The Other 26: Week 15Posted by KDoyle on February 26th, 2011
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.
And down the stretch they come! Just like a commentator of a competitive horse race fervently belches when the horses make the final turn, college basketball commentators, analysts, and enthusiasts alike all speak of the game with greater eagerness and zeal at this time of the year. Judgment Week—still am not sure what ESPN is trying to do with this—has passed us, Championship Week is nearly upon us, and we all know what comes after that: the Madness!
While the majority of Other 26 teams around the country still have one or two remaining games left in the regular season, there are a handful of teams out there who have completed the second part of their season. Many coaches, especially those coaching in perennial single bid leagues, break down their year into three seasons: 1) the non-conference, 2) conference play, 3) the postseason. The opportunity is presented for many teams that have struggled during much of the season to get hot at the right time and advance onto the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports.
At the beginning of conference play, I wrote in a previous article the concept of “three games in March” which is often the mentality of teams from smaller conferences who have to win three games, or four in some cases, to advance to the Dance—it is their only way in. Well, here is that opportunity.
The conference tournaments will officially begin in the middle of next week with a few of the smaller conferences going at it. If one really wants to get technical though, the argument can be made that the Ivy League has a season-long conference tournament that commences at the beginning of league play.
The Other 26 Rankings
Tidbits from the Rankings
- I won’t lie, analyzing each team’s previous week and deciphering where they should stand in the top 20 is not always easy, but what is very simple is being able to leave the number one and two ranked teams alone seemingly every week. I am obviously referring to BYU and San Diego State.
- UNLV moved up a few spots with solid wins against two MWC teams looking to make some noise late in the season: Colorado State and New Mexico. The Runnin’ Rebels have been overshadowed for much of the year by BYU and San Diego State, but they will be no easy out in the NCAA Tournament with whomever they are matched up with.
- No other team jumped up the rankings quite like Gonzaga who, after wins against San Francisco and St. Mary’s, shot up to number eight.
- Memphis fell further into the rankings checking in at number 17 thanks to a bad loss to Rice. Their Conference USA brethren Southern Mississippi is actually a spot ahead of the Tigers thanks to good wins lately.
- Three new faces in this week’s rankings and two of them are entering the rankings for the first time this year: Fairfield and Oakland, due to their dominant play in their respective conferences enter the top 20. Southern Mississippi is also in there.
- Breakdown: 3 (A10), 3 (MWC), 2 (CAA), 2 (MVC), 2 (WCC), 2 (CUSA), 1 (Horizon), 1 (Ivy), 1 (WAC), 1 (A-Sun), 1 (Summit), 1 (MAAC)
What team impressed the most?
One of the most entertaining games of the week was saved for the very last one as Gonzaga knocked off WCC rival St. Mary’s in overtime 89-85. The ‘Zags looked like they were about to succumb to the Gaels, but held on to earn the victory. Mark Few’s Dogs have won seven straight games in the WCC—a loss to Memphis interrupted the streak though—and they all of a sudden look like the favorites to win the league.
Gonzaga has been marred by two rough stretches, but they appear to be far removed from both of them as they are playing their best basketball of the season heading into the WCC tournament. During their brutally tough non-conference schedule, Gonzaga lost five of seven games. Once they regrouped for the remainder of the non-conference leading into WCC play, they hit another rough patch dropping three straight games to move to the middle of the pack in the conference.
That is all in the past, and the way Gonzaga is playing right now is reminiscent of the dominant teams of the past that would sprint right through the WCC. The Bulldogs are peaking at just the right time, now they just have to avoid another rough stretch of games.
Clip of the Week
This is probably not the right forum for the following clip, but ever since I saw it on ESPN about a week or two ago, it instantly turned into my favorite commercial in quite some time:
Quote of the Week
Dave Voskuil, Centenary’s vice president for enrollment who is filling in as interim athletic director, commented to Kelly Whiteside of USA Today on the school’s final season competing at the Division 1 level: “Quite frankly, the chapter can’t close fast enough.”
