'Bag: On Memphis, mid-majors and Mizzou

Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.) Per the usual, we begin with video.

@Purdidit writes: Each year has one or two: Which preseason top 10 team is most likely to fail to live up to expectations?

Eamonn Brennan: This one's actually pretty easy. It's Memphis.

For much of the summer, I thought the Tigers' preseason ranking was going to be too high; with all this young talent, it's easy to forget that Memphis was basically a so-so C-USA team for much of the 2010-11 season. Sure, the Tigers finished strong, and there's reason to expect scaled improvements from a team that features so many sophomores that played big minutes as freshmen. The addition of highly-touted recruit Adonis Thomas helps, too. But top 10? Didn't that seem just a little optimistic? What was I missing?

I put Memphis at No. 17 in my preseason top-25 ballot. I thought that seemed fair.

Then Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings (Memphis is ranked No. 20) and ESPN Insider and Basketball Prospectus maven John Gasaway broke things down in this Monday piece for InsiderInsider, and I'm more convinced than ever that Memphis isn't a top-10 team. As John wrote, that doesn't mean they won't be a top-10 team by the end of the season. It may even be earlier than that. But the team with the worst offense in Conference USA -- the only team to score less than a point per possession in C-USA last season -- can't possibly be the ninth-best team in the country. It may happen at some point, but I'd be shocked if the Tigers didn't struggle at times, especially early in the season. People will say they were overrated. But whose fault is that?

(Speaking of Memphis, by the way: Josh Pastner just keeps snatching up elite recruits. The present was already bright, but jeez, that future! Look out.)

@LakeRosenberg writes: In honor of The Mid-Majority, what team from below The Red Line can go the furthest in the NCAA Tournament?

Brennan: It's a new season with (hopefully) new readers, so I won't assume everyone knows what The Red Line is. You can get up to speed right here. The short version: The Mid-Majority's Kyle Whelliston wanted to define what, exactly, a mid-major is. He cut through the usual nonsense about tournament bids and school enrollments (people used to come up with some really wacky mid-major arguments) and instead created an intuitive, simple mechanism: The Red Line. If your conference's average athletics department spends more than X number of dollars, you're a high-major league. If it spends less than that amount, you're a mid-major. Last year, all conferences but the power-six, Mountain West and C-USA were below The Red Line. There are exceptions interspersed throughout; no one, for example, considers Xavier to be a true mid-major. But you get the idea.

With that out of the way -- it seemed like an important thing to clarify, what with the new season and all -- I'd take either of two teams: Iona and Belmont. Lamont "MoMo" Jones' immediate eligibility at Iona is a huge boon to that backcourt; Jones will dominate that league immediately; and thanks to last season's run he has experience in the deeper, tension-filled rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Belmont, 30-4 last season and with pretty much everyone returning, was a Sweet 16 pick for yours truly last season. They caught a tough first-round matchup with Wisconsin and went home right way. Tough loss. (For both the Bruins and, more importantly of course, my bracket). But Belmont will be one of the better mid-major teams in college hoops this season, and there's no reason, with the right matchups and a little luck, they can't make a deep run in the tournament.

Also, Butler will probably go to the Final Four again. I mean, probably not, but I'm going to write that constantly so when it does miraculously happen I look like I had faith in the Bulldogs all along. Pretty sneaky stuff.

@wilson_jasper writes: What do you see as Pitt's biggest weakness?

Brennan: There are two big question marks about Pitt coming in to 2011-12.

The first: Can Khem Birch, Nasir Robinson and the rest of a rebuilt frontcourt dominate the offensive glass? That was Pittsburgh's best offensive quality in 2011; only Old Dominion grabbed a higher percentage of its misses. Without Gary McGhee's girth in the paint, can Pitt still generate those invaluable second, third and fourth offensive chances?

The second: Can Travon Woodall capably fill in at the point guard position? Woodall's shooting is his biggest weakness; he recently said he's been shooting the ball with much more confidence, and that's good news for Pitt. But it remains to be seen how well he can space the floor, and how much pressure he can take off All-American candidate Ashton Gibbs.

