I haven’t updated the “weekly” FP College Basketball column for a while now, but now’s a good time to crank up the old word processor and start dishing out some hot takes. I will try to get these out as often as I can, which will depend on workload. Tonight was a big writing night, so here we are.
In this edition of the thus far unnamed FP College Basketball Column, we’ll play a game called “Are they actually good?”. I will analyze five teams to figure out if they are actually good, or merely pretending to be good. By “good” I mean, “capable of making the Elite 8 or better”.
Are they actually good?
1. Iowa State (16-4, 5-3 in conference, 12th in KenPom)
Actually, there shouldn’t really be any debate over whether Iowa State is good or not. The Cyclones are good. This is a good excuse to analyze them though.
This team is very one-dimensional, but that dimension is probably enough to confirm that post-Fred Hoiberg Iowa State is definitely for real on paper, even if it gets upset in the weekend of the tournament. Offensively, the Cyclones are dependent on Georges Niang, but that’s not such a bad thing. He’s averaging 19.3 points per game, 6.4 rebounds and over three assists. Niang is a unique talent, and he is a Swiss-Army Knife on offense. He’s a good ball handler who moves well and has good post-up moves combined with a solid jumpshot. There’s little college defenses can do to stop him from scoring. In last night’s win over Kansas, Niang did not make a three, but he managed to score 19 points anyway with his skillset.
Point guard Monte Morris has stepped up and is having the best season of his career. His assist rate has improved and his effective field goal percentage is up by 2.8 percent. Morris is absolutely killing it from mid-range and near the basket. His two-point percentage is 59 percent, which is fantastic for a high-volume point guard.
While his three-point shooting has regressed slightly, Morris is still playing excellently. McKay and Nader have been fine, and Iowa State’s starting five can play with any team in the country.
Iowa State’s 6th-ranked offense (KenPom) is very dangerous, but there are still problems. They are currently 69th in adjusted defense on KenPom. The defense has looked fairly incompetent against top-tier offenses (at least, up until the Kansas game). The team’s depth is also bit of an issue, as Deonte Burton is the only real option off the bench. The starting five is playing a ton of minutes, and Steve Prohm may have to manage his team as it continues down the gauntlet that is the Big 12 this season. But seeing Iowa State comfortably beat Kansas should be enough evidence to prove that the Cyclones are for real. Also, its win over Iowa earlier this year looks really good.
Verdict: Definitely good, with the potential to be a Final Four team.
2. Providence (17-3, 5-2 in conference, 38th in KenPom)
While the AFC Championship game was starting, you may have missed Providence going on the road and defeating Villanova in an overtime thriller. That is, if you think “thrilling” means a defensive slugfest in the second half. That game was enough to sell the AP Poll on Providence, as the Friars have vaulted up to 10th in the AP Poll. That’s 28 spots above their KenPom ranking!
KenPom hates Providence because the offense is easily the most inefficient of any top ten team in the AP Poll. This is Providence’s shot chart: (Scroll down and look at Indiana’s shot chart by comparison.)
More than half the shot chart is in Toronto Blue Jays colors! That’s bad. That’s Providence is 90th in ShotAnalytics’ PAE stat, which compares expected shooting value to an average of all shots taken at a particular spot. ShotAnalytics also only ranks teams in Power Seven conferences, which means Providence is probably somewhere in the 120s in terms of PAE. That’s not good.
Bentil and Dunn are Providence’s only decent offensive players. They are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in a power conference, currently slotting in at 298th in shooting percentage. Providence knows this, and the Friars have been coached to avoid taking too many threes, but that glaring hole in the offense is a problem. Providence are shooting under 30 percent from three in conference. Although they’re still better than Northwestern (author hits head on desk), Providence has very little outside shooting. Therefore, the offense is mediocre. Providence’s offensive efficiency has predictably decreased in conference play, but they’ve managed to get around it with amazing defense.
Providence’s defense is incredible. This defensive unit can play with almost any style of team. Bentil’s rim protection is phenomenal. Opponents are only shooting 57 percent around the basket against Providence. They have three guys who can guard anyone on the perimeter. Their three-point defense is also phenomenal. While three-point percentage against is partly luck-driven, Providence is holding teams to 31.3 percent from beyond the arc. They are also limiting three-point attempts. Against Villanova, one of the best teams in the country, Providence clamped down late in the second half. Villanova took seven minutes to score seven points. Providence was holding Villanova to about one point per minute on the road!
Despite the excellent defense, it does not change the fact that Providence is vastly overrated at No. 10 in the country. Providence lost at home to Marquette and Seton Hall within the last three weeks. They are a very solid team in a loaded Big East, but I’m not ready to call them a Top Ten team with that offense. Can Providence win games when the other team is making tough shots? Seton Hall made shots and the Providence offense responded with fewer than 1 point per possession. I don’t think Providence is good enough, based on what I have seen thus far. I’m standing firm on this point, even as the Friars try to pray for me to see the light.
Verdict: Not real, although they can reach it when things are going well
3. Indiana (17-3, 7-0 in conference, 19th in KenPom)
I went to see Indiana dismantle Northwestern at Assembly Hall this weekend, and it is hard to imagine how the Hoosiers won’t be contenders in the Big Ten Tournament and the postseason. That being said, they have only played the seven mediocre or bad teams in the Big Ten so far. While they are on a 12-game winning streak, Indiana’s first test against a top-40 KenPom team won’t come until it plays Michigan on the road on Feb. 2. Wisconsin on the road this week will also be tough.
