O26 Weekly Awards: Akron, Taylor Braun, Marvin Menzies & Texas Southern…Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 25th, 2013
While this past week may have been devoid of many huge upsets or season-defining wins, there was certainly no shortage of great basketball games and interesting storylines across the O26 landscape. Just take Saturday, for example: There were 11 players who scored 30+ points, seven games that went to overtime, a few big boys taken down at home, an example of HAVOC on steroids, a MAC squad that improved to 11-0, an 81-possession game, a coast-to-coast buzzer beater… and a partridge in a pear tree. And remember, that was all in one day. So as Christmas is here, let’s take a moment to pass out some weekly honors to a few top performers.
O26 Team of the Week
Akron. Yes, the Zips were throttled over the final 13 minutes by Iowa State in Hawai’i on Monday, and no, they are not the aforementioned undefeated MAC team—that’s headline-generating Toledo. But over a three-game span last week, stretching from The JAR in Akron to the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Keith Dambrot’s group was nothing short of excellent. At home on Monday, Akron took an early lead on Southland favorite Oral Roberts and never relinquished control, as 6’7’’ forward Demetrius ‘Tree’ Treadwell recorded his first of three-straight double-doubles and the Zips forced 20 turnovers en route to a 10-point win. It was their best home win of the young season and a sign of good play to come. That is, until Wednesday, when things got off to extremely rocky start against Horizon League foe Detroit. At one point trailing 22-8 in the first half, the Zips saw their win probability dip below 30 percent and wound up taking a nine-point deficit into the locker room. To any clear-sighted onlooker it would have appeared that an upset was beginning to take hold… until the second half began. Seemingly at the drop of a hat, Akron took complete—and I mean complete—control of the basketball game, nailing three three-pointers in less than two minutes to tie it up and then proceeding to blitz the Titans out of the gym with a 58-point second half and a 19-point victory. It was an impressive run, and Treadwell finished with a superb 22-point, 13-rebound line. But it was by no means the team’s finest moment of the week.
That moment came four days and 4,500 miles later in Hawai’i on ESPN Networks and with President Obama in attendance. Enjoying some concessions and presumably excited to watch Craig Robinson (the First Lady’s brother) and Oregon State win a basketball game, the Obamas instead witnessed Akron jump out to a 10-0 early on the Beavers and never let go. Junior guard Nyles Evans was red hot from behind the arc early, rattling off nine points in the opening five minutes, while Treadwell—the aggressive, athletic beast that he is—secured multiple trips to the free throw line to help extend the big advantage in the game’s opening stages. At one point leading 16-2, they remained the aggressor just as they had against Oral Roberts earlier in the week, crashing the glass and staying tough defensively. In the end, with under-three minutes to play in the contest, it was Treadwell and fellow big man Quincy Diggs who made 11 of their combined 12 free throw attempts to put the finishing touches on a business-like 83-71 victory. Every bit of it was first-rate, moving the team’s record to 6-2 and offering a glimpse into what the MAC East favorites are capable of this season. And while Dambrot can take away several different positives from the week, he should perhaps be most proud of his team’s ability to finish games off down the stretch, not letting big leads (like against Oregon State) or big deficits (the Detroit game) affect its effort or execution as time wears on. This trait, along with the fact that it has really good players like Treadwell, should ultimately enable Akron to compete with Toledo for the conference title and a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. Last week may have only been a small step towards that prize, but it demonstrated the Zips’ potential and was enough to collect our award for Team of the Week.
