O26 Weekly Awards: American, Juvonte Reddic, Chris Mooney & FAUPosted by Tommy Lemoine on January 30th, 2014
From half-court shots and buzzer-beaters to reverse alley-oops and posterizing dunks, it was one heck of a week in O26 basketball. And for several players, coaches and teams, it might have been a defining one. Let’s pass out some awards to those who stood out from the rest of the pack.
O26 Team of the Week
American University. No team in college hoops made a louder conference statement than American did last week, and perhaps no other program has exceeded expectations to the extent the Eagles have this season. With only two returning players who averaged more than seven points a game a year ago, just one returning senior, and a new coach to boot, D.C.’s other, other school (in terms of basketball notoriety, at least) was picked to finish ninth of 10 teams in the Patriot League and entered 2013-14 ranked 288th in the KenPom rankings. Merely finishing .500 or better in the conference would have probably been deemed a success, which is what makes American’s 9-0 start in Patriot League play such an unexpected and wholly remarkable feat. And after their three most recent resounding victories, it’s clearer than ever that the Eagles are no longer just a nice story in a revamped league — they are the team to beat.
First was the absolute shocker. On Wednesday night, American hosted preseason favorite Boston University in a contest that was supposed to be relative toss-up, the Eagles having the slight edge at home but most expecting the game to go either way. From about the five minute mark onward, however, it went only one way: Mike Brennan’s group absolutely eviscerated the Terriers, scoring 1.32 points per possession behind 11-of-14 three-point shooting and 71.4 percent shooting overall, recording assists on 22 of 30 made baskets and winning by a whopping 30 points. “Our chemistry is starting to grow,” guard Jesse Reed noted afterwards, in a massive understatement. The 86-56 final was BU’s worst loss since November 2012 and its first Patriot League defeat this season, giving American sole possession of first place near the halfway point. It was an impressive achievement, no matter how you slice it.
So, entering the weekend on an eight-game winning streak after beating the league’s top dog, how did Brennan’s team manage to follow it up? By travelling up to West Point and handling second-place Army in workmanlike fashion. That’s how. The Eagles took the lead seven minutes in and never relented, again shooting well from deep and slowly building on their margin until the final whistle. It marked the group’s fifth conference road win of the season, three of which have come against top league contenders (Army, Bucknell and Holy Cross), meaning that the school picked to finish near the bottom now has a very real chance to finish on top. They followed that up with another blowout win over Navy last night, enjoying 28 points from Reed and serving notice to the rest of the league that this team is for real. With a top 100 KenPom ranking and nearly endless confidence, American’s chemistry is not merely “starting to grow”; it seems to be in full bloom.
Honorable Mentions: Richmond (2-1: vs. Massachusetts, vs. Saint Joseph’s; at Saint Louis); VCU (3-0: @Dayton, @La Salle, vs. Fordham); Delaware (2-0: @Drexel, vs. Towson, at William & Mary); Hawaii (2-0: @UC Davis, @UC Irvine).
O26 Player of the Week
Juvonte Reddic – Virginia Commonwealth. Reddic’s offense came alive in the second half at Dayton last Wednesday night and so did perhaps the Rams’ A-10 title chances. A superb defender and one of the leaders of VCU’s vaunted HAVOC defense, Reddic has consistently used his athletic, 6’9’’ frame to press and trap opposing players all season, helping his team force a nation-leading 27.4 turnovers per 100 possessions. But what he hasn’t done consistently is score, which is why his 16-point second half against the Flyers was so eye-opening. The big man poured in his team’s first nine points of the period and helped lead it to an unexpectedly-comfortable 14 point victory. His 18-point, seven-rebound night was nothing dominant — guard Briante Weber also finished with 18 — but when Reddic followed it up with a 27-point, 15-rebound effort in Saturday’s double-overtime win over La Salle and another double-double this week against Fordham, it became evident that the senior leader had turned some kind of corner. Teammate Treveon Graham may have hit the big baskets to spark VCU’s comeback at the end of regulation against La Salle, but Reddic’s dirty work—namely his ridiculous 10 offensive boards—was key throughout the afternoon. If Shaka Smart’s most seasoned veteran continues playing that well on both ends of the floor, another deep March run could be imminent.
Honorable Mentions: Billy Baron – Canisius (31 points vs. Niagara… 38 points vs. Marist); Dyami Starks – Bryant (23 points vs. LIU-Brooklyn… 31 points vs. St. Francis (NY)); John Brown – High Point (28 points, nine rebounds @VMI… 26 points vs. UNC Asheville); Tyler Haws – BYU (48 points @Portland… 23 points @Gonzaga).
O26 Coach of the Week
Chris Mooney – Richmond. As our own Lathan Wells discussed over the weekend, Mooney employs a match-up zone defense that enables his team (when run effectively) to frustrate opponents, despite lacking great length or a major post presence. But with No.13 UMass visiting the Robins Center last week, the Spiders had an additional — and potentially lethal — element to account for: pace. The Minutemen play one of the nation’s most up-tempo styles, averaging over 71 possessions a contest and racking up heaps of fast break points in the process. Mooney, though, had his team prepared. Richmond limited UMass’ fast break buckets by playing aggressive transition defense, preventing Chaz Williams and his teammates from finding any quick-hitting momentum. Meanwhile, the Spiders controlled things on the offensive end with Mooney’s disciplined, modified Princeton-style attack. The result was a 58-55 victory in which the Spiders held the Minutemen to a season-low 63 possessions. And while that win might have been a great tactical coaching job by Mooney, Saturday’s dominant 15-point thrashing of Saint Joseph’s was perhaps even better work from an emotional standpoint. Teams often have a tendency to come out sluggish after knocking off a highly-ranked opponent, yet Richmond reacted quite the opposite, turning the ball over just seven times in a near-wire-to-wire blowout. Richmond lost on Wednesday night at Chaifetz Arena in Saint Louis, but not many teams come out with a win there, and Mooney still gets credit for keeping his team focused and competing among the best teams in the Atlantic 10 this season.
Honorable Mentions: Monte Ross – Delaware; Michael White – Louisiana Tech; Mike Brennan – American; Rick Byrd – Belmont.
O26 Upset of the Week
Florida Atlantic over Harvard, 68-53. Don’t let the conference affiliations fool you — this was an upset in every context of the word. Harvard — ranked 29th in KenPom — entered the night with an 87.4 percent win probability against the 6-12 Owls despite the game being played in FAU’s home gym. Wesley Saunders, the Crimson’s best player, was back in the lineup after suffering a knee injury two weeks earlier and almost nothing about either team’s recent play suggested anything other than a Harvard victory. Then the game started, and almost nothing that was supposed to happen did happen. Tommy Amaker’s group shot a miserable 23 percent from the field, including 2-of-12 from behind the arc, while the Owls — usually a poor three-point shooting team — knocked down 8-of-15 from deep and never once trailed in the contest. In fact, after FAU jumped out to a 20-5 lead to start the contest, there was never really all that much drama; even when Harvard cut it to five points with five minutes left, a Jackson Trapp three-pointer quickly re-opened the Owls’ comfortable advantage. The Crimson couldn’t afford to lose a stinker to a lowly opponent, but that’s exactly what happened in Boca Raton, and now the Ivy League favorite must win its conference in order to return to the NCAA Tournament. For Mike Jarvis and his group, it was an unexpected bright spot amid an otherwise gloomy season. I guess that’s why they play the games.
Honorable Mentions: Bowling Green over Ohio (58-56); Richmond over Massachusetts (58-55).