The Other 26: Week FivePosted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2010
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.
For about a four hour stretch on Tuesday evening, I was glued to my TV. Watching college basketball on the ESPN family of networks is a beautiful distraction during finals week. Somehow, watching Oakland shock Tennessee and then Drexel hand Louisville its first loss of the season was more appealing than writing a paper. To the average hoops fans, both of these games would be of little interest. I mean, the Summit League vs. the SEC and the CAA vs. the Big East? Call me crazy, but I greatly anticipated both of these matchups. Teams coming from obscurity that are comprised of players who were a mere afterthought when recruited excites me. When further investigating both Oakland and Drexel, it wasn’t inconceivable that an upset could happen. Oakland had just lost to Michigan State by a point, and Drexel had won six of seven games. The point being, there are many teams from the Other 26 conferences that when they catch a talented BCS team on an off night, can knock them off. This is, after all, the allure of the NCAA Tournament—watching the little guy win. Seeing the likes of Oakland and Drexel defeat the big kids on Tuesday night could be a preview of what is to come during March.
Tidbits from the Rankings:
- Steady at the Top: Although UNLV lost to drop them in the rankings, San Diego State and BYU maintained their positions at one and two. A lot can happen this coming week though as both teams play three games each.
- The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 lead the way in the rankings: #1 and #2 are from the MWC and #3 and #4 from the A-10.
- There was not a whole lot of upward movement in the rankings, but two teams did have significant falls. UNLV, after losing two games, dropped five spots to number eight, and Virginia Commonwealth moved from #10 to #19 after Richmond beat them handily.
- Cleveland State, at 12-0, is still outside of the top ten, but will have an opportunity to potentially crack it with a victory against West Virginia.
- Two come and two go, again: Drexel and Southern Mississippi entered the top 20, while Dayton and Missouri State departed.
- Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 4 (CAA) 3 (A10), 3 (CUSA), 2 (Horizon), 2 (WCC), 1 (MVC), 1 (WAC)
What team impressed the most?
What a week it would have been for the Oakland Golden Grizzlies if they were able to get just one more bucket against Michigan State. The Griz would have beaten one of the top teams in the Big 10 and the best team in the SEC. Needless to say, Oakland has garnered the attention of many fans and analysts throughout the country. Although their 6-5 record is not overly impressive, the stiff competition that Oakland has gone up against has unquestionably made them battle tested for the rest of the year. They have played the 59th toughest schedule according to KenPom, and have hung tough with the likes of Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State. Playing a creampuff schedule may have enabled Oakland to have a 9-2 or even 10-1 record, but coach Greg Kampe understands the value in playing these games. The road does not get much easier as the Griz go up against Michigan and Ohio State, but don’t be surprised if Oakland rolls right through the Summit League schedule en route to the NCAA Tournament.
Clip of the Week
Oakland stole a lot of Drexel’s thunder as they beat Tennessee right before the Drexel-Louisville game got under way on ESPNU. The Dragons appear to be another team atop the CAA that will vie for the conference crown, but they are also building a pretty nice resume that an at-large bid is not out of the realm of possibility.
Quote of the Week
Colgate head coach Emmett Davis on his team’s 57-point loss to Syracuse:
“We’re not playing very well right now, they are.”
Davis may have not won the game, but at least he was on point with his postgame comments. I’d say scoring eight points in the first half—a record low at the Carrier Dome—would classify as not playing very well.
Sharpshooter of the Week
Rob Jones, St. Mary’s—The basket has never looked this big for Jones in his entire career. In his last three games, Jones is 13-22 from the field and set a career high for three-pointers made in a game with six. The most he made in a game before his 6-9 performance against UC Riverside was just two. When you’re hot, you’re hot, and Jones has been on fire as of late.
Clutch Performer of the Week
Gary Flowers, Southern Mississippi—Not only did Flowers bank home a nifty jumper to give Southern Mississippi a nice win over Cal, but he also scored the final 12 points of the game for the Golden Eagles. Keep feeding Flowers the rock; he is averaging nearly 25 points over his last five contests and clear has the propensity for hitting the big shots.
Freshman of the Week
Eric Ferguson, Georgia Southern—Ferguson had yet another big week as he averaged 19 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in two games. Not to mention, he also had seven steals over the two game stretch which is pretty impressive for a guy standing at 6’7. Against Cincinnati, a game in which the Eagles lost by 45 points, Ferguson still mage to pour in 16 points. At this stage of the year, Ferguson looks like he is the Southern Conference’s best freshman.
