O26 Superlatives, Part III: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt & WAC…Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2014
In Part III of our three-part series (click here for Part I and Part II), we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from six different O26 conferences: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC. In alphabetical order:
- Team of the Year – Weber State (17-11, 14-6). After winning 55 games in the previous two seasons, this was the year – the most parity-driven in recent memory – that Weber State outlasted Montana and won the Big Sky. The Wildcats now host the conference tournament, which could mean a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
- Player of the Year – Davion Berry – Weber State. Narrowly edging out Montana’s Kareem Jamar and North Dakota’s Troy Huff for our Player of the Year, Berry averaged 19 points per contest, distributed the ball effectively, shot almost 40 percent from long range, and led his team to a title.
- Coach of the Year – Tyler Geving – Portland State. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the conference, an outlook that became even worse when senior Aaron Moore, averaging nearly 12 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early January. After the Vikings lost four straight close games in the middle of the Big Sky season, Geving deserves credit for leading his guys to a 5-1 finish and a fifth-place tie in the league.
- Upset of the Year – Northern Colorado over Kansas State, 60-58. Until last Saturday, Kansas State was pretty much unbeatable at home this season: Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, and George Washington — all these teams left Manhattan without a win. But you know who did manage to leave Manhattan with a win (aside from Baylor)? BJ Hill’s Bears. Gotta love early November.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Jaron Nash – North Dakota. Nash goes baseline, emphatically stuffs it with one hand, then salutes the home crowd. Great stuff.
- Team of the Year – UC Irvine (22-10, 13-3). UC Irvine separated itself from a quartet of contenders atop the Big West this season, winning the conference title by a game over UC Santa Barbara and playing excellent defense along the way. Thanks in part to the lurking presence of 7’6’’ Mamadou Ndiaye, the Anteaters held opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in the country.
- Player of the Year – Alan Williams – UC Santa Barbara. A Ken Pomeroy favorite, Williams bullied the Big West down low this season, averaging 21.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.2 steals, ranking within the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and leading the conference in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Well done, big fella.
- Coach of the Year – Russell Turner – UC Irvine. The former Golden State Warriors assistant led the Anteaters to 20 wins and a CIT birth last season. This year, he captured the league crown and guaranteed his program, at worst, an NIT bid. And his team is very young. Needless to say, Turner has things looking up in Irvine.
- Upset of the Year – UC Santa Barbara over UNLV, 86-65. The Gauchos also beat California this season, but the way they walloped the Runnin’ Rebels – on the road, mind you – makes this our Upset of the Year. Kyle Boswell nailed five threes and Williams went for 21 points and nine rebounds in the victory.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Chris Eversley – Cal Poly. He posterizes the tallest player in college basketball!
- Team of the Year – Stephen F. Austin (29-2, 18-0). SFA joined Wichita State and Florida as the only teams in America to go undefeated in conference play, and currently hold the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 26 games and counting. The Lumberjacks’ Southland run was so utterly dominant – they won 10 of their 18 league games by 15 points or more – that an NCAA Tournament upset (or two) seems like a real possibility.
- Player of the Year – Jacob Parker – Stephen F. Austin. Parker is the best, most well-rounded player on the Southland’s finest team. The junior forward averaged 14.5 points and 7.1 boards per game, shot 78 percent from the stripe, and finished the regular season with an outstanding 126.8 offensive rating. And he will burn you in the game’s closing seconds if you’re not careful.
- Coach of the Year – Brad Underwood – Stephen F. Austin. Underwood, in his first year as head coach, boasts a career record of 29-2. Suffice it to say that he has one of the highest winning percentages in the country.
- Upset of the Year – New Orleans over UTEP, 71-69. According to KenPom, this was the most improbable upset in college basketball this season. New Orleans came in with a microscopic 2.3 percent chance of winning, yet somehow beat the odds and left the Don Haskins Center victorious. In their very next game, the Privateers were blasted by 53 points against Michigan State.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Brison White – Northwestern State. This dude is six-foot-nothing and can absolutely fly. Seriously, White should be a dunk contest participate come Final Four weekend.
Southwestern Athletic Conference
- Team of the Year – Southern (19-12, 15-3). Southern is ineligible for NCAA Tournament contention this year, which is a shame considering how well they played against Gonzaga in the Round of 64 last March. Still, Roman Banks’ club was the SWAC’s clear-cut best in 2013-14, hanging around with Marquette in the first game of the season before going 15-3 in conference play and outpacing Texas Southern by three games.
