It’s winning in the NCAA Tournament—not simply getting there—or bust for Seton Hall this year. THE BIG TEN ISN’T EXACTLY BATTING 1.000 THIS SEASON. And, for the purposes of this piece, let’s focus only on hoops (sorry, Ohio State). For a four-year run spanning the 2010-2011 and 2013-2014 campaigns, the Big Ten could pose a valid argument for being the greatest league in the land. But now there’s no Robbie Hummel, Draymond Green, or Frank Kaminsky to save the conference, which is headed for its fourth consecutive mediocre season. The Big Ten got spanked in their annual challenge versus the ACC, losing 11-3. The top-three teams are pretty visibly defined in Michigan State, Minnesota, and Purdue. But after that, it’s anyone’s guess. And it’s slim pickings. In the post-Melo Trimble era, Maryland is turning the ball over on nearly a quarter of its possessions and already lost to St. Bonaventure sans Jaylen Adams. Is anyone really buying Penn State? The Nittany Lions haven’t beaten anyone of note and fell at home on Monday to Wisconsin. The Badgers kicked off conference play by getting run out of their own gym in an 83-58 loss to NIT-bound Ohio State and are in serious jeopardy of missing their first NCAA Tournament since 1997-1998 (a feat that even Bill Self must be impressed with, by the way). Northwestern (5-4) is struggling being the hunted as opposed to the hunter for the first time in program history. Iowa is 4-5. John Beilein’s offense at Michigan is somewhat human, stemming from the Wolverines’ lack of production at the point guard spot. It’s bad enough that league play has started already, all because the Big Ten is holding its tournament a week earlier than fellow power conferences at Madison Square Garden in an effort to augment its brand. You do that by winning marquee out-of-conference games and placing league members in the polls. Not by risking Michigan State having a two-week layoff, or close to it, before its first NCAA Tournament game. I’m sure Tom Izzo and his peers are just thrilled. THE BEST BRIDGES IN COLLEGE HOOPS THIS YEAR IS NOT WHO YOU THINK. I know, blasphemous, right? The landscape of the 2017-2018 season changed for good in April, when Miles Bridges declared he would pass up a lottery selection by returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, citing unfinished business. The consensus preseason National Player of the Year surely can’t be the second-best Bridges in college hoops this season. Or could he? Have you seen what Mikal Bridges is doing? Villanova’s Bridges hasn’t seen an increase in minutes. He’s logging 30 minutes a game, same as last year. But, with Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins graduating, Bridges’ Usage Rate has jumped from 15% to 23%. The 6-foot-7 “3-and-D” wing has more than taken advantage of the extra possessions. Entering Tuesday’s showdown with No. 12 Gonzaga, Bridges is averaging 17.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks. He’s knocked down 50% (21 of 42) of shots from long distance. He hasn’t only broken out, he’s playing like a first-team All-American.
Desi Rodriguez wins it for Seton Hall. Helluva week for the Pirates, who knock off Texas Tech and Louisville. pic.twitter.com/mcCtL580lN— Mike McCurry (@Mike_McCurry16) December 3, 2017
As for Miles Bridges, he’s been slowed by an ankle injury. While he’s averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, his three-point percentage is down (from 39% to 31%) and he’s still adjusting to the transition of going from power forward to the 3. It’s early December. But in the early going, the premier Bridges resides in Philly. ADDITIONAL NOTES
This is beautiful basketball and sooooo Villanova. Purposeful ball moment. An effective pump fake by Brunson. The extra pass by Paschall. Mikal Bridges is now shooting 53% from 3 this season on 5 attempts per game. pic.twitter.com/BtMOZ0LCcU— Mike McCurry (@Mike_McCurry16) December 2, 2017
- The best team in the Pac-12 is, um, who? The conference’s highest-ranked team in the AP Poll is Arizona State, but as exciting as Bobby Hurley’s experienced backcourt is, the Sun Devils rank 178th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The conference’s highest-ranked team per KenPom is Arizona but, regardless of who is reading this, you could probably score on them (more on that here). De’Anthony Melton-less USC is coming off blowout losses to Texas A&M and SMU. UCLA hasn’t beaten anyone. The fact that Oregon has yet to play a game outside of Oregon hasn’t precluded the Ducks from racking up a couple of bad losses. The Pac-12 is a mess.
- Maryland’s Justin Jackson was supposed to be THE Justin Jackson in college basketball this season. To this point, his ascension to the top of scouting reports has led to a significant dip in efficiency. He’s averaging 9.8 points on 23% shooting from three—he made 44% of his triples as a freshman—and that’s with Sunday’s 20-point outburst at Illinois. Hopefully that gets him going.
- Did Rick Pitino have THAT much of an effect on Quentin Snider? Louisville’s point guard is shooting 32% this season, posting an Offensive Rating of 93.4 (113.8 last year). It gets tougher and tougher to recall his career 22-point night in a win versus archrival Kentucky last December.
- Markus Howard hit eleven threes. In a single game. It came against Chicago State. So what? I’d pay to attend a Marquette game just to watch Howard run off screens and let it fly.
- A reminder that Wichita State is doing all of this without Markis McDuffie. He should be back from a broken left foot by the start of conference play.
- Tennessee is a basketball school now, yes? The Vols entered the AP Poll at No. 24, the first time the program has a number next to their name since the 2010-2011 season. You know, during the uneventful Bruce Pearl era. Tennessee has a deep bench, forces turnovers, and runs its offense thru bulky 6-foot-7 power forward Grant Williams (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG), a freight train on his way to the rim.
- The shackles have been removed from Kyle Guy, and the results are glorious for America’s favorite son. His field goal attempts have doubled (from 6.0 to 12.5), as has his scoring average (from 7.5 to 16.6). The most promising development I’ve seen from Guy is his ability to mix it up more this year. He’s way more than just a shooter. Against Wisconsin, he missed 5-of-6 three-point attempts yet still finished with 17 points and an Offensive Rating of 111. He’s converted on 50% of his attempts inside the arc this season, up from 38% last year. A high-IQ scorer, Guy understands how to use screens and attack closeouts. Tony Bennett recently said of his star guard, “He’s deceptively creative and athletic.” I love that. When Guy is firing on all cylinders, there aren’t too many more exciting players nationally.
- Last week for Baylor was a case of missed opportunities. The Bears lost at Xavier on Tuesday then dropped a home affair to Wichita State. The loss of T.J. Maston (11.7 PPG,7.7 RPG) to a broken right hand suffered in the Xavier loss—he’s out until the new year—is a major blow and places even more pressure on Manu Lecomte to carry a large share of the scoring load.