Last weekend’s college basketball slate provided a little bit of everything, and a light schedule this week has given me time to absorb everything that happened.
So even though many teams took the week off due to finals, I am taking the opportunity to hand out some progress reports of my own.
The Bottoms Line: Stock Up
While the Cougars haven’t beaten anyone ranked higher than 90th in the Pomeroy Ratings, they are 8-1 since a season-opening loss to Utah State, winning each game by at least 14 points. Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo, and Brandon Davies are all averaging at least 10 points and six rebounds, and the team is knocking down nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc, proving there really is life after Jimmer.
With Gonzaga struggling, the WCC is definitely up for grabs, and the Cougars will certainly be a factor. Saturday’s matchup with Baylor will be a challenge, but it’s also a chance to pick up a marquee win.
Saturday’s thrilling win over Kentucky vaulted the Hoosiers back into the polls and gave Tom Crean and the program the signature win and the signature moment they’ve been longing for. New Bloomington folk hero Christian Watford has been a different player since the second half of the North Carolina State game, and the team continues to get contributions from a number of different players.
If IU can avoid a hangover against Notre Dame this weekend, they should be 12-0 heading into Big Ten play. Their first three league games are as tough as they come with a road trip to Michigan State followed by home dates against Ohio State and Michigan.
With Memphis struggling, the Herd is starting to look like the C-USA favorite. They won in overtime at Cincinnati and lost by just six at Syracuse before beating a solid Iona team by 19. A two-point home loss to Ohio is the other blemish on their record, but if they can navigate a home-and-home with Belmont, the Herd could be 11-2 before the conference opener against UTEP.
Led by juco transfer Dennis Tinnon and Robert Goff, Marshall leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, which has helped to offset poor outside shooting. Guards DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts have combined to average 29.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 2.9 steals between them.
Led by a career-high 34 points from Draymond Green, the Spartans picked up a big road win at Gonzaga and extended their win streak to eight games. Green was superb, hitting 11-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Michigan State continues to get it done with tough defense and relentless rebounding, and while the offense remains a work in progress, there are signs of improvement. The team has scored at least 1.04 points per possession in each of the last five games after doing so just once in their first five contests. Look for Sparty’s win streak to be at 11 games when they open conference play against the aforementioned Hoosiers.
Many predicted a two-horse race in the Missouri Valley between Creighton and Wichita State, but it would seem the Panthers have other ideas. Despite a couple key losses from last season’s roster, Northern Iowa has been able to maintain a high level of play thanks to a number of talented long-range shooters and solid team defense. Junior guard Anthony James is averaging 18.7 points over the last six contests, and fellow junior Jake Koch is playing some of his best basketball as well.
The Panthers have a tough matchup against Ohio on Tuesday, but the early part of their MVC slate should allow them to get off to a good start.
The Bottoms Line: Stock Down
The Bruins dropped a close game on the road against Middle Tennessee State, and it looks more and more like they’ll need to win the Atlantic Sun Tournament in order to make the Big Dance. Things are shaping up much like they did last season for Belmont when they piled up 30 wins but were ultimately undone by a low RPI and lack of quality wins. They need to sweep their upcoming home-and-home series with Marshall to have any hope of an at-large bid, because they have just one other game remaining against a team in Pomeroy’s Top 150.
Last weekend’s loss to Saint Joe’s prompted me to look a little closer at the Bluejays. So while they have a superb talent in Doug McDermott and are leading the nation in effective field goal percentage, defense is a concern. As their level of competition has increased, so has Creighton’s defensive struggles. Three of their past four opponents have scored at least 1.10 points per possession, and they have also struggled on the glass during that stretch.
Creighton can definitely outscore people, but the defense has to improve if they want to make noise in March. The MVC race should be entertaining as usual with Creighton, Northern Iowa, and Wichita State all in contention.
The fact that the Tigers already have three losses is one thing, but it’s hard to begrudge them for losses to Michigan and Georgetown, both of whom are ranked in both polls. However, no matter what you think of Murray State, that’s a team Memphis should be able to handle at home.
More than that, there just doesn’t seem to have been a ton of growth from this team. Last season they came together at the end of year after it looked like they wouldn’t even make the tournament. Given the young nucleus from that team, I expected that progress to continue, but they seem to have regressed instead.
The Tigers are getting manhandled on the glass, and four of their key players have relatively ugly efficiency numbers. They have a chance to erase some of the disappointment when they travel to Louisville this weekend before a trip to Georgetown next Thursday.
I wasn’t sold on the Wildcats coming into the season, but somehow I talked myself into them finishing seventh in the Big East. That may still happen I suppose, but as it stands, they are just 6-4 with their best win coming in overtime against La Salle. Outside of that, Nova hasn’t beaten anyone in Pomeroy’s Top 165. That said, the only questionable loss came against Santa Clara in the 76 Classic.
Still, I am not sure many things suggest a turnaround for the Wildcats either. They are among the worst teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, and their shooting, particularly from three-point range, has been pretty ugly. Starting guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek are a combined 27-of-97 (27.8%) from deep, and their career numbers don’t suggest future improvement.
After dropping two games in New York, the Huskies have now lost three straight and four of their last five, and now big man Aziz N’Diaye is out for a few games with a knee injury.
Offensively, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox have been terrific, with both guys averaging 16.5 points, shooting the ball well from the outside, and posting solid overall efficiency numbers. The team has struggled with turnovers at times, and doesn’t get to the line very often, which may be a good thing since they are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country.
Perhaps the bigger issue is on defense where they rank outside the Top 125 in each of Pomeroy’s four factors. The Huskies aren’t forcing turnovers, and opponents are make frequent trips to the line while also hitting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc. Freshman Tony Wroten’s evolution and maturity will go a long way toward determining this team’s fate, but right now his advanced stats are stunning – and not always in a good way.
The postives are a strong assist rate and the fact that he draws nearly eight fouls per 40 minutes. However, his 35.7 usage rate is third in the country, but he is hitting just 51.9 percent from the stripe and turning the ball over at a high rate. The good news is that the Pac-12 is wide open, so by no means are they at risk of getting left in the dust there.