Conference Primers: #17 – Southern

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2007

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Predicted Order of Finish:

South

  1. Davidson (23-5) (18-2)
  2. Georgia Southern (17-12) (12-8)
  3. College of Charleston (15-12) (11-9)
  4. Wofford (15-14) (10-10)
  5. Furman (10-18) (8-12)
  6. Citadel (5-24) (3-17)

North

  1. UNC-Greensboro (18-11) (13-7)
  2. Appalachian St. (18-13) (12-8)
  3. Western Carolina (15-15) (10-10)
  4. Chattanooga (11-15) (9-11)
  5. Elon (6-22) (4-16)

SoCon Logo

WYN2K. The Southern Conference has a reputation as a league on the rise, and deservedly so. After stellar regular seasons in 2006-07 from division winners Davidson and Appalachian St., including five wins over BCS schools among the league members (the highest total wins among the conferences we’ve rated thus far), the league has its sights on breaking into mid-major territory. If this is to ultimately happen, it will likely be led by Davidson, who with spectacular sophomore guard Stephen Curry, will challenge itself with several elite OOC games this season. Even though the league has been a one-bid conference throughout the 64/65 team era, last year Appalachian St. was very close to earning an at-large NCAA bid before ultimately settling for an NIT berth. And with the name cachet of Bobby Cremins bringing in exceptional recruits at College of Charleston, this league could be knocking on the door for two bids sooner rather than later.

Predicted Champion. Davidson (#9 seed NCAA) is the clear choice here. Davidson returns all five starters from the team that pushed extremely talented and athletic Maryland in the NCAA first round last year (down only four after the last tv timeout), including the aforementioned Curry, who had sick numbers for a freshman guard (22 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, .408 3fg%, .855 ft%) including a run of 26.1 ppg the last ten games. But this is no one-man show. Aside from excellent point guard Jason Richards (#2 nationally in total assists), post men Thomas Sander and Boris Meno also both had outstanding seasons manning the inside, clearing boards and playing tough defense. Coach Bob McKillop also adds two significant recruits – Aaron Bond, who received some Burger Boy consideration last year; and his son, Brendan McKillop, who turned down ACC teams Virginia Tech and NC State to play for his pops. Knowing that Davidson needs a high RPI to offset any chance of being left at the altar should the Wildcats stumble in the conference tourney, McKillop has beefed up the OOC schedule considerably, setting up made-for-tv games with local bullies UNC and Duke in Charlotte and a trip to Raleigh to play NC State. Another road trip will include a game vs. UCLA at the Wooden Classic. All four of those teams are ranked in the Top 25.

Others Considered. We don’t expect another team to push Davidson like Appalachian St. did last season, but if Davidson gets lackadaisical or suffers a significant injury, we’d expect UNC-Greensboro to be next in line. Believe it or not, Curry didn’t win conference POY last year, and it’s not a sure thing that he will this year either. This is due to the fact that UNCG has a 6’6, 230 lb. Sir Charles clone named Kyle Hines returning in the post. Hines has scored in double figures in fifty straight games, and the last time a team went single coverage on him, he dropped 38 on their heads. Although #2 scorer Ricky Hickman is gone, UNCG returns a trio of talented sophomore wing scorers who all showed promise of bright futures. Appalachian St. is another team to watch despite losing three key seniors. The key is that two post men, Donte Minter (who should be healthy this year) and Jeremy Clayton, are returning, and in a league of little size, this could carry them a long way. One concern is the loss of heady PG DJ Thompson, who led the team’s uptempo attack, along with two other guards that saw significant time. Georgia Southern is another team on our radar, simply because they have an all-conference performer in the post (Louis Graham – #18 nationally in defReb%) and at the point guard position (Dwayne Foreman – #32 nationally in asstRate). And although College of Charleston lost three starters and a transfer from a 13-5 team, Bobby Cremins brought in the best recruiting class the league has seen in some time, and we should keep an eye on his team for that reason alone.

Games to Watch. The SoCon is going to a 20-game round robin conference schedule this season, which is the largest we’ve ever seen. Next year when the league expands to twelve teams with the addition of Samford, we suspect there will be a push by league coaches to return to a more reasonable sixteen game schedule. But for this year, it guarantees that Davidson will have to visit every road arena to test its mettle.

  • Davidson @ Appalachian St. (11.26.07) & Appalachian St. @ Davidson (02.27.08)
  • UNCG @ Appalachian St. (01.12.08) & Appalachian St. @ UNCG (02.16.08)
  • Davidson @ UNCG (02.13.08) & UNCG @ Davidson (02.19.08)
  • Southern Conference Championship Game (03.10.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. We alluded to it above, but the SoCon went 5-38 (.118) against BCS teams last year (Appalachian St. – 2; Davidson – 1; Furman – 1; Wofford – 1). The number will be reduced this year, thanks to the additional conference games, but we expect a similar showing.

  • UNCG @ Georgia Tech (11.09.07)
  • Western Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.10.07)
  • Davidson vs. UNC (Charlotte) (11.14.07) ESPN
  • College of Charleston @ Arkansas (11.15.07) ESPNU
  • Chattanooga @ S. Illinois (11.22.07) ESPNU
  • Wichita St. @ Appalachian St. (11.28.07)
  • Davidson vs. Duke (Charlotte) (12.01.07) ESPNU
  • Tennessee @ Chattanooga (12.04.07) ESPNU
  • Davidson @ UCLA (12.08.07)
  • Georgia Southern @ Florida (12.15.07)
  • Western Carolina @ Illinois (12.17.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. This one is interesting, because if Davidson performs well against the ACC trio + UCLA, has a great SoCon record (like 18-2), yet loses in the conference tourney, we believe that this will be a two-team league.

Neat-o Stat. The Citadel must be one of the most historically horrific basketball programs in the NCAA. It joined the Southern Conference in 1937, and has yet to see its first NCAA or NIT bid. Pat Conroy wrote of his losing season there in the 60s, and not much has changed since. His cousin, Ed Conroy, will begin his second season at the school with what he calls the youngest team in America – 15 freshmen (incl. redshirts), one sophomore, one junior and one senior. Good luck, Ed, you’re going to need it.

64/65-Team Era. The SoCon has been a one-bid league throughout this era, and it will probably remain so this year (unless Davidson lays an egg in the conference tourney). The conference record (3-23, .115) reflects the success of two Tennessee teams, one of which is no longer in the league. In 1992, #14 ETSU defeated #3 Arizona 87-80 in one of Lute Olson’s earlier tankjobs, and in 1997, #14 UT-Chattanooga went to the Sweet 16 by defeating #3 Georgia (the year prior to Tubby Smith winning the NCAA title at Kentucky) 73-70, and #6 Illinois 75-63. Since then the conference (as an average #13.6 seed) has lost ten straight first round games by an average of 13.0 pts – not too encouraging. Still, the last four years show improvement, as the league representative has only lost by an average of 9.8 pts. Below is a nice clip of Curry dropping three of his thirty against Maryland.