Whiteside’s article is a good, albeit sad read, on the feelings of administrators, current athletes, and alumni of Centenary. Competing at the D1 is a challenge for many institutions to begin with, but a small school with an enrollment of just about 900 students becomes an even greater. We here at RTC wish the Gents the best of luck in their future.
Sharpshooter of the Week
Diego Kapelan, McNeese State—The senior from north of the border (Vancouver, British Columbia) was lights out from behind the arc in two wins for McNeese State. Kapelan was a ridiculous 9-13 against Northwestern State and then followed that up with a 4-6 effort against Texas-Arlington. Shooting 68% from three ain’t too shabby.
Clutch Performer of the Week
Matt Dickey, NC Asheville— Uh, obviously. Dickey stole the inbounds, dribbled, then stuck an off-balanced three pointer at the buzzer to hand Coastal Carolina their fourth loss of the season. Scroll further down to see the incredible play at the end of regulation.
Freshman of the Week
Devon Saddler, Delaware— The young Blue Hen had a big week for UD averaging 23.5 points against Rider and Towson. After having a small hand in the scoring effort for UD in the non-conference, Saddler has taken on a much bigger role during CAA play; the 27 points he scored against Rider was a career high.
Best Individual Performances
- Donald Sims, Appalachian State—Sims has been a scoring machine all year long; he is currently 10th in the nation in scoring averaging a shade below 22 points a game. In two wins this past week, Sims averaged an even 30 points. The big win came against Charleston where he lit the Cougars up from behind the arc as he drilled six threes. He’s got App. State playing very well down the stretch as the Mountaineers have won six of seven.
- Antwan Carter, Longwood—Carter was an absolute terror for the competition in two games this past week. Granted the opposition was weak—Cal State Bakersfield and sub-D1 team Washington Adventist—but the numbers are still impossible to overlook. The junior averaged 29 points and 17.5 rebounds in two wins.
- Chris Long, Elon—Long’s ability to not only score, but distribute the basketball as well is one of the best traits of a point guard. Against NC Greensboro, Long dropped in 30 points and had 10 assists. He followed this masterpiece up with a 27 point night against Davidson.
- Ryan Pearson, George Mason—The Patriots have been one of the hottest teams in the country—their last loss was January 8th—and Pearson is a major reason why. In two close wins against Northern Iowa and Northeastern, Pearson averaged 19.5 points and had 15 rebounds in each win.
- Vaughn Duggins, Wright State— Duggins’ stole the show that was supposed to belong to Charles Jenkins as Wright State blew out Hofstra, and he followed his 31 point effort against the Pride by pouring in 27 against Detroit.
- Virginia Commonwealth 68, Wichita State 67—One of the classic “play-out” brand of games where the winning team has not yet done enough to earn a spot in the Dance as an at-large team, but the losing team may have played their way out of a bid. The Shockers, with only one win inside the top 100 RPI, still may be the favorite to win the Missouri Valley; it is them and Missouri State that will be vying for the title. Joey Rodriguez’s two free throws with less than a second left catapulted the Rams to a huge win.
- Brown 75 Princeton 65—The Bears went 25-27 from the free throw line in an upset over previously unbeaten Princeton who entered the game with an 8-0 mark in the Ivy League. Peter Sullivan got to the stripe almost at will and hit all 16 of his attempts for Brown. It is almost mathematically impossible for any other team aside from Princeton or Harvard to win the Ancient 8 this year, thus making the final game of the season for both—Princeton at Harvard—of epic proportions.
- Quinnipiac 68, Central Connecticut State 67—Both teams are still looking up at Long Island who has been the most consistent team in the NEC, but Quinnipiac bested in-state rival CCSU to inch closer to LIU. Ken Horton nearly did it all by himself for the Blue Devils by scoring more than half of his team’s points, but Quinnipiac did just enough to move into a tie for second place. CCSU will have a crack at LIU in the last game of the regular season.