Best Individual Performances
- Keith Benson, Oakland—It is about time I give Benson some much deserved pub; the senior is far and away the best player in the Summit League and a consensus NBA player by many critics. In the Golden Grizzlies’ upset victory over Tennessee, Benson poured in 26 points—20 coming in the first half. Although he was silent in the second half from a scoring standpoint, his play in the first half is really what gave Oakland the opportunity to win the game. Oakland was down 11 at the break, but it could have been 20 if not for Benson. In his previous game against Michigan State—a game that saw the Griz lose by just a point—Benson had a double-double going for 17 points and 12 boards.
- Malcolm Thomas, San Diego State—It was a good thing that Thomas was not as ice cold as his teammates were against Cal Poly. If it was not for Thomas, the Aztecs would have most certainly dropped a game to CP. Thomas scored 18 points and was a beast on the boards for the Aztecs. He corralled 15 rebounds—six of them on the offensive end. It would make sense how many offensive rebounds Thomas had as SDSU shot a paltry 16-46 from the field. Excluding Thomas 7-9 shooting performance, SDSU was 9-37 from the field.
- Kareem Maddox, Princeton—Much of the talk around the Ivy League is how Harvard is finally poised and ready to win their first Ivy League title ever, but Kareem Maddox and the Princeton Tigers look to dash these murmurings. In their only game of the week, the Tigers defeated a decent Tulsa squad in double overtime behind 31 points from Maddox. Princeton has won five straight games, and during this stretch Maddox has averaged an even 20 points and 7.2 rebounds.
- Adrian Oliver, San Jose State—The senior transfer from the University of Washington has been a star from day one for the Spartans; in his first game with San Jose State he had 27 points. In their only game of the week, SJSU defeated Eastern Washington 70-69 behind 29 points from Oliver to move to 6-3 on the year. Oliver is averaging 25.4 points which is the third best average in the country.
- Brandon Bowdry, Eastern Michigan—There has not been a whole lot to smile about for Eastern Michigan this year as they are 1-8 with their only victory coming against a sub-D1 opponent, but Bowdry has been a bright spot. He is averaging a double-double (21.7 and 10.1) and the focal point of the EMU offense; no other Eagle is averaging double figures in points except for him. Against Detroit, Bowdry had a monster game with 31 points and 19 rebounds, but EMU eventually succumbed to the Titans in overtime.
Beating the BCS
- Coastal Carolina 78, LSU 69 (OT)—Since losing to Georgetown a month ago, Coastal Carolina has reeled off six straight wins with the biggest one coming against LSU. Longtime head coach Cliff Ellis—who made his mark coaching Clemson and Auburn—has made great strides at CCU since becoming the head man in 2007; the Chanticleers have won 36 of their last 45 dating back to last season. In defeating LSU, Coastal Carolina picked up their first win over a BCS opponent in 17 seasons.
- Southern Mississippi 80, California 78—First it was Central Florida that became a legitimate contender in Conference USA following their win over Florida, and now it is Southern Mississippi entering the discussion after beating Cal. Gary Flowers, one of the top players in the CUSA, led the way against Cal as he went off for 28 points. While the Golden Eagles may be a notch below both Memphis and UCF, it is hard to ignore their 7-1 record.
- BYU 87, Arizona 65—Jimmer Fredette and Co. proved again how the top four teams in the Mountain West are better than anything the Pac-10 has the throw at them as BYU dismantled a solid Arizona squad by 22 points. The Cougars will have another opportunity to take down another Pac-10 team as they travel to Pauley Pavilion to take on UCLA.
- Oakland 89, Tennessee 82—They did it with defense. Surely that does not make any sense, right? Giving up 82 points does not seem like a strong defensive effort, but for the last 10 minutes of the game it was Oakland’s defense that enabled them to topple the Volunteers. After a poor first half where they gave up 50 points, the Golden Grizzlies clamped down on the defensive end in the second. Going on a run in basketball—or any sport, for that matter—is not possible without a stout defensive effort. In the final nine minutes, the Griz only relinquished nine points, and ended the game on a 23-9 run.
