Ohio State Rising in Wacky Big Ten
It remains nearly impossible to predict what is going to happen in the Big Ten on a nightly basis (see: Penn State over Illinois, Northwestern over Iowa, Purdue over Michigan, Minnesota over Michigan state, all in the same week), but one team is clearly beginning to rise to the top. Ohio State wasnt a preseason favorite of many, but it is Thad Matta that has his Buckeyes primed to take home a conference title a full season before most expected him to truly be in the hunt. Sundays 69-53 win over Illinois wasnt just a win, it was a massacre.
How are the Buckeyes doing it? For starters, we have to look at 3-point shooting. Ohio State has shot an absurd 28 of 47 from beyond the arc over the past two games, bringing its season percentage up to nearly 43%. While Je'Kel Foster has continued his recent torrid stretch (21 of 27 over his last four games), he isnt the only Buckeye lighting it up. JJ Sullinger and Jamar Butler are both around 50% on the year, while Ron Lewis and Matt Sylvester hit at a 36% clip. Butlers turnaround is nothing short of remarkable, after a freshman season in which he shot just 24% from 3-point land.
With defenses unable to key in on an individual hot hand, Thad Matta has been spreading the floor with 4 perimeter/1 big man sets. Terence Dials knows how to score around the basket, and has been quite effective with all the space those shooters have been giving him. Throw in the fact that the Buckyes are one of the stingiest teams in the nation when it comes to turnovers, and it should be no surprise that Ohio State had the eighth most efficient offense in the nation heading into Sundays game against Illinois.
Ohio State doesnt have the friendliest schedule the rest of the way (games at Wisconsin and at Michigan State), but it is easier than several of the other Big Ten contenders. The Buckeyes are balanced, deep, experienced, ruthlessly efficient, and coached by a man who has proven he can lead a team deep into the NCAA Tournament. Dont be surprised to see the Buckeyes take home at least a share of the Big Ten title, and then make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Brandon Roy Underrated
Washington senior wing Brandon Roy is a player that seems to get better every time I see him. On Saturday Roy did everything and everything that was asked of him, and the result was a desperately needed win over conference leader UCLA. Roy sliced up a very good Bruin defense, finishing with 20 points and getting to the line 16 times. More impressive than his ability to get past his defender was the way he reacted when he was cut off. On his way to seven assists, Roy was able to find an open man nearly every time he wasnt able to get a shot off on a drive to the basket. If the scintillating offensive performance wasnt enough, Roy drew the unenviable assignment of guarding point guard Jordan Farmar, shutting him down to the tune of 2-13 shooting and 7 turnovers.
While Roy was considered a potential first rounder headed into the season, it wasnt clear if he would be able to take over in a go-to role for the Huskies. He answered those questions with consecutive 35 point outings to start Pac-10 play, and near-heroic clutch efforts against Arizona and Washington State early in the conference slate. Roy improved the range on his jumper dramatically over the summer, going from only attempting 20 3-point shots a season ago to hitting at a 42% clip this year.
Roys season averages (19.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.9 apg) might not seem all that extraordinary in Washingtons high-powered offense, but one must take into account the Huskies weak non-conference schedule that kept Roy off the court in many early-season blowouts. Roy is running away with the conference scoring title at 22.3 ppg in Pac-10 play, and should be considered a legitimate First Team All-American at this point.
As for Brandon Roys draft prospects, there really isnt much not to like at the moment. He isnt a top tier athlete, but he has the first step, length, and body control to make it in the NBA. His ability to create for himself and for others off the dribble is quite unique in this draft. Brandon Roy was recently moved into the late lottery on the DraftExpress mock draft, and the only issue for Roy at the moment is proving that his bad knee is fully healed.
Questioning the Pollsters
Every other College Hoops writer out there has already whined about the Top 25 polls this season, so I figured I might as well get my rant in.
Forget about Kentucky and Louisville being in the Top 25 at times this season when they didnt deserve to be in a top 50 poll. Just how was Colorado ranked in the Top 25 this past week? They were ranked 25th the week before and proceeded to thank the pollsters by being blown out by a fairly unimpressive Iowa State team. None of that was of any importance to the voters in the coaches poll, as they remained in the top 25 the very next week.
Sure, they were 5-3 in the Big XII. But it is a weak, weak Big XII. And just who have they beaten? Absolutely nobody in the non-conference. Nebraska at home. Squeaked by at Oklahoma State. Is that the resume of a Top 25 team? Is that the resume of an NCAA Tournament team?
To put it all in perspective, Kansas (coming off a huge win over Oklahoma) remained unranked, despite just two losses in conference play. The young Jayhawks won in Boulder by 12 early in the Big XII slate, when they were still figuring out how to play. Kansas recently beat Iowa State by double-digits in Ames, the same mediocre Cyclone team that recently ran Colorado out of that same gym by a score of 96-79. Is there anybody out there that actually thinks the Buffaloes will stick within 20 of Kansas when they travel to Lawrence on March 4?
Colorados schedule is getting tough. Beyond the trip to Kansas, the Buffaloes must travel to Kansas State and Nebraska, where they will be underdogs. They also host Oklahoma and Iowa State. We are probably looking at an eight win team in the Big XII this season, and given the complete lack of a non-conference schedule, the Buffaloes are quite a longshot for even making the tournament.
Just who voted for them in their Top 25? Thank goodness these polls dont actually mean anything
If you want a good conference race to follow, you could do worse than what is going down in the Missouri Valley at the moment. You might not think that a four-loss team from the MVC would be a lock for the NCAA Tournament at this stage, but it appears that Creighton, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, and Northern Iowa all are. The conferences big four spent last week beating up on each other, with Missouri State, currently sitting squarely on the bubble, getting into the action with an upset win over UNI on Saturday.
The Panthers beat Wichita State on Tuesday. The Shockers took down Southern Illinois last Saturday. The Salukis beat Creighton this weekend. The Blue Jays topped UNI and Wichita State in consecutive games in late January. These games are competitive, fun to watch, and are played at a very high level.
While none of the big four actually needed the schedule help, they will all be playing in the Bracket Buster this Saturday. This is your chance to get a feel for numerous at large teams that are going to be very worthy Cinderellas come March. Creighton goes up against Fresno State (12:00, ESPN), UNI gets Bucknell (12:05 EST, ESPN2), Southern Illinois faces Louisiana Tech (6:00, ESPN2), and Wichita State takes on George Mason (another mid-major team with an at-large type of resume, 8:00, ESPN2).
Make no mistake about it, all four deserve bids. Missouri State deserves one too if they win their bracket buster game against UW-Milwaukee (2:00, ESPN2) and top Creighton in their regular season finale.
I trust the NCAA selection committee much more than I do the pollsters, but they may have a few tough decisions ahead of them. Right now it appears that all four of these teams are safely in, but what happens if one of them falters a bit down the stretch? There are an abnormal number of power programs sitting squarely on the bubble right now. Will the committee actually select a deserving MVC team (or say, the second place team in the Colonial) over teams like Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona, or Kentucky, cash cows that havent done much of anything to warrant inclusion?
Weekly Top 25
7. West Virginia
10. George Washington
11. Ohio State
19. Michigan State
20. Boston College
25. NC State