While these are the biggest weaknesses in the context of Pitt's team, I'm not sure either is much to be worried about in the grand scheme of things. This is why Dixon is so good: Year after year, his teams are consistent. I'd wager that both concerns, in so far as they're even concerns, will be handily mitigated in a month or so.

@ShockerHoops writes: Who wins the Puerto Rico Tip Off?

Brennan: We've talked a lot about how good the Maui Invitational is this year, but I'm not sure the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is all that far behind. Here's the bracket. Given those prospective matchups, I think Wichita State has a legitimate chance to win the whole deal. (Is that the answer you were looking for?) It may require a little bit of help along the way; I'm not sure the Shockers have the horses to hang with JaMychal Green and the rest of Alabama's brutally tough defense (even though they sure did in the NIT final). That would be a bear of a rematch. I'd list my favorites in this order:

  1. Alabama

  2. Temple

  3. Wichita State

  4. Iona

  5. Purdue

  6. Maryland

  7. Colorado

  8. Western Michigan


@BlueDemonsBall writes: DEPAUL!?!?!?! Is Cleveland Melvin a legit NBA prospect?

Brennan: The word DePaul makes me think of, like, an Agatha Christie murder mystery. "Was it DeSteve Montclair who committed the crime? Or was it his brother ... DEPAUL!?!?!"

Anyway, I assume that means you have questions about DePaul. As do I. Oliver Purnell still hasn't quite gotten where he needs to go, talent-wise. But he's doing a solid job on the margins in a place that has really struggled to acquire talent in the last, oh, decade or so. Melvin is one such player. I'm not sure he's an NBA prospect just yet, but he does have the size at 6-foot-8 with a solid combination of skills that it's not out of the question entirely. And hey: Big East Rookie of the Year is no small feat.

DePaul fans should actually hope Melvin isn't getting NBA looks, at least not yet. They need the sophomore to stick around for at least two more seasons, so he can become the focal point of an improved Purnell-led attack. That's probably the Blue Demons' best short-term hope.

Kelly Schubauer in Plattsmouth, Neb., writes: I know no one cares, but what happens to Missouri wrestling in the SEC. I don't know about you, but Missouri is not that strong in football, they are OK in basketball, and now they seem to have drop their wrestling program. Even though they don't compete for national titles, they do produce some individual national champions. The ACC would have been a better fit all around.

Brennan: Despite growing up in Iowa, I know almost nothing about collegiate wrestling. (I know that Iowa is the best program of all-time. I know the name Dan Gable. My high school was awesome at wrestling. That's pretty much it.) But I included this question because it gets to one of the biggest problems with conference realignment: What happens to all those non-revenue sports? We don't talk about that much. Every now and then, we mention how taxing it will be for such and such team to have to travel to meets at such and such a distance in such and such a conference. But it also affects those sports in less logistical, more fundamental ways. This is one of them.

Leon from Petaluma, Calif., writes: SEC best in basketball with Missouri? Are you mad? The Big East now is the best in basketball. Even with the loss of Pitt and Cuse, the Big East would stake claim to at least the No. 3 spot behind ACC and B1G.

Brennan: My argument about the Missouri and the SEC is here. It's difficult to predict just how good each team will be during the conference transition, but when you look at Texas A&M and Missouri right now, and you look at the SEC right now, and you look at the Big East right now ... well, I'm not so sure the SEC wouldn't be right up there with the best leagues in the country. Even if you project it out, Missouri and Texas A&M are both solid, relatively consistent programs. Losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh out of the Big East isn't entirely crippling basketball-wise; there are still solid, consistent programs in that league, too. But it's close. And if UConn leaves? Oof.

Charles in Silver Spring, Md., writes: I started out to claim 5,000 points and ended up here. What's going on?

Brennan: Dude! I have no idea. I would assume you're spam, but would a spammer really call himself Charles from Silver Spring? Maybe he would.)

Either way, if anyone knows where we can get Charles his 5,000 points -- of what, I'm not certain, but the guy needs 5,000 points apparently -- please do so. Dude seems confused.

I get more of these emails than I'd like to admit. Sigh.