- Drexel 52, Louisville 46—The Drexel victory of Louisville has largely been overshadowed by Oakland’s triumph of Tennessee. In his article looking into the “Contenders and Pretenders” in college hoops this year, Zach Hayes may have jinxed the Vols by anointing them a contender, but he was right on the mark with Louisville. The Dragons exploited the inexperience guard play from the ‘Ville, and caught them on an erratic shooting night as they hit just 32% of their shots from the field. With the win, Drexel catapulted themselves into the elite company of the CAA as they are now 7-1. They will have an opportunity next week at Syracuse to prove that beating Louisville was no fluke.
- Fordham 84, St. John’s 81—Basketball is becoming relevant—albeit slowly—in New York once again. Amar’e Stoudemire and Mike D’Antoni have the Garden rocking for the first time in years, Steve Lavin appears to have St. John’s on the rise, and the Fordham Rams are above .500 for the first time in recent memory. In a game that featured two improving programs, Fordham utilized two 16-0 runs throughout the game to overcome a 21 point second half deficit in the win. In such a short time, Tom Pecora has made drastic strides for the struggling Rams. I have featured him in this week’s “Coaching Profile.”
“It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.” The cliché, usually reserved for referencing jobs that are not appealing or pleasant to perform, is perfectly applicable to the job that is coaching Fordham basketball. Located in the heart of the Bronx, one could practically shoot a jump shot from the school’s entrance into the beautiful Botanical Garden across the street. With a strong academic profile, an aesthetically pleasing campus, and a wealth of basketball talent around the greater Metropolitan area, one would surmise that Fordham should be a top team in the Atlantic 10 on an annual basis. It should be easy to find a good deal of success at Fordham. Ever since joining the league, however, that has been far from the case.
In recent years, the program has been in disarray: players transferring out of the school (see: Jio Fontan to Southern Cal, Mike Moore to Hofstra, Trey Blue to Illinois State), alumni putting an immense amount of pressure on the Administration and Athletic Director to fire Dereck Whittenburg—the coach for six plus years from 2003-09—and since 1992 there has only be one winning season.
Whittenburg was fired after five games into the 2009 season as the Rams began 1-4; they were 3-25 the previous season. During his tenure at Fordham, Whittenburg had a record of 69-112 and finished above .500 in only one season. The scary thing about the hiring of Whittenburg at Fordham is that he was hired to be the saving grace for Fordham hoops. Bob Hill, the coach prior to Whittenburg, manned the sidelines at the quaint Rose Hill Gym from 1999-2003 and had a 36-78 record. One would have to go back to Fordham’s days in the Patriot League in the mid-90s to find marked success. Since the 1995-96 season up until the debacle that was last season, Fordham’s combined record was 134-292—an average of about nine wins a year to 20 losses. Suffice to say, this is a dirty job, but Tom Pecora just may be the man to do it.
When sifting through Tom Pecora’s biography, it almost seems that Pecora was destined for the Fordham job. Aside from a two year stint when he coached out west with UNLV and Loyola Marymount, Pecora has been a lifelong New Yorker. Before delving into why I believe he will find success at Fordham, let’s briefly look at his basketball timeline:
- 1983: Graduated from Adelphi University on Long Island
- 1984: Begins his coaching career at Long Island Lutheran High School
- 1987: An assistant at Nassau Community College
- 1989: Remains on Long Island and takes an assistant coaching job at SUNY Farmingdale
- 1992: Serves as an assistant coach, along with Jay Wright, at UNLV working under Rollie Massimino
- 1993: Moves further west to coach at Loyola Marymount for a season
- 1994: Follows Jay Wright to Hofstra where he is an assistant and head coach there from 1994-2009
- 2010: Named the head coach at Fordham on March 25, 2010
With the exception of two years, Pecora has spent his entire life in the New York area. He grew up in Queens, attended college on Long Island, has coached on Long Island on all different levels for many years, and currently resides in Williston Park, NY. The guy knows New York inside and out. It is for this very reason, among others, why I believe Pecora will finally bring success back to Fordham. Here are several other reason:
- He has ostensibly developed relationships with many high schools and coaches around the Metropolitan area
- Knows the top high school programs around New York
- Both Hofstra and Fordham are similar schools from an academic and athletic perspective—Fordham is probably a bit more prestigious—so he will be recruiting similar athletes coming out of high school
- In nine seasons at Hofstra, he compiled a record of 155-126. While not eye opening, he certainly found success with the Pride
- Over the past five years, Pecora has an impressive record of 42-19 in games decided by five points or less. I have always like this statistic because coaching really comes into play in a game’s final minutes.
