Interpretive Dance: The official welcome back to college hoops primer

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. 

When confetti spilled down from the rafters inside University of Phoenix Stadium, Tom Brady raised the Lombardi Trophy in triumph and endless discussions about the science of emasculated balls mercifully ceased, football season wrapped.

Now, the anticipation for the single greatest sporting event each year, the NCAA tournament, builds.

If you’ve lived and breathed pigskin since August, welcome back to the always wacky world of college basketball.

You’ve missed a great deal.

Believe it or not, we’re only 31 days from Selection Sunday. Soon people of various backgrounds and engagement levels will partake in the annual exercise of scrawling teams on bracket lines, hoping this will be the year they, and not stupid Mark in accounting, win the office pool.

To help get you back up to speed, below are 68 bracket bits from the college hoops season thus far:

Opening Remark: Much discussed by analysts and coaches alike, scoring in the college game has dropped dramatically from last season. A year ago, teams across D-I averaged a robust 71.02 points per game. This season, that number has plummeted to 67.88. (1)

Why the scoring recession? Blame hand-checks, restrictive motion, continuous improper block/charge calls, excessive brick-laying, a coaching emphasis on defense and the shrunken talent pool. (2)

How do we fix it? Encourage freedom of motion, overhaul officiating, disqualify players at six fouls, eliminate the one-and-done rule (two-and-done would help tremendously) and decrease the shot clock to 30 seconds. (3)

Current Projected No. 1 Seeds: Kentucky, Virginia, Gonzaga, Kansas (4)

Current Projected Last Four IN: Temple, Tulsa, Old Dominion, Texas (5)

Current Projected Last Four OUT: George Washington, Wyoming, BYU, Illinois (6)

Most Balanced Team: Virginia (7)

Best Defensive Team: Kentucky (8)

Best Offensive Team: Notre Dame (9)

Most Overrated Team: Indiana (10)

Most Underrated Team: Oklahoma (11)

Three teams with best shot to run conference table: Gonzaga, Kentucky and Stephen F. Austin (12)

Top three freshmen: Jahlil Okafor, F, Duke, D'Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State, Melo Trimble, G, Maryland (13)

Best All-Around PG: Kris Dunn, Providence (Delon Wright and Jerian Grant are also in the conversation) (14)

Deadliest Arc Assassin: Tyler Harvery, G, Eastern Washington (47.6 3PT%, 4.3 made threes per game)(15)

MC at the Block Party: Jordan Mickey, F, LSU (3.7 blocks per game) (16)

Best Rebounder: Rico Gathers, F, Baylor (12.3 boards per game) (17)

Fastest Roadrunner (best transition player): Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma (18)

Guy 'Don' Stockton should hire ASAP:  Kris Dunn, G, Providence. The sophomore leads the country in assist rate at 50.5, dropping 7.5 dimes per game. (19)

Most Prolific Kleptomaniac: Briante Weber, G, VCU. The ACL/MCL injury he suffered Jan. 31 was terribly unfortunate. The senior was only 12 steals shy of the all-time NCAA record. (20)

Best Individual Performance: Kris Dunn, G, Providence. On Jan. 29 against DePaul, the kid messed around and logged a triple double – 27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists. It was the 14th triple-D in Big East history and the first recorded by a Friar in league play. Dunn >>> God ... Shammgod. (21)

Best Backcourt: Providence (Kris Dunn and LeDontae Henton) (22)

Best Frontcourt: Kentucky (Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauly-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Trey Lyles) (23)

Dude who cranks out more double-doubles than In-N-Out: Seth Tuttle, F, Northern Iowa (24)

Best Stat Sheet Stuffer NOT named Kris Dunn (three-category contributor): A.J. English, G, Iona (25)

All-Rodney Dangerfield Team (Mid-major standouts not from Gonzaga): A.J. English, Iona; Cameron Payne, Murray State; Corey Hawkins, UC Davis; Damion Lee, Drexel; Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (26)

ACC Player of the Year frontrunner: Jahlil Okafor, F, Duke (27)

Big East Player of the Year frontrunner: Kris Dunn, G, Providence (28)

Big 12 Player of the Year frontrunner: Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma (29)

Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner: D'Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State (30)

Pac-12 Player of the Year frontrunner:  Stanley Johnson, F, Arizona (31)

SEC Player of the Year frontrunner: Bobby Portis, F, Arkansas (32)

Coach of the Year frontrunner: Bob Huggins, West Virginia (33)

Coaches with cheeks firmly planted on the hot seat: Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech; Anthony Grant, Alabama (34)

Biggest Disappointment: UConn. The Huskies lost to Houston. That's right, Houston. (35)

Biggest Surprise: Butler (36)

