Happy Monday morning and welcome to the Water Cooler.
To those of you stuck in the cubes today, I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to be there, and that sucks. I wish you could be at home with friends or family or doing whatever it is that makes you happy this time of year.
Every year, I look forward to getting a chance to unwind from work and spend time with people that I love. And for that, I feel very fortunate. I know that isn’t the case for everyone though. The holidays can be tough and stressful for a lot of people.
I don’t have any particularly eloquent words on the holidays. Ultimately, I just hope everyone reading this gets to spend the holidays in the way that they want to spend it. If you want to be surrounded by loved ones, be surrounded by loved ones. If all you want is just one damn moment of peace and quiet, dammit I hope you get it. If your happy place is out in the middle of the woods away from civilization, go wander out into the woods! Whatever it is that makes you happy or brings you some modicum of joy during this time of year, I hope you get it.
Happy holidays to all of you that come to this space every Monday, now let’s get to the hoops.
And then there were two...
Coming into the weekend, three of nation’s remaining unbeatens came from the mid-major ranks: San Diego State, Liberty, and Duquesne. By the time Sunday came to a close, only two remained.
San Diego State continued its dominant run with an absolute shellacking of Utah under the bright lights of the Staples Center. The Aztecs turned in another stifling defensive performance as they held the Utes to just 52 points and 0.78 points per possession. During their 11-0 start, only two games have been decided by single digits. San Diego State is crushing teams in convincing fashion, and that’s resulted in the highest NET ranking in the country as of Monday morning. Their next big test won’t come until January 4 when they’ll travel to Logan for a tilt against Utah State. KenPom currently gives them a 2.1 percent chance of an unbeaten record.
Liberty finally picked up a pair of wins over the weekend over Towson and Akron, and the one against Akron was their first win over a top 100 KenPom team of the season. The Flames biggest test of the season awaits with a trip to LSU on the docket for Sunday. At 14-0, KenPom currently gives the Flames a 3.7 percent chance of an unbeaten record.
Unfortunately, Duquesne could not escape the weekend unscathed. A poor performance from the three-point arc coupled with their worst defensive showing of the season was the Dukes’ undoing against UAB. The Dukes went just 5-27 from deep and UAB’s 77 points on 1.08 points per possession were both high marks on the season for a Duquesne opponent. Following the loss, the Dukes dropped 23.6 percent in T-Rank’s TourneyCast to just a 17.9 percent probability of making the tournament.
The top of the Atlantic 10 took a beating
It was a rough weekend for the Atlantic 10, particularly for teams at the top of the league.
Let’s start with Dayton, who suffered its second loss of the season in excruciating fashion. The Flyers and Colorado met in the United Center for one of the most highly anticipated games of the weekend, and it delivered. Thanks to a late game-tying three from Obi Toppin, the Flyers forced overtime.
A layup from Jalen Crutcher gave Dayton a one point lead in the extra period with under 10 seconds to play, leaving just one defensive stop between the Flyers and another huge win.
They wouldn’t get it.
As the defense collapsed around Tyler Bey in the post, D’Shawn Schwarts was spotting up on the opposite wing. Bey rose above the trap and whipped a pass over Dayton’s outstretched arm, and Schwartz dialed up a wide open three at the buzzer to send the Flyers home with the loss.
Dayton wasn’t the only team that missed out on an opportunity to pad its resume. VCU squandered a chance against Wichita State in a game that we would have been going crazy for on the site had it been three years ago.
VCU really struggled offensively against the Shockers, who are rated as a top 10 defense in KenPom. The Rams only managed to connect on 4-19 shots from deep, and 18 turnovers proved to be another frustrating feature in a loss. As the non-conference slate comes to an end, VCU’s resume is not quite as strong as some might have expected before the season. The Rams are 0-3 in Quadrant I games so far, and they’ll be placing a lot of weight on Quadrant II wins until they’re faced with the A-10’s heavy hitters.
Richmond turned in its worst offensive performance of the season in a loss to Radford, showing the danger of what can happen to the Spiders when shots just aren’t falling. Radford held the Spiders to just 58 points on 0.87 points per possession, and Richmond shot just a putrid 36.4 percent from the field. They’ll have one more huge test before A-10 play ramps up with a trip to play Alabama waiting at the end of the week.
