DePaul Rides Reed En Route to Big East Win Over Providence

By Kevin Sweeney

It had the feeling of a different type of DePaul team.

A team that had struggled with blowing leads throughout the season held on when they faced adversity.

A team that had been beaten up on the glass just last week by this same Providence team was the aggressor on the interior and dominated the rebounding margin.

“Their frontcourt just manhandled our frontcourt,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said.

That dominance on the inside lifted the Blue Demons to a 67-55 win Saturday afternoon over Providence at Wintrust Arena in front of a crowd of just over 5,000. DePaul was led by sophomore big man Paul Reed, who continued his dominance in Big East play with 18 points and 15 rebounds, including a huge 3-point play with 1:24 to go that sealed the win.

With four NBA team representatives on hand, Reed showed why he has perhaps the most upside of any player in the conference.

“I think the operative word is ‘potential’,” DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said on Reed. “If you ask anyone deep within our program… he’s got a really, really, really high ceiling.”

Cooley was very complimentary of Reed’s game, comparing him to former Syracuse great Hakim Warrick and calling Reed “an emerging superstar”. Still, he was frustrated with how “soft” his team played, especially on the inside.

“A Providence College team is always going to be tough. We’re always going to be physical,” Cooley said. “I just didn’t think we had that mentality today.”

The Blue Demons got off to a strong start on the defensive end, holding the Friars without a field goal for the final 7:54 of the first half to extend their lead to 10 at intermission. But PC came out energized in the opening stages of the second half, riding an assertive Alpha Diallo (15 points) and a strong performance from freshman guard David Duke (17 points) to quickly make things interesting. Less than three minutes into the second half, it was already a one possession game.

“I thought our guys were very resilient,” Leitao said. “We bent, but we never broke.”

“We had a team talk a couple days ago, and we said ‘this is it, it’s go time’,” senior guard Max Strus said postgame. “We’ve lost too many games in the second half where we blow our lead or teams extend theirs.”

It certainly seemed that Strus was fed up with his team’s inability to close games, and he set the tone in the closing minutes. After the Blue Demon lead was cut to two with under 3 minutes to play, Strus used a strong drive to the rim to score with the shot clock running down. He also hit a pair of huge threes to quell the Friar momentum in the earlier stages of the second half. The Lewis University transfer finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds.

The Blue Demons were finally able to pull away in the final minutes on a pair of old-fashioned 3-point plays by Olujobi and Reed, a fitting way to close out a game that they controlled on the inside.

DePaul moves into a tie for fifth place in the Big East at 4-6 on the season, a huge win for a team coming off three straight losses in a league where 1.5 games separates third place from tenth.

Meanwhile, it’s back to the drawing board for a Providence team that has struggled to put together consistent performances this season. The Friars fall to 3-6 in the conference, with hopes of an at-large bid melting away. But despite his frustration with his team’s performance today, Cooley seemed to still believe in his team’s chances as the season rolls into February.

“There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, and I’m pretty sure Providence College is going to have a lot to say when it’s all said and done.”

 

Mid-Major Bubble Watch

By Kevin Sweeney

Northwestern University is closed for just the sixth time in the last 100 years thanks to Antarctica-level temperatures.

So how am I spending my record-cold day?

By reviewing mid-major resumes, of course! What else would I be doing?

Much has been made of this year’s “weak” bubble, but for the most part, mid-majors have struggled to take advantage and establish themselves as strong at-large candidates. Which clubs have the best chance to find their way into the field should they falter in the conference tournament?

Locks:

Gonzaga (#2 in NET, #4 in KenPom, 3-2 vs Q1)

No doubt here. The Zags have an elite win on a neutral floor against Duke and their worst loss is on the road against a top-10 North Carolina team. Their average margin of victory in Q3 and Q4 games this seasons is 35.6 points. This team is a legit national title contender and has a strong case for a #1 seed if they don’t lose the rest of the way.

Nevada (#17 in NET, #16 in KenPom, 0-0 vs Q1, 7-0 vs Q2)

Save the stunning blowout defeat at New Mexico earlier this month, Nevada has been mostly flawless. The lack of Q1 wins may hurt the Pack when it comes to seeding, though their road win over current NET #76 USC has a good chance to sneak up into quadrant one, as should a road trip to Utah State later this season. The good news for Eric Musselman’s group is that they seem to have figured out some of the offensive woes that plagued them for much of January, with back-to-back dynamic offensive performances against Colorado State and UNLV. A top-4 seed is very attainable.

