Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Dec. 31 Edition)

Not much movement on this week's top 25, since we only saw about 150 games all week. Hopefully, everyone got good Christmas presents, because Louisville fans only ended up with lumps of coal.

Worst week, however, had to go to St. Mary's. A trip to Hawaii seemed like it was set to be a pleasure cruise in which the Gaels would prove themselves top-25 worthy in an expected championship meeting with Iowa State. Three losses later, SMC ends up in last place behind luminaries like Oregon State and South Carolina. Hardly the mark of a team that will crack the rankings again...ever.

Speaking of teams that weren't expected to make the top 25, let's examine a totally puzzled pair of Faceplants.

Faceplants: Minnesota (No. 24), Florida State (No. 25)
--The Gophers blew out Corpus Christi, and their prior win over Nebraska-Omaha keeps looking better as the Mavericks climb to No. 101 in the new Back Iron Index. However, what did them in was the slow ascent of a team that owns a head-to-head victory over Minnesota. More on them at No. 25.

And of course, it's hard to rank Florida State just ahead of Minnesota when the Gophers own the head-to-head win.

Bubbling Under: Pitt, Missouri, Harvard, Gonzaga, Illinois

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Official Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Dec. 23 Edition)

NOTE: The rankings are presented without comment this week, thanks to Christmas, the birth of my second daughter and a couple of days of single parenting of my first daughter. Normal programming should resume next week. Hit me up on Twitter if you have comments or complaints.

It was a really rough week for the bottom end of the Dec. 16 Poll Dancing ballot. This week's Faceplants really earned it, putting up results about as ugly as the picture to the left. (Hey, you know you've wondered what Santa does with himself the other 11 months of the year. Sorry for the disillusionment.)

Just before I began writing this post, St. Mary's punched their ticket to the gutter by losing an ugly game to South Carolina in Honolulu. The Gaels spent 40 minutes producing the kind of sloppy execution rarely seen unless some schmuck explodes in the electric chair.

Missouri's loss to Illinois wasn't terribly shameful, but when you're No. 25, there's no margin for error. Someone's always charging up from behind.

As for Gonzaga, it lost to Kansas State, which lost to Northern Colorado to start the season. If you want to get transitive, that's pretty ugly, even though UNC has been better than expected (No. 154 on this week's BII). GU will perpetually hang around in this grey area all season, winning enough to stay on the radar, but never getting the kind of sexy wins that will move it up and out of harm's way.

Read on after the jump to see who's replacing these three at our exclusive 25-guest party.

Bubbling Under: LSU, Harvard, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma

Monday, December 16, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Dec. 16 Edition)

Finals week is always a tough one for college athletes, although it does constitute a bit of a breather for college sportswriters. Only 96 games were played between Dec. 8 and 13, compared to the 202 that are coming between yesterday and this Friday.

That academia-induced inertia struck a few of TBI's top 25 teams, and it's very rare that taking a whole week off will aid a school's ballot ranking. So, if your favorite team dropped a couple of spots (SPOILER ALERT: UConn/UMass) or stayed stagnant (SPOILER ALERT II: Baylor), blame the coaches for taking a whole week off.

It's refreshing to see programs taking a pause to make their players take exams, but by week's end, we're a little bored out here. At least schedule a SWAC team, wouldja?

Faceplants: No. 21 VCU, No. 22 Michigan, No. 24 New Mexico
--The first two teams to knock off VCU are at least still in the Back Iron Index Fantasy Bracket, meaning Georgetown and Florida State are among the 68 best teams in America. Northern Iowa? Not so much.

The Wolverines were hanging on like that kitten over there, needing to pull out a win over Arizona to stay on the ballot. And they damn near got it. However, it's time to consult the Index again, and the fact is that right now, Michigan projects as a low-seeded NIT team, largely due to brutal RPI numbers. There's some rehab that needs to be done here.

New Mexico could have stayed in with a tight loss to Kansas, but getting blown off the court while Alex Kirk was made to look mortal? Eh, no. Try back later.

Bubbling Under:
San Diego State--Would have cracked the rankings if they'd played someone this week.
UCLA--Meeting with Duke Thursday offers a golden opportunity.
George Washington--May stay here for a couple of weeks until Kansas State and Georgia games around New Year's.
Pittsburgh--Penn State win keeps looking better. Just beat down Cincinnati tomorrow and you're in, Panthers.

The best of the best after the jump.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Top 25 College Basketball Rankings: Dec. 9 Edition

Another week, another "WTF?" North Carolina victory. The Tar Heels are the only BII tournament team to lose to Belmont or UAB, but their wins over Louisville and Michigan State remind us just how good we thought they could be.

And still no sign of P.J. Hairston. At this point, it's getting close to cut-bait time for ol' Roy. Re-introduce Hairston and Les McDonald now, and you risk screwing up what chemistry the team's building.

In other news, Arizona's really good, Marcus Smart is done throwing up, Tom Crean is a dufus and the scoreboard will be able to take the night off when Ohio State and Wisconsin play this season.

But first, we must bid adieu to a few temporary friends.

Faceplants: Virginia, Creighton, Pitt, Dayton
--Virginia's learning the same hard lesson Marquette did: Score in the 30s and you're more than likely not Poll Dancing the following week.

Creighton did nothing wrong this past week, beating Long Beach State and Nebraska. However, the new teams all notched some quality victories that mandated their inclusion.

Pitt and Dayton benefited last week from a lack of verified candidates in the 25-35 range, but they got no such break this week. Pitt is still undefeated, but against a highly suspect schedule. Dayton's stumble against Illinois State hurt not only them, but the Gonzaga team the Flyers upset in Maui.