- Player of the Year – Aaric Murray – Texas Southern. Murray spent his first two years at La Salle, transferred to West Virginia, was dismissed from the team over the summer, and wound up playing for Mike Davis at Texas Southern. The Tigers have benefited greatly, as the 6’10’’ senior averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, and put together an utterly dominant performance against Temple in December [see: Upset of the Year].
- Coach of the Year – Roman Banks – Southern. He led the SWAC’s best team to a regular season title and very well might lead it to a conference tournament title. Unfortunately, because of low APR scores, the run will end there this season.
- Upset of the Year – Texas Southern over Temple, 90-89. Murray returned to his hometown and put on one of college basketball’s great performances of 2013-14. The Philly native shot an incredible 20-of-28 from the field, scored 48 points – the most ever surrendered by Temple and most ever scored in the Liacouras Center – and also added eight rebounds. Owl’s head coach Fran Dunphy said after the game, “It wasn’t much fun to watch.” I bet not, coach.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Calvin Godfrey – Southern. In Godfrey’s brief time at Iowa State, he threw down some monster jams. Now the SWAC must deal with him.
- Team of the Year – Georgia State (24-7, 17-1). The Panthers are lethal offensively, featuring two dynamic ball-handlers and a pair of tall, fluid wings who fill it up from behind the arc. That combination has added up to a lot of points and a lot of wins: Ron Hunter’s team won 21 of its final 22 regular season contests and rolled through the Sun Belt, claiming the league title by five games.
- Player of the Year – Elfrid Payton – Louisiana-Lafayette. The junior projects as a first round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, and do you want to know why? Because he’s really quick, really athletic, and really productive. Payton, a point guard, averages about 19 points, six boards and six assists per night while sporting the Sun Belt’s best steal rate.
- Coach of the Year – Ron Hunter – Georgia State. Hunter’s got it going on in Atlanta. Georgia State set a school record for consecutive wins (14) earlier in the year and will likely come up just short of the all-time single season mark, right behind Lefty Driesell’s 2001 team that won an NCAA Tournament game. The coach also deserved a nod for signing his highly-recruited son R.J., who leads the Panthers in scoring.
- Upset of the Year – Troy over Georgia State, 85-81. If you thought Georgia State’s lone Sun Belt defeat was to Louisiana-Lafayette or Western Kentucky or Arkansas State – one of the contenders – you are wrong. In fact, the Panthers fell to a sub-.500 Troy team that wound up finishing eighth in the conference. The Trojans crashed the boards and shot 12-of-27 from long range in victory.
- Dunk or Dunker of the Year – Brandon Edwards – UT Arlington. Want to see a 6’6’’ guy from a small school dunk over seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein? Here you go.
Western Athletic Conference
- Team of the Year – Utah Valley (19-10, 13-3). Very few people expected a team other than New Mexico State to win the WAC this season, and not many of them figured it would be Utah Valley that would overtake the Aggies. Yet the Wolverines kept on winning and winning, and when time came to host NMSU at home, Dick Hunsaker’s group edged the preseason favorites in an overtime (and unfortunately brawl-inducing) victory that effectively clinched the conference.
- Player of the Year – Stephen Madison – Idaho. Madison was a beast this year and he gets the award over New Mexico State’s Daniel Mullings. The 6’6’’ forward scores in pretty much every way you can imagine – he has an outside shot, but also does a great job of leveraging his body and finishing in the paint. That versatility has resulted in a WAC-leading 19.9 points per game.
- Coach of the Year – Dick Hunsaker – Utah Valley. The former Rick Majerus assistant – now in his 14th year at Utah Valley – shepherded the Wolverines from the junior college ranks straight to D-I basketball in 2003. Now, finally in a conference with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Hunsaker leads a team good enough to perhaps shock NMSU and go dancing for the first time ever.
- Upset of the Year – Chicago State over New Mexico State, 86-81. The idea that New Mexico State could beat New Mexico in the Pit one month and then lose to Chicago State the next remains mind-blowing. The Cougars faced a scant win probability against the bigger, stronger Aggies back on January 16, managed to pull off the upset, and were promptly blown out by Texas-Pan American at home two nights later. Don’t bother trying to make sense of it.
- Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Daniel Mullings – New Mexico State. Not only is Mullings an excellent player in general, but he can also throw down. The Canadian slammed home big-time dunks in international play as well.