The Other 26: Week Six

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

This was a banner week for the Other 26 teams in terms of wins against the BCS. It is for this reason that I am pleading with you not to jump all over me if I have omitted several victories for Other 26 schools over the BCS in my “Beating the BCS” section. There were probably 25 games that featured the little guy winning, but it would not be feasible to list every one of these games. It should be known, however, that on any given night most teams from BCS conferences are capable of losing to an Other 26 team with high energy and unwavering confidence. Predictably, I love watching smaller conference teams play and beat the BCS schools, so having this problem of not being able to list all the important victories comes as an enjoyable issue for me. To give you an idea of just how impressive the Other 26 was this week, here are the wins for the Other 26 ranging from December 17-26:

Presbyterian Has Two Power League Scalps This Year

  • December 17: Charlotte 49 Tennessee 48
  • December 18: Central Florida 84 Miami (FL) 78, Illinois-Chicago 57 Illinois 54, Butler 83 Stanford 50, James Madison 66 South Florida 61, George Washington 87 Oregon State 79, Wichita State 70 LSU 69, Presbyterian 62 Auburn 59, UTEP 82 Texas Tech 71
  • December 20: Jacksonville 71 Florida 68 (OT)
  • December 21: Maine 74 Penn State 64, Presbyterian 66 Wake Forest 64, Idaho 69 Oregon 65, UNLV 63 Kansas State 59
  • December 22: Seattle 59 Virginia 53, Siena 62 Georgia Tech 57, Furman 91 South Carolina 75, Dayton 69 Seton Hall 65, Cleveland State 69 South Florida 62, Northern Iowa 67 Indiana 61, North Texas 75 LSU 55, New Mexico 89 Colorado 76
  • December 23: Butler 67 Florida State 64, Colorado State 68 Mississippi 61
  • December 25: Butler 84 Washington State 68
  • December 26: Richmond 69 Seton Hall 61

By my count, that is 26 wins for the Other 26 over the BCS.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

  • Central Florida keeps on climbing up in the rankings. After not being ranked for the first two weeks, the Knights have gone from #15, to #8, to #7, and now all the way to #4.
  • Unlike UCF, Memphis has continually dropped. They were ranked #1 for the first three weeks, but since then have gone to #4, to #5, and now #9.
  • Memphis and Xavier slid the most in the rankings by dropping a total of four spots, while Butler had the biggest jump going from #15 to #11 after winning the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
  • Returning to the rankings is Northern Iowa after wins against Indiana and New Mexico. Dayton joins UNI back in the top 20 as well. UAB is making their first appearance in the top 20 this week. The Blazers are 9-2 and are fresh off a win against Virginia Commonwealth. Departing is VCU, who has gone 4-4 in their last eight games, along with Drexel and Southern Mississippi.
  • On the outside looking in: Belmont, Drexel, Harvard and Princeton.
  • Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 4 (CUSA), 3 (A10), 2 (MVC), 2 (CAA), 2 (Horizon), 2 (WCC), 1 (WAC)

What team impressed the most?

Gonzaga was in unfamiliar territory. This is a program that is about as accustomed to winning as any college basketball team dating back to the turn of the century. From the 2000-01 season up until the conclusion of last year (a 10-year stretch), Gonzaga went 264-63; not many other teams can boast such a high winning percentage. It was the first time for any member of the program, save Mark Few and longtime assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, to experience what it felt like to be below .500. Since 2000, the Bulldogs were under the .500 mark for only a game—this happened twice—and the 2010-11 edition of the Gonzaga Bulldogs made sure that they would not have  a losing feeling for more than one game either.

