Friday, March 27, 2009

The Will Bynum Show Part II

The NBA is a weird place. Superstars are—and likely always be—a rare breed. It takes freakish physical attributes and skill-sets to dominate the “League.” However, to simply “make it” in the NBA seems to require almost as much luck as skill. Sure, every player in the league is a bona fide athletic phenom compared to the rest of us "wannabees." It just seems like you can find guys who can make it in the league in all sorts of crazy places. Just think about Will Bynum for a second. Bynum went undrafted following his collegiate careers at Arizona and Georgia Tech. He signed with Golden State and played 15 games. That was it. The league had taken a sniff and discarded him like the “Lost” monster. Bynum was off to Israel seemingly destined to begin a career as a professional basketball vagabond. When the Pistons signed him last summer to be the guy who never plays, he was just another former college player bouncing around the world looking for a way to get back. The NBA is ruled by superstars. The rest of the league is about building a niche or impressing the right person in the right NBA Summer League game. The latter is how Bynum earned a ticket back to the show.

The weird part about the whole thing, though, is that I can’t figure out how teams could miss on a player as penetratingly quick as Bynum in the first place. Last November, in my original “The Will Bynum Show” post, I commented on how impressive Bynum looked against the Charlotte Bobcats while the Pistons waited for the Billups-Iverson trade to be completed. He didn’t just “fit in”; he took over. There’s a difference. Michael Curry pretended like he didn’t notice but I know he did. How could he not? It’s not like his play was inconspicuously good. He ran the show. The league is littered with role players who couldn’t take over a game like that if given the opportunity. Still, Bynum went back to the end of the bench and stayed there for three months like nothing happened.

The injury bug hit the Pistons hardcore this month with Iverson and Rip Hamilton missing significant time in the backcourt alone. Given Bynum’s flash of brilliance from earlier in the season, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone—the least of which is Curry—when he stepped in with authority as if no time had passed since that game against the Bobcats last November. The first “Will Bynum Show” lasted one game. It was pretty much a Hollywood trailer. The second show has lasted seven games and counting. Unlike the first one that apparently earned him more valuable one-on-one time with Walter Herrmann at the end of the bench, this “show” is making him some serious bank. In seven games since his minutes significantly increased on March 15 against the Grizzlies, Bynum has averaged 17 points and five assists on 52% shooting. Garbage stats are pretty easy to come by in the NBA. Bynum, however, has put his impressive numbers up while boasting a +32. He single-handedly kept the Pistons in the game last night against the Lakers making an array of spectacular shots and passes. In a game in which the Pistons lost by 15, Bynum was a +10. Rodney Stuckey—playing nearly eight fewer minutes—was a -31. Despite the loss, Bynum ended the night with a brilliant effort that resulted in career highs in points (25) and assists (11). More importantly for Bynum, he opened some eyes. Tayshaun Prince summed things up after the game:

“We took Will Bynum out of the game and nobody else could do
anything,” Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince said. “He’s the reason we had the lead at
the half and the reason we made that comeback in the second quarter.

“Once he came out—end of the ballgame.” (Larry Lage, AP)

Bynum will get more opportunities to wait for injuries on the Pistons bench next season since he’s under contract for another year. However, the confidence he is picking up with each successive “blow by” is going to make him a commodity in 2010. In the meantime, I think it’s time Bynum gets a nickname. He has earned one with his per-minute production. I’ve got five ideas. 1). Willie B. in honor of Steamin’ Willie Beamen who—like Bynum—played a nomadic professional athlete turned playa' in Any Given Sunday. 2). Will “The Thrill” although I don’t think I feel comfortable stealing Will Clark’s nickname. 3). Will He Is in ode to Will I Am of the Black Eyed Peas. 4). Willie “Blow By”. 5). Or, we could just send a blatant message to Michael Curry with “Free Willie.” My vote is for #4 and a spot in the two-deep next season.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Filling Holes

John Beilein and the Michigan basketball program exceeded expectations this year. I don’t think there’s any other way of looking at it. Last year, Michigan finished 172nd in the RPI. ‘M’ had one win in the RPI 100 in 14 chances. It also went 5-13 in one of the weakest seasons the Big Ten Conference has ever had. Michigan improved dramatically in just one season and without much in the name of personnel additions. Just two years after Beilein took over the program, “M” is 41st in the RPI with seven wins over the RPI 50. I’m befuddled by the fact that Beilein isn’t under consideration for National Coach of the Year let alone Big Ten Coach of the Year. There wasn’t a better coach in college basketball this year.

The fact that Michigan made the tournament at least a year earlier than anticipated was a welcome gift for a fanbase that has struggled through the near death of a once glorious program. Nobody is ready to complain about anything nor should they be. Seeing Michigan in the tournament against Clemson was more than enough excitement for me. The fact that it actually beat Clemson was just gravy. The season is over. The basking has just begun. The fact that Michigan is relevant has its basketball fans as content as any program in the country including whichever team ends up winning the National Championship. Trust me on this one.

Next season, expectations will rise a bit. One tournament bid should yield a second tournament bid. I don’t think anyone is aiming for the Final Four but with virtually every contributor back—C.J. Lee is the only expected attrition—it’s more than reasonable to expect a better showing next season. However, it’s important that people understand just how good of a coaching job Beilein did this season. The only personnel differences between this season and last were the additions of two freshmen guards whose best offers between them were Western Michigan and Valparaiso and a mid-season addition who scored a total of zero points in Michigan’s last three games. Beilein basically took the same team that finished 172nd in the RPI last season and turned it into a team with the 41st RPI. There wasn’t a ballyhooed recruiting class or a high-profile transfer that came in and changed the dynamics. This team is nowhere near as talented as its record would indicate. There are considerable flaws that could—if left unchecked—result in a regression next season. Michigan has no offensive or defensive post presence. Manny Harris is the only player who can get to the basket. Sims is the only player who can reliably hit a mid-range jumper. ‘M’ took 26 three-pointers per game and only hit on a paltry 33%. This team won with superior coaching and—for the lack of a better word—grit. That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that it did win and the unadulterated joy that came with it. However, it does raise questions for next season.

Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and—to some extent—Laval Lucas-Perry—were the only additions to the program from last season. All three certainly excelled in the “grit” category but statistically speaking, they didn’t add much beyond being scholarship players. More importantly, they did little to help Michigan’s most pressing problem of having no post presence on either side of the court. Novak and Douglass will eventually be vital for the success of Beilein’s offense and actually were pivotal this season as well despite their statistics. However, if this team is going to make a leap next season, it will need vast improvements in a number of weak areas; specifically, post-defense, rebounding, and creating shots. Beilein gets the services of five newcomers for 2009. They are an unheralded bunch according to the recruiting rankings but they bring the program much-needed relief in the areas in most disrepair. Michigan should be a fringe bubble-team next season regardless of how the newcomers fair but whether the program makes a leap next season depends almost entirely on the contributions of Darius Morris, Matt Vogrich, Blake McLimans, Jordan Morgan, and Ben Cronin.

Are these players going to have major impacts statistically next season? The answer is almost certainly and emphatically, “No!” Sometimes, though, simply having certain measurables and basic skills can mean just as much as an impressive stat-line. Consider that Michigan’s starting lineup this season consisted of zero players over 6’7. There were no “bigs” to finish off easy buckets at the basket. There were no “bigs” to pound the glass or cause defensive problems in the paint. Ohio St. and Wisconsin—two otherwise average Big Ten teams—dominated Michigan because of their size in the paint. I have absolutely no idea how John Beilein managed a 10-seed in the NCAA Tournament while being overwhelmingly undermanned in the post in virtually every game. It is a remarkable accomplishment. McLimans, Morgan, and Cronin are all taller than 6’7. Morgan is a solid, 6’8 power forward. McLimans is 6’10 and Cronin is 7’0. Having those players in the game—regardless of experience—will significantly decrease the ability for opponents to dribble-drive to the lane. Just think of how difficult Mike Tisdale—Illinois’s 7’1 sophomore center—made things for the Big Ten. Tisdale is developing into a solid player but his length alone causes problems. If Cronin can recover from his hip injury, simply having him on the court will improve Michigan’s post-defense and rebounding. McLimans is the closest thing Michigan will have to Kevin Pittsnogle next season and maybe even for the next four seasons. At 6’10, he can shoot from long distance and pass. It might take a year or two for his skill-set to catch up to D1 level but his length will help immediately. Morgan is a Jamelle Cornley/Cyrus Tate type player. Michigan sorely lacks that sort of presence in the paint. Morgan is thick-shouldered and at 6’8 should immediately have the ability to pound on the glass as a freshman. McLimans, Morgan, and Cronin will probably develop into solid all-around players by the time they’re done at Michigan. However, none of that really matters for next season. Simply having their bodies will help Michigan tremendously in two areas in need of desperate improvement: post defense and rebounding.

Morris and Vogrich are more skilled and will likely contribute more statistically than the big men. Morris is a 6’4 point guard who should team with Manny Harris to give Michigan a superior rebounding backcourt. Harris is one of the best—if not the best—rebounding guards in the country. Morris is also a solid rebounder but also excels at penetrating and finding the open man. With Harris the only player who takes the ball to the basket, Morris’s ability to break down a defense will be a huge help for the Michigan offense. As much of an impact as Douglass and Novak had this season, Vogrich is, by far, the best prospect of the three. He received scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Stanford, and Georgia Tech among others. He may have the least impact of the five newcomers simply because Douglass and Novak are of similar size and stature but a team that shoots 33% from the three-point will benefit immediately from a shooter of his caliber.

Certainly, it would help if current players took major steps in their development. Would it be a godsend if Laval Lucas-Perry started taking his man on dribble with regularity? Sure. Would it be a huge relief if DeShawn Sims turned into the player that his skills and our eyeballs project he could be? You bet. The improvement curve in basketball is a gradual one and sometimes it can be painfully slow. Video of Lucas-Perry driving at will in a University of Arizona open gym made him look like a college-ready point guard. Whether it was a lack of confidence or the lack of talent at said open gym, he was clearly not ready to contribute. Sims has improved ever-so-slightly in his three seasons and has more to improve mentally than physically. These things may or may not happen over the off-season. However, one thing that will for sure happen is that Michigan will triple the number of players 6’8 or taller and it will add two ball handlers who are more highly-rated coming out of high school than any players on the team with the exception of Harris and Sims. The returnees should keep Michigan a fringe-NCAA Tournament team at worst. The newcomers—and their much-needed niches—will likely determine whether this team is better next season and, if so, how much better.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ugly and Awesome

Late in the second half against Clemson, Michigan found itself in an equally exhilarating and uncomfortable position. It was either going to win its first NCAA Tournament game in 11 years or it was going to blow a 16-point second half lead. Leading 58-57 with just 48 seconds to go, Michigan began its most important—and perhaps its final—possession of the season. Clemson had shaven 14 points off its lead in the previous four minutes and forty seconds and was threatening to steal an improbable comeback victory. Manny Harris—fittingly putting the final touches on his one-man show—drove the lane, avoided the charge and picked up the game-clinching “and 1.” That play officially marked Michigan’s return to the big stage. That image will undoubtedly be burned into the collective minds of the Michigan fanbase for eternity which means I can finally get the image of Baron Davis out of my head.