Buffalo (#18 in NET, #18 in KenPom, 2-1 vs Q1)

Nate Oats’ group jumped onto the national scene last season with their NCAA Tournament demolition of Arizona and further established itself in the non-conference season with wins at West Virginia and Syracuse. The win at West Virginia certainly hasn’t aged well, but the Bulls have done a nice job avoiding bad losses and grabbed a sneaky Q1 win in Ireland against an excellent San Francisco team. The Northern Illinois loss isn’t good, but remains a Q2 thanks to NIU’s 116 NET ranking. The Bulls should be fine regardless of conference tournament results as long as they don’t fall off a cliff.

Heavy Consideration:

Lipscomb:

lipscomb team sheet

What Lipscomb has going for it is that they have no no bad losses. Their worst loss is at home vs a top-75 team in Belmont. They also have great metrics (top-40 in NET and KenPom), and a high-level road win at TCU. They’ve done everything the committee asks mid-majors to do: schedule up in the non-conference, beat everyone you are supposed to beat, and steal a couple big ones.

That said, it’s still likely an uphill battle for the Bisons to get into the field if they lose in the conference tournament. No team from a conference ranked 20th or worse in KenPom’s conference rankings has received an at-large bid since Iona in 2012 from the MAAC. Every game left on the schedule except for a home game against Liberty would be a resume destroyer if Casey Alexander’s team were to lose.

If Lipscomb can win out before losing to Liberty in the conference championship game, they’ll have a fighting chance on Selection Sunday. Any other outcome likely rules out the at-large bid.

Wofford:

 

wofford team sheet

Wofford is one of the darlings of the NET, with their #30 ranking drawing plenty of attention among bracketologists. However, I’m less optimistic about their at-large chances than most.

Like Lipscomb, the Terriers have avoided bad losses like the plague. When your worst loss is at Oklahoma, you are obviously doing something right. The strength of the SoCon this year is also in their favor, as the league ranks 10th in KenPom and provides legit resume-building opportunities with UNCG, ETSU, and Furman all in the top 80 of the NET.

Still, I’m fairly skeptical that the committee will reward a team whose best win will be a road win at UNC-Greensboro. However, if the Terriers keep winning, they can make that choice a difficult one.

San Francisco:

san francisco team sheet

I have been a long-standing member of the Dons bandwagon, and the job that Kyle Smith has done with this group can’t be understated. Put on the tape when they took on Gonzaga or Buffalo this year and tell me this isn’t an NCAA Tournament team.

However, thanks to narrow defeats in both ballgames, San Francisco is left with a lot of ground to make up in the resume department. A home win vs Saint Mary’s is their only Q1/Q2 win as of now, though they will get two cracks at Q1 victories in the coming days with road trips to SMC and Gonzaga on the horizon. A trip to Provo to play BYU will also be a Q2 opportunity later in the year.

To me, USF is the clearest example of a team that passes the eye test but may not pass the resume test. What’s frustrating is that it’s not the Dons’ fault that their resume is lacking. They scheduled three Pac-12 teams: Cal, Stanford, and Arizona State. Unfortunately, Cal and Stanford wound up being bottomfeeders, and the matchup vs ASU was canceled due to poor air quality in the Bay Area after wildfires struck the region. What makes things worse is that a source close to the situation told me that USF offered to go to Tempe to play the game and Arizona State refused.

The Dons likely have to find a way to beat Gonzaga. But there’s no doubt in my mind this team deserves to be in.

Utah State:

utah state team sheet

The fact that we are even having this conversation speaks volumes about the job Craig Smith has done in his first year in Logan after inheriting a program that hadn’t finished over .500 in Mountain West play since the 2014-15 season.

Realistically, the Aggies have to win out in the regular season, including a win at home against Nevada in early March, to get in. Perhaps they can afford one more loss, as long as it is a Q2 (at Fresno State, for instance). Getting an elite win vs Nevada would certainly give them a shot, but the clearest path for the Aggies remains winning MWC Tournament in Las Vegas.

The Long Shots:

Hofstra:

The owners of the nation’s longest winning streak, the Pride haven’t lost since a 2-point heartbreaker at VCU in late November. They have an NBA guard in Justin Wright-Foreman and plenty of other talented pieces on the roster. Their top-50 NET will help, but even if the Pride win out, an at-large bid is still very unlikely. The Pride won’t get another Q1 opportunity this season, and even accumulating Q2’s by winning on the road at Charleston and Northeastern probably won’t be enough in the resume department to get in. No one will want to see this team in March, though.

Murray State:

Despite having likely top-5 pick Ja Morant, the Racers likely won’t have enough good wins to entice the committee should they not win the OVC Tournament. Not getting a road crack at Belmont doesn’t help either, as that would have been one final chance at a Q1 win.

