The Other 26: Week 8

Posted by KDoyle on January 7th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

With the non-conference portion of many schedules coming to an end, it is time for schools that comprise some of the smaller Other 26 conferences to retreat to their small gyms and compete against teams on their own level. In a sense, for many of these smaller conference teams, the non-conference schedule is a mere preamble for league play. The leagues I am referring to—NEC, America East, MEAC, Patriot, etc.—are all destined for just one bid to the NCAA Tournament. In most years, there are usually about a dozen conferences that receive multiple bids, thus leaving 20 conferences with just the auto.

Being a keen fan, follower, and observer of Patriot League basketball, I have come to the unfortunate realization that this league—like many others—is destined for one bid to the Dance every year. What irks me more than anything, however, is when I hear the phrase: “Three games in March.” This expression may vary depending upon the league, but it is the one that is used when describing the Patriot League tournament. Because the PL is comprised of eight teams, in order to win the championship and attain the automatic bid a team must win those “three games in March.”

I do not necessarily disagree with this expression—it is the reality of the Patriot League and many other leagues alike—but it is very bothersome when this becomes a mentality for the fanbases of the teams. It becomes acceptable to lose a non-conference game or a regular season game within the league because these games “don’t matter.” Of course, this is not a universal belief, but it is something I have observed within Patriot League fan circles. I will always recall Herman Edwards’ press conference as the head coach of the New York Jets when he repeatedly said in a stern voice: “You play, to win, the GAME!” It is Herm’s mentality, not the “three games in March” business, that I am a fan of.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

  • San Diego State and BYU remain consistent at the top. For the fifth straight week, the two teams are one and two respectively in the rankings.
  • Very little movement within the rankings. Richmond dropped the most (4 spots), but that was mostly due to teams behind them winning.
  • Memphis fell again after their 20-point loss to Tennessee. Earlier in the year, they held the number one ranking for a few weeks, now they check in at #13.
  • St. Mary’s snuck into the top five having won their only game of the week by 23 points. The win was their seventh in a row.
  • New to the top 20 is Harvard. The Crimson are the first Ivy League team in the poll. Dropping out is James Madison. I hate dropping out the Dukes as they defeated two CAA teams this week, but Harvard’s resume is simply more impressive.
  • On the outside looking in: James Madison (12-3), Belmont (12-3), Southern Mississippi (12-2), Princeton (11-4), and UTEP (13-3)
  • Breakdown: 4 (MWC), 3 (CUSA), 3 (WCC), 3 (A10), 2 (Horizon), 2 (MVC), 1 (CAA), 1 (Ivy), 1 (WAC)

What team impressed the most?

Could this year’s Cornell hail from the same conference that the Big Red waltzed through last year? That may be a bit of a stretch as it is not too often that the Ivy League sees such a talented team that is coached by one of the game’s best, but the Harvard Crimson certainly have a damn good team in their own regard. There are no seven footers like Jeff Foote or stalwart and steady guards point guards like Louis Dale, but what Harvard does have is a coach that is coming into his own and a young team that is gelling and getting better by the game. Maybe it is the young and fearless mentality that has Harvard playing such great ball as of late. The Crimson do not have a senior on the roster, and the underclassmen account for more than 60% of the scoring. Sure, their experience will constantly be called into question, but this mentality may transcend any factor that stands in the way of Harvard and their first NCAA Tournament berth in the program’s history.  Just this past week, Harvard knocked off cross-town rival Boston College—although, this series may tragically end seeing that BC has lost three straight games to the Crimson. Even though BC was perhaps ripe for the picking, the win for Harvard is impressive nonetheless.

Clip of the Week

Jimmer Fredette and BYU silence UNLV and their fans behind the strong play of their senior backcourt:

Quote of the Week

To illuminate Harvard’s great play this season and in seasons past, Andy Katz from ESPN.com may have put it best when describing the attention Harvard received after beating Boston College: Harvard’s win over Boston College Wednesday night was so ordinary that it didn’t get a mention on SportsCenter, wasn’t a headline item on our site, and is treated as just another win for the Crimson.