- Dayton 64, Duquesne 63—After breezing through their first eight Atlantic 10 games, Duquesne has hit a bit of a roadblock having lost three of four. Their most recent loss to Dayton virtually assures the Dukes that they will have to win the A10 tournament if they have any aspirations of dancing in March. Devin Searcy had arguably his biggest game as a flyer scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 boards.
- Bethune-Cookman 78, Hampton 76 (2OT)—C.J. Reed’s buzzer beater at the end of the second overtime gave Bethune-Cookman a critical victory over Hampton as the two teams entered the game with matching 9-3 records in the MEAC. Since then, Hampton has struggled dropping another game, while B-C has won four straight. The Wildcats are currently in first place and are looking to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
- Oakland 105, South Dakota State 96—In the Summit League, it is Oakland and then about four or five other teams chasing the Grizz. South Dakota State happens to be one of these teams, but Travis Bader and Larry Wright each scored 22 points in an offensive shootout to down the Jackrabbits. What makes this victory so encouraging for Oakland is how they are such a deep team; they don’t have to rely on Keith Benson and Reggie Hamilton every night. This is a team many of the BCS guys will not want to have to match up against come March.
- Rice 67, Memphis 52—This is to be expected from this Tiger team, right? They look good against Gonzaga and Southern Mississippi, but then come out flat against a mediocre Rice team. Memphis shot 35% from the field, 17% from three, and committed 19 turnovers in the loss.
- Utah State 75, St. Mary’s 65—In the most anticipated BracketBuster game, Utah State utilized a big second half to get by host St. Mary’s. The win gives the Aggies a much needed signature win and may have put them over the top for an at-large bid, assuming they falter in the WAC tournament. Tai Wesley led the way against SMC scoring 22 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
- Old Dominion 74, Cleveland State 63— The Monarchs, like their fellow running mate in the CAA Virginia Commonwealth, picked up a big win in the BracketBusters over Cleveland State. The victory over Norris Cole (35 points, eight three-pointers) and the Vikings gives ODU another quality win and strengthens their resume. An at-large bid for ODU may be more heavily relied on than it would be for Utah State because ODU is by no means the favorite to win the CAA; George Mason looks to be the frontrunner.
- Wisconsin Green Bay 81, Valparaiso 80 (OT)—Following a commanding victory over Missouri State, Valpo could not keep their strong play going losing in overtime by just a point. In the loss, the Crusaders are no longer the leaders in the Horizon League. Bryquis Perine scored 20 points for Green Bay, including the game winner with 11 seconds remaining.
- Central Florida 74, UTEP 68—It is probably too little too late for UCF, but the Knights have been playing some much improved ball lately. After losing eight straight games, UCF has won three of four with their latest “W” coming against one of CUSA’s top teams in UTEP. At the very least, UCF may have dashed the Miners’ hopes of garnering an at-large bid.
- NC Asheville 61, Coastal Carolina 58—This clip will do much more justice to the heroics at the end of the game displayed by Matt Dickey than my words can:
- Indiana State 76, Northern Iowa 74—After losing five straight games in the middle of conference play, Indiana State has won four of their last five to move into third play in the Valley. Northern Iowa, conversely, has been on a steady decline having gone 1-4 in their past five Valley games. Jake Odum and Jordan Printy each scored 17 points each for the Sycamores.
- Drexel 64, Virginia Commonwealth 60—The Rams were unable to capitalize on a big win in the Midwest against Wichita State as they dropped a close decision to Drexel. A win over the Dragons would have given VCU the inside track to the two seed in the CAA tournament, but now VCU may have played their way out of an at-large bid. A deep run in the CAA tournament may reopen the door, but now it is closed.
