College Hoops Catch-Up

CATCHING UP WITH RECENT DEVELOPMENTS FROM COLLEGE BASKETBALL

We're coming off several big days of football action. But, there were some important games in college basketball that were overshadowed in national coverage because of all the gridiron news. Tuesday's relatively quiet spot on the schedule gives us a chance to review what happened, and to get you into the right mindset for handicapping that TV doubleheader tonight featuring Villanova-Missouri and Washington-Marquette from Madison Square Garden for ESPN's Jimmy V. Week.

We've always found it best to jump right into game boxscores to learn the most about teams and tendencies. The wire services and TV pundits will tell the names of the players, and shameless hype them endlessly because they're trying to sell newspapers or build up future telecasts. If you're trying to pick winners, you need to know TEAM FUNDAMENTALS. If a team can't rebound, it doesn't matter what the name of their best shooter is. If a team CAN rebound, it doesn't matter that you haven't heard of any of their players!

There were five games that caught are attention this past Saturday and Sunday because they involved teams that you need to be paying a lot of attention to in the coming days and weeks. Let's run the numbers from those games so we can get caught up in college basketball...

KENTUCKY 73, NORTH CAROLINA 72
Field Goal Pct: North Carolina 42%, Kentucky 44%
Three-Pointers: North Carolina 11/18, Kentucky 4/17
Free Throws: North Carolina 11/14, Kentucky 13/18
Rebounding: North Carolina 33, Kentucky 36
Turnovers: North Carolina 13, Kentucky 9
Pomeroy Rankings: North Carolina 5, Kentucky 2

This was an early Saturday tip-off...and many of you may have watched because the early football schedule wasn't all that great. You saw a great game. North Carolina broke their tendency a bit and made some three-pointers. This should scare the heck out of the nation even though this turned out to be a loss. If the Heels can add three-point consistency to their arsenal, they may actually become unbeatable later in the season. Kentucky ultimately won because of rebounding and turnovers. Coach Calipari knows how to build champions (and how to recruit superstars). Be sure you're paying close attention to those two stats with the Wildcats this season.

Note that we've added in the current (as of press time) ratings from Ken Pomeroy's landmark college basketball site in our boxes today. That's to give you a sense of where all the teams stand nationally. You probably don't need that sense with obvious teams like Kentucky and North Carolina! But...it is worth remembering that this game may have been a Final Four preview. The caliber of play you saw on the floor, and in the fundamentals makes it very likely these teams will be dominant in their conferences and in the postseason. You'll be handicapping A LOT of TV games involving these teams this season...so be sure you're completely up to speed with their various strengths and any potential Achilles' Heel.

MARQUETTE 61, WISCONSIN 54
Field Goal Pct: Marquette 38%, Wisconsin 32%
Three-Pointers: Marquette 2/11, Wisconsin 5/19
Free Throws: Marquette 13/19, Wisconsin 17/21
Rebounding: Marquette 41, Wisconsin 28
Turnovers: Marquette 13, Wisconsin 12
Pomeroy Rankings: Marquette 6, Wisconsin 3

This game got less media coverage because most of the world had switched over to football by tip-off of this midday game. You see from the Pomeroy rankings that we may be looking at a possible Elite Eight kind of matchup with these teams. Amazingly, Wisconsin is still third at kenpom even though they've lost twice! The Badgers were coming off a tight road loss to North Carolina...and apparently a home loss to somebody as good as Marquette doesn't kill you in the computers.

Key for us here is how much Wisconsin falls apart when they can't make three-pointers. You see a poor 5 of 19 effort. They don't do a lot of other things well in terms of national standards (they'll exceed in the Big 10, but not necessarily in the Dance as a result). You just shouldn't get outrebounded by double digits on your home floor. And, you're supposed to earn more than +2 in free throw attempts too. But, if you rely on treys, you're not attacking the basket. If you're missing the treys and not getting rebounds, those misses are virtual turnovers.

Note that Marquette didn't do much outside of rebounding in terms of taking command here. They shot poorly. And, 13 turnovers isn't great for a low tempo game. Defensive struggle, which wasn't a surprise. It's easy to lose track of Marquette in the deep and dense Big East. Be sure you keep them on your radar. This was a great result...and a respected computer model has Marquette amongst the nation's elite at the moment.