The Zags Are Looking Better Lately

Defeating Lewis-Clark State brought them Zags back to .500 at 5-5, but knocking off then-#9 Baylor ensured they would not fall below this mark again. Playing arguably the most difficult schedule in the country thus far—San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois, and Baylor are just several that highlight a murderous schedule—Gonzaga limped out to a 4-5 record after nine games. After wiping the floor with Lewis-Clark State, the Zags made the journey down to Texas to take on an undefeated Baylor team. After clinging to a slim two-point lead at the intermission, there was undoubtedly an ominous feeling emanating from the visitors’ locker room as Steven Gray, Gonzaga’s top player, would miss the remainder of the game with back spasms. Robert Sacre, who led Gonzaga with 17 points, rallied the troops and willed them to victory; Gonzaga finally got over the hump of losing to top 25 teams. Just days later, they returned to friendly Spokane and defeated a tough Xavier Musketeers squad by a cool 10 points, managing to do it without the services of Gray yet again.

Gonzaga may not coast through the West Coast Conference like they have in past years, but the brutal non-conference schedule they have faced will certainly pay dividends down the road. If they are fortunate enough to advance to the NCAA Tournament, you can bet that they will be battle tested.

Clip of the Week

UNLV head coach Lon Kruger comments on his team’s 63-59 win over Kansas State. This was a homecoming for Kruger who is a 1974 graduate of the college and spent four years coaching for his alma mater. Kruger goes onto say how tough the Mountain West Conference will be this year.

Quote of the Week

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few’s sentiments following his team’s upset victory against Baylor: “I don’t think we could find our way from the hotel to the bus without Steven Gray.”

Sharpshooter of the Week

Nemanja Mitrovic, Portland—Although Mitrovic hails from north of the border in chilly Toronto, he has had a hot hand from downtown for the entire year. In last week’s action, Mitrovic guided the Pilots to two victories as he combined to go 7-9 from three against Portland State and Boise State. Against Boise, he was a perfect 5-5 and went off for 22 points, a career high. The deep ball was not exactly Mitrovic’s forte up until this season as he averaged just 0.8 threes made a game as a sophomore and 0.2 as a freshman. As a junior, he is knocking down 2.8 threes a contest.

Clutch Performers of the Week

Brandon Wood and Cory Johnson, Valparaiso—The tandem were largely responsible for lighting up Oakland’s scoreboard for 103 points as Valpo defeated the Griz by a point in an unusual high scoring affair that ended in regulation. One would think based on looking solely at the scores that this game would be similar to the St. Bonaventure and Ohio game that went four overtimes, but this one ended after 40 minutes. Wood and Johnson went off for a combined 68 points and shot a ridiculous 24-33 from the field. The victory against Oakland capped off a perfect 3-0 week and propelled Valpo to a 9-4 mark.

Freshman of the Week

Augustine Rubit, South Alabama—Rubit was an absolute force in the Jaguars two games against Georgia Southern and Alcorn State. Rubit, who is averaging a double-double on the season, not only recorded two DDs, but did so in amazing fashion. In two wins, Rubit averaged 18 points and an astounding 17.5 rebounds. One must remember that he stands at just 6-6; it is not as if Rubit is a 7 footer who towers over everybody. His athleticism and knack for the ball makes Rubit such a dominant player. It is scary he is only a freshman.

