The Other 26: Week 9

Posted by KDoyle on January 14th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

The non-conference is often times a good barometer for determining how strong a team will be and how they will perform within their respective conferences during league play. There are times, of course, when a team will challenge themselves by scheduling many BCS opponents and tough mid-majors, and compile a poor OOC record. Despite the lackluster record, they still may be a quality team. In some instances, however, it simply takes teams longer to gel and come together—conference play is when they finally peak. Likewise, there are always a handful of squads that will play nothing but cupcakes with extra frosting on the top, and run up many wins throughout the first half of the year, only to flounder during conference play. After witnessing teams play several games against conference opponents, let’s take a look at who may be exceeding expectations based on a struggling OOC record, and who has fallen flat on their faces after soaring through the OOC:

Surprising

  • Binghamton (6-10, 3-0)—Although they have beaten three of the weaker teams in the America East, the Bearcats are out to a nice 3-0 start nevertheless and have one of the best pure scorers in the league in Greer Wright. If Binghamton can knock off Vermont and Maine—two of the top teams—then they will be taken as a serious threa
  • Hofstra (11-5, 5-0)—Any team with Charles Jenkins has a fighter’s chance. Jenkins has the Pride as the last unbeaten team in the CAA, but a crucial game looms with ODU this weekend.
  • Wagner (8-8, 4-1)—Don’t bet against the Hurley family. Dan and Bobby Hurley are both in their first year with the program, and have already brought in some great recruits and wins to go along with it.
  • Holy Cross (3-13, 2-0)—Gone are the days where the Crusaders would breeze through the Patriot League en route to the NCAA Tournament. Now, Milan Brown has the daunting task of building Holy Cross back into the mid-major power they once were. After a disastrous non-conference, HC has won their first two league games.

Falling

  • Cleveland State (15-3, 4-2)—The Vikings look to be a notch below the upper tier teams of the league. After winning their first 12 games, Cleveland State had a rough weekend this past losing to Butler and Valpo.
  • Loyola Chicago (10-8, 1-6)—Similar to Cleveland State, Loyola Chicago looked like they could be a force in the Horizon League, but have lost all their games to the top five teams in the Horizon. They began the year 7-0, and their first loss was only by two points to Butler
  • Northern Iowa (12-6, 3-3)—After defeating New Mexico to win the Las Vegas Classic, UNI looked like they would challenge Wichita State and Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. They are just 3-3 in their last six games, with the most disappointing loss coming in a lackluster effort against Indiana State where they lost 70-45
  • San Jose State (9-7, 1-4)—Adrian Oliver, a transfer from Washington, may be the best player in the WAC, but his Spartans have not been able to follow suit. San Jose State went 8-3 in the non-conference, but have gone onto lose four of their last five games.

Granted, conference play is still very young, and no team has even gone through the first go-around of games against their counterparts, so there still is ample time for many things to happen. With that being said, the preceding 10 teams certainly did stick out when analyzing their play in the non-conference and comparing it to their performance in their league.

The Other 26 Rankings



Tidbits from the Rankings

  • Status quo yet again with San Diego State and BYU coming in at #1 and #2 again. This is the sixth straight week the rankings have started with these two teams leading the way.
  • What is going on in Memphis? The Tigers have continue to drop in the rankings. This week they check in at #15 following a disappointing loss to Southern Methodist. There is far too much talent on that team to be struggling this badly.
  • What a week it was for the Missouri State Bears. Just a few weeks ago they were nowhere to be found in the top 20, and now they have climbed all the way up to #7. They climbed nine spots after victories against Wichita State, Evansville, and Southern Illinois.
  • New to the rankings this week are two teams that I have yearned to put in for a while now: Princeton and Belmont. If you have not seen these two teams play, I highly suggest you find a way to watch them. They are two of the most fundamentally sound teams in the nation, and play a true “team game.” New Mexico and Portland have both dropped from the rankings.
  • On the outside looking in: James Madison (14-3), Southern Mississippi (13-3), UTEP (14-4), Coastal Carolina (15-2), and Virginia Commonwealth (12-5)
  • Breakdown: 3 (MWC), 3 (CUSA), 3 (A10), 2 (WCC), 2 (Horizon), 2 (Ivy), 2 (MVC), 1 (CAA), 1 (WAC), 1 (A-Sun)

What team impressed the most?

