Some people enjoy Christmas movies at this time of the year. Some prefer college basketball.
What a week of college sports! Bryce Young won the Heisman. The women’s volleyball tournament is now down to just four teams – Louisville, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Nebraska (and my Badgers have yet to lose a set in the tourney!).
And things got heated in college basketball. Houston and Alabama ended in controversy (and a great Nate Oats pic). Ron Harper Jr. stunned the nation with a crazy buzzer beater over Purdue. Eric Musselman was ejected in a loss to Oklahoma.
But more importantly, TRACR was able to adjust to the games. Stats Perform’s TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) is a net efficiency metric that evaluates how well a team performs based on who they play. TRACR will reward those who beat good teams and punch those who lose to bad ones.
Here are some things to highlight after last week:
Baylor Marches On
Baylor (No. 2 in TRACR) was not expected to be as dominant as the national championship team last season, but the Bears have a shot at repeating come March. Perhaps their most impressive win came on Sunday, when they held Villanova (No. 13) to just 36 points on 22.2-percent shooting. The Wildcats entered that game with the sixth-best offensive TRACR (now No. 14). TRACR expected Baylor to be a top team offensively, but the defense has really been the key to its success.
Most of the pieces from last year’s team are still there, but they have taken on a bigger role. LJ Cryer is the leading scorer, and he’s been doing most of it off the bench. Matthew Mayer is tremendous on both ends of the floor along with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. The new face that has helped this team be elite so far, however, is freshman Kendall Brown, who is averaging 12.3 points while shooting 69.6 percent from the field. Scott Drew has turned him into an excellent defender already.
It’s still too early, but do not be surprised if Baylor goes into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed yet again.
Seton Hall Impresses
Last week, Seton Hall got impressive wins at home against Texas (No. 20) and in-state rival Rutgers (No. 80). While their schedule has not been as strong as Villanova’s, these two wins suggest that the Pirates could be on top of the Big East. They have been able to win tough games while Villanova has struggled (1-3 versus ranked teams). Providence (No. 41) has the best record in the Big East as of now, but the Friars have not played as tough of a schedule as Seton Hall or Villanova.
The Pirates seem to always have that one veteran who leads the team, like Myles Powell or Sandro Mamukelashvili. Jared Rhoden might be the guy this year – the senior is averaging 17.4 points and has scored at least 15 points in eight straight.
The rest of the month is relatively light for the Pirates – they play Iona (No. 97) this week before entering Big East play. They will host Villanova on New Year’s Day – we will revisit when that game occurs.
Biggest Surprises Yet to Impress TRACR
There will be examples every year of certain teams having good records or being ranked highly in the AP Poll that TRACR does not favor as much, and vice versa. There are two such teams this season – Iowa State and Minnesota.
Iowa State (No. 65) was No. 176 in the preseason TRACR rankings and was selected by TRACR and by the conference to be last in the Big 12 in the preseason projections. T.J. Otzelberger has shocked the college basketball in his first season with the Cyclones, starting the season at 10-0. This is Iowa State’s third 10-0 start in the last 40 seasons, along with 2013-14 and 1996-97.
The Cyclones do have impressive wins, most notably against Xavier (No. 12), Memphis (No. 31) and Iowa (No. 28). And while they have made quite the leap, TRACR does not see them as a Top 15 team like the AP Poll has them (currently No. 11). It does not help that Memphis has fallen off a cliff since Iowa State beat the Tigers. However, Iowa State should have scored more than 47 points in its most recent win against Jacksonville State (No. 186). In addition, the Cyclones only beat Alcorn State (No. 314) by eight points. TRACR expected both games to be blowouts.
Minnesota (No. 52) has also been quite a surprise. The Gophers were projected to be the 92nd-best team in the preseason TRACR rankings and last in the Big Ten. They fired Richard Pitino at the end of last season while each of their top SEVEN scorers from last season transferred (including Gabe Kalscheur, who went to Iowa State).
First-year coach Ben Johnson replaced those transfers with other transfers like Jamison Battle (from George Washington), Payton Willis (College of Charleston; played for the Gophers in 2019-20) and Eylijah Stephens (Lafayette). Nobody knew what to make of this new Minnesota squad, but so far the plan has worked. The Gophers lost at home to Michigan State (No. 14) but rebounded and shocked the nation with a road win over Michigan (No. 25).
The Gophers have received votes in the AP Top 25, but they will likely stay in the Top 40-70 range in TRACR for now. They do not play another Big Ten foe until January 2 (home versus Illinois). Still, look out for Minnesota to try and get a bid for the NCAA Tournament.
Games to Watch
Here are some of the top games to watch this week and how TRACR thinks it will go:
No. 10 (TRACR) Alabama (6th AP) at No. 31 Memphis; Tuesday, Dec. 14
TRACR Favorite: Alabama (80.3%)
Projected Score: Alabama 89, Memphis 82
No. 13 Villanova (9th AP) at No. 60 Creighton; Friday, Dec. 17
TRACR Favorite: Villanova (63.1%)
Projected Score: Villanova 72, Creighton 67
No. 15 Texas Tech (25th AP) vs. No. 7 Gonzaga (5th AP); Saturday, Dec. 18
TRACR Favorite: Gonzaga (68.3%)
Projected Score: Gonzaga 84, Texas Tech 77
No. 33 Kentucky (21st AP) vs. No. 8 Ohio State (15th AP); Saturday, Dec. 18
TRACR Favorite: Ohio State (70.0%)
Projected Score: Ohio State 83, Kentucky 77
No. 27 North Carolina vs. No. 16 UCLA (4th AP); Saturday, Dec. 18
TRACR Favorite: UCLA (56.9%)
Projected Score: UCLA 76, North Carolina 74
Graphic design by Matt Sisneros