- Appalachian State 85, College of Charleston 70— Donald Sims thrashed Andrew Goudelock and Charleston to the tune of a 15 point win. This may have not been the worst thing for the Cougars as it is undoubtedly a wake-up call going into the SoCon tournament that they cannot sleepwalk their way through it.
- Centenary 73, Western Illinois 60—Not going to lie, there was a big smile across my face when I was scrolling through the scores from Thursday night’s games and saw that Centenary had won. This will most likely be their last win as a Division 1 program, and is something the entire roster of players and coaching staff will remember for some time.
- Loyola Chicago 68, Valparaiso 48—The Horizon League—much like several other conferences—has about five or six teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the conference tournament. This thought proved true for Valpo as they were dismantled by a very mediocre Loyola team. Dare I say it, but are the Butler Bulldogs now the favorite to win the Horizon?
- Murray State 70, Morehead State 62—In what very well could be a preview to the Ohio Valley Championship game. The Racers were able to get by the unstoppable force underneath known as Kenneth Faried, and have clinched at least a share of the OVC regular season championship.
- Gonzaga 89, St. Mary’s 85 (OT)—The best was saved for last. In what always seems to be an entertaining game in St. Mary’s quaint gymnasium, Gonzaga did not let a fierce run towards the end of regulation by the Gaels affect them in the extra session. Both teams now have matching records at 10-3 in the WCC. SMC looked to be a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament just weeks ago, but things have not gone according to plan as they have dropped two straight; the bubble is growing thinner and thinner.
Breaking down Lunardi
(The following statistics are following the conclusion of games on February 23, only D1 games included)
|Team||Record||Seed in Feb. 14 Bracket||RPI||SoS||vs. top 100||vs. 101-200||vs. sub 200|
|Butler||20-9||Not in Field||47||74||5-6||9-2||5-1|
|Gonzaga||20-9||Not in Field||73||90||7-7||3-2||9-0|
- What would an NCAA Tournament be without two of America’s most lovable Cinderellas? They hardly fit this description anymore, but it is nice to see Butler and Gonzaga back in the field. They are both still very much on the bubble and an early exit in their respective conference tournaments will probably bounce them from the field, but they have both been playing solid basketball and are worthy to be included.
- Depending on the outcome of several games this weekend—BYU @ San Diego State, most notably — one of these two teams may have a “1” next to their name in Lunardi’s next bracket.
- UNLV, despite having a record that is not all that impressive, has a very respectable RPI and strength of schedule that is helping their cause come selection time.
- Memphis may be relegated to the “First Four Out” category following their loss to Rice. At times the Tigers look like such a young talented team that is about to explode onto the national scene, but there are many games where the youth and immaturity of Josh Pastner’s team are exuded.
- What does Old Dominion and Temple need to do in their respective conference tournaments in order to feel safe on Selection Sunday? Currently, Temple appears to be a lock, but would getting bounced in the first round of the A-10 tournament put them on the bubble? I don’t think so. However, if ODU exits early in the CAA Tournament they will firmly be on the bubble as they lack a true signature win; their top 30 RPI is impressive though.
A Closer Look
- Impressive Statistic: Shooting the basketball in all three departments: 53% from two (16th), 38% from three (32nd), and 74% from the line (46th)
- Offense: Easily one of the most balanced teams in all of college basketball; it is impossible to simply key on one player. 11 players average between 10 and 25 minutes and nine players are averaging between 5.3 points and 12.6 points. Belmont’s bench play accounts for 44% of the overall minutes. As for the actual offense, the Bruins certainly a big fan of the long ball, and they should be. They hit on nearly 40% of their attempts, and 35% of their points are of the three point variety.
- Defense: Belmont plays primarily in a man defense and does a fabulous job getting after their opponents as they force over nine steals a game which is amongst the top in the country. As efficient as their offense is, their defense is actually even better. I guess the cliché holds true for Belmont: “The best offense is a good defense.”
