The Journey of Colorado
Colorado State by 9. South Dakota by 10. Iowa by 7. Oregon State by 19, and Oregon by 15. Those represent five of the six losses (they were also blown out by Xavier) suffered by Colorado this season.
Perhaps they just need to schedule more games against Arizona schools. A pair of big upsets this week by the Buffaloes, as they first knocked off Arizona State by 9 before hanging on to beat a hot Arizona team by 3 on Saturday.
There is nothing remarkable about this Buffaloes squad. They rank 162nd in scoring offense and 222nd in scoring defense in the nation. Their wins before these two games included a 1-point victory over Quinnipiac, a 5-point win over Drake, and a 9-point win over Mercer. They have yet to win a true road game (both of these wins were at home), and they have a BPI of 145.
Could this be a situation where a team is just beginning to gel? Maybe. Their best player is a freshman guard (McKinley Wright IV), who is averaging 16.2 PPG to go along with 4.9 assists and 1.2 steals. He scored 35 points and dished out 15 assists in these two wins.
They will need to start winning games on the road, and will need to pad their resume considerably in the Pac-12 to put themselves on the bubble radar down the line. There is nothing impressive in their out-of-conference for them to fall back on. They have two road games next – one against underachieving USC and one against UCLA. We’ll find out quickly if these wins are flukes.
The last time Colorado won consecutive games against ranked teams was in 2013, when they defeated Oregon and Arizona (they played one game between these two contests, a win against Oregon State)
Auburn Rising Above SEC
The Auburn Tigers have not earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, when (as a 10 seed) they made a run to the Sweet 16, where they lost to eventual champion Syracuse by one point (Auburn isn’t known for their basketball prowess, but when they make it to the tournament, they make it count. They have won at least one game in every tournament they have participated in (7) since they lost in the first round in 1984.)
On Saturday, they improved to 2-0 in the SEC (14-1 overall) when they defeated Arkansas convincingly. In their first SEC game of the season, they went on the road to knock off a solid Tennessee Volunteers squad. The SEC has been wacky thus far, and Auburn is one of the teams that is rising from the dust unscathed early on in the conference season.
Teams like Auburn can be hard to figure out early in the season. Their toughest out-of-conference game was probably a true road game against Dayton, a team that is not up to its usual standards. They also have a true road win over Murray State, a school that big schools typically don’t want to play on the road. Their only loss is to a down Temple squad, by 14.
The Tigers have youth, but it isn’t a freshman that is leading their charge. They have two players averaging over 15 points per game (junior guard Bryce Brown and sophomore guard Mustapha Heron). Sophomore guard Jared Harper dishes out 5.4 assists per game, while scoring 12.6 points. Many times when you have an upstart team in the NCAA, it is typically the guard play that is leading the way. This squad averages 87.3 points per game, and scored over that average against Arkansas and Tennessee. This team’s offense is legit, but they will need the defense (currently ranked 200th in scoring defense) to support their offensive game as the season goes along.
While Gonzaga, Wichita State, and St. Mary’s have been holding up their side of the bargain (as usual), 2018 will likely be worse towards mid-major at-large squads than 2017 was (and 2017 was not a good year for mid-majors earning at-large bids)
There have been moments for some mid-major squads this year, but few successes. The teams that have successes haven’t been able to sustain much momentum, which will lessen their credentials considerably. Loyola-Chicago improved to 9-1 when they defeated #5 Florida on the road. They are 2-3 since. Normally reliable Northern Iowa is off to an 0-3 start in the Missouri Valley, and have lost five in a row. They played a tough out-of-conference schedule, but only own wins over SMU and North Carolina State. Stephen F. Austin has already lost a conference game, and couldn’t get over the hump against Mississippi State (5-point loss) or Missouri (1-point loss) in the non-conference. Their best win was at LSU.
The most impressive win of them all is likely owned by New Mexico State, who defeated Miami on a neutral court. They had a chance to add a second feather to their cap, but lost in the championship game of that tournament to USC. Nevada and Boise State may end up as bubble teams out of the Mountain West, but they also were not able to earn a big out-of-conference victory. (Nevada is thinking “what if”, as they lost games against Texas Tech and TCU by a combined ten points). The Summit League includes the South Dakota Coyotes, a team who played three big non-conference games. In the three roads games, they lost by five to TCU, 16 to Duke, and three to UCLA. Impressive performances, but nothing to potentially show to the committee if they can’t win their conference tournament.
