The Other 26: Week NinePosted by IRenko on January 28th, 2012
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
The now-annual Bracket Buster weekend is a great late-season non-conference bounty, especially for mid-major hoops fans. This year’s matchups will be announced on Monday, and today we take a look at the top five games we hope to see scheduled. That, plus a look back and a look forward, after the updated top 15.
Top Five Potential Bracketbuster Matchups
This year, there are 22 Bracketbuster squads in the RPI top 100, with 13 slated to play home games and nine set to hit the road. This creates a slight discrepancy between the strength of the home teams and the road teams, which is magnified when you consider that the breakdown is 12 to six among teams in the top 85. Nonetheless, there are some great potential matchups.
Here is the list of Bracketbuster participants in the RPI top 100 (teams slotted for home games in bold):
Wichita State (24)
Murray St (26)
St. Mary’s (31)
Oral Roberts (45)
Northern Iowa (50)
Cleveland St (60)
SD State (66)
Weber St (74)
Loyola (MD) (83)
New Mexico St. (84)
Missouri St. (85)
Creighton, Wichita State, Murray State, and St. Mary’s are this year’s main attractions. Given the way the home/road assignments break down and the fact that Creighton and Wichita State, there’s only one way to match these four teams up. Hence the first two games in our Bracketbuster top 5 wish list:
- (1) St. Mary’s at Creighton — This would be a premier matchup between two nationally ranked teams who like to score. Both have very efficient offenses, the Bluejays relying on the all-around skills of forward Doug McDermott, point guard Antoine Young’s dribble penetration, and the best arsenal of three-point shooters in the country. The Gaels, too, rely heavily on the three-point shot, along with the inside game of Rob Jones. Depending on how the rest of their seasons played out, the winner could position itself for a top 4 seed.
- (2) Wichita State at Murray State – The Bracket Buster game will be the toughest Murray State plays until the NCAA Tournament, and Wichita State would be just the kind of test that would help the selection committee guage where the Racers are towards the end of their mediocre conference schedule. The Racers’ backcourt trio of Isaiah Canaan, Donte Poole, and Jewuan Long love to pour in three-pointers and get to the free throw line, the latter of which could allow them to exploit Wichita State’s so-so free throw rate. But on the other end of the court, the Shockers have the kind of inside presence, with Garrett Stutz and Carl Hall, that could give Murray State trouble. At a minimum, it should provide a nice preview of how the Racers would handle a bigger opponent come March.
- (3) LBSU at Oral Roberts — LBSU’s Casper Ware was a mid-major darling during the non-conference season, as LBSU made noise against a brutal schedule. But the player who’s merited more accolades since December is ORU’s Dominique Morrison. Through last weekend’s win over Oakland, DoMo had posted the following stat line since December 22: 24.7 PPG, 58.2 FG%, 60.3 3FG%, 88.2 FT%. Those are “best offensive player in the country” numbers. Although it’s unlikely that Ware and Morrison would guard each other, the matchup of mid-major stars would still be fun to watch.
- (4) Nevada at Davidson — With Nevada and Davidson asserting their conference superiority, it feels like the mid-aughts (oh, to be young again). But with mediocre conference schedules, both teams will be looking to prove that they’re prepared to take down quality non-con competition come March. Both teams have very balanced offenses, with Davidson featuring four double-digit scorers and Nevada starting three plus a fourth who averages 9.8 PPG.
- (5) Drexel at Iona – I’d love to see this game for the clash of styles. Iona, led by senior point Scott Machado, gets up and down the floor at a super high pace. They’re in the top 20 in the country in tempo. Drexel, meanwhile, likes to grind things out — they’re nearly in the bottom 20 in the country in tempo. The Gaels’ strength is a super-charged offense, while the Dragons’ success has been built on a brutally tough and compact half-court defense. Who would be able to impose their will on the other?
Looking Back: NV Sweeps NM
Nevada’s state schools scored critical sweep this past week against New Mexico’s in two battles between conference contenders.
- UNLV 80, New Mexico 63 – Both teams were coming off losses to San Diego State during the first week of conference play, raising the stakes of this matchup between title hopefuls. Although it was a nip and tuck affair for most of the first half, UNLV pulled away in the second. To contain the Lobos’ offense, UNLV had to (1) defend the three-point line, and (2) keep New Mexico off the free throw line. They did both well: New Mexico shot 31.8% from three-point range (compared to a 40.8% season average) and had a 26.3% free throw rate (compared to a 39.8% season average).
