Tag:Matt Norlander
Posted on: March 3, 2012 11:11 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 12:06 am

A note on Butler and the unrepeated future

Brad Stevens the Bulldogs pulled off something that likely won't be duplicated for decades. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

This sounds so trite, but you know it's so true. It wasn't until it the body was cold and the clock was officially out of countdown, until the schedule was out chances, that we could count Butler out. How many times had we done that in the past two years? Easily a half-dozen. And then the Bulldogs kept on winning, winning until the national title game and taking down a lot more than basketball nets and basketball programs with five times the spending budget. They never won a national title, but getting there is nearly the same level of accomplishment for a school like Butler.

Tonight, the chances of the Bulldogs entertaining us and making us doubt them once again officially extinguished, as Valparaiso acted like the top seed that it is, defeating Brad Stevens' Butler team 65-46 in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament. They're the fun story, the new brand of underdog for fans to flock to -- and they won't be in this year's NCAA tournament field. It's not sad or anything, it's just a change of guard in the Horizon League for at least a year, and merely a hiccup of a season for Butler, which should be back in the thick of things next season when a very good recruiting class arrives and senior sharpshooting transfer Rotnei Clarke is eligible for his one year of sniper service.

Butler finishes its wobbly season with a 20-14 record. It's probably going to get an invite to some postseason tournament, but for all intents and purposes, the Bulldogs' campaign ended tonight. Valpo -- who a decade ago was the synonym for small guy success stories in the NCAAs -- gets to play for its first tournament appearance in eight years Sunday. The semifinal result was a nice way to dovetail the story lines of two programs who very well could build a new rivalry, what with the Crusaders have their own young coach (Bryce Drew) to build their program with, too.

The Valpo narrative can wait, though. After all, it still has to win one more. So here's my primary takeaway from the end of the Butler story, for now. Picture it. It's 2030, and we're all reading our news off of folding tablet screens that unlock by command of a face scanner. Something has replaced Twitter. Mike Krzyzewski looks the same as he did in 2005, which is the same as he did in 1988. Jeff Borzello wears a wig to hide his ever-thinning hair, because scientists still haven't found a way to reverse balding. Some things can't be overcome. The NCAA's adoration for the RPI falls under this category too, I'm afraid.

My point is, it's going to 2030 and we're going to remember and look back on Butler with more awe than what we had in 2010 and 2011. Because, while we're inevitably going to have another team from outside a major conference win a national title, we're not going to have a team come from a small league and make two straight national title games. Butler will have no peer in that regard for the next two decades. Brad Stevens will be there, Indianapolis, or at Indiana, or UCLA -- or maybe even Duke. He'll be climbing up the all-time wins list and cementing himself as one of the greats of all-time.

And he'll probably never come close to accomplishing something as unlikely as what he and his team did the past two years. Think about your impression of Butler the night it was two inches away from beating Duke in the most dramatic way in the history of the sport. And then how did you see this team in 2011? On the night Butler falls short of another chance at doing the improbable, our appreciation for that only grows. That appreciation will inflame, coincide and correlate with every team that falls well short of doing what this one did in the tournaments to come.


Posted on: March 3, 2012 9:35 pm

Tiny Dancers: Belmont Bruins

For the fifth time in seven years, Belmont will play in the NCAA tournament on behalf of the Atlantic Sun. Rick Byrd's had 20 wins with this team in seven of the past nine years, and get this, only Kansas and Belmont have had 12 league wins or more every year for 10 years. The Bruins are leaving the Atlantic Sun on top.

Yep, that's right. After establishing itself as the premier program in the conference, Belmont will head off to join Murray State in the Ohio Valley in 2012-13. Bruin fans chanted "OVC! OVC! OVC!" upon Belmont's bid-clinching 83-69 win over Florida Gulf Coast Saturday, which amounts to the most unlikely chant this weekend we will have this weekend. It's also the saddest. It should be interesting to see how the OVC shapes itself in the coming years. It's possible, even likely, Belmont won't find this success again soon. Prior to 2006, the program had never been to the NCAAs.

