The Other 26: Week 14

Posted by KDoyle on February 18th, 2011


Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor

Introduction

If you are a true fan of Mid-Major basketball, then this is the weekend for you. Many fans who find a whole lot of joy in watching teams from the smaller conferences compete, share the common gripe that there is not nearly enough coverage of these teams. Well, at no other point during the season will you see ESPN dedicate an entire Saturday of basketball almost exclusively to the best Mid-Major teams around the nation.

Playing against the same faces within a team’s conference can become monotonous, but the BracketBuster weekend enables 114 teams around the country a brief recess before the final stretch of the regular season and tournament time to play an opponent they would otherwise never play. Although many of these games will have little meaning in the grand scheme of things, there are a select few that have serious implications as several Mid-Major teams partaking in the BracketBuster weekend sit squarely on the bubble.

Brace yourself for a great day of college hoops on Saturday. With so many of the top Mid-Major teams in the country playing—George Mason, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Cleveland State, Old Dominion, Missouri State, and Wichita State—you can bet that at least one of these teams, if not more, will be wearing Cinderella’s slipper come March.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

Not a whole lot of movement within the rankings this week, although George Mason did jump four spots and into the top five following another very impressive week.

  • There are two new faces in the top 20, but one of them is a very familiar one. Princeton has gone under the radar for much of the season as Harvard has been getting most of the attention out of the Ivy League; not many people are aware that the Tigers have won 17 of 18 games. Joining Princeton in the rankings are the Butler Bulldogs who have won five straight games.
  • BYU and San Diego State remained the same at numbers one and two respectively, and Temple slid into the third position after a solid week coupled with St. Mary’s falling to San Diego.
  • Breakdown: 4 (A10), 3 (MWC), 2 (CAA), 2 (MVC), 2 (WCC), 2 (Horizon), 2 (Ivy), 1 (WAC), 1 (A-Sun), 1 (CUSA)

What team impressed the most?

It almost isn’t fair what George Mason has done to their fellow CAA brethren. Ever since two losses in the early stages of league play against Hofstra and Old Dominion, the Patriots have waltzed through the rest of the league without even being challenged save for a two point victory at James Madison. In their last 12 CAA games, GMU’s average margin of victory is an incredible 17.8 points. The CAA, mind you, is no slouch of a league either as it will most likely place two teams in the NCAA Tournament.

George Mason’s latest two conquests came against James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth who are both in the upper tier of the CAA. The combined records between the two preceding teams are 39-17, and GMU beat JMU by 14 and then VCU by 20. They’ve been doing it with impeccable three-point shooting (40.1%), and have two players in Ryan Pearson and Cam Long that torment opposing defenses.

If George Mason were to fall in the CAA tournament, it is not a foregone conclusion they would receive an at-large bid. Subsequently, their game at Northern Iowa in the BracketBuster this weekend, as well as a strong finish to the regular season is imperative.

Clip of the Week

At one point in the highlight, the commentator states: “Cole is one of the best rebounding guards in the country.” You could say that again after ripping down 20 boards.

Quote of the Week

Richmond head coach Chris Mooney exclaimed after his team’s 20 point loss at Temple: “I thought they played great and we played poorly. That’s a bad combination.”

Yes, coach Mooney, that usually isn’t a great combination when that happens.

Sharpshooter of the Week

Geoff McCammon, Loyola (Illinois)—Having lost four straight games, Loyola was sorely in need of a win, and McCammon shot the Ramblers to two of them by combining to go 10-15 from distance in two games. It was his performance in the second win that was most impressive as he went a perfect 5-5 in a one point victory over Illinois-Chicago. Courtney Stanley stole McCammon’s thunder though as he drilled a three at the buzzer to knock off the Flames.

