Ah, February… Scarves, gloves, shovels, hats, frozen windshields, slippery roads, and yellow snow. At least the college basketball season is heating up!
A few notes about the NCAA before the MADNESS is upon us:
1. Jimmer Fredette. He’s the real deal; unlimited range, and good enough going to the rim that he keeps the defense honest. Kind of reminds me of Stephen Curry at Davidson a few years ago.
Last year, when “mid-majors” were upsetting majors in the tournament, I hoopserved that, although conventional wisdom is that those upsets happen because the mid-major teams are more likely to have a bunch of seniors and juniors who had played together for years and mastered the system they played in, the victorious “mid-major teams” generally weren’t winning with gimmicky zone defenses or backdoor cuts on offense — they were generally winning because they had the best player on the court. (Here.) I’m going to be sure to keep that lesson in mind when I’m filling out my bracket, and deciding how far I think BYU is going to go.
2. Jared Sullinger on Ohio State averages more than 18 ppg, 10 rpg, and shoots better than 58%. My kind of player (which is ironic, considering that I break out in hives whenever I come within 2 feet of the paint). Ohio State will be limited by the fact that they haven’t played a very tough schedule, but if there’s a way to overcome that problem, it’s with a big man who likes to operate down low — like Sullinger.
3. The Big East is very tough to make sense of. Lots of Big East teams are, or have been, ranked very highly. And a bunch of these teams have lost conference games, making it difficult to determine whether the Big East is (1) simply much better and deeper than the other conferences, or (2) full of a bunch of mediocre teams, none of whom will be able to generate a head of steam heading into the tournament.
I’m not entirely sure how to answer that question, but it must be worth something that:
Pitt beat Texas, the #3 team in the country, and so did UCONN;
St. John’s beat Duke, the #5 team in the country;
UCONN beat Kentucky, the #10 team in the country, and
Syracuse beat Michigan State, back when Michigan State was the #8 team in the country. Of course, since that game, Michigan State essentially fell apart, suggesting that it did not deserve to be ranked so highly in the first place.
That’s probably true, but it only shows us that traditional rivals to the Big East, such as the Big 10, are not exactly making a strong case to be recognized as the best conference in the country. The rankings may be off, but it has to mean something that the Big East currently has three teams in the top 10 (Pitt, UCONN, Notre Dame) and four in the next 10 (Villanova, Georgetown, Syracuse, Louisville). Unless my calculator is broken, that’s seven teams in the top 20, in a year when San Diego State and BYU are consistently ranked in the top 10.
Basically, even though they’ve burned me before, I’ll be picking Big East teams to advance deep into the tournament. Well… at least until they run into Jared Sullinger’s Buckeyes or Jimmer’s Cougars.
Funny how Tweener links to an old, on-point article about picking NCAA tourney upsets when he mentions Fredette (who reminds me of Deron Williams at Illinois) but fails to recognize his previous postings praising Izzo when reporting on Michigan State’s swoon. Izzo’s/MSU’s struggles this year recall last year’s disappointing UNC team and prove, once again, that even the best programs and coaches have a down year every now and then. The Tar Heels, by the way, are quietly playing their best basketball of the year heading into Cameron on Wednesday. Duke should win on Wednesday but expect the game to be a classic Duke-Carolina game unlike the last game between the rivals in Cameron.
Regarding making sense of the Big East, that conference is a reflection of all of college basketball this season. Apart from the top 5 teams (as currently accurately ranked), the next 30 or so are just about interchangeable.
My top-four conference rankings at this point: 1. Big East (by wide margin), 2. Big 12, 3. ACC (underrated) and 4. Big 10 (slipping each day). Not too much farther down the list would be the Ivy League, which is boasting its strongest teams at the top in a long, long time.
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TigerHeel! Always good to have you. A few responses:
1. I wasn’t linking to an old article to pat myself on the back. I’m well aware that there’s stuff in old articles that makes me look bad (I picked the Cavs to make the playoffs this year!). Good dig, though.
2. Aside from Pitt, the teams “at the top of” the Big East have changed a few times this year.
3. What I’m looking to see is whether the Big East teams get a boost from playing all the tough competition this year, or whether it winds up meaning nothing.
4. ACC underrated? Who’s dangerous other than Carolina and Duke?
FSU was looking like a good sleeper tourney team because they are so good defensively. But yesterday the Seminoles lost their best player (Chris Singleton) for the year because of a broken foot. BC, Clemson and Maryland are all solid and would be in the middle of most conferences other than the Big East, which is just stacked.