Final Thought. This league is all about Davidson this year. The MSM will remember the Wildcats’ performance against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament and pundits like Dickie V. will be touting Curry as a PTPer all season long. Even if Davidson merely pulls one upset against the four ranked teams it plays in the pre-conference schedule, that’ll be enough to entice everyone to claim it as their Cinderella come March. But there are other good teams in this conference, so Davidson shouldn’t be reading its press clippings too closely. Several other teams could surprise much as Davidson did last year, and the level of talent entering the league is rising. It should make for a very fun SoCon season this time around.

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Should You Get the 2007-08 ESPN Full Court Package?

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2007

If you’re a college hoops junkie like us (and you must be if you’re reading this blog), you’ve probably considered the above question. We’ve purchased the $99 ESPN Full Court package for the last four years running and we plan on doing so again this year. Over the years, we’ve spent countless hours on the phone with Comcast (so you want the NBA League Pass, right?) and searching the espn.com website (as of this morning, we still couldn’t find a list on there) to try to find a complete list of all the games that the Full Court Package was going to have, most of the time to no avail.

ESPN Full Court Logo

Now that we have a little more experience with finding this list, we thought it’d make sense to provide it to you guys so you can make an educated decision as to whether you want to throw some bones toward the rapacious bastards your cable company. Whether you should purchase the 427-game FCP depends completely on the following factors:

1) if you’re unemployed how much free time you have

2) if the MSM hates your team how often your favorite team(s) or conference(s) are shown on the package

3) if you live in a hole whether you live outside the local area from said team/conference

Here are a few tidbits about this year’s FCP:

  • Missouri has the most games on the FCP with 22 – here are some of the other high-volume notables:
    • 16 – Arkansas, Texas Tech
    • 15 – Oklahoma, Seton Hall
    • 14 – UConn, Iowa St., Kansas, Louisville, LSU
    • 13 – Alabama, Marquette, St. John’s, Texas
    • 12 – New Mexico St., South Carolina
    • 11 – Kentucky, Miami (FL), Nevada, Oklahoma St., Ole Miss, Providence, Rutgers, South Florida, West Virginia
    • 10- Florida, Mississippi St., Pittsburgh, Tennessee
  • There will be 115 nonconference games on the FCP this year, most of them obviously occurring prior to Jan. 1. Some of the best of the list are:
    • Texas Tech @ Sam Houston St. (11.14.07)
    • Clemson @ Mississippi St (11.15.07)
    • BYU @ Louisville (11.23.07)
    • Nevada @ UNLV (11.24.07)
    • Boston U. @ Pittsburgh (11.27.07)
    • Missouri @ Arkansas (11.28.07)
    • Oral Roberts @ Texas (12.18.07)
    • Washington @ LSU (12.29.07)
    • Xavier @ Auburn (01.06.08)
    • Georgia Tech @ Georgia (01.09.08)
  • The remaining games are conference games, and the BCS leagues are well-represented. Here’s the rundown there (notice anyone missing, Big Ten fans??):
    • Big East – 69
    • SEC – 63
    • Big 12 – 56
    • ACC – 36
    • WAC – 34
    • MAAC – 12
    • Big Sky – 10
    • Colonial – 10
    • America East – 9
    • Pac-10 – 8
    • Missouri Valley – 2
    • Northeast – 2
    • Southland – 1
  • Hey, we’re on board with watching more WAC and Colonial games than another depressing slugfest between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Still, we would have liked to have seen a little more of The Valley and Colonial, but it’s better than last year, and we’re hopeful it will continue to improve.
  • Best conference matchups:
    • Pittsburgh @ Villanova (01.06.08)
    • Vermont @ Albany (01.06.08)
    • Texas @ Missouri (01.12.08)
    • Notre Dame @ Georgetown (01.19.08)
    • George Mason @ UNC-Wilmington (01.26.08)
    • Vanderbilt @ Florida (01.27.08)
    • Tennessee @ Mississippi St. (02.02.08)
    • Nevada @ Utah St. (02.02.08)
    • USC @ Washington St. (02.09.08)
    • Boston U. @ Vermont (02.14.08)
    • Stanford @ Arizona (02.16.08)
    • Oklahoma @ Texas (02.23.08)
    • Tennessee @ Florida (03.05.08)

Here’s the complete list.
ESPN Full Court Schedule 07-08 v.6

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Conference Primers: #18 – Summit

Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Oakland (21-8) (15-3)
  2. Oral Roberts (16-11) (12-6)
  3. North Dakota St. (16-12) (12-6)
  4. IUPUI (17-11) (12-6)
  5. Missouri-Kansas City (14-17) (9-9)
  6. Southern Utah (13-16) (9-9)
  7. Centenary (12-17) (8-10)
  8. IPFW (8-20) (6-12)
  9. Western Illinois (8-21) (4-14)
  10. South Dakota St. (5-24) (3-15)

Summit Logo v.2

WYN2K. Someone in PR at the Mid-Continent Conference decided that the league needed to be rebranded to effectively portray the goals and ideals of its member institutions. Hence, the Summit, which immediately reminds us of the orange and white monstrosity court at the University of Tennessee, but which league commish Tom Douple stated, represents “the top in athletics and academics.” Good luck with that, Tom. In the spirit of change, the league’s most well-known school (at least for hoops), Valparaiso, left for the Horizon League, while it added three new members – Indiana/Purdue-Fort Wayne (IPFWshouldn’t it be IUPUFW?), North Dakota St., and South Dakota St. Of the three, only IPFW will be eligible for the league championship this season, as the Dakota schools will have to wait until 2008-09.

Predicted Champion. Oakland (#14 seed NCAA). We see four teams with championship credentials in this league, but Oakland stands out to us as the team most ready to take over the top spot from Oral Roberts. The small school from suburban Detroit (not California) returns three starters from a squad that finished second in both the regular season and tournament, and played ORU very tough in its last two meetings (Oakland won by 1 pt at home, but lost in the MCC championship game by 4 pts). Despite losing all-MCC player Vova Severovas, the Golden Grizzlies will have a superb backcourt led by Eric Kangas, an exceptional shooter who made 109 threes while shooting 43% from deep last year. Oakland is also expecting a big contribution from Rutgers transfer Dan Waterstradt, a 6’10 forward who possesses size and ability that most big men at this level do not have. We also like Oakland in close games – last year it’s ft% (76.9%) was third in the nation.