Mark Few has Damontis Sabonis and cohorts clicking. (USA Today)
Mark Few has Damontis Sabonis and cohorts clicking. (USA Today)

Random Thought

: He may not possess a John Stockton, Dan Dickau or Adam Morrison, but this is far and away Mark Few's finest Gonzaga team during his 16-year tenure in Spokane. Odds are favorable the 'Zags will return to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1999 and only the second time in school history. (37)

Teams that rank inside the top-30 in offensive and defensive efficiency: Kentucky, Virginia, Arizona, Gonzaga, Villanova, Utah and Kansas (38)

Teams with the biggest differential in offensive and defensive efficiency rank (among projected NCAA tournament at-large): Indiana (-237), San Diego State (-191), Notre Dame (-149), Stanford (-115) Iowa St. (-113), (39)

Team that will allow a game to slip through its fingers because of embarrassing free-throw shooting: San Diego State (62.3 FT%) (40)

Team that will drive nails in the coffin late at the line: Ole Miss (79.9 FT%) (41)

Most Terrorizing Teams: West Virginia, VCU (42)

Prediction: The Missouri Valley Conference will put three teams in the Dance (Wichita State, Northern Iowa and wild-card winner of Arch Madness). (43)

Biggest threat to Kentucky in the SEC: LSU (44)

Scariest Mid-Major: Northern Iowa (45)

Team that will tank in February: Indiana (46)

Team that will bank in February: Michigan State ... naturally. (47)

Best High-Major League: Big 12 (48)

Worst High-Major League: Pac-12 (49)

Leagues that will have at least four participants in the NCAA tournament: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC (50)

Strongest Overall Team Resume: Kansas (51)

Most Hollow Overall Team Resume (among currently ranked teams): Notre Dame (52)

Top Road Warrior: Virginia (8-0, 12.5 margin of victory) (53)

Weakest Road Wimp: Oklahoma State (1-5 away from Stillwater) (54)

Projected mid-range seed poised to go all Kentucky '14 on that backside: Miami (Fla.), provided Angel Rodriguez doesn't slip into a statistical coma. (55)

Random Thought: Thad Matta should permanently scrap Ohio State's zone the remainder of the season. It's just awful. (56)

Teams keeping the Heartbreak Hotel in business (close losses): North Carolina State and Northwestern (57)

Mascot that fuels my nightmares ... the St. Louis Billiken. Always the devilish-eyed St. Louis Billiken. (58)

Most Thrilling Game: Played on Jan. 28: Notre Dame 77, Duke 73. Thanks to a pair of suspect defenses, the nip-and-tuck affair was packed with plenty of fireworks. (59)

Most Humiliating Loss: Dec. 6, 2014 in Ann Arbor, Mich.: New Jersey Institute of Technology 72, Michigan 70. (60)

Best On-Air Duo: Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery. "A little lingerie on the deck!" (61)

Projected No. 12 over No. 5 upset: Wofford over West Virginia (62)

Projected No. 16 seed with a fighting chance to make history: Texas Southern (63)

Most likely Cinderella (13 or lower seed): Murray State (64)

What Bubbleville residents will sweat out Selection Sunday? Old Dominion, Tulsa, Temple, Wyoming, Illinois (65)

Projected Final Four: Kentucky, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oklahoma (66)

Projected National Championship Matchup: Virginia vs. Kentucky (67)

Projected National Champ: Virginia (68)

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

MARKET MOVERS

Here are this week's bracket bulls and bears:

DA BULLS (MOVING UP)

Louisville Cardinals (19-3, RPI: 12, SOS: 39, Current Seed: 3)


Similar to Rick Pitino’s gray-colored beard, the Cardinals offense has been rather splotchy. Primarily due to the incredibly inconsistent shooting and at times maddening shot selection of Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear and Terry Rozier along with Montrezl Harrell’s midseason swoon, this year’s Louisville brand has experienced long scoring droughts. Its downfall against Duke on Jan. 17 provided indisputable evidence. However, as seen in wins against Pitt, Boston College, North Carolina and Miami, UL’s offensive potency is pointing up. In those contests, the Cardinals splashed the cylinder at a clip of 1.166 points per possession. If the backcourt continues to chip in steady production, the Cardinals should be on the right side of the ledger in most contests moving forward. Keep in mind they rank inside the top 20 nationally in seven defensive categories. Pitino’s mixture of man/zone and constant on-ball pressure typically frustrate the competition. Saturday’s colossal clash at Virginia will show just how far Louisville has come along. No matter win or lose it should attract a favorable seed, possibly as high as a No. 2 come March. Of the ACC contenders it arguably has the best remaining schedule of the bunch, including home matchups to end the conference season against Notre Dame and Virginia.