It was not so much that BYU was overly impressive in their two Mountain West games against Air Force and Utah—although, they undoubtedly were—but it was their star guard Jimmer Fredette who wowed the entire nation with his jaw-dropping performance against Utah. Whether it was slicing his way through multiple defenders with impeccable dribbling, to his crafty moves around the bucket, all the way to his seemingly limitless range, Fredette scored however and whenever he wanted to against the Utes. They had zero answer for the mild-mannered guard from Glens Falls, NY.

While scrutinizing BYU’s season thus far, it is hard to not draw comparisons to a team that made a remarkable run to the Elite Eight not too long ago: the Davidson Wildcats. The easiest parallel is, of course, the engine and steering wheel of each squad. What Stephen Curry was for Davidson, Jimmer Fredette is for BYU. Curry had the ability to carry the Wildcats on his back all the way to the final eight, and was one stride away from reaching the final four until falling to eventual champion Kansas. With the way BYU can score the ball, and what a special talent Fredette is, if the Cougars and Fredette get hot for several games in March, there is no reason they are not capable of having a Davidson-type run in the Dance.

Clip of the Week

Jimmer Fredette capped off one of the most impressive halves in college basketball in recent memory with this bomb from just inside half-court. Although, with Fredette’s range and how he had been shooting that night against Utah, this shot may as well have been from just a foot outside the arc. The buzzer beater concluded a stellar half for the Player of the Year candidate as he went off for 32 points on 10-15 shooting and 5-6 from three.

Quote of the Week

San Diego State forward Billy White on how his team is still getting little respect around the country, despite a perfect 18-0 record and top 10 ranking: “Some people think we’re still a joke. We hear comments all the time — we shouldn’t be in the top 10, we shouldn’t be ranked, but that just motivates us more, keeps us playing harder, keeps making us prove them wrong. We know that we belong here. For right now we’re not going anywhere. We’re trying to move up. We’ve just got to get better to do that.”

Just keep winning, Billy, and the respect will come.

Sharpshooter of the Week

Tyrone Hanson, Jackson State—Coming from the statistically the worst conference in the country—the SWAC—there is not much coverage given to those teams. Jackson State, however, has managed to put together a respectable year thus far going .500 through their first 16 games. Tyrone Hanson has been a big part of the Tigers’ success, especially in their last five games. Hanson has connected on 22 of his last 36 shots from downtown to propel Jackson State to a 4-1 mark during this stretch.

Clutch Performer of the Week

Aaron Brackett, NC Greensboro—Finally! Thanks in large part to the clutch and stellar play of Brackett (28 points, 15 rebounds), the Spartans are finally in the win column. UNC-Greensboro trailed 41-28 at halftime, but Brackett led them back in the second half to help them get the win.

Freshman of the Week

Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan—While the Chippewas have struggled thus far marching out to a less than stellar 4-11 record, freshman Trey Zeigler certainly has not. Much has been asked of Zeigler as he has been thrust into a starting role and been averaging 33 minutes a game, but the freshman has delivered. In two games this past week, Zeigler averaged 26 points and 5 rebounds. Against Toledo, a big win for CMU to move them to 1-1 in the MAC, Zeigler had a career high 30 points.