Bubbling Under: Missouri, Pitt, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Diego State

Monday, December 2, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's College Basketball Top 25 Rankings (Dec. 2 Edition)

Thanksgiving weekend is always a watershed part of the college basketball season, because we get a horde of matchups with the kind of quality that turns SEC football coaches' hair white.

A group of people who deify Nick Saban for scheduling Chattanooga in the penultimate game of his season won't understand the beauty of Memphis-Oklahoma State or Arizona-Duke. Being undefeated in football is all that matters, at least in the BCS era. Maybe the selection committee approach will change that in football, maybe not. Still, basketball gives us the games we're dying to see, even if sometimes the tournaments don't fall right and give us more of a "what-if" feel.

(USC-UTEP would have skipped overtime in favor of Enfield v. Floyd in the Octagon. A rack on Floyd in the third round by rear naked choke. He's a vet and he fights dirty. Just ask USC fans.)

Those sexy tournament matchups gave us a little fluctuation in the Poll Dancing rankings, but not as much as might be expected for those who lost to the quality opposition.

As always, let's start by spit-roasting those who nosedove completely off the ballot.

Faceplants: No. 19 North Carolina, No. 23 Gonzaga, No. 24 Tennessee, No. 25 BYU
--Marcus Paige has been a revelation for UNC, but big men Kennedy Meeks, Joel James and Isaiah Hicks are averaging a total of 12 points and 12 boards per game. If none of them becomes "The Man" by season's end, UNC's going to bob along and end up in an 8-9 game. Again.

BYU has hunted some big game, but the results have varied. Stanford and Utah State to the good, Iowa State and Wichita State to the bad. And it still has UMass and Oregon to come. Respect, but No. 25 leaves no room to slip.

Gonzaga would still be hanging in if not for the fact that Dayton was already on the come-up when it beat the Zags in Maui. 

As for Tennessee...
When you're trying to gloat about a win over Wake Forest, you're obviously bringing a slingshot to a nuclear war. Right now, Wake's clinging to one of the last four spots in my NIT bracket, with USC being its best win. UTEP's one of the last four into the CBI. Someone from UT needs to prove he can shoot straight before the Vols start winning those games. If not, it's another NIT and possibly a pink slip for Cuonzo. And that would make me a sad panda.

Bubbling Under: UCLA, Baylor, St. Mary's, San Diego State

The actual top 25 after the jump.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's College Basketball Top 25 Rankings (Nov. 25 edition)

Every now and then, people surprise you with a depth of knowledge and insight that simply blows your mind. Those who agree with what I write often fall into this category. There should be more of these people.

The other 97.7% of the population acts like total cretins, and sometimes that includes people that you know should know better.

Last week's edition of Poll Dancing became more like Troll Dancing, with some complaints lodged on Facebook (er go by someone I know and actually like; and trust me, there aren't many such people) about one team's precipitous drop after a loss.

Well, guess what? Another team took a major dive this week, and it makes last week's big plummet look like stepping off a Manhattan curb.

Let's start with the ones who fell completely off the ballot. Those usually hurt the most.

Faceplants: No. 22 New Mexico, No. 23 Harvard
--We had a deal, Hahvahd. You were here on the condition that you actually win the few big games you saw fit to schedule. Colorado's a far cry from the MIT's and Bryants of the world, and the loss means you're not likely to get past this velvet rope again unless you run the table the rest of the year, including Boston College and UConn. Best of luck, but I don't get the feeling we'll be on speaking terms again until March.

As for New Mexico, they took too long (double OT) to finish off UAB in Charleston, and it bit the Lobos in the ass against a pushy tempo team like UMass. Alex Kirk was the only guy prepped to get off the bus against the Minutemen, putting up a 32-11 game with five blocks. He needed 26 shots to get the 32 points, though, and that's a bad look. So, not only did UMass eat UNM's lunch in the final minutes, but it also took New Mexico's top 25 spot. Not to worry, though, the Lobos have a great run in December that can earn them a lot of ground back.

Bubbling Under: St. Louis, Iowa, St. Mary's, Baylor, Arizona State

Monday, November 18, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's College Basketball Top 25 Rankings (Nov. 18 edition)

The headline pretty much says it all, eh? I didn't bust out a new Top 25 last Monday because seriously, how do we re-evaluate from preseason expectations based on (mostly) one game? Not even Kansas State losing to Northern Colorado moved the needle that much, since I fully expect Kansas State to continue sucking buttermilk all season long.

Thanks to teams actually understanding what Tim Miles and Jamie Dixon figured out years ago, we saw some very good early matchups. Schools are scheduling to try and play the RPI like Charlie Daniels plays the fiddle, and to get there, they need to take some risk from time to time.

Unless, of course, you're Louisville, who'll simply begin the Cupcakes Across America tour with visitors from the Northeast and welcome the Midwest in later. Southern Miss, Louisiana and Western Kentucky are the closest things to hardcore challenges the Cardinals will face before having to go to Rupp Arena Dec. 28. If U of L isn't undefeated going in against UK, it won't be in the top 10.

So, let's take a look at this week's TBI ballot, starting before the jump with the Faceplants (those who dropped out from the preseason rankings):

Faceplants: No. 18 Marquette, No. 25 Iowa
--Marquette couldn't even shoot 20% from the floor against Ohio State. That would be grounds for immediate NCAA ineligibility if I were Tournament Czar. Iowa munched its cupcakes hard, but it simply got pipped by teams knocking out quality opponents. More on them after the jump.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Winners and Losers from College Basketball's Tip-Off Marathon

He was 18 when MSU-UK tipped off.
If you stayed up for all 29 or so hours of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon (aka Starbucks and Red Bull's Christmahanukwanzakah), I have two things to say to you:

1) You are a sick, maladjusted, misanthropic person who will die alone unless you adopt 18 cats; and

b) I so wish I could match that stamina and lack of daytime gainful employment/small people waking up before dawn.