Belmont:

One of the few high-level mid-majors that haven’t been helped by the move from RPI to NET, the Bruins own a weird resume that includes a 4-1 record vs Q1 and Q2, but 3 Q3 losses and a NET of 69 (their RPI is 45). The good wins (3 of which have come on the road) should keep Rick Byrd’s club in the conversation, but my feeling now is that it’s a long shot that we get a #2BidOVC.

What Do We Do With the A10?

I couldn’t really figure out how to sort the three A10 teams that still have a chance at an at-large (Saint Louis, VCU, and Davidson) so I figured I’d just do a small section on them. Each resume has some appeal, but I don’t really like any of them as at-large teams.

Saint Louis got two good wins in the non-conference (at Seton Hall, home vs Butler), but the metrics hate them (88th in NET isn’t close to at-large territory) and they have 2 Q3 losses.

VCU has a great win at Texas and a good neutral win vs Temple. Their win over Hofstra is aging nicely, too. However, they only will get the chance for one more Q1 or Q2 win in regular season play, that coming in the form of a trip to Dayton. It’s hard for me to see them building a better resume than the high-majors they’ll be competing with.

Davidson has no Q1 wins and the NET likes them a lot less than the RPI. They also have 2 Q3 losses.

All three of these teams could go to the Sweet 16 with the right draw. None of them deserve at-large bids. Dayton, George Mason, and even Duquesne also wouldn’t be easy draws. But there isn’t a top-end team clearly in the at-large mix like we are accustomed to, and the league has largely cannibalized itself so far in conference play.

Summary:

Podcast partner Brad Cavallaro and I talked preseason about our preseason at-large bid expectations for mid-majors. We set the over/under for non-Nevada/Gonzaga at-larges at 1.5, and that number looks about right. Buffalo should be set for an at-large, but there’s a good chance they get in anyway with the auto-bid. I’ll continue to push for Lipscomb and San Francisco in particular to get rewarded, but it will likely be an uphill battle.

All team sheets are courtesy of WarrenNolan.com. 

1/24 Mailbag

By Kevin Sweeney

With the season already deep into conference play, I figured it was time to bust out my first mailbag post of the year. It’s a great chance for me to talk about the stuff you guys want to hear about on the site and answer questions I wouldn’t even think to ask.

As always, thanks for your questions. If I didn’t get to yours, sorry, I’ll try to address it in shorter form on Twitter.

We open things up with a few questions from @MaceoBaller16. For a mid-major freshman starting lineup, I’d go with:

  • PG: Jalen Pickett (Siena– 14.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 7.3 apg, .440/.362/.673)
  • SG: Antoine Davis (Detroit– 27.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, .420/.410/.857)
  • SF: Kevin Easley (Chattanooga– 15.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.1 apg, .464/.442/.636)
  • PF: Lamine Diane (CSUN– 23.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, .481/.273/.514)
  • C: Charles Bassey (WKU– 14.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 0.8 apg, .627/.571/.741)

Plenty of good names to choose from here, but I feel pretty good about having the perhaps best Pick-and-roll point guard in the country in Pickett being paired with a stud secondary ballhandler who can shoot it in Davis and a roll man in Bassey who can’t be stopped down low.

As for a transfer lineup at the mid-major level (I’ll try not to make it all Nevada guys):

  • PG: Daishon Smith (ULM– 21.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, .478/.446/885)
  • SG: Caleb Martin (Nevada– 17.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, .394/.320/.750)
  • SF: Marques Townes (Loyola– 14.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.6 apg, .469/.333/.765)
  • PF: Jordan Caroline (Nevada– 18.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, .480/.406.649)
  • C: Josh Cunningham (Dayton– 15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, .658/.500/.582)

This is a random chance to plug Daishon Smith, perhaps the best college basketball player you’ve never heard of. A sit one, play one transfer, Smith came in from Wichita State and has been a revelation for ULM.

Final Four pick as of now is Duke, Michigan State, Virginia, and Purdue (always have to have one “upset”).

The bubble team that can make a run is always an interesting question. Florida comes to mind with their guard depth and their gaudy predictive metrics, but I’ll take another SEC club: Alabama. The Tide are likely to hover around the bubble, but I love their upside and they’ve shown they can beat anyone. John Petty is starting to get it going after a disappointing start to his Alabama career last season and Kira Lewis is a stud at point guard. Plus, this is a battle-tested team that played a tough non-conference and is playing well in the night-in, night-out rigors of the SEC.

