O26 Feast Week in Review: Winners, Losers and a Little Extra Stuffing

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 29th, 2016

With December nearly upon us and early-season narratives finally taking shape, let’s take a moment to assess which O26 teams fared well—and which didn’t—during last week’s onslaught of holiday hoops.

Winners

Gonzaga looked every bit like a Top 10 team during Feast Week. (Photo: ZagsMBB/Twitter)

Gonzaga looked every bit like a Top 10 team during Feast Week. (ZagsMBB/Twitter)

  • Gonzaga (6-0). Despite blowing a 15-point halftime lead against #21 Iowa State on Sunday, Gonzaga won the AdvoCare Invitational title and now owns one of the best resumes in college basketball. In addition to its early-season drubbing of San Diego State (a win which should only gain in value as the season progresses), the Bulldogs beat previously-undefeated Florida on Friday before taking down the Cyclones. That’s three wins in three weeks over NCAA Tournament-caliber teams, with Arizona, Washington, and MAC favorite Akron still on deck. Assuming Przemek Karnowski continues rounding into form—the now-healthy big man finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists on Sunday—the Zags have the pieces to be one of the deepest, most consistent groups Mark Few has ever had. And that’s saying a lot.

  • Valparaiso (6-1). In its MGM Grand Main Event victories over Alabama and Brigham Young, Valparaiso proved it could win both slow and fast. After grinding down the Crimson Tide for a six-point, 66-possession victory on Monday, the Crusaders beat the Cougars by three points in an 82-possession barn-burner two nights later. The unwavering constant, of course, was O26 Preseason Player of the Year Alec Peters, who averaged 24.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game over the stretch. Just for good measure, Matt Lottich’s club tacked on a hard-fought victory over Ball State on Sunday afternoon. Now 6-1, Valparaiso is right where it was expected to be heading into the second half of non-conference play. A victory over #23 Rhode Island tonight could rouse some at-large chatter.
  • Iona (3-2). Iona fell to 0-2 last Sunday after squandering a first-half lead at Nevada and losing by 15 points. A week later, the Gaels improved to 3-2 by beating Drake, Weber State, and… Nevada to win the Great Alaska Shootout. Sweet revenge, indeed. Tim Cluess’ fast-paced club received major contributions from Connecticut transfer Sam Cassell, Jr. (17.6 PPG in three games) and Fordham transfer Jon Severe (or Ron Severe, if you’re Pete Gillen), who nailed the tough, game-winning layup just before the buzzer on Saturday night. Iona, which entered 2016-17 with more than a few question marks, once again looks like a legitimate MAAC contender.
  • Fort Wayne (5-2). Just as Tom Crean deserves credit for scheduling the game—rarely do blue-blood programs take to the road against intrastate mid-majors—so too does Fort Wayne for making good on its opportunity. Jon Coffman’s veteran bunch used timely buckets and outstanding defense to topple Indiana by three points in overtime, including an unexpected dunk from forward John Konchar and five steals by quick-handed guard Mo Evans. Key to the upset, though, was Purdue transfer Bryson Scott, whose ability to create his own shot during the Mastodons’ second-half offensive lulls proved crucial. Following this tasty Feast Week appetizer, Coffman—whose team should win the Summit League—gave one of the more genuine and enthusiastic interviews you’ll ever see.
  • Middle Tennessee State (6-1). Kermit Davis’s morphing zone defense was in full effect last week, as Middle Tennessee State went 4-0—including two wins over Toledo—thanks largely to an onslaught of forced turnovers (16.3 per game). Stellar play from Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams (22.5 PPG) also helped. Along the way, the Blue Raiders swept the Challenge in the Music City tournament, despite entering the event as slight underdogs against CAA frontrunner UNC Wilmington (MTSU won 68-63). If not for a tough home loss against Tennessee State earlier in the season, Davis’ team would probably be garnering Top 25 votes. And it might yet: Mississippi, Vanderbilt and VCU all still remain on MTSU’s non-conference schedule.
  • Utah Valley (4-1). Want to carve out your own territory in a state dominated by Brigham Young and Utah? Beat one of them in Provo or Salt Lake City. That’s exactly what Utah Valley did against BYU on Saturday night, drilling 18 three pointers on its way to a 114-101 triumph in the Marriott Center. The best part? The Wolverines were led by transfer Isaac Neilson (26 points), who was reportedly pushed out of the BYU program by Cougars head coach Dave Rose in 2015.

