With John Becker at the Helm, Vermont Hasn’t Missed a Beat

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on February 8th, 2017

Five years ago, John Becker led Vermont to the NCAA Tournament in his first season as a Division I coach, upsetting Stony Brook in the America East championship game to complete a remarkable personal run that included coaching tennis at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hearing impaired. Although he had never played tennis beyond a casual level, he enjoyed more success in that sport than he did as the Division III school’s basketball coach, where he went 6-44 from 1997-99. After losing that job, Becker stayed in the Washington, D.C., area to get a master’s in information systems at George Washington, and five years later, he left a comfortable job in the Beltway to become the new Director of Basketball Operations for Mike Lonergan at Vermont. When Lonergan left for George Washington in 2011, Becker became his successor, and 10 months later he was in the NCAA Tournament beating Lamar in the First Four before losing to North Carolina. But that was 2012, and the “lucky to be here” phase of his career arc in Burlington is now long gone. Although Vermont has won at least 20 games in all six of his seasons on the sideline, the Catamounts have not returned to the NCAA Tournament since that initial run. And for one of the best mid-major fan bases in college basketball — a group that fills the wooden bleachers of Patrick Gym in snow, sleet and whatever the Flavor of the Month is at Ben and Jerry’s — that’s a decent-sized drought.

With John Becker at the helm, Vermont hasn’t missed a beat. (AP)

Luckily, the wait may soon be over. Vermont (21-5, 11-0 America East), a team that has won 13 straight games dating back to a pre-Christmas loss to Butler, is clearly the best team in the America East. While Stony Brook’s breakthrough last season was a feel-good story, you might also remember that the Catamounts blew a 15-point second-half lead in last year’s America East Tournament final. Most everyone returned from last year’s CBI semifinalist squad, and Becker also brought in Tulane transfer Peyton Henson and freshman Anthony Lamb, a classic mid-major steal who just finds a way to produce at both ends of the floor. Picked by America East coaches to win the conference crown this season, Vermont was going to be good. And for better or worse, they knew it. “It’s fairly obvious if you’re around us and have been around us since the beginning of last season, this group has been motivated and focused on getting back to the NCAA Tournament,” Becker said. “We don’t sit around and talk about it, but the way they carry themselves and the way they go about their business certainly indicates that they’re motivated to end this year the right way, with a championship.” Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Projecting the Effect of Maurice Watson’s Injury on Creighton’s Offense

Posted by Eugene Rapay on January 19th, 2017

After suffering an apparent knee injury in Creighton’s Monday afternoon game against Xavier, Maurice Watson, Jr. has been dealt a crushing blow. An MRI later revealed that the senior point guard has a torn left ACL, preemptively ending both his season and career in one cruel swoop. Creighton is not even halfway through Big East play, but now the Bluejays will have to figure out a solution for moving on without Watson’s on-court leadership and skill set. These are big shoes to fill. According to KenPomcollege basketball’s assist leader (8.5 APG) paced the team in minutes and was used in over 28 percent of his team’s possessions. Greg McDermott‘s team isn’t completely doomed without him, but he was one of the primary catalysts in helping the program reach its highest-ever ranking in the national polls.

With Maurice Watson Jr. now out with an ACL injury, the Bluejays have turned to Isaiah Zierden to run the point. (Chris Machian/The World-Herald)

The good news in Omaha is that Creighton has other weapons. Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster (18.1 PPG, 49.3% FG) has completely reinvented himself as a scoring threat in his first year in the Big East, posting career-high numbers in shooting (55.6% eFG) and taking care of the ball (11.5% TO rate). Then there’s Justin Patton (13.8 PPG, 72.7 FG%), the freshman center who has already exceeded everyone’s expectations with his astronomical conversion rate and corresponding ability around the basket. While Creighton still has its top two offensive weapons, the new facilitator working in place of Watson will make the Bluejays’ offense look very different. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

This is the Year: Rhode Island Might Finally Go Dancing

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on November 28th, 2016

He may have been born into a basketball family with a future Hall of Famer for a father and an NBA lottery pick for a brother, but Dan Hurley did not have a silver whistle to expedite his way to the top of the coaching ladder. After finishing his playing career at Seton Hall in 1996, Hurley began his career by leading the junior varsity squad for his legendary father, Bob Hurley, Sr., at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City (NJ), where he had played alongside brother Bobby Hurley a few years prior. He went to Rutgers a year later, serving four years there as an assistant before heading to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark (NJ). The youngest Hurley compiled a remarkable 223-21 record at that prep program over nine years, and when Wagner, a NEC team coming off a 5-26 season in 2009-10, came calling, Hurley accepted the challenge.

