The Other 26: Week 11

Posted by KDoyle on January 28th, 2011

Introduction

We are just about halfway through the conference schedules and the true contenders are beginning to reveal themselves, while the pretenders are wallowing away after deceiving the country for so many weeks. Take a team like Central Florida, for instance. They looked like a legitimate top 25 team and a definite candidate for an at-large berth after breezing through the non-conference with an unblemished record, but their 1-5 record in Conference USA makes that great run in the non-conference all for naught. Conversely, take a gander at Duquesne. The Dukes went a modest 8-5 in the non-conference with losses to Robert Morris and George Mason, but have gone onto take the Atlantic 10 by storm. Suffice to say, it is hard to gauge just how good some teams are based solely on the non-conference. Some coaches will elect to challenge their team by scheduling a tough OOC schedule, while others will stockpile a bunch of cupcakes to pick up easy wins. The distinction between the pretenders and contenders will continue to be illuminated all the way up until the conference tournaments. Up until then, we sit and watch teams rise above expectations heading into conference play and watch others flounder.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

  • Flip-flopping at the top of the rankings with BYU defeating San Diego State. Both teams have identical records—20-1, 5-1—but BYU obviously holds the head-to-head advantage.
  • There was not a whole lot of movement within the rankings, although Gonzaga did drop considerably after losing three straight games. Two of these losses were to suspect competition—Santa Clara and San Francisco.
  • They still appear to be a shaky team, but Memphis rises two spots after a successful week.
  • Returning to the rankings after a hiatus are Xavier and Virginia Commonwealth; both of these teams are at the top of their respective leagues. Falling out are Central Florida and Colorado State.
  • On the outside looking in, in no particular order: Coastal Carolina (18-2), George Mason (16-5), Fairfield (15-4), and Northern Iowa (16-6).
  • Breakdown: 4 (A10), 3 (MWC), 2 (CUSA), 2 (WCC), 2 (Horizon), 2 (CAA), 2 (MVC), 1 (Ivy), 1 (WAC), 1 (A-Sun)

What team impressed the most?

The obvious choice here is clearly BYU. Jimmer Fredette and Co. dazzled audiences throughout the nation who tuned in to witness their showdown with San Diego State, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it was Virginia Commonwealth who was the more impressive team. The Rams were an attractive team to like in the beginning of the season, but struggled at times during the non-conference. In the New Year though, VCU is 8-1 and in sole possession of first place in the CAA. This past week, they were 3-0 and knocked off two of the prime contenders in the league—Old Dominion and Hofstra. Against the Monarchs, they did not allow any of the ODU players to reach double-digits in scoring.  Sure, BYU is the sexy selection here for the team that impressed most, but the entire country is probably all Jimmered out at this point and could use a dose of some other notable teams playing exceptional ball around the nation.

Clip of the Week

Andy Katz and pretty much everyone else at ESPN have been salivating over Jimmer Fredette and BYU. Katz equates Fredette to Stephen Curry and how Steph had the ability to nearly carry Davidson all the way to the Final Four. (Come on, Mr. Katz, piggybacking one of my articles from two weeks ago? Clearly, Katz is an avid RTC reader).

Quote of the Week

Colorado State head coach Tim Miles on what makes Jimmer Fredette such a great offensive player: “The guy handles the ball like Curly Neal [of the Harlem Globetrotters]. His ability to handle the ball and then get into his shot quickly is because he handles the ball so well. Then when you run at him, he can split you and he can hurt you in so many ways.”

Sharpshooter of the Week

Zach Filzen, Buffalo—The Northern Arizona transfer came up big from downtown in consecutive games for Buffalo going 6-11 at Ohio (73-68 win) and 5-9 at Western Michigan (79-68 win). Behind Filzen’s shooting, Buffalo is now atop the standings alongside Bowling Green in the East division of the MAC.

Clutch Performer of the Week

Mickey McConnell, St. Mary’s—McConnell did not let one of his worst performances of the year (six points on 2-9 shooting against Vanderbilt) affect his play against Gonzaga. The senior poured in 27 points, but it was his last bucket that was by far the biggest. With just over a second remaining, McConnell hit an off-balanced leaning jumper from the elbow to give the Gaels their first win in Spokane since 1995.

Freshman of the Week

J.J. Avila, Navy—Avila has set himself apart from every other freshman in the Patriot League with his consistently strong play and impressive numbers that he has put up. Navy was in dire need of a victory having lost nine of 10 games and beginning league play at 0-4, and Avila answered the call. He led Navy to two victories over rival Army and then a major upset over league power American. Over the two games, Avila averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Oh, and Avila was also 9-14 from behind the arc to boot.