Best Individual Performances

  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU—If Fredette’s first three games in the Mountain West are any indication of what he may do to the other five teams, the senior guard from New York may be well on his way to garnering the National Player of the Year award. In two games this past week, Fredette averaged 34.5 points a contest. Against Utah—where you surely are aware of his 47 point outburst by now—his efficiency was remarkable as he went 16-28 from the field, 6-9 from distance, and a perfect 9-9 from the stripe. He is now the nation’s scoring leader at 26.1 points a game.
  • Mike Muscala, Bucknell—The sophomore from Minnesota is finding a comfortable niche in the frontcourt for the Bison. Bucknell has won nine of 10 games, and are the clear favorite to win the Patriot League at this stage in the season after defeating American 75-60. Muscala starred against the Eagles as he had a career night going off for 33 points and 10 boards. In Bucknell’s first PL game, he poured in 19 points against Navy.
  • D.J. Cooper, Ohio—Although only a sophomore, Cooper is Ohio’s clear leader. He is the only Bobcat to have started all 16 games, and is just a few rebounds away from leading Ohio in the three major categories (points, rebounds, and assists). In his last two games, Cooper averaged 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 6.5 boards. What is so remarkable about Cooper is that while he is such a prolific scorer averaging almost 20 points a game, he shares the ball as well as any other point guard as he averages 8.1 dimes. In Ohio’s last six games, Cooper has dished out an average of 11 assists.
  • Randy Culpepper, UTEP—Culpepper has torn it up ever since he was a freshman at UTEP, and his performance the last two games demonstrates why he is one of Conference USA’s best. In a gut wrenching loss to UAB, Culpepper scored a season high 34 points. In the following game against Tulane, he put up 26 points in an 11 point victory. What ostensibly went unnoticed by many are his active hands on the defensive end as he averaged 4.5 steals in the two contests. In the last four games, Culpepper is averaging an even 30 points.
  • Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State—To call the Aztec’s best player a warrior would be a gross understatement. While playing in the high altitude against Utah, Leonard faced shortness of breath throughout much of the game, yet still scored 20 points and corralled 9 boards to lead SDSU to their 17th victory. In their following game against UNLV—an opponent of greater skill and talent—he scored 15 points and tracked down 17 big rebounds to propel SDSU to a victory and an 18-0 mark. With the Aztecs’ win, and Duke’s loss, SDSU now owns the longest winning streak in the nation. Kawhi Leonard is a big part of that.

Noteworthy “W’s”

  • Butler 79, Cleveland State 56—In what would have been a major statement win for the Vikings, Cleveland State laid an egg against Butler, rather than rising to the challenge. Role player Andrew Smith had the biggest game of his young career for Butler as he scored 22 points on just nine shots, while pulling down 10 rebounds as well. After such a bad loss to Butler, the Vikings then what onto lose their next game against Valparaiso.
  • Gonzaga 74, Portland 61—The best three-point shooting team in American lived up to that hype by shooting 58% from three, but the only problem for Portland was drilling just seven long balls on 12 shots. Gonzaga’s Steven Gray led all scorers with 19 points, and the Pilots were never able to overcome an 18 point halftime deficit.
  • Houston 76, Central Florida 71—It seemed like it was only a matter of time before Central Florida was dethroned from the ranks of the unbeaten, but many would have expected the loss to come to a team other than Houston. Entering the game with an 8-6 record, the Cougars defeated UCF as four players scored in double figures.
  • UAB 100, UTEP 97 3OT—In a highlight-filled game that saw big shot after big shot, UAB came away with a dramatic victory in triple overtime to begin conference play. The combination of Cameron Moore and Aaron Johnson could not be stopped, much less contained, by the Miners. With Moore pulling down the boards, and Johnson dishing out the assists, the Blazers rode this tandem to victory. It was Moore who had the biggest of shots, however, as he drained a three with two seconds remaining to clinch the win.
  • UMass 55, Dayton 50—Will the real UMass Minutemen please stand up? A week before UMass’ A10 opening victory against Dayton, they were decimated by Central Connecticut State losing by 29 points. And now, they knock off a legitimate contender in the league. To make matters even more perplexing, just days after beating Dayton, UMass lost to Xavier 79-50. Go figure.
  • Missouri State 59, Wichita State 56—The Bears drew first blood in the battle between the Valley’s two top teams—on Wichita State’s home floor no less—and round two of the fight does not take place until the last game of the regular season for both teams. Missouri State received balanced play once again as six players scored six points or more in the winning effort.
  • Bucknell 75, American 60—Bucknell is an entirely different team than the one that began the season. After going 2-6 with bad losses to St. Francis (PA) and Wagner, the Bison have caught fire. In an important early conference game in our nation’s capital, Bucknell defeated host American with ease to gain the upper hand in the Patriot League. Mike Muscala scored 24 of his career high 33 points in the second half.
  • Southern Methodist 64, Memphis 58—If there was not serious cause for concern following a blowout loss to Tennessee and several close wins to several mid-majors, there certainly is now. Memphis’ inability to take care of the basketball (8 assists to 18 turnovers), and putrid free throw shooting (3-13) were just two reasons among many why the Tigers suffered a six point loss to SMU. In an article on ESPN.com last week regarding Memphis’ poor play, head coach Josh Pastner was quoted saying: “Our goal is to win the league. We want to do that and it’s not going to be easy. Central Florida is the favorite. Southern Miss, UAB, Marshall and UTEP are all good. East Carolina isn’t going to be easy.” Well, if SMU was not even listed in the list of teams he mentioned, it sure will be an uphill battle the rest of the way for the Tigers.

