It’s hard to believe that Selection Sunday is now less than two months away, and the bubble watch will soon be in full effect. In the meantime, there continues to be a lot of movement thanks to the general inability of teams to win away from home.
With that in mind, here are this week’s risers and fallers.
Bottoms Line: Stock Up
After a huge road win at Connecticut on Wednesday, the Bearcats have now won an astonishing seven straight Big East road games. In addition to the win over UConn, Cincinnati has also knocked off Pit and Georgetown in their buildings, and their only conference loss came on a last-second shot against St. John’s. Outside of Syracuse, I’m not sure anyone in the Big East is playing better right now.
You have to give Mick Cronin and his team a ton of credit for how they have responded in the aftermath of the brawl with Xavier.
Image source: Ballin’ Is a Habit
Sean Kilpatrick, who drilled the game-winner against UConn, and Dion Dixon have stepped up and are averaging nearly 32 points combined in the 11 post-brawl games. The Bearcats currently rank third in conference play with 1.07 points per possession thanks to a low 10.4 turnover rate, and they have also been effective at forcing their opponents into turnovers and keeping them off the line.
Cincinnati’s next two games – at West Virginia on Saturday and at home versus Syracuse on Monday – will be extremely tough, but rest of the remaining schedule is manageable.
Somehow the Seminoles have gone from a team that can’t score to some kind of offensive juggernaut. The Noles blew out North Carolina last weekend, scoring 1.20 points per possession in the process, and then followed that up with another strong offensive showing against a defensively challenged Maryland squad where they posted 1.27 ppp. According to Run the Floor’s Managing Editor and FSU guru Michael Rogner, the offense has been sparked by the move to a three-guard lineup, which has allowed for better spacing and more dribble penetration.
The 32-point explosion from Deividas Dulkys against the Heels was well-publicized, but Michael Snaer also has 36 points over the last two games. Sophomore forward Okaro White has put up 25 points off the bench in those victories, and the Noles enter Saturday’s showdown with Duke confidence on the offensive end. That’s definitely not something you could have said about this team a few weeks ago.
As if there was any doubt, the Jayhawks have made it clear that they won’t be relinquishing their stranglehold on the Big 12 without a fight. They manhandled Baylor on the boards on Monday to take sole possession of first place in the league, with Thomas Robinson putting up 27 points and 14 boards to further his campaign for National Player of the Year. Tyshawn Taylor has also been outstanding in the last two games with 56 points and 12 assists, and Travis Releford and Jeff Withey have both stepped up in significantly expanded roles.
Depth is still an issue for KU, but as long as Robinson can stay out of foul trouble, they can play with virtually anyone. The Jayhawks have a couple upcoming road games, but they have a decent chance to be undefeated in the league before back-to-back road trips to Missouri and Baylor in early February.
San Diego State
The Aztecs lost their top four scorers from last season, and all they have done is go 16-2 and jump out to an early lead in the Mountain West. Last Saturday, SDSU knocked off UNLV at home on a last-second shot by Jamaal Franklin, who led the team with 24 points and 10 boards. They proceeded to go into The Pit and fall behind New Mexico 10-0 before storming back and picking up a huge road win. The Aztecs turned the ball over just six times and got a career-high 22 points from Xavier Thames, who also leads the team in assists.
With so little height, it’s tough to predict how far this team might go in the post-season, but the fact that they’ll even be in the tournament is a real testament to Steve Fisher’s coaching. At this point they have no bad losses, with the only blemishes on their profile a road loss against Baylor and a two-point home loss to Creighton. With wins under their belt against their two biggest competitors for the MWC crown, the schedule gets a bit easier before facing the Rebels and Lobos again next month.
With so many teams struggling to win on the road, the Shockers deserve a ton of credit for already notching five road victories in the MVC. Wichita State and Creighton have separated themselves from the rest of the pack with both currently at 7-1 in the league.