Best Individual Performances

  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU—Words really cannot do justice the show Jimmer Fredette put on against San Diego State. The funny thing is his monster game against Colorado State is overshadowed by his play against the Aztecs. Rather than break down his play—you already have heard enough of that—I’ll simply post some numbers from both games. Colorado State: 42 points on 4-9 shooting from three, and 16-17 from the line. San Diego State: 43 points on 5-8 shooting from three, and 10-11 from the line. Damn.
  • C.J. Wilkerson, North Carolina Central—It is not easy playing as an Independent, but N.C. Central has compiled a solid record of 9-9, and C.J. Wilkerson is one of the top scorers in the nation averaging nearly 20 points a contest. In two wins this past week, Wilkerson averaged an even 32 points. Against North Carolina A&T he dropped in a season high 41 points.
  • Umar Shannon, St. Francis (PA)—Standing at 2-13 and looking like one of the worst teams in America, St. Francis was able to turn things around in a big way as they have won five straight games and are right in the thick of things in the NEC. Umar Shannon is a big reason for their newfound success. During this stretch, Shannon has averaged 22.6 points which is seven points better than his average for the year.
  • Kenneth Faried, Morehead State—A rebounding machine; there is really no other way to describe Faried’s propensity to track down a basketball. In three games, Faried averaged a modest 14 points, but corralled just shy of 20 rebounds a game. That’s right, 20 rebounds! He is the nation’s leading rebounder averaging 14.2 a night.
  • Charles Jenkins, Hofstra—It is a real pleasure watching Charles Jenkins play. He rarely forces anything, is extremely fluid while on the court, and allows the game come to him. All clichés in describing a proficient offensive player, but when looking at Jenkins’ efficiency on offense the preceding sentiments are perfectly applicable. He has an efficiency rating of 24.6 which is the highest in the nation. In three games, Jenkins averaged 25+ points and dished out six assists per game. His efficiency rating for the games: 26.

Noteworthy “W’s”

  • Hampton 68, Bethune-Cookman 56—Bethune-Cookman was handed their first loss of the MEAC portion of their schedule against Hampton. With the win, Hampton is now within a game of the Wildcats, while Morgan State is just a half game back. The Pirates stand at 15-5 overall and have by far the best RPI of any team in the MEAC.
  • Furman 85, Chattanooga 59—The Southern Conference, divided into a North and South division, has been dominated by the South for much of conference play. The Mocs got an unwelcomed dose of one of the stronger South teams as Furman sprinted by them with ease. Although, just days later Western Carolina of the weaker North division beat Furman by 24 points. Go figure.
  • American 60, Holy Cross 57—The battle for sole possession of second place in the Patriot League went to the Eagles as AU entered the Hart Center and left with a big “W.” American, although they are 4-2 in the league, are clearly looking up at Bucknell who is a perfect 6-0 and the class of the league.
  • George Mason 75, James Madison 73—After getting off to a blistering start, George Mason lost three of four games to conclude the non-conference and begin CAA play—two of these losses were to Hofstra and Old Dominion—but have reeled off six straight wins with the most significant coming at James Madison. Cam Long had his best performance of the year scoring 30 points, and GMU is on the verge of having the top record in the CAA.
  • Missouri State 67, Creighton 66—The Bears trailed for much of the second half, but whittled away at Creighton’s 15 point lead and finally went on top for good on a Kyle Weems’ layup with 13.3 seconds left. Weems, arguably the Valley’s best player, scored 23 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as Missouri State moved to 9-1 in the league. Wichita State is second best standing at 8-2.
  • Virginia Commonwealth 59, Old Dominion 50—Don’t look now, but VCU has won eight straight games and is in sole possession of first place in the CAA. The Rams grinded out a crucial win over Old Dominion as they held every Monarch to just single digit scoring.
  • San Francisco 96, Gonzaga 91 (OT)—Since losing to Colorado State in late December, San Fran has won seven of eight and is the surprise team this year in the WCC. It is not Gonzaga, Santa Clara, or Portland that is currently second best in the league, but none other than the 11-10 Dons. Against the ‘Zags, five players scored 15 points or more in the overtime victory.
  • Memphis 76, UAB 73 (OT)—The Tigers appear to be righting the ship after some midseason struggles. They eked out a three point victory over UAB and followed that up with a complete dismantling of Central Florida. Memphis currently stands in a tie for first place with UTEP.
  • Rice 57, Central Florida 50—If the loss to Rice—a team with a sub .500 record in the CUSA—did not signify that Central Florida was simply pulling the nation’s collective chain for their first 14 games, then the blowout loss to Memphis surely was. This was a team that was ranked as high as #19 in the January 3rd AP Top 25, and now they will no longer even be in the others receiving votes category.
  • Wichita State 93, Indiana State 83 (OT)—Despite shooting 3-23 from downtown, the Shockers found a way to defeat Indiana State in triple overtime. Ironically, it was a shot from distance by Ben Smith that began a 12-0 run for Wichita State to conclude the game.
  • Xavier 88, Temple 77—Xavier is one of two teams in the A10—the other being Duquesne—that has an unblemished record within the league. Tu Holloway—surprise, surprise—led Xavier once again with 21 points, nine boards, and seven dimes.
  • Wisconsin Milwaukee 86, Butler 80 (OT)—The Panthers had six different players score eight points or more en route to their second win of the season against Butler. The loss for the Bulldogs drops them behind Cleveland State and Valparaiso in the Horizon League.
  • Hofstra 92, James Madison 90 (OT)—Sometimes, prolific scorers and dominate players need to take over a game and will their team to victory. That is just what Charles Jenkins did as he helped to erase a 14 point second half deficit to send the game into overtime. The surprise Pride currently are 8-2 in the CAA and in a tie for second place.
  • Libscomb 73, Belmont 64—Many perceived Belmont to be invincible in the A-Sun, but Adnan Hodzic and Lipscomb had other ideas as they stormed back to defeat the Bruins. Belmont is still the top dog in the conference, but have proven to be mortal in the loss.
  • St. Mary’s 73, Gonzaga 71—The Gales avoided their first losing streak of the year thanks to a masterful performance by point guard Mickey McConnell. Although the victory was critical for SMC as it keeps them perfect in the WCC, the outcome of the game has greater implications for Gonzaga. Mark Few’s bunch is now 3-3 in the league, and by no means a lock for an at-large berth.
  • Virginia Commonwealth 82, Hofstra 67—The Rams, led by Bradford Burgess’ 15 points and 14 rebounds, played one of their most complete games of the season in their win over Hofstra. After losing their second CAA game to Georgia State by 10 points—their fifth loss in 11 games—VCU has won eight straight games and is the leader of the pack in the conference.
  • BYU 71, San Diego State 58—If you have read this far into the article, you surely have been previewed to enough analysis on this game.

