The Other 26: Week ThreePosted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2010
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor. For an introduction to this series, please click here.
A common phrase that is often thrown around by all sports fans—not just college hoop junkies—is that of “East Coast bias.” This concept has morphed into such a phenomenon in the world of sports that it has developed its own Wikipedia page. To copy verbatim the definition from Wikipedia (gosh, I love this site): “East Coast bias is an expression referring to the alleged tendency for sportswriters in the United States to give greater weight and credibility to teams on the East Coast of the United States.” I consider myself an objective viewer of college basketball — and sports in general — but even if there was a degree of “East Coast bias” in me while ranking, discussing and analyzing the teams that comprise the Other 26, the performance of several teams out West are simply impossible to ignore. Watching the relentless defensive pressure of UNLV, the unselfish play of St. Mary’s, the potent offense of BYU, and the shooting ability of San Diego State is a thing of beauty. Among many of the Other 26 teams, three teams in particular are worth paying very close attention to the rest of the year: SDSU, BYU, and UNLV. These are veteran-laden teams with superior coaches who simply know how to win — the perfect recipe for a successful run during March.
What team impressed the most?
It would be easy to declare that the Central Florida Black Knights were far and away the most impressive team of the past week. After all, they defeated a ranked Florida team who had only one loss (Ohio State) entering the game and figure to be a top team in the SEC this year. While the victory against the Gators was certainly impressive — it was, in fact, the first win against Florida in the history of the program — I would argue that UNLV’s performance this past week was more impressive. The Runnin’ Rebels coasted through the 76 Classic Tournament (against formidable competition, mind you) as they defeated Murray State and Virginia Tech both by double digits. Following these wins, one may expect UNLV to come out flat against Illinois State after having traveled across the country, but they took it to the Redbirds right from the tap en route to an 82-51 victory. What makes this UNLV team all the more scary is that Tre’Von Willis, arguably the best player on the squad, is not even playing up to his full potential after being suspended for the first two games. Once Willis finds his stride, UNLV becomes an even better team. Look out.
Best Individual Performances
- C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—After watching McCollum play in Lehigh’s games this past week, I thought to myself: What is he doing in the Patriot League? Averaging 33 points and 7 rebounds, and hitting 24-27 free throws, McCollum could not be stopped by his opponents. In a five point loss to Kent State, he nearly willed Lehigh to victory as he scored 42 points and went 15-25 from the field. McCollum is instant offense, and I am sure many bigger programs would welcome him with open arms; he somehow slipped through the recruiting cracks. Lehigh got one of the Patriot League’s best players since Adonal Foyle.
- Kevin Anderson, Richmond—In Anderson’s first three years at Richmond, he was nothing more than an average three-point shooter connecting on roughly 33% of his attempts. In his senior season, Anderson has added the shot from behind the arc to his repertoire, and has become more of a threat to score from anywhere on the court as a result. In three games this past week, Anderson averaged 22 points a game, and went 8-15 from distance. In Richmond’s biggest game of the season to date, Anderson poured in 28 points against Purdue.
- Jimmer Fredette, BYU—For BYU’s three games this past week, Fredette averaged 23 points, hit 6-19 from three, shot 43% from the field, and led the Cougars to three wins. It was a very solid week, but hardly one of Fredette’s better performances in his career. Without his play, BYU probably only wins one of these three games. Against South Florida, his 32 points led BYU to a double overtime victory, and the following night against St. Mary’s his 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining propelled BYU to a one point victory. Sure, the numbers may not have been up to par for Fredette, but the wins certainly were. In his four years at BYU, Fredette has compiled a gaudy record of 89-22.
- Gabe Rogers, Northern Arizona—Rogers had the best week of his young career (only a sophomore ) as he went off for 57 points and hit 11-17 3-pointers in two wins for the Lumberjacks. For the season, Rogers is connecting on 55% of his shots from distance, yet is shooting only 59% from the charity stripe. College version of Bruce Bowen? When Rogers gets hot, he is one of the best pure shooters out west.