I can’t figure out how Michigan beat Clemson other than the obvious feat of scoring more points. “M” shot 40% from the field and was outrebounded 40-28 including a 21-7 disadvantage on the offensive glass. That last discrepancy accounted for a 16-4 advantage in second chance points in Clemson’s favor. “M” also turned the ball over 14 times including nine in the final 16 minutes. Teams that shoot that poorly from the field, get dominated that substantially on the glass, and turn the ball over that many times rarely win especially against top 25 caliber teams.

The difference between Michigan and Clemson on Thursday night—and more importantly between Michigan now and Michigan two years ago—is coaching. Clemson clearly had a sizeable advantage on the interior. It routinely found its big men being guarded by Zack Novak—Michigan’s freshman guard. Yet, the Tigers kept settling for 3s that clearly weren’t falling. In the regular season, Michigan was beaten by teams that attacked the paint. Ohio St., Wisconsin, and Michigan State are prime examples. Oliver Purnell—bless his heart—obviously did not pick up on this. Despite clear mismatches in the post, Clemson opted for its worst possible gameplan jacking up 22 three-point attempts. That’s where the game was won. Purnell allowed his team to be fooled into changing its style of play. John Beilein did not. Had Clemson come out and asserted itself in the post and used its press to set up the fast break, Michigan would not have won. Beilein tempts teams to play his style of basketball. Clemson—like Duke and UCLA earlier in the season—gave into the temptation. Ironically, Clemson looked a lot like Michigan under Tommy Amaker: talent without direction. It’s nice to be on the opposite side of that for once.

The most encouraging thing about the direction of the program—aside form winning an NCAA Tournament game—is that success has come before the talent. If Beilein can lead a team like this to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, then one can only wonder what he could do with a finished product. Without taking away from the fact that this season has been a smashing success, what does this team actually do well? It doesn’t shoot the three well. It doesn’t rebound well. It doesn’t defend shots well. It doesn’t defend in the post well. DeShawn Sims is the tallest starter at 6’7. It’s two-deep at point guard—C.J. Lee and David Merritt—are/were walk-ons. There’s no question this is a gritty bunch but there’s even less of a question that this team lacks more than it has which makes Michigan’s win over Clemson that much more spectacular. Now, if Beilein can just get some tall, athletic dudes, he’ll make everyone’s life—including his own—much less stressful. He might also want to consider minimizing the number of times Zack Novak defends Blake Griffin on Saturday just in case Oklahoma doesn’t give into temptation.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Final 2009 NCAA Tournament Projections

Before I get started with my projections, I want to quickly address Michigan’s standing as a bubble team. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve repeatedly stated that Michigan needed to win its season-finale at Minnesota and a first round game in the Big Ten Tournament to lock-up a bid. A loss in the first round would’ve put Michigan squarely on the bubble. Michigan won the season-finale at Minnesota and then beat Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. At that point, they were “locks.” Some cautious fans—and I do understand the caution considering Michigan’s 11-year absence from the tourney—still worried or are still worrying about Michigan’s fate. These fans cited the possibility of absolute mayhem in the conference tournaments that could steal so many bids that Michigan could get phased out. That was never a possibility. This has been one of the craziest conference tournament seasons ever. The absolute worst case scenario for bubble teams pretty much happened with five teams (USC, Temple, Cleveland St., Mississippi St., and Maryland) stealing bids by securing automatic bids or playing their way into the tourney. Still, even with that near-worst case scenario, Michigan is still not among the last few teams in the field.

On to the projections…Obviously, my goal is to get the entire 65-team field correct. I’ve missed once in each of the last two seasons. It will take some good fortune to get the field right this season because the last two spots are toss-ups. My intentions are for this to be my projections so I haven’t looked at Joe Lunardi’s projections or any of the other projections that are out there. Wish me luck!

Final 65-team NCAA Tournament Projection:

1 ACC Duke
2 SEC Mississippi St.
3 Big East Louisville
4 Big 12 Missouri
5 Big Ten Purdue
6 Pac-10USC
7 MVC N. Iowa
8 MWC Utah
9 WAC Utah St.
10 A-10Temple
11 Colonial VCU
12 MAC Akron
13 WCC Gonzaga
14 C-USA Memphis
15 Sun Belt Western Kentucky
16 Horizon Cleveland St.
17 MAAC Siena
18 Big Sky Portland St.
19 MCC North Dakota St.
20 Big West Cal St. Northridge
21 OVC Morehead St.
22 Ivy Cornell
23 Southern Chattanooga
24 Patriot American
25 Southland Stephen F. Austin
26 Northeast Robert Morris
27 AEC Binghamton
28 Big South Radford
29 Atl. Sun E. Tennessee St.
30 SWAC Alabama St.
31 MEAC Morgan St.
32 At-Large ACC North Carolina
33 At-Large ACC Wake Forest
34 At-Large ACC Florida St.
35 At-Large ACC Clemson
36 At-Large ACC Boston College
37 At-Large ACC Maryland*
38 At-Large Big East Pittsburgh
39 At-Large Big East Villanova
40 At-Large Big East Syracuse
41 At-Large Big East Marquette
42 At-Large Big East West Virginia
43 At-Large Big East Connecticut
44 At-Large Big Ten Michigan St.
45 At-Large Big Ten Wisconsin*
46 At-Large Big Ten Ohio St.
47 At-Large Big Ten Michigan
48 At-Large Big Ten Minnesota*
49 At-Large Big Ten Illinois
50 At-Large Big XII Kansas
51 At-Large Big XII Missouri
52 At-Large Big XII Oklahoma St.
53 At-Large Big XII Texas A&M
54 At-Large Big XII Texas
55 At-Large SEC Tennessee
56 At-Large SEC LSU
57 At-Large Pac 10 Washingon
58 At-Large Pac 10 Arizona St.
59 At-Large Pac 10 California
60 At-Large Pac 10 UCLA
61 At-Large Horizon Butler
62 At-Large MWC San Diego St.*
63 At-Large MWC BYU
64 At-Large A10 Xavier
65 At-Large A10 Dayton

