MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAMS
1) UCLA (10-7, 3-1 PAC-12) – It was so bad that the Bruins made a move mid-season with Steve Alford. That’s really all you need to know.
What’s Wrong? – “Charmin soft. All you have to do is punch them, and they won’t punch back. The (Jaylen) Hands kid is much better off the ball.” – Pac-12 coach
Can it be Fixed? – They are arguably the most talented team in the league, and the coaching change has helped in the short-term. Can the Bruins win the league? It’s not out of the question, but it’s far more likely they are mediocre and finish somewhere towards the middle of the Pac-12.
2) WEST VIRGINIA (8-9, 0-5 BIG 12) – Five consecutive losses to open Big 12 play from a program that has finished in the top two in the league in each of the past three seasons. It’s ugly in Morgantown right now.
What’s Wrong? – “They lost Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, and they just don’t have the talent in the backcourt or the depth overall. Plus, we’re now used to playing against that style, so that helps in the league. They also can’t get away with playing that style as much because the refs aren’t letting them get away with as much.” – Big 12 coach
Can it be Fixed? – Not this year. Huggins needs better guards – guys that fit his style. Plus, the Mountaineers have dug themselves too big of a hole in a league in which there just aren’t enough easy wins.
3) OREGON (10-6, 1-2 PAC-12) – The best win came against Syracuse, and there have been home losses to Texas Southern, Oregon State and UCLA.
What’s Wrong? – “The injuries to Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten have hurt, and they just don’t have any leadership because they are so young.” – Pac-12 coach
Can it be Fixed? – Dana Altman is a heck of a coach, but he was probably given too much credit with this group and shouldn’t have been picked to win the Pac-12 – although there’s still certainly a chance to win the Pac-12 tourney with how down the conference is this season. When they get Kenny Wooten back (he’s missed the past four games), the defense will be improved – but this team has a long way to go.
4) WESTERN KENTUCKY (8-8, 1-2 C-USA) – The Hilltoppers were supposed to be a candidate for an at-large bid. Instead, the dream died early with losses to Indiana State, Missouri State and Troy.
What’s Wrong? – “They are dysfunctional. Have had off-court issues, guys getting in trouble, suspended, kicked off the team. Just not enough discipline. The reason why they aren’t playing as well as they should be is because of the internal stuff.” – C-USA coach
Can it be Fixed? – There’s no doubt that Rick Stansbury has more talent than anyone else in Conference USA, so it wouldn’t be smart to count the Hilltoppers out just yet. They have blown a couple of huge leads on the road against Marshall and ODU, but it’ll likely be guard play that determines whether they get this turned around.
5) USC (9-8, 2-2 PAC-12) – Andy Enfield has talent, but the Trojans had a four-game stretch in December that included a 35-point pasting to TCU and concluded with a double-overtime loss to Santa Clara.
What’s Wrong? – Kevin Porter Jr. has only played six games and Enfield doesn’t seem to have much control over his team.
Can it be Fixed? – Not this year, but Andy Enfield will bring in a couple of elite frontcourt guys next season. He’ll lose Bennie Boatright and Porter, and the key will be point guard play – where Derryck Thornton hasn’t been the answer.
6) SAINT JOSEPH’S (8-9, 1-4 A-10) – The Hawks were projected to battle for A-10 supremacy, but the Hawks finally got their first league win on Tuesday night. There have been a few head-scratching losses – they lost to William & Mary and suffered a four-game losing streak to begin league play.
What’s Wrong? – “They are young. Starting a freshman point guard, two sophomore forwards and two talented players who both missed the entire season last year. They have talent, but chemistry and experience matter.” Another coach in the A-10 told me that he felt as though Charlie Brown is talented, but takes ill-advised shots and often doesn’t play within the offense, and that affects the rest of the team.” – A-10 coach
Can it be Fixed? – “I don’t think it has anything to do with X’s and O’s. I feel as though the character of the individual players will be the determining factor.” – A-10 coach
7) SAN DIEGO STATE (10-7, 2-2 MOUNTAIN WEST) – The first couple losses were fine (Duke and Iowa State), but the next five have not been – San Diego, Cal, Brown, Boise State and Air Force.
What’s Wrong? – This one is fairly simple: defense. The Aztecs are ranked 202nd in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. This is the same program that ranked second nationally in that category in 2011, seventh in 2014, fifth in 2015, fourth in 2016, 28th in 2017 and 30th last season.