- Tristan Thompson, North Texas—The basket looked mighty big for the North Texas guard this past week as Thompson averaged 27 points over three games. Usually when a player averages such a high point total like this, many shots are taken; this was not the case for Thompson. It was his efficiency and accuracy that were so impressive throughout the week. Check out these numbers: 21-36 from the field, 15-22 from three, and 23-25 from the free throw line. Seemingly everything Thompson put up went in as he helped North Texas to win three games on the week. The Mean Green are now 6-1 on the season.
Sharpshooter of the Week
Tanner Milson, UNC-Wilmington—In his first collegiate start, Milson shot the Seahawks to a four point victory over George Washington. Milson has played in every game for Wilmington thus far, but has been a little bashful with his shot. Before his explosion against the Colonials, Milson was a combined 4-10 from the field and 1-7 from three for the season. Against GW, he simply could not miss as he went 7-9 from 3-point land and scored 25 points. He hit consecutive 3-pointers in the final minutes of the game to put Wilmington up 66-65, and then hit his final three with just over a minute remaining to put them up again, this time 71-69. Something tells me he may not be as bashful when looking for his shot next time.
Clutch Performer of the Week
Denver Holmes, Evansville—After trailing by nine points in the second half against Butler, Evansville rallied to force the game into overtime, setting the stage for Holmes. After a back-and-forth extra session, Holmes hit a three with 17.7 seconds remaining to seal the victory for the Aces. Evansville is trying to prove they are a contender in the MVC, and Holmes’ shot to defeat Butler gives them a quality win to begin the year.
Freshman of the Week
Latif Rivers, —Although his team struggled by going 1-2 this past week, Latif Rivers flourished. The freshman averaged just shy of 20 points over the course of the week, and hit nearly 50% of his 3-point attempts (9-19). His 28 points against Hofstra was a career high and almost earned the Seahawks a good early-season win. The most impressive statistic, however, is his perfection from the free throw line. And when I say perfection, I mean it. Rivers was 22-22 from the line, and for the season he is 26-26.
Beating the BCS
- UAB 70, Arkansas 65—The Blazers, along with a few other teams, were on the cusp of cracking the Other 26 top 20 this week. Their victory against Arkansas certainly helped their case as they gave the Razorbacks their only loss of the season. Cameron Moore, UAB’s top player, recorded a double-double against Arkansas, and is one of the most efficient players in Conference USA as he shoots 60% from the field, 65% from downtown, and averages 18.4 points a game. This has been a breakout season for Moore thus far who averaged just three points in his first two seasons.
- Richmond 65, Purdue 54—Even without Robbie Hummel, the Purdue Boilermakers are still one of the top teams in the Big 10 and a formidable opponent for any team. The Spiders’ victory against Purdue handed them their first loss of the season and ignited Richmond into the RTC Top 25. Behind 28 points from guard Kevin Anderson—three shy of his career high—Richmond used a stout defensive effort to defeat Purdue. JaJuan Johnson and E-Twaun Moore combined to go 8-28 from the field; Purdue shot just 30% for the game.
- UNLV 71, Virginia Tech 59—If you were not impressed with UNLV’s victory over Wisconsin, maybe their double digit win against Virginia Tech—picked to finish second in the ACC in the preseason—caught your attention. The victory against the Hokies moved UNLV into the AP Top 25.
- UCF 57, Florida 54—The Central Florida win over in-state foe Florida highlighted a busy Wednesday night of college hoops. In last week’s article, I wrote that: “Central Florida, who has begun the season 4-0, will be out to prove they are also worthy of discussion.” After beating Florida, they are worthy.
- Old Dominion 77, Richmond 70—While not a victory over a BCS team, but rather a fellow member of the Other 26, the ODU-Richmond contest pitted the two best teams from the CAA and A10 against one another. What makes the victory all the more impressive for ODU is that just days earlier Richmond beat then ranked #10 Purdue. With not too many more marquee games on the out of conference slate, defeating Richmond was crucial for their resume come March.