- Weakness: An easy critique of Belmont—a critique that can be made for almost any team coming from a traditionally weak conference—is that they have a very weak schedule that does not prepare them for the NCAA Tournament. They are 0-3 against the top 100 RPI teams and are 12-0 against the bottom 200. Nevertheless, this is still a very strong and gritty team, but they have largely been untested.
- Top Player: Due to their incredible balance, it is hard to pick out a definitive top player, but sophomore guard Ian Clark would be the best candidate. Ever since Belmont’s surprise loss to Lipscomb, Clark has averaged 15.7 points and is shooting better than 50% from three.
- Why? In their brief history as a Division 1 basketball program, the Bruins have never won an NCAA Tournament game, but for three straight years (2006-08) they were in the field each year. In 2008 they came mightily close to defeating Duke, but eventually succumbed to the Blue Devils. The freshman on that team are now seniors, and are out to make history on Behalf of Belmont.
- Impressive Statistic: The best offensive rebounding team in the nation at just over 45%.
- Offense: They are not the most aesthetically pleasing offense, but the Monarchs’ offensive game plan plays right into their defensive philosophy. They work primarily out of the half court, and will always look to get their big man Frank Hassell a touch on most possessions.
- Defense: There are not more than just a handful of possessions a game where ODU’s opponent does not have to work for a basket. ODU plays mostly zone, but will vary things up by extending their defense to a pressing zone. Their block and steal percentages are both impressive as they check in at top 50 in the nation, but it is their opponents shooting percentage from inside the arc that is best. Opponents shoot just south of 42% from two—Hassell and Kent Bazemore have a whole lot to do with that.
- Weakness: As strong as ODU is defending the inside, they are susceptible beyond the arc. Opponents are connecting on 37% of their attempts, which places ODU at about 300th in the country.
- Top Player: ODU has several players that can go out and have a big game, but none do so on a consistent basis like Frank Hassell. When Hassell records a double-double, ODU is 12-0. When he scores in double figures, they are 19-3. Let the big man eat!
- Why? The Monarchs have been there before and fully believe in Taylor’s system; it is made to upset a team with more talent. Only one player—Gerald Lee—graduated from last year’s team that defeated Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Important Upcoming Games
- Missouri State vs. Wichita State (Feb. 26)—Not only is this game of great importance as it will determine who is the number one seed in the MVC tournament, but it is also one of the last opportunities for the Bears and Shockers to improve their resume; they both failed in their BracketBuster games.
- Long Island vs. Central Connecticut State (Feb. 26)—LIU is the clear class of the NEC this year, but there are few teams lingering behind the Blackbirds; CCSU is one of these teams. LIU has already wrapped up the regular season championship, but with a victory CCSU can sneak into the second seed of the conference tournament which means they would not have to play LIU until the championship game.
- San Diego State vs. BYU (Feb. 26)—With so many of the nation’s top teams falling recently, the door has been left open for either SDSU or BYU to sneak in and steal the final #1 seed in the Tournament. In game one of this series between the two best teams out West, Jimmer Fredette torched the Aztecs for 43 points. San Diego State senior guard D.J. Gay jokingly said after a 70-58 win at Air Force: “We have to try to keep Jimmer under 43.” Good strategy, Mr. Gay.
- UTEP vs. Memphis (Feb. 26)—On the surface this looks like a critical game between two of the Conference USA’s top teams. A closer look shows though that there are six teams in the conference with five losses or less. With so many of these teams constantly beating up each other, the conference tournament will be the only way to finally decipher who the top dog is in CUSA—win and advance, lose and get bounced.
- Centenary vs. IUPUI (Feb. 26)— Everyone should be jumping on Centenary’s bandwagon for this one. It is their last game competing at the Division 1 level, and they have yet to pick up a win this year.