Clutch Performer of the Week

Charles Jenkins, Hofstra—One of the most complete scorers in the college game with the ability to get to the basket with relative ease, Jenkins demonstrated his ability to score from the outside as well in a pressure-filled situation as he stuck a three-pointer at the end of regulation to go into overtime against William and Mary. At the end of the extra session, Jenkins outdid himself again by hitting a three as time expired to give the Pride a crucial CAA victory. You’ve undoubtedly already seen the clip, but here it is again:

Freshman of the Week

Trey Zeigler, Central Michigan—Although only a freshman, Zeigler is Central Michigan’s best player; he averages the most points (17), most minutes a game (34.3), and is second in rebounds and assists for the Chippewas. In two games this past week—both wins—Zeigler averaged 21 points by shooting 19-27 from the field. The future is certainly bright for this young man.

Best Individual Performances

  • Norris Cole, Cleveland State—It is simply unheard the kind of game Cole had against Youngstown State: 41 points, 20 rebounds, and nine assists in a 10 point victory. By that line, one would think he is a 7-foot center that towers over the opposition. Nope! The dynamic guard simply had the performance of a lifetime. The ball found him and he found the ball the entire night. Standing at 6’2, Cole averages six boards a game, which is still pretty good for a guard. Cole followed up this mind boggling performance by going off for 16 points, six rebounds, and 10 assists against Wright State. Not too shabby of a week, huh?
  • Adrian Oliver, San Jose State—Oliver is almost becoming a regular on this list. I suppose that would happen to the nation’s second leading scorer (24.5 points). In two games, Oliver averaged 32.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. Oliver has scored in double-figures in every game he has played in dating back to November of 2009.
  • Kenneth Faried, Morehead State—The man is a machine as a double-double is turned in by Faried almost every night. Morehead State is on an eight game winning streak, and during this stretch Faried is averaging 18.6 points and 15.6 rebounds. In his past two games, Faried’s rebounding average has remained true to the preceding number, but his point total was five points higher.
  • Ramone Moore, Temple—The junior from Philly led Temple to two critical wins against Dayton and Richmond as the Owls moved to 10-2 in the Atlantic 10. In doing so, Temple inched closer to securing an at-large bid assuming they fall in the conference tournament. Moore averaged 25 points, six rebounds, and three assists for the week.
  • Papa Dia, Southern Methodist—The Mustangs have been riding big Papa for much of Conference USA play as they are out to a 7-4 start and right in the thick of things in the upper tier of the conference. For the week, Dia averaged 22.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. Thanks in large part to Dia, SMU is looking to finish above .500 in CUSA for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

BracketBuster Weekend

Beginning in 2003, the Bracketbusters are one of the most critical weekends of the year for Mid-Major teams who have aspirations of attaining either an at-large bid or a better seed in the NCAA Tournament. The outcome for many of the games has little bearing—there are a total of 54 games that feature many teams who will not experience postseason play—but almost all of the televised games have serious implications come March. Let’s delve into some of the biggest headlines, what games to keep a close eye on, and what teams can benefit most from this unique weekend. (Be sure to revisit the top 10 BracketBuster games I wrote of earlier in February for further coverage.)

  • Wright State: Meet Mr. Jenkins—If there is one player who can put a team on his back and carry them to a win, it is Charles Jenkins. The senior from Queens, NY. is on an absolute mission to bring Hofstra back to the NCAA Tournament—a place they have not been since 2001 when they were a member of the America East. If Jenkins’ incredible performance at the end of Hofstra’s dramatic victory over William and Mary is any indication of what may happen against Wright State, the Raiders better watch out.
  • Gonzaga and Butler Kicking Themselves—There is little doubt that Mark Few’s bunch greatly challenged themselves in the non-conference by playing a brutally tough schedule, but Gonzaga would certainly like one more shot at picking up a signature win before Selection Sunday, especially after their loss to Memphis last week. Similarly, Butler is in much need of big win to wow the committee assuming they fall in the Horizon League tournament.
  • Kicking off with a Bang—The first game of this year’s event features Virginia Commonwealth visiting Wichita State. VCU has been reeling as of late having lost two straight games and an at-large berth is looking bleaker by the day, but a victory in Kansas against maybe the Valley’s best team can get them back on track.
  • Two Cinderellas Meet—America loves the little guy come March, and George Mason and Northern Iowa were two programs that shocked the world in recent years. Jim Larranaga’s team is peaking at just the right time and may be even stronger than that 2006 squad, while the Panthers are missing the moxy of Ali Farokhmanesh and the other members of the 2009-10 team have struggled in their past four MVC games. UNI is no longer in the discussion for an at-large bid, but handing the Patriots their first loss since early January would do wonders for their confidence.

