Which teams helped/hurt themselves in nonconference play? (cont.)
Eight who hurt themselves
Miami (343). For the life of me, I can't understand why Frank Haith did not put together a stronger nonconference schedule. It's why I did not vote Miami into my Top 25 ballot even while the Hurricanes were rolling up a gaudy record. The one notable win came against Minnesota at home, but the 'Canes also played eight teams whose RPI is ranked 230 or lower, and four that are ranked below 300. They need to finish in the top five in the ACC or they could be in trouble.
Illinois State (334). The Redbirds just missed out on an at-large bid last year even though were ranked 47th in the RPI. But their overall strength of schedule was ranked 105th, and so far this year it is 225th. Part of the problem with playing a weak schedule is the losses look especially bad. Illinois State dropped two games to teams ranked below 100: at home against Niagara and on the road against Ohio. I seriously doubt they will be able to get an at-large bid if they don't win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Virginia (292). I probably wouldn't have even considered the Cavaliers a bubble team two weeks ago, but their 3-0 start in the ACC brings them into the picture. Unfortunately, because of their nonconference schedule the Cavs will not have much margin for error inside the league. Their four losses during the first two months came against teams that will probably not make the NCAA tournament: at South Florida, Stanford on a neutral court, home against Penn State and at Auburn.
Notre Dame (260). I've often said there are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and Notre Dame on the bubble. It's a good thing the Irish knocked off West Virginia when they had the chance because their NC SOS means they don't have much room to spare. In fairness, Mike Brey had every right to expect that UCLA (RPI rank: 167) would be a better win, but Notre Dame has also played six teams ranked 230 and below -- and one of those, Loyola Marymount, beat them in South Bend.
Florida State (253). Two years ago, the Seminoles were the poster child for what not to do in the nonconference. They were 10-6 in the ACC and ranked 15th in the RPI, but because their nonconference schedule was so weak, they did not get an at-large bid. Leonard Hamilton put together a better slate last year and got to the tournament for the first time since he came to Tallahassee, but apparently it was a one-year lesson. This season, Florida State has played three teams in the nonconference ranked 300 or lower and nobody in the top 50.
Washington State (232). It's especially problematic for a Pac-10 school to play a weak nonconference schedule this season because wins inside the league won't help the RPI much. When the Cougars did play good teams, they reached too high, losing on the road to Gonzaga and Kansas State. Washington State also caught a bad break that LSU, which is 174th in the RPI, is having a down year. Then again, maybe that's why they were on the schedule in the first place.
Seton Hall (224). The Pirates are undoubtedly a tournament-caliber team, but their inability to win close games could cost them a bid. They have now lost seven of their last nine games, and even though their road win at Cornell is going to look good on Selection Sunday, they also played six games against teams ranked 250 or below. Seton Hall needs to somehow get to .500 inside the Big East or the Pirates will likely be on the outside looking in.
Missouri (215). The good news for the Tigers is that despite this number, when they had a chance to play a quality team, they took advantage. They beat Oregon and Georgia at home and blitzed Illinois on a neutral court. They stumbled at Oral Roberts to lose by one, but their other two losses (vs. Richmond on a neutral court and at Vanderbilt) were respectable. A top-six finish in the Big 12 should leave them in pretty good shape.
Other Hoop Thoughts
A Big East coach who has scouted West Virginia told me that part of the Mountaineers' problem is that their guards who can defend are not good shooters, and their guards who can shoot are not good defenders. Case in point: The Mountaineers could not hit outside shots against Syracuse's zone, but when Bob Huggins substituted Casey Mitchell into the game, Brandon Triche, the Orange's freshman point guard, took him to school.
An ACC head coach let me in on a secret about North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland: "He can only dribble with one hand. He has no left."
Funny how the comments I'm now hearing about Virginia are so similar to the ones I used to hear about Tony Bennett's teams at Washington State. From a coach whose team has played them: "They're so hard to play because they screen you so much. They don't mind taking you to the end of the clock, either, because it wears you out. Then they just let [Sylven] Landesberg create his own shot."
From Duke's perspective, one good thing about the way Kyle Singler has struggled this season (by his standards anyway) is that it reduces the chance he will turn pro after this season. He's a terrific player but he doesn't look like an NBA small forward to me.
Just to be clear, the reason the NCAA's new prohibition against hiring people connected to recruits is limited to minor staff positions, as opposed to full-time assistants, is not because there is something more legitimate about hiring an AAU coach as an assistant. It's because there is very little history of head coaches using full-time assistant positions for hires, which means prohibiting it would be more vulnerable to a legal challenge. If head coaches think they can get around this new rule by hiring players' relatives or AAU coaches relatives as full-time assistants, it will be easy for the NCAA to eliminate that in its next go-round.
Sorry to rain on Clemson's parade after its big week, but the Tigers nearly blew a 21-point lead at N.C. State on Saturday before winning by three. Remember, this is the same team that frittered away a 23-point lead at home against Illinois. That should give future opponents encouragement if they get down big against the Tigers.
Gonzaga pulled off an amazing feat when it opened conference play by beating its top three WCC rivals on the road. But the Zags are making 66.3 percent from the foul line, which ranks last in the league. That has to catch up with them sometime, right?
Speaking of Gonzaga, an interesting scenario is developing there. Spokane is hosting an NCAA tournament first-round site, but because Washington State is technically the host school, and because the Zags will have played fewer than three games in Spokane Arena, that means they are allowed to play at that site if they are a high enough seed. As Bud Withers pointed out in the Seattle Times, this kind of home-court advantage is not unprecedented, but it is unusual. That has to be a huge motivator for the Zags to really dominate the league to get a high seed.
When I asked Rick Barnes on Saturday night if he was concerned about his team's foul shooting, he told me he wasn't because he can put his best foul shooters on the floor late in games. Funny, but I remember John Calipari telling me the same thing about Memphis two years ago.
The most head-scratching thing about Purdue's three-game losing streak is how poorly the Boilermakers have played on defense. Wisconsin shot 41.1 percent and took 27 free throws. Ohio State shot 51 percent and shot 18 free throws. Northwestern shot 45.7 percent and made 30 free throws. For a program that prides itself on guarding the dribbler, that's gotta stop.
Not enough is being said about what a terrific passer Georgetown's Greg Monroe is.
Michigan State's Durrell Summers has to be the biggest tease in college basketball. He has good size and dazzling athleticism, but he is incredibly inconsistent. Tom Izzo has been bringing him off the bench for most of the last month, but Summers had been playing better so Izzo gave him the start against Illinois on Saturday. The result: seven points on 3-for-10 shooting in 29 minutes, though to his credit he did have nine rebounds.
Walk-on guard Skylar McBee shot 1-for-7 (1-for-6 from beyond the arc) in Tennessee's win over Ole Miss. And I thought he'd never miss again.
It is hard to believe this has escaped my notice for so long, but I feel compelled to inform you that there is a senior walk-on guard playing for Siena whose name is Just-in'love Smith.
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