Breaking down Lunardi

For the past few weeks, Joe L. has had eight O26 teams in his bracket via the at-large bid, yet he has only seven this week. I suspect that some of the teams that are favored to win their league moved into first place, thus bumping some other non-BCS squads out of the bracket. Remember, when Lunardi is determining who receives the conference at-large bid, it is not who he believes will win the conference, but who is currently in first place in the league. The seven teams this week are: San Diego State (2), UNLV (8), Temple (8), Gonzaga (10), Butler (11), Wichita State (12), and Old Dominion (12), .

Note: These are just the teams that are projected for at-large berths; there are many other teams that are in Lunardi’s field via the automatic berth. Here are some of these notable teams: BYU (3), St. Mary’s (8), Utah State (10), Xavier (11), Missouri State (11), Virginia Commonwealth (12), Memphis (12), Oakland (13), Belmont (13), Valparaiso (13), Harvard (13), Ball State (14), and Charleston (14).

Of the seven at-large teams, here is a brief overview of each:

(Note: The statistics presented are following the completion of games on January 27)

Team Record Last Week’s Seed RPI SoS vs. top 100 vs. 101-200 vs. sub 200
San Diego St 20-1 2 3 28 7-1 9-0 2-0
ODU 16-5 11 31 42 7-4 5-1 4-0
UNLV 16-5 7 32 40 4-4 5-1 7-0
Temple 14-5 6 41 62 4-5 5-0 5-0
Butler 14-7 11 42 27 4-3 7-4 2-0
Wichita St 17-4 11 43 80 0-4 9-0 7-0
Gonzaga 13-8 9 65 48 5-6 1-2 6-0

Data source: basketballstate.com

Thoughts:

  • Only one Conference USA team in the field due to Central Florida’s disastrous performance in league play. UTEP, if they continue to pile up wins (17-4 and 5-1 in the conference), will surely break into Lunardi’s bracket soon enough.
  • It is pretty amazing that two of the three top RPI teams in the nation hail from the Mountain West Conference—BYU and San Diego State. Sandwiched in between these two teams is Kansas at number two.
  • Wichita State had a two big wins in the Valley this past week, but their 0-4 record against top 100 RPI opponents is disconcerting.
  • Butler’s overall record is not pretty to look at, but their RPI and Strength of Schedule are definitely helping their cause. Continued losses in the Horizon League, however, will force them to win the conference tournament in order to find their way to the Dance. Also, those four losses to teams ranked between 101-200 is a red flag on their resume.
  • Gonzaga is in a similar situation as Butler—maybe even worse off. Losers of three straight, the ‘Zags sliding RPI and mediocre record will certainly not impress the NCAA Selection Committee.
  • Three teams that Joe L. may consider when crafting next week’s bracket: Duquesne (16-5), Richmond (16-5), and UTEP (17-4).