Northern Iowa Panthers (21-2, RPI: 19, SOS: 116, Current Seed: 4)


When the casual college fan hears the name Northern Iowa memories of 2010 are instantly conjured. That was the year the overlooked school from Cedar Falls toppled No. 1 seed Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Overnight, guard Ali Farokhmanesh, who plunged several daggers in the upset, became a household name. Five years later, the Panthers are once again on the prowl. High-majors take notice. This year’s UNI product is superior to the Cinderella of yesteryear. It’s superior defensively, plays deliberately and efficiently and goes nine deep. Highlighted by double-doubles machine Seth Tuttle and versatile guard Wes Washpun, Ben Jacobson’s club is a legitimate top-15 team and Elite Eight contender. Its experience and half-court nature will wear down many an opponent. After disposing Wichita St. in spectacular fashion last Saturday, ending the Shockers’ 30-game conference win streak, UNI has the upper-hand in the MVC. The Panthers’ overall No. 116 strength of schedule will likely place them on the No. 4 or No. 5 line come Selection Sunday, even if they run the table the rest of the way. Still, much should be said about how flawless they execute, on both sides of the floor (top-40 in offensive and defensive efficiency nationally), as a unit. It would be foolish to underestimate them.

Texas A&M Aggies (15-6, RPI: 33, SOS: 63, Current Seed: 11)


It’s Kentucky and a giant clog of mediocrity. That’s the common perception about this year’s SEC. To an extent, there’s no disputing the claim. The Wildcats are on an entirely different plane, seemingly perched on an untouchable throne. However, the Aggies, who nearly knocked off the Calipari All-Stars in College Station on Jan. 10, are quickly becoming the second-best team in the league, one that could surprise folks come March. Currently, they stand at 6-3 in league play, recording key wins against LSU, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Though it only has one noteworthy W on the resume (LSU), A&M has suffered no bad losses. Of the five opponents it fell to only Kansas State ranks outside the KenPom top 45. Equally important, it sports a respectable No. 63 strength of schedule, thanks in large part to the overall depth and strength of the SEC. TAMU isn’t special in any single category, but it's balanced. Standout forward Jalen Jones is a well-rounded contributor who’s excellent in transition, on defense and inside the paint. Small forward Daniel House is no slouch either. The 6-foot-7 wing has drained over 40 percent from three on the year. The Aggies defeat at Ole Miss on Wednesday was merely a bump in the road. With home matchups against Georgia, Florida and LSU on the horizon, it should soon break away from the fray.

Others Flaming: Baylor, Wyoming

DA BEARS (MOVING DOWN)

Texas Longhorns

(14-8, RPI: 37, SOS: 12, Current Seed: 11)
Bevo is inching his way closer and closer to the slaughter house. Entering the season Texas was expected to contend not only in the loaded Big 12 but also nationally. Flush with bigs (Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert), arguably the best up-and-coming point guard (Isaiah Taylor) and super frosh Myles Turner, the Longhorns were fully equipped to establish themselves as a top-10 force. However, Taylor’s extended absence due to a wrist injury combined with general underachievement has UT in a precarious position. Offensively, the team lacks chemistry. Part of that can be blamed on Taylor’s injury, but netting a mere 1.002 points per possession in conference play, the persistent brick-laying has become a team-wide pandemic. Resorting to a three guard lineup could turn the tide, but putting ball into basket isn't UT's only wart. Most concerning, Texas’ defense, a hallmark of Rick Barnes coached squads, has sagged greatly. In their past nine games the ‘Horns have surrendered 1.041 points per possession, the third-worst mark of any Big 12 school during that span. They should be favored in their next three games (at K-State, TCU, Texas Tech), but a misstep here or there could prove crushing. UT has numerous opportunities to beef up its resume down the stretch (at OK, Iowa State, at West Virginia, at Kansas, Baylor), but standing at 1-8 against the RPI top 50, it’s critical for it to add another marquee win or three. The seat under Barnes is once again heating up.

VCU Rams (18-6, RPI: 9, SOS: 4, Current Seed: 3)


When Briante Weber’s knee buckled in last Saturday’s contest against Richmond, VCU immediately entered into a state of uncertainty. The prized senior, an irreplaceable defender and team leader who suffered a torn ACL and MCL, saw his career end 12 steals short of setting an NCAA record. Gut-wrenching. Shaka Smart vows VCU will remain VCU, defiantly stating earlier this week “we won’t walk it up and play 40 minutes of zone.” The Rams will march on, trapping, pressing, swiping – that’s their game. Still, Weber’s loss places intense pressure on JeQuan Lewis and Jonathan Williams who are expected to fill the massive void at point guard. Both have logged valuable minutes this year, but it’s unknown whether VCU will skip a beat. Its 12-point win over George Mason on Wednesday was encouraging. However, its remaining opponents may not be as kind. Over the next month, the Rams will face stiff tests from George Washington (away), Richmond (away), Dayton (home) and Davidson (away). The Selection Committee will take Weber’s setback into account, but if they tumble hard, an unsavory seed is probable.