If you cannot catch them all, here are three games you absolutely have to see:

  • College of Charleston vs. Vermont (Feb. 19, 5PM, ESPNU)—Now, I know full well that there are a few other games that have bigger teams and names playing, but this one has the potential to be one of the more entertaining games out there. Aside from the Charleston fans out there, I doubt many other people have seen Andrew Goudelock play this year; a game involving him is must-see TV. He is one of the most decorated scorers in the nation and has the ability to take over a game by himself. Vermont has predictably flown under the radar the entire year playing out of the America East, but have won ten straight games and are looking to regain the magic that was with them when Tom Brennan roamed the sidelines.
  • St. Mary’s vs. Utah State (Feb. 19, 9PM, ESPN2/ESPN3.com)—Easily the most anticipated and best game of the entire weekend features St. Mary’s and Utah State. Think of it this way: Ohio State is to Pittsburgh what St. Mary’s is to Utah State. The preceding is on a much smaller scale, but this BracketBuster match up features two of the best teams in the Other 26. Each team in their own regard plays exceptionally well on offense, has strong play at the guard position, and a brilliant head coach. Is it okay for me to say that I am more excited for this game than the Purdue vs. Ohio State game on Sunday?
  • Old Dominion vs. Cleveland State (Feb. 20, 1PM, ESPN2)—Blaine Taylor’s Old Dominion squad prides themselves on the defensive end, but Cleveland State has one of the most explosive players in the nation in Norris Cole—something has to give. Even though they sport a 23-5 record, the Vikings do not figure into any at-large discussions, but Old Dominion does and this game is of paramount importance because of it. The Monarchs have a great resume with three wins over the best in the A10—Xavier, Dayton, and Richmond—as well as a “W” over Clemson, and a victory over Cleveland State would only add to their body of work. How they cope with Norris Cole and Co. is something to keep an eye on.

Who can benefit from their BracketBuster game the most? Easy one: Utah State. Many of the experts out there have Utah State firmly on the bubble right now—assuming they fall in the WAC conference tournament—and a win at St. Mary’s would certainly give the selection committee a greater incentive to put them in the field of 68. After the Aggies lost to Idaho, they all of a sudden appear vulnerable in the WAC. Even though they are still the clear favorite in the WAC, this is probably a must-win game if the at-large bid becomes their only path into the Dance.

One final thought: Wouldn’t it be great if the Belmont Bruins were taking part in the BracketBusters? The general consensus is that Belmont is an extremely deep team that is well coached and has some very talented players, but much of the country knows little about the small school from Tennessee as they receive little exposure playing in the Atlantic-Sun. I’d love to see them matched up with a team like Gonzaga…

Enjoy the plateful of games, and be sure to check in on Saturday as I will be providing analysis and commentary throughout the day of hoops!

Noteworthy “W’s”