Some teams had a great time tipping it off at ungodly hours, while others played like they'd already had their warm milk and binky, merely needing their favorite blankets to nod off like a toddler.

Let's look back over the two days in which we were all contemplating doing rails of coke off a hooker's ass if it would keep us awake through the second half of West Virginia/Virginia Tech.
Check after the jump for some of those who absorbed should-be-illegal benefits and some who took must-be-pitied damage for even being in the vicinity of the Marathon.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Final Five, Nov. 8: Takeaways from College Basketball's Opening Night

1. Somebody Get These Referees Some Chapstick
--We've discussed the impact of the new hand-checking and impediment rules all offseason, and we've feared that games will become mindless death marches from one foul line to the other. It happened in several places on opening night.

Indiana made (MADE) 45 free throws in routing Chicago State.

Marquette survived against Southern because the Eagles outshot the Jaguars 53-13 from the line. Davante Gardner made 15 by himself.

Oklahoma State and Mississippi Valley State combined for 60 fouls and 79 FTA.

So some, but not all, referees did more blowing than Alexis Texas in these first real games. This trend will continue, but just wait it out. By January, the bigger leagues with the better athletes and better coaches will improve their defensive technique or get blown out on the regular. The other conferences won't be heard from until Championship Week.

The new rules will help open up driving lanes, but what will really help college scoring is when high school and AAU players learn how to friggin' shoot. But that's a rant for another time.

Four more takeaways after the jump.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

TBI's Preseason College Basketball Top 25

We're screaming headlong into real basketball games coming this Friday, starting with Eastern Michigan taking on Albion College at noon Eastern time. With exhibitions winding down and some major programs producing head-scratching nights (take a bow, UNLV, Ole Miss and Alabama), we're as close as we're going to get to a true preseason evaluation of the nation's top teams.

Since other sites have abandoned the poll-style vote for one privileged writer's "power rankings," the rest of us have to put our ballots wherever we can. Here's the best top 25 you'll read today.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #19 Summit

The Denver Pioneers leaped from a sinking ship in the offseason. The WAC was taking on water, and just two years after agreeing to join, DU was eager for a place to land.

The Summit League became that place. Now, the major question becomes whether Denver has landed in the warm tropical waters of a conference where it can immediately earn its first-ever NCAA tournament bid or the cold arctic seas of also-ran status.

TBI will give you a small hint before the jump: the water's a bit chilly, but the Pioneers have built themselves one totally diesel raft.

More on the Pioneers' future--and the rest of their new leaguemates'--after the jump.

(All stats and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #20 Patriot

The Patriot League itself is surely pleased with how it fared in the college basketball realignment domino game. New additions Boston University and Loyola (Md.) are strong programs that boast rising young coaches.

The membership, however, might be exasperated for the same reasons. Just when it seemed that the Lehigh/Bucknell stronghold was breaking with the departure of Lehigh's C.J. McCollum and Bucknell's Mike Muscala, here come a pair of teams fully equipped to win the race on their first lap.

Those two new members should, however, help the previous eight in one major regard: the RPI rating. Loyola and BU would have ranked third and fourth in the PL's Back Iron Index standings. The two faced off in the first round of the CIT, with Loyola's win propelling it to the quarterfinals.

Stronger league opposition creates a tide that raises all boats come Selection Sunday. When a victory is harder to come by, the computers give greater credit, making the selection committee take greater notice.

So forgive the other eight PL members if they don't roll out the red carpet for BU and Loyola, but know that whoever takes the NCAA bid will be glad the league was stronger for the additions.

Most likely to take that bid? Read on after the jump.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We're going into Super-Condensed Team Capsule Mode in an effort to cover each conference before opening night. Apologies to our top 20's fans, but I want to get the series finished this year.

(All stats and rankings via StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #21 Northeast

"Martin making faces at me back there?"
Last season, three new coaches joined the Northeast Conference and made a quick mark.

LIU Brooklyn stormed to its third straight NCAA tournament under former assistant Jack Perri. Ex-Mount St. Mary's guard Jamion Christian took over at his alma mater and and won 18 games before losing to LIU in the NEC title game. Finally, Wagner hired 28-year-old Bashir Mason and watched him take the Seahawks to 19 wins.

All three inherited some decent talent, which may be more than one of this season's noobs can say. The other only has the unenviable task of replacing his program's all-time Division I scoring leader.

Lest anyone get the impression that this coaching stuff is easy, especially in the NEC, the conference might deliver two of its bench bosses a cold, hard dose of reality.

Who finishes where? How bad is the outlook for the NEC's cellar-dwellers? Why do bananas turn brown before you get them home from the market?

The answers to some of these questions will be found after the jump. For the others, Google is your homeboy. (Homesite?)

(All stats and rankings via StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #22 Atlantic Sun

Hey, Neo, Elektra wants her sai AND dress back.
Our last post was all about movies, and the Atlantic Sun Conference has its own movie-related issues this season. After all, the A-Sun just had its masterpiece moment, its Citizen Kane or The Godfather, when Florida Gulf Coast stormed through the conference tournament and all the way to the Sweet 16.

After a great movie in the modern film industry, there's always the pressure to deliver with a sequel. The Godfather pulled it off (once), but most franchises stumble. Looking at you here, Matrix.