* Last Four “IN”

Last Two Spots

San Diego St. and Maryland

I believe the last two spots in the tournament will come down to two of the following four teams:

St. Mary’s
San Diego St.

Maryland has the worst RPI of the bunch. However, Maryland has wins over North Carolina (#1 seed) and Michigan St. (#2 seed). The Terps also played in the toughest conference and had additional wins over Wake Forest and Michigan. Maryland had three wins over teams in the RPI 25 and Creighton didn’t even play a team in the RPI 25. Even though Creighton has the better RPI, I think Maryland is the stronger team and wins the head-to-head comparison. I also think San Diego St. wins a comparison with Creighton. I also think the committee will rate St. Mary’s with a healthy Patty Mills over Creighton. So, I feel comfortable eliminating Creighton from the group.

That leaves Maryland, San Diego St., and St. Mary’s. Nobody knows how the selection committee will choose to rate St. Mary’s. It will be forced to decide how much of an impact the loss of Patty Mills had on St. Mary’s season. I don’t envy the committee’s decision. Mills is a superstar. However, Maryland’s quality wins will likely trump the return of Mills in the committee’s eyes. So, one of the final two bids will likely go to Maryland.

That leaves a battle between St. Mary’s and San Diego St. This is a tough one because these two teams played earlier in the season with St. Mary’s winning by three at San Diego St. That St. Mary’s team had a healthy Patty Mills. The reason why this is such a tough decision is because despite the result of that head-to-head matchup, I think San Diego St. has a better resume. Both teams finished 12-5 in their respective conferences. However, San Diego St. plays in the MWC which is #8 in the RPI. St. Mary’s plays in the WCC which is #14. San Diego St. also has an RPI of 35—11 spots better than St. Mary’s. San Diego St. has the 51st SOS in the country. St. Mary’s is woefully low at 148th. San Diego St. won six games against the RPI 100. St. Mary’s won three games. It would not surprise me at all to see St. Mary’s in over San Diego St. The committee has an easy “out” by simply saying that a healthy Patty Mills trumps everything. However, in my opinion, SDSU should get in over St. Mary’s so I’m giving SDSU the last spot in my projections.

The rest of the bubblers:

Penn St—The seven teams I have in the tournament from the Big Ten have an RPI of 45 or better. Those teams also all have a SOS of 35 or better. Penn St’s RPI is 70 and SOS is 93. There is a clear cutoff between those seven teams and Penn St. and I don’t think there’s any way the Nittany Lions get in.

Arizona—The Wildcats were a committee-favorite last year with a pretty weak resume. The difference this year is the absence of the #2 SOS. Arizona could’ve—and likely would’ve—played its way in with a win over Arizona St. in the first round of the Pac 10 Tournament but that didn’t happen.

Florida/S. Carolina/Auburn—Florida has no business being in the tournament with its resume. I know the committee says that it doesn’t pay attention to conference affiliation but I don’t believe it’s possible to avoid the subconscious conference-related biases that come into play. I think the committee would’ve felt compelled to put more than two teams into the tourney from the SEC. So, Mississippi State’s surprising automatic-bid probably put an end to Florida, S. Carolina, and Auburn’s candidacies. If any team gets in from this group, it should be Auburn.

Best Guess Seeding Projections:


N. Carolina


Michigan St.




Wake Forest


Florida St.


Arizona St.
Oklahoma St.




Ohio St.
Utah St.


Texas A&M






Mississippi St.


Northern Iowa
Cleveland St.


Portland St.


Robert Morris
Morgan St.
E. Tenn. St


Morehead St.
Alabama St.

Best RPI among at-large teams projected “OUT” of the tournament

#39 Creighton
#47 UAB
#48 Illinois St.
#50 Niagara
#51 George Mason
#52 Florida
#54 Baylor
#57 Tulsa
#59 Virginia Tech
#60 Georgetown

Lowest RPI among at-large teams projected “IN” the tournament

#58 Boston College
#55 Maryland
#46 St. Mary’s
#45 Wisconsin
#44 Michigan
#42 Texas
#41 Minnesota
#40 California
#37 LSU
#36 Texas A&M

Breakdown of conferences with multiple bids (in no particular order):

Big Ten (7)

Big East (7)

ACC (7)

Big XII (6)

Pac 10 (5)

A10 (3)

MWC (3)

SEC (3)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yesterday was a good day.

There haven’t been too many great days as a Michigan fan over the last few years. The football team just capped off one of its worst seasons in school history and hasn’t beaten Ohio St. since 2003. The basketball team hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 11 years and, well, you know. The day John Beilein was hired was certainly a great day. Ditto Rich Rodriguez. Michigan’s win over Florida in the 2008 Capital Bowl was a great day. The two respective days that Michigan beat Duke and UCLA last December were certainly off the charts. Still, to be counting “great days” on two hands is not the most ideal situation. While yesterday doesn’t quite equal the day that both Charles Woodson won the Heisman and Michigan beat #1 Duke at Crisler, or any number of dates in 1997, it was one of the most enjoyable days I can recall to be a Michigan fan.

