Breaking Down the Preseason Mags… pt. 3

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2007

A month ago we gave you our reviews of the Athlon and Lindy’s preseason mags.

We’ve been busy plugging away at the conference previews, but in the interim, a few more mags have hit the shelves. So here’s the third installment of our continuing series of reviews of the preseason magazines.

Next Up: Sporting News/Street & Smith’s.

Note: Yes, TSN and S&S, two of the oldest and most respected preview issues, have joined forces this year on their college basketball preview. It remains to be seen whether this is a good idea.

TSN / S&S Cover 08

I. Covers (5 pts) - are they cool? inclusive?

  • 12 regional covers hitting only the BCS conferences. Definitely a major conference bias here.
  • Coolest Cover – see above – one thing we really like is that most of the covers are full-color action shots. The Roy Hibbert (getting serviced by Vandy’s Ross Neltner?) and Mario Chalmers shots are our favs after Richard Hendrix above. Great cover.
  • Oops. The Athlon, Lindy’s and TSN issues all use the exact same action shot for Brook Lopez of Stanford on their Pac-10 cover. Unfortunately for Cardinal fans, Lopez is not reaching for a textbook.
  • Total Points = 4

II. Ease of Use (5 pts) – how hard is it to find confs/teams?

  • Not a fan of their setup here. They divide the conferences into high, mid, and low-major categories, then list them alphabetically within each section. Quick – is the Big West a mid-major or low-major league? The MAC? How about the Southern Conference? TSN considers the MAC a high major (???) and the others as mid-majors, which means we were flipping all over the place to find these leagues. Difficult navigation.
  • Within the league, they then list each team by predicted order of finish. Typical fare here.
  • Standard format otherwise – roundup, features, analysis of teams, recruiting, stats and schedules in that order.
  • Total Points = 2.5

III. Roundup (10 pts) – every mag has one – tell us something new!

  • The Late, Late Show is a short article explaining the basis behind TSN’s pick of UCLA as the #1 team in America.
  • Decourcy’s Directives are short narratives on the following topics: Coach Calipari’s calculations; Don’t Cry for Duke; One-and-Outs to Watch; and, Recipe for a Championship. The only interesting information here is in the Recipe section, which explains that most national champions for the last 20 yrs have had at least one NBA-caliber big man and guard on their roster (exceptions: MSU-2000; Arkansas-1994; Syracuse-2003).
  • TSN also provides three teams of All-Americans, led by seven sophomores and two freshmen among the fifteen. We like that they took some chances, going with Eric Gordon (Indiana) and Chase Budinger (Arizona) on the first team over some of the better-known names.
  • There is also a Top 25 with a couple of sentences describing each team’s strengths, but it is notable that TSN doesn’t bother with predicting the NCAA field anywhere within the magazine.
  • There is one page devoted to listing the Top 100 freshmen, but rather than listing them #1-#100, they made a confounding decision to order them geographically (all-east, all-south, etc.) and then alphabetically. There’s no way to intelligently distinguish OJ Mayo (all-east) from Edwin Rios (all-south).
  • Another page lists transfers eligible this season and next, but again they’re not ranked in any discernible manner. This page also lists all the coaching changes from the offseason.
  • Overall, this section is incredibly weak compared to the other previewed magazines, and especially considering that TSN and S&S were once considered the bibles of this genre. We literally learned nothing new in this section.
  • Total Points = 3