Best Individual Performances

  • Denzel Bowles, James Madison—Basketball at James Madison has been an afterthought for some time. Since the turn of the century, JMU has had just one winning season and from 2003-07 had single-digit win totals every year, yet Denzel Bowles is trying to make the Dukes relevant in Virginia. The transfer from Texas A&M has been an absolute monster for JMU, and this past week he led them to two wins over South Florida and Marshall. He averaged 29 points and 10 boards for the week, and is averaging nearly 19 and nine for the season.
  • Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure—Nicholson exploded onto the scene this year after drilling two clutch shots in the final seconds of games against Buffalo and St. John’s to win both games. This time, the junior from Ontario totaled 44 points in a quadruple overtime victory against Ohio. In the following game against Virginia Tech, Nicholson took the Bonnies on his back during the second half to force overtime, but the Hokies bested Nicholson and Co. in the extra session. For the game, Nicholson scored 21 points and had eight rebounds.
  • Devin Gibson, Texas-San Antonio—There are not many people out there who have been littering the score sheet with impressive numbers like Devin Gibson has. In a tough one point loss to Samford, Gibson recorded a rare triple-double in the college game, and was four steals shy of attaining a quadruple-double. In his last three games, Gibson is averaging 13 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and nearly 4 steals. He is a true menace for opposing teams to go up against with his relentless pressure and prowess in covering all parts of the floor.
  • Justin Hurtt, Tulsa—The progression that Justin Hurtt has made every year since his freshman one is what makes a coach smile. As a freshman, Hurtt averaged a mere 3.1 points, but is now averaging 21.8 points this year. Sandwiched in between, he averaged 9.6 as a sophomore and 14.5 as a junior. In the past four games, Hurtt has been one of the most prolific scorers in the country averaging 31 points. Against Wichita State, the Golden Hurricane pulled off a near upset against the Shockers behind 30 points from Hurtt.
  • Tu Holloway, Xavier—“Anything you can do, I can do better.” That’s what Tu Holloway would say to Devin Gibson following both of their triple-doubles as Holloway won and Gibson did not. Against Wake Forest, the junior guard went for 14/10/14 in an eight point win. In Xavier’s next game versus Gonzaga, Holloway put up 26 points in a losing effort. Holloway has been filling up the box score for the year as he averages 22 points and nearly five rebounds and five assists.

Beating the BCS

  • Butler 83, Stanford 50; Butler 67, Florida State 64; Butler 84, Washington St. 68—Don’t look now, but Butler is starting to play some pretty good basketball. They are not their same dominant selves like last year, but there is more than enough talent on this team to win the Horizon. The Bulldogs manhandled a struggling Stanford team by 33 points, and then traveled out to Hawaii where they defeated the Seminoles in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic. The following night on Christmas, Butler dominated Washington State in the second half of the Classic’s championship game to win going away. Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack are clicking on all cylinders, and consistent contributions from Zach Hahn make Butler a tough game for any team in the nation.
  • Illinois-Chicago 57, Illinois 54—No one saw this coming, probably not even the UIC players. Losers of four straight games and entering the game with a 4-7 record, the Flames appeared to be overmatched in every facet of the game. Fortunately for UIC, they caught Illinois on a rough shooting day (18-55 from the field), and knocked off the Big 10 juggernaut. The Flames may not amount to anything much for the remainder of the season, but it sure would be something to see the Illini advance deep into the NCAA Tournament knowing the Illinois Chicago Flames defeated them.
  • Jacksonville 71, Florida 68 (OT)—First it was Central Florida, and now it is Jacksonville; the Florida Gators sure struggle with the local teams. Just days after beating Kansas State—a K-State team with Jacob Pullen—the Gators fell to an upstart and confident Jacksonville squad. Only a freshman, Keith McDougald drilled four free throws in the game’s final 31 seconds to give propel the Dolphins to victory.
  • UNLV 63, Kansas State 59—UNLV was slowly starting to fade in the discussion of the Mountain West’s supremacy, but beating the Wildcats in Manhattan will keep them in the same conversation with San Diego State and BYU. Tre-Von Willis led UNLV with 16 points; the continual solid play of him is imperative to the Runnin’ Rebels’ success going forward.
  • North Texas 75, LSU 55—There is another Tristan Thompson playing basketball in Texas, and he is pretty good too. The Tristan Thompson playing for the Texas Longhorns receives most of the notoriety, but the other Thompson, playing for North Texas, has led the Mean Green to a 10-2 mark and clear frontrunners in the Sun Belt. In North Texas’ latest game against LSU, Thompson scored 14 points in the 20 point victory over the SEC school.