Let's get our focus back to this year. Does Belmont stand its best chance at March success? That's arguable. The team's really fun, and terrific on offense -- but not so much on defense. I think last year's 30-5 Bruins team was a better one, but this group has three seniors and three juniors who get significant playing time, so that could accrue to tangible growth. It's all a matter of matchups. What you should know: Belmont is dangerous and likely to be a chic upset pick. Despite being a weak rebounding team, they don't turn the ball over and are fairly staunch in their man-to-man defense.

Byrd is a good tactician as a coach, and they'll no doubt have wrinkles ready for whatever team they face. It's hard to see Belmont getting blown out in its first game.

Player to know: Kerron Johnson. Johnson is the speedy guard who takes on the biggest load for the Bruins. He scores more than 1.2 points per possesion -- only 5-11 Drew Hanlen equals that for Belmont -- and with a 63-percent true shooting percentage, he's in the top one percent of college basketball shooters. He led the team with 14.1 points and 5.2 assists per game. Not a lot of guys can check his ability, although he does have a few unforced turnovers each game.

The Bruins are back again. Will this be their breakthrough year in the NCAAs? (AP)

The Vitals:
  • Record: 26-7 overall, 16-2 in Atlantic Sun
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2011, No. 10 seed, lost 72-58 to Wisconsin.
  • We’re thinking: 13 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 25
  • Sagarin ranking: 33
  • RPI: 60
  • Best wins: at Middle Tennessee State, vs. Marshall
  • Worst losses: Home against Lipscomb, at Miami (OH)
  • Notable stat: Belmont shoots 55.8 percent from the field in effective field goal percentage, which weights 3-point shots correctly. That percentage is the fifth-best in the country. The Bruins can score from everywhere.
-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 3, 2012 6:40 pm
Edited on: March 3, 2012 6:42 pm

Tennessee aligning itself for consideration

Cuonzo Martin, right, has pulled off one of the best coaching jobs in the country this year. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

Tennessee is still in play to finish second in the SEC.

That's more than surprising; it's downright stunning.

The Volunteers were supposed to take this year to learn, get better, grow older and adapt to first-year coach Cuonzo Martin's system. Now, after UT (18-13, 10-6) defeated Vanderbilt 68-61 at home Saturday, the Volunteers' name is getting tossed out in the bubble picture. At least two more big wins are needed for the at-large talk to have legitimacy and logistical reason, but the fact Martin's coached his team to this point is impressive -- and hopefully a really, really good sign for the future of this program.

The Martin hire was considering underwhelming by some Tennessee fans. But this was after the beloved Bruce Pearl was forced out for lying to the NCAA, effectively blacklisted for three years by the institution as well. Martin came in after guiding Missouri State to one NIT appearance and not NCAA tournament berths in three seasons. Martin's done as good of a job already, no matter what happens in the SEC tournament, as anyone could expect.

If the Tennessee-in-the-tournament talk feels premature to you, that's because it is. No one is putting UT in yet, but they're now on the pile. The Vols played the first half of this season without freshman Jarnell Stokes. Stokes is one of Tennessee's two best players, so yeah, that's got impact. Since he started playing, the Volunteers are 9-5. It's not a huge uptick in how they play, but they're undeniably better with him in the lineup. The team has wins over Vandy, a sweep of Florida -- huge -- and that home win against UConn, which isn't greatly impressive ... but if we got down to it, could be a trump card.

Tennessee also closed its season out by winning three of four on the road. The Selection Committee highly values road wins. On the year, UT is 3-8. You wonder if the overall record carries a lot more heft -- considering most of those road losses were without Stokes -- than the recent surge.