It's unreasonable to expect a reprise of last season, but no one ever accuses sports fans of being rational beings. While FGCU or any other A-Sun team once again making the Big Dance's second weekend would still be a bet that the adventurous gambler could retire on, we know somebody from this conference is going to the tournament.

Who's most likely? Read on after the jump.

(All stats and rankings via StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #23 America East

(Warning: this post contains some teen-movie sex scenes and the occasional bared breast. If you're watching/reading at work, I'd recommend headphones and another window to click to when the boss walks by.)

A full 55.6% of the America East's current membership has never made a trip to the NCAA tournament. Six of last season's members' 16 all-time bids bolted when Boston University left for the Patriot League.

Puts the league in dire straits, right? Eh, maybe not so much.

There's a very good possibility that one of the AE's schools pops the cherry this season, and not just because those odds are so good. (Seriously, five of nine. As a comparison, the only SWAC school with no bids is Grambling.)

One of the AE's V-club has to replace one of the conference's top players, but still has the weapons to contend. Then, there's the school that returns a nearly all-junior starting lineup led by a serious Player of the Year candidate.

Finally, there's the contender that lost its NCAA virginity 10 years ago and has since turned into a raging slut, going back five times since 2003. Makes one wonder how those whores at Kentucky and Kansas have any self-respect left.

Okay, that whole metaphor made absolutely no sense, and was actually somewhat disturbing. With all apologies, let's move on before we start quantifying how many tournament wins equal a dirty Sanchez. (Answer: a lot fewer than UCLA has. They're seriously depraved in Cali.)

(All stats and rankings via StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #24 Horizon

If you're an Ohio-hating political junkie who thinks the Buckeye State has way too much electoral power, you won't care for the balance of power in the Horizon League.

The potential exists for Ohio-based schools Wright State, Cleveland State and Youngstown State to sweep the podium positions in the Horizon this season, thanks to multiple all-conference losses by Detroit and Valparaiso.

The most dangerous threats to the looming Ohio hegemony may come from the north, as Green Bay and Oakland return the conference's most dangerous individual talents. But do UWGB's Alec Brown and Oakland's Travis Bader have enough support?

Read on and we'll discuss.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #25 OVC

Pictured: Belmont (right), rest of OVC (left).
In this space last season, we expected Belmont to walk into the Ohio Valley Conference and begin running the league like a boss. Rick Byrd's club did exactly that, toppling the Fighting Canaans of Murray State and making its sixth NCAA tournament in eight years.

In the subsequent offseason, stars filed out of the league one after the other. Belmont lost all-conference backcourt duo Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, along with steady forward Trevor Noack. Murray State lost its own backcourt, Isaiah Canaan and Stacy Wilson, along with workhorse forward Ed Daniel and his equally notorious hair. Tennessee State lost its star forward Robert Covington and two other double-digit scorers.

So, the door is open for a new boss. UT-Martin is the only OVC school that didn't lose a double-figure scorer, but are we really going to pick the Skyhawks to step up that big?

Eh, maybe not so much.

Everybody absorbed a little attrition, but who's going to react the best to their new cast of characters? Read on after the jump and see who should go dancing from the OVC.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #26 Southern

Over the past 18 seasons, the Southern Conference has been Davidson's toy to play with as it saw fit. 13 of those seasons ended with the Wildcats either hoisting the regular-season or the tournament championship. Six times, they did the double.

Because of that, next season will truly feel like the end of an era when Davidson heads off to the Atlantic 10. Charleston has already left for the CAA, with Elon to follow next season. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will chase football crumbs off to the Sun Belt. In place of these rising programs, the SoCon will pull Mercer and East Tennessee State away from the Atlantic Sun and regain former member VMI from the Big South.

Doesn't look like a tremendous trade, does it? Davidson is a college basketball power hitter in this deal, perhaps not Frank Robinson-caliber, but still. Guess that makes Mercer Milt Pappas.

If there's good news, it's for writers and sportscasters everywhere. Both the Big South and SoCon will settle at 10 members, removing the division structure and the need for announcers to spout gibberish like "they lead the Big South North" or the "Southern South" with a straight face.

What makes it even more bittersweet for the SoCon is the expectation that the departing programs will be the primary powers this season, one or another likely to take a championship with them to their new home.

Who's got the inside track? Read on after the jump.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #27 WAC

Patron saint of All-Name teams everywhere.
In an era where the Big 12 has 10 teams and the Big Ten has 12 (soon to be 14), we're used to conference names being a bit nonsensical. If you're looking for false advertising in your league handles, though, the Western Athletic Conference nearly had the market cornered this offseason.

The WAC is no longer exclusively western, unless you consider Chicago and Kansas City far west outposts. If you do, kindly ask Doc Brown to drag you back to 1845.

The snarky college football jock-sniffer would claim that the "Athletic" part went away when the WAC stopped sponsoring football.

Finally, had it not broken down and invited Chicago State, UMKC and a host of other misfit toys, the conference would have no longer been a conference.

So, credit to the league for doing what it had to do to survive, but this is not the WAC that once gave us stars like Danny Ainge, Tim Hardaway, Keith Van Horn or the immortal Fennis Dembo.

WAC basketball will look extremely different this season (and there's still a domino left to fall when Idaho heads for the Big Sky in 2014), but it could surprise us all. There will be no return to 1998's four-bid status, though. Ever.

More on who should get this year's bid after the jump.

(All statistics and rankings via StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #28 Big South

For an indication of how shaky the Big South was last season, consider this: The league's championship tournament was won by a team that didn't beat a Division I opponent until New Year's Eve.

