The Other 26: Week 7Posted by KDoyle on January 4th, 2011
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the college basketball season is nearly half over. It is not all bad though, with conference play beginning we are just another step closer to Championship Week, Selection Sunday, and, of course, the NCAA Tournament. During this time of the year, the Other 26 and BCS largely go their separate ways, only to be reunited just two months later on the biggest stage of them all. As it is every year, the non-conference is nothing more than a tease of what is to come later. What are five major things that we learned during the first half of the year?
- The top three teams in the Mountain West (SDSU, UNLV, BYU) will all be a force in the NCAA Tournament.
- Gonzaga and Butler are not as dominant as they have been in past years, but both seem poised to perform well in their conference play as they drastically improved in the latter half of the non-conference schedule.
- Temple and Richmond can go toe-to-toe with the big boys. In one week, the Owls defeated Maryland and then Georgetown, and then just weeks later they were points away from beating Villanova. As for the Spiders, they have beaten four of five BCS teams they played against.
- Don’t sleep on Conference USA. Although the league probably will receive only two bids—maybe three—Central Florida, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB and UTEP are pretty darn good.
- The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 will combine to have more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC and SEC. Okay that is a bit of a reach, but don’t be surprised if this is close to happening. Right now, the only lock in the ACC is Duke, obviously. As for the SEC, it is only Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The MWC will almost certainly have SDSU, BYU, and UNLV, and the Atlantic 10 is a bit of a crapshoot at the top. Over the last three years, however, the A10 has sent three years to the Dance in each year—food for thought.
The Other 26 Rankings
Tidbits from the Rankings
Two made it through the non-conference unscathed in San Diego State and Central Florida. SDSU had been in the top 20 rankings since the first week, but UCF climbed from being unranked to begin the year to now ranked third.
The Mountain West still has a stranglehold on three of the top four spots as SDSU and BYU remain at one and two respectively, and UNLV has slid into the number four spot behind UCF.
Memphis continues to slip as they have moved out of the top 10 for the first time. The Tigers did win both of their games, but barely got by a very mediocre Tennessee State team by five points. CUSA will not be a walk in the park for Memphis like it has been in past years.
Gonzaga climbed the most in the rankings—five spots—after going 3-0 on the week with wins over two BCS schools.
New to the rankings are James Madison and Portland, while Missouri State returns after a brief absence. Departing are Xavier, George Mason, and Northern Iowa. UNI had the toughest week of any team in college hoops as they lost on two last second shots, one by Kyle Weems of Missouri State, and another by Carlton Fay of Southern Illinois.
On the outside looking in: Belmont (10-3), Rhode Island (9-4), Southern Mississippi (11-2), Princeton (10-4), and Harvard (9-3)
Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 4 (CUSA), 3 (WCC), 2 (A10), 2 (MVC), 2 (CAA), 2 (Horizon), 1 (WAC)
What team impressed the most?
All the talk this year from the West Coast Conference has been of Gonzaga’s early struggles and St. Mary’s high-powered offense, but there is a team from Oregon that has been playing some pretty good ball this year, and it is not Oregon or Oregon State. Maybe it is because they have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996, or because Gonzaga overshadows seemingly every other team from the WCC. Regardless of what the reason is, the Portland Pilots have played themselves into the discussion of being legitimate contenders in the West Coast Conference. While St. Mary’s and Gonzaga may be more talented than the Pilots, Portland does have one aspect of the game of basketball that will keep them in any game: the three-point shot. Any deficit can be shrunk in a matter of possessions with the three ball. Portland shoots 44.4% from distance and has two of the nation’s best long-distance shooters in Jared Stohl and Nemanja Mitrovic. In Portland’s two games this past week—both wins against Nevada and Utah—the tandem was a combined 17-35 from three. There are not many teams in the country that can boast two prolific shooters like Stohl and Mitrovic. Portland will have their biggest game to date on January 8 when they travel to Spokane to take on Gonzaga. The old basketball adage, a team “lives and dies by the three” certainly applies to Portland, and so far they have certainly been living by it with a 12-3 record.
Dual Clips of the Week
While not the best quality, the content of the video is certainly worth watching. Kyle Weems, maybe the best player in the Missouri Valley, drills a tough three pointed with a hand in his face to give Missouri State a huge win over fellow Valley contender Northern Iowa. Weems’ three came just seconds after Johnny Moran hit a three-pointer to give UNI a two point lead.
In a play that was eerily similar to Christian Laettner’s miracle shot against Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, Bucknell’s Joe Willman heaved an arching pass down court that was received by Mike Muscala with 1.7 seconds remaining on the clock. In one motion, Muscala caught the ball, turned around, faded away, and drained the game-winning shot. Bucknell has clearly set themselves apart from the rest of the Patriot League by winning seven of their last eight games—the most impressive coming against Richmond.