Others Considered. We’re not sure who will be the second-best team in the Summit, so we copped out and predicted a three-way tie among the next tier of teams – Oral Roberts, North Dakota St., and IUPUI. IUPUI is the media/coaches pick to win the league, with three of its top four scorers returning as well as guard George Hill, the presumptive best player in the league who had a broken foot that kept him out of action last season. Our main concern with IUPUI is whether Hill will be able to seamlessly transition into the backcourt after a productive first season from guards Austin Montgomery and Gary Patterson, the top two vote-getters for newcomer of the year. If things are rosy, IUPUI could make a run at the title. Another team we considered was North Dakota St., an independent last season who ran off twenty wins (20-8) including a win at Marquette (64-60) and near-misses vs. Texas Tech (81-85) and Kansas St. (81-83). NDSU isn’t eligible for the league title, but it returns four starters and seven of its top eight scorers. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they ended up with the league’s regular season crown? We’d be remiss if we didn’t also consider two-time defending league champion Oral Roberts as well. Scott Sutton returns a lot of players, but we can’t overlook the two he lost – Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, who combined for six all-conference selections, three POY awards (all Green), and scored over 4500 pts (!!!) for the program. If ORU’s depth, and there is plenty of that, can overcome the loss of those two stalwarts, we might just see the Golden Eagles in March again this year.

Games to Watch. The Summit will play a true round-robin of 18 games each, so there will be ample opportunity for each team to distinguish itself against the other good teams.

  • IUPUI @ Oral Roberts (01.17.08) & Oral Roberts @ IUPUI (02.16.08)
  • Oakland @ IUPUI (01.24.08) & IUPUI @ Oakland (02.21.08)
  • Oral Roberts @ Oakland (01.12.08) & Oakland @ Oral Roberts (02.07.08)
  • The Summit Championship Game (03.11.08) ESPN

RPI Booster Games. The Summit loves its Big 12 and Big 10 teams. Last year the league went 2-22 (.083) against BCS teams, with Oral Roberts pulling one of the biggest early-season shockers of last year (ORU 78, #3 Kansas 71) as well as defeating Seton Hall 76-74. There are some good opportunities this year, and several of them will be televised:

  • North Dakota St. @ Florida (11.09.07)
  • IUPUI @ Marquette (11.10.07) ESPN FC
  • UMKC @ Kansas (11.11.07) ESPN FC
  • Oral Roberts @ Texas A&M (11.13.07) ESPNU
  • Oakland @ Michigan St. (11.24.07)
  • Texas Tech @ Centenary (12.01.07) ESPN FC
  • North Dakota St. @ Minnesota (12.03.07)
  • Wichita St. @ UMKC (12.15.07)
  • Oral Roberts @ Oklahoma St. (12.20.07) ESPN2
  • Oregon @ Oakland (12.22.07) ESPNU

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Still none, although we wish they’d let NDSU into the Summit League Tournament just to see what might happen if they won.

Neat-o Stat. By most objective measures, Western Illinois was one of the worst teams in America last year. Its record was 7-23 and its offensive and defensive efficiencies were among the bottom fifty. However, it was also one of the unluckiest teams in America, losing two more games than would be expected by its overall statistical profile and losing eight games by four points or less, the most such instances in the nation.

64/65-Team Era. The history of the league shows that the MCC has had a tendency for one team to dominate for a while before ceding its power to another. From 1987-1990, Southwest Missouri St. won four consecutive NCAA bids. After a few years of several teams winning the league, Valparaiso started its run of seven NCAA bids in nine years in 1996. The last two years Oral Roberts has been winning the bids, with a great shot at a third straight this season. Over the 23-year era, the league has a solid low-major record of 8-23 (.258) in the NCAA Tournament, including two trips to the Sweet 16 (1986 – #14 Cleveland St.; 1998 – #13 Valparaiso). Unfortunately, in the nine years since that Bryce Drew-led run by Valpo, the league has lost its first round game (avg: #15.0 seed) by an average of 21.7 pts (excluding the 2005 PiG, where Oakland, with a 13-19 overall record, defeated Alabama A&M 79-69). Speaking of young Mr. Drew…

Note: video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.

Final Thought. Notwithstanding the name change, the Summit appears to be a league in transition. Oral Roberts has already shown a commitment toward building a serious program by keeping Scott Sutton on board with a seven-year contract extension. Oakland and IUPUI have also shown signs of long-term progress, and a newcomer like North Dakota St. is well positioned to be competitive in the league immediately. Last year the league earned its highest computer rankings (mid-teens) of the last decade and even with the loss of Valpo, the conference should have enough talent in its top half to keep it among the best of the low majors.

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All Ur Base R Belong 2 Us

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2007

Remember this internet sensation from the early 2000s?

We couldn’t help but recall that fine piece of artistry when we came across a site called The Palace of Bling the other day. Turns out they’re going to be providing coverage of the college hoops season for the gamblers among us. Well, let there be no doubt where we plan on getting our hot plays from this year. We’ll save you the linkage by providing you with their full text so you too can see how impressive TPoB is when it comes to the point spreading department. Somehow, we’re not too worried about copyright issues. From our place turf, er, tribunal, to yours (best lines in bold):

Well the college basketball game season is almost upon us and our professional college hoops odds-makers are dusting off our tons of game-winning analysis and tendencies so that we can have got another winning season. For the last 10 years, we have got picked three college basketball game best stakes for pretty much each twenty-four hours of the regular season all the manner until the conference tournaments. With all of the tons of games across the nation, it is not reasonable to seek and disability each game because the whole point in this line of work is to go on to come up out on top in the point spreading department.

We look at every game each twenty-four hours but we settle down in on the three best dramas based on our historical information that have got been consistent victors for us each twelvemonth of our existence. We have got a accumulative record of picking at 59 % over those 10 old age and we look to go on to construct on that success for this season.

One winning tendency that we love to title-holder is our home underdog volts conference rival scenario. The manner we explicate such as a scenario is one where two squads from the same conference where the visiting squad is favored over the place squad. This is a very profitable winning tendency for many reasons. The greatest ground is the fact that schools happen it “insulting” tp be deemed unworthy of favourite position on their place turf. The fact that the incoming school is favored to travel in and beat out them on their place tribunal functions to add great motive to the insulted squad. We discovered this tendency back in our first twelvemonth of being and we have got used this as one of our tons of winning tendencies to continuously turn a profit. Over that ten-year era, these scenarios that we picked won at nearly a 64 percentage cartridge holder ATS. Now the cardinal to is to place which 1s are more than profitable than others because some schools don’t take to this tendency successfully. We have got a strong thought of who these schools are that win continuously in this scenario and that have helped us go on our winning ways. Just one of our many winning trends.

There are a short ton of great squads heading into this season and it will be interesting to see who will lift to the top in the epoch of hot shot prospects playing for one season before they travel on. We are on top of it all and expression to convey more than winning to our 100s of dedicated subscribers. It have been a long off season and college hoops are finally are almost upon us. Good fortune to everyone and let’s have got a great season. Also allow the winning begin.