  • Colorado State 68, New Mexico 62—It is all but a foregone conclusion that either BYU or San Diego State will win the Mountain West this year, but Colorado State is still holding onto the slim chances of an at-large berth. The Rams avenged an early conference loss to New Mexico by beating the Lobos, and in doing so moved to 17-7 overall.
  • Harvard 85, Brown 78—Whatever Tommy Amaker said to his squad in the locker room at halftime of Harvard’s game against Brown certainly worked. The Crimson’s weak effort in the first half allowed the Bears to jump out to a 22 point advantage, but the second half was all Harvard’s. A loss to Brown would have given Princeton a two game lead in the loss column in the race for the Ivy League title.
  • Memphis 67, Southern Mississippi 61—In a key battle between two of CUSA’s top teams, Memphis toppled Southern Mississippi behind 16 points from Will Barton, including several big shots down the stretch. While the victory is important for Memphis for seeding purposes in the CUSA tournament, it is far more meaningful as the Tigers are clinging to an at-large berth assuming they fail to win the CUSA.
  • Xavier 71, Duquesne 63—Tu Holloway and Dante Jackson combined for 39 points as Xavier handed Duquesne their second loss in as many games. The Dukes now stand at 8-2 in the Atlantic 10 and appear to be mortal; something they were not just games ago. For now, the Musketeers are in sole possession of first place in the A10.
  • Texas Southern 70, Jackson State 67—The Tigers are one of the hotter teams around having won 11 of 12 games. Arguably their biggest win during this stretch came against Jackson State as they gained some separation between them. It is a three team race in the SWAC with the preceding two teams and Mississippi Valley State leading the way.
  • Montana 55, Northern Colorado 42—Behind a stout defensive effort that held Northern Colorado to 23% shooting and 42 points, Montana moved into a tie atop the Big Sky Conference with the Bears at 10-3. Brian Qvale and Derek Selvig combined for 40 of Montana’s 55 points.
  • Wichita State 73, Northern Iowa 55—The Shockers prevented Northern Iowa from getting back into the race for the regular season crown by dominating them in all facets of the game. Wichita State outrebounded them 37-23, more than tripled their assist total (18-5), and shot 58% from the field to their 31%.
  • St. Mary’s 86, San Francisco 68—When the Gaels are playing well, the WCC is theirs to lose. Gonzaga appears to be their prime contender, but St. Mary’s has already gone into Spokane and defeated the ‘Zags on their home floor. Against second-place San Francisco, St. Mary’s turned what was a close game at halftime (36-34) into a route. Mickey McConnell led the way as usual with 19 points and eight assists.
  • Gardner-Webb 59, Coastal Carolina 57—Coastal’s loss to a Big South team does not come as a great surprise to me—they have won six games in conference by single digits—as they were far from world beaters. Last year they ran through the Big South, but were upended by Winthrop in the conference championship game; this was a beatable team. What is surprising, however, is how the loss came to a weak Gardner-Webb team who entered the game with an 8-18 mark. In the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ last game with Coastal, however, they only lost by three points. Maybe the Chanticleers are not as good as some thought?
  • George Mason 71, Virginia Commonwealth 51—In one of the biggest CAA tilts of the regular season, George Mason take VCU to school in a 20 point thrashing. The Patriots jumped out to a 15 point halftime advantage and never allowed VCU back into the game. Sophomore forward Luke Hancock filled up the stat sheet with 10 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists as GMU gained sole possession of first place in the CAA.
  • Miami (OH) 86, Kent State 80 (OT)—The RedHawks surpassed Kent State in the East division of the MAC with a crucial overtime victory. After a rollercoaster ride to begin conference play, Miami has won five straight games to move atop the MAC with a 9-3 record. Nick Winbush led the way against Kent State by scoring 26 points and corralling 12 rebounds.
  • Memphis 62, UAB 58—The Tigers are—for now, and I put extra emphasis on the for now—the leaders in Conference USA following a key win over fellow contender UAB. Freshman Will Barton continues to both play and lead beyond his years as he scored 17 points. Memphis is starting to play much better basketball than they were about a month ago, and the key reason for that is the hard work on the defensive end. As head coach Josh Pastner said following the win: “The bottom line is defense. We’re defending now. That’s the difference. You’ve got to hang your hat on defense. I’m a big believer in that.”
  • Southern Mississippi 64, UTEP 51—I guess we should all have seen this coming. How long can a team in first place in Conference USA actually hold onto that position? Not for more than a game it seems. Southern Mississippi did a fantastic job on UTEP’s big gun Randy Culpepper as they held him to 14 points on 5-16 shooting. The Golden Eagles displayed their mettle as they erased a double-digit deficit in the second half by going on a 20-4 run that sealed the win.
  • Wisconsin Milwaukee 79, Valparaiso 76—The Panthers have all of a sudden joined the race for the Horizon League’s top seed after rattling off seven straight wins; the latest “W” coming against Valparaiso who was in first place. Milwaukee appeared down and out after getting off to a pedestrian 4-5 start, but came back to life beginning with an 86-80 victory at Butler. Against Valpo, Tone Boyle poured in a game-high 28 points and Anthony Hill recorded a double-double (18/10).
  • Temple 73, Richmond 53—In a game that the Spiders absolutely had to have if they wanted to be taken as a legitimate contender for an at-large bid, Temple was the team playing with the sense of urgency. The Owls outperformed Richmond in every statistical category en route to an easy 20 point win.

