Assessing remaining unbeatens, Gonzaga's woes and more mail (cont.)
I enjoyed your article comparing free-throw shooting among top teams. However, it would have been nice if you had included 17th-ranked BYU in your analysis of 26 top teams. I recall them being a very good free-throw shooting team last year and wondered how they compared this year.
-- Alan LeVar, Arkadelphia, Ark.
Why did the Buckeyes get left out of your free throw analysis? Simple oversight and should we start the conspiracy theories?
-- Jim Young, Longview, Wash.
I generally looked for teams that were either really good or really bad from the foul line. Both these teams fell somewhere in between. However, since Alan and Jim took the time to write, I'm happy to oblige.
FT percentage: 69.0 (156th nationally)
FT rate: 38.4 (173)
FT distribution: 20.5 (205)
Inside the numbers: The Cougars' numbers aren't exactly off the charts, but through their first 10 games they attempted 44 more free throws than their opponents, so they must be doing something right. More important, The Jimmer, who has the ball in his hands the most at the end of games, is converting a cool 88.2 percent.
FT percentage: 70.0 (126)
FT rate: 34.6 (233)
FT distribution: 17.9 (281)
Inside the numbers: The Buckeyes' biggest problem is that their two leading scorers, Jared Sullinger and David Lighty, are both sub-70 percent foul shooters. (Lighty is actually shooting 60 percent.) On the plus side, they are ranked first nationally in defensive free-throw rate. So even if they're not capitalizing the way they should, at least they're doing a great job keeping their opponents off the line.
What's going on with my Gonzaga Bulldogs? Three straight losses and a sub-.500 record -- this ain't right. I knew the loss of Matt Bouldin would hurt, but we still have talent on this roster. Should I be concerned about this team missing the tourney for the first time since 1998? Please tell me, "It's still early ..."
-- Danny, Yakima, Wash.
It's still early ... but it's getting late a lot earlier than it used to. Gonzaga has a close win over Marquette in neutral-court Kansas City, but beyond that the Zags came up short in all of their other significant nonconference tests. Their game against Baylor in Dallas on Saturday is critical. If they lose, their best chance for a decent nonconference win comes at home against Xavier next Wednesday.
The Bulldogs' problems are not hard to pinpoint. I spy three. The biggest issue by far has been their defense. Check out these national rankings: Defensive efficiency, 108th. Scoring defense, 256th. Field-goal-percentage defense, 224th. Three-point defense, 314th. Blocks, 258th. Steals, 197th.
The second concern is the play of junior point guard Demetri Goodson. He is a starter who plays nearly 25 minutes a game, yet he is only averaging 4.6 points. Goodson does a pretty good job of taking care of the ball, but on the whole Gonzaga is committing 15.2 turnovers per game. If you're not going to lock up opponents on D, the least you can do is limit your opponents' possessions.
Finally, sophomore forward Elias Harris suffered a bruised Achilles tendon a few weeks ago, and he is clearly not the same player he was last year. Harris is averaging 10.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, down from 14.6 and 6.7 as a freshman.
Finally, as usual, I got several questions regarding my AP ballot:
What quality teams has Washington beaten? Like you said you need to earn a spot in the Top 25. Texas A&M won against Temple and beat Washington, yet you aren't going to rank them.
-- Jon White, Austin, Texas
What do you define as a "quality win"? I ask because of your comment that BYU's only quality win is over Arizona (ranked No. 17 by Pomeroy and No. 34 by Sagarin). Yet BYU has also beat Saint Mary's (ranked No. 33 by Pomeroy and No. 32 by Sagarin) and Utah State (ranked No. 42 by both Pomeroy and Sagarin). Do you disagree with those ratings of Saint Mary's and Utah State? Or do you simply have a higher threshold for "quality win"?
-- Joseph, Wilmington, Del.
You state that teams need to beat someone to be ranked. Well, who has Purdue and Memphis beaten? Don't say Virginia Tech, because they are the most overrated team in the land. Old Dominion has beaten Xavier and Clemson on a neutral court, Dayton and Richmond at home. ODU's RPI is 13. What gives?
-- Joe, Virginia Beach, Va.
These are all reasonable questions, and they speak to the subjectivity of the rankings. Generally, two answers come to mind. The first is that I only have 25 spots and there are many more teams that are worthy of consideration. Second, while I try not to be totally beholden to my rankings from previous weeks, it is hard to really shake things up in the absence of significant losses. Thus, teams like the ones listed above can amass "quality wins," but they might not move up in a given week because the teams above them don't deserve to be knocked down.
With respect to Joseph's question, my main definition of a "quality win" is one that happens a) against another team that I have ranked, and b) away from home. I thought about ranking Texas A&M, but I just didn't think a one-point win at home, even against a good team like Washington, warranted a ranking. I do not have Temple ranked right now, so it was hard to rank them based on that. Plus, I had to account for the Aggies' neutral-court loss to Boston College. Texas A&M is good and I considered ranking them, but I just didn't have the room.
Meanwhile, Washington may have lost to Texas A&M, but I watched the game and the Huskies passed my eye test, just as they did when they played Kentucky and Michigan State tough in Maui before losing. Like I said, it's a subjective exercise.
Finally, I actually did take a close look at Old Dominion. The Monarchs lost a close one to Georgetown, but it was at home. They also dropped one on the road at Delaware, which Joe from Virginia Beach conveniently forgot to mention. The good news is, ODU can still convince the voters it deserves to be ranked. All it has to do is win at Missouri on Dec. 30. Easy, right?
Click here to send your questions to Seth Davis for his next Mailbag column.
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