O26 Weekly Awards: Wichita State, Davon Usher, Gary Waters & Yale…Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014
With just over a month until Selection Sunday, many teams across the landscape of college basketball are beginning to show their true colors, for better or for worse. Some early conference pace-setters have returned back to the pack, while a number of apparent-disappointments have readjusted and begun to find their way. And others yet just keep on winning. Let’s pass out a few awards to those who took care of business last week.
O26 Team of the Week
Wichita State. The Shockers have been written about and discussed at length over the past several days, so there’s no need to overanalyze the implications of last week’s big road victories, followed up with a closer-than-expected home win on Tuesday night — most everyone understands the undefeated potential that now lies ahead. But that does not mean we shouldn’t still celebrate the accomplishment. The fact is, no other O26 program had near the expectations, attention or build-up that Wichita State did entering the week, and perhaps no other O26 team proved as focused, unwavering and simply excellent on the basketball court either. In two of its most difficult conference road tests of the season, Gregg Marshall’s club displayed the same mental and physical toughness it has all year long, locking down defensively — especially in key moments, when it needed it most — and draining timely shots to remain perfect and march one step closer to history.
First, on Wednesday in Terre Haute, the Shockers found victory by responding with immediate answers for each crowd-igniting, lead-dwindling run that Indiana State threw at them. After the Sycamores used a late first half surge to pull within one at the break, Wichita State responded by outscoring the home squad 14-4 in the opening eight minutes of the second. When Greg Lansing’s team went on an 8-0 spurt to then cut the lead to two, the Shockers punched back with four straight points and five straight stops. And when the gap was again sliced to a single possession with under two minutes remaining, Marshall’s guys earned key trips to the free throw line and shut things down on the defensive end. The ultimate result: a 65-58 victory and a season sweep of the Missouri Valley’s second-best unit. Three nights later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the story was much the same. Wichita State was again too deep, too physical, too consistent over a full 40 minutes, pounding Northern Iowa on the glass — they secured 46 percent of available offensive rebounds — and squashing potential threats to the lead before they could gain traction. The effect was both defeating and demoralizing for the Panthers: “They play every possession perfectly,” UNI sophomore Matt Bohannon said after the game. Again, ‘perfect’ was the prevailing word used to describe the Shockers. Those perfect possessions led to another perfect week, a three-game stretch that might be crucial in their quest for an even greater form of perfection this season.
Honorable Mentions: Yale (2-0: @Dartmouth, @Harvard); Cleveland State (2-0: @Oakland, @Wright State); Western Michigan (2-0: vs. Ohio, @Northern Illinois)
O26 Player of the Week
Davon Usher – Delaware. Usher’s virtuoso performance against College of Charleston last Wednesday night preserved Delaware’s undefeated CAA record and all but sealed its destiny as the eventual conference champion. On the heels of a 25-point effort two days earlier against Northeastern — a game in which the 6’6’’ Mississippi Valley State transfer drilled 5-of-6 three point attempts — Usher put together one of the most amazing single halves of basketball we’ll see this season, made all the more incredible by his team’s enormous late-game deficit. In fact, his individual numbers didn’t become anything special until the Blue Hens trailed by 18 with less than nine minutes remaining on the clock. It was then — with just 15 points to his credit and a loss creeping ever closer — that Usher erupted, going 7-of-9 from the field, sinking 11 free throws and scoring a ridiculous 27 points in the game’s final stages to lead Delaware back from the dead. All told, the senior notched 42 points, the most ever by a Blue Hen in the Bob Carpenter Center, and tallied seven steals in the unlikely 67-64 victory, an outing that will remain forever memorable beyond the record books: His grandmother had passed away just one day earlier, and Usher was in tears by night’s end. He averaged 33.5 points per game over the two-game span, a stellar achievement on its own, but it was Usher’s remarkable night against the Cougars that earns him our Player of the Week award.
Honorable Mentions: D.J. Covington – VMI (28 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks @Gardner-Webb… 26 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks vs. Charleston Southern); J.J. Mann – Belmont (25 points, nine rebounds vs. Murray State… 28 points vs. Austin Peay); Javon McCrea – Buffalo (19 points, 14 rebounds vs. Ball State… 25 points, 20 rebounds @ Central Michigan)
O26 Coach of the Week
Gary Waters – Cleveland State. Waters is quietly putting together another really good season at Cleveland State. After suffering several tough losses early in the year and starting a disappointing 11-9, his Viking have since won six straight — including three in a row on the road — and now sit just one game out of first place in the Horizon League. The veteran coach has assembled a resilient and adaptive lineup, made evident by last week’s road victories over Oakland and Wright State. Against the offensive-minded Grizzlies, Cleveland State was unfazed by a somewhat quicker, looser pace, matching an incredible night from Travis Bader — the NCAA career three-point leader nailed 10 triples — with 61 percent three-point shooting of their own, coupling behind-the-arc proficiency with trips to the free throw line for a 92-55, come-from-behind victory. On Saturday at defensively-tough Wright State, the Vikings remained sharp offensively (which is crucial against the Raiders, which boasts the sixth-highest turnover percentage in the country), again using hot three-point shooting and free throws to claim yet another road win. Waters deserves credit for not only game-planning effectively against markedly different opponents, but for succeeding with a rotation that’s unlike the majority of his past teams. While traditional Cleveland State units tend to feature aggressive defenses adept at forcing turnovers, this year’s Vikings are more offensively-minded. With a 19th-ranked effective field goal percentage, this is easily the best-shooting squad Waters has ever had, a team more likely to bury the opposition with a swarm of made baskets than a swarm of steals. The eight-year coach has taken a new-look roster, with two first-year transfers and a forward who medical redshirted last season, and found a different way to win. He is our Coach of the Week as a result.
Honorable Mentions: James Jones – Yale; Rob Jeter – Milwaukee; Randy Rahe – Weber State
O26 Upset of the Week
Yale over Harvard, 74-67. For the second time this season, Harvard winds up on the wrong end of our Upset of the Week. And the consequences might be far greater this time around. Just when it appeared Tommy Amaker’s team was going to separate from the Ivy League pack, Yale — on the back end of a New England road trip — thoroughly handled the Crimson in Lavietes Pavilion. The Bulldogs entered the contest with a minuscule 8.6 percent win probability, according to KenPom, but played as if they were the overwhelming favorites, using their physicality to dominate the glass and earning 29 trips to the free throw line. They also shot the ball well, frustrated the Crimson on defense, and never really allowed the home team any momentum. The wire-to-wire victory was so thorough that it may have actually overshadowed the magnitude of the upset. Yale is now tied with Harvard atop the league standings, with a rematch in New Haven still on tap, making the Crimson’s once-likely auto-bid now far less certain.
Honorable Mentions: New Hampshire over Stony Brook (73-69); Milwaukee over Green Bay (73-63); Colgate over American (63-60)