even younger. MI has no seniors, and just 3 juniors. Against Wayne St 6 freshman got first half minutes and appear to be in the running to be in the rotation. The good news is that one of the experienced Juniors is Lavert, who looked great. He looks even more confident and comfortable handling the ball and could easily be the Big Ten Player of the year.

MI will play a bunch of guard/wings at the 2,3,4 positions. They did play more of the above mentioned centers at the 4 spot in the 2nd half, but it's hard to keep your best players off the court just to have size out there. They used Lavert, Irvin, and highly regarded freshman Kameron Chatman in those spots to start the game. Freshman Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins both came off the bench but did not show much to think they will be major contributors. Not surprising for freshman.

Despite the similarities I don't expect MI to struggle like IU, as they have much more returning talent. Beyond Lavert, I expect Irvin and Walton to have great years with expanded roles in their sophomore campaigns. This should be a team that can score with most teams in the country so they should win their fair share. Not an elite offense like they have had in recent years, but pretty good. The defense will hold them back from being a Big Ten title contender, but they should be a tournament team.


Hot streak continues as I was 2-0 again last week for a yearly total of 7-1. UW is a 6.5 point favorite and the o/u is 57.

Both these teams have feasted on crappy competition this year. Nebraska comes in with the 10th ranked scoring offense and 16th ranked scoring defense. They have only played 2 decent teams all year, the loss @MSU, and a win at home vs. Miami. UW is 19th in scoring offense and 3rd in scoring defense. They have only played 2 decent teams too, the loss to LSU, and the win vs. Maryland.

I am not yet a believer in the UW defense. They are good, but they have not played a great offense all year. This will be a true test. I don't expect a shoot out, or a destruction like in the big ten championship. This game will be cold. There will not be a fast track like in Indianapolis.

I like UW to win, but in what could be single digit temps in the second half I think the score will stay low. 6.5 is too much in a low scoring game. I'm taking Nebraska to cover, and the under.
Final score UW 24-Nebraska 21.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A-rank OSU

I have been high on OSU coming in to the season as the biggest threat to UW as I like them on paper. They have a good mix of returning players and young talent, size, and athleticism. They return 2 senior starters from last years team to anchor the point and center spots in Shannon Scott and Amir Williams. Both are defense first players who have yet to come into their own on the offensive side. They have 3 other seniors in Sam Thompson (who got the start against Walsh), backup center McDonald, and transfer Anthony Lee.

OSU played full court press against Walsh before falling into a 2-3 zone in the half court. They looked good doing it much like Syracuse with all the athletes and length. On offense they started off very similar to past OSU teams running a single post with Williams then McDonald down low. Then they changed it up and went small and athletic with Lee at the 5. Lee looked very good on offense, but a bit out of place manning the middle of the 2-3 zone. I will be interested to see if they keep him in the middle or play him on a wing next to a big man.

OSU as always, has a seemingly endless supply of young, long, athletic wings. In addition to Thompson (who looked more confident in this game) OSU returns Marc Loving, and adds freshman Russell, Bates-Diop, and Tate. All the freshman look ready to play early, as well as backup redshirt freshman guard Kam Williams. Of the 4 Russell is the highest regarded and I can see why. Offensively he looks like Gary Harris did as a freshman, very smooth. He is likely not the defender Harris was, but he won't have to be if OSU runs the zone as their primary defense this year. OSU may run 10 deep, or they may have just been giving all the young kids minutes in the exhibition.

I like OSU because of their ceiling. They have some really good looking pieces. That said, Amir Williams has been a physical specimen at 7' and 250 lbs. for 3 years and has yet to be anything other than serviceable. Scott has made offensive improvement every year, but that improvement has only moved him from atrocious to mediocre. Sam Thompson was OK for offensive efficiency at medium usage, but it's hard to see him getting more shots or being more efficient.

So Why do I like OSU? It starts with Lee and Russell. I think these 2 kids can score from what little I have seen. OSU will be very good defensively so if they can just be OK on offense they will be very tough. OSU doubters will say that the exact same thing could have been said the last year, and OSU couldn't score enough. That's fair. The 2nd reason I like OSU is the same reason I always like OSU and that's Matta. He is a great coach.

I won't give my official prediction for OSU until I see them play a bit more, but they will be in the top 3 in the Big Ten.

T-Rank+ projections for every conference

The T-Rank+ spreadsheet has analyzed and predicted every game scheduled for the upcoming college hoops season. Here are the projected results for every conference:

(If you want to see the results using the "pure" T-Rank, click on the T-Rank Pure tab at the bottom.)