Can it be Fixed? – “It’s Nevada and then everyone else in the Mountain West. They can still finish high in the league.” – Mountain West coach
8) ALABAMA (10-5, 2-2 SEC) – I thought the Tide would be a Top 25 team, and maybe they will get it going. But there have been losses to Northeastern and Georgia State and also Saturday to Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.
What’s Wrong? – “Their parts are a lot better than their whole. They almost have too many players. I think the biggest issue is that their best offensive players are their worst defensive players, and their best defensive players can’t shoot the ball.” – SEC coach
Can it be Fixed? – “They can flip it. They are long, athletic and their defense will keep them in a lot of games. Lewis has been good at the point. They just have to start making some shots.” – SEC coach
9) TEXAS (10-7, 2-3 BIG 12) – The Longhorns have been a dilemma. They beat North Carolina in Vegas, but have also lost to Radford at home, and have a couple three-game losing streaks – including one still ongoing.
What’s Wrong? – “They just can’t score, and can’t shoot. Kerwin Roach is a nice player, but he’s not good enough to be ‘the guy.’” – Big 12 coach
Can it be Fixed? – Shaka Smart can get the Longhorns into the NCAA tourney, but it’s probably a flip of the coin – and will that even be enough for UT fans? Thus far it’s been a pair of seasons in which the Longhorns barely snuck into the NCAA tourney sandwiched around an 11-22 campaign.
10) SYRACUSE (12-5, 3-1 ACC) – I know the Orange beat Duke last game in Cameron, but previously the team had losses to UConn and Oregon at Madison Square Garden and to ODU, Buffalo and Georgia Tech at home. This was supposed to be a Top 25 team.
What’s Wrong? – “They beat Duke, but Duke was without their point guard and also Cam Reddish – who is a lottery pick. This team can’t shoot if from deep, and their big men stink – especially on the offensive end.” – ACC coach
Can it be Fixed? – We all know the rep of Syracuse by now. Underwhelming in the regular season and then make a run when it matters in the NCAA tourney. The Orange have their resume win – even if it did come without two key players. They have the talent, but need to make enough shots and get more from their big men.
11) LOYOLA CHICAGO (11-7, 4-1 MVC) – The Ramblers made the improbable run to the Final Four last season and brought back three starters from that team. While they are 4-1 in Missouri Valley play, they also have non-league setbacks to Furman and Ball State at home and Evansville on the road.
What’s Wrong? – “They just don’t move the ball like they did last season, and don’t have as many guys who can make plays – and make shots.” – Opposing coach
Can it be Fixed? – The Valley is completely wide-open, so it’s not out of the question that they go back to the NCAA tourney. But this team misses guys like Donte Ingram, Ben Richardson and Aundre Jackson. It’ll be a success if the Ramblers make the tourney again.
12) HARVARD* (6-7, 0-1 IVY) – I feel bad for putting Tommy Amaker’s Crimson on there, and that’s why I tossed an asterisk next to them. They have been without their two best players all year due to injury. But this is a team I thought could make a legit NCAA tourney run. They are coming off a loss to Dartmouth.
What’s Wrong? – “This is easy. They are missing their two best players – Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken. If they have those guys, Harvard is a Top 25 team.” – Opposing coach
Can it be Fixed? – It’s too late. Towns and Aiken have missed the first 13 games already and there’s no sign that they will be back soon.
TEXAS TECH ADDS TOP 50 PLAYER
Despite the loss to Iowa State, Chris Beard and Texas Tech quietly may have gotten better.
Freshman Khavon Moore, a Top 50 recruit who missed the first 16 games due to a leg injury he suffered his senior year of high school, made his debut with a two-minute, anonymous stint late in the first half against the Cyclones.
“I didn’t want to put him in until he’s 100 percent,” Beard said. “He’s that good.”
Beard was contemplating whether to redshirt the 6-foot-7, 210-pound freshman forward, but part of what made the decision fairly easy was that Beard feels as though Moore won’t be a four-year player.
“If he’s full strength, he’s one of our best players,” Beard added. “He’s got guard skills, has forward size and his passing ability is going to allow him to play a lot more. He’s one of the best passers I’ve ever coached.”
That’s scary for a team that is 15-2 and No. 8 in the country.
NC STATE MANIPULATING THE NET?