Breaking down Lunardi

In the January 3rd edition of Bracketology, Joe Lunardi had eight Other 26 teams slated to receive at-large bids. Here are the current eight (the number in parentheses represents the projected seed): San Diego State (2), UNLV (6), Central Florida (7), Gonzaga (9), Old Dominion (11), Utah State (11), Wichita State (11) and Memphis (12).

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 auto-bid teams are: BYU (4), Temple (7), St. Mary’s (9), Butler (10), Missouri State (11), Belmont (12), Oakland (12), College of Charleston (13), and Harvard (13).

Of the eight at-large teams, here is a table that clearly lays out a succinct profile of each (Note: the statistics presented are following the completion of games on January 12th):

Record RPI SoS vs. top 100 vs. 101-200 vs. sub 200
SDSU 18-0 4 50 8-0 7-0 2-0
UCF 14-1 18 93 5-0 4-1 4-0
UNLV 13-4 25 35 3-4 5-0 5-0
ODU 12-4 27 62 4-2 5-1 3-0
Gonzaga 12-5 35 12 4-5 2-0 4-0
Wichita St. 14-3 45 87 1-3 5-0 7-0
Utah St. 15-2 55 243 1-2 4-0 9-0
Memphis 12-4 93 156 2-3 4-0 6-1

Data Source: www.basketballstate.com

Thoughts:

  • First thing, one must remain cognizant of Lunardi’s method when creating his bracket. The auto-bids are selected based on the current conference leader, not who he believes will win the conference. It is for this reason that both Old Dominion and Utah State are currently at-large teams. While Utah State is unquestionably the favorite to win the WAC, and Old Dominion may win the CAA, each team is not currently in first place. As of January 3rd, Boise State led the WAC and Hofstra the CAA.
  • San Diego State continues to better themselves. When compared to the other seven teams in the table, they have the best RPI, least amount of wins against sub-200 teams (a good thing), and the most wins against top-100 teams.
  • In last week’s breakdown of Lunardi’s Bracketology, I wrote: “Both  Memphis and Richmond are sliding very fast.” Sure enough, Richmond played their way out of his bracket, and Memphis has done the same. I highly doubt, after losing to Southern Methodist, that Joe L. has Memphis as a tournament team any longer.
  • If Wichita State loses a couple more games in the Valley, they will find themselves on the bubble for an at-large. Their Strength of Schedule is not overly impressive, and while they currently have a nice RPI at 48, that is virtually guaranteed to worsen with their games against the MVC.
  • Old Dominion finds themselves in a similar position as Wichita State. If the Monarchs drop some more games in the CAA—they are currently 3-2 in the league—they will no longer be in the position to gain an at-large, and will be relying solely on the auto-bid.
  • Teams that are currently on the bubble: Xavier (10-5, RPI: 43), UAB (11-3, RPI: 44), James Madison (14hof-3, RPI: 65), and Richmond (13-4, RPI: 69)