To get it really interesting, Tennessee's going to have to earn itself another top-50 win. Getting the No. 2 seed, which can only happen if Florida beats Kentucky at home Sunday, would be paramount, as it would give Tennessee its best shot at reaching the SEC finals, since they couldn't face Kentucky in the bracket until then. All of this is conjecture and optimism, but the fact we're even posting about Tennessee on March 3 in relation to getting a bye in the SEC tournament and still having hoping for the bracket that matters? It amounts to one of the most unlikely storylines in major college basketball this season.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 3, 2012 12:27 pm

A-Sun title game preview: Belmont a guarantee?

Belmont, a team that's made the NCAAs four of the past six seasons, is a team with a 93.5 percent chance to win Saturday's A-Sun title game against Florida Gulf Coast, according to KenPom.com.

So we're sayin' there's a chance, FGCU!

How'd they both get here? These small-guy/small-fry conference tournaments can go so fast when you're not catching every game, so here goes. Top-seeded Belmont took out Jacksonville (76-62) and East Tennessee State (69-61) earlier in the week. No. 6 Florida Gulf Coast upset No. 3 USC Upstate 71-61, then won dramatically over Mercer Friday night, 62-58. The title game tips at 7 ET on ESPN2.

The Bruins of Belmont are the team that deserves to get the bid -- even if FGCU getting in would provide the first true shock to college basketball this March. Belmont's played a tough out-out-conference schedule and is becoming a team that strikes a bit of fear into any big-conference opponent. The Bruins haven't lost a game since Jan. 21, and in the two games these teams played during the regular season, Belmont won by an average score of 91-58. Belmont has the 10th-most efficient offense in the country; FGCU is ranked No. 247 inadjusted defense.

The odds are stacked against first-year coach Andy Enfield's Eagles. Either we'll get a tight, exciting game -- or Belmont will blow out Gulf Coast again, setting up plenty of hype for the team's second-round NCAA game.

-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 2, 2012 4:56 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 5:01 pm

Is there a three-way POY chase?

By Matt Norlander

No matter who you think should be college basketball's player of the year, if you're a fan of the game, I think it's undeniable: Draymond Green is so, so much fun to watch. When you stop and think about it, isn't he the best big man with the most diverse weaponry in his game to wear a Michigan State jersey since Magic Johnson?

Green is a point forward, essentially. He does things for this team, and has skills at the 1/2/3/4/5 that nobody -- nobody -- in college basketball has. That inherently makes him unique, and I suspect Tom Izzo is thankful for every second he has remaining with Green at his disposal. He's not only reliable, he's impossible to gameplan against because you can take away what he does best, or second-best, or third-best, and he'll still be able to help his team in five or six other ways. It's because of this that he's even in the conversation for Player of the Year.

But should he be? At first reaction, I thought so. Jeff Eisenberg put up a comparison post using traditional, tempo stats on The Dagger Wednesday. It was only between Thomas Robinson and Anthony Davis. "Where's Day-Day?" I asked upon seeing the piece. Chris Vannini, who has spent the past four years covering Michigan State, thought the same. And then I realized I was automatically judging Green's value to Michigan State vs. his ability as a player. Without him, is Michigan State an NCAA tournament team? I question that it is.

That's the ever-lasting argument: value to a team vs. actual ability/talent and achievement that's been displayed in a given year. Without Anthony Davis, Kentucky is still very good. It doesn't make him nearly as valuable to the Wildcats as Green is to Michigan State and Thomas Robinson is to Kansas.

In talking Player of the Year, we're talking the latter part of that debate above. I hope voters are aware of that. It's not a valuable award, it's a talent+achievement award. From that combination's standpoint, unfortunately, Green is not in the same class with the two men who are a virtual length-of-a-nose race for Player of the Year. I'm talking numbers here; from a visual perspective, again, it's a blast to watch Draymond. I think when he scores 29 and his team is still not even sniffing a win against Indiana, that's a double-edged result.