- Nevada 68, New Mexico State 60 — Nevada solidified its first-place standing in the WAC by defeating the conference’s second place team on the road. The Wolfpack jumped out to a double digit lead early in the game, expanded it to 14 by halftime, and held off a modest rally by the Aggies late in the game for a comfortable victory. NMSU’s star player, Wendell McKines scored 15 points, but most of that came at the free throw line while he went just 2-12 from the field. The Aggies dominated the boards, as they often do, but it wasn’t enough because of the huge FG shooting differential (56.5% to 32.7%). Nevada showed again that its offensive strength lies in its balance, as four of its starters scored in double-digits — Deonte Burton, Malik Story, Olek Czyz, and Dario Hunt. Only Hunt averages less than 10 ppg, and he’s almost there at 9.8.
Looking Back: Falling Out
Two conference leaders suffered back-to-back losses, dropping them behind a pack of contenders.
- Dayton 87, Xavier 72 / St. Louis 73, Xavier 68 — Just when it looked like Xavier had bounced back from their midseason slump, they take a beating at Dayton and lose at home to St. Louis. Those are two of the A-10’s strongest teams, but still, it may be time to admit that XU’s non-conference success owed a fair amount to luck (it did involve some narrow comebacks), that the mental toll of the Cincy brawl and its fallout has had an irredeemable effect on the team’s abilities, or both. Although the Holloway-Lyons backcourt produced over 20 points each in both games, the lack of any meaningful offensive support and a decidedly mediocre defense did them in. As a result, the Musketeers plummeted from first to seventh in the super-competitive A-10.
- Southern Mississippi 67, Marshall 63 / UAB 56, Marshall 49 – At this point last week, Marshall was the only undefeated team in C-USA. That changed in a big way over the past seven days, as the Thundering Herd lost back-to-back games, dropping them from first place to fifth. The relatively closs defeat at USM was understandable, but losing on their home floor to UAB will put a dent in their conference title hopes. If you add in a non-conference loss to in-state rival West Virginia, Marshall has now lost three straight. During this stretch, they shot just 15-56 (27%) from three-point range. And their offensive rebounding, which had been a huge strength this season was effectively neutralized.
Looking Back: Friday Night Lights
Two small conference teams solidified their places at the top last night.
- Harvard 65, Yale 35 – Harvard’s only loss to a team other than Princeton in last year’s Ivy League campaign was at Yale. And this year’s matchup looked dangerous as well, as the Bulldogs sport a potent frontcourt and a top 100 RPI ranking. Harvard through all that out the window with a drubbing of their 300-year rivals.
- Stony Brook 66, Boston University 57 — Bryan Dougher’s 20 points gave the Seawolves the edge in a faceoff between two 7-1 teams sitting atop the America East standings. Eighty percent of Dougher’s points came from the free throw line or three-point line — right in line with his season average.
Looking Forward: Fighting for First
- St. Mary’s at BYU (1/28) / Gonzaga at BYU (2/2) – The Cougars fell off the pace in the WCC with losses at St. Mary’s and LMU, but this week is their big chance to jump right back into the race for first. For St. Mary’s, this is the first time the Gaels will play a top 100 team on the road, which should tell us a lot about just how tough our TO26 No. 1 team is.
- Memphis vs. Marshall (1/28) / Memphis at Southern Mississippi (2/1) — It’s time for the Tigers to show that they are truly the dominant force in this league. Talent-wise they are, but a one-point loss at Central Florida has left them tied with Southern Miss for the league lead.
- Denver at Arkansas-Little Rock (1/28) / Denver at Louisiana Lafayette (2/2) – Denver started the conference season as favorites in the Sun Belt’s West division, but the Pioneers are locked in a battle with both Arkansas-Little Rock and Louisiana Lafayette. This week’s games will tell us who’s actually in the driver’s seat.
- UT-San Antonio at UT-Arlington (2/1) — Undefeated UTSA puts its unblemished mark on the line against the Southland’s only one-loss team in a big intrastate matchup. This should be a fun affair, as both teams play up-tempo. Will UTSA’s run-and-gun attack exploit UTA’s weakness defending the three, or will UTA’s turnover-generating defense and offensive rebounding strength produce enough easy buckets for them to win?