O26 Storylines: Assessing Indiana State, Massachusetts, Davidson & More…Posted by Adam Stillman on January 31st, 2014
It’s been yet another exciting week in O26 basketball. Let’s check out this week’s most compelling storylines.
Are Indiana State’s NCAA Tournament hopes over?
The discussion surrounding the Sycamores’ at-large chances largely pointed toward one game. Could Indiana State take down undefeated Wichita State at home on February 5? A win and suddenly the Sycamores are in the bubble discussion. A loss and almost all hope is lost. That was the date everybody had circled on the calendar. And then Indiana State (16-5, 7-2 Missouri Valley Conference) went and lost to Southern Illinois on Wednesday, effectively ending any at-large hopes. Its RPI sits at #45 as of Friday and is sure to plummet now. The Sycamores’ case was precarious at best before the loss, with what looked like a resume-building win over Notre Dame in mid-November no longer carrying any cache. The Fighting Irish’s freefall has erased any shot at that as a quality win. The only other win against a potential NCAA Tournament team came in late December against Belmont, an Ohio Valley Conference squad that will need an automatic bid to make the Big Dance. It’s not even clear that a home win against Wichita State will be enough. It appears to be the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid or bust for Indiana State now.
What the heck is going on with Massachusetts?
The Minutemen were America’s first half darlings, sitting at 16-1 with wins over New Mexico, BYU, LSU and Providence. Now Massachusetts has lost two of its last three games, falling on the road to Richmond and Saint Bonaventure. UMass had been skating on thin ice before this recent stretch, beating Miami (Ohio), Saint Joseph’s, Saint Bonaventure and George Mason by only single digits. The latter required a miracle final minute to pull out a victory. Now it’s finally caught up with them. UMass is still a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament with a strong RPI at #8, although that will surely drop when the next rankings are released Monday. After being tabbed the Atlantic 10 favorite entering conference play, the Minutemen now have to be considered third in the league’s pecking order behind Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth. The struggles start with Chaz Willams, a frontrunner for A-10 Player of the Year. In those two recent losses, the senior guard is just 5-of-21 from the field with 19 points. He averages 15.7 points per game. Big man Cady Lalanne, who averages 13.5 PPG himself, has just 21 points in those two defeats. The Minutemen need their two stars to return to form in order for Massachusetts to make any noise in the NCAA Tournament.
Is Dayton done?
To keep it short and simple, yes. One of the nation’s best surprises in non-conference play, Dayton has been just as disappointing in league play. Entering Atlantic 10 play at 12-3 with wins against Gonzaga, California and Ole Miss, the Flyers have since fallen apart. They’ve lost four straight games — to Richmond, VCU, Rhode Island and Saint Joseph’s — and are just 1-5 in league play. Dayton’s RPI sits at #63 and is sure to drop after the most recent loss to St. Joe’s, and the road to redemption doesn’t get any easier as the Flyers host George Washington on Saturday. Just three weeks ago Dayton looked like a strong candidate for an at-large berth, but now those dreams appear to be out the window. The rugged A-10 has exposed the Flyers for what they are — a mediocre team. It’s auto-bid or NIT for the Flyers.
Is Davidson against the favorite in the Southern Conference?
The Davidson Wildcats are a SoCon powerhouse, earning NCAA Tournament bids in five of the past eight seasons. Who can forget that Elite Eight run from Stephen Curry and Co. in 2008? Even last year’s team with Jake Cohen, Nik Cochran and JP Kuhlman were nationally relevant, eventually choking away a late lead to Elite Eight participate Marquette in the first round. But the 2013-14 season didn’t start off the way you’d expect for a Bob McKillop team. Davidson entered league play with just a 4-10 overall record. While the Wildcats challenged themselves with five games against ranked opponents, there were still a few questionable losses to Milwaukee, Niagara and College of Charleston. Yet Davidson now sits in second place in the Southern Conference with a 7-1 league record, just behind Chattanooga at 8-1. The thing that record doesn’t tell you is that Davidson just absolutely demolished the Mocs, 94-51 on Thursday night. Sure, the game was at Davidson. And sure, it’s the only meeting between the teams. But after that display, former SoCon Player of the Year De’Mon Brooks and Davidson have to again be the favorite to win the league and earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. I’m not alone. Ken Pomeroy projects Davidson to finish 13-3 in the SoCon, taking the league title.
Can Delaware still win the Colonial?
Delaware and Towson were the Colonial Athletic Association’s co-favorites entering league play. Then Towson dropped a couple games, including one last Saturday at Delaware, giving the Blue Hens the upper hand. That was bolstered by news Wednesday that Delaware was suspending a pair of players for one month for violations of athletic department policies. One of those players, Jarvis Threatt, just so happens to be Delaware’s second-leading scorer at 17.9 points per game. He also dishes out 5.4 assists per contest. The other is Marvin King Davis, a reserve who averages 5.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Luckily for the Blue Hens, there are plenty of other scoring options. Devon Saddler pours in 21.7 PPG, Davon Usher scores 17.8 PPG, Kyle Anderson chips in 11.8 PPG and Carl Baptiste adds 10.5 PPG. That’s part of the nation’s 21st-highest scoring offense at 81.5 PPG. There are plenty of players in place to pick up the slack. With Delaware sitting at 7-0 in CAA play and second-place Towson boasting a 4-2 conference mark, the Blue Hens look to be in good shape. The bad news? Only seven players play more than six minutes per game, and now two of them are out for a month. The early returns were positive, as Delaware picked up an 89-72 win against William and Mary on Wednesday night. My guess is that Delaware can weather the eight-game storm until Saddler returns. Ken Pomeroy projects Delaware to finish the league slate 14-2, winning the regular-season championship. I expect the Blue Hens to win the CAA and be a tough out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.