BOZICH | Monday Muse: Welcome college basketball! Welcome!!!
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Mark Stoops and his Kentucky football team have given the Wildcats’ relentlessly understanding fan base a season to celebrate, beyond what happened last Saturday.
The Wildcats have sharpened their brand, made the Southeastern Conference pay attention and put themselves in position to win 10 games and beat Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee and Louisville in the same season.
As for everybody else on the local scene?
Let’s get to basketball. There are three frustrated fan bases tired of waiting for reasons to go crazy.
1. Hello Hoops! The Muse Has Missed You
Kentucky to the Final Four. Duke’s Zion Williamson as the next Charles Barkley/LeBron James/Karl Malone. Kansas as the national champion -- unless Gonzaga finally takes the final step. The ACC as the best conference on the planet.
If you check the national media, you can find takes of every temperature. Myron Medcalf of ESPN had two local fan groups hyperventilating by predicting Chris Mack of Louisville will win the national coach of the year award and that Archie Miller of Indiana will win the regular season title in the sagging Big Ten.
I’m an analytics guy. I like analytics as much as I like Labrador retrievers.
What do Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin and Bart Torvik forecast for the four strongest local Division I programs?
An immensely better year than the slop we’ve seen in football.
I’ll start with Louisville. Torvik’s formula gives Louisville a 35.7 percent probability of making the NCAA Tournament. I suspect reasonable U of L fans will take that.
Pomeroy ranks Louisville No. 63 overall with a 15-15 record, tied for 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference with Notre Dame. Sagarin ranks Louisville No. 47, three spots higher than Torvik.
My take: If Louisville can stay healthy, the Cardinals will make the NCAA Tournament. Chris Mack will get them to defend. And rebound. And value the basketball. That will translate into a team you won't want to play in March.
All three computer models have Kentucky winning the Southeastern Conference, although Pomeroy forecasts a record of 24-7 for John Calipari’s team. Sagarin ranks the Wildcats No. 8, Pomeroy says No. 7 and Torvik says No. 5. That’s Final Four worthy.
From 2011-through-2015, Calipari made four Final Fours in five seasons. The Wildcats have not suffered four consecutive seasons without a Final Four since the final year of Tubby Smith, two seasons of Billy Gillispie and the first year of Calipari.
Kentucky has muscle. Kentucky has experience. Kentucky should have improved shooting. If the Wildcats get improved point guard play, they'll be in Minneapolis for the Final Four.
None of the formulas agree with Medcalf. Indiana will not win the Big Ten. All three place the Hoosiers fourth. Pomeroy ranks IU No. 28 with a regular-season record of 20-11. Torvik says IU’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament are nearly 80 percent. Sagarin ranks Indiana No. 19. That translates to better than 80 percent.
Indiana is another team that needs better point guard play. Freshman Robert Phinisee has reportedly looked the part but a productive and efficient Devonte Green is what the Hoosiers need to challenge Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten. They'll return to the tournament for the first time since 2016.
Pomeroy, Torvik and Sagarin all put WKU atop Conference USA. Pomeroy projects a regular-season record of 17-8 while Torvik puts WKU’s probability of making the NCAA Tournament at 54 percent. Rick Stansbury’s team is ranked as high as No. 60 by Torvik and as low as No. 79 by Pomeroy. Sagarin’s starts WKU at No. 70.
Washington, Arkansas, Saint Mary's and Wisconsin. The Hilltoppers will have ample opportunities to win style points for an at-large NCAA berth. They'll also succeed.
2. Don’t Forget WKU
Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse will be stuffed with media, NBA scouts and Kentucky fans Tuesday night with the traditional Kansas-Michigan State, Duke-Kentucky doubleheader to open the season.
Don’t sleep on the rest of the national schedule. Former New Albany High School star Romeo Langford makes his debut for Indiana when Chicago State visits Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall at 6:30 p.m. EST.
Major props to Roy Williams. He will take North Carolina to Spartanburg, S.C. to play dangerous Wofford, which returns three-point specialist Fletcher Magee from the team that won in Chapel Hill last season. Does it really warrant an upset alert if Wofford goes back-to-back on the Tar Heels?