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10.28.07 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2007

We’re counting down – just over one week until the first tipoffs…

  • Didn’t Coach K wait a couple of years after winning B2B titles before using the back excuse? Whatsup Billy D, we realize your team is young, but come on!
  • Georgia’s Dennis Felton is officially screwed – he just kicked leading scorer Takais Brown off the team. AOL Fanhouse wonders why UGa players are being charged $10 cashmoney for missing classes – we wonder the same thing.
  • One week later, Mizzou’s Darryl Butterfield is at it again.
  • Bill Self is in tight with half of the top 15 in the class of 09… will they beat Bucknell in 2011?
  • More brilliance from BBall Prospectus – how similar is one player to another?
  • Faustian bargains – why you should never marry a rival fan.
  • Plissken takes a sensible look at why student-athletes shouldn’t be paid for their services.
  • Will Kentucky build a new Rupp Arena?
  • Duke and Carolina have special water needs.
  • Speaking of special needs, Basketball Times chose Duke as the top program of the last decade.
  • We don’t even know what to make of this ridiculous thing.
  • Preseason Materials by Conference -
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Conference Primers: #19 – Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Montana (21-6) (13-3)
  2. Weber St. (19-8) (12-4)
  3. Portland St. (17-10) (10-6)
  4. Northern Arizona (15-13) (9-7)
  5. Montana St. (12-16) (8-8)
  6. Sacramento St. (9-17) (6-10)
  7. Eastern Washington (9-18) (6-10)
  8. Idaho St. (8-21) (5-11)
  9. Northern Colorado (5-22) (3-13)

Big Sky Logo

WYN2K. The Big Sky is a league where what you see is typically what you get. It consistently rates in the lower teens in the computer rankings, and its record vs. OOC opponents the last three years is 109-173 (.387), but make no mistake, this is a one-bid conference every year. A typical Big Sky year goes something like this – its league champion is a team that didn’t win it the year prior (only one repeat champion in the last 13 yrs – Montana – 2005 & 2006), it usually gets an NCAA seed in the range of #13-#15, and its NCAA stay is typically short-lived (3-23 in the 64/65 team era, .115). Every 6-8 yrs, a Big Sky team will pull an upset and win one NCAA game. Stir, mix and repeat. This high-scoring league (#3 nationally at 74.5 ppg) is characterized by top-heaviness where several teams have mid-level D1 profiles, while the bottom teams are often very bad (ranking in the bottom fifty teams nationally).

Predicted Champion. Montana (#14 seed NCAA). We’re going with the media pick of Montana here. The Grizzlies return four starters from a 10-6 team, including quality big men Andrew Strait (#43 nationally in eFG%, 61.1%) and Jordan Hasquet, both of whom were all-conference performers last year. They also bring back last year’s Big Sky ROY, guard Cameron Rundles, who shot a ridiculous 47.8% from three last year. One area of concern is that the Grizzlies give up a whopping 42.1% against the three-ball (negating Rundles’ effectiveness!) last year. Nevertheless, with a solid inside/outside game, a little better three-point defense, and the experience garnered in Montana’s back-to-back NCAA appearances in 2005 and 2006, we feel that Montana is the team to beat.

Others Considered. This is not to say that we think Montana will run away with the title, because Weber St. is in good position to defend its tournament crown. They lost their best player and conference POY David Patten to graduation, but they return a solid complement of players, including seven of their top nine scorers and three starters from last season. All-conference guard Juan Pablo Silveira runs the show for a very good shooting team (#34 nationally in eFG%, 53.8%), both from two (52.1%) and three (38.7%). Our only concern with this squad is their apparent lack of experienced size, an area where Montana should have an advantage. Portland St. is another team that could make a run at the conference crown with a roster that returns three starters (including the superb backcourt of Dupree Lucas and Deonte Huff) from a 9-7 team that gave Weber St. all it wanted in the semis of last year’s conference tourney (losing by three). Last year’s regular season co-champ Northern Arizona is set to take a step back with the loss of its top three scorers, all of which were all-conference selections last year. Still, the Lumberjacks have an excellent coach in Mike Adras and they have made the last three conference tournament finals, so they can’t completely be counted out.

Games to Watch. The key games to watch will be the home-and-homes between the three primary contenders listed above – Montana, Weber St., and Portland St. Gotta love conferences with true round robins.

  • Weber St. @ Montana (01.20.08) ESPN FC & Montana @ Weber St. (02.21.08)
  • Montana @ Portland St. (01.31.08) & Portland St. @ Montana (03.01.08)
  • Portland St. @ Weber St. (01.10.08) & Weber St. @ Portland St. (02.16.07)
  • Big Sky Championship Game (03.12.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. The Big Sky plays a steady diet of Pac-10 and Big 10 teams in addition to several strong mid-majors, and this year is no different. Last year the league went 3-21 against BCS teams, with Northern Arizona (defeated Arizona St. 75-71), Montana (defeated Minnesota 72-65), and Portland St. (defeated Arizona St. 71-67) pulling the victories. Some of this year’s best opportunities:

  • Portland St. @ UCLA (11.09.07)
  • Sacramento St. @ Kansas St. (11.09.07)
  • Montana @ Gonzaga (11.11.07)
  • Northern Arizona @ Arizona (11.13.07)
  • Northern Arizona @ Kansas (11.21.07)
  • Montana @ Washington St. (11.23.07)
  • Weber St. @ Illinois (12.01.07)
  • Weber St. @ BYU (12.05.07)
  • Sacramento St. @ Marquette (12.15.07)
  • Montana St. @ Arizona St. (12.18.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None. 23 years, 23 bids.

Neat-o Stat. Eastern Washington’s Rodney Stuckey (the 15th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft) was probably the best player to have ever played in the Big Sky conference, despite only playing at EWU for two seasons. He won the conference ROY and POY in 2006, becoming the first player to ever do so in the same year. Yet, while his numbers were sick last year (24.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.4 spg, incl. nine 30+ pt games), there is some question about his leadership abilities, as his team was mediocre throughout his tenure there (26-29) and EWU didn’t even make the Big Sky conference tourney in 2007 (the top six conference teams make the tourney).

64/65-Team Era. As stated above, the Big Sky is 3-23 (.115) during this era, with each of the three wins spaced out somewhat evenly – 1995 (#14 Weber St. defeated #3 Michigan St. 79-72), 1999 (#14 Weber St. defeated #3 UNC 76-74), and 2006 (#12 Montana defeated #5 Nevada 87-79). Both Weber St. teams were close to reaching the Sweet 16 (losing by two to #6 Georgetown in 1995 and by eight in OT to #6 Florida in 1999), but no Big Sky team has reached that goal in the 64/65 team era. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of Montana in 2006, the general rule has been that the Big Sky representative has gotten ripped by an average of 18.0 points in the last six appearances. But why focus on the negative? We couldn’t find any footage of probably the Big Sky’s greatest moment – Harold “The Show” Arceneaux carrying Weber St. to victory over UNC in 1999, but we instead found this clip of a Rex Chapman clone named Kral French who played for Montana St. back in the 80s throwing down some of the most disgusting dunks you’ll see from a white guy.