Thursday was great for two very different reasons. First, Michigan hammered down a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Seinfeld went off the air. The only way Michigan was going to miss the tourney was to lose to Iowa and then receive a whole bunch of bad luck via conference tournament upsets. So, Michigan’s win essentially “clinched” a bid even though one may have been imminent anyway. We’ll still have to wait until Sunday for the formal announcement but Michigan’s status is so concrete that the question has moved from “will Michigan get a bid?” to “how high will Michigan be seeded?” Today’s matchup against Illinois will not be easy. I don’t think Michigan matches up against the Illini particularly well but a win is not out of the question. In fact, most neutral observers would probably call this game a toss-up. The Illini will be without Chester Frazier which could tip the scale slightly into Michigan’s favor. A win over Illinois puts Michigan easily into an 8/9 matchup. Considering that means a second round matchup against a #1 seed, maybe a win over Illinois is not advisable. Still, Michigan has the potential to play through Sunday and seems to be in peak position entering the NCAA Tournament. Thursday was the culmination of 11 years of high-level frustration. That is a sign of a good day.

The other reason for celebration is the commitment—or what now can be described as pre-commitment—of top in-state quarterback, Devin Gardner. I generally pay attention to the overall strengths of a recruiting class rather than focusing on individual players but in this case, I certainly will make an exception. I don’t think there has ever been a player that I wanted to play for Michigan more than Gardner other than maybe Terrell Pryor. Even then, I think I rooted more for Gardner’s commitment. Gardner is an in-state kid. Michigan State apparently owned in-state recruiting last year. Too much noise has been made about the supposed in-state power struggle on the recruiting trails between Michigan and Michigan State. No player in the state means more to a program than Gardner means to Michigan. In fact, that statement could probably be expanded to include the entire country and be more accurate than not. Gardner is the Terrell Pryor/Vince Young of the 2010 recruiting class. He is 6’4 and deceptively fast. Swinging and missing on Gardner would’ve meant a lot more than just losing a good prospect. Five years ago, Gardner would not have been a fit for the Michigan football program. Sure, Lloyd Carr managed to reel Antonio Bass to Michigan but he was not brought in as a QB. He was brought in as a player who could play a multitude of positions. Gardner is unquestionably a quarterback and the old regime would’ve had no use for him. With the spread in town, Gardner is the perfect fit for Michigan. If Rodriguez wouldn’t have been able to land the consummate spread quarterback from just 20 minutes down the road, that would’ve ramped up the in-state criticism even more. The fact the Gardner committed—and committed early—is huge for a number of reasons. First and most obvious, it gives Michigan six years of stability at the position that was its downfall (or at least, most responsible for its downfall) in 2007. Second, it puts a stick of dynamite in the mouths of the people spouting off about Michigan State’s in-state recruiting dominance. Thirdly, it should give Michigan momentum for the recruiting class moving forward. More importantly, it puts one of the most gifted and dangerous athletes in the country at the helm of Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense. In my book, that is also a sign of a good day. Not to mention, yesterday also brought everyone possibly the greatest basketball game ever played. Go Blue!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NCAA Tournament Projections

I hope the “bubble” picture goes from analog to HD this week because the current reception is frustratingly fuzzy. I struggled to find 65 teams—particularly the last three spots—that were worthy of receiving a bid. Separating teams like Arizona, Creighton, San Diego St., New Mexico, UNLV, S. Carolina, Florida and Penn St. is not an enjoyable task. The conference tournaments will hopefully sort things out with those teams. However, there are some teams on the outside of the bubble who could play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Providence would probably earn a bid by beating Louisville in the second round of the Big East Tournament. Another team on the periphery of the bubble to keep an eye on is Auburn. The Tigers finished 10-6 in the SEC and have an RPI of 65. If they can beat Florida in the second round and Tennessee in the semifinal, then that would certainly open up the door for a bid.

Here is how I view the field right now (in no particular order):

1 ACC North Carolina
3 Big East Pittsburgh
4 Big 12 Oklahoma
5 Big Ten Michigan St.
6 Pac-10 Washington
7 MVC N. Iowa
8 MWC Utah
9 WAC Utah St.
10 A-10 Xavier
11 Colonial VCU
12 MAC Miami (OH)
13 WCC Gonzaga
14 C-USA Memphis
15 Sun Belt Western Kentucky
16 Horizon Butler
17 MAAC Siena
18 Big Sky Weber St.
19 MCC North Dakota St.
20 Big West Pacific
21 OVC Morehead St.
22 Ivy Cornell
23 Southern Chattanooga
24 Patriot American
25 Southland Stephen F. Austin
26 Northeast Robert Morris
27 AEC Binghamton
28 Big South Radford
29 Atl. Sun E. Tennessee St.
30 SWAC Alabama St.
31 MEAC Morgan St.
32 At-Large ACC Duke
33 At-Large ACC Wake Forest
34 At-Large ACC Florida St.
35 At-Large ACC Clemson
36 At-Large ACC Boston College*
37 At-Large Big East Connecticut
38 At-Large Big East Louisville
39 At-Large Big East Villanova
40 At-Large Big East Syracuse
41 At-Large Big East Marquette
42 At-Large Big East West Virginia*
43 At-Large Big Ten Illinois
44 At-Large Big Ten Purdue
45 At-Large Big Ten Wisconsin
46 At-Large Big Ten Ohio St.
47 At-Large Big Ten Michigan
48 At-Large Big Ten Minnesota*
49 At-Large Big Ten Penn St.*
50 At-Large Big XII Kansas
51 At-Large Big XII Missouri
52 At-Large Big XII Oklahoma St.
53 At-Large Big XII Texas A&M
54 At-Large Big XII Texas
55 At-Large SEC Tennessee
56 At-Large SEC S. Carolina*
57 At-Large SEC Florida*
58 At-Large Pac 10 UCLA
59 At-Large Pac 10 Arizona St.
60 At-Large Pac 10 Cal
61 At-Large MVC Creighton*
62 At-Large MWC BYU
63 At-Large MWC New Mexico*
64 At-Large A10 Dayton
65 At-Large WCC St. Mary’s*