Now in Year Five, Dan Hurley has the Rams in line for a big season. (NJ.com)

Now in Year Five, Dan Hurley has the Rams in line for a big season. (NJ.com)

Hurley had almost become the coach at Marist a couple years prior, but decided — even though some snickered — Wagner was a better choice. Two years and a 25-6 season with the Seahawks later, Hurley was finally — some 17 years after beginning at the lowest rung of the coaching ladder — ready for a shot with a big-time program like Rhode Island. While rumored in the interim to be in contention for the St. John’s and Rutgers jobs when they opened, Hurley and Rhode Island seem to be made for each other. When Hurley was just beginning as an assistant at Rutgers in teh late 90s, the Rams were riding Jim Harrick, Cuttino Mobley and Tyson Wheeler to within one game of the Final Four in 1998, losing to Stanford by two points in a heart-breaker. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Burning Questions: Boston College Eagles

Posted by Matt Patton (@mpatton0) on October 19th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Boston College show enough improvement to buy Jim Christian some time?

As we and others predicted would occur, last year was an unmitigated, winless disaster for the Eagles. With only one starter returning, Boston College didn’t field a team that had any chance of realistically competing in the ACC (the Eagles’ final KenPom ranking (#226) was nearly twice as bad as next worst Wake Forest). It was a rebuilding year in every sense of the phrase. This year might turn out better in Chestnut Hill, but Jim Christian‘s squad must drastically improve its offense while still lacking the necessary talent to compete and win regularly in conference play. Eli Carter and Dennis Clifford, the team’s most used and important players last season, are both gone. Sammy Barnes-Thompkins, Matt Milon and Idy Diallo also transferred away, although none were systemically very important. These departures present an opportunity for the remaining players to quickly improve, but they are also another steep hurdle in Christian’s efforts to rebuild the program.

Jerome USA TODAY Sports

Jerome Robinson was a lone bright spot for the Eagles last season. (USA TODAY Sports)

A lone bright spot last season was the play of Jerome Robinson. He was a crucial part of the offense and a very efficient shooter. The two big questions surrounding Robinson are whether he is ready to be the center of Boston College’s offense and if he can improve on his atrocious turnover rate. Unfortunately, the responsibility of carrying more of the offense makes keeping his turnover rate down an impossibility, but a second year of conditioning and experience should only help in most other areas. Christian will also need leadership and improvement from sophomore AJ Turner, senior Garland Owens, and redshirt freshman John Carlos Reyes (who is tasked with replacing Clifford). Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas A&M 92, #14 Green Bay 65

Posted by Czech Smith on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Danuel House was a man amongst boys Friday evening. (USA TODAY Sports)

Danuel House was a man amongst boys Friday evening. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Texas A&M was dominant inside and has a deep bench. The Aggies recorded 46 points in the paint and dominated the boards throughout. A&M’s bench can play – they had 44 points, and with 10 minutes left in the game 10 different players had scored while the game was still not put away.
  2. This was not a game of experience going in. Texas A&M had one total player with tournament experience going in and Green Bay hasn’t been to the tournament in 20 years. The good news for A&M is they played like a seasoned team throughout. They’ll be able to rely on their newly acquired experience with confidence in their next contest.
  3. A&M did a great job of controlling tempo. The Phoenix started fast and furious and had some fortunate breaks go their way early in the game. They hung in for most of the first half, but A&M was able to slow them down quickly. Green Bay began to falter when forced to slow down and play A&M’s game. It led to a 37.5% performance from the field for Green Bay and showed A&M is strong defensively.