Like so many veteran basketball coaches throughout the college ranks, Lon Kruger’s life has been centered around teaching groups of young men how to succeed at the game of basketball. He has experienced the humble lifestyle of coaching at one of the smallest stages—Division 2 Pittsburgh State, where long bus trips are the norm—but has also seen the beautiful waters of the NBA while coaching the Atlanta Hawks: Lon Kruger has seen it all. From playing at the collegiate level at Kansas State, to coaching thousands of players at all different levels of the game throughout the years, Kruger has mastered numerous basketball systems. While coaching at Illinois and Florida in his earlier years, he found a system that brought success to these respective programs (brought Florida to the Final Four, and Illinois to the second round on three occasions), and now, at UNLV, Kruger has implemented a system that has brought success back to the desert that is Las Vegas. Before further delving into the strategies and philosophies that have made Lon Kruger such a successful coach, let’s take a brief look at his basketball timeline:
- 1971: Plays both basketball and baseball at Kansas State. Named the Big Eight Player of the Year in ’73 and ’74.
- 1977: An assistant at his alma mater Kansas State—setting himself up for the head coaching position years later.
- 1982: Garners his first head coaching gig at Texas-Pan American. He leverages his four seasons here to find greener pastures at K-State.
- 1986: Begins a four year stint at Kansas State where he takes the Wildcats to four straight NCAA Tournaments.
- 1990: Hired as the head coach at Florida. To this date, he found his most success during the 1993-94 season with the Gators where he took them all the way to the Final Four before falling to Duke.
- 1996: Moves from the SEC to Big 10 to coach Illinois. He signed, for three straight years, the Illinois Mr. Basketball winner: Sergio McClain, Frankie Williams, and Brian Cook.
- 2000: Transitions to the NBA and quickly finds that he is better suited for the college game. After three years with Atlanta, he became an assistant with the New York Knicks.
- 2004: Is lured back to the college game when he his hired by UNLV. From a record standpoint, he has found his most success with the Runnin’ Rebels as he has gone 143-62 in 6+ seasons.
- 2006: His son, Kevin, transfers from Arizona State to UNLV and plays under the tutelage of him. UNLV went onto win 30 games this season and advanced to the Sweet 16.
The style of play Kruger has employed at UNLV—the same style that the Florida Gators played en route to their Final Four run in 1994—is not for the flat-footed or primarily half-court player. Kruger’s style of basketball replicates more of a track meet rather than a basketball game. He executes a variety of full-court presses, and even when the Runnin’ Rebels are not pressing the ball is constantly being pressured; UNLV always seems to be making their opponents uncomfortable while on offense. Suffice to say, in order to use such an attack, Kruger’s teams are primarily guard oriented, but the big men on UNLV can run the floor like many guards would. For the young season, UNLV is giving up a shade less than 58 points a game, and according to KenPom, they are 26th in the nation in defense adjusted efficiency.
Along with having revived UNLV basketball in recent years—during his tenure as head coach, UNLV is averaging better than 25 wins a season and have been to the NCAA Tournament three times—where the Runnin’ Rebels, dare I say, have shown glimpses of the Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony days of years ago (well, maybe that is a stretch), UNLV plays one of the most exciting brands of basketball around. Lon Kruger’s squad next plays on national TV on Saturday, December 11 at Louisville on ESPNU. I suggest tuning in to see one of the best teams out West this season.
Clip of the Week
Although the highlight via ESPN focuses more on Michael Jordan’s remarkable layup against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals than the actual game between Central Florida and Florida, UCF’s triumph over the Gators is worthy of the “Clip of the Week.”
Tracking the Conferences: Mountain West 2009-10 vs. Missouri Valley 2005-06
The Mountain West Conference is the best league out west. You read that correctly, the MWC is the best league out west—or, at least at the top half of the conference they are. While the bottom tier of the conference is lagging, the top four teams are certainly not. The performance of the top four last year—UNLV, BYU, San Diego State and New Mexico—made the MWC the best conference west of the Big 12.
