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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Interpretive Dance: D-stiff Hoyas starting to pack offensive bite

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Offensively, the Hoyas are finally coming together. (USAT)

Still recuperating from your midweek bar crawl? Are you nostril deep in term paper research? Have no fear, fellow bracketeers. As a companion to the Bracket Big Board, the I.D. is here to highlight all the college hardwood action from the week that was and preview the most pivotal matchups of the weekend. Unlike McLovin’s fake Hawaiian driver's license, there's nothing fake about this I.D. …

Every Monday, when the latest polls are released, hardcore hoops fanatics wait on pins and needles to see where their team stacks up nationally. Depending what transpired days before, initial reactions to the arbitrary number often illicit longwinded vent sessions on Internet message boards, posts loaded with predictable Rodney Dangerfield-inspired 'No respect' quips. In a way, college basketball rankings are like Ray Lewis, completely polarizing. Sometimes you love 'em. Other times you hate 'em.

But basketball polls, unlike heavily weighted ones in football, are virtually meaningless, discussion points designed to rile up the masses. The opinions of AP writers and coaches, who've probably only watched a fraction of the teams ranked, need to be taken with a grain of salt. In the grand scheme, the digits next to each team hold little to no bearing on the game's real decision-makers, the NCAA Selection Committee.

[Also: Kansas suffers one of the season’s most stunning upsets]

The 10 men and women who comprise the somewhat shadowy organization aren't consumed by national interpretations on how good or bad a team is. Over five long days filled with bottomless coffee pots and room service dinners, they dissect dozens of teams on a case-by-case basis, scrutinizing them on several criteria – quality wins, strength of schedule, conference standing, injury/suspension impacts, etc. The RPI plays an important role in their process, but its important to dispel the common belief it's a be-all, end-all standing. Yes, the computer-generated ranking, as stated in the NCAA's official 'Principles and Procedures for Establishing the Bracket' manual, is directly tied to influential metrics (e.g. wins versus RPI Top-50), however, in its isolated form, it's only one piece of the puzzle. Several measurements, including KenPom, Sagarin and Massey, are displayed on laptop screens during the scrubbing process. The eye test and 'what if Team A played Team B' scenarios ultimately determine where a club is placed on the bracket line.

So the next time you feel the need to chuck a chair, Bob Knight-style, over a frivolous AP/Coaches poll ranking, understand that in the end it's an empty number.

Rehearse your choreographed moves one last time. Get into costume. And press "play" on your boombox. It's time for an Interpretive Dance …

MARKET MADNESS

Here are this week’s biggest bracket bulls and bears:

DA BULLS (MOVING UP)

Georgetown Hoyas (16-4, RPI: 30, SOS: 62, Current Seed: 6)
Comment: Two weeks ago the Hoyas where heading down the road to nowhere fast. With second-leading scorer and rebounder Greg Whittington ruled academically ineligible, G'Town dropped a humiliating game at Big East dungeon dweller South Florida. It appeared John Thompson's III's offense was in an overall state of disrepair. But even still without its standout forward, the Hoyas have performed brilliantly of late, climbing several spots on the Bracket Big Board. The Barking Dogs have played excellent defense all season. Anchored by postmen Michael Hopkins and Otto Porter, they've yielded a mere 0.85 points per possession and a 42.7 effective field-goal percentage, well below the 48.4 national average. But what Georgetown has achieved offensively explains its ascension. Unable to put ball-in-basket consistently over the first half of the season, it's shown remarkable improvement recently. In five of their last six games, the Hoyas, sparked by wide-body Nate Lubick who's missed just eight of his last 34 attempts, have scored at least 1.06 points per possession, including a Big East season best 1.12 ppp against St. John's. Occasional turnover spikes and limited second-chance opportunities are ongoing problems, but if the Hoyas can continue to execute on offense they will be a dangerous No. 5/6 seed in the Dance.