Auto bids bolded
* Bubble Teams

Last Five “IN”

1.New Mexico

The Mountain West Conference (MWC) has taken the “Mid-Major” mantle—at least temporarily—from the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The MWC boasts five teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations. BYU and Utah are “locks” with gaudy RPIs. The other three—New Mexico, San Diego St., and UNLV—are likely fighting for one or two spots. San Diego St. has the best RPI but its resume is the most flimsy with just one win against the RPI 50. UNLV and New Mexico have four and three, respectively. UNLV has the next flimsiest resume of the three boasting a conference record of just 9-7. New Mexico, on the other hand, tied BYU and Utah with a 12-4 conference record. New Mexico also beat every team in the league which is something San Diego St and UNLV failed to do. For now, I’ve got New Mexico in but a lot can—and likely will—change in the MWC over the next week.

2. Penn St.

THE question for Selection Sunday is: how many bids will the Big Ten receive? Believe it or not, that number could’ve gone as high as nine had Northwestern beaten Ohio St. on Sunday. With the Wildcats out of the picture, the cap is set at eight. A lot will depend on how many upsets there are in the various conference tournaments. If the bids were being handed out today, I think the Big Ten would get eight teams in. Michigan St., Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio St. are “locks.” Michigan and Minnesota are nearly locks. Penn State’s season is quite the enigma. Going 10-8 in the second strongest conference in basketball would normally catch a bid with ease. However, there’s nothing “easy” about PSU’s chances. The Nittany Lions had a less-than-impressive non-conference performance which is why their RPI is stuck in the 60s—19 spots behind Michigan and 21 spots behind Minnesota. Penn State’s 80th strength of schedule (SOS) is miserable for a Big Ten team. No other team in the conference is worse than 50th. Penn State does have a few solid wins against Michigan St., Illinois (2), Minnesota, Michigan and Purdue. However, Northwestern has wins against Michigan St., Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio St and nobody thinks Northwestern should get a bid. The only thing Penn St. has going for it at this point is the 10-8 conference record. “The Committee” won’t have to go far to invoke precedent if it chooses to keep PSU out. Providence and Auburn probably won’t get bids despite 10 conference wins each. That said, Penn St. could and likely would play its way into the tournament by beating Purdue in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

3. St. Mary’s

Nine years ago, the Cincinnati Bearcats were, far and away, the best team in college basketball. Then, Kenyon Martin broke his leg. The Bearcats were given a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament despite having the most impressive resume in the land. The Selection Committee cited Martin’s pending absence as the reason for the discounted seed. If the Selection Committee takes injuries into question when forming and seeding the field then St. Mary’s should have no problem getting into the tournament. Although, don’t tell that to Dayton who was absolutely robbed of a bid last season after playing much of the season without Chris “Top Flight” Wright. St. Mary’s has been playing without Patty Mills for five weeks. If the Selection Committee knows as much about basketball as it should, then the fact that Mills is one of the premier players in college basketball should be no secret. The Gaels were 16-1 when Mills went down and only 6-4 without him. St. Mary’s beat Providence and Utah St. in an otherwise weak schedule. If the Gaels don’t get in, they’ll only have their schedule to blame. A blowout loss to Gonzaga in the WCC Final certainly doesn’t help.

4. Creighton

The MVC started to plunge last season and that turned into a full-fledged nosedive this season. Northern Iowa—a team with an RPI of 70 heading into the MVC Championship Game—won both the regular season and the conference tournament. Even worse, the Panthers have one win in the RPI 50. In 2006, the MVC regular season champ had an RPI of 7 and the conference champ had an RPI of 20. The conference isn’t nearly as strong as it once was and—as a result—might get stuck with just one bid. Creighton is the MVC’s chance at a second bid. The Blue Jays have a solid RPI (41) and eight wins in the RPI 100. They also have solid non-conference wins over Dayton, New Mexico, and George Mason. The degree of difficulty isn’t there but a team with this resume historically gets into the tournament.

5/6. Florida/S. Carolina

Florida and South Carolina have incredibly shaky resumes. They have 46 and 47 RPIs, respectively. Florida has two wins against the RPI 50. South Carolina has just one. They have the 84th and 92nd SOS, respectively. Lastly, they come from a conference that was abysmal this season. Unfortunately for some of the other bubble teams out there, it’s rare that a 10-6 team in the RPI 50 from a major conference gets left out of the tournament. South Carolina is 10-6. Florida—at 9-7—has a better resume than South Carolina. If either team stumbles early in the SEC tournament, they’ll get replaced in short order. If it were up to me, I would not include these teams over a team like Arizona or even SDSU and UNLV. However, there’s a pretty good chance that one gets in and maybe two. Don’t forget that Auburn went 10-6 in the SEC and has a better SOS than both teams. Yet, nobody is even talking about Auburn. These teams are weak and should not get a bid unless they do damage in their conference tournament.