Breaking down Lunardi

Still, there are only six Other 26 teams in Joe Lunardi’s bracket on February 14. After several weeks where there were eight O26 teams in the field, the number has shrunk to six for the second straight week. Even with the mediocrity of the ACC and Pac-10 this year, teams from smaller conferences have yet to reap those benefits. Having the BracketBuster games this weekend is a huge opportunity for many Mid-Major teams who are on the bubble. 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 six teams this week are: San Diego State (2), Temple (6), UNLV (9), Old Dominion (10), Richmond (11), and Memphis (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 (2), George Mason (8), Xavier (8), St. Mary’s (8), Utah State (9), Belmont (12), Missouri State (12), Coastal Carolina (13), Oakland (13), UTEP (13), Valparaiso (13), Princeton (14), and College of Charleston (14).

(The following statistics are following the conclusion of games on February 16, only D1 games included)

Team Record Last Week’s Seed RPI SoS vs. top 100 vs. 101-200 vs. sub 200
SDSU 26-1 2 5 35 13-1 9-0 2-0
UNLV 19-7 8 29 30 7-6 7-1 5-0
ODU 21-6 11 31 63 8-5 6-1 7-0
Memphis 20-6 Not in field 33 48 9-5 5-0 6-1
Temple 20-5 7 34 102 8-5 5-0 7-0
Richmond 20-7 12 71 154 4-5 9-2 7-0

Source: basketballstate.com

Thoughts

  • What would have to happen in order for either San Diego State or BYU to earn a #1 seed? The top two teams from the Mountain West are both slated as #2 seeds currently, and the four #1 seeds in Lunardi’s bracket are: Ohio State (25-1, #3 RPI), Pittsburgh (24-2, #6 RPI), Kansas (24-2, #2 RPI), and Texas (23-3, #8 RPI). It goes without saying that both San Diego State and BYU cannot attain a #1 seed, but if one of them runs the table all the way through the MWC Championship and some of the other teams contending for a top seed slip up along the way, a #1 seed is well within reach. Just as a side note, the highest seed ever attained for a team hailing from the MWC was New Mexico who was a #3 seed in last year’s Tournament.
  • A few numbers that stick out: San Diego State’s RPI is still very impressive at #5, Memphis’ loss to an RPI sub-200 team will not help their cause, and the extremely low strength of schedule that Richmond sports is not great. If Richmond has an early exit in the Atlantic 10 tournament, you can bet they will not be sitting very easy on Selection Sunday.
  • UNLV, despite their 19-7 record, still has a very respectable RPI and strength of schedule. Four of their seven losses have come at the hands of BYU and San Diego State.
  • From these six teams, who is absolutely safe? Well, San Diego State clearly is. UNLV should be alright, but a couple more losses would place them firmly on the bubble. Temple, after their big victory over Richmond, should be in as well. As for the other three, it is very much up in the air still. Memphis will probably need to advance to the semifinals or finals of the Conference USA tournament to feel good about themselves, and Old Dominion would greatly benefit with a win over Cleveland State this weekend. Richmond certainly did not do themselves any favors losing by 20 points to Temple.
  • No Butler or Gonzaga in the field. Brad Stevens’ squad has played better ball lately winning five straight after a disastrous stretch where they lost four out of five, but have they done enough? A deep run in the Horizon League Tournament is a must if they desire an at-large bid. Gonzaga, like Butler, undoubtedly feels the pressure to start winning games and they capped off a 2-0 week with a solid win over Santa Clara. There is still work to be done, but both Bulldog teams may be on their way.
  • Some other O26 teams that may break into the field: UAB (18-7, #35 RPI), Colorado State (18-7, #41 RPI), Butler (19-9, #44 RPI), Southern Mississippi (19-6, #48 RPI), and Wichita State (22-5, #50 RPI).
  • Lastly, and I posed this scenario in last week’s article, it is nearly a definite at this point that either Princeton or Harvard will win the Ivy League, but what happens to the team that comes up just short. They would almost certainly not make it in as an at-large bid, but it makes for an interesting discussion. Currently, Princeton is 19-4 and has an RPI of 52 and Harvard stands at 18-4 with an RPI of 45.