It wasn’t all bad though. Rhode Island needed overtime to beat a banged up Western Kentucky team, but a win is a win. However, based on the NET rankings, Rhode Island will enter A-10 play in search of its first Q1 or Q2 win despite already having wins against some big name programs:
Saint Louis was the other big winner of the weekend as it toppled Kansas State in a grind of a game. Similar to Rhode Island, the Billikens are still in search of their first Q1 or Q2 win, but they’ll got their shot right out of the gate in A-10 play with road matchups against Duquesne and Richmond.
Key Mountain West pieces go down
In Saturday’s win against Florida, Utah State’s Neemias Queta left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury. Queta, who recently returned from a knee injury, limped to the locker room in the first half. It looked like he may have banged knees with an opposing Florida player, but the injury has not yet been disclosed. A matchup with San Diego State looms after the holidays, and the Aggies will need all hands on deck for the huge conference tilt.
On Sunday, the Albuquerque Journal’s Geoff Grammer reported that New Mexico starters Carlton Bragg and JJ Caldwell were suspended indefinitely before Saturday’s game. The university released this statement in an email before the game:
“Carlton Bragg and JJ Caldwell will not participate in today’s game versus Houston Baptist. They are being withheld from competition and team activity until further notice. The athletic department has received information that requires further review. In the meantime, there will be no additional comments from anyone at UNM until that process is complete.”
As one would expect, this is a crushing blow for a Lobos team that his ripped off seven straight wins. Bragg had been a dominant force in the paint so far this year, averaging a double-double of 13.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Caldwell had served as the team’s floor general and leads the team in assists with 5.6 per game.
The length and reason for suspension remains unknown, and it’s probably not appropriate to speculate on the matter, especially if it’s issue that requires the athletic department to get involved in the review. Moving forward for Paul Weir and Co., a favorable Mountain West schedule should allow the Lobos to pile up wins in their absence or until the matter is resolved. The Lobos finish non-conference play against UC Davis before a run of games against San Jose State, Fresno State, Air Force and Colorado State brings in the new year.
The weekend in brutality
As the year of brutality winds down, we’re still seeing a high frequency of teams getting got.
On Friday, Fordham suffered its third straight brutality, this time at the hands of James Madison. It almost feels wrong including Fordham in these, but rules are rules. Fordham is currently tied for the lead in brutalities suffered with...
Nebraska! Fred Hoiberg’s first season in Lincoln has been less than ideal. On Saturday, the Huskers lost their third buy game of the year. The culprit this time was North Dakota, which led to head coach Paul Sather busting some moves in the locker room.
Yale won its seventh straight game and handed Clemson a brutality in a stifling defensive performance. The Bulldogs held Clemson to just 45 points, which is a season-low for Brad Brownell’s squad. Yale is one of the hottest teams in the country right now and should enter Ivy League play as the favorite.
The final brutality of the weekend featured UC Riverside knocking off San Jose State. Similar to Fordham, it feels wrong to include San Jose State in this. UC Riverside was ranked 65 spots higher in KenPom and was actually projected to win. The Highlanders cruised to a 15-pont win thanks to a dominant performance on the glass.
Other news, notes, tidbits
- Gonzaga should be the No. 1 team in the AP Poll today, which is becoming a normal occurrence in Spokane.
This decade Gonzaga has spent 12 weeks at No. 1 in the AP Poll.— Will Maupin (@willmaup) December 23, 2019
Regardless of what happens over the next two weeks Gonzaga will finish the decade with the fifth most weeks ranked No. 1.
Only Kentucky (33), Duke (30), Kansas (20) and Villanova (19) have spent more weeks there.
- Here’s your weekly dose of Obi Toppin dunking the hell out of the ball.
OH MY GOODNESS! WHAT A SLAM! pic.twitter.com/UxhgEQMUSJ— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) December 22, 2019
- UTSA’s Jihvvan Jackson leads the nation in scoring at 26.8 points per game. On Saturday against Illinois State, he delivered a season-high 41 points for the second 40-point game of his career.
- Here’s a cool chart from Bart Torvik depicting overall conference efficiency. There are some damn good offensive teams in the WCC.
The conference breakdown: pic.twitter.com/2D4u7od8LW— Bart T rvik (@totally_t_bomb) December 23, 2019
- Speaking of the WCC, six teams will enter league play having already reached 10 wins: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, BYU, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Pacific.
- Here’s your list of schools that have tallied a Q1 win so far this season: Gonzaga (3), San Diego State (3), BYU (2), Buffalo, Charleston Southern, Dayton, ETSU, Evansville, Montana State, New Mexico, Nicholls State, Northern Iowa, Richmond, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Mary’s, Stephen F. Austin, UNC Greensboro, Vermont and Winthrop.