A Closer Look

In last week’s column I further investigated what has made the top teams in the Other 26 successful this year and why they are capable of doing some damage in the NCAA Tournament. The three squads I elected to focus on were San Diego State, BYU, and St. Mary’s. This week, we will review three more teams: UNLV, Temple, and Gonzaga. While all three have struggled in their recent games, they have demonstrated throughout the season their impressive capabilities when playing well. We have witnessed UNLV defeat Wisconsin and Kansas State, but also lose to UC Santa Barbara and Colorado State. Similarly, Temple has knocked off Georgetown and Maryland, but fallen to California and Duquesne—the Dukes are better than you think, however. Lastly, Gonzaga has wins over Marquette, Baylor, and Oklahoma State, but dropped consecutive games to Santa Clara and San Francisco. All three squads are a bit of an enigma, but let’s take a look at what has given them success to date.

UNLV

  • Impressive Statistic: Virtually all of their defensive statistics are among the top in the nation: 13th in defensive efficiency, seventh in turnover percentage, 20th in defending the two point shot, and 16th in steal percentage.
  • Offense: Have a very balanced attack with four played averaging 10+ points or better. They will look to drive the ball to the basket first as their athleticism and quickness is on par with any team in the country. Oscar Bellfield, who is battling through a right wrist injury that he suffered against Southern Utah, is the team’s floor leader and best outside threat. As a team, UNLV shoots right around the 30% mark from the outside.
  • Defense: You’d be hard pressed to find another team that plays a more “in your face” type defense than UNLV. They love to force the issue, pressure the ball, and use a variety of presses to fluster the opposition. This is the reason they force so many turnovers and relinquish just north of 60 points a game.
  • Weakness: 3-point shooting is definitely the weakest aspect of the team. Bellfield aside, UNLV is connecting on just 27% of their 3-point shots. In their five losses this season, they shot 24% from downtown.
  • Top Player: The numbers would suggest that either Chace Stanback or Oscar Bellfield would be UNLV’s go to guy, but many would regard Tre’Von Willis as the top gun. The Memphis transfer had a breakout junior season averaging 17.2 points a game, but his average is five points less than that this year. Even still, Willis probably has the most talent on the roster, and usually draws the most attention from opposing defenses. He is also one of the MWC’s best defenders averaging just shy of two steals a game.
  • Why? I believe this is a hungry team that is out to prove they are on the same level as BYU and San Diego State, and yearns for redemption in the NCAA Tournament after losing to Northern Iowa in heartbreaking fashion. Maybe they could have been the team to beat Kansas. Plus, many of the pieces from last year’s team are back this year.

Temple

  • Impressive Statistic: Defensive efficiency is ranked 19th in the country
  • Offense: Ramone Moore, but maybe the most important aspect of the offense is Argentinean point guard Juan Fernandez. Fernandez suffered an injury to his knee in practice following the win at Fordham, and subsequently missed the next two games. Fernandez came back to play in the next three games, but he was clearly hindered by the nagging injury, and Fran Dunphy elected to sit him against Charlotte. Even with a healthy Fernandez, Temple is not the most polished offense around, but Moore is a very capable offensive threat.
  • Defense: This is where the Owls hang their hat. They play an aggressive style of man-to-man defense forcing many turnovers and blocked shots. This defense, however, has been slacking in their last four A10 games as they have given up an average of 72.25 points a game. It is no mystery why they are just 2-2 during this stretch.
  • Weakness: Temple is very similar to UNLV in that they are a strong defensive unit giving up roughly 60 points a night, but struggle to shoot the basketball from behind the arc. Only one player—Khalif Wyatt—is hitting about 40% of his shots from three. As a team, Temple is shooting 32% from downtown.
  • Top Player: Ramone Moore is without a doubt Temple’s best guy. The junior has scored in double figures in every game since their loss to Texas A&M all the way back in November, and is averaging a team high 15 points a contest. In their biggest win of the year against Georgetown, Moore had his best game pouring in 30 points on 12 of 18 shooting. When Moore struggles, so does Temple. In the Owls’ five losses, Moore is averaging 11 points, compared to 16 points in wins.
  • Why? Fran Dunphy is one of the games top basketball minds that is far overdue for an NCAA Tournament victory. Earlier this season, Dunphy picked up his 400th victory against Georgetown, and has been to 12 NCAA Tournaments without one win.