A Closer Look

Xavier

Impressive Statistic: Thanks in large part to the play of Tu Holloway, Xavier gets roughly a quarter of their points from the free throw line (14th in the nation), and shoot a high percentage from the stripe—75% (27th in the nation).

Offense: Chris Mack constructs his offense with many screens and movement that free open the Musketeers’ primary scoring options. There is no better screen that Xavier likes to use than the pick-and-roll with arguably the Atlantic 10’s best player Tu Holloway. Setting ball screens—assuming the opposition is playing in a man-to-man defense—forces the opponent’s post players to move away from the basket. When looking at Xavier, Mack’s offensive attack enables Holloway to be creative with the ball and make decisions on the fly. Allowing Tu Holloway free reigns to the offense is never a bad idea.

Defense: It is ironic, but the worst part of Xavier’s defense is something they cannot defend: free throw shooting. Just like free throwing shooting greatly benefits Xavier when they are on the offensive end, it comes back to bite them when they are on defense. Opponents hit on 74.5% of their free throw attempts—nearly dead last in the country—and 23% of their points come at the line.

Weakness: Defense is a bit of a concern for Xavier. Although they give up just 65.4 points a game, their defensive efficiency according to Kenpom is ranked 73rd in the country. To investigate this number even further, only three teams—out of 48—in the past three seasons have advanced to the Sweet 16 with an efficiency worse than 40. The Musketeers certainly aspire to advance to that stage of the Dance, so an improved defense will help that cause.

Top Player: Who else, but Tu Holloway? The junior from New York is having a breakout season as he leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring averaging 21 points a game, is second in the league dishing out five assists, and is a lights out free throw shooter. He is able to break down an opposing defense with the best of them due to his impeccable speed and court vision.

Why? They have been there before—advanced to the Sweet 16 last season before losing to Kansas State in maybe the Tournament’s best game—and Tu Holloway has the ability to carry Xavier when he is on top of his game.

Richmond

Impressive Statistic: Ability to shoot the deep ball is a potent threat as they hit on better than 40% of their shots.

Offense: A disciple of Pete Carril’s offense at Princeton, Chris Mooney almost always has five players on the floor that can shoot the ball with precision and play in unison with one another. The offense relies on good spacing, constant cuts and screens, and intelligent players with a high basketball IQ. At Princeton, Carril developed the offense that was suited for his teams that may have not been athletic as their opposition. Mooney’s squad at Richmond, however, does not lack athleticism; they can be thought of as Princeton on steroids. The Spiders are blessed with two of the league’s best players: Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson. Harper, in particular, is an unbelievable talent that is a borderline first round pick in the NBA Draft. Standing at 6’10, Harper can predictably go inside and finish in the paint, but the senior forward actually spends a good deal of his time beyond the arc as he shoots just south of 50% from three.

Defense: Richmond will play a steady dose of man defense, but also will vary that up with many possessions in a matchup zone. This brand of zone requires all five players to rotate to the part of the court where the ball is passed. In doing so, many of the passing lanes are filled and it becomes hard to feed the ball inside. Like any zone, it is susceptible to the three point shot and skip pass which is why it is best used depending on the personnel of the opposition. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the zone.

Weakness: As well as the Spiders shoot from three, their free throw percentage is pretty low at 67%.

Top Player: Trying to matchup and guard Justin Harper in a straight man defense is near impossible. Harper is averaging 18 points, 6.7 rebounds, and is an impeccable shooter connecting on 80% of his freebies and almost half of his three-point attempts.

Why? They are undaunted when going up against the supposed “big boys” from BCS conferences. Richmond has challenged themselves by playing five games against BCS teams and are 4-1 in these games. If they do indeed advance to the NCAA Tournament, having the confidence they can defeat a BCS team is greatly beneficial. Plus, Richmond has some unfinished business they need to take care of after being bounced by St. Mary’s in the first round of last year’s Tournament.