Star of the Game. Danuel House, Texas A&M. House was steady all game and showed he’s solid all-around. He finished with a game-high 20 points, going 8-of-12 from the field and 2-of-3 from behind the line. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 82, #15 Cal State Bakersfield 68

Posted by Czech Smith on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield's 27 Points Led the Way for the Sooners (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield’s 27 Points Led the Way for the Sooners (USA Today Images)

  1. The Sooners are going to have play better going forward. Cal State Bakersfield played well today, but if the Sooners don’t improve they are going to have a difficult time handling VCU. Their defense allowed Aly Ahmed to get open and score 16 in first half, including a three-pointer at the buzzer to keep Bakersfield in the game. However, they made the right adjustments at the half and Ahmed was held scoreless after the break. Cousins and Woodard were able to make up for Oklahoma’s limited offense in the paint, and will have to keep producing going forward to free up Buddy Hield. Khadeem Lattin scored an important six points, and is going to have to step up on offense more if the Sooners have designs on a Final Four or beyond.
  2. Bakersfield took advantage of early miscues and cold shooting and wouldn’t go away quietly. Oklahoma started out slow and Bakersfield took full advantage of the lull. They were able to keep pace and hold Hield to mainly transition baskets in the first half, but as they tired and allowed the All-American to get his hands on the ball, he wore them down. He scored 13 of his 16 second half points in the final nine minutes as the defense tired. The Sooners as a team shot 72 percent from three-point range in the second half.
  3. Concentrating intently on keeping the ball out of Buddy Hield’s hands seems to have some merit. West Virginia adopted this strategy in the Big 12 Tournament and were able to get past Oklahoma as a result. Bob Huggins said: “All we talked about was, let’s do everything we can possibly do to not let him get his hands on the ball.” Bakersfield had several different defenders on Hield, but it was evident their sole job was to concentrate on him. At one point, Hield was standing in the corner not moving, and the defender didn’t take his eyes off him to look at anything else going on. The majority of Hield’s points were in transition – he had a hard time getting open until the final minutes.

Star of the Game. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma. Hield had a relatively quiet game and was well-defended, but somehow came out with a game-high 27 points. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #10 VCU 75, #7 Oregon State 67

Posted by Steven Smith on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Mo Alie-Cox was a force to deal with. (Scott K. Brown Photography, Inc.)

Mo Alie-Cox was a force to deal with. (Scott K. Brown Photography, Inc.)

  1. VCU came out ready to play. The Rams hit the floor in warm-ups and you could tell they were ready to play. Oregon State, on the pother hand, were flat from pre-game warmups and that continued through most of the game. Despite a four minute window in the second half where the Beavers showed some life, VCU’s intensity dominated the game.
  2. VCU dominated the inside despite a size disadvantage. Mo Alie-Cox simply took over the paint on both ends. He blocked shots, threw down dunks over Eubanks, and just out-muscled the taller Oregon State players.
  3. A balanced attack. VCU effectively spread the court and played well as a team. JeQuan Lewis was consistent throughout and hit some key shots down the stretch, and Melvin Johnson was solid.

Star of the Game. Mo Alie-Cox, VCU. Alie-Cox dominated inside on both there offensive and defensive ends. He had three monster rejections and 20 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 7-of-8 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Cal’s Tyrone Wallace Sidelined Again With Broken Hand

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on March 18th, 2016

California has an unexpected hole in its starting lineup today after senior point guard Tyrone Wallace broke his hand for the second time this season days before the Golden Bears’ NCAA Tournament game. The injury came in a non-contact drill when Wallace, the team’s lone senior, got his hand caught in a teammate’s jersey, head coach Cuonzo Martin said during a Thursday news conference. With the importance of veteran guard play in the NCAA Tournament, the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the #4 seed in the South Region. But at least they’ve already played five games without Wallace this season. The Bears went 3-2 in those games, losing both ends of the Pac-12’s difficult Utah/Colorado road trip in late January and winning home games against Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State with junior Sam Singer as their point guard.

