Who Won The Week? Texas, Amere May and Gary Payton II …

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on December 19th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Texas

You know, I think the Longhorns have recovered from losing at Kentucky two weeks ago. And that’s a credit to their fantastic defense, which ranks third nationally in adjusted efficiency (thanks, KenPom!). Texas came out Saturday and held a not-entirely-terrible Texas State team to 27 points (and a cool 0.44 points per possession) in a 59-27 win, then followed that up with a comparatively pedestrian 103-61 win over Lipscomb in which the Bisons only scored 0.81 points per possession. Yes, that is a “comparatively pedestrian” 42-point win. That’s how good Texas’ defense is. Here’s some stats to back that up: The Longhorns are first in the nation in effective field goal shooting against, first in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage (32.7 percent!) and second in block rate, swatting nearly one in five two-point attempts. The defense is the third most efficient in the country despite being in the bottom five nationally in forcing turnovers. Oh, and by the way, the Longhorns are now 9-1, including 6-1 without injured starting point guard Isaiah Taylor.

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

It’s been business as usual for Rick Barnes and Texas. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

(Related winners: People who really like defense. Related losers: Texas State; Lipscomb, but mostly for making “Bison” plural by adding an “S.”)

LOSER: Connecticut

Not to be an alarmist or anything, but the defending national champions are running out of time to get some good wins. Now 4-4, Kevin Ollie’s Huskies had an opportunity against a stacked Duke team Thursday night on a neutral court and came away with a 66-56 loss. But with the American looking like it will have a down year in the wake of Louisville’s departure, the only chances for statement wins are at Florida and a pair of conference match-ups with Cincinnati. (I reserve the right to judge SMU until Markus Kennedy is playing for them, but the Mustangs have taken three non-nconference losses already. Not promising.) And the best UConn non-conference win thus far, against Dayton, will lose a lot of shine after the Flyers dismissed their two tallest players after a campus incident. Now what I find alarming is that UConn gave up more than a point per possession to lowly Coppin State on Sunday, owner of a bottom-10 offensive efficiency, proving that the Huskies took at least one night off. You can’t afford to do that when you need to stack up a gaudy record in a conference full of minnows. And you certainly can’t afford to do that when you can’t score above a point per possession yourselves, which has happened in each of the Huskies’ four losses.

(Related winners: Duke, which managed to overcome a nearly 50 percent turnover rate in the first half to win somewhat comfortably. Related losers: UConn stud guard Ryan Boatright, who has to be wondering what he did to deserve his woeful offensive supporting cast; the American, which needs all the good teams – and NCAA Tournament teams – it can get.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 16th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

While games with the highest-ranked six conferences accounted for only 35 percent of last week’s conference schedule, they accounted for six of the eight losses the Atlantic 10 recorded. George Washington‘s win over DePaul represented the lone win the league has recorded this season against the Big East, but Rhode Island‘s E.C. Matthews, despite scoring 27 points, could not notch another one over intrastate rival Providence. Fordham took the other loss to a Big East team last week, as the Rams fell to crosstown rival St. John’s. The Big Ten’s Penn State beat two A-10 teams this past week, squeaking by Duquesne on Wednesday before turning around to beat George Washington over the weekend. Duquesne and Saint Louis lost troubling games to teams that play among the lowest-ranked conferences; Duquesne was upset by local rival Robert Morris of the NEC while the Billikens dropped a decision to the Summit Conference’s South Dakota State. Those kinds of losses drag down the conference-wide RPI, something to watch as the season carries on.

Despite a big game for E.C. Matthews, the Rams came up just a little short against their in-state rival. (AP)

Despite a big game for E.C. Matthews, the Rams came up just a little short against their intrastate rival. (AP)

Three Games to Catch This Week

  • VCU vs Belmont (Tuesday 12/16 7:00 PM ET) — This should be a bear of a week for the Rams, as they face giant-killing Belmont on Tuesday and Cincinnati on Saturday. Tuesday should be an easier game, given VCU’s notable home court advantage and Belmont’s two-game losing streak. Both teams press and rely on turnovers to fuel their offense, and given that fact, both also have poor field goal defense. VCU has trouble defending the three-point line while Belmont converts efficiently from there. Hitting that three on a delayed break is the key stat for determining Belmont’s prospects.