- St. Mary’s vs. Portland (Feb. 26)—There have been many murmurings around college basketball analysts saying that the Gaels’ loss against Utah State has now put them on the bubble; Selection Sunday will be very tense for St. Mary’s if they fail to win the WCC tournament. Personally, I feel like they have done enough to earn a bid, but a loss to Portland would be disastrous and may have them on the outside looking in.
- Dayton vs. Xavier (Feb. 27)—Xavier won the first in-state battle at home against Dayton, but now the Musketeers have to travel into enemy territory to play the Flyers. Dayton has, by and large, been a disappointment this year in the Atlantic 10, but a victory over Xavier would give them a huge confidence boost heading into the conference tournament.
- Vermont vs. Boston University (Feb. 27)—UVM is currently the clear favorite to win the A-East, but don’t tell that to Boston U who has already defeated the Catamounts and is riding a seven game winning streak. The Terriers feature the league’s best player in John Holland and are on a mission to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002.
- Iona vs. Fairfield (Feb. 27)— The Gaels boast two of the most decorated players in the MAAC in Scott Machado and Michael Glover, but Fairfield has dominated the league this year behind a pretty player in their own—Derek Needham. Dating back to November, the Stags are 21-2.
- As a result of finishing first in their conference for the regular season, the following Other 26 teams have secured a spot in at least the NIT, but they of course have greater aspirations than that: Vermont (America East), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Long Beach State (Big West), George Mason (CAA), Fairfield (MAAC), Long Island (NEC), Bucknell (Patriot League), Oakland (Summit League), Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt), and Utah State (WAC).
- As previously mentioned, Centenary is relocating to Division III following the conclusion of a very trying season. The decision to move was made in the summer of 2009, and the program immediately felt the effects of the decision. Here is to many more swishes and wins in the Centenary basketball future.
- To say there are serious struggles for Coastal Carolina would be a gross understatement. Having a nation leading winning streak snapped—22 games—was not even the worst of it. Point guard Kierre Greenwood is done for the year with knee injury and their top player Desmond Holloway has been suspended indefinitely due to issues with eligibility. All of a sudden, Liberty is licking their chops at becoming the top candidate to win the Big South.
- Just as Memphis seems to have righted the ship and are looking like a Tournament team, they begin to play themselves out of an at-large berth by losing to Rice. I feel your frustration Memphis fans, every game must be like pulling teeth.
- New Mexico had a shot, albeit a very small one, to garner an at-large bid to the Dance, but four straight losses has officially put them in the NIT camp.
- Joe Zeglinski chucked up 20 three-pointers for Hartford in an overtime loss to Stony Brook—talk about having the green light.
- 81 points scored in the Morgan State vs. Delaware State game on February 23; Virginia Military scored 85 points in the second half of their game against juggernaut Central Pennsylvania College earlier this year…the 66 points in the first half were not enough for the Keydets.
- Come on Conference USA, figure it out guys. I am not convinced that no one in this league wants to win it. Heading into the conference tournament, the only team that can truly be excluded from not having a legitimate chance at winning it is Tulane. Other than the Green Wave, it would not surprise me if any of the other 11 teams won it.
- Georgia Southern gets on the board in the Southern Conference with a win over The Citadel; they are now 1-15.
- There is only one conference in the nation where the team in dead last has defeated the team in sole possession of first place—Army of the Patriot League beat Bucknell 90-70.
- Usually when a team makes six more field goals than their opponent and five more three point shots, that team will leave the floor victorious nine times out of ten. This was the case for UTEP against East Carolina, yet the Miners foolishly committed five technical fouls and ECU shot 45 free throws to UTEP’s 17. The result: an 83-76 loss to a mediocre Pirates team.
- Here’s a question: Does Belmont receive an at-large bid if they fall in the Atlantic Sun tournament? There has been so much conjecture surrounding many team’s resumes and whether they are good enough, but what about Belmont? Maybe it is because it is nearly a foregone conclusion that the Bruins will win the A-Sun, but if they don’t?