Oklahoma St. Cowboys (16-5, RPI: 27, SOS: 44, Current Seed: 6)
Comment: Nerlens Noel may be the most publicized frosh in the country, but Marcus Smart is quite possibly the best. The reigning Big 12 Player of the Week has turned nuclear. During the Cowboys' current four-game win streak, he's stuffed the stat-sheet to the tune of 18.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 4.0 steals per game. An absolute menace on both ends of the floor, he's rapidly become of the most balanced players in the country. On display in State's thrilling OT triumph against Baylor Wednesday, teammates Markel Brown (15.3 ppg), Le'Bryan Nash (13.0) and sixth-man Phil Forte (11.6) also pack quite the punch. Overall, Travis Ford's bunch is superb defensively. According to KenPom.com, it ranks inside the top-10 nationally in defensive efficiency and two-point percentage defense. The 'Boys struggle at times from distance, but their slashing, athletic nature and ability to cash-in at the free-throw line are eerily similar to last year's Marquette squad, which advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. If they finish with 11 or more Big 12 wins, expect them to be rewarded with an attractive mid-range seed.

St. Louis Billikens (17-5, RPI: 56, SOS: 90, Current Seed: 11)
Comment: Somewhere upstairs, Rick Majerus is beaming with pride. His former assistant and now interim head coach, Jim Crews, has done a masterful job carrying on the legacy the jovial coach, who passed away December 1, started. Since the day after Majerus' sudden passing, the Billikens have honored their late leader by reeling off 14 wins in 16 games, including a 17-point shellacking of Butler January 31. No surprise of a Majerus-recruited team, St. Louis' calling cards are clock control and relentless defense. Active in passing lanes, the Billikens have forced turnovers on 24.4 percent of opponent possessions, the 22nd best mark in the country. Equally terrific defending the glass and taking care of the basketball, they are a well-drilled team that covets precision in execution. Predicting exactly who will emerge from the A-10 fray is a fruitless endeavor. The league is deep and very balanced. Still, even if the Billikens don't take the regular season crown, they aren't a difficult first-round matchup. A tough out in the tourney last year, Mike McCall and company have the experience and profile of a team that could play giant-killer come March.

Also Flaming: Arkansas, Pittsburgh, Iowa St.

DA BEARS (MOVING DOWN)

Oregon Ducks (18-4, RPI: 29, SOS: 92, Current Seed: 7)
Comment: After sprinting out to their best conference start in 87 years, the Ducks have been stuffed, grilled and served on a silver platter since. Down its catalyst, freshman point-man Dominic Artis, Oregon, already schizophrenic on offense with him, has struggled mightily scoring the ball. Much like their football team, the Ducks like to push pedal-to-metal in an attempt to create transition opportunities while also wearing down competitors. The frenetic pace has proven helpful at times, but self-inflicted wounds have been extremely harmful. A herd of arm-less zombies have better ball-handling skills. They've committed a turnover on an alarming 22.6 percent of their possessions. Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods are sensational on the glass, but highly erratic from three and coming unhinged defensively, they are tanking at the wrong time. Without Artis, Pac-12 opponents are no longer intimidated. Even unexplainable "'Squatch" yowls coming from nearby forests aren't frightening off visitors. Drop a critical home matchup against Colorado Thursday, and the Ducks could soon be looking at a dreaded 8-9 matchup in the Big Dance. The Committee will take Artis' absence into account, but Oregon's No. 333 ranked non-conference strength of schedule will do it no favors.

Wichita St. Shockers (19-5, RPI: 41, SOS: 101, Current Seed: 8)
Comment: Sans starters Ron Baker, Evan Wessel and Carl Hall for a large chunk of the season, the Shockers have been dealt an unfavorable hand. Hall, an indispensable interior beast, returned to action January 16, but Wichita remains trapped in a funk. Consecutive Ls to Indiana St., Northern Iowa and, most embarrassingly, Southern Illinois, has Gregg Marshall's bunch a game back of division leader Creighton, leaving the black-clad faithful wondering if this team is a legitimate contender. They shouldn't feel overly concerned. Stretching back to his days at Winthrop, Marshall-led teams have always leaned on 'containment' defense, which emphasizes ball pressure and paint protection. No shocker, Wichita ranks inside the top-30 nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and defensive efficiency. However, its lack of sustainable production on the perimeter and general offensive inconsistencies explain its recent losing streak. Opponents have limited transition and second-chance opportunities. To combat their scoring inadequacies, Marshall needs to give sharpshooter Nick Wiggins (52.2 3PT%) more minutes, despite the guard's liabilities on D. Still, with a pair of favorable home matchups ahead (Missouri St., Drake), the Shockers should back to their winning ways in a hurry.