Honorable Mentions: Manhattan (@South Carolina, N-Buffalo), Saint Joseph’s (vs. Drexel, @Loyola (Md.)), Western Kentucky (vs. Southern Miss, @Murray State)
O26 Player of the Week
Taylor Braun – North Dakota State. The Bison are on quite the roll and Braun is a huge reason why. Whereas Marshall Bjorklund was the star in the upset victory over Notre Dame the week prior, it was Braun who shined brightly in the team’s wins over Delaware and Towson last week. The 6’7’’ senior was both aggressive and efficient, shooting a high percentage in each game and getting to the free throw line a combined 31 times over that stretch. Against speedy Delaware, Braun went 9-of-14 from the field and helped ignite a big run to end the first half and another run early in the second that effectively won the game. He finished with a cool 33 points and seven rebounds, hitting 13-of-15 free throw attempts and leading North Dakota State to a 19-point win over the Blue Hens, a team with postseason aspirations. And Braun was right back at it again on Saturday against Towson, dropping in 28 points, ripping down seven more rebounds and exhibiting why he ranks 23rd nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes; he took 16 trips to the line, which, if you combine with his attempts in the Delaware contest and the outing at Utah Valley on Monday, means the small forward shot a combined 47 free throws over a three-game span. That’s one very effective way to rack up points. The Bison ended up handling Towson—NDSU’s second straight win over a quality CAA opponent—and beating Utah Valley a couple days later. Saul Phillips’s club is now 10-4, ranked 15th in offensive efficiency nationally, and capable of competing with anyone on any given night, in large part because of Braun’s stellar play.
Honorable Mentions: Aaric Murray – Texas Southern (48 pts, 8 rebs @Temple), Alec Brown (40 pts, 8 rebs vs. Fairfield, 15 pts, 6 rebs, 4 blks vs. Tennessee Tech), Demetrius Treadwell (18 pts, 11 rebs vs. Oral Roberts, 22 pts, 13 rebs vs. Detroit, 24 pts, 10 rebs N-Oregon State), Travis Bader (21 pts vs. Illinois State, 33 pts vs. Eastern Michigan, 24 pts vs. Robert Morris)
O26 Coach of the Week
Marvin Menzies – New Mexico State. Despite inhabiting different conferences, the Aggies play in-state rival New Mexico twice a season, every season, and despite how good the Aggies are, they rarely win in The Pit. In fact, only once in the last decade have they accomplished that feat before last week. So when Menzies took his team to Albuquerque on Tuesday night—just two weeks after losing handily to the Lobos at home—it’s doubtful many people in the Land of Enchantment expected New Mexico State to leave with a victory. Yet the Aggies did just that, jumping out to a huge lead early and scrapping until the very end to hang on and defeat the Mountain West favorites, 67-61. It was a really good win, one that should in part be attributed to Menzies’ calm demeanor in hostile, high-pressure environments as well as his ability to learn from his team’s earlier loss. You can bet that the seventh-year coach took lessons from the nine-point defeat at home and imparted them to his team prior to Tuesday’s game, enabling it to make necessary adjustments and attack the Lobos differently. Likewise, as he watched his team hit 18-of-21 free throw attempts and fight off a late comeback, Menzies’ experience in three NCAA Tournament games and six career road contests at New Mexico likely paid off, providing a steady, composed sideline presence that should not be underestimated.
Honorable Mentions: Eric Reveno – Portland; Steve Masiello – Manhattan; Keith Dambrot – Akron
O26 Upset of the Week
Texas Southern over Temple, 90-89. In an effort that very easily could have won him our Player of the Week award, senior forward Aaric Murray—the Philadelphia native who began his career at La Salle, transferred to West Virginia, and ultimately wound up in the SWAC—returned to his hometown on Wednesday and had arguably the best individual performance in college basketball this season, scoring 48 points and leading his team to a huge upset over Temple. The Tigers entered the night with a win probability of just 12.9%, according to KenPom, but quickly increased their chances thanks to Murray’s dominant play. Whether it was under the basket, on the perimeter, at the free throw line, or with two guys draped all over him, the oft-troubled big man simply could not be stopped, scoring on seemingly every other possession and becoming the first player since Jimmer Fredette in 2011 to make 20 field goals in a game. And while Murray led the charge, it was his teammate Madarious Gibbs who ultimately was the hero, drawing a foul with six seconds left and knocking down two free throws to complete the upset after the Tigers had briefly lost the lead. It was a team victory led by an elite player, as Murray finished with the most points in Liacouras Center history, and Texas Southern left with the type of win that SWAC teams are so rarely able to earn.
Honorable Mentions: Mercer over Mississippi (79-76); Boston University over Maryland (83-77); Portland over Princeton (93-79)