IV. Features (15 pts) – give us some insightful and unique storylines.

  • Features – what features? There is only one feature article, which if we said was shocking would be severely understating our sentiment. So surely that one article has something to do with this season, right? Nah. Try Whatever Happened To… Teddy Dupay, JR Van Hoose and Dane Fife, three (white) players who were HS stars ten years ago but didn’t ultimately make it to the League. Don’t get us wrong, we actually appreciate the concept of an article like this. The problem is that it’s the only feature article TSN felt necessary to give us in the entire magazine. That’s beyond unacceptable, especially when you consider the cache of writers that TSN has at its disposal.
  • Cheerleaders. Ok, we enjoy a photo collage of college cheerleaders as much as the next guy, but the only other “feature” that TSN insults us with offers us is a five-page spread of various gals in tricky positions. Again, this just seem so beneath TSN and S&S to pull out the cheerleader photo section to try to increase sales. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that they just don’t care anymore. Good grief – they even put the Duke cheerleaders in the spread (Doherty was right)!!
  • FWIW, the Texas gal on p. 21 is absolutely scorching hot, with nods to Miss UCLA and Miss Florida on p.19. Surprisingly, we found Miss Kentucky (p.20) to be one of the fugliest of the group, along with Miss Hawaii (p.19). And Miss Wichita St. (p.18) can bend in ways that aren’t quite believable.
  • Total Points = 3

V. Predictions (20 pts) – how safe are their picks? do they take any chances? are they biased toward the big boys?

  • TSN’s Top 25 is pretty standard issue big conference fodder. They do put Memphis at #2, Gonzaga at #12 and Xavier at #25, but every other team is a BCS school. Since there are no NCAA predictions, we can only assume their top 4 is their predicted F4, which would mean UCLA, Memphis, UNC and Kansas are their choices.
  • Big Conference Bias. Assuming top 16 = Sweet 16, then Gonzaga and Memphis are the only exceptions. As for the Top 25, here’s the conference breakdown – Pac-10 (5), Big 12 (4), Big East (4), ACC (3), SEC (3), Big 10 (3), CUSA (1), WCC (1), A10 (1).
  • Surprises. Some teams that are getting some preseason pub that TSN doesn’t think much of include: Syracuse (10th in the Big East, which presumably would mean not an NCAA team); UConn (7th); USC (7th in Pac-10) & Vanderbilt (5th in SEC East). On the flip side, teams that TSN values more than others include: Georgia (3d in SEC East); Penn St. (4th in Big 10) & NC State (3d in ACC).
  • Boldest Prediction. Not much in the way of excessively bold predictions, but we believe that a lot of these prognosticators are going to regret giving a 5-11 ACC team (NC State) so much preseason hype this year.
  • We’re really annoyed that TSN doesn’t give us a field of 65, at minimum.
  • Total Points = 12

VI. Conference Pages (5 pts) – as a primer for the conference, how much can we learn here?

  • High Majors. The twelve conferences TSN designates as high majors each gets a full page primer, and there’s a lot to like here. The predicted order of finish uses a cool feature with arrows that shows how the team is trending this year – up, down, or steady. There’s a five man all-conference team, a short narrative breakdown of the league, and the most inclusive list of superlatives we’ve yet seen (15-20 different superlatives). There is also a third of the page devoted to ranking the recruiting classes within the conference and short analyses of each incoming player.
  • Mid Majors. TSN anoints only six leagues as mid-major leagues, and each of these leagues gets a half-page of analysis, including the predicted order of finish, a short narrative, an all-conference team, recruiting rankings and three superlatives.
  • Low Majors. The remaining conferences receive one page each, nearly the same as the mid-majors with the exception that the narrative is really just a paragraph wrapup.
  • Total Points = 5

VII. Team Pages (20 pts) – how in-depth is the analysis? where does it come from? is it timely and insightful given this year’s squad or is it just a rundown of last year’s achievements?

  • Roughly the top 2/3 of the high major teams get a full page of analysis from TSN; the remainder get a half page. Again, there’s a lot to like here – the writing is solid, giving decent insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each team without merely another rundown of each player and his stats. There is also a section on power ratings by five categories, a five-year wins trend, an impact rookie blurb and a brief but useful team statistics table.
  • The mid-major conference projected champions get the same treatment as the lower third teams of the high majors – a half-page with much of the same information above. The remainder of mid-major teams simply get the one-paragraph rundown treatment.
  • The low-majors all get a single paragraph, whether they’re the projected champion or not.
  • For the top twelve conferences, the analysis is the best we’ve seen this year thus far. The writers clearly know these teams and do a good job at breaking down what to watch for this season. The remaining leagues get short shrift, but those fans are not the target audience.
  • Total Points = 16

VIII. Recruiting (5 pts) – we want to know who the top players are coming into college bball, where they’re going and who to watch for next year.