Wichita State Shockers (20-3, RPI: 14, SOS: 79, Current Seed: 6)


The perennial mid-major darling is starting to show cracks in its once ironclad profile. Nowhere near the caliber of team they’ve been the past three seasons, the Shockers are a good, not great, group. The production of Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet hasn’t slipped and the club’s defense, collectively, still packs plenty of wallop, but without a reliable post presence, Wichita is highly gashable inside the arc. Tuttle’s 29-point, seven-board thrashing of the Shockers last Saturday in Cedar Falls was exemplary of the Shockers’ issues. It’s important, however, not to write Gregg Marshall’s team off completely. Standing at 10-1 in MVC action and with a rematch against Northern Iowa Feb. 28 at Koch yet to tip, it could carry considerable momentum into the second season. That combined with its snail’s pace, sharp three-point shooting and stiff man defense could advance well beyond the NCAA Tournament’s opening round. But if matched against a school brimming with size, a darker reality is sure to set in. Don’t be seduced by the name.

Others Laming: Miami (FL), St. John's

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. SMU at Tulsa – Surprised? Sans Louisville and with UConn resembling a steaming pile of awful, the AAC is a shell of what it was a season ago. However, the winner of this weekend's tilt at the Reynolds Center could pave the way to a regular season title. Protecting the glass, extending beyond the arc and just flat-out defending are the calling cards of the Golden Hurricane under Frank Haith. SMU's Yanick Moreira and Nic Moore are a deadly inside/outside combo, but given the high stakes – Tulsa has only one RPI top-50 W to speak of – and home environment, the Hurricane gets the slight edge.

Prediction: Tulsa 63 SMU 61 

2. Kentucky at Florida – The Gators' five-year streak of NCAA tournmanent appearances is in great peril. Only two games above .500 on the season and standing at a bland 5-4 in SEC play, they sorely need to right the ship, and soon. To play to Kentucky's weaknesses, which it possesses few of, Billy Donovan will surely play purposeful basketball by slowing tempo and encouraging dribble penetration from Kasey Hill. If Florida can protect the rock, draw contact and nail kick-out threes it will have a fighting chance. If not, and Kentucky will put a team with an already sickly resume out of its misery.

Prediction: Kentucky 61 Florida 55 

3. Kansas at Oklahoma State – The Cowboys were able to apply a tourniquet to its bleeding profile last week with a much-needed win against Baylor. However, trashed by Oklahoma in the follow up, its at-large status is far from solidified. Kansas has executed brilliantly on the road this year, taking games at Georgetown, Baylor and Texas. Victorious in 10 of their last 11 games, the Jayhawks are searing. Wayne Selden's improved play and Kelly Oubre's emergence are two key reasons for the surge. But in a crucial game for Okie State, gut says the home team, propelled by multiple Phil Forte threes, springs the upset.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 70 Kansas 68

4. Notre Dame at Duke – It could be argued this is Coach K's finest coaching job in his illustrious career. His open-mindedness to and integration of different defensive schemes have paid enormous dividends in high-leverage games. For example, his switch to a 2-3 then a 3-2 zone late at Virginia shell-shocked the Cavs and was the key to Duke's victory. Notre Dame is overloaded with scorers, but its shoddy defense (No. 151 in defensive efficiency) combined with the Devils' strong desire to avenge their Jan. 28 loss in South Bend could lead to a lopsided L. Bank on Okafor logging his eighth double-double of the season.

Prediction: Duke 85 Notre Dame 74

5. Maryland at Iowa – The Hawkeyes are an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Despite their experience, extreme length and athleticism, Aaron White and Co. are the poster boys of underachievement. Heading south fast, they've lost three of their past five games, including a bubblicious road matchup at Purdue. At 4-4 in B1G play, Iowa desperately needs to stall the slide. Maryland's defense has become increasingly leaky. In its past three contests, it surrendered 1.165 points per possession. Iowa is impossible to pinpoint, but with its back against the wall it rises to the occasion.

Iowa 69 Maryland 65 

Other Notable Games: Baylor at West Virginia, Georgetown at Villanova, Louisville at Virginia, Illinois at Michigan St., Providence at Xavier, Tennessee at Georgia, Rhode Island at Richmond

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