Coaching Profile

I don’t like Bruce Pearl; I have no reservations in making that claim. Pearl’s program at Tennessee has been marred by poor lapses in judgment and decisions by him, and has been full of controversy throughout the early stages of the 2010 season. This coaching profile is not about Pearl, however, but rather of another coach in Tennessee: Rick Byrd. There are not many similarities between Byrd and his fellow coaching counterpart in the state of Tennessee which is why it is so natural for me to compare the two. The stark differences between the two coaches is what makes Rick Byrd such a likable coach in the college game—he runs a program and coaches young players the way it is meant to be done. His quiet nature, loyalty to Belmont, and understanding of what it takes to be successful at a smaller school are all admirable qualities as a head coach. It is no wonder then when Belmont and Tennessee squared off against one another for the second time this season, I was pulling for the Bruins.

Rick Byrd is a Gentleman and a Scholar

Byrd and his Bruins made their great splash onto the national scene during the 2008 NCAA Tournament as a #15 seed in the West Region when they faced off against Duke in the first round. Yeah, remember that game? The Bruins trailed 42-35 at the half, and then got down by as many as 10 points in the early stages of the second half, but they clawed their way back and clung to a one point lead in the final minute. It would all be for naught though as Gerald Henderson converted a layup with 13 seconds remaining, but Rick Byrd and Belmont garnered the attention of the entire college basketball world that night. The 2008 NCAA Tournament was Belmont’s third straight trip, and while they have not been since, the 2010 Bruins appear to have the talent—they certainly have the coaching—to put on their dancing shoes again. Here is a brief look into Rick Byrd’s basketball timeline:

  • 1953—Born in Knoxville, TN
  • 1976—Graduated from the University of Tennessee
  • 1976—Late that year upon graduation, Byrd took an assistant coaching position at Maryville
  • 1978—After just two years as an assistant, Byrd was promoted to the head coaching position
  • 1980—Reverted back to coaching as an assistant, but this time at a Division 1 school at Tennessee Tech
  • 1986—Accepts the head coaching job at Belmont

There is a reason for the shortage of bullet points in Rick Byrd’s timeline: he has found happiness and solace in coaching at Belmont and living in Tennessee. Byrd is a Tennessee guy through and through, and leaving the Volunteer state probably did not seem like an option for him. He was born there, attended college there, and coached in Tennessee for his entire career.

When further investigating Byrd’s career at Belmont, it is pretty remarkable what he has accomplished at the small Nashville school; Belmont has less than 5,000 undergraduates. Up until the conclusion of the 1994-95 season, Belmont did not compete at the Division 1 level; they were an NAIA school competing in the TranSouth Athletic Conference. Byrd took this conference—as well as the entire NAIA—by storm when he began coaching the Bruins. His first season was a mediocre one as he went exactly .500 at 15-15, but for the next nine seasons while Belmont was an NAIA school, Byrd transformed the Bruins into a perennial power. Compiling a record of 245-71, his teams advanced to postseason play in every year during this stretch, and were NAIA National Champions in 1989.

After all the success Byrd brought Belmont, the University made the bold decision to elevate their program to the Division 1 level in 1996. They competed as an Independent for the first five years amassing a pedestrian record of 60-68, yet still very respectable for a program making the difficult transition. Byrd did not find great success until 2003-04 when he reached the NIT—the first postseason tournament as a D1 school for the Bruins—against Austin Peay. It would not be until the 2006 NCAA Tournament, however, that Belmont and Rick Byrd began to make their mark. While they were toyed with by UCLA losing 78-44, this game began three consecutive NCAA Tournaments that the Bruins reached. Rick Byrd, after running the show in the NAIA, has yet to win that coveted game in the Big Dance. Although Belmont looks stronger than ever this year—two losses have come to Tennessee and the other to Vanderbilt—and the Bruins are the early favorite to win the Atlantic Sun.

Mike Krzyzewski shared similar sentiments with how classy Rick Byrd is as a coach and the kind of program he runs when he stated: “Belmont is as well coached a team as I’ve seen. Coach Byrd does a good job with his kids. They’re winners.” Never a bad thing to have the Coach K stamp of approval.