Gonzaga

  • Impressive Statistic: Do not do one thing exceptionally well, but they are very solid at shooting the basketball—39% from three, 51% from inside the arc, and 75% from the charity stripe.
  • Offense: In the beginning of the year, it looked as if the only reliable source of offense for Gonzaga would come from the right hand of Steven Gray as he averaged 22 points on 16 shots through the first six games. Since then, we have seen more consistent play from Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. Harris averaged 9.5 points during this stretch, and while Sacre was averaging close to 12 points, he was doing so by shooting too low of a percentage for his standards. Now, Gonzaga has a three headed monster as Gray is still the leader averaging 15 points, with Sacre at 14, and Harris at just over 12.
  • Defense: The ‘Zags impose one of the most daunting frontcourts in the entire nation—from a pure size perspective—as they boat two seven footers who see regular minutes, along with four other key contributors who are 6’5 or bigger. It is no surprise then how they are good in causing problems for their opponents on two-point field goals, but greatly struggle in defending the three ball. Their opposition is connecting on 38% of their shots from distance.
  • Weakness: 3-point defense. Their immense size on the inside predictably makes it hard for the opposition to score in the paint, but they are susceptible to giving up the deep ball all too often.
  • Top Player: Steven Gray and Robert Sacre are both so important to Gonzaga’s success that it would not be fair to single one out. Sacre has really been playing strong as of late averaging 17.8 points over his last five games.
  • Why? Despite such a mediocre 13-8 record, there is still a wealth of talent on this team that is capable of defeating some of the nation’s best teams on any given night. If Gonzaga gets on a roll, like they did when beating Baylor, Xavier, and Oklahoma State, they are a dangerous team.

Important Upcoming Games

  • Harvard vs. Columbia (Jan. 28)—Both teams stand at 2-0 in the Ancient Eight; the winner will gain the upper hand in the league going forward. Remember, they are all “playoff” games in the Ivy League’s regular season.
  • Richmond vs. Xavier (Jan. 29)—The Spiders were a hot team earlier in the season, but cooled off after losses to Bucknell and Rhode Island. They can become relevant once again with a victory over conference leader Xavier.
  • Valparaiso vs. Butler (Jan. 29)—Could be a must-win situation for Butler if they yearn to remain in the at-large discussion, as well as positioning for the Horizon League tournament.
  • Duquesne vs. Dayton (Jan. 30)—Losers of three of their last five games, the Flyers are in desperate need of a win in the A10. There is no better team to pick up that “W” against than Duquesne.
  • Missouri State vs. Northern Iowa (Jan. 30)—The Panthers are the hottest team in the Valley having won six straight, and if the streak can continue against Missouri State, UNI will plant themselves in the running for the MVC regular season title.
  • Indiana State vs. Wichita State (Feb. 1)—The Sycamores will undoubtedly be looking for vengeance against Wichita State after losing 93-83 in double overtime to the Shockers.
  • George Mason vs. Hofstra (Feb. 2)—A critical game for both squads who stand at 8-2 in the CAA and are looking up to Virginia Commonwealth who is 9-1.
  • Cleveland State vs. Valparaiso (Feb. 3)—The winner of this game should have the inside track to the number one seed for the Horizon tournament.

Just Spitballin’

  • Oakland is running away with the Summit League behind Keith Benson and Reggie Hamilton. The Golden Grizz currently have a three game lead on IPFW.
  • What happened to New Mexico? This was a team that garnered a three seed in last year’s Tournament, and won 10 of 11 games to begin this season, but since then have fallen flat on their face.
  • Centenary still winless at 0-22; they are the last team in the nation who has yet to put one in the win column.
  • Central Florida…biggest fluke of the year? They had me fooled.
  • Colgate, believe it or not, is on a semi winning streak having won three of four. At 2-4, they are tied for fifth in the Patriot League with four other teams.
  • UNC-Greensboro was oh so close to making it four wins in a row, but could not close the deal against Chattanooga after leading by seven points in the final two minutes of double overtime.
  • How ‘bout those Dons? San Francisco is off to a fast 5-1 start in the WCC and in second place behind St. Mary’s.
KDoyle (99 Posts)


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