No, not conference realignment.
How about this year? We’re a little over a month in and starting to get a better feel for who is what around college basketball.
I’ll stick with the Cards, but here’s the issue: they can’t shoot the ball from 3 so far. Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear (the two designated shooters entering the year) are a combined 21-82. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva together are shooting at a combined 35% rate which is very encouraging. If Hancock and Blackshear join them this problem is mostly solved- if not- an already overly reliant defensive team is strained even more.
Behanan hasn’t quite made the type of jump I expected. The early season off-court issues that resulted in a suspension were a concern and he has yet to kick into gear. The good news is that Montrez Harrell is physically the best prospect on the Louisville roster.
A somewhat troubling sign for now also has to be the defense, while they are turning people over at an absurd 30% rate the FG% defense is a pedestrian 46%.
Over the next 3 weeks: Louisville still has a road date with Memphis and the showdown with UK – so it’s not exactly packing it in before conference play. Gorgui Dieng needs to keep progressing health-wise, and somebody on the wing has to start shooting the ball. I’m not so concerned about the defense.
Where to beat them: Protect the ball. Cut off penetration from Siva and Smith.
My idea of 2-6 in this league being interchangeable doesn’t look as accurate with each Syracuse game (unfortunately). Nor does Louisville being a runaway winner.
Syracuse is elite defensively across the board. Top 15 nationally in defensive points per poss, FG%, 2PT FG%, 3PT FG%, TO%, and blocks per game.
What has been overlooked in recent years due to all the talk about their defense and ‘length’ in the 2-3 zone is just how great Syracuse is in transition. For my money, they’ve been the best in the country in recent years. They are playing at a 77 possession rate per game – a sign that once again, they want to run and Michael Carter-Williams is making a significant jump and leading the way.
Over the next 3 weeks: Can somebody besides James Southerland become a threat from 3 point range? Outside of his shooting prowess the Syracuse team is 25-99 from 3 (25%). Syracuse has mildly interesting games against Canisius, Detroit and Temple among others before BE play. Which starts with: vs Rutgers, @ USF, @ Providence, vs Villanova. My guess, they’re not losing for a while.
Where to beat them: Do not lose Southerland, had Arkansas done so that game in Bud Walton may have been much more interesting. Protect the ball and control tempo.
I had Cincinnati 6th in the jumbled mess prior to the year. They’re guard play coupled with a few energy guys up front is pushing them closer to the top of the pack.
With the trio of senior guards, UC is pushing the ball at 77.8 possessions per game. That is roughly 10 possessions higher than the average of Mick Cronin’s tenure. UC is balanced on both ends: 4th in the BE in points per poss and 2nd in points allowed per poss. Wright, Kilpatrick and Parker are all shooting the 3 ball at above a 40% clip.
Titus Rubles has added another able body to the roster. Although he is struggling to find his shot now (40% and 1-15 from 3), Rubles does have some perimeter skills to go with his athleticism. In time, he could be the 4th option that the Bearcats need.
Over the next 3 weeks: Mick Cronin beefed up his schedule this season and now has wins over Iowa State, Oregon and Alabama to show for it with games still to come against Marshall, Xavier and New Mexico. Can somebody offer more of a presence along side the guards? Jackson, Rubles, Nyarsuk and Mbodj have all been okay to above average, but not much more.
Where to beat them: At first I thought you may want to make them play you out of a zone while at the same time forcing Rubles or Justin Jackson into an uncomfortable position in the middle of it (or forcing one of their guards in there). But, after seeing Alabama physically succeed with aggressive man to man defense, I’m not sure. I’d chalk this one up to TBD, right now it’s a balanced team with no significant weaknesses but not an overwhelming amount of talent.
4. Notre Dame
What’s interesting here is that while Mike Brey has a very good set of experienced guards he seems committed to playing slow over the long haul now. Which I was interested in seeing if that would be the case this year.
Over the next 3 weeks: There’s not much aside from a home date from Purdue (and that’s essentially playing a low-major right now anyhow). ND would be well served for Pat Connaughton to start shooting the ball better from 3 (31%) along with Cameron Biedscheid’s continued development.
Where to beat them: I’ve yet to see a team get as physically overwhelmed as Notre Dame did against St. Joseph’s. That said, ND proceeded to have their way with Kentucky and now St. Joe’s is struggling. Just an anomaly? We’ll see, but that scene in Brooklyn will be hard to forget it. Attack the rim, pressure and make ND uncomfortable. Part of slotting them 4th currently would be how difficult it is to beat them in South Bend, that advantage isn’t going anywhere.
If Georgetown wants a positive with the offensive struggles, consider: the team is shooting 46.2% only 3 tenths off from last season and actually better inside the 3pt line at 52.8%. The issues would be the 3pt shooting is the lowest in the JTIII era at 30.2% as well as FT shooting 63.5%. It could be as simple as III says, ‘just not making shots’ although the playing the offense through Mikael Hopkins issue brings about other questions.
In the end, ‘just not making shots’ may be a result of a poor shooting team to coincide with having a sophomore center. Keep in mind that Georgetown’s centers under III have either been future 1st round picks or seniors. Hopkins currently is neither. But back to the point; Starks is streaky, Whittington is off right now, Smith-Rivera struggles to create space, Domingo has freshman jitters (let’s hope) and Trawick is not known for his shooting ability.
Good news is the Hoya’s are protecting the ball slightly better and the defense remains strong. To go along with that, Markel Starks and Nate Lubick are both having very good junior seasons thus far. Lubick actually holds the 2nd highest PER on the team with a stat line of 8, 5.8 and 3.4 to go along with 62% shooting.
A positive sign from this past weekend was the increased use of pressure defense to force turnovers and points. Does that strategy gain traction as the Hoyas enter BE play? Personally, I hope so. And that Otto Porter can play a little ball.
Over the next 3 weeks: Greg Whittington has to find the jump shot he had last March. Hopkins role needs to be reduced one way or another. A weak slate of games until the opener at Marquette.
Where to beat them: Nothing outside the norm. Take away cutters or play zone. Pressure in the back court.
Are they back? I’d have to lean toward yes more than no right now. They outplayed Michigan for 30 minutes on a neutral floor in the their one real test so far. Beyond that they’ve taken care of business outside of the Oakland game that was handed to them.
Maybe the secret will finally be out that Pitt is an offense first program, not defense. The Ben Howland days are long gone and the DNA of a Pitt has been for a while; Great offense, great rebounding, middling defense. Same story this year. 2nd nationally in points per poss, 56.5% rebound rate and 61st in FG%.
Over the next 3 weeks: Cupcakes until a great New Year’s Eve tilt with Cincinnati. Pitt has to hope Steven Adams can progress further than what he has shown so far. He’s been a nice addition, but not the game changer people had hoped for.
How to beat them: Make them guard. They’re still a slow team and you should be able to get to where you want on the floor. Limit them to one possession and defend the interior. Make them play from the outside.
Tomorrow I’ll hope to look at the other 2/3’s of the league.