The following data was used compiling as-of-today statistics at Statsheet.com (Player Efficiency Ratings and KenPom.com. And fortunately, all statistics are measured through exactly 30 games for each player. Stats need to be judged against schedule strength too, in my opinion. As a backdrop, here's the KenPom.com overall SOS for each player:

Robinson: No. 3
Green: No. 4
Davis: No. 60

Davis' O Rating is absolutely absurd. And take note that I'm using one grid as a background for all data comparisons, so Davis' lofty PER and block numbers look small here, but in fact are nearly as stupid as his adjusted offensive rating.

Here's how it spreadsheets out. Notice how frequently Green is third in these dozens valuable categoriges. His only advantage is when it comes to passing, wher he is clearly as far ahead in that category as any other player is in any other. He makes teammates better, which speaks more to value than his overall achievement profile, but it's still plenty noteworthy.

Green's had a great, great year so far, but he's going up against an all-time shot-block/freak in Davis and a relentless, superior rebounder and scorer in Robinson. I think, at this point, POY is out of Green's reach, even if he's deserving to be in the conversation. From a numbers standpoint, he's a notch below. It's not his fault. If he put up these numbers last year, against Jimmer, it would actually be a really intriguing race.

No matter. Green's still incredible to watch, just as valuable to his team as Robinson, and more diversified in his game -- even though his ceiling are lower -- than Davis. Michigan State won't get to the Final Four without him, and while any coach would love/marry/kill to have Robinson or Davis on their roster, Green is woven into the fabric of his team's scheme as much as any player in the country.
Posted on: March 2, 2012 1:12 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 1:33 pm

What-to-know tourney previews: Summit League

Leagues like the CAA and Missouri Valley have and will continue to get a lot of rightful pub and optimism about their tournaments this season.

The Summit League's bracket should be just as good.

When it comes to mid-major tournaments, really good teams and very dazzling players, the Summit boasts all in spades. It starts with Dominique Morrison, the league's player of the year who suits up for Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles, a mainstay in the CBSSports.com Non-BCS Power Pyramid this season, is a group that went 17-1 in the regular season and has won 20 of its last 21 games. Oral Bobs is one of the best shooting teams in college basketball, putting up an effective field goal percentage of 54.2

ORU's only loss in-conference? At South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits have Nate Wolters, a junior point guard who does it all. Naters Gonna Nate. You know it well if you've followed the blog all season long. This is where it gets interesting. The site of the Summit conference tournament this year is Sioux Falls, S.D., meaning SDSU could and should have a home-court feel to it.

Morrison or Wolters getting to the tournament would be huge for the league. Both players are very capable of scoring 30 points and capturing a nation's attention on a Thursday or Friday afternoon or evening. Wolters does it all; he's a point guard, but the fact he can score in bunches doesn't indicate he's tunnel-visioned about it. His points come within the flow of the offense, and he's not turning the ball over much, either.

If you want an unfamiliar team with a good chance to steal a game, ORU or South Dakota State are the teams to root for. But third-place Oakland, which has point guard Reggie Hamilton -- also a fantastic player -- was in the NCAAs last year and gave Texas one of the most entertaining games on the first Friday of tournament play.

Nate Wolters has the ability to carry his team to a win over a big boy in the big bracket. (AP)
Beyond that, we could have some shakeups with fourth-place North Dakota State, fifth-place Western Illinois and No. 6 Southern Utah, but those teams don't have nearly the depth -- or offense to win three games in Sioux Falls. The top three seeds are all-top 30 offenses.

Also, if you want more information on this, we can't implore you enough to check this out.