I guess this is becoming business as usual for Harvard.

Sharpshooter of the Week

Jackson Emery, BYUAlthough he has been overshadowed by his teammate Jimmer Fredette for much of his career, Jackson Emery is just as dangerous from the outside as Fredette is. Against UNLV, Emery was six of nine from downtown in the winning effort. In his last four games, he is a combined 16-28 from three.

Clutch Performer of the Week

Glenn Powell, JacksonvillePowell came up in a big way for the Dolphins as he converted the game-winning layup with just a second remaining to give Jacksonville a two point victory over Campbell. The win for Jacksonville is so significant because they kept pace with Belmont who is favored to win the league. Powell and Jacksonville will take on Belmont in a crucial league game on Monday.

Freshman of the Week

Trey Sumler, Western CarolinaAfter losing six straight games, Western Carolina needed a win in the world’s worst way, and Trey Sumler chose the perfect time to have a career night. The freshman had a career high points (23) and assists (6) in an 81-58 victory over Georgia Southern. He also had his most efficient game of the year scoring wise by going 8-13 from the field and a perfect 5-5 from the line. Although Western Carolina does not figure to seriously challenge in the Southern Conference, the Catamounts look to have a bright future in their backcourt with Sumler.

Best Individual Performances

  • Kaylon Williams, MilwaukeeWilliams filled the stat sheet to the tune of a triple-double as the Panthers blew out Butler 76-52. It is a pretty neat looking T-D too when examining the box score as he went 10-10-10. In the process, Williams completely outclassed Shelvin Mack who was held to just three points on 1-7 shooting.
  • Jimmer Fredette, BYUMaybe the most exciting and entertaining player to watch in all of college basketball, Jimmer Fredette can do it all. He has one of the quickest and purest releases in the game, and seemingly always finds a way to get to the basket with his supreme ball handling ability. Against UNLV—a big MWC game for the Cougars to begin league play—Fredette had a season high 39 points in a 12 point win. He was 7-13 from three, and also chipped in six rebounds and five assists. A consensus First Team All-American, Fredette has the ability to carry BYU a long way.
  • Mike James, LamarWho? James is new to the D1 basketball scene having played Junior College ball for a year, and while he was putting together a pretty solid season for the Cardinals prior to their game against Louisiana College (averaging 10.7 points), no one saw this outburst coming. James poured in a ridiculous 52 points on going 18-35 from the field and 11-21 from three point territory. What makes his performance all the more incredible was how he did it all in just 28 minutes of action.
  • Leon Powell, Southeast Missouri StatePowell had a career night against Tennessee-Martin as he scored 36 points and pulled down eight boards. Powell, who shoots just 54.4% from the free throw line, was sent to the stripe 20 times, but managed to calmly hit 14 of those in a seven point win against the Skyhawks. After beginning their season a paltry 0-10, Southeast Missouri has won four of their last five games and are 3-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference. During this stretch, Powell is averaging 15.6 points and 9 rebounds.
  • Charles Jenkins, HofstraA potential NBA player, Jenkins filled up the box score in two big wins against CAA foes Drexel and George Mason. What Tom Pecora lost when leaving Hofstra, first-year head coach Mo Cassara gained. Not much was expected from the Pride this year, but Jenkins has led them out to a 3-0 start in league play. In the past two games, Jenkins averaged 27.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 6 assists. For the year, he is averaging a shade over 24 points a game which is good for fourth nationally.

Beating the BCS

Predictably, this segment needs to be altered for the next two months. While there may be an occasional game between a BCS and Other 26 school, virtually all of the games from here until March Madness are strictly conference games. Rather than calling it “Beating the BCS,” it is more appropriate to refer to this section as “Noteworthy W’s.” There was one last victory for the Other 26 that came by the best team in Massachusetts.

