Conference play is hot as a Scottsdale summer. Teams that dig a deep hole in the standings early lose sight of the regular season championship. Don’t miss these five games this weekend.
Valparaiso (11-3, 1-0) at Oakland (9-6, 1-1), 7 p.m. ESPN2
Horizon League heavyweights meet to kick off the weekend. Oakland guard Kay Felder has been phenomenal. The 5-9 junior led his squad to an upset win at Washington and a near-miss at Michigan State. He’s also striving to become the first college player ever to lead the nation in scoring (26.1 ppg, third) and assists (9.2 apg, first). Nate “Tiny” Archibald accomplished this feat for the NBA’s Kansas City Kings in 1972-73 (34 ppg, 11 apg).
It could be difficult for Felder to catch Howard’s James Daniel (28.5 ppg), a high-volume guard who takes 20 shots per game. But it’s going to be fun to follow the chase. Felder is already in rare air, as no player has averaged 25 points and eight assists in a season since 1995-96
Only four players in the last 20 years finished a season averaging 23 points and six assists. Charles Jones (Long Island U.) is the lone man with a comparable season. In 1997-98, he led the nation in scoring (29.0 ppg) and was fifth in assists (7.2 apg)
Oakland is 29th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (112.7 points per 100 possessions). Valparaiso is second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency (89.2) but looked vulnerable on that end in all three losses. The Crusaders allowed 1.06 points per possession to Oregon, 1.08 to Ball State and 1.12 to Belmont. Oregon pounded Valpo with 14 offensive rebounds. Ball State scored inside and outside. Belmont shredded the interior, shooting 62 percent on 2-pointers and making 19 free throws.
Losses to Ball State and Belmont dinged the Crusaders’ NCAA tournament at-large bid resume and two matchups with Oakland (95) are the only remaining top 100 regular season games, per KenPom.com
Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2) at No. 22 South Carolina (14-0, 1-0), 3 p.m., ESPNU
The challenges keep coming for Vanderbilt, which makes a road trip to face one of two remaining unbeaten teams (SMU is the other). The Commodores lost to LSU on Saturday and at Arkansas in overtime Tuesday, surrendering 90 points in each loss. A projected SEC contender in the preseason, Vandy is a disappointing 8-6 overall although its other four losses (Kansas, Baylor, Purdue, Dayton) came against top-40 KenPom teams. Sometimes basketball just comes down to the most simple element - shooting. In the eight wins, Vandy made 50.8 percent of shots. In the six losses - by an average of 5.4 points - Vandy made 43.0 percent.
What’s been South Carolina’s recipe for unprecedented success? Experience, balanced scoring and terrific defense. The Gamecocks are led by three seniors and two juniors who averaged between 10.9 and 12.8 points per game. They’ve outscored opponents 291-196 at the free throw line, where they’ve scored more than a quarter of their points (4th in the nation). Michael Carerra is 21 of 36 (58.3 pct.) behind-the-arc this season
Florida State (10-4, 0-2) at No. 12 Miami (12-1, 1-0), 5 p.m., ESPN2
Since 2005-06, every national champion had a top 20 offense and defense with two exceptions: North Carolina in 2009 was 21st in defense, but that was offset by the most efficient offense of any champion in the last decade. Connecticut’s offense in 2013-14, which was 39th. Otherwise, teams elite on both ends clipped nets. The Hurricanes are one of two ACC teams on the short list this season
|Team||Adjusted Offensive Efficiency||Adjusted Defensive Efficiency|
It’s been easy to forget the 12th ranked Hurricanes. They’ve played only four games since Dec. 8 and won each by a double figure margin. Sheldon McClellan takes 21.3 percent of Miami’s shots when he’s out there and makes them: 62.2 percent on 2-pointers, 41.3 percent on 3-pointers and 87.9 percent on free throws
Florida State flopped in the opening week of ACC action and defense was the culprit. It allowed Clemson 1.25 points per possession and then gave up 106 points (1.20 ppp) to No. 6 North Carolina at home. Leonard Hamilton expects better from his team. He’s coached six top-20 defenses in his 14 seasons in Tallahassee
Arizona (13-2, 1-1) at Southern Cal (13-3, 2-1), 7 p.m., Pac 12 Network
The Pac-12 is wild, goofy fun this season. It’s difficult to determine which is more unpredictable, television analyst Bill Walton’s commentary or the action on the court. Walton isn’t on the call for this one and there isn’t a dominant team in the Conference of Champions, but talent abounds on the western courts. Arizona remains the favorite in a jumbled race, despite losing at the buzzer to UCLA on Thursday night. Not getting swept in the City of Angels is top priority for coach Sean Miller and his aggressive band of board crashers (No. 1 in nation in defensive rebounding rate, 79.2 percent). The Wildcats allowed the Bruins 1.24 points per trip, well above their season average of 0.92. KenPom believes Andy Enfield’s Trojans are legitimate. They are 23rd in the ratings, have a top 40 offense and defense. USC also has five players who average between 12.1 and 12.8 points per game. So, they're balanced.
No. 1 Kansas (13-1, 2-0) at Texas Tech (11-2, 1-1), 9 p.m., ESPNU
Those familiar with the wonderful website KenPom.com understand that a page covered in green is a good page. Statistical strengths and victories are highlighted in green. Kansas, with its top 10 offense and defense, has a page drenched in green. It’s a spectacular profile befitting the nation’s top-ranked team. The lone blotch of red, which signifies a weakness, is on the team’s free throw defense (opponents are shooting 73.9 percent) and frankly that’s on the Allen Fieldhouse faithful to improve the timing of their Rock-Chalk-Jayhawk chant, or something. The Jayhawks will be 660 miles removed from their fans Saturday night. They'll need another good night from Wayne Selden, who had 45 points and zero turnovers in the last two games vs. Baylor and Oklahoma, to escape the Red Raiders, who have the nation’s 22nd best defense (94.1 adjusted efficiency). Texas Tech lost at Iowa State on Wednesday but still held the Cyclones, who average 1.14 points per possession, to 1.04. Opponents are shooting just 44.7 percent on 2s and 30.6 percent on 3s vs. Texas Tech this season