Still, with Maryland dropping a game at Michigan, Indiana has a chance to win the Big Ten, as long as they can continue to play well and beat Iowa twice…yeah, that might not happen. The Hoosiers have a deep and talented squad that has played better since losing James Blackmon. Indiana can shoot. Indiana can move the ball well. However, I’m still not sure if Indiana can defend against the top-tier offenses. Shutting down Northwestern is not exactly impressive. Once they start playing Iowa, Michigan State and Maryland, the team’s lack of defensive presence could be an issue.
Thomas Bryant could be the key for this entire team. Ferrell, Troy Williams and Hartman are not above-average defensively, and Bryant will have to be the linchpin for this defense as a whole. Unfortunately, Bryant has not looked very good on defense, and Alex Olah of all people scored on him at will in the last game. Diamond Stone should have a field day against his fellow freshman. If Bryant starts to waver inside, the rest of Indiana’s defense could fall apart. However, its elite offense can keep them in every game. We haven’t seen what will happen when the shots aren’t falling when this team is without Blackmon, and there will be a day when that occurs. For now, just look at the Sriracha-splattered three-point line on this shot chart:
4. Oregon (16-4, 5-2 in conference, 24th in KenPom)
Haha, the Pac-12 may not have anybody make the Sweet Sixteen at this rate (Arizona: 4-3 in conference), but Oregon is a very interesting case. For some reason, I’ve been watching a ton of Oregon basketball, and they never really look like an elite basketball team until, suddenly, they look like an elite team for ten minutes. They scored 28 points in the first half against Stanford at home, and then they won 71-56. The defense looked atrocious against USC and Colorado, but they shut down Utah pretty well.
I’m not sold on this team because of the defense though. Like Iowa State, Oregon is mired in 70th in KenPom’s defensive rankings. Oregon’s whole starting lineup is made up of offense-first players, and they have been prone to doing bad things like give up 1.26 points per possession to Colorado. Oregon’s defense makes them a boom-or-bust team, but Brooks, Dorsey and Boucher are good enough to overcome the defensive issues. They protect the ball well (6th in the nation in steal percentage on offense) and they also get by on stealing the ball (37th in steal percentage).
Overall, Oregon is solid. They aren’t Elite 8 worthy, but the Ducks are okay. Someone is going to expose them at some point, but that offense really works. Oregon is at its best when it gets humming in transition and Dwayne Benjamin hits a random three that gets the bench going. That can work. But I’m hesitant to say they are “good” just yet.
Verdict: Not good yet, but could make it there on a good day.
5. Duke (15-6, 4-4 in conference, 20th in KenPom)
It’s a good time to be a Duke hater. Duke has lost four of its last five games and may not be ranked next week. Coach K lost to Jim Boeheim in Cameron! Could this be the end of Duke?
Duke is projected by KenPom to go 21-10 this year. While they’ll get an at-large bid barring an truly epic collapse, it’s fair to argue that this team is probably not going very far in the tournament this year. Allen and Ingram are fantastic, but the team is very thin once you get past Luke Kennard. Plumlee Brother No. 56 can’t do much on offense other than putback dunks and layups. Thornton is young and can’t really shoot. Matt Jones’ run from three-point land has fallen off and he’s shooting 32 percent in conference play. Duke just doesn’t have any depth without Amile Jefferson. They basically played six players against Miami yesterday. They have nobody else.
Duke still has the front-line talent to contend with anybody in the ACC, but the team’s complete lack of depth is extremely concerning. You can win if two of your six guys are Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, but it’s much harder to do with Duke’s current squad. All the Duke haters can come out of hiding now. It’s okay. Embrace your identity.
Verdict: Not good, but this will probably come back to haunt me.
Shot Chart of the Week: Jalen Lindsey, Providence
Speaking of Providence’s offensive woes, let’s take a look at Jalen Lindsey’s shot chart:
At least Jalen Lindsey has the right idea, according to conventional advanced basketball stats. He’s taken the midrange completely out of his game. He only takes threes and drives to the basket. Daryl Morey should be taking a look at him. Except there’s one problem, Jalen Lindsey can’t shoot from three. He just can’t. He only shot 33 percent as a freshman and he’s down to 24.7 percent this year. What’s even worse is that he leads the team in three-point attempts! He’s 1 for his last 17 attempts! Stop taking threes Jalen! I’d bet the team’s offensive efficiency would go up by at least 10 spots if you replaced all of Lindsey’s misses with midrange jumpers. It’s that bad. Sorry Jalen, you have the right idea, but the shot chart doesn’t lie.
“Brevity is the soul of wit” Power Rankings
This team will not make the tournament, and you should be sad. Screw you, Larry Brown. You are also a very good college basketball coach.
Northwestern took them to overtime and they lost to Michigan State. Not a good look. I’m putting them on upset alert in January.
12. Michigan State
Izzo’s just waiting for March at this point.
Still haven’t beaten anybody. If they beat UVA at home, call me back.
10. West Virginia
How did they lose at home to Texas? Answer: 3/21 from three, 0.84 pts/possession
9. Miami FL
I still really like this Miami team. Watch out for its three consecutive against UNC/UVA/Louisville later this year.
All hail the 2016 Big East.
Uh, what happened? The Jayhawks beat Oklahoma. Then they lost three of six, including one blowout loss to NIT-bound Oklahoma State.
As much as this team hurts my eyes, I still have to put them in the top 6.
5. Texas A&M
The Aggies play Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge this weekend. Watch it.
3. North Carolina
Brice Johnson is a beast.
Iowa’s really good. Nothing else to add.
Hield vs. Simmons, this weekend, be there or be square.
Bonus Shot Chart for Depressed Northwestern Fans:
He shaved his head, so this should be better in two weeks, I hope.