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