Liberty getting the automatic bid lessened any chance of the league springing an upset, which may have been possible if it had been Charleston Southern or High Point in the dance. The Flames became only the second team in NCAA tournament history with 20 losses, joining Coppin State's 2008 squad.

As long as everyone stays healthy (and TBI is saying a prayer for High Point stud John Brown; more on him in a bit), the BSC should have a team qualified to pull a No. 15 seed. As Florida Gulf Coast proved, the 15 need not be a death sentence.

This season, the Big South has one team with a tremendous pair of forwards that need guards to step up and help. Several teams have strong backcourts, including one that's probably the best duo you've never heard of.

Let's look at this season's Big South and decipher who's got the best chance to dance...after the jump.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #29 Big Sky

White ribbon=Best Licker, for dog with cleanest junk.
The Big Sky is closer than most college hoop conferences to getting its season right.

Even though there are 11 teams in the league, the BSC still orders everyone to work with a 20-game double round-robin, eliminating the issue of any team getting an advantage from the day the schedule comes out. It'll be screwed up next year when Idaho returns, but for now, it's a nice change of pace.

When the postseason hits, instead of the league tournament being a participation ribbon and juice box for every kid, even the asthmatic ones, only the top seven make it with the regular-season champion getting a first-round bye.

I'd advocate a system that leaves the regular-season champion out totally, pitting that team against the tournament champ in a winner-takes-all single game, but again, the Big Sky has it more correct than most.

As far as who'll be dueling for that bye, the usual suspects will be near the top, but a couple of experienced squads should mount a major challenge. Read on after the jump for more.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #30 Southland

The Southland Conference was actually one of the more surprising minor conferences in 2012-13. The Back Iron Index was kind to three SLC squads: Stephen F. Austin, which ranked highly enough to score a play-in spot in TBI's fantasy bracket of the nation's REAL top 68 teams; Northwestern State, whose Index ranking was actually four spots higher than Dunk City's; and league newcomer Oral Roberts, which entered the year as a favorite to win the conference outright.

Fast forward to the new season, and college basketball's inevitable change appears to have been unkind to the Southland's elite. SFA lost three All-SLC players as well as its head coach. ORU likewise lost two, plus another who could have made the leap this year. Northwestern State may be in the best shape after losing an all-conference performer of its own, but it still returns two more.

What really damages the league's stock this season is not so much the top of the food chain, but the bottom. The Southland went all Statue of Happiness on us this summer, asking for college basketball's tired, its poor and its Division II.

New Orleans spent a large part of a decade as an independent as its school and program tried to recuperate from Hurricane Katrina. Houston Baptist fled from a much smaller-scale disaster, one which most of us knew as the late, unlamented Great West Conference. Finally, two Division II schools, Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word, are beginning their transition to D-I. It will be 2017 before the two are eligible for any postseason play.

All four will need a couple of seasons before the benefit of affiliation with a real live conference shows up in recruiting.

When the season shakes out, there may be a surprise waiting for us. Of course, it wouldn't be a surprise if we saw it coming, and right now, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot coming out of the Southland. Just what we can expect will be spelled out after the jump.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #31 SWAC

Dickens would have loved the Southwestern Athletic Conference's 2012-13 season. Best of times, worst of times and all that.

Two of the SWAC's top three finishers (Texas Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff) were ineligible for the postseason tournament, leaving Southern to waltz its way to the Big Dance. Once there, the Jaguars nearly pulled the upset of upsets, taking top-seeded Gonzaga to the final minute before succumbing.

The latest APR results came out in June, and the SWAC once again took it raw. Four programs were banned, including repeats for Pine Bluff and Mississippi Valley State. Grambling hopped on the short bus, although the Tigers need to be more focused on winning A game more than any postseason reservations.

Alabama State got its postseason APR ban overturned, which is about the extent of the good news the Hornets received this offseason.

TSU lost the league Player of the Year (guard Omar Strong) and Defensive POY (forward Fred Sturdivant) to graduation and MVSU watched league scoring champ Davon Usher bolt for Delaware after the APR ban came down. On the arrivals board, Jackson State activates a pair of notable transfers in Julysses Nobles (ex-Arkansas) and 6'11" B.J. West (New Mexico State). Plus, Texas Southern becomes the final stop on La Salle West Virginia journeyman Aaric Murray's magical college basketball mystery tour.

Finally, in the most EPIC news of all, the SWAC miraculously rises out of the cellar in TBI's conference rankings! The league office will erupt in mad champagne-spraying celebration...right...about...now.

Best. Intern. Crop. Ever.
So now that we know the SWAC's out of the cellar, let's look at why. Who wins and gets to pass around those chicks right there before going to the tournament and getting blitzed by some one-seed that didn't play in the West Coast Conference?

Answers after the jump.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Conference Calling's 2013-14 College Basketball Previews: #32 MEAC

The MEAC was a big sack of hot mess when last season was totaled up. If not for North Carolina Central losing a road squeaker to Savannah State, the league would have had regular-season co-champions with matching 16-0 records. Meaning Norfolk State and NC Central never played each other.

At all.

Not once.

Who in the blue flames of hell does this? Unbalanced schedules are one thing, but at least make everybody play everybody once.

Meanwhile, North Carolina A&T went into the conference tournament with a losing record and came out with a bid to the Big Dance, thanks to a totally goofed-up championship event in which none of the top four seeds reached the semifinals. The good news was that all the conference tourney carnage put three MEAC teams into postseason tournaments for the first time ever, as Norfolk State went to the NIT and Savannah State played in the CIT.