Tyrone Wallace might be the best player in the Pac-12, but he's going to need help for Cal to stay near the top of the conference standings. (AP)

The loss of Tyrone Wallace puts junior point guard Sam Singer back in the driver’s seat. (AP)

“Everybody loses someone at some level, injuries, stuff happens. You have 13 scholarships. So there’s no excuses, it’s part of the game,” Martin said. “We won games with Sam at our point. I’m not worried at all. Sam will do a great job at the point guard position and whoever backs him up will do well as well.” But there’s a big difference between home conference games in January and NCAA Tournament games in March, and there’s just as big a difference between Wallace and Singer. Wallace leads Cal with 32.2 minutes, 15.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steal per game, and averages 5.4 rebounds as well. Singer, who has played in every game, averages 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just under 20 minutes per contest. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Preseason Unranked to Ranked: These Teams Underperform in the NCAAs

Posted by William Ezekowitz on March 16th, 2016

Preseason rankings. Irrelevant in professional sports, but weirdly important in college basketball. I have shown in the past that rankings released before a single game has been played overvalue previous year’s NCAA Tournament success, so they clearly aren’t perfect. The odd wrinkle is that they also are just as predictive as pre-tournament rankings in determining who will make the Final Four. Given that the First Round starts tomorrow, I decided to look more closely into just how important preseason rankings are by looking at whether teams that outperform their preseason expectations regress in the NCAA Tournament. To do this, I reviewed all of the teams since 2007 that were unranked in the preseason and were ranked in the polls just before the NCAA Tournament (i.e., teams that performed better than expected during the regular season). In order to gauge how a team should do in the Big Dance, I borrowed Neil Payne’s win expectation chart by seed listed in this very interesting article. I then tested whether the teams that fit my definition for outperforming expectations did better or worse relative to win expectations than the rest of the field.

Ron Morris Was Certainly On To Something

Kemba Walker and UConn were one of the few programs to buck statistical trends. (Getty)

Here are the results.

# of Teams Expected Wins Actual Wins
Over-Performers 90 125.7 98
Everyone else 344 425 461

 

The tested group of over-performers did in fact do worse in the NCAA Tournament than everyone else, and the difference is statistically significant. It should also be noted that an examination of the converse group — preseason ranked teams finishing the regular season unranked — produced no difference between win expectation by seed and actual wins. For some frame of reference, there are seven teams this year that have gone from unranked in the preseason to ranked now. That group is listed below. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Atlantic 10 NCAA Tournament Reactions

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 15th, 2016

Shock at the NCAA Tournament’s exclusion of St. Bonaventure, the first regular season conference champion with an RPI better than #30 to be left out of the NCAA field since it was expanded to 64 teams, was not limited to members of the school’s community, fans of the conference, veteran bracketologists and a wide consensus of sportswriters. Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade weighed in with a scathing critique of the committee’s judgement and a promise to “talk to the selection committee representatives and compare the stats of all of the at-large selections to understand why [the Bonnies] were not selected to hopefully avoid this disappointment in the future”.

The other three projected teams were included in the field of 68. Let’s take a look at each.

Dayton #7 seed, Midwest Region

After the seeds were assigned to their NCAA Tournament sites a Dayton supporter suggested (tongue firmly in cheek) that fans of his school and Xavier gather at a known St. Louis watering hole to catch their respective games and swap stories about the old Atlantic 10. Dayton drew Syracuse and a roster that has been ravaged by NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions. The Orange run a six-man rotation, which may explain why Syracuse’s record since Valentine’s Day is a paltry 2-5. Dayton can crack Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone with outside shooting (Cooke, Smith or Pierre) or utilize its bouncy forwards (Pierre, Pollard) flashing to the free throw line to convert or find open shooters. Archie Miller typically goes nine deep, so expect the Flyers’ high-energy rotation to wear the Orange down over the course of the game. Survive that and #2 seed Michigan State is up next, a team that many thought deserved a #1 seed. Should the Flyers survive the first weekend, challenges in the form of Seton Hall (or Utah) and ultimately one from a mix of Virginia (#1 seed), a Tubby Smith-coached Texas Tech (#8) or Iowa State (#5) await. Michigan State is without question the toughest draw for Dayton in this region. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story