The usually reliable A-10 is way down this season. The conference hasn’t been a one-bid league since 2005, when George Washington won the conference tournament to get into the field. They have received at least three bids in every year going back to 2008, but it may be a challenge this year.
Their best bet for an at-large would appear to be Rhode Island, who have started 10-3 and own a win over Seton Hall on a neutral court. They have yet to suffer what you would consider a bad loss (their other two losses were road affairs against Nevada and Alabama), so if they can put together a gaudy regular season in the A-10, they will probably be in decent shape. If they were to win their conference tournament, it is hard to see a team that would be in great shape for an at-large.
As fun as the conference tournaments are (I am not a proponent of eliminating them), I would love if this is the year where the best teams in the smaller conferences win their tournaments to get to the Big Dance. The top teams are not likely to have strong enough resumes for at-large consideration, so we may as well see the best teams make their presence known come March.
- West Virginia (14-1) (3) – They have yet to lose in North America, as their only loss was their first game of the year against Texas A&M in Germany. 14th straight win was a huge one, as they knocked off the red-hot Oklahoma Sooners. Trae Young dropped 29 points on the Mountaineers, but did so in 8-for-23 fashion, his worst FG% since his college debut on 11/12, when he was 4-for-13 in 26 minutes against Omaha.
- Villanova (14-1) (5) – Knocked off Marquette in their tune-up for the showdown against Xavier on 1/10.
- Virginia (14-1) (9) – Their only loss remains a 7-point defeat at West Virginia, which is nothing to be ashamed about. When Virginia beats you by 12, it is a blowout, and they did it against the defending champions. They play Syracuse and North Carolina State in a pair of home games this week.
- Wichita State (12-2) (8) – No sweat at all in their win over Houston, a team that was showing some life this year. Most are probably looking forward to their games against Cincinnati, but it will be a long wait: Their first match-up isn’t until February 18th.
- Texas Tech (14-1) (13) – After beating Baylor at home and (more impressively) Kansas on the road, one may have been worried about a letdown on Saturday against a decent Kansas State squad. No worries at all, as they destroyed them by 16. Their reward for this impressive stretch? A week where they have to play both West Virginia and Oklahoma. This veteran squad has held up well, but the gauntlet gets tougher and tougher.
- Duke (13-2) (1) – Their defense is letting them down, and they now own two road losses in their conference against teams that are inferior to them: Boston College and North Carolina State, who entered the game with an 0-3 conference record.
- Michigan State (14-2) (2) – The Big Ten has been mostly chalk this season, but that changed on Sunday, when Ohio State crushed the Spartans. All 14 of Michigan State’s wins have been by double digits, which is impressive. Losing a neutral court game against Duke and a true road game against a decent enough Ohio State squad doesn’t kill them, but it also shows they may be more vulnerable in the Big Ten than originally thought.
- Oklahoma (12-2) (4) – Losing at West Virginia is something most (if not all) teams will be doing this year. It is important for Oklahoma to not fall into a rut, as they were not highly-regarded before the season began.
- Purdue (15-2) (14) – Their four wins in the Big Ten have come over Maryland, a disappointing Northwestern, Nebraska, and Rutgers. Two tests come this week though, as they play a pair of road games at Michigan and at Minnesota.
- Seton Hall (14-2) (17) – The last unbeaten team in Big East play survived a scare at Butler, which is always a tough environment to play in. They are the only team to beat Texas Tech and have wins over Louisville and Creighton. That loss against Rutgers is bizarre, but in-state rivalries sometimes can have bizarre results.
- Xavier (15-2) (6) – I admit that I am beginning to become a bit worried. Losing at Providence is not necessarily horrible, but their recent wins were also very close. They are a talented team in a talented conference, but they need to start getting back on track.
- Arizona State (13-2) (7) – They were bound to regress a bit after their red-hot 12-0 start. Losing on the road to Arizona was expected. A second road loss at Colorado was less expected, but they were finally able to earn a road conference victory in a tough game at Utah on Sunday.