Last Five “Out”

1. Arizona

The fact that Arizona is nearly in my projections is not a good sign for college basketball. The Wildcats have lost four of their last five games. They lost to UNLV, UAB, and Texas A&M in their non-conference schedule. Even worse, they barely made it to .500 in a watered-down conference. Still, Arizona’s resume is near the top of the bubble teams. Zona has six wins over the RPI 50 including victories over Kansas (7), Washington, (15), UCLA (30), California (33), Gonzaga (35), and San Diego St. (44). “The Committee” might take note that Arizona beat zero teams in the RPI 130 on the road. Still, the rest of the bubble teams are so unimpressive that Arizona might get in anyway.


I’m not sure how UNLV could possibly get a bid if San Diego St. does not. UNLV went 9-7 in the MWC. SDSU went 11-5. UNLV has an RPI of 53. SDSU has an RPI of 44. Oh, and these two teams played twice and SDSU won both games! There isn’t a reasonable scenario in which UNLV gets in over SDSU as an at-large team.

3. San Diego St.

San Diego St. played just three games in its non-conference schedule against teams in the RPI 150. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, they lost all three games including two against fellow bubble teams—Arizona and St. Mary’s. They picked up a few decent wins in-conference against Utah, UNLV (2), and New Mexico but only managed one win in the RPI 50 on the season. There is nothing on SDSU’s resume—aside from a decent RPI aided heavily by its strong conference—that makes me think they should get a bid.

4. UAB

UAB played a daunting non-conference schedule but playing a tough schedule doesn’t do you any good if you don’t win any of the games. UAB has zero wins the RPI 50. Siena and George Mason are the only other teams in the RPI 80 without a win against the top 50. UAB’s only win against even a decent team was a one-point win at Arizona. It’s amazing that a team could play in a weak conference and beat zero teams in the RPI 50 and still come out with an RPI of 43. Hopefully “The Committee” looks at more than just a number.

5. Temple

Temple is in better shape than UAB but I certainly would not say that its resume is “strong” by any means. Temple has just one win in the RPI 50 (Tennessee). The Owls did win at Penn State which could be a determining factor if the last spot comes down to those two squads. However, PSU also boasts six wins in the RPI 50. That probably trumps any advantage Temple has. If Temple marches to the A10 Championship Game—with victories over St. Joe’s and Xavier along the way—then it would probably get a bid. Anything less would result in a trip to the NIT.

6. Maryland

Maryland had to try hard to screw up its season and it looks like that hard work paid off. Maryland was in fantastic position early on with non-conference wins over Michigan State and Michigan. Maryland then beat North Carolina, Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech in the ACC. Losses to Morgan St. and Virginia will end up being the difference between a bid to the NCAA and a trip to the NIT.

Best RPI among at-large teams projected “OUT” of the tournament

#38 Temple
#43 UAB
#44 San Diego St.
#49 Illinois St.
#50 Miami (FL)
#51 Georgetown
#52 UNLV
#55 Niagara
#56 Arizona
#57 Virginia Tech
#59 Rhode Island
#60 USC

Lowest RPI among at-large teams projected “IN” the tournament

#63 Penn St.
#62 New Mexico
#53 Boston College
#47 S. Carolina
#46 Florida
#45 St. Mary’s
#42 Michigan
#41 Creighton
#40 Minnesota
#39 Wisconsin
#37 Texas
#35 Arizona St.

Breakdown of conferences with multiple bids (in no particular order):

Big Ten (8)

Big East (7)

ACC (6)

Big XII (6)

Pac 10 (5)

SEC (4)

MWC (3)

A10 (2)

WCC (2)

MVC (2)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Pistons needed Diesel power

I’m not the biggest Allen Iverson fan but I refuse to believe that he has deteriorated so badly that an otherwise decent team cannot sniff the playoffs with him on the roster. Iverson has been nothing but professional with the Pistons. He hasn’t complained. He hasn’t been selfish on or off the court. He’s clearly been playing through an injury and has made no excuses. Just this week he said he would have no problem coming off the bench if it helps the team. That’s more than I can say for the way Rip Hamilton handled his move to the bench. Don’t forget, the Pistons lost four in a row when Rip returned from an injury. That’s why he was moved to the bench. Iverson has conveniently been labeled the scapegoat but everyone knows why this team underachieves. It’s not like it’s a new phenomenon.

With road wins over Boston, Orlando, and Denver, the Pistons proved that they are still a playoff-caliber team when they aren’t busy making excuses. Granted, Boston was without Kevin Garnett and Denver was without Carmelo Anthony. Still, winning three straight against playoff opponents after losing eight in a row shows this team still has the ability to win games. That’s why Joe Dumars should’ve been more aggressive at the trade deadline. As the deadline approached last month and it appeared that the Pistons were probably not going to land Amare Stoudemire, I implored Joe D to trade Allen Iverson for Shaq. There is no way of knowing if Phoenix would’ve done the deal but it would’ve made perfect sense for the Suns who were making no secret of their desire to cut payroll. Shaq is on the books for $20 million next season. Iverson’s $21 million comes off the books in three months. That sort of cap relief is hard to come by and I have to think that the Suns would’ve made the move.