The Shockers lead the league in adjusted defensive efficiency in conference play, thanks in large part to a strong field goal percentage defense. They rank second to Creighton in offensive efficiency and have a number of players with gaudy overall efficiency numbers. Seven guys play at least 20 minutes per game, and six of them score at least 8.8 points per contest.
A pair of winnable home games are up next for the Shockers, who I would love to see face Murray State in the BracketBusters.
Bottoms Line: Stock Down
Things can change quickly around here, as I had the Tide in the Stock Up section last week. But they came up empty against both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, and their offensive woes resurfaced. They scored a total of 111 points in the two losses and hit just 7-of-33 from beyond the arc.
As was the case last season, this team is very talented defensively, but they can’t get out of their own way on the offensive end. And while they don’t shoot it well from the field, they shoot a high percentage from the free throw line. Unfortunately, they rarely make a concerted effort to get there regularly, as evidenced by their poor free throw rate.
The schedule also doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Rupp Arena coming up this weekend. After that, they have a number of winnable games, but at this point, they could use a signature win or two since they haven’t beaten a tournament-caliber team since November.
The Cougars have been in the field 0f 68 in my first two bracket projections of the year, but that may change following a home loss to Loyola Marymount. LMU is a decent team that is starting to get healthy, but BYU can’t really afford to lose at home to anyone not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s. At this point, they have no Top 50 wins, and their best victories have come against Nevada, Oregon, and Weber State.
After Saturday’s trip to Pepperdine, BYU has a critical three-game stretch with an oddly-timed road game against Virginia Tech followed by back-to-back home games against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. They certainly can’t afford to go winless during that stretch, and anything less than 2-1 probably puts them in serious jeopardy.
The wheels are dangerously close to coming off for the Hoosiers after losing at Nebraska. A 15-1 start has given way to a three-game losing streak, and a few ongoing concerns have emerged based on their recent play. First, a defense that was generating plenty of deflections and turnovers early in the season is now allowing the most points per possession in league play.
Second, IU has struggled to clean the defensive glass. In the first two losses, Minnesota and Ohio State both posted offensive rebounding percentages of at least 37.9, and the Hoosiers allowed Nebraska to grab eight offensive boards over the final 13 minutes of the game on Wednesday.
Finally, turnovers are killing the Hoosiers on offense, and their 21.6 turnover rate in league play is 11th in the Big Ten. Against the Huskers, Indiana turned the ball over nine times during a nine minute stretch in the second half. The team is playing too loosely with the ball, and players are making poor decisions and trying to do too much when the game gets tight.
Sunday’s game against Penn State is simply a must-win for Indiana, who desperately needs to stop the bleeding.
The Pirates were riding high after knocking off West Virginia and Connecticut as they jumped out to a 4-1 Big East record. Seton Hall has since lost back-to-back road games against South Florida and Villanova, neither of whom are tournament-caliber teams.
Against Villanova, the Pirates shot the ball very poorly and committed a ton of fouls, which led to an insane 80.4 free throw rate for the Wildcats. At the same time, they rank 16th in free throw rate on offense, and in league games, their three-point shooting (40.0 percent) is nearly as good as their two-point shooting (43.5 percent). They also need to do a better job of limiting offensive rebounds if they want to get back to winning games.
The good news is that their next two games are at home, where they have yet to lose this season.
I’m sure Joe Lunardi is a very nice man, but if he has the Longhorns in his next set of bracket projections, I will be left to believe it’s somehow tied in with ESPN’s affiliation with the Longhorn Network. He had them in as a 10 seed last week, and I struggle to understand why.
Texas lost their only game against Kansas State this week, and they currently sit at 12-6. However, eight of those wins have come against teams ranked 150th or lower in the RPI. At the same time, they are just 1-5 against the Top 100, with their lone win coming at home against Temple.
Consequently, they need to start picking up some quality wins, and their upcoming schedule provides a number of chances to do just that. Texas takes on Kansas this Saturday, gets a chance at revenge against Iowa State next week, head to Baylor for a road test, and then returns home to play Missouri. The Longhorns would be well served to go .500 in those four matchups.