- Cincinnati (14-2) (16) – Last week, I knocked them down a peg despite the fact they didn’t lose because other teams were more impressive in victory. This week, many teams fell, while the Bearcats barely took care of business against Temple before knocking out SMU at home on Sunday by 20. They travel to Florida to take on South Florida and Central Florida next.
- Miami (13-2) (12) – Bad loss in a road game against a Georgia Tech team that lost to Grambling, Wofford, and Wright State in the non-conference. They righted the ship a tad with a home win over rival Florida State. They next travel to upstart Clemson.
- Kansas (12-3) (10) – This Big 12 is going to be very competitive this year. They lost at home against Texas Tech, but followed that up by beating TCU on the road. Two more home games are next (Iowa State and Kansas State)
- Clemson (14-1) (21) – When I first ranked Clemson several weeks ago, I thought it would be short-lived. However, they keep winning and winning and winning. Their next three are not easy on paper: at North Carolina State, vs. Miami, and at North Carolina.
- Gonzaga (14-3) (24) – Margins of victory in their first four conference games: 33, 49, 30, 29. Life doesn’t figure to be much harder against Portland and San Francisco, who are next.
- TCU (13-2) (19) – Their 3-game gauntlet to begin Big 12 play ended in two losses at home and a win on the road. Go figure. They play Texas and Oklahoma in road games next.
- Auburn (14-1) (NR) – Nice wins over Tennessee and Arkansas to earn this ranking. 14-point loss over Temple is their only blemish thus far. Mississippi and Mississippi State are next on their schedule.
- St. Mary’s (15-2) (25) – It is tough when you look at your remaining schedule, and can only circle a few truly tough games. Teams like St. Mary’s cannot afford to stumble in their own conference against weak teams. So far, they have avoided that. Beating San Diego this week was actually a decent win, as the Toreros beat Colorado on the road earlier this year.
- Creighton (13-3) (NR) – Three straight wins against the not-so-great teams within the Big East. In this crazy season, beating the teams you are supposed to beat appears to be quite an accomplishment. They have circled a game against Xavier on 1/13, but will have to play Butler before that.
- Kentucky (12-3) (20) – Losing by 11 at Tennessee is far from terrible, but they still are trying to add significant wins to their ledger. Struggling Texas A&M is next.
- Texas A&M (11-4) (11) – Three straight losses against Alabama, Florida, and LSU. They were close enough to falling out of my Top 25, but have done just enough to keep their place. That may not last long with games at Kentucky and at Tennessee next.
- Florida (11-4) (NR) – It is tough to fill out the bottom of the Top 25 this week, but may as well go with a team that is 3-0 in the SEC with five consecutive wins overall. It doesn’t hurt that Florida also happens to be very talented, and is showing signs of snapping out of their funk. Mississippi State and Mississippi are next.
- Arizona (12-4) (15) – Looked like they were well on their way before that loss at Colorado. For now, we will chalk it up as a random loss during their recent hot streak, and many teams are currently experiencing random losses. Home games against Oregon and Oregon State should be simple, but what is simple in college basketball?
North Carolina (12-4) (18) – Florida State and Virginia were both road losses, but I am still not seeing the substance with this squad, beyond a very impressive win at Tennessee.
Florida State (12-3) (22) – Have lost two out of three, though those three games were against Duke (loss), North Carolina (win), and Miami (loss). We will see if they can pad their record a bit with home games against Louisville and Syracuse. When is the last time that playing Louisville and Syracuse were considered opportunities to pad the win column?
Arkansas (11-4) (23) – Simple math: When you are near the bottom of the Top 25 and lose two straight games, you are likely to fall out of the Top 25.
Notre Dame (13-3) – While Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Syracuse are hardly a gauntlet, the Irish have survived all three to start ACC play 3-0. I am waiting to see what happens when they play competition that is a bit tougher. Another game vs. Georgia Tech awaits, followed by a game against North Carolina.
Nevada (15-3) – An early season Top 25 squad lost two close games against Texas Tech and TCU. Their third loss wasn’t so good (to San Francisco), but they have begun Mountain West play at 4-0.
Rhode Island (11-3) – The likely cream of a mediocre A-10 crop has started 3-0 in conference and owns a win over Seton Hall. None of their three losses fit into the bad category (at Nevada, Virginia on neutral court, and at Alabama)