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on December 16th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Looking Back

Maybe finals were unusually hard this year, causing a build-up of aggression within WCC members. Maybe the conference is ready to establish itself alongside the Mountain West as one of the best outside the Power Five. Whatever the motivation, conference schools celebrated their first post-finals games with a handful of memorable efforts on Saturday.

Kyle Wiltjer has fit right in with a talented Gonzaga squad. (AP)

Kyle Wiltjer has fit right in with a talented Gonzaga squad. (AP)

  • Gonzaga toyed with UCLA as if the Bruins were a middling WCC opponent, leading wire-to-wire in an 87-74 romp at Pauley Pavilion.
  • Saint Mary’s broke Creighton’s 24-game home winning streak with a 71-67 overtime win in Omaha.
  • BYU went 2-0 on the road by topping Weber State 76-60 in Ogden.
  • Santa Clara notched its fourth straight win by knocking off Washington State 76-67 – its first home win against a Pac-12 school in 10 years.
  • San Diego trounced New Orleans 85-60 to remain undefeated at home.
  • Pepperdine almost made it an epic fail for the Pac-12 against the WCC, leading Arizona State 43-42 with less than 12 minutes left before ultimately succumbing, 81-74.
  • Only rebuilding Loyola Marymount went down Saturday, losing 71-69 to Northern Arizona.

It has been a mostly satisfying non-conference performance so far for the WCC, with only one team, Loyola Marymount, posting a losing record through December 13.

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Has Villanova Outgrown the Big 5?

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 15th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

“…a loveless marriage… [that] began out of a desire that was neither pure nor innocent. They were just trying to make a buck”

— Rich Hofmann (The Big 5-0)

Has Villanova outgrown the Big 5? Like the question about the health of a terminally ill relative, it goes unasked after another big Villanova win over the weekend, but it was always the question behind the question. After Villanova beat his Hawks 74-46 (which followed the 93-63 beating the Wildcats delivered in 2013), Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli couched his answer as a “talent gap” problem. After his Explorers lost 73-52 to Villanova (they were beaten again this season, 84-70) La Salle head coach Dr. John Gianinni challenged his players with (to paraphrase), “Villanova won the game in June, not on the court but in the training room.” It was, he contended, a “dedication gap” problem.

Jay Wright and the Wildcats should be excited about their chances

So far this season, it’s business as usual for Jay Wright and crew. (Getty)

After losing 85-63 on Sunday, that universal question, “Why’d you lose?” was posed to Temple‘s senior guard, Will Cummings. He replied, “[Villanova’s] got a lot of weapons. So we really have to be conscious of every player on the court. You can’t leave somebody or they’re going to step up and make a play. That really tested our defense. We had some lapses and that was the tale.” When Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was handed the “talent/dedication/effort” question, he gave a nod to his players’ sense of responsibility but did not take the bait, “Well, [Villanova] has a very talented team. And I thought they played hard, We can play harder, we can do a better job. I appreciate those guys (Will Cummings and Obi Enechionyia) saying that [they lacked effort]. Maybe it was a loose ball here and there that we needed to get to. We didn’t. They did. They are a talented group, a really good basketball team.” That far and no further. Talent, effort or commitment gaps aside, the evidence suggests something is going on in the Big 5. In the 13 seasons Jay Wright has coached on the Main Line, Villanova has shared (two) or won outright (five) the Big 5 title seven times. Historically, Villanova has won or shared 22 Big 5 titles, second only to Temple (28) and gaining fast. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oklahoma Quietly Taking Care of Business

Posted by Eli Linton on December 14th, 2014

While Texas and Kansas have hogged the Big 12 spotlight so far, Oklahoma is starting to demand some attention of its own. Lon Kruger’s squad, which came into last week ranked #16 in the country, visited Tulsa on Saturday afternoon and left with an easy 87-68 win. Oklahoma appears to have its best team since Blake Griffin was running the show. The Sooners’ defense is performing at a top-10 level this season, holding every team they’ve faced to fewer than 70 points, 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. That stingy defense is the main reason they continue to climb the national rankings and are demanding respect in such a competitive conference.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing very good basketball right now. (AP)