As I wrote in December, it was hard to fathom Monmouth being 0-12 after winning 55 games in 2 years from 2015-2017. Combine a tough non-conference schedule, a young roster, and some recruiting mistakes by head coach King Rice, and the 0-12 start happened. Credit Rice for not letting the wheels fully come off, and ever since the Hawks found a way to win at the Palestra against Penn, there has been a different energy about this team. Rice is getting all-conference-level play from sophomore guard Ray Salnave (over 17 ppg in his last five games), and it certainly helps that the MAAC is down this year.

It’s hard to see them challenging Rider for the league regular season crown, but the Hawks should avoid playing on Thursday at the MAAC Tournament and will be a threat in Albany.

I certainly wouldn’t bet on it, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. Wofford is probably the league’s best chance, boasting a gaudy NET (26 at last release) and a resume that includes no bad losses (worst loss is at Mississippi State). Here’s their team sheet (Per WarrenNolan.com):

wofford team sheet

If Wofford can get through conference play without a true bad loss (road losses at Furman and ETSU and home vs UNCG are the only excusable ones), they’ve got a shot. It would be huge if ETSU could crack the top 75 in NET, as it would give Wofford a chance for a 3rd Q1 win (@ UNCG, @ Furman). That resume, with 2-3 Q1 wins and no bad losses along with the great metrics would be appealing in a year with a weak bubble. But the margin for error is THIN.

I’m very here for a #2BidSoCon, but I’m not counting my chickens.

I know Joe is pushing for Ja Morant for NPOY here, but it has to be Zion. He’s as transcendent a player as I’ve seen in CBB.

As for the OVC’s seeding, I think Murray State might be able to sneak onto the 11 line, Belmont would be a low 12 or a high 13, and everyone else would be a 14 or 15 seed.

DePaul! DePaul is 111 in KenPom, but I’ve been saying all year that I don’t think they are actually that bad! They have 3 really good guards in Devin Gage, Max Strus, and Eli Cain, and that frontcourt is really coming along with NC A&T grad transfer Femi Olujobi and athletic 4-man Paul Reed starting to put it together. Until about two weeks ago, this team would look great for 30 minutes, then find a way to lose (see: 25-0 run by Northwestern to go from down 15 to up 10). Now, they seem to be putting it together. We’ll see if DePaul can put it together long-term with Strus, Cain, and Olujobi graduate this year but Markese Jacobs, Darious Hall, Romeo Weems, and Carte’are Gordon coming in.

I’d also love to see a 2-bid MAC, and the path to that is Buffalo losing in the conference tournament. With two really good road wins at WVU and Syracuse along with a neutral-court Q1 over San Francisco, the Bulls are fairly safely in the NCAA field as long as they avoid multiple bad losses. The league is so deep this year that several teams could make a run, but my bet is Kent State. Bowling Green is off to a roaring start to conference play, but I really like this Golden Flashes team. It’s a veteran group with an elite scoring guard in Jaylin Walker and plenty of other guards who can make plays.

The “heaviest” question of the mailbag without a doubt.

There’s really no feasible answer to this problem, in my opinion. The biggest programs have the most money and the most influence, so it’s difficult to truly make change that removes the balance of power from the biggest programs. Mid-majors are virtually on their own here.

A few things mid-majors can do:

For one, the move from the RPI to the NET is critical. Because the NET is more of a power rating based on efficiency than a resume measuring stick based on who you play, it gives the opportunity for mid-major teams to get strong NET numbers even if playing bad teams. The quadrant system also helps to a degree by allowing mid-majors to get more credit for road wins.

Mid-majors have to get creative with scheduling. If you are good, be willing to play anyone, anywhere, anytime. If the big boys won’t play you, go play home and homes against other mid-majors. Those can turn into Q1 and Q2 games especially in the NET era. The “pod” system being deployed by the CUSA is interesting.

What a way to wrap up the mailbag.

For the most swag, you just have to go with Kevin Keatts at NC State. What other coach has this much shoe game?

Enough said.

As for the least swaggy coach in America, Tim Miles. Dude just seems a little geeky!

Podcast: Top 25 Reset

Brad and Kevin take the opportunity to do a big reset on the nation’s top 25 teams given all the craziness of the last week. This gives them the opportunity to talk all the biggest games of the week, plus rant on Indiana’s potential bottom-out, the NET, Maryland, Auburn, NC State, and much more. Plus, the guys talk Jaylen Fisher’s shocking transfer from TCU and potential landing spots for the star PG.

To Foul Up Three or To Not Foul Up Three

Today on the show, Brad and Kevin dissect a wild week in college basketball. First, Brad rants about Providence electing not to foul up 3 and their loss to Georgetown. Then, plenty of analysis of Ole Miss’s great week, Duke’s comeback win, rough weeks for several top-25 clubs, and San Francisco’s tilt with Gonzaga. All that and so much more right here on the CBB Central Podcast.