XAVIER 66, PURDUE 63
Field Goal Pct: Purdue 41%, Xavier 54%
Three-Pointers: Purdue 5/18, Xavier 6/12
Free Throws: Purdue 12/21, Xavier 16/27
Rebounding: Purdue 23, Xavier 30
Turnovers: Purdue 13, Xavier 22
Pomeroy Rankings: Purdue 13, Xavier 23

This game was at Xavier, so Purdue deserves credit for hanging close even if it was a loss. Regarding Purdue, we want you to notice that they were very soft inside defensively, and very poor on the boards. Here we have back-to-back games where Big Ten teams were outrebounded by respected non-conference opposition. And, another example too of a poor day from long range leading to a loss. If you HAVE to make treys to advance come March, then you're going to have a bad game at some point along the way.

With Xavier, you see the extreme highs and lows of undisciplined aggressive play. Great shooting, but a ridiculous 23 turnovers in a game that didn't have an outrageous tempo. Attacking the basket, but missing to many free throws when you earn a whistle. It all came out in the wash with a tight win. There will be some ugly losses this year though when the shots don't fall. Come March, somebody's going to outsmart Xavier...though Xavier will be capable of a giant-killing upset in their best games.  

BAYLOR 69, NORTHWESTERN 41
Field Goal Pct: Baylor 60%, Northwestern 24%
Three-Pointers: Baylor 4/18, Northwestern 4/26
Free Throws: Baylor 7/12, Northwestern 9/14
Rebounding: Baylor 35, Northwestern 26
Turnovers: Baylor 14, Northwestern 11
Pomeroy Rankings: Baylor 17, Northwestern 52

We move to Sunday now. This might strike you as an odd game to include because it was a blowout, and these aren't traditional basketball powers. Well, Baylor is currently in the top 10 of the AP rankings if not Pomeroy's numbers...and they certainly did enough here to signal a return to prominence in this sport after a disappointing campaign last season. Also, Northwestern has been in the news as a team that could finally reach the Big Dance after decades of trying.

Well, the guys in purple dropped from the #43 ranking they had heading into their win over Georgia Tech (as mentioned in our previews last week) all the way down to 52 after this debacle. That falls to the wrong side of the bubble for an at-large berth to the Dance. And, again...we have to mention...we have a Big Ten team that's getting killed on the boards, embarrassed inside, and posting a disappointing result when three-pointers aren't falling. And this was a home game!

Baylor isn't as good as they look in the numbers above. But, they obviously scored at will inside to shoot 60% overall with a 4 of 18 three-point anvil weighing them down. Pay attention to Baylor. Don't drink any more of the Northwestern kool-aid just yet.

WICHITA STATE 89, UNLV 70
Field Goal Pct: UNLV 47%, Wichita State 59%
Three-Pointers: UNLV 5/20, Wichita State 12/23
Free Throws: UNLV 17/23, Wichita State 13/19
Rebounding: UNLV 24, Wichita State 27
Turnovers: UNLV 7, Wichita State 6
Pomeroy Rankings: UNLV 22, Wichita State 28

First...look at the Pomeroy rankings. These aren't generic mid majors this season...these are teams currently projected as second rounders in the NCAA who would have clear potential to crash the Sweet 16. Second, remember that UNLV has already defeated North Carolina in a clean win! This was a tough spot for Vegas because they were coming off an overtime win at Santa Barbara a few days earlier. We're not going to hold this scoreboard result against them. Obviously the defense was too tired to play, allowing a great shooting percentage and hardly forcing any turnovers. Our point here was to keep these teams on your radar. They're not going to be on TV much...but they could be cashing tickets if oddsmakers don't stay on top of their performances. Every year a few mid majors just keep steamrolling people and the market takes forever to adjust because it's not happening in TV games.

That wraps up today's college basketball catch-up. Back tomorrow to run our weekly numbers from the NFL. Thursday we'll preview the Cleveland Browns/Pittsburgh Steelers game and outline the AFC playoff picture. There should be time for more college hoops coverage later in the week since college football is taking a week off outside of Army/Navy.

We already touched on tonight's appealing college hoops card. In addition to the games at the Garden, we're also looking at George Mason-Virginia, Texas Tech-TCU, Evansville-North Carolina, and Memphis-Miami of Florida for serious play. You can purchase our picks with your credit card online a few hours before tipoff. Or, sign up for BLUE RIBBON BASKETBALL service in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Hit the hardwood...IT'S TIME TO HOOP IT UP WITH JIM HURLEY!

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