One may understandably question: What about the Pac-10? Well, ever since the 2008-09 season, when six teams from the Pac-10 made the NCAA Tournament, the conference has slipped considerably. In fact, the conference was rated as the second best league in 2008-09, but regressed to the sixth best the following year according to KenPom. As the season continues to progress, I will further investigate how these two leagues compare to one another, but for now I would like to compare how the MWC last year compared to the Missouri Valley Conference of 2005-06 (Note: I have chosen to examine the MWC last year because it is simply too early this season to use the rankings as they will be in constant flux until season’s end)
|Mountain West 2009-10||Missouri Valley 2005-06|
|BYU: 10||Bradley: 26|
|UNLV: 39||Wichita State: 32|
|San Diego State: 41||Northern Iowa: 39|
|New Mexico: 54||Southern Illinois: 47|
Just how similar are the top four teams based on rank? Dead even. The average rank of the Mountain West teams was 36, while the Missouri Valley was 36 as well. For the record, the average rank of the top four teams in the Pac-10 last year was 41.25. The overriding question now becomes: Will the success carry over to March? In 2005-06, the MVC found great success with Wichita State and Bradley both advancing to the Sweet 16. Last year, the MWC did not have any of their teams advance past the first weekend. However, 2010-11 is a new season, and, while the season is still very young, the average rank of the top four teams is 26.25. Can the Mountain West have the same success the Missouri Valley had in the 2006 NCAA Tournament? Time will only tell, but as of now it certainly looks like they can.
Important Upcoming Games
- San Diego State vs. Wichita State (Dec. 4)—The premiere game amongst the Other 26 teams for the coming week. San Diego State is undefeated and has defeated Gonzaga and St. Mary’s—two of the West Coast Conference’s best—while Wichita State’s only loss came at the hands of Connecticut. With both team’s non-conference schedules winding down, this game becomes pivotal in order to garner a resume building win against a potential top-50 RPI team.
- Butler vs. Duke (Dec. 4 @ East Rutherford, NJ)—Although Duke will come into the game heavily favored, I am sure the rematch of last year’s National Championship will head much of the media’s attention. Shelvin Mack, arguably the Bulldogs’ best player along with Matt Howard, would like for nothing more than to find his shooting stroke against the Blue Devils. After beginning the season blistering hot (averaging 21.3 points a game and shooting 52% from the field), Mack has struggled in his last three games shooting an ice-cold 31% from the field.
- Utah State @ Georgetown (Dec. 4)—The Aggies will have their hands full on Saturday with a surging Hoya squad. Riding high with confidence after a thrilling overtime victory against Missouri, Georgetown is 7-0 and had one of the most potent offenses in the Big East. The good news for Utah State, however, is that they are a very similar team to that of Old Dominion as they are both defensive-minded; ODU gave the Hoyas fits on offense.
- Massachusetts vs. Boston College (Dec. 4)—The battle for the Bay State. New coach Steve Donahue has the Eagles further along than some critics expected, but UMASS hopes to negate the good feelings coming out of Chestnut Hill. The matchup between Anthony Gurley and Reggie Jackson will be an exciting one to watch; these players are two of New England’s most talented.
- Temple vs. Maryland (Dec. 5) / Georgetown (Dec. 9)—Is there a team in the country that has a more challenging week than Temple? Probably not. The Owls welcome these games, however, as they look to gain back some respect they lost after dropping games to California and Texas A&M. Defense has not been the problem for Temple, who are relinquishing just 54.8 points a game, but putting the ball in the basket has been.
- Memphis vs. Kansas (Dec. 7 @ Madison Square Garden)—The Tigers and Jayhawks leadoff a great night of basketball in New York for an even greater cause as the teams take part in the Jimmy V Classic. This will be the first true test of the year for Memphis who has yet to face a ranked team yet. Controlling the tandem of brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris in the frontcourt will be challenging, but the Tigers have a pretty good duo of brothers in Will and Antonio Barton too.