  • Harvard 78, Boston College 69Yup, I said it: Harvard is the best college basketball team in the Bay State. For the third straight year, the boys from Cambridge defeated Boston College. Using just a seven man rotation—although the seventh man played just four minutes—Harvard gained the lead just before halftime and never looked back as they beat BC by nine. The free throw line is where the game was decided as the Crimson were 23-24 from the stripe, while Boston College was just 4-8. BC leads the all-time series 31-12, but Harvard has won the last three meetings.
  • Central Connecticut State 92, UMass 63After getting off to such a hot start to begin the season (7-0), the Minutemen have fallen in a very hard way. CCSU handed UMass easily their worst loss of the year as they had three players go off for a combined 74 points. While the Blue Devils are 9-5 and will be a tough team in the NEC, this loss is of grave concern to UMass. They will have to get their act together in a hurry as they go up against a Dayton squad who has won six in a row.
  • Milwaukee 76, Butler 52In a totally unexpected result, Milwaukee embarrassed Butler to end the Bulldogs’ 22-game winning streak in the Horizon League. Butler’s last loss came to Cleveland State in the conference tournament back in the 2008-09 season. It is games like these that coaches like to forget and throw away the game film, but knowing Brad Stevens he certainly will not let this one go easily. Butler will have to find some way to better themselves after this loss as they host Cleveland State in a pivotal league game.
  • Siena 73, Iona 67It is not easy to neutralize Iona’s talented forward Michael Glover, but Siena’s Ryan Rossiter found a way to do that, and then some. Although Glover had a perfect game shooting wise (7-7 from the field and 4-4 from the line), Rossiter went for 26 and 15. In the process, Glover’s streak of eight double-doubles came to an end. Siena unsurprisingly struggled during the OOC portion of their schedule, but with the win they find themselves right in the midst of the MAAC as six teams have 2-1 records or better.
  • Missouri State 67, Creighton 55Missouri State, trailing by nine points at halftime, outscored Creighton 47-26 in the second half to win going away. Jermaine Mallett scored 15 points and was joined by three other Bears in double-figures to pick up a crucial league win against Creighton. The victory snapped Creighton’s six game win streak, and moved them to 2-1 in the MVC. Missouri State, along with Wichita State, are the last remaining unbeaten teams in the conference. The two will meet on January 9th with the winner thus having the upper hand on the rest of the league.
  • BYU 89, UNLV 77In a game between one of the premiere offenses in the nation (BYU), and one of the best defensive units (UNLV), the Cougars’ offense prevailed in a big way behind Jimmer Fredette’s 39 points. UNLV simply had no answer for Fredette who had his biggest game of the year, nor could they stop sharpshooter Jackson Emery who was six of nine from distance.

Breaking down Lunardi

In the week four edition of the Other 26, I mentioned how I would take an in-depth look into the elite, non-BCS teams who have legitimate chances at garner an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. At the time, it was still too early to accurately project what teams may find themselves dancing in March simply because the body of work was limited and resumes not fully developed. Fast forward four weeks, and virtually every team has completed the non-conference portion of their schedule, thus giving us a good idea of where they stand.

Rather than providing a mundane list of some of the major teams competing for the coveted bids, I thought it more interesting to critique Joe Lunardi’s bracket. After all, he is the “national bracketologist,” right? Here are Lunardi’s O26 teams that are currently slotted to receive an at-large bid (the number in parentheses represents the projected seed): San Diego State (3), UNLV (6), Butler (7), Memphis (8), Gonzaga (8), St. Mary’s (10), Old Dominion (11), Richmond (11).

Note: These are just the teams that are projected for at-large berths; there are obviously many other teams that are slotted into the bracket via the automatic berth. The notable at-large teams are: Temple (8), Central Florida (9), Drexel (12), Wichita State (12), Utah State (12), Cleveland State (12), Portland (13), and Princeton (14).

Of these eight teams, I have laid out a table that shows each team’s: Record, RPI, Strength of Schedule, and performances against the RPI top 100, top 200, and sub 200.