North Carolina St. Wolfpack (16-6, RPI: 19, SOS: 11, Current Seed: 5)
Comment: A popular Final Four pick by pundits and casual fans alike preseason, the Wolfpack, who nearly ousted Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen last year, may be lucky to survive the first round of the NCAA tournament this time around. Stuck in a late-season swoon, they've come up short in four of their past six contests. Currently just one game above .500 in ACC play (5-4), their luster has worn off. After losing a heart-breaker to Miami last Saturday, it will be interesting to see how much resolve Mark Gottfried's team possesses. Without question, it sorely needs point guard Lorenzo Brown back on the floor. Minus his services for the entirety of the Miami game, the Wolfpack notched a disgusting 10:11 assist-to-turnover split. Most worrisome, State is one of the nation's worst defensive teams. Giving up 1.02 points per possession in the ACC, it would probably surrender a hundo to the Washington Generals. Worst yet, the Wolfpack ranks No. 329 (out of 344) in defensive turnover percentage and No. 141 in adjusted defensive deficiency. Of high-major teams expected to make the tourney, only Notre Dame (172nd in D-efficiency) is more giving. If they don't show improvement on D and exude a killer instinct late in games, it could be a painful month for residents in Raleigh. Next up, a date with Duke, fresh off its best offensive effort of the year (1.31 pts/poss at Florida St.), at Cameron. Fun times.

Also Laming: Kansas, Creighton

SOWING THE SEEDS

This segment sifts through the bountiful weekend slate to highlight five titanic games that will bear the greatest impact on a team's "Bracket Big Board" standing

1. Kansas at Oklahoma
The Sooners, on the losing end in consecutive games and hovering just above .500 in Big 12 action, need their survival instincts to kick in. With eight wins against the RPI Top-100 and No. 5 ranked strength of schedule, Lon Kruger's club stands on relatively firm ground for an at-large bid. If it springs the upset Saturday, it would cement its case. For that to happen Oklahoma must establish a sound offensive rhythm, which its labored with for much of the season (No. 246 in effective FG%). Equally worrisome, Oklahoma's mediocre defense shouldn't be a tall task for the talented Jayhawks. But who knows what Kansas team will step onto the court in Norman. Rock Chalk has dropped back-to-back games, one impossibly to Big 12 doormat TCU, which was the biggest upset, in terms of RPI disparity, in 20 years. Jump shorts haven't fallen, Travis Relaford has disappeared and Elijah Johnson has inconsistently facilitated the offense. Completely shellshocked, Kansas is ripe for the picking.

Prediction: Oklahoma 68 Kansas 67

2. VCU at Charlotte
As discussed above, the A-10 is quite possibly the wildest, most unpredictable league in college basketball. The separation from conference leader VCU and 10th-place participant George Washington is a measly two games. Charlotte, planted in the division's upper-crust, not only needs this game to keep pace with the Rams, but also to bolster an otherwise questionable NCAA resume. On offense, the Niners resemble a rusted-out Ford Pinto – ineffective, deficient, flawed. Especially laughable from three (24.8 3PT%), they've averaged just 0.96 points per possession, the 237th-best offensive D-1. The Rams, No. 1 nationally in turnover percentage, have forced possession changes an unreal 29.1 percent of the time. If Charlotte wants to get into the at-large conversation, point-man Pierria Henry must squeeze the orange. Over his past five games, he's compiled a 15:17 AST:TO split.

Prediction: VCU 68 Charlotte 65

3. New Mexico at UNLV
For many hoops heads across the country, the jury is still out on New Mexico. Though Steve Alford has assembled another highly-ranked, defensively-stout squad, many truly wonder if the Lobos have the muster needed to advance deep into March. Their concerns are justifiable. The Lobos are defending the ball well, but have experienced substantial inconsistency on the opposite end. Without much depth in the frountcourt, they really do live and die by how seven-footer Alex Kirk performs. If freshman sensation Anthony Bennett attacks the rim, draws contact from Kirk and coaxes whistles, it could be a forgettable afternoon for the Mountain West pacesetter. Pound the interior and limit turnovers and the Rebels, off consecutive road loses (at Boise and at Fresno), should run away with a much-needed victory.

Prediction: UNLV 73 New Mexico 66

4. Mississippi at Missouri
Those who slavishly follow meaningless polls likely believe Ole Miss is practically guaranteed an at-large spot. However, that's definitely not the case. The Rebels own just one marquee win (Missouri) and played an effortless non-conference slate (328 non-conf SOS). Roughly a month ago, forward Murphy Holloway played brilliantly against the Tigers converting 8-of-12 from the floor. In Oxford, the Rebs were in command from start to finish en route to 15-point spanking. But a very different story could unfold in Columbia. Irreplaceable forward Laurence Bowers, who was sidelined by injury in the first meeting, is back. His scoring in the post and ability to generate second-chance opportunities is a major mismatch for a Rebels team that's been pounded down low in recent games. Another lopsided L and Ole Miss fans will start feeling squeamish.