Western Kentucky can earn early credit for an at-large NCAA Tournament spot by defeating No. 25 Washington in Seattle. That game is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. EST on ESPNU. The Huskies were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 this season. The tournament selection committee -- and the analytics formulas -- are always watching.
3. Another UMBC Banner Moment
UMBC’s 15 minutes of fame is about to expire.
What am I talking about? UMBC's 15 minutes of fame will never expire. Nor should it.
The Retrievers open at Marquette, a fringe Top 25 team, Tuesday in Milwaukee. But coach Ryan Odom’s team has squeezed every drop of adrenaline out of the program’s spectacular 16-seed beats 1-seed NCAA Tournament victory over Virginia.
Including this moment from their exhibition game last Friday night.
Deserved. Effective. Must-see.
4. Charlie Strong in the Neighborhood
Charlie Strong is a name we don’t debate any more. The players he recruited to U of L football are gone. He has not invested much time in pursuing high school players from this region. Strong is more of a Florida guy now than he was when he brought Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Rogers, Calvin Pryor and other Floridians to Louisville.
After his inevitable three-season breakup with Texas, Strong relocated at a program (South Florida) in a conference (American Athletic Association) that does not get premium exposure in this market.
This weekend, Strong gets as close as he’s been to Louisville with a football team since he departed after the 2013 season.
His USF Bulls visit Cincinnati Saturday at 7 p.m. USF will arrive as a 12-point underdog. After winning their first seven, the Bulls have stumbled in back-to-back weekends against Houston and Tulane.
The Bulls could back into a bowl game with a 7-5 record because after playing Cincinnati, USF visits Temple and then finishes with unbeaten Central Florida.
5. Who Beats Bama? Tim Brando Edition
You say nobody beats Alabama. I say nobody beats Alabama. My guess is that Sagarin, Pomeroy, Torvik and my dog Ruby say nobody beats Alabama.
FoxSports broadcaster Tim Brando disagrees.
Sort of. Kind of.
Like everybody, Brando posts short video clips of his college football thoughts. Brando found the perfect way to make the Monday Muse -- by naming the two teams than can beat Alabama.
Which two teams?
I’m not going to steal Brando’s glory, but I will say that fans of Michigan, Notre Dame and Georgia will be disappointed.
6. Who Beats Bama? Las Vegas Edition
Brando has his view. Las Vegas has another view as reflected by projected point spreads for post-season games Alabama might play in the college football playoff.
Here are the numbers from BetOnline.AG
Alabama - 8.5 versus Clemson.
Alabama - 14 versus Michigan.
Alabama - 20.5 versus Notre Dame.
Anybody taking the points? The Clemson number seems low. The Notre Dame number seems high. I can’t fuss at the Michigan number.
7. Florida’s Football Follies
Tough football seasons in this area happen. Tough football seasons in Florida are not supposed to happen, not when every program that aspires to greatness will tell you that Florida produces the biggest, fastest, toughest, most developed high school players in America.
Mark Richt (Miami), Dan Mullen (Florida) and Willie Taggart (Florida State) have some explaining to do.
The Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles just lost on consecutive weekends for the first time.
Florida to Georgia and Missouri (in Gainesville). Florida State to Clemson and North Carolina State. Miami, which has actually lost three straight, to Boston College and Duke (in Miami).
8. Time for Lamar?
Baker Mayfield has given Cleveland Browns’ fans hope. Sam Darnold has thrown 11 touchdown passes (forget the 14 interceptions) for the Jets. Josh Allen (Bills) and Josh Rosen (Cardinals) have had their moments.
What about the fifth quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, the guy whose college performance becomes more mythic every time the University of Louisville gets drummed by 30 or more?
When is Lamar Jackson’s time coming in Baltimore?
With the Ravens 4-5 and tumbling out of the playoff race in the AFC, will John Harbaugh start the transition from Joe Flacco to Jackson?
This much I know: Flacco could have had his easiest six points of the season by looking toward Jackson Sunday against Pittsburgh.
9. Booker vs. Oladipo?
You don’t have to choose between former Kentucky star Devin Booker and Indiana all-star Victor Oladipo as the best clutch long-range shooter in the NBA.
Just enjoy these two clips.
First from Booker with the Phoenix Suns.
Then from Oladipo with the Indiana Pacers.
10. Rick Pitino Tweet of the Week
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