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Scanning the Nation Notebook – February 5, 2015

February 5, 2015 Columns No Comments

Some college basketball thoughts from the first week of February, as “bubble” talk becomes increasingly a part of every day of the rest of the regular season:

    • Mentioned Butler’s Roosevelt Jones last week, and just how valuable he is for all he does for his team. Another guy you can put in that category: Seth Tuttle of Northern Iowa. Tuttle has been a low post load in the MVC for a couple years now, and he still is. The big guy is far more than that though, and can score, rebound, pass, and even step out and shoot the three. He touches ball in the high post on almost every possession; clearly, UNI’s offense runs through him. In some ways, he is reminiscent of Halil Kanacevic, who had the ball in his hands all the time for St. Joseph’s last year. Tuttle isn’t going to run the point like Kanacevic did, but he can do just about everything else. His outstanding senior year (15.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game) has him as a deserving frontrunner for Valley player of the year honors.

    • Davidson already is a surprise NCAA at-large contender in its first year in the Atlantic 10, and while the Wildcats look like they’ll probably fall just shy of a bid this year after close losses in the last week to St. Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure, it’s a team that is set up for the long haul. Bob McKillop absolutely struck gold with this year’s recruiting class, with frosh Peyton Aldridge, Oskar Michelsen, Nathan Ekwu and Jordan Watkins all contributing heavily. Aldridge (11.2 ppg) and Ekwu (3.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg) are starters up front, Michelsen (7.1 ppg) provides scoring off the bench and Watkins (2.4 ppg) has seen his minutes increase recently with the injury to Jack Gibbs. Davidson features just one senior playing significant minutes (Tyler Kalinoski, who is having an excellent year) and has a chance to be even better next year, when four starters should return. The Wildcats also are one of the best offensive teams in the country, and bless McKillop for being a coach who doesn’t neglect that side of the game. Davidson pushes the pace, isn’t afraid to shoot the ball and is a better rebounding team than many would expect (+3.6 margin) because of good old fashioned hustle. It’s an enjoyable team to watch and should be a winning team to watch for a while, too.
    • Not sure about others, but really thought Auburn would be a little bit better in its first year under Bruce Pearl. That belief was probably built more on Pearl’s record with rebuilding projects than the reality of his team’s talent, which is not quite there yet. The Tigers are still better than they’ve been (10-11 overall), but they haven’t found the consistency yet to hang with a tight pack of teams in the middle of the SEC, nor the frantic extra gear that Pearl’s teams so often have. Auburn was outhustled by Tennessee in a 71-63 loss on Saturday (speaking of hustle, check out the Vols’ Armani Moore, an undersized 6-5 forward who plays about four inches taller).
    • Connecticut is undoubtedly struggling right now and is likely no longer a contender for an at-large bid. Before writing off the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament chances, though, don’t forget that Hartford is hosting the American Athletic Conference Tournament this year at the XL Center (nee Hartford Civic Center, nee “The Mall”) where UConn hosts a number of games every year. Even if the Huskies continue to struggle, it will still be a minor upset if UConn doesn’t win the AAC Tournament over teams like SMU, Cincinnati, Tulsa and Temple on what is basically a home court.
    • Having seen some of these early bracket projections and “bubble watches,” get ready for another year of people talking about a “soft bubble.” Or at least they should be. Charleston Southern, Wofford, Texas Southern, Gardner-Webb, Eastern Kentucky, North Florida, NJIT, Georgia Tech-these are just some of the teams that “bubble” squads have lost to already this year at home. All on that list are respectable clubs, but also all are teams that an at-large caliber-team without question should beat at home. Some of this will sort out over the next month, but hopefully the conference tournament championship games help fill a few of these at-large spots, too, that otherwise may be going to teams with less-than glittering resumes.
    • Similar to Miami (Fla.), Xavier is going to be an interesting case for the NCAA selection committee. The Musketeers have a lot of quality wins, but almost all of them have been at home, and now they have a growing list of bad losses. That includes a 79-72 overtime loss at home to Creighton on Wednesday. The Bluejays are better than their 2-9 Big East record would indicate, but that is still an unacceptable loss. Furthermore, X is now just 14-9 overall. The Big East is really, really good this year, arguably the best league in the country from top to bottom, though the Big 12 is slightly stronger as a collective group. At some point, though, stockpiling losses become a problem, and at this point there would be plenty of reason to keep the Musketeers out of the NCAA Tournament.
    • Thank you, Dan Dakich. The ESPN analyst and former Bowling Green coach nailed it with his calling out coaches (and not the ever-popular shot clock) as the main reason why scoring is down so much in college basketball (ESPN Insider access required to view). Dakich has no doubt inflamed some with his unvarnished commentary, but he’s a very welcome alternative voice in the sport right now. The market on analysts tripping over themselves in praise of coaches was cornered a long, long time ago. He’s absolutely right-coaches are not paying enough mind to that end of the floor right now, and they can do better and should be challenged on it.
    • One coach who cannot be accused of being dull in any way is Mike McConathy at Northwestern State. Never afraid to shoot the ball, the Demons scored 110 points earlier this week (and allowed 108) in a two-point win over Central Arkansas, and NSU has now scored at least 88 points on 11 occasions this year. The Demons have the No. 3 scorer in Division I in Zeek Woodley, a sophomore averaging 22.4 points per game. McConathy also is known for playing a ton of guys, and this year he has ten players averaging at least 11 minutes per game. The Demons are 12-9 overall and have won four straight in the Southland to move to 7-3 in conference play, putting them on the heels of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.
    • Few things illustrate the lack of emphasis on offense in this sport right now like the fact that so many teams have stopped even running inbound plays from the sideline on the offensive end (technically known as under the opponents’ basket). Don’t understand at all why teams are now just happy to get it in-even if throwing it 80 feet deep into the other team’s backcourt-when they are inbounding from literally a few feet from the basket. Once heard Tom Izzo say that he looked at those situations as a chance for his team to get an extra 6-8 points per game, which needless to say could be the difference between winning and losing. Details matter. Why coaches aren’t paying attention to details on offense is a real problem and a real inefficiency in this sport right now. Though it certainly would help if officials would stop allowing defenders to bump and hang all over cutters, which no doubt may be contributing to teams just giving up on even trying to use them.
    • An outstanding story is happening this year at New Hampshire. Long one of NCAA Division I’s doormat programs, the Wildcats entered Wednesday with a 13-9 record and a five-game winning streak. A 63-62 loss to America East-leading Albany ended that streak but did nothing to extinguish the thought that the team is a contender to win the A-East tourney and its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. To understand how long UNH has struggled: it has been 20 years since the Wildcats’ last winning record (19-9 in 1994-95), and the program has just two winning seasons in the last 30 years, four in its last 40 years, and just 10 in the last 77 years. New Hampshire has never had a 20-win season-the 19 wins in 1994-95 are the highwater mark in the program’s 110-year history. Bill Herrion has been at the school for 10 years now, and it’s terrific to see his time there paying off in the form of wins. A freshman name to get to know: Tanner Leissner, a Texas native who leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding (13.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

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