Losers

Mark Pope and the upstart Utah Valley Wolverines stunned BYU on Saturday. (Sammy Jo Hester/The Daily Herald via AP)

Mark Pope and the upstart Utah Valley Wolverines stunned BYU on Saturday. (Sammy Jo Hester/The Daily Herald via AP)

  • Brigham Young (4-2). What happened to the Cougars? Losing to Valparaiso is one thing—the game was close, and the Crusaders are good—but Saturday’s 114-101 home defeat against Utah Valley is something entirely different. Not two weeks after holding Ivy League-favorite Princeton to 0.91 points per possession, BYU gave up 1.19 points per possession to the uptempo Wolverines, including 18-of-37 shooting from behind the arc. We know Dave Rose’s team can score, but its ability to come up with stops may dictate whether it can rack up enough quality wins to warrant NCAA Tournament consideration. Based on Feast Week alone, it doesn’t look promising. Upcoming contests against USC, Colorado and Illinois still loom.
  • Long Beach State (1-7). Dan Monson is a non-conference masochist, annually assembling one of the most difficult pre-New Year schedules in college hoops. This year, Long Beach State has already played (and lost to) Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA and Washington, among others, with Kansas and Texas still remaining. We knew there would be losses. But an eight-point defeat to Binghamton on a neutral court? That’s unbecoming of a team projected to win the Big West this season. The 49ers also dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Florida Gulf Coast over the weekend, meaning it will probably be December (at least) until they record their first D-I victory of the season.
  • Wichita State (5-2). It’s not that Wichita State played poorly last week. In fact, their 35-point beatdown of LSU in the Battle 4 Atlantis opener was pretty darn impressive. No, the Shockers are losers only in that they didn’t leave the Bahamas with a true resume-bolstering win. Louisville’s length and aggressive perimeter defense proved too much for Gregg Marshall’s club in the semifinals, and it was unable to complete a second-half rally against Michigan State in the consolation game. With Oklahoma and Oklahoma State remaining on its schedule, opportunity still remains, but Wichita State really could have used one more Feast Week victory.
  • George Washington (3-3). The Colonials struck out three times last week, falling to Georgia and UAB at the CBE Classic in Kansas City before stumbling at home against Penn State. This team was something of a mystery entering 2016-17—despite Mike Lonergan’s firing, the return of all-Atlantic 10 forward Tyler Cavanaugh was reason for optimism. Last week’s less-than-inspiring performances, however, lead one to believe that it may be tough sledding in Foggy Bottom this season. Interim coach Maurice Joseph (who was playing college basketball as recently as 2010) will look to right the ship tonight at Harvard.
  • The Ivy League. Harvard was upset by Holy Cross before losing at Massachusetts over the weekend. Yale came up just short at Pittsburgh and Vermont. Columbia blew a nine-point second half lead and lost at home to Army; Pennsylvania lost in similar fashion at Navy. For a league that entered 2016-17 with faint hopes of receiving two NCAA Tournament bids, this has not quite been an optimal start (Princeton included).

Extra Stuffing

  • Winthrop point guard Keon Johnson—all 5’7″ of him—put on a legendary performance during the Eagles’ thrilling 84-80 overtime victory at Illinois on Monday night. Not only did the senior score 38 points, dipping and dodging taller defenders in the process, but he did so despite suffering from near-debilitating leg cramps. “That’s as good an individual performance, certainly top-five, I’ve ever been around,” Illini coach John Groce said of the effort. But don’t just take his word for it. See for yourself.
Tommy Lemoine (206 Posts)


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