The strength of Oklahoma comes from its starting five. If it has been a while since you’ve seen the Sooners play, here’s what you can expect:

  • Ryan Spangler is a Gonzaga transfer who plays physical defense in the post. He’s a great athlete who shoots a high percentage. He’s shot 50 percent or better in 32 of his 40 games at Oklahoma, and he’s shooting 64 percent from the field this season. Spangler is disruptive on defense and has a lot of athleticism for a big man.
  • Senior forward TaShawn Thomas is another quick, athletic forward who rounds out the Sooners’ frontcourt. He can put the ball on the floor and play great defense on the perimeter. Thomas was the MVP against Tulsa, shutting down their shooters on the three-point line all afternoon. When he rotated down into the post, there was just no way the Hurricane were going to score driving the lane. Tulsa started settling for the more inviting mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the glass. Thomas ended the night with 25 points, five rebounds, and three blocks to go along with his stellar defensive performance. “We realized that we need to get the ball in to TaShawn and Ryan a lot more,” Kruger said afterward. “Last game, Ryan had a big game against Missouri. TaShawn had a big game today. We had gotten away from that balance, and Ryan and TaShawn help us get back to it and I like the results much better.”

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Who Won The Week? Washington, Kansas, Not Michigan…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on December 12th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

Because of the magic of calendars, Kentucky has gone 3-0 in the previous seven days. (That game against Texas was only a week ago!) The Wildcats asserted their dominance against a highly talented Texas squad Friday, then followed that up with a blowout win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. But the most important victory for this team was its grinding game on Wednesday against Columbia, in which the Ivy League school scored the first 11 points and held the lead for the first 27 minutes. Coming back from a deficit and being able to win while playing at the other team’s pace are two valuable skills to learn (especially when you’re missing two rotation players), and being able to do that without taking a loss is a boon. All is not perfect for Kentucky, as Alex Poythress’ knee injury hurts some of John Calipari’s frontcourt depth and a key game against rival North Carolina looming tomorrow.

John Calipari and his super talented Kentucky squad recorded a wonderful week. (AP)

John Calipari and his talented Kentucky squad recorded a good week on the floor. (AP)

(Related winners: Columbia, for showing how deep the Ivy League will be this season, and for playing without fear on the road against the best team in the country. Related losers: Poythress, who certainly didn’t return to school with the intention of blowing out a knee.)

LOSER: Michigan

Man, does that trip to the NCAA title game two years ago feel really far away right now. The Wolverines spent the past week putting the conference-less NJIT Highlanders in the national spotlight in a 72-70 loss last Saturday, then followed that lemon by only putting up 42 points at home against area minnow Eastern Michigan in another loss Tuesday. And now the Wolverines get to try to take down Arizona in Tucson on Saturday. Yeah, good luck with that.

(Related winners: NJIT, which got enough national attention that some conference might finally see the incentive in adding them; Eastern Michigan, for stealing a win they might have to wait a long while before replicating. Related losers: Syracuse and Oregon, both of which have lost to Michigan and are also due for down years after talent exoduses.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Didn’t See That Coming, Five Atlantic 10 Surprises to Start the Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 9th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

  • Virginia Commonwealth’s Struggles — After a series of double-figure wins to start the season at 3-0, the Rams have hit a 2-3 slump because of defensive collapses. During the five-game window, Shaka Smart’s squad yielded an average of 1.2 points per possession, well above the Division I average (0.995 PPP). Two of those losses (to Villanova by 24 and Virginia by 17) were not competitive. The loss to the Wildcats represented the largest margin of defeat since they lost to Michigan by 25 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. While Treveon Graham, Melvin Johnson, Briante Weber and Jordan Burgess are carrying the offense, field goal defense is down and fouling is up, trends that do not bode well for the Rams come conference play.