Quote of the Week
Apparently the young, innocent, good-natured, and well-behaved Josh Pastner is not immune to receiving a technical foul, much to the dismay of Tarik Black: “Wow, that was a shocker. I was like: ‘Coach Pastner?’ Man, that’s the last coach in America I thought would get a ‘T.'”
Sharpshooter of the Week
Andrew Ferry, Cornell—After having the most successful season in the history of its basketball program last year, Cornell has predictably struggled this year with the departure of Steve Donahue to Boston College and the graduation of several of its best players. Beginning the year with a 2-9 record, the Big Red were sorely in need of a win, and Andrew Ferry came through in a big way against a solid Wofford team by going 7-8 from downtown. Cornell defeated the Terriers 86-80.
Clutch Performer of the Week
Kyle Weems, Missouri State—In what could be a preview of the Missouri Valley championship game, although I am sure Wichita State has something to say about that, Kyle Weems did not have one of his better games of the year as he only scored 12 points and shot 4-14 from the field, but his final three points propelled the Bears to a huge victory at UNI. Weems received a pass just on the wing and dribbled toward the middle of the court before launching his game-winning shot from three-point land just before time expired.
Freshman of the Week
Laurent Rivard, Harvard—Rivard has been a fixture in the lineup for Tommy Amaker helping the Crimson to a 9-3 mark. In two games this week, the freshman from Canada scored 17 and 18 points against Monmouth and MIT, and is now averaging just shy of 12 points for the year. His free throw shooting was particularly impressive as he combined to go 11-11 from the line in the two games, and for the year he is 29-30.
Best Individual Performances
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State—You would have to go back a year to find the last time Kenneth Faried did not score in double figures; that is 33 straight games. Faried does more than scoring, however, he rebounds the basketball pretty well too—so well that he is the nation’s leading rebounder at 13.9 per game. Faried had a monster week for the surging Eagles as he recorded three straight double-doubles, none of which were bigger than his most recent one against the College of Charleston as Morehead State beat the Cougars by 20 points.
Mickey McConnell, St. Mary’s—When McConnell and the other shooters for St. Mary’s have hot hands from three, the Gales become a very dangerous team. We all saw St. Mary’s ride Omar Samhan to the Sweet 16 last year, but this year if they were to make such a run it would most likely be behind their three point shooting. In two games this week, McConnell combined for eight threes against Mississippi State and Hartford, but it was his ability to distribute the ball that was even more impressive as he averaged 10 assists for the week. For the season, McConnell is averaging 14.2 points and 5.4 assists.
Tai Wesley, Utah State—Wesley led the Aggies to two more wins this week to give Utah State a 13-2 record and make them the clear frontrunner in the WAC. He averaged 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds against Hawaii and San Jose State, and was extremely efficient on the offensive end during these games. Against Hawaii, he scored 27 points on only 12 shots. For the year, he is shooting 65.5% from the field which is good for #13 nationally.
Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston—If I really wanted to, I could put Goudelock in the section of “Best Individual Performances” almost every week. The shooting guard from Georgia is sixth nationally in scoring, and tied for first in 3-pointers made per game with 3.6, but for the sake of sharing the wealth and getting the lesser known player’s names out there, I choose not to. His performance against Tennessee, however, gave me no choice but to show him some love. Goudelock couldn’t miss against the Vols as he went off for 31 points on 6-7 shooting from downtown. He also chipped in with four assists and six rebounds.
Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis—After three subpar performances, Witherspoon turned in his best game of the year as he poured in 28 points and 14 rebounds in a victory over Lipscomb. Now healthy again following surgery on his right knee, Witherspoon appears poised to lead the Tigers into CUSA play with a vengeance after struggling a bit in the latter half of the non-conference schedule.
Beating the BCS
Rhode Island 67, Boston College 65—The Rams are quite an enigma. They began the year 3-1 with a near upset win at Pittsburgh and a victory over a strong Charleston team, but then dropped a game at Illinois-Chicago. After wins against solid mid-major teams in Drexel and Davidson, they fell to Quinnipiac moving them to 6-4 on the year. URI managed to turn things around, however, as they reeled off three straight wins with the last one an upset of Boston College. The Rams play Florida today before embarking on the A10 portion of their schedule, a win in Gainesville would put them in the same discussion with the upper tier teams of the A10.