In a league like this, there's a real chance that preseason predictions will be shot to hell by one team making a four-day charge like A&T did. There's not much reason to expect that anyone projects as an all-conquering Harvard-esque juggernaut this season, so the MEAC falls in dead last among TBI's conference rankings.

For standings and awards, read past the jump.

(All statistics and rankings per StatSheet.com unless otherwise noted.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

College Basketball's 32 in 32: TBI's Preseason Conference Rankings for 2013-14

We tried this last season and didn't quite make it all the way through all 31 conferences.

This year, there are 32, so the task is even heavier. However, this time, The Back Iron will succeed in previewing all of the college basketball conferences in all their geographically schizophrenic (Chicago State in the WAC? For reals, player?), realignment-ravaged glory.

One will be presented each day leading up to the season's opening tip-off on November 8. Our worst conference in the nation will lead off the procession, with a brief moment to pour some out for the poor lonely SOBs at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (aka The Nation's Only Independent, aka The Fat Dude With Pimples, Braces and a Harelip Who Got Shot Down by Every Chick He Asked to Prom).

The best conference in America (SPOILER ALERT: It's exactly who you think it is, and it's even more dangerous next year) will be unveiled on November 7, with a full NCAA mock bracket to follow on opening day.

You can bookmark this post for the up-to-date rankings and links to each conference as its preview gets posted.

Read on past the jump for explanations of what each preview will feature, as well as the aforementioned rankings and links.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

College Basketball's Coaching Changes: Ranking All 48 Offseason Moves

The college hoop coaching carousel never seems to stop. One school just made a move last week after its coach bolted for the NBA.

College football and basketball coach are both jobs whose security levels rank somewhere between "Osama's security chief" and "Spinal Tap drummer." For every firing and resignation, however, the bell of opportunity rings for someone else.

In all, 48 someone elses have gotten new jobs this summer, and after the jump, we'll get into every...single...one. Which ones are best and worst? Read on.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Johnny Manziel vs. Marshall Henderson: Who's Headed for the Bigger Crash?

Because college football owns the soul of American sports, Johnny Manziel has been all over the media spectrum over the past eight-to-10 months. The Texas A&M quarterback's historic feat of becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy has placed him in a fishbowl, and the 24/7 news cycle has sired no shortage of onlookers peering through the glass.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Brad Stevens to Boston Reminds Us What Else is Green ($$$)

New Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has a six-year contract in hand as he walks away from a Butler program that he nearly helped steer to a Hoosiers finish in the 2010 NCAA championship game.

That same Butler program is now lacking the steward that made it attractive to the refurbished Big East Conference, a league dying to remind everyone that it will still be relevant without Syracuse, Louisville, UConn and all those other barbarians who follow football money around like a dog with a chain through its nose.

Do we know how much Stevens is getting paid in Boston? No, but it's a pretty safe bet that it's at least triple (quadruple? QUINTUPLE?) the $1.2M that Butler was paying him on his contract extension that ran through 2022. As a young man with a young family who worked some menial office jobs before he became a well-paid head coach, none of us (especially me, with a young family and part-time gigs of my own) should begrudge him a payday.

Those of us who enjoy and cover college basketball, however, can bemoan it all day long. In a game that is increasingly being defaced by realignment and package-deal recruiting tactics, the list of truly likable, charismatic and talented coaches who succeed well enough to stick around and improve a program's standing in the game is short enough already.

The NBA poaching one to a gig where he's going to be done in by egotistical players and a general manager whose judgment is frequently questionable (how'd those Sebastian Telfair and Gerald Green acquisitions work out, Celtic fans?) is just downright sad.

Stevens occasionally seems like a robot on the sideline, cool and stoic win or lose. When the Bulldogs pulled out a last-second win over Gonzaga in a nationally televised battle at Hinkle, Stevens evinced little excitement. When asked why, this was the response:

"What goes through my mind is, the hay is in the barn," Stevens said. "If a guy makes a shot like that or doesn't, it doesn't define who we are. It doesn't affect how I evaluate our team. It doesn't break our season. I'm a huge person on growth over prize."

Growth over prize is all well and good at a college program, especially one up from Butler's humble roots, where the coach is the only one getting paid (allegedly). Try to sell that to NBA players, a group of people among whom even the most relentlessly average make more coin than all but the elite coaches, and they'll roll eyes.

The owner paying those relentlessly average players is doing it for the prize of a full arena, and the fans will only cooperate when wins are vastly more frequent than the losses. A club praying for ping-pong balls to fall in exactly the right combination doesn't tend to engender a ton of optimism.

As for Butler, it will scramble to find someone who can keep elevating the program's profile to the point where signees like in-state four-star sniper Kellen Dunham are the norm rather than the exception. Stevens' ability to evaluate and develop talent, the very qualities that make him attractive to a team stripping down to land Andrew Wiggins (give it up, Danny), will be extremely difficult for any other late-stage candidate to replace.

As of this writing, ESPN lists five of its top 100 prospects in the class of 2014 as considering Butler. Were they swayed by the quaint charms of Hinkle Fieldhouse? Do they think the new mascot, Butler Blue III (aka Trip) is cute? (He is, as can be seen in the video here, but still.)

Or were they thinking about playing for Brad Stevens, who somehow assembled a Horizon League team tough enough to survive five NCAA tournament games and come within an inch of winning the sixth over always-indomitable Duke?

Brad Stevens wins in this deal, because he's getting the kind of paid in full Eric B. and Rakim could only dream about. A savvy investment guy will have Stevens set for life when he's let go after four years once Boston fails to win the lottery, Ainge makes a string of bad draft picks and the team can't climb above a six-seed even in the crumbling Eastern Conference. To boot, he'll have any college job he wants lined up at his door.