Final Thought. We have to admit we don’t know much about the Big Sky other than its location in the lonely expanse between the Pacific Northwest and the Great Plains. But our mind’s eye suggests that places such as Dahlberg Arena (Montana), the Dee Events Center (Weber St.) and Worthington Arena (Montana St.) would be no fun for many visiting teams to play in. The word “pit” comes to mind. A quick review of 2007 records shows that those three teams were 32-13 at home last year. Yeah, just as we thought. Maybe that’s why no BCS teams visit those arenas.


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Coaches Poll!

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2007

Per ESPN today…

ESPN Coaches Poll - Preseason 08

Initial reactions:

  • UNC is #1, yet UCLA garnered more first-place votes (12-10).
  • 9 of the top 10 match the online Blogpoll – the one difference is that coaches like Indiana more than Marquette. Fwiw, so do we. (come on blogpollers! We should represent the non-MSM contrarian voice!)
  • Did the coaches go with the “name” programs over Calipari’s squad at #1? Interesting that the bloggers voted Memphis a solid #1 while UNC/UCLA were left behind.
  • Only one coach agreed with us that Kansas is preseason #1 (Bill Self?), although we aren’t predicting KU to win it all.
  • Buy: Oregon (mighty mite Tajuan Porter!), Gonzaga (magic mushroomania), Texas (hey mr. DJ put that record on…), S. Illinois (you sexy mother Falker!), Davidson (spicy Curry), VCU (Eric Maynor alone is worth more than five votes).
  • Sell: Duke (anxiously awaiting the Brian Zoubek experiment), USC (Young+Pruitt > Mayo+Jefferson), NC State (folks, they were 5-11 in the ACC last year!!), Alabama (no Steele = no chance).
  • Conference breakdown (top 25, all 54 teams receiving votes): Pac-10 (6, 8), Big East (5, 8), ACC (3, 6), Big 12 (3, 5), SEC (3, 6), Big 10 (2, 5), MVC (1, 2), CUSA (1, 1), WCC (1, 1), Colonial (0, 3), WAC (0, 3), A10 (0, 2), Mountain West (0, 2), Horizon (0, 1), Southern (0, 1).
  • Word to the Colonial and WAC with three teams each receiving votes even though none are in the Top 25.
  • Is there any value in this meaningless poll whatsoever? Some. Last year the top 6 (and 8 of the top 10) in the preseason coaches poll finished in the top 11 of the final poll (before the NCAA Tournament), and every team in the final top 11 had been ranked somewhere in the top 25 before the season started. Additionally, all four F4 teams were ranked in last year’s preseason top 8 (#1 Florida, #4 Ohio St., #5 UCLA, #8 Georgetown).
  • Only six of the preseason top 25 last year didn’t make the NCAA Tournament (#7 LSU, #12 Alabama, #16 Washington, #18 Connecticut, #20 Syracuse, #23 Creighton), so that’s fair evidence that the coaches (at least last year) have a bit of a clue. Note we said only a bit.
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Conference Primers: #20 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Western Kentucky (20-7) (14-4)
  2. Florida Atlantic (21-10) (12-6)
  3. South Alabama (15-13) (9-9)
  4. Middle Tennessee St. (14-15) (9-9)
  5. Troy (11-18) (7-11)
  6. Florida International (11-18) (6-12)

West

  1. Louisiana-Monroe (19-9) (13-5)
  2. New Orleans (18-12) (11-7)
  3. Arkansas-Little Rock (16-13) (10-8)
  4. North Texas (14-15) (8-10)
  5. Arkansas St. (12-17) (7-11)
  6. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-18) (6-12)
  7. Denver (8-20) (4-14)

WYN2K. The Sun Belt is a league that has seen better days in the eyes of the basketball world. In the 80s and early 90s, the conference was a top ten league that regularly sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament (10 times from 1980-95), peaking at four bids in 1986. Since 1995, however, the league has been exclusively a one-bid conference, as its corresponding seed average has dropped from a #10.9 (1985 to present), to a #12.6 (1995 to present), to a #13.8 seed in the last five years. In other words, the Sun Belt is trending downward (and league officials know it). What was once a proud mid-major league is now clearly a low-major (albeit near the top of that heap), despite its relatively robust 167-208 (.445) record against OOC opponents in the last three years. Some of this may be attributable to a loss of league identity, as the conference expanded away from its mid-South roots and has swelled to thirteen schools that span three time zones in locations that often have very little in common with each other (i.e., Boca Raton, FL, Bowling Green, KY, and Denver, CO).

Predicted Champion. Western Kentucky (#13 seed NCAA). Darrin Horn’s Hilltoppers have been a bit of a hard luck team over the past few seasons, averaging 20.5 wins over his four year tenure and winning one regular season championship, but having no NCAA appearances to show for it. Guards Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and Ty Rogers comprise a returning perimeter corps that is among the most experienced and talented in the league, and three other significant contributors return from a 22-11 (12-6) team. If WKU is to slip up, it will probably be because of its sometimes porous defense that has a tendency to give up easy baskets (allowing an eFG% of 52.6% – #272 nationally) and foul a lot (43.2 FTAs given up per game – #284 nationally). We believe this is the year that the Toppers get it done. Check the nasty follow dunk from C-Lee below.

Others Considered. Should WKU falter, the next best teams we see are Louisiana-Monroe and Florida Atlantic. Monroe returns all five starters from an 11-7 team that lost in overtime in the conference finals against North Texas last year. They were nearly unbeatable at home (14-0) and seemed to win all the close games (5-0 in games decided by <6 pts in conference) last year. Because of this, they were considered one of the “luckiest” teams in America last year (#10 via Pomeroy), earning 2.7 wins more than expected by their overall profile. Notwithstanding their luck, we’re just not comfortable picking a team that has nobody taller than 6’8 on their roster. Florida Atlantic is another team that returns substantial experience including the league’s best big man Carlos Monroe, a burly 6’8, 245 lb. beast who shot nearly 60% from the field and pulled down over a quarter (25.8%, #18 nationally) of his team’s defensive boards last year. The Owls also finished strong, winning six of their last seven games and pestering WKU in a tough quarterfinal matchup in the conference tourney before bowing out. New Orleans is also intriguing simply because the Privateers have a new coach in former Cal assistant and Bob Knight disciple Joe Pasternack, but they also have the league’s best player in Bo McCalebb, a Wooden Award candidate who averaged mind-numbing numbers last year (25 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.0 spg). Did we mention that he was the team’s leading rebounder as a 6’0 guard? There are three other starters returning from a 9-9 team that was #4 nationally in 3fg% (41.4%), #5 nationally in stl% (7.1%) and #11 nationally in to% (17.0%). The Privateers shoot well, take care of the ball, and have a fantastic player – if any team was going to make a huge improvement with a new coach, it would be this team. Quick note: last year’s regular season and tourney champs simply lost too much to be considered as a contender this year – South Alabama lost three starters and its head coach, John Pelphrey, while North Texas lost its top two scorers.