A-rank Indiana

I caught IU's exhibition game tonight, and they are bad. I didn't have very high expectations for IU before this game based on their lack of size and horrible coach, but they found a way to lower them even further.

IU was playing without 3 players expected to contribute this year. Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson are suspended for the first 2 games, and Devin Davis is out for the foreseeable future with his car related injury. IU has a ton of new players including 7 freshman and transfer Nick Ziesloft. This IU team is young with 0 seniors and 4 juniors and they look like an inexperienced squad.

IU will have to win games on the perimeter this year as they have no inside game. Mosquera-Perea is the only big they have and he doesn't look remarkably improved from last year. He is slight of build but he can jump, but that is about his only talent. He picked up 2 fouls in the first few minutes tonight, and was allowed to continue playing with 2. He immediately tried to block a shot and got bailed out by the ref who didn't call a 3rd foul. He did play most of the rest of the half without picking up a 3rd. Freshman Tim Priller played at center some but is even more slight and looks more comfortable at the 3 point line than in the lane. Another freshman center Jeremiah April is apparently hurt and did not play.

Troy Williams was forced to play the 4 spot last year and will likely have to do the same this year. He kind of fits there despite his smaller stature because he can't shoot (.207 3pt%). He is also a big leaper and good athlete, but unless he expands his game, he is limited to offensive rebounds and transition scoring. He had the benefit of playing next to Vonleh last year, and won't have that luxuary this season. Devin Davis was expected to give IU some bulk after playing limited minutes in 29 games last year, but he may not play again this year. Sophomore Colin Hartman didn't play much last year and then blew out his knee. He played fairly well tonight but is a role player at best. Freshman Max Hoetzel has apparently missed time due to injury and played sparingly tonight, but was agressive. He did not show anything to make one think he will contribute significantly this season.

I expect IU to play mostly 3 and 4 guard lineups as that is where the talent is. The good news for IU is Yogi looks like Yogi, and the 2 freshman guards look ready to play right away. Yogi played quite a bit of off guard today letting the freshman Johnson run the point. I would expect to see them both have opportunities to run the show. The other freshman guard Balckmon looked good, but I expect both freshman to struggle once they have to play against a defense that doesn't have to worry about an interior game. IU has some experience at guard with Stanford Robinson and transfer Nick Ziesloft, but both juniors are role player types that will be forced into bigger roles.

As for defense, IU doesn't really play much in a good year, and this will not be a good year. The lack of size allowed the Indianapolis forwards to bully them down low. IU will certainly see better post players than Indianapolis provided, and they will get destroyed by them. There were also slow, stout, 5'10" guards getting into the lane against IU tonight. That does not bode well either, not to mention all the offensive rebounds they gave up. I won't drone on any more, IU will have one of the 2 or 3 worst defensive teams in the Big Ten.

I will hold off on my prediction for IU until I have seen them play with Williams and Robinson, but it is safe to say I don't see them improving on last season's 7 Big Ten wins and 17 wins overall.

Friday, November 7, 2014

sixth man of the year

After catching the exhibition game against Parkside there are a few things that seem clear already. This is a 6 man team. Whichever one doesn't start will likely win the Big Ten sixth man of the year award, as all 6 should get starter minutes.
I don't mean to disparage the rest of the team, but UW has 6 very good players, and 6 others that may be good someday, but aren't there yet. I had hoped that one of the young kids would make a big jump and be able to contribute major minutes this year, but that doesn't seem likely from what I saw Wednesday. There aren't that many minutes up for grabs in the first place. Brust's 35 minutes a game lead the team last year and those are all that need to be filled.
Gasser -33, Jackson-31, Dekker 30, and Kaminsky 27 all should play roughly the same number of minutes as last season. Hayes-17 and Koenig-16 both should get starter minutes even if they come off the bench which eats up 20-25 minutes. That doesn't leave much for the remaining 6, and I am guessing Dukan gets most of those. Dukan will miss the next couple games so there will be chance for one of those kids to step up and grab minutes. I don't see it happening. Dukan can hit the 3 and has big game experience. He can give UW 15 minutes a game.
The gap is big enough that both Happ, and Hill are considering taking a red shirt. Brown, Showalter, and Dearing will play, but they don't seem much better. All these kids might have got more minutes on a UW team from the past, but this is an incredible team. UW will have games that force some of these kids into meaningful minutes because of foul trouble. There will also be plenty of garbage time minutes.
This UW team has a lot of strengths, but depth will not be one of them.