Danny Ainge wins in this deal, because he's landed a compelling big-name coach who can serve as the pretty shade of lipstick on the pig of a roster that will suit up in Celtic green as soon as Rajon Rondo tantrums his way out of town.

Celtic fans win, because they have a reason to have faith. If Stevens could put tiny Butler in the national title game -- TWICE! -- surely he can hang another banner once the ping-pong balls align to deliver the Canadian messiah.

Butler loses. HARD. Prospective candidates like current Bulldog assistant Brandon Martin and Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan were a good backcourt on the Hinkle hardwood in 2001, when the school was still part of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.

Unfortunately, the 2014 recruits were still in preschool when those guys played. The kids won't care. Stevens is gone, so watch Butler get crossed off list after list just when it has to contend with schools like Marquette and Georgetown.

(One caveat: Indianapolis Park Tudor swingman Trevon Bluiett is considering Michigan and Butler. LaVall Jordan is the primary recruiter trying to woo him to Ann Arbor. This package deal would set the Bulldogs up well.)

The Celtics have been down this road before, when they snagged Rick Pitino from a superb run at Kentucky. Even with a roster packed with his former stars (Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and Walter McCarty in particular) and a great draft pick named Paul Pierce, Pitino lasted essentially three full seasons and never saw a playoff game from the sideline.

Is Stevens a better coach than Pitino? How you answer that question will determine how much faith you have in the Celtics.

Me? I'll be first in line to welcome Brad Stevens back to college in May of 2017. And he'll be rich enough to hand twenties to all of us.

After all, Celtic green and currency green are just about the same color.

Monday, April 29, 2013

College Basketball's NBA Draft Early Entry Winners and Losers

Now that all the relevant NBA draft deadlines have passed, college basketball coaches can finally have some semblance of roster continuity, barring the occasional homesick/minute-starved transfer.

The players who bailed are off to get (officially) paid for play, so they leave our sphere of discussion. Our examination centers on what they left behind. Is Phil Pressey's alma mater still fielding a solid team next season, or is Frank Haith stitching a lineup together with chicken wire and Duck tape?

Several other coaches are enjoying some surprisingly good news, while still others are headed back to the drawing board. Who's who?

Read on.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Eli Carter Leaving Rutgers: Can Eddie Jordan Pull a Tom Crean Rebuild?

This headline is an exaggeration, I know. At least it is as of right now.

If the SS Rutgers continues taking on water in its present volume, though, all-but-announced new coach Eddie Jordan will be able to sympathize with Tom Crean's pushing forward with one scholarship player in 2008.

What little upside the Scarlet Knights had for the future was tied up in the talented young backcourt of Jerome Seagears, Eli Carter and Myles Mack. Now, two are out the door and the other may not be far behind.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Loyola (Md.) Heading for Patriot League With Interesting New Coaches

On Friday, the Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds promoted assistant G.G. Smith to head coach, replacing longtime boss Jimmy Patsos. Patsos left for Loyola's former MAAC rival Siena, jumping off the ship before it sailed off to the Patriot League.

Smith, the son and former point guard of new Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, made his first assistant coaching hire on Tuesday, and it's a name that Maryland basketball fans will know well.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Missouri Valley Adds Loyola (Chicago) to Replace Creighton

According to a report from the Chicago Sun-Times, the Missouri Valley Conference has responded to its first membership change in almost two decades.

After Creighton's announcement that it would leave for the new-look Big East, the MVC was down to nine members from the optimum 10 that it rode with since Tulsa left in 1996. The Valley will not, however, play a game as a nine-school league with the addition of Loyola University of Chicago, late of the Horizon League.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

If Green Bay is the New Rutgers, Is College Basketball Becoming South Park? (UPDATED)

In the wake of the Mike Rice video scandal, the prevailing sentiment was that coaches nationwide were frantically digging through practice tapes and ordering them burned.

Once that was done, there were a lot of directors of player development/basketball operations/towel-and-shoe maintenance/whatever to be given raises, taken to dinner or plied with liquor and whores, whatever it took to keep those guys from going all Murdock on their program.

The other worrisome storm on the horizon was the specter of further accusations against coaches across America. It would have been a surprise if we got through the offseason with no other coaches being accused of verbal or physical abuse.

We didn't even make it a week.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lawson, Marcius Leave Purdue: How Boilers' Depth is Affected

Two days, two defections. In the post-Mike Rice era, the more scurrilous conspiracy theorists (especially those near Bloomington, Indiana) will begin searching for video of Purdue coach Matt Painter throwing toasters at his players.

Forward Sandi Marcius received his release to transfer on Thursday and another Boiler frontcourt player, Jacob Lawson (No. 34 in your picture), did the same on Friday.

In workouts before the 2012-13 season, Painter was excited about the idea of having plenty of big men at his disposal. With Marcius and Lawson bailing, though, how does that depth look now?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

UConn Unveils New Husky Logo: No More Mr. Nice Pup

Coming straight from UConn Today, we get the new and improved Jonathan Husky.

Wait. Jonathan? Really? Was Claude taken? Or Horatio?

Actually, scratch that last. Horatio would be sort of cool. Better than Jonathan, anyway.

The report explains that the new logo is part of a rebranding campaign that will make "UConn" the exclusive phrase on every athletic uniform and have all Husky teams rocking the Husky logo.

(Yeah, this dude totally doesn't look like a Jonathan.)

More following le jump.