Games to Watch. The top of this league should be exciting to watch this year, as there are several excellent players (Courtney Lee, Bo McCalebb, Carlos Monroe) who could singlehandedly influence the conference race. With the unbalanced schedule in this league, New Orleans appears to be the most likely beneficiary (only three games against the other three, two at home).

  • Florida Atlantic @ WKU (01.16.08) & WKU & Florida Atlantic (03.01.08)
  • WKU @ UL-Monroe (01.10.08) & UL-Monroe @ WKU (02.23.08)
  • UL-Monroe @ New Orleans (02.09.08)
  • WKU @ New Orleans (01.23.08)
  • New Orleans @ Florida Atlantic (01.30.08)
  • Sun Belt Championship Game (03.11.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. Given its location (spanning 2000+ miles from Denver to Miami), the Sun Belt takes on a full complement of SEC and Big 12 teams every year. Last year the league was 2-30 (.063) against BCS teams (WKU 70, Georgia 67; Ark-Little Rock 67, Minnesota 66), and there are a similar amount of games scheduled this year. Here are some highlights.

  • Louisiana-Monroe @ Kansas (11.09.07)
  • Florida Atlantic @ Boston College (11.12.07)
  • South Alabama @ Mississippi (11.13.07)
  • New Orleans @ NC State (11.18.07)
  • WKU @ Gonzaga (11.22.07)
  • Nebraska @ WKU (12.05.07)
  • Middle Tennessee St. @ Memphis (12.05.07)
  • Mississippi St. @ South Alabama (12.15.07)
  • WKU @ Southern Illinois (12.22.07)
  • Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas (12.29.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. We’re a long way removed from the Sun Belt’s glory years, so none this year.

Neat-o Stat. Joe Scott is returning to Colorado to take over as head coach at Denver, just a few clicks down the road from where he revitalized the Air Force program in the early 2000s. What should we make of this guy? Using the Princeton offense that he learned under Pete Carril in the 80s as a player and 90s as an assistant, he successfully built the Air Force Academy into a Mountain West champion and NCAA Tournament team in 2004. So how do we explain how he went back to Princeton in 2005 and orchestrated two (out of three) terrible seasons and an overall record of 18-24 in the Ivy League (2-12 in 2007) during his time there? He has yeoman’s work ahead of him, as Denver ranked in the bottom five teams nationally in defensive efficiency (#330) and four other defensive statistics, as well as in the bottom dozen two-point fg% (42.8%) teams in America. Work on layup drills, perhaps?

64/65-Team Era. The Sun Belt is 11-32 (.256) in the NCAA Tourney during this era, but due to the severe drop in league cachet over the last ten to fifteen years, those numbers are somewhat skewed for present consideration, especially when you consider that the league’s last NCAA victory was in 1995 (#8 WKU defeated #9 Michigan 82-76). Despite ten trips to the second round (most trips: WKU with 4), only one team has broken through to the Sweet 16, Ralph Willard’s #7 Western Kentucky squad in 1993. In fact, that Hilltopper team was an overtime loss away (Florida St. 81, WKU 78) from meeting Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team in the elite eight.

Final Thought. We’d love to be able to say that the Sun Belt contains solid mid-major material at the top, but recent history belies that position as only once in the last four years has a Sun Belt team so much as tested its first round NCAA opponent (2005: Louisville 68, Louisiana-Lafayette 62). The other three years the Sun Belt team got blitzed by an average of 16.7 pts, and we’re not sure we see a way for this league to turn things around. It’s uncertain if there’s been any talk to this effect, but perhaps going the WAC/Mountain West route and drafting a few more teams, only to split into two leagues, is the way to re-focus itself.

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Analyzing the Wooden Candidates

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2007

 University of Texas' Kevin Durant, left, and University of Tennessee's Candace Parker pose after winning the 2007 John R. Wooden Award, Saturday April 7, 2007 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Who will be this year’s Wooden Award Winner?

This afternoon the 2007-08 Wooden Award candidates were released to the public. The top 50 vote-getters (who gets to vote for this anyway – is the Wizard of Westwood sitting in his apt filling out ballots?) are listed below (organized by conference, then by team):

2007-08 Wooden Candidates v.2

Quick ruminations:

  • Conference Rundown: Pac-10 (10), Big East (8), ACC (7), Big 12 (6), SEC (5), Big 10 (2), Mid-Majors + Low Majors (12).
  • We like the love thrown to the non-BCS leagues – nearly a quarter of the selections are from eleven other leagues.
  • It’s no surprise the Pac-10 is held in such high esteem this coming season, while the Big 10 isn’t – look at the difference in good players returning.
  • For some reason, the Wooden doesn’t consider freshmen in its preseason picks, even though it does at the end of the year (Kevin Durant was the recipient last year). If it did, you’d figure the Pac-10 would look even better, with OJ Mayo and Kevin Love added to the mix.
  • Other than freshmen, who are some notable omissions around the country? First thought was Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga), but maybe that has something to do with his propensity to ingest hallucinogens – can’t see the WoW signing off on that selection. We might have chosen Darrell Arthur over Mario Chalmers at Kansas, but maybe the Jayhawk fans would disagree with us. Raymar Morgan (Michigan St.), anyone? Edgar Sosa (Louisville)? What about Alex Harris down at UCSB?
  • Some guys we’d take off the list – Tyrese Rice at BC has shown he can shoot a lot and turn the ball over a lot – what else? Choosing DeMarcus Nelson smacks of making sure someone from Duke is on the list. We’re also not sure about the selection of Texas Tech’s Martin Zeno to the list. None of this really matters, though, as the list will eventually whittle itself down based on actual performance.
  • Anybody else have any thoughts?
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Conference Primers: #21 – Patriot

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Holy Cross (19-7) (11-3)
  2. Bucknell (19-8) (10-4)
  3. Lehigh (17-12) (8-6)
  4. American (13-16) (7-7)
  5. Colgate (12-15) (7-7)
  6. Army (12-16) (6-8)
  7. Navy (9-19) (4-10)
  8. Lafayette (6-23) (3-11)

WYN2K. The story of the Patriot League this season, like many other low-major leagues, is that the big dogs are suddenly vulnerable. Holy Cross and Bucknell have combined for six of the last seven Patriot League championships, but with a mass of graduations and injuries between the two, the gap between themselves and the rest of the league is closing. The question is whether the gap in talent returning has closed enough to where we can make a good faith argument that another team will win the Patriot this year. Sadly, we can’t.