    After a hot start, Shaka Smart's squad has cooled a bit. (Getty)

    After a hot start, Shaka Smart’s squad has cooled a bit. (Getty)

  • Massachusetts Misses Chaz Williams — For a Minutemen squad which had only a single loss heading into conference play last season, collecting four defeats with four non-conference games still to play throws a damper on any postseason expectations. Derek Kellogg’s squad is riding a three-game losing streak that includes a truly disappointing letdown against Florida Gulf Coast from the Atlantic Sun Conference. With two of their remaining four games away from the Mullins Center (at Providence and at BYU) and vs. Iona, a well-coached MAAC squad, still to come, UMass could enter conference play with as many as five to seven losses, a definite RPI killer. Except for freshman Donte Clark, the guards and wing forwards are struggling with their three-point shot this season (26-of-90).

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Making Note: Juggling Freshman Rotations at Seton Hall, Rutgers & GW

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 9th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

For any program other than Kentucky, how to best use a squad’s freshmen is always a tricky dilemma. When it comes to the Atlantic 10, George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan has used mostly the same starting lineup and rotation during the past three seasons because his juniors represent his first class at the school. Two of last season’s starting spots were vacated by forward Isaiah Armwood and guard Maurice Creek, but Lonergan has tabbed the junior guard duo of Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage along with senior John Kopriva as starters for the Colonials’ first eight games.

Mike Lonergan has had to find the right mix for his freshmen this season at George Washington. Two other coaches in the A-10 face similar dilemmas. (George Washington Athletics)

Mike Lonergan has had to find the right mix for his freshmen this season at George Washington. Two other coaches in the A-10 face similar dilemmas. (George Washington Athletics)

Working 6’8″ freshman forward Yuta Watanabea – a Kagawa, Japan, native by way of St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut — into the rotation has been a challenge. Watanabe leads a heralded five-man class (two guards: Paul Jorgensen and Darian Bryant; and three forwards: Watanabe, Anthony Swan and Matt Cimino) that could make Foggy Bottom fans quickly forget the departed Armwood and Creek. Even though the Colonials are off to a so-so 4-2 start behind those juniors, Lonergan has been reluctant to experiment with his rookies, as a recent game with Seton Hall confirmed. In the four-point loss, Lonergan played Jorgensen, Bryant and Cimino a combined 11 minutes, eight minutes fewer than Watanabe. The freshman made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe after taking a charge from Pirates’ freshman Kadeem Carrington, later connected on a critical three to tie the game, and rotated with Kopriva as the defensive choice in an offense/defense substitution scheme. The other freshmen sat, waiting and watching. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James @ivybball on December 5th, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @ivybball.

Looking Back

  • Soft Around The Middle – The biggest theme of the preseason Ivy media teleconference was the league’s historic depth. In fact, one set of rankings had six Ivy teams among the top 169 squads nationally, which would have bested last year’s record five teams in the top 170. Through the first three weeks of the season, Harvard and Yale have held up their ends of the bargain, checking in at 34th and 83rd in Pomeroy, respectively, while the rest of the league has struggled mightily. Columbia lost preseason Player of the Year candidate Alex Rosenberg and has watched its offensive efficiency go from 119th nationally last season to 203rd this year. While the Lions have managed to stay at 139th in Pomeroy on the strength of great defensive numbers, no other Ivy squad currently ranks among the top 170. In fact, only Princeton is close (190th), while the remaining four league teams are clustered between 256th and 274th.

    Despite their serious faces, James Jones (Yale) and Tommy Amaker (Harvard) have their teams playing very well right now.

    Despite their serious faces, James Jones (Yale) and Tommy Amaker (Harvard) have their teams playing very well right now.