I understand no one knew the formula for the NCAA’s new NET rankings prior to this season, but NC State has certainly taken advantage of the new metric by pounding the hell out of bad teams, and thus sending their efficiency numbers through the roof.
How else could you possibly explain the Wolfpack checking in at No. 30 with a resume that includes seven of their 14 wins coming at home against teams ranked in the bottom 50 of the entire country? UMES and UNC Asheville actually check in at 352 and 353 — the worst two teams in the entire nation — while NC State has also fattened up on Loyola, Md. (312), St. Peter’s (319), USC Upstate (325), Maine (331) and Mount St. Mary’s (342). I mean, Western Carolina (271) looks like a virtual powerhouse compared to some of the others.
The other six wins have come against Auburn (24), Pittsburgh (55) and Mercer (201) at home, Penn State (85) and Vanderbilt (78) on a neutral court and Miami (95) on the road. Hardly an overwhelming cast of victims.
Remember, the scoring margin is capped in the NET, but efficiency ratings are not. So this still gives teams an incentive to pound the you-know-what out of opponents. NC State’s average margin of victory against the eight “cupcakes” is 35.9 points per game, and the degree in which the Wolfpack blew out those teams is helping their efficiency numbers to a huge degree.
I’d be far more apt to buy into the KPI’s ranking of NC State (65) than the NET or even KenPom (29).
Also, if you want to hear former Butler and current NBA coach Brad Stevens’ insight into the NET rankings, go to the Good ‘N Plenty Podcast.
NBA DRAFT CHATTER: KEVIN PORTER JR.
USC freshman Kevin Porter Jr. was suspended indefinitely by Andy Enfield due to a “personal conduct issue.” This came just days after Porter – who had missed nine of his last 10 games with a quad injury – returned to play 25 minutes in an overtime loss at Oregon State.
The 6-foot-5 Porter began his college career strong, averaging 14 points and five boards in the first six games while shooting 35 percent from deep. But now Porter is still considered a likely lottery pick despite no shortage of red flags.
“I think he’ll go in the lottery, anyway,” said one high-ranking NBA exec. “I think if he had played this year with normal behavior he could go as high as number three.”
He said that Porter has some James Harden in his game with size, strength and body control around the rim. There’s also some of another USC product, DeMar DeRozan – not as athletic, but a better long-range shooter.
But the word “risk” keeps coming up with Porter in every conversation with NBA folks.
“He’s immature and undisciplined in every way – on and off the floor,” another NBA executive told Stadium. “He’s wild.”
“All he’s done is made people dig more and more,” he added. “But I still think he winds up going somewhere from five to 15 in June.”
KERMIT’S FIRST TEXT CAME FROM AN UNLIKELY SOURCE
Shortly after winning his first SEC game, Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis received a congratulatory text from a somewhat unlikely source: the guy he just replaced, ex-Rebels coach Andy Kennedy. Another one came moments after Davis won at Mississippi State on Saturday.
“There’s nothing phony about him,” Davis said. “We’ve been good friends for a long time, and he’s helped me a lot since I got the job.”
“We go back to the 1980s when he was on the staff at Mississippi State and I was being recruited coming out of high school,” Kennedy added. “I want him and the program to do well.”
Davis will be the first to admit that Kennedy didn’t exactly leave a bare cupboard. His four top scorers – Tree Breein, Terence Davis, Devontae Shuler and Bruce Stevens – are all holdovers from the Kennedy Era, which spanned 12 seasons and resulted in a pair of NCAA tourney appearances and six NITs.
“He left us three very good SEC guards,” Davis said. “He’s a great guy and I can’t tell you how well he’s handled everything.”
Kennedy, 50, knew the end was coming after an 11-16 record a year ago. He was well-aware that anyone at the high-major level gets a dozen years at one spot, especially at a place like Ole Miss – which is considered one of the toughest jobs in the SEC.
But Kennedy will be the first one to give Davis kudos after a Rebels team that was picked to finish dead last in the SEC this season. Davis added a couple of skilled forwards that have helped space the court.
“This isn’t really the same team – even though six of the top eight were back,” said Kennedy, who is now at ESPN analyst on the SEC network. “He added Blake (Hinson) and KJ (Buffen) – who are both really good players.”
Hinson is a freshman who finished with 26 points and was 5-of-11 from deep in the win over Mississippi State while Buffen was a former Middle Tennessee signee who had 16 in the previous win over Auburn.