- The Administration is committed to finding success in athletics. Just recently, Fordham football elected to become a scholarship program, rather than just give need-based aid. On next year’s schedule, two FBS schools are on the slate with Army and Connecticut. Along with offering scholarships, they built a state of the art football locker room.
- The overriding decision to depart from the Patriot League and join the Atlantic 10 was to raise the athletic profile of the school. Many critics would claim that this move has been a failure thus far, but the mere fact Fordham made the move is evidence of their desire to become more relevant in collegiate athletics. It is now Tom Pecora’s job to bring this goal to fruition.
Pecora is only nine games into his young coaching career with the Rams, but at 5-4 he has already matched how many wins Fordham has over their last two years. In their last game before an 11 day hiatus for final exams, Fordham defeated St. John’s in dramatic fashion after erasing a 21 point second half deficit. Although it is very early in the season, and Pecora has not even hit the challenging part of the schedule when the Rams go up against tough A10 competition, it looks as if Fordham may have found a winner in Pecora.
Important Upcoming Games
- UCF @ Miami (Dec. 18)—Ever since Central Florida knocked off the Florida Gators a couple of weeks ago, I have had this game circled to keep an eye on. The Knights enter the game undefeated, while Miami is 7-2 and have won five in a row. Truth be told, the only challenging game UCF has played this year came against the Gators, but Miami will certainly be a formidable test. We will learn just how good the Knights are following their date with the ‘Canes.
- Iona @ Syracuse (Dec. 18)—I don’t think anyone thought that this game would be of any significance before the season began, but Iona looks to be a legitimate contender in the MAAC after having won seven straight games. One of those wins came against a good Richmond squad. I am not expecting the Gales to go into the Carrier Dome and leave with a “W,” but they are playing with such confidence and swagger right now that this game could be closer than people expect.
- Xavier vs. Wake Forest (Dec. 18), @ Gonzaga (Dec. 22)—A big stretch in the non-conference schedule for Xavier. While Wake Forest and Gonzaga are both considerably down this year by their standards, wins against them could pay dividends come Selection Sunday. WF will most likely be in the basement of the ACC this year, but Gonzaga is fully capable of running the show in the WCC like they do almost every year. A win against the ‘Zags may look better and better as the season goes on.
- Cleveland State @ West Virginia (Dec. 18)—Finally! The nation will see what kind of team the Cleveland State Vikings are. I believe they are good, but just how good? So far, the toughest opponent the Vikes have played is Iona.
- Fairfield vs. Vermont (Dec. 20)—In the grand scheme of things, this game does not carry a whole lot of weight. Neither team has the credentials for an at-large bid, and both will be depending on winning their conference tournament in order to punch their ticket to the Dance. Although not one of the sexiest games of the week, it does pit two teams that could be the top dog in their conference come season’s end. Vermont, out of the America East, has been the most impressive team from that league thus far, and Fairfield has won six straight and are 2-0 in the MAAC. Traditionally, the MAAC is a much better conference than the AE, so it will be interesting to see how the best AE team does against an upper tier MAAC squad.
- UNLV @ Kansas State (Dec. 21)—After looking like a legitimate top-25 team after their first eight games, the Runnin’ Rebels have struggled in their last three dropping games to Louisville and UC Santa Barbara, and narrowly beating Boise State. Something tells me Lon Kruger will have his guys ready for this game in Manhattan.
- Memphis vs. Georgetown (Dec. 23)—The Tigers failed in their first attempt to crack a top-15 team when they lost to Kansas at the Jimmy V Classic, but their date with Georgetown poses another opportunity to earn a marquee win. To date, Memphis’ best win is against Miami (FL); beating a team of the caliber of Georgetown would be nice for the resume before heading into the New Year.
- Oakland vs. Ohio State (Dec. 23)—How can I not tab this as an important upcoming game? The Griz just defeated a top-10 team in Tennessee, and just before that they fell to Michigan State by a point. While they may not win or even stay within single digits of Ohio State, monitoring how Oakland does against another top team in the land may help you when filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket (assuming Oakland wins the Summit League). Think of this as doing your homework in preparation for the big test that is March Madness. Maybe you will see something in this Oakland team that sticks with you and gives you the confidence to pick the first round upset that no one else has the guts to do. If not for anything else, the matchup between Jared Sullinger and Keith Benson—both future NBA players—will be a good one.