  • Awards Watch – Two Ivy players have made the initial watch lists for two prestigious national awards. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers made the Bob Cousy Award Watch List for the third time in his three seasons in Cambridge. The 6’0″ junior has struggled to start the campaign, including a nine-turnover performance in a loss to Holy Cross, but has started to turn the corner with 12 points and five assists against Houston and nine assists versus just two turnovers against Massachusetts. Chambers’ backcourt mate Wesley Saunders has been on a tear to start the season, averaging 24 PPG over Harvard’s first four Division I games and ranking in the Top 500 nationally in 14 of the 15 KenPom statistical categories. His efforts have been noticed by the Atlanta Tipoff Club, which listed Saunders as one of the 50 players on its initial Naismith Award Watch List.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Harvard (5-1) – The loss to Holy Cross in its first game against Division I competition dropped the Crimson from the national conversation for a bit, but the underlying metrics for Harvard are very, very positive. Sure, the free throw defense which has seen opponents shoot just 61 percent from the line will regress, and the Crimson likely can’t shoot 43 percent on two-point jumpers over the course of an entire season. Those are minor nits, though, compared to the factors which will likely provide the Crimson a positive boost. Senior forward Jonah Travis has missed every game since the opener versus MIT. Chambers has posted an offensive efficiency rating of 79 points per 100 possessions and a turnover rate of 31 percent, both of which should improve dramatically. Finally, the Crimson’s stifling defense has only turned opponents over on 18 percent of possessions, easily the lowest rate since Tommy Amaker arrived in Cambridge and something that should stabilize, contributing a couple more possessions per game where the opponent goes scoreless and an opportunity might exist in transition. Read the rest of this entry »
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Atlantic 10 Early Season Tournaments: Report Card

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 1st, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Let’s take a look at last week’s Feast Week action for Atlantic 10 teams and grade their performance appropriately.

  • Dayton, Massachusetts, Virginia Commonwealth: B — The Flyers, Minutemen and Rams won most of their tournament games, several against BCS teams. Dayton beat Boston College 65-53 to take third place in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, after edging Texas A&M 55-53 in the first round and losing to Connecticut 75-64 in the second round. 2-1 versus BCS teams made this a good outing. Massachusetts compiled a 3-1 record versus the field in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, played at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Minutemen cleaned up in the preliminary rounds, handling Manhattan (77-68) and Northeastern (79-54) easily. Coach Derek Kellogg’s squad lost the opening round of the bracketed event to Notre Dame 81-68, but bounced back to beat Florida State 75-69 in the consolation round. UMass’ start this season has not been as strong as 2013-14, the new back court will need time to gel. Virginia Commonwealth University closed out the Legends Classic with a 77-63 win over Oregon in the consolation game to run their invitational record 3-1. The Rams overcame early shooting woes to down Toledo 77-68 and then demolished Maryland-Eastern Shore 106-66 before heading into the Barclays Center for a showdown with #12 Villanova in the opening game of the Championship bracket. Trailing by only two (32-30) going into half-time, the Rams had a nice 6-0 to open the second half before they lost control of the game and fell 77-53. Despite the margin Coach Shaka Smart’s team bounced back the next night against Ducks in a game they controlled from opening tip and went on to win 77-63.
UMass and Derek Kellogg had a solid Feast Week showing. (Gazettenet.com)

UMass and Derek Kellogg had a solid Feast Week showing. (Gazettenet.com)

  • La Salle, Rhode Island and Saint Louis: CLa Salle swept their preliminary round games with St. Peter’s (59-50) and St. Francis of New York (73-60), but lost both “host” bracket games at the Barclays Center (of all places). Virginia put up eight points before La Salle scored a field goal. The Cavaliers put together a 10-6 run over the next five minutes to expand their margin to 10 points. Over the last 8:25 of the first half the Cavaliers put together a 19-11 run to expand their edge to 18. While La Salle managed trim the eventual losing margin to eight, they were never in the game. They lost the second game to Vanderbilt by 13, 68-55 to level their record Barclays Center Classic record to 2-2. Coach Dan Hurley’s squad traveled to Orlando to participate in the three-game Orlando Classic. Opening against #11 Kansas, the Rams registered a 76-60 loss. They went on to beat Santa Clara 66-44, which set up their third round game versus Georgia Tech. The Rams lost to the Yellow Jackets, 64-61 to close out with a 1-2 record. The Billikens hosted Texas A&M–Corpus Christi and lost by six, 62-56. They squeaked by North Carolina A&T 58-55 before traveling to Texas for their “host” bracket games in the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic. Drubbed by Mississippi State 75-50 in the first round, Coach Jim Crews’ squad bounced back versus Bradley 60-57 to finish 2-2. Rhody and SLU are young squads, the games, while disappointing immediately, will pay dividends later. Read the rest of this entry »
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With Davidson Gone, Upstart Wofford is SoCon’s King of the Hill