Now Davis has put Ole Miss in a position in which it has a legitimate chance of getting to the NCAA tourney after back-to-back wins over ranked teams for the first time since 2002-03.
Davis won’t lie: He didn’t see this coming, at least not way back in the early August when he was getting his first true look at his team on a preseason tour to Canada. It was the fourth and final game of the trip and the Rebels were down 44-14 in the second quarter to the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
“I looked over at my assistant and told him that (Athletic Director) Ross (Bjork) may fire me at halftime,” Davis joked.
Ole Miss came back to win that game, and now they are one of the nation’s most surprising teams with a 13-3 overall record and a 3-1 SEC mark.
“We have to stay healthy to be able to sustain it,” Davis said. “We know there’ll be some bumps in the road, but we need to keep a positive attitude.”
KANSAS STATE’S EARLY ISSUES
After the unlikely Elite Eight appearance last season and everyone back in the fold, Kansas State was considered as the most logical threat to The Streak. You know the one: Kansas has finished at the top of the league 14 straight years.
But the Wildcats struggled to a 10-4 record and lost their first two league games – to Texas at home and in Lubbock against Texas Tech – before winning in Ames against Iowa State and in Norman against Oklahoma to get back to 3-2 in conference play.
The defense isn’t the problem. It rarely is with a Bruce Weber-led team. But the offense has been anemic at times, averaging just 50 points in the three losses to Tulsa, Texas and Texas Tech.
“They have to play together,” Weber said. “Move the ball, share it. They have to realize they can’t do it by themselves.”
“Last year we had our ups and downs, but when we scored we moved the ball and helped each other,” he added.
The good news for Weber is that Dean Wade scored 20 points in his second game back against the Sooners after missing the previous six games with a torn tendon on his foot. The 6-foot-10 senior was the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year and is vital to the Wildcats’ success – especially on the offensive end of the floor. Sure, K-State went to the Elite Eight without him last season (he only logged eight minutes due to a stress fracture in his left foot), but obviously Wade gives the Wildcats another weapon and also someone who can make his teammates better. Wade’s presence on the court is also critical for the Wildcats’ offensive spacing and that gives Barry Brown (who is averaging 25.7 points per game over his last three contests) more space to work with.
D’ANTONI FINALLY TAKES BROTHERLY ADVICE, TURNS SEASON AROUND
Mike D’Antoni suggested that his brother, Dan, go small ball before the start of the season and toss athletic 6-foot-5 freshman guard Taevion Kinsey into the starting lineup. Instead, the elder D’Antoni (he’s 71 years young) decided to start 6-foot-9, 350-pound Iran Bennett in the middle to help in the rebounding department and also to utilize in ball-screen action with guards Jon Elmore and CJ Burks.
The experiment wasn’t working with Bennett, who wound up breaking his right foot, and the Marshall Thundering Herd – who made the NCAA tourney a year ago and had high hopes for this season – was struggling.
D’Antoni finally took his brother’s advice and tossed Kinsey – a Columbus, Ohio native who has a 42-inch vertical – into the starting lineup a couple weeks ago at Old Dominion. The Thundering Herd are 3-0 since the move – with road wins at ODU and Charlotte and a home victory over C-USA favorite Western Kentucky.
When I spoke to D’Antoni before the start of the season, he was raving about Kinsey as the heir apparent to Elmore at the point. Kinsey played the point in high school, but he’s long and ultra-athletic and has a high basketball IQ so D’Antonio – after just two practices to learn the position – threw him at the four-spot for his first starting nod.
“I’m a little nervous,” Kinsey told me before the game.
He proceeded to finish with 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks. He had 14 points and five boards against Charlotte and went for 23 points and seven rebounds against Western Kentucky.
Keep an eye on Kinsey. Once he gets a consistent perimeter shot, he’s going to terrorize the C-USA.
We’re going to try and highlight a mid-major player each week in this space, possibly someone you have never even heard of, and this week we start things off with Purdue Fort Wayne’s John Konchar.
The versatile 6-foot-5 senior, who has the Mastodons off to a 4-1 start in Summit league play, is the only player since 1992-93 to reach 1,800 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals. Konchar’s career offensive rating of 132.0 is the best ever recorded by sports-reference.com based on stats going back to 2009-10.
“John has acted like a pro for five years in our program,” Purdue Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman said of Konchar. “He gained 45 pounds during his redshirt year and is an absolute workaholic. He makes his teammates better and does all the little things to help you win games.”