Schedule: March 3-6

Title game: Tuesday, March 6 (9 ET ESPN2)


  1. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
  2. Reggie Hamilton, Oakland
  3. Dominique Morrison, Oral Roberts
  4. Alex Young, IUPUI
  5. Frank Gaines, Purdue-Fort Wayne

Conference RPI: 16

KenPom.com rating: 18

Sagarin rating: 18

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: None

Last NCAA Tournament Appearances:

  • Oakland: 2011, 13 seed, lost 85-81 to Texas in first round
  • Oral Roberts: 2008, 13 seed, lost 82-64 to Pittsburgh in first round
  • IUPUI: 2003, 16 seed, lost to Kentucky in first round
  • IPFW: N/A
  • South Dakota State: N/A
  • UMKC: N/A
  • North Dakota State: 2009, 16 seed, lost Kansas in first round
  • Southern Utah: 2001, 14 seed, lost to Boston College in first round
  • Western Illinois: N/A
  • South Dakota: N/A

--Matt Norlander

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 2, 2012 10:26 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:28 am

Podcast: The best coaches, the hottest teams

Bruce Weber and Illinois are not a best coach or a hot team, but they are subject to debate on today's pod. (Getty Images)

By Matt Norlander

After months of waiting, it was time. One of the smart, creative basketball minds who'd never appeared on this podcast finally has. He's Dan Hanner, and he's a treat. Hanner formerly ran Yet Another Basketball Blog, but these days, when he's not economizing things as an economist, he's providing insightful information over at RealGM.com. Today's podcast touches on a few of his recent articles. Read this and this to get a good background of what we delve into. It's not all stats, though, as you'll see listen.

And please, follow Dan on Twitter.

  • From the beginning: Introducing Dan.
  • 1:48: Being an Illinois grad, what's that like? Only Dan can tell us. And then we feel sorry for Bruce Weber because, these days, it's the thing to do.
  • 5:40: The Selection Committee no longer values final 12 games at all. Shouldn't it? Dan makes the case, and I agree.
  • 7:31: Recruiting and development. Here's where we get a bit wonky, as there are ways to chart how a coach recruits his classes and uses them. Who's getting the most out of their players? John Calipari tops the list, but Ben Howland is actually doing quite well, too.
  • 15:55: As we slam into Championship Week, which teams have been trending up/down since February began? There are a few surprises.
  • 19:30: Time to get gooey about our early memories of college basketball, specifically this month. I wrote about that yesterday, too.
  • 28:07: Pod wrap-up relates to how teams change over the course of a season and why injuries and their effects are sometimes overblown.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast -- whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:05 am

Wakeup Call: A day in Krzyzewskiville

The crowd at last night's UCLA game. There's been a lot of this this season. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

I can't believe this article is real and the people in it said those words. // Karate glamour shots, oh my. // The federal invesitgation of the Jerry Sandusky case will make us squeamish once again. // On polls and their accuracy ...

★ Hoya Suxa, a snarky, fun Syracuse blog, is hanging it up. Before the end of the season? Shame.

★ Delvon Roe, who left Michigan State earlier this season due to an injury and to pursue acting, will partake in Senior Day this weekend. He won't play, but he will kiss midcourt.

★ The Bailey Leonard anecdote is the best thing about this story.

★ Will probably be the only time "girds" appears in a sports headline this year.

★ The loving Bob Ryan piece on Doris Burke that everyone passed around Thursday.

★ Quinnipiac advanced to the NEC semis last night, but also got a new leader atop the school's all-time scoreboard.

★ Loved this read by Mike Vorkunov on the skyhook.

★ The Sports Pickle gives us Ben Howland's Pyramid of Mediocrity.

Good job by Jason King here on PJ3. The ending of the story, to me, reads like, yeah, he's definitely, definitely gone after this season.

★ Is Binghamton ready to make its way back? If you never knew the story of Bearcats hoops, you're going to want to read this.

★ One in four top-100 recruits transfer.

★ Game day in Krzyzewskiville.

Brilliant post by Henry Abbott. Read that, Jeff Goodman, and repeat after Abbott: I'm not into numbers -- I just use them.

★ Which conference tournaments will be treacherous viewing for bubble teams?

♬ It's Friday and if I want to blast some Bad Religion I'm going to.

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com