Important Upcoming Games

  • Xavier vs. Dayton (Jan. 15)—This could be a “make or break” game for these two A10 squads. Assuming neither garners the auto-bid bid by winning the conference, chances of an at-large bid may be shattered with a loss for either team. Xavier is coming off of two dominating wins against Rhode Island and UMass.
  • Detroit vs. Butler (Jan. 14), vs. Valparaiso (Jan. 16)—What a huge weekend it is for Detroit basketball. The Titans get the rare chance to show their abilities against Butler with ESPNU covering the game on Friday night; the winner will have at least a share of first place in the Horizon League. Just two days later for Detroit, they entertain Valparaiso, who currently sits at 4-1 in the league. If Detroit can emerge from the weekend unscathed, they have to be the early favorite to win the league.
  • Hofstra vs. Old Dominion (Jan. 15)—The surprise Hofstra Pride have a great opportunity to show they are for real to the rest of the CAA by defeating ODU. While they are 5-0, Hofstra has yet to face the league’s premier squad in the Monarchs, but if Charles Jenkins is on his game and shooting well, the Pride have the ability to pull the upset.
  • Southern Mississippi vs. Central Florida (Jan. 15)—It is time for UCF to begin another winning streak as their previous one of 14 games came to an end against Houston, but in order to do so they will have to beat a tough Southern Miss team led by Gary Flowers. Flowers is averaging better than 21 points and nearly eight rebounds a game, but if UCF forward Keith Clanton can neutralize him, the Knights may be in good shape.
  • Wagner vs. Quinnipiac (Jan. 20)—To the average fan, this game between NEC teams is just another game that clogs the ESPN ticker as it moves through the MBB section. However, control of first place may be on the line between these two squads as each team is off to a fast start in the conference. Quinnipiac appears to be the favorite to win the league with senior forward Justin Rutty leading the way and freshman Tevin Baskin recently becoming eligible, but Wagner boasts arguably the most talented freshman in the league in Latif Rivers.

Just Spitballin’

In previous articles, I have always wanted to make mention of noteworthy games, players, statistics, and stories from the previous week, but there was never an appropriate section to provide this commentary. To conclude this article, as well as the coming articles, I will leave you with several points that caught my eye from the previous week’s games.

  • Belmont has three losses on the year, and all three have come in their home state of Tennessee (one to Vanderbilt, and the other two to Tennessee).
  • Not a whole lot was expected of Hofstra this year under first-year coach Mo Cassara, but with future NBA player Charles Jenkins leading the team, the Pride are the last unbeaten team in the CAA with a 5-0 record.
  • After going a woeful 1-13 in the non-conference, Holy Cross has won their first two games in the Patriot League. They meet rival Bucknell, the only other unbeaten in the PL, on January 16th.
  • Andrew Nicholson—St. Bonaventure’s stud forward—has either equaled or eclipsed the 40-minute mark already five times this year. Against Ohio, he played all 60 minutes of a four-overtime game, and against Charlotte he played all 55 minutes of a three-overtime game.
  • There were only two remaining winless teams in the country, but one of them picked up a one-point victory against Appalachian State to finally get in the win column. NC Greensboro was the team who got the “W,” and now Centenary is the lone team with a goose egg in the win column.
  • Speaking of KenPom, can Coastal Carolina run the table? I have not given CCU much respect in my rankings, despite their 15-2 record, since their Strength of Schedule is #281, but KenPom has them favored in the rest of their games save their away game against North Carolina-Asheville. Hypothetically speaking, where would a two-;oss Coastal Carolina squad get seeded in the NCAA Tournament?
  • Congratulations to Cliff Ellis who earned his 600th win as a Division 1 head coach as Coastal Carolina defeated Liberty, 70-67
KDoyle (99 Posts)


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