While Phoenix would’ve been able to accomplish its primary goal with the trade, I think the Pistons had the most to gain. At the time, I felt Shaq would’ve been a significant help to the Pistons. Now, I’m starting to think he could’ve been the difference between reaching the NBA Finals and getting bounced in the first round. Shaq is in excellent shape and—as a result—has been playing spectacular basketball. He is playing as well as he did when he won a championship with the Heat in 2006. He is averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds on the season. The bulk of that, though, came while in a power struggle with Amare in the post. Since Amare’s injury—and Shaq’s subsequent ownership of the post—the Diesel has averaged 24 points and 9 rebounds while shooting a ridiculous 67% from the field. Who doesn’t need that kind of production in the post? It would’ve been a short-term acquisition but the Pistons would’ve gotten two playoff runs out of a dominating center before his contract conveniently expires in the summer of 2010. The Pistons have no offensive post-presence and haven’t had won for a while now. As a result, they have had to maraud around as a jump-shooting team despite the fact they aren’t a good jump-shooting team. The playoffs have been especially cruel in recent years as a result. No two post players in the NBA would complement each other as well as Rasheed and Shaq would. Their inside/outside game would be a brutal matchup for opposing teams not to mention the improvement it would have on Detroit’s horrific post-defense.

I hope the Suns turned down an Iverson-for-Shaq offer. Maybe I’m better off not knowing if the Suns would’ve made the deal because if they were willing, I would have to say that Joe D’s inaction on this front was a monumental mistake.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Beat Minnesota, Get Bid

In 2001, the Georgia Bulldogs lost seven of their last ten games—including four to teams that didn’t make the tournament—and finished the season with a 16-14 record. Oh, and they made the tournament. In fact, not only did they make the tournament, they were an eight-seed. They weren’t even close to not making it. Georgia obviously had a lot of things on its side most notably the #1 SOS in the country, eight wins over the RPI 50, three road wins over the RPI 14, and an RPI in the mid-20s. That was enough to overshadow a record that I believe is the worst by an at-large team in NCAA Tournament history. It’s not easy getting into the tournament with 14 losses but the fact that it has been done with a similar resume should give hope to a Michigan-team that will—at best—finish its season with 13 losses. A win over Minnesota on Saturday should all-but-guarantee Michigan a spot in the field assuming a first round win in the Big Ten Tournament; let’s not talk about what a loss would do because that’s not fun.

Michigan’s 2009-resume isn’t as robust as Georgia’s was in 2001 but it is somewhat similar. Georgia played in the #1 conference in the RPI. Michigan plays in the #2 conference. Georgia had the #1 SOS. Michigan has the #9 SOS. Georgia had an RPI in the high-20s. Michigan has an RPI in the high-40s. Georgia had eight wins over the RPI 50. Michigan has five wins. Remember, though, Georgia easily made the tournament in 2001. Michigan’s resume certainly isn’t that much worse. A win over Minnesota on Saturday would bring the two even closer together. Michigan would pick up another win over the RPI 50. Its SOS would inch towards the top five. Its RPI would approach the high-30s. Plus, Michigan would compare favorably to a number of teams in terms of marquee wins. There are only 17 teams in college basketball with more wins against the RPI 50 than Michigan. Duke is the only team in the country with more wins against the RPI 25. All of the supporting numbers for a bid are present. The only thing missing from a near-guarantee is a .500 conference record and one win in the Big Ten Tournament.

In the event that some of you think the resume-gap between Georgia ’01 and Michigan ‘09 is too big to compare—Georgia clearly had the better resume, I just don’t think it’s by that much—there is more recent precedent that also favors Michigan. Last season, Arizona limped into the NCAA Tournament with an 18-14 record—one of the worst at-large records in NCAA Tournament history. The Wildcats went 4-8 over their last 12 games. Two of those four wins were against the 269th rated team in the RPI (Oregon St.). Like Georgia in ’01, Arizona easily made the tournament with a 10-seed. If Michigan beats Minnesota on Saturday, the Wolverines will have every bit the resume that Arizona had least season. Michigan would hold the advantage in “record in last 12 games”, and “wins over RPI 50.” Arizona would hold a razor-thin edge in SOS. “Conference rating” and “RPI” would be virtually identical. A win over Minnesota should get Michigan the precedence forged by Georgia and Arizona.

A loss at Minnesota would be a deathblow. Even though Arizona got in last season with an 8-10 conference record, there are too many indistinguishable bubble teams vying for too few at-large bids. There is no way the Big Ten is getting eight bids. There is no way the committee is going to take an 8-10 Michigan-team over Minnesota and Penn St. both of which will have at least.500 records in the conference. Georgia ’01 and Arizona ’08 got into the tournament with shady records because of one distinguishing factor: their schedules. They boasted the #1 and #2 schedules in those respective seasons. It remains to be seen whether the #9 SOS holds the same weight. Unfortunately, Michigan might not be in this situation if it hadn’t scheduled an NC Central Eagles-team that went 3-23 last season. Not surprisingly, the Eagles are 2-29 this season with an RPI of 338. There are only 343 teams in I-A basketball. Not unlike the educational concept/scare tactic taught in health classes around the country, in college basketball you “sleep with” everyone your opponent plays and everyone your opponent’s opponents play. There is no doubt that “beer goggles” were in full effect when NC Central was scheduled. It would be interesting to find out how much better Michigan’s SOS would be without that one game. Maybe simply not playing NCCU would’ve gotten Michigan in with an 8-10 conference record. Hopefully, this is a sobering lesson in RPI education.

In the past, I have tracked the projected tournament field on a week-to-week basis starting in January. I decided not to do that this year since things change so much from January to March. I’ll be putting together my first tournament projections next week. This weekend should burst a number of bubbles.

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