Posted by Ray Curren on November 29th, 2014

Davidson has become synonymous with the Southern Conference over the last decade, and with good reason. Bob McKillop has built a mini mid-major power at the tiny, private, North Carolina liberal arts school, posting 13 straight winning records in the SoCon, most famously, of course, becoming a national name by going all the way to the Elite Eight in 2008, led by some kid named Stephen Curry. Whatever happened to that kid? Davidson used its success to parlay a move to the “greener” pastures of the Atlantic-10 before this season, but did you know the team that beat out Davidson for the SoCon’s NCAA bid in three of the last five seasons is still there? And that’s its coach has been on campus just as long as McKillop?

As noted by Forbes Magazine, Wofford coach Mike Young is one of the biggest bargains (salary wise) in Division I basketball. (Getty)

As noted by Forbes Magazine, Wofford coach Mike Young is one of the biggest bargains (salary wise) in Division I basketball. (Getty)

Mike Young came to then-Division II Wofford, another tiny, private liberal arts school in the Carolinas (Spartanburg, S.C.) in 1989 as an assistant and never left, spending 13 years as an assistant to Richard Johnson (who is currently athletics director at Wofford), before moving up to the head chair in 2002. It took a while — Wofford didn’t post a winning mark (overall or in the SoCon) until his seventh season — but the Terriers have now gone to the NCAA tournament three times in five years, and return a veteran team that was picked to make it four in six. With expectations come a little pressure for Wofford, but Young and his team have waited a long time for it, so it’s much better than the alternative. “I’ve been here 26 years now. It’s the most unique situation in the world. The only pressure I’ve ever felt is internal pressure,” Young said. “It’s an unbelievable situation because I have an opportunity to coach our team and do it the way I think the program should be run. That certainly gives you good peace of mind. There’s nothing wrong with a little expectation, I think it’s justified. I think it’s well earned. We have great depth.”

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For Villanova and VCU, Handling the Ghost of Seasons Past

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on November 25th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog. Joe filed this report after Villanova’s 77-53 victory over VCU Monday evening.

When Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth faced off in the first round of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night, a trail of questions about these two dynamic teams followed them onto the court. Both had great success last season, winning their respective conference regular season titles while compiling a combined record of 55-14 (Villanova was 29-5 while VCU was 26-9) but each saw their seasons expire with a sigh that betrayed what they had worked for. VCU had run up a 24-7 record even before the conference tournament, securing no worse than an at-large place in the NCAA field as the Atlantic 10 Conference garnered a record-breaking six bids. They burned through Richmond and NCAA-worthy George Washington by 20 points apiece before bowing to a senior-heavy Saint Joseph’s squad, 65-61. But it was the two-point loss to Stephen F. Austin (77-75) that stung. Had HAVOC run its course? If the defensive turnover machine of seasons past could not produce, the Rams’ open court offense was reduced to their half court set which yielded far fewer points (and possessions). Like Gonzaga, Butler and George Mason before them, the Rams were no longer the hunters, they had become the hunted.

Will Shaka Smart Be Interested In The Open Position In Westwood? (US Presswire)

Smart’s club started off well, but tailed off against an equally talented Villanova squad in Brooklyn. (US Presswire)

In “the old” Big East a 28-3 regular season record capped with a 16-2 conference record would have heralded the Wildcats as an elite team and Final Four contender even before the conference tournament. For Villanova and “the new” Big East however, double-figure losses to Syracuse and Creighton (twice) appeared to undermine the Wildcats’ — and the Big East’s — attempts to write a new chapter. Villanova dropped their first round conference tournament game to Seton Hall (64-63), secured a #2 seed in the NCAAs, then dropped their second round game to former conference mate Connecticut (77-63). The Big East garnered four bids and no conference team made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Read the rest of this entry »

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