Steve Alford's Pierre Pierce Statement: The Ultimate Spin Move

New UCLA coach Steve Alford and his athletic director, Dan Guerrero, released a statement today designed to finally stop people nagging him about former Iowa star Pierre Pierce, whose repeated legal issues and multiple cases of sexual assault were a major black eye to the Hawkeye program during his abbreviated career.

Unfortunately for Alford, all the statement has done is fan the flames higher, serving as a spin move more flamboyant than anything the former Indiana Hoosier legend ever uncorked on the court.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

College Basketball 2012-13 Review: The Nation's Top 10 First-Year Coaching Jobs

Last May, I ran down a ranking of every college basketball coaching change made official at the time. A few more trickled in, including a Hall of Famer bailing to elevate his former point guard at UConn.

With the season now complete, which guys performed the best in their new jobs? Once again, to clarify, we're talking about coaches in their first year at a new school, not necessarily men in their first seasons ever as head coaches.

Some of these coaches may become hot names a la new USC coach Andy Enfield if lightning strikes right next season. Some may be out of jobs this time next year. For now, though, these 10 men did great work following a change of scenery.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conference Calling: Players to Watch for Championship Week (Part III)

Yeah, it's Tuesday, not Saturday. I get it. Anyway, let's get into the final batch of conference tournaments and the players that might make some impact therein.

More after the jump.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Conference Calling: Players to Watch for Championship Week (Part II)

Tuesday, we hit up the first batch of conference championships to point out some players who would make an impact. Some are still alive, some have already been sent home. (Looking at you, Alex Francis, although major props to first-year Mt. St. Mary's head coach Jamion Christian. Dude's done some good and fast work.)

Today, 10 more events, and then we hit up the rest tomorrow.

Read on after the jump.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Conference Calling: Players to Watch for Championship Week (Part I)

Conference tournaments begin in the next few hours, with the Big South tipping off near Myrtle Beach and the Horizon League playing its openers tonight.

It's about to get real, kids.

In honor of those events starting, let's examine each league and find one player who can determine his team's fate as relates to an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. We'll hit the first 10 today, the next 10 on Thursday and finish up on Saturday, by which point most brackets should be close to set.

Tournaments will be presented in the order they begin after the jump.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Diamonds in the Dirt: 10 More of College Basketball's Best Players on Losing Teams

Over at Bleacher Report, I've produced a list of the 10 best players in America that are condemned to toil in silence because their teams have records at or below .500 this year.

For those who might be a little indignant that their favorite team's not represented, try this supplemental list on for size. Consider them Nos. 11-20.

Check out the next 10 hidden gems after the jump.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Back Iron Bracketometry Feb. 9: Signs of Life for Kentucky, Illinois

I was once a Professor of Sports Philosophy on 4 Quarters Radio (still in occasional podcast form) before I got a doctorate in Bracketometry. As a fully accredited doctor, I'm qualified to pronounce college basketball teams' tournament hopes alive and dead.

There are a few schools who looked to be on life support a couple of weeks ago that are recovering nicely. Conversely, we've got some patients who are deteriorating before our eyes.

Read on to see if any of your loved ones are approaching terminal status.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back Iron Bracketometry: Could Kentucky vs. Bucknell Happen?

In the second week of the expanded Back Iron Index, we see that the struggles of teams near the top of the human polls can certainly have some bearing on the computer ranks as well.

While we may not have much use for the SEC as a whole, only myopic jingos can deny that Florida has been playing some strong basketball. That solid ball has earned them five number-one rankings among the 10 BII metrics, good for the new No. 1 overall seed.

Don't expect Duke to go away quietly, though. The Blue Devils are still the only team ranked in the top five all the way across the BII board. Ryan Kelly is still conspicuous by his absence, but freshman Amile Jefferson is getting his legs under him in ACC play. Jefferson has potted averages of 10 points, seven rebounds and almost two blocks per game over his last four. Now, perhaps he can work on learning not to foul everyone he sees (15 fouls in those four games).

At the other end of the Bracketometry projections, Big Blue Nation now needs to go into a Big Red Panic. More explanation after the jump.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NEW and IMPROVED Back Iron Bracketometry: January 22

Those of you who have read in the past about the Back Iron Index (both of you) have seen brackets pitting the real 68 best college basketball teams in the nation. But, it was an incomplete sample.

Where were all the teams that might be on the bubble? Was I missing someone? How many more teams would make up the NIT pool, and possibly rank ahead of the ones that I was already listing?

From here on, the arduous process of ranking the best teams in America will include nearly ALL of the teams in America. Every team in every conference with an NCAA automatic bid has been ranked in the 10 BII metrics (including our newcomer TeamRankings.com, which replaces the pointless Bilas Index).

This does leave out the two independents and the last handful of teams left in the Great West, who'll just about all join the WAC soon enough anyway. Still, anyone want to take odds that a selection committee member will throw NJIT out there for an at-large bid? ("Hey, they nearly beat Providence." "Shut up and go pay the pizza guy.")

Yeah, me neither.

Read on to see what other improvements have been made to the Index.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Back Iron Tournament: The REAL 68 Best Teams in America

It used to be called the Bilas Invitational, but the Back Iron Tournament (BIT for short) has evolved to a point where even Bilas's epic swag cannot contain it.

Suffice it to say that this is a tournament that will never happen, but certainly should. It lacks the democratic appeal of the everyone-has-a-vote NCAA tournament, preferring a more résumé-based approach.

The only way to get into the BIT is to earn it by being one of America's 68 best teams.

For those who are unfamiliar, check the explanation after the jump. For those who are familiar, the parameters have changed, so they need to check after the jump, too.