Predicted Champion. Holy Cross (#14 seed NCAA). Ralph Willard’s team lost its entire starting backcourt of conference POY Keith Simmons and DPOY Torey Thomas, but guards at the low major level are easier to replace than bigs, and former 2005 ROY Pat Doherty should smoothly take over the reins of the Crusaders (if he can stay healthy). Six other players return from a 13-1 team, but the most intriguing is 6’11 center Tim Clifford. Schools at this level simply do not have the luxury of skilled size, yet Clifford (#42 block% nationally) has shown that he can anchor the post for one of the nation’s most efficient defenses (#5 in defEff and #1 in stl% nationally). The Crusaders have gone 44-1 over the last three seasons in the Patriot League against ABB (anyone but Bucknell), so there is also a psychological advantage here that shouldn’t be understated.

Others Considered. As much as we really enjoy watching Bucknell play in the NCAAs, we fear that their personnel losses are simply too much to justify picking the Bison to win the league this year. Bucknell was already losing three main cogs from its 2005/2006 NCAA squads (Chris McNaughton, Donald Brown & Abe Badmus) before it got news that incumbent forward Darren Mastropaolo tore his ACL over the summer and will likely miss this season as well (all three inside players from the nations #1 offReb% team are now gone). That leaves guard John Griffin as the team’s sole returning starter with a group of talented reserves ready to step up. While we expect Bucknell to take a bit of a step back this year, we really don’t see another team in the Patriot ready to vault into the Bison’s position as a member of the Big Two. If we have to choose one, Lehigh is probably the most viable candidate. The Mountain Hawks return several starters from a 7-7 squad, but their coach Billy Taylor jumped to Ball St. in the wake of the Ronny Thompson fiasco. One knock against this team is that, in a league filled with three-point shooters, Lehigh defends against the three like a sieve (in other words, teams shot 39.2% from three against them last year – #318 nationally). Another team we considered is Colgate, who returns most of its minutes except for leading scorer Jon Simon, but they have a tendency to underachieve (20 wins in two years) and we don’t expect that to change substantially this season.

Games to Watch. Bucknell and Holy Cross are must-watches for this league. They will probably meet three times again this season.

  • Bucknell @ Holy Cross (01.19.08) & Holy Cross @ Bucknell (02.16.08)
  • Patriot League Championship Game (03.14.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. This is the first league we’ve analyzed this year that pulled a complete oh-fer against BCS opponents last season (0-23). Bucknell came closest to pulling out wins, losing in OT to both Wake Forest and Penn St. (the Bison did beat Xavier 68-67). Nevertheless, this is probably a simple anomaly because this league is good enough to get a few wins against BCS teams most years. Out of only fifteen scheduled this year, here are the best opportunities.

  • Army @ Minnesota (11.10.07)
  • Bucknell @ Villanova (11.18.07)
  • Seton Hall @ Navy (11.23.07)
  • Bucknell @ Wake Forest (12.16.07)
  • Colgate @ Syracuse (12.18.07)
  • Lehigh @ Penn St. (12.31.07)
  • Holy Cross @ Maryland (01.08.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None this year, but if Bucknell and Holy Cross continue to grow their programs, there could be a foreseeable future where both of these teams would have good enough overall resumes to get an NCAA bid.

Neat-o Stat. Just how dominant have Bucknell and Holy Cross been in this league over the past three years? Try 80-4 on for size, with a perfect 28-0 record in 2007 against the other six conference members. Is it any wonder that the other six coaches are cautiously optimistic about their chances this season? Of course, in order to have a chance to win this league, the bottomfeeder group of Army, Colgate, Navy and Lafayette are going to have to do better than finishing in the bottom fifty teams nationally in offensive efficiency (cf. with Bucknell – 140th; Holy Cross – 189th).

64/65-Team Era. The Patriot actually has one of the worst conference histories of this era (2-16, .111), ranking only ahead of the SWAC (.043) and the Northeast (.042) conferences in terms of NCAA Tourney success (and tied with the OVC and Big South). Part of this is due to its seeding, which has averaged #14.9 over the years. Still, in the last five years with the ascendance of Bucknell and Holy Cross, the league has earned an average seed of #13.2, which, not coincidentally, is the period of the most success of the league. The two wins were both orchestrated by Bucknell in magnificent upsets, the 2005 victory over #3 Kansas 64-63 still resonating in the nation’s heartland (in the form of firebillself.com… joking… joking… these are simple jokes we tell…). Enjoy.

Final Thought. As we’ve gone through the low majors we’ve been a little surprised by just how many dominant programs have risen to the top of these leagues. It’s gotten to the point in several conferences where if you don’t see a particular name such as Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Penn/Princeton (Ivy), Winthrop (Big South), Davidson (Southern), or Holy Cross/Bucknell, etc., then something went seriously wrong. By pure coincidence, Holy Cross and Bucknell are the two Patriot League schools that spent the most money on its hoops programs in 2006 (h/t to Mid-Majority).

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10.22.07 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2007

The hits just keep on comin’…

  • Tough week at Pepperdine.  First, their top returning player Kingsley Costain was dismissed from the school; now they don’t have anywhere to practice due to the insane fires in Malibu.
  • Now that Maryland has instituted a new alcohol awareness program, what’s the over/under on some Terp like James Gist getting a DWI?  Or maybe it’ll be our favorite tool, Gus Gilchrist?  He committed to the Terps over the weekend and will play next season.
  • Maybe Purdue’s Gordon Watt should transfer to Maryland now – he was kicked out of Purdue for a DWI last week.
  • In a nice gesture, the ACC renamed its Scholar-Athlete award in honor of Skip Prosser.
  • BYU extended head coach Dave Rose‘s contract through 2011.
  • Bob Knight really hates cell phones.
  • Beginning next year, the Preseason NIT will guarantee each participant four games at on-campus sites, even for those teams that lose in the first two rounds.
  • We hadn’t seen this yet, but ESPN announced its College Gameday sites a week or two ago.  We cannot wait until Jan. 26 – Creighton at S. Illinois.
  • Thankfully, Myles Brand says there will be no expansion of the NCAA Tournament anytime soon.
  • Raymond Felton didn’t help Roy after all – Iman Shumpert chose Georgia Tech over UNC and Marquette.
  • Andy Katz has a really interesting article about Kevin Love asking the Wizard of Westwood (who turned 97 Sunday) for advice.  We like this kid already.
  • Thad Matta is hobbling around after back surgery this summer.
  • More Preseason Chatter -
    • ACC Media Days – the Research Triangle schools came in 1 (UNC), 2 (Duke), 3 (NC State) in the preseason conference poll.
    • Seth Davis breaks down Indiana‘s prospects.
    • Katz explains why Calipari opted to stay in Memphis over taking the NC State job two years ago.
    • DeCourcy gives USC some love for tough scheduling (even though they’re going to lose all those games), while he rates crosstown rival UCLA #1 in his poll.
    • STF gets us up to speed on what the mid-major conferences are bringing to the table this year.
    • SEC Hoops:TGTBTD chooses Jamont Gordon over Chris Lofton for SEC POY.   Interesting…
    • Final thought – believe it or not, the Colorado Lady Buffaloes actually have a Brittany Spears and a Whitney Houston on their squad this season.   Coke dealers in Boulder are already calculating their profits.
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Conference Primers: #22 – Ivy