Important Upcoming Games

For the sake of brevity and to not be redundant, I am not including any of the BracketBuster games here; almost all of them are important games.

  • Central Connecticut State vs. Quinnipiac (Feb. 19)—Both teams are chasing down first place Long Island as they near the end of regular season play. The Bobcats won the first game by five, but CCSU has been playing the better ball of late having won eight of nine.
  • Hampton vs. Bethune-Cookman (Feb. 19)—In what could very easily be a preview to the MEAC championship game as both teams are 9-3 in the league and stand atop the conference, Hampton looks to get back on track versus the Wildcats following a tough loss to North Carolina A&T.
  • Colorado State vs. UNLV (Feb. 19)—This is a game Colorado State has to have in order to garner an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. They have already defeated UNLV once by 15, and that game was in Las Vegas. You can bet that Moby Arena will be rocking for this one.
  • Gonzaga vs. San Francisco (Feb. 19)—Both teams have matching 8-3 records in the WCC and are looking up to St. Mary’s. The Dons shocked Gonzaga earlier this year defeating them 96-91.
  • Duke vs. Temple (Feb. 23)—What a treat this one is. There are not many instances at this stage of the season where you get a marquee non-conference game between two teams of this stature, but Duke vs. Temple is a rare exception. The Owls appear to have done enough to warrant an at-large bid, but this game would do wonders for their seeding if they leave Durham with a win.
  • Murray State vs. Morehead State (Feb. 24)—Both teams currently have matching 12-4 records and are tied for first place in the Ohio Valley; the winner of this one would have the inside track to capture the regular season crown and top seed heading into the OVC tournament.
  • St. Mary’s vs. Gonzaga (Feb. 24)—In a game that has developed into one of the better rivalries on the West Coast, Gonzaga looks to avenge a gut wrenching loss that Mickey McConnell and SMC handed them in Spokane weeks ago. More importantly, a win for the ‘Zags would greatly help their tournament resume.

Just Spitballin’

  • Steve Fisher was slapped on the wrist by the Mountain West Conference for his comments regarding the firing of Wyoming head coach Heath Schroyer. Fisher commented: “It’s wrong. It should not have been that way. It should have been done in a professional manner. A six-week jump on the market is not worth it.” I like Steve Fisher more and more every time I hear him speak and watch the way he coaches his Aztecs. His thoughts on how Wyoming handled the firing of Schroyer may have been a little aggressive, but I love the way he is willing to speak his mind and not speak in the world of clichés.
  • What happened to Northern Iowa? The Panthers were right in the thick of things in the top tier of the Missouri Valley two weeks ago, but now have been relegated to the middle of the conference after losing three of four games.
  • What happened to Maine? After taking the America East by surprise to begin conference play, the Black Bears have lost five straight games and that first NCAA Tournament appearance is looking like a long shot now.
  • Coastal Carolina is a solid team that has some capable players, but can the talk of them being a top 25 team cease? Losing to a bad Gardner-Webb team reveals how Coastal has compiled such a gaudy record by playing a weak schedule in a weak league.
  • Time is running out for Centenary to pick up that first win. Sitting at 0-28 and 0-16 in the Summit League, the Gentlemen (how great is that nickname, by the way?) have two more opportunities to avoid a winless season. They are home against Western Illinois and home against IUPUI. For some reason, I have an inkling they’ll pick up a “W” in one of these games; they lost to Western Illinois by six and IUPUI by eight in previous games.
  • Tough go of it in 2011 for the Towson Tigers who are 0-15 in the New Year. Nine of these losses have come by single digits though.
  • Utah State’s big man Tai Wesley was apparently too strong for the baskets at the Smith Spectrum. At halftime as Wesley went through his usual routine by dunking the ball two times before the officials come back onto the floor, he brought down the hoop shattering the backboard.
  • There are six teams in Conference USA with records ranging from 8-3 to 7-3. Needless to say, it will be an entertaining conference tournament and it is anyone’s best guess who will come out on top.
KDoyle (99 Posts)


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