Prediction: Missouri 79 Mississippi 67

5. Indiana at Ohio St.
As tag-team partner Jeff Eisenberg pointed out after Ohio St.'s near-miss at Michigan, the Buckeyes may have discovered what it was desperately searching for, secondary and tertiary scorers to alleviate pressure on Deshaun Thomas. Lenzelle Smith and, in particular, LaQuinton Ross contributed meaningful offense, combining for 26 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Against an explosive, well-rounded Hoosiers team, OSU must continue to receive quality production from its peripheral components. Assuming Aaron Craft, arguably the best pound-for-pound defender on the college hardwood, stymies Jordan Hulls on the perimeter and the Buckeyes wipe the glass (No. 39 in DR%) it should squeak out a win. Do that and a No. 2 seed is within arm's reach.

Prediction: Ohio St. 69 Indiana 68

Last week's Record: 3-2

Other Notable Games: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, Michigan at Wisconsin, Iowa St. at Kansas St., Louisville at Notre Dame, Wyoming at Boise St., North Carolina at Miami (FL), Virginia at Maryland, Illinois at Minnesota, St. John's at Syracuse

MID-MAJOR HALL OF FAME

What underrated player earned his bust?

Will Cherry, Montana, G
Barely heard in the wide open expanses of the upper Great Plains, the Grizzlies have roared out to an impeccable 12-0 Big Sky record. Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward have played pivotal roles, but Cherry has been the grease that's moved the wheel. Since January 26, the senior has posted gaudy numbers averaging 19.0 points per game while totaling 16 assists. Cherry isn't much of a three point threat, but his fearless attitude driving the lane and absorbing contact is what sets him apart from league competition. On the year, he's converted nearly 80 percent of his free-throw attempts, including 15-of-16 against rival Weber St. January 26. Montana will need to cut down the nets at its conference tournament to secure a NCAA bid. Achieve that and it could arrive to the Big Dance in a pumpkin carriage, Cherry holding the reins.

HIGH-MAJOR WALK OF SHAME

What high-profiled player took a long, embarrassing walk home?

Brandon Paul, Illinois, G
If there's one player who deserves to bear the brunt of Illinois' shameful downfall, it's the senior guard. Turnover prone and trigger-happy, Paul has experienced a dramatic reduction in production since the start of Big Ten play, resembling the enigmatic player he was in his previous three years with the Illini. He's a deplorable 11-for-48 from behind the arc and has committed 25 turnovers in his past eight contests, a shadow of the superstar seen during Illinois' stirring 12-0 start. His head-scratching shot selection and questionable effort are slowly killing John Groce's chances of making the NCAA tournament in his first season in Champaign. 'Blessed' with a date against Indiana Thursday, Paul and company are destined to drop their fourth straight and sixth in their last seven. Impressive wins against Butler in Maui and at Gonzaga seem so long ago. Thanks to Paul's halfhearted play, the Illini are blazing a trail to the NIT.

BRACKET RACKET

Each week, per your tweets, the Noise will attempt to get inside the mind of Selection Committee chairman Mike Bobinski.

It's been tough-sledding for the Barn animals of late. The Gophers' once promising season has soured. On the wrong side in five of their past seven contests, their projected NCAA tournament standing has slid down bracket lines. Unfortunately, that's the nature this season in the nation's most powerful league. No wonder Tubby Smith shaved his wonderfully peppered lip sweater.

Overall, Goldy's boasts an outstanding resume. Thanks to the depth of the Big Ten and its rigorous non-conference slate, Minnesota has played the third-toughest schedule in the country. Couple that with 12 wins against the RPI top-100 (Only Michigan has more nationally at 13) and the Gophers will be in the Committee's good graces once the field is constructed. Because of their recent downturn, I have them slotted in at No. 17 (highest 5-seed) on the latest Big Board. However, if they hold court against beatable teams, undercut Indiana in Minneapolis and steal a win at Ohio St., they should feel confident about a No. 3 seed. Anything higher, though, is a stretch, barring a magical Big Ten Tourney run.

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