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Penn (20-10) (11-3)
  2. Yale (17-11) (10-4)
  3. Cornell (17-10) (9-5)
  4. Columbia (14-14) (7-7)
  5. Brown (15-13) (7-7)
  6. Harvard (10-19) (5-9)
  7. Princeton (9-18) (4-10)
  8. Dartmouth (6-19) (3-11)

WYN2K. For possibly the first time in two decades, the Ivy League basketball championship is wide open. The twin towers of power – Penn and Princeton – have held the Ivy title on one of their campuses each of the last twenty seasons. This year, however, Princeton will be recovering from the Joe Scott disaster (18-24 in three seasons culminating in an atrocious 2-12 debacle last year), while Penn will have to deal with the loss of the core group that won three straight Ivy championships. Penn has enough returning to make another run at the title, but don’t expect another 13-1 blitzkrieg through the league, as several other contenders will make their own push toward an NCAA bid.

Predicted Champion. Penn (#14 seed NCAA). Ok, ok, so we’re too chicken to pick anybody else here. We know that on paper there are other Ivy schools with more returning talent (ahem, Yale), but consider the weight of history that Penn has behind it – 5 of the last 6 titles… 7 of the last 9… 10 of the last 15. Every other champion during that time was Princeton. With the Tigers almost completely out of the picture, how can we not make our pick for Penn? Despite losing two-time Ivy POY Ibrahim Jabber and Mark Zoller, the Quakers still have the most depth of any team in the league to go along with the best home court advantage at the Palestra. This year’s squad will be led by Brian Grandieri and Justin Reilly, the latter of whom showed some decent post skills during the NCAA Tourney loss to Texas A&M last year. Sorry, Ivy faithful, but we just can’t pick against Penn until someone outside of Princeton knocks them off their perch.

Others Considered. Should Penn crash and burn this year, Princeton assuredly will not be the beneficiary, which means that a team not used to winning this title will be doing so for the first time in a generation. We like Yale as next in line. The Bulldogs return four starters plus their top two reserves, including prohibitive POY favorite Eric Flato, a do-it-all guard who nailed 71 treys last season. The only reason to lend a skeptic’s glance toward Yale is their maddening tendency to lose “shoulda” games, such as when they dropped a home game vs. Columbia immediately prior to a big showdown at Penn last year, effectively ending their conference title hopes. Cornell is another team that appears ready to make the leap on paper, but simply hasn’t been able to get past the monolith in Philly. Coach Steve Donahue is a tidy 0-14 in his career vs. the Quakers, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in winning a conference race that depends solely on regular season performance. Still, the Big Red, who was the last non-P&P team to make the NCAA Tourney back in 1988, has a nice set of guards returning (Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale) along with the 2006 ROY Adam Gore (redshirted last year) and USC transfer Collin Robinson.

Games to Watch. Since the Ivy League decides its champion via round-robin and not a conference tournament, there are a few key home-and-homes to watch this season.

  • Cornell @ Yale (02.02.08) & Yale @ Cornell (02.22.08)
  • Yale @ Penn (02.16.08) & Penn @ Yale (02.29.08)
  • Penn @ Cornell (02.09.08) & Cornell @ Penn (03.07.08)

RPI Booster Games. Last year the Ivy League went 2-17 against BCS schools, but surprisingly, middle-of-the-packers Cornell (defeated Northwestern 64-61) and Brown (defeated Providence 51-41) were the two winners. Penn, on the other hand, was 0-5 – go figure. There are 23 games on the slate this year, and here are a few highlights.

  • Yale @ Stanford (11.20.07)
  • Virginia @ Penn (11.23.07)
  • Brown @ Northwestern (11.24.07)
  • Michigan @ Harvard (12.01.07)
  • Cornell @ Syracuse (12.20.07)
  • Penn @ Miami (FL) (01.02.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Zippo.

Neat-o Stat. With the hiring of Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Sydney Johnson at Princeton, six of the eight head coaches in the Ivy League are now black. Unthinkable a generation ago, this means that the Ivy has a higher percentage of black head honchos (75%) than all but the two historically black D1 conferences, the SWAC and MEAC. We’re not sure if that will necessarily translate to more wins at those two schools, but it can’t be a bad thing in terms of inspring qualified minority hiring practices at other schools (ed. note – we guess that assumes Amaker is qualified. Apologies).

64/65-Team Era. The Ivy League has gone 3-23 (.115) over the era, with all three wins concentrated in the mid- to late-90s. The Ivy tends to receive a favorable seed from the NCAA committee, averaging a #12.8 over this period, which equates to an expected value of around seven wins. This shows that the league has really underperformed compared with its seed over the years. Of the three wins, two belong to Princeton (1996 – #13 Princeton 43, #4 UCLA 41; 1998 – #5 Princeton 69, #12 UNLV 57) and one to Penn (1994 – #11 Penn 90, #6 Nebraska 80). With that said, the league’s NCAA representative (well, Penn, really) has in recent years consistently played its first round opponent tough before ultimately succumbing to superior talent.

  • 2003 – #11 Penn down four to #6 Oklahoma St. with 2:25 remaining
  • 2006 – #15 Penn down one to #2 Texas with 6 mins left
  • 2007 – #14 Penn tied with #3 Texas A&M with 11 minutes to go

Nothing says thrilling like Gus Johnson, so we’ll leave you his call of 1996 Princeton-UCLA.

Final Thought. We actually look at this year’s Ivy a little bit like we look at the Big South. You have one program (Penn and Winthrop, respectively) that has clearly been the class of the league for the better part of a decade going through some serious changes, and you have a smattering of challengers ready to stake their claims on the league crown. The problem in both cases is more psychological than physical – can the likes of Yale and Cornell overcome the mental hurdles that Penn has constructed for them over the years by winning a key game in late February on the road when it really counts? It should make for an interesting winter in our nation’s smartest league, that’s for sure.

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