Record RPI SoS vs. top 100 vs. 101-200 vs. sub 200
SDSU 16-0 10 73 6-0 6-0 2-0
UNLV 12-3 29 46 4-3 4-0 4-0
Butler 10-5 27 13 3-3 6-2 0-0
Memphis 11-3 65 112 1-3 4-0 6-0
Gonzaga 10-5 40 17 3-5 2-0 4-0
St. Mary’s 13-2 36 102 2-2 4-0 5-0
Old Dominion 11-3 25 48 4-2 3-1 4-0
Richmond 12-4 79 178 2-2 4-2 6-0

Data Source: www.basketballstate.com

Thoughts:

  • San Diego State is having a very special season, and their impressive RPI backs that up. What may be even more impressive than that is their perfect 6-0 record against top 100 teams.
  • Both Memphis and Richmond are sliding very fast. In fact, I would not be surprised in Lunardi’s next poll if the Spiders are nowhere to be found. The RPI is very mediocre, and having a Strength of Schedule of #178 is not good. Losses to Iona and Bucknell, although the two are good teams and may find themselves in the NCAA Tournament, certainly hurt Richmond’s standing. As for Memphis, a few bad losses in CUSA and they may be on the outside looking in as well.
  • Despite having five losses each, Butler and Gonzaga are able to boast solid RPIs thanks to the brutal schedules each have played. Plus, as the non-conference progressed, each team picked up several solid wins. Butler against Florida State and Washington State, and Gonzaga against Marquette, Baylor, Xavier, and Oklahoma State.
  • After losing two straight CAA games to drop to 1-2 in the league, Drexel will certainly be out of Lunardi’s next bracket. What does this do to the field now? Does Old Dominion shift over to take the automatic bid that was previously given to Drexel? That seems like the logical choice. If this were to happen, then another at-large bid would enter into the picture.
  • Teams that are currently on the bubble, but with exceptional play within their conference they may sneak in: Missouri State (11-3, RPI: 44), Dayton (13-3, RPI: 42), and New Mexico (12-3, RPI: 48)

Important Upcoming Games

  • Butler vs. Cleveland State (Jan. 7)After getting flat-out embarrassed against a very pedestrian Milwaukee team, the Bulldogs have a golden opportunity to erase any bad feelings from the 24 points loss with a victory against Cleveland State. The showdown between Shelvin Mack and Norris Cole will be great to watch.
  • Gonzaga vs. Portland (Jan. 8)The Pilots have an opportunity to show the nation they are for real with a victory in Spokane. If Portland is hitting their shots from three—they are the top team in the nation in this department—look out.
  • Old Dominion vs. George Mason (Jan. 8)GMU dropped a disappointing game to Charles Jenkins and Hofstra, but can get back on track against the CAA’s top team in ODU. Recently, the Monarchs have feasted on two CAA bottom feeders (Northeastern and Towson); George Mason figures to be a tougher opponent.
  • Wichita State vs. Missouri State (Jan. 9)In terms of Other 26 basketball, this could easily be the “game of the week.” Both teams are the last remaining undefeated teams in the Valley, and while Wichita State appears to be slightly stronger of the two, Missouri State can put an end to that thought with a convincing win on Sunday.
  • Belmont vs. Jacksonville (Jan. 10)The Bruins have lost three games this year; two were at the hands of Tennessee and the other against Vanderbilt. Like the Wichita State-Missouri State game, this game features the last two undefeated teams in the Atlantic Sun conference. Both teams are similar to one in another in terms of depth as Belmont has nine guys averaging between six and 12 points, while Jacksonville has seven between seven and 12 points. The overriding question is then: Whose depth is better?
  • San Diego State vs. UNLV (Jan. 12)UNLV swung and missed against BYU, but the Runnin’ Rebels have another opportunity—this time an even bigger one—to defeat league favorite San Diego State and hand them their first loss of the year.
  • American vs. Bucknell (Jan. 12)Both AU and BU demonstrated throughout the non-conference schedule that they were the class of the Patriot League, and the winner of this game will surely have a stranglehold on the rest of the league going forward. Currently, Bucknell is the hotter of the two teams as they have won seven of their last eight games.
KDoyle (99 Posts)


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