The Ivy League

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start arguing that the runner-up in the Ivy League deserves an at-large bid, because they don’t, but what has gotten into the smart kids? They may not have a team as strong as Cornell was last year, although Harvard and Princeton are still very solid, but the league from top to bottom has improved drastically. Traditionally, the Ivy League is thought of as a low mid-major, but this year that may not be the case. In fact, according to Kenpom, the Ivy League is ranked as the 15th best conference in the nation. This is ahead of conferences such as the MAAC, Southern Conference, the MAC, and Patriot League. The Ivies and Patriot League are usually neck-and-neck with each other, but this year the Ivy is twelve conferences ahead of the Patriot League. From 2003-10, the average ranking of the league was #24, now it is #15. What gives?

There are two specific reasons that can be attributed for the impressive ranking of the league: 1) the bottom four teams are pulling their weight, and 2) there have been several surprise victories that have boosted individual team’s rankings.

In recent years, Dartmouth, Brown and Columbia have been floating around the basement of the league, and while they are still not upper tier teams they have been performing at a higher level. Currently, there are not any teams ranked worse than 300 which certainly helps the overall ranking of the league. The cliché, “a team is only as strong as its weakest link” applies to this scenario because as good as the Ivy League’s best team is, their strength will be negated by the bottom team.

As for some big victories for the league that have boosted their overall ranking, seemingly every league member has had a big win or two (remember, winning is not everything for Kenpom):

  • Harvard: Colorado and a three point loss at Michigan
  • Princeton: Rutgers, Siena, St. Joseph’s, and Tulsa
  • Pennsylvania: Davidson and a 12 point loss at Villanova
  • Yale: Boston College and a three point loss at Providence
  • Cornell: A five point loss at Minnesota

The Ivy League’s ranking as the 15th best conference right now will most likely drop once league play begins, but it is still very impressive to see a collection of eight teams known more for reading Shakespeare plays and dissecting math problems that seem to be in a different language playing some pretty good ball. Let me be the first one to tell you, don’t be surprised if Princeton or Harvard wins a game in the NCAA Tournament.

Important Upcoming Games

  • George Mason @ Dayton (Dec. 29)—A big time battle between two of the top teams in the world of Other 26. The A10 and CAA often butt heads many times throughout the year, and this is just another one of many battles. Both teams are contenders for their respective league crowns, but neither are the odds-on-favorite; Old Dominion stands ahead of GMU, while Richmond and Temple among others are ahead of Dayton.
  • Central Florida vs. Furman (Dec. 29)—This has “trap game” written all over it for Central Florida. The Knights are undefeated and fresh off of a two game road trip against Miami and UMass. Furman, while not traditionally a strong team, is 8-2 this year with a 16 point win over South Carolina and winners of their last five games. I doubt UCF looks past the Paladins as a victory over them would give UCF a perfect non-conference record.
  • Northern Iowa vs. Missouri State (Dec. 29)—The first game of conference play for both teams may have title implications already—or at least a preview to it. Northern Iowa, Missouri State, and Wichita State are the three top teams in the MVC, and the winner of this game may separate themselves as the early leaders. Kyle Weems has been doing it all for the Bears in the last four games averaging 22.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. If Northern Iowa slows down Weems, they should be able to get by Missouri State.
  • Temple @ Villanova (Dec. 30)—The Owls will have a chance to show the nation—again—how good they are when they face off against Villanova. After defeating Maryland and Georgetown in consecutive games earlier in December, Temple can round out their non-conference schedule with a huge victory. Under Fran Dunphy, the Owls play some of the best defense around and will attempt to take the two Corey’s (Stokes and Fisher) out of their game.
  • Missouri vs. Old Dominion (Dec. 30)—The Monarchs will certainly be ready and eager to play against a top 10 team in Missouri in Columbia. Since December 11th, Old Dominion has only played one game (a nine point victory against Presbyterian), and are riding a four game win streak since a bad loss at Delaware. Interestingly enough, ODU’s first game of the year was a three point loss to Georgetown; the Hoyas beat Missouri by nine back in November. In play the always dangerous comparative scores game, ODU may have a decent shot at the Tigers.
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