College of Charleston 91, Tennessee 75—First Oakland, then Charlotte, and now Charleston. It was not Villanova or Pittsburgh that defeated the Vols, but rather a few Other 26 teams that knocked the chip off of Tennessee’s and Bruce Pearl’s shoulder. C of C won the game with relative ease as Tennessee never truly challenged the hot-shooting Cougars. Playing only seven players, Charleston shot 14-25 from three and Donavan Monroe and Andrew Goudelock combined for 58 points to beat Tennessee. Charleston appears to be the favorite to win the Southern Conference as they enter league play, although losing by 20 points to Morehead State is a reminder to the Cougars that they cannot always beat teams solely on talent alone.
Richmond 90 Wake Forest 74—This one should not have come as a huge surprise to many as Richmond is the class of the A10 and Wake Forest is one of the worst BCS teams in the country, but it needed to be pointed out that this was the fourth BCS team that Richmond has defeated. Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper led the way with both going for 20+ as the Spiders move to 11-3.
Gonzaga 73, Oklahoma State 52—Playing one of the most difficult schedules in the country may finally be paying dividends for Gonzaga. The ‘Zags have run off five straight wins after beginning the year 4-5 and have begun to right the ship heading into conference play. Against Oklahoma State, Elias Harris, Robert Sacre, and Steven Gray combined for 48 points in the win. When this trio is playing well, Gonzaga can play with the nation’s best.
Tracking the Conferences
Now that many teams have concluded the non-conference portion of their schedule, let’s take a look at the Other 26’s top eight conferences. According to Kenpom, these eight conferences are (in order): Mountain West, Conference USA, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, West Coast, Horizon League, Colonial, and WAC. There is a significant drop-off from the eighth to ninth Other 26 conference as the WAC is rated at .4998 and the Ivy League comes in at .4018. (All records are through the completion of games on January 1.)
Data Source: www.basketballstate.com
- The Mountain West is the only league with a record above .500 against the BCS.
- Conference USA, the Missouri Valley, and the Horizon League are really taking care of business against teams from the lower conferences going a combined 110-16
- The West Coast Conference had a pretty disappointing performance in the OOC. Of the bunch, they are the only league that is below .500, and posting just an 18-9 record against the lower conferences is not great
- Of the Conference USA’s 12 teams, seven of them reached 10 wins or more during the non-conference schedule.
Important Upcoming Games
Harvard @ Boston College (Jan. 5)—It is the “Battle for Boston”—a battle in which the Crimson won against BC last year for the first time in their school’s history. While they are without the services of Jeremy Lin who lit up BC last year for 25 points, having five players who average nine points or better on this year’s squad will pose problems for BC.
UAB @ Duke (Jan. 5)—This game will be much closer than many people think. Why? Since Kyrie Irving has been injured, the best team Duke has played is against a relatively weak Miami (FL) team. UAB will really stretch Duke with their athleticism and make them work for every point on offense as they give up on average less than 60 points a contest. Don’t be surprised if Duke falls to an upstart Blazer bunch.
Drexel @ Virginia Commonwealth (Jan. 5)—A crucial game between two of the CAA’s better teams. Each team is currently 1-0 in the conference, and will be looking to separate themselves from one another. If not for anything else, pay attention to this game for the matchup between Drexel’s Chris Fouch and VCU’s Joey Rodriguez—two of the better point guards in the CAA.
Memphis @ Tennessee (Jan. 5)—Are the any other teams who have been underachieving lately other than Memphis and Tennessee? For the better part of December, each team greatly struggled against teams that they clearly had much more talent than. Josh Pastner’s Memphis team can rid themselves of those lackadaisical performances against inferior opponents, however, with a victory of the Vols.
BYU @ UNLV (Jan. 5)—This is, far and away, the game of the week for me. We have all seen these two teams, along with San Diego State, play very well throughout the non-conference, so to see how they compete against each other is of great interest. Neither of these teams will be fighting for at-large bids—I believe they both have already done enough to receive them so long as they do not collapse in the MWC—but this game has grave implications for seeding come Tournament time.
Xavier @ Cincinnati (Jan. 6)—Always a great rivalry in college basketball. Cincinnati is still undefeated at 14-0, and Xavier would like for nothing more than to hand the Bearcats their first loss. The knock on Cincinnati by many of the critics is that they did not challenge themselves in the non-conference; Xavier could very well be the toughest game Cincinnati has before they enter Big East play.
Cleveland State @ Butler (Jan. 7)—A close second behind the BYU-UNLV contest for my Other 26 game of the week. Ever since Butler’s bad loss to Evansville back in November, the Bulldogs have flipped a switch and played much better ball since then. Norris Cole and Cleveland State will try to derail Butler’s impressive play of late. If Shelvin Mack is able to neutralize Cole, Butler may be in good shape against the Vikings.