  • As mentioned above, each major conference page has a substantial section on recruits for each school and rankings within each league.
  • See above for our issue with their list of the top 100 incoming players.
  • There is no listing of the best incoming recruiting classes nationally anywhere in the magazine, which is incomprehensible to us.
  • Once upon a time, S&S was the best place to get recruiting information, but that time again seems to have passed. They have four pages of names of players without ranking any of them outside of their Boys All-America Team (top 20). It’s nice they give a paragraph describing the skill set of each of those twenty players, but there’s just no way to compare players outside of that grouping.
  • With that said, we continue to enjoy the All-Metro Teams of twenty or so HS basketball hotbeds around the country. It gives us something to look for in our local area.
  • We also enjoy that TSN lists the top 25 HS teams for 2007-08.
  • This magazine has more information on high school prospects than any other we’ve seen, and yet they muff it by not presenting the information in a way most people would want to see it. Lists are fine, but they have to be useful for comparison.
  • Total Points = 4

IX. Title IX Guilt (aka Chick Ball) (5 pts) – the less the better…

  • The women’s preview is a Top 25 with four pages of analysis, but thankfully they stuck it in the back of the magazine.
  • Where they really go wrong is by wasting five more pages in the back on girls’ HS All-Americans and a HS top 20. We cannot believe that anyone would buy this magazine to get this information.
  • Total Points = 2

X. Intangibles (15 pts) – what’s good and bad about the magazine as a whole?

  • This magazine is trying to be everything to everyone. You can easily tell which parts were the expertise of TSN and which were the responsibility of S&S, and as such, the magazine seems random and incomplete in parts. For example, in addition to the prep information in the back, the magazine also gives us a full page on D2, D3 and NAIA basketball (with top 10s and All-Americans). And if that’s not enough, it also has a juco section, complete with a Top 10 and an article explaining why juco talent is getting deeper.
  • There is also a full page of individual and team stats for D1, D2, D3 and NAIA, plus two pages of women’s stats. Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to give us six pages of D1 stats instead? Are a substantial number of NAIA fans really buying this magazine?
  • Schedules. By virtue of its release date, TSN has most every team’s schedules in complete form at the very back of the magazine. The back page also has a nice roundup of all the in-season tourneys and conference tournament information.
  • The writing of this magazine is better than Lindy’s and Athlon, but the only writing actually performed is in the conference and team previews. It was very disappointing there weren’t more features at the front.
  • Total Points = 10

RTC Grade for Sporting News/Street & Smith’s = 61.5 pts

Basis: We have to say that we were really disappointed with this magazine, largely because when we were growing up, the TSN and S&S previews were must-reads in our house. Wow, how the mighty have fallen. How can you not have feature articles or build an NCAA field? How can you not rank-order recruits? How can you add a cheerleader section and spend page after page giving us NAIA stats? At this point, and we never thought we’d say this, the TSN magazine is definitely worse than Lindy’s and no better than Athlon. This would have been unheard of a few short years ago. The only value of this magazine is in the quality of the writing of the analyses for the high major conferences and teams – that is the one (and only) area where TSN trumps the other two. What a disappointment.


Grading Scale:

  • 90-100 pts - exceptional quality in all areas – must buy and keep on-hand all season!
  • 80-89 pts - very good quality mag – worthy of purchasing and reading cover-to-cover
  • 70-79 pts - average, run of the mill magazine – some value in certain areas but weak in others – tough call as to whether to purchase it
  • 60-69 pts - magazine on the weaker side, but may still have some positive attributes – probably not worth the money, though
  • 0-59 pts - such a low quality magazine that it’s not worth any more than the five minutes you thumbed through it at the store
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Consensus Conference Picks – #31-#23

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Every year, all the preview magazines, bloggers, media pundits and the like make myriad predictions about conferences, all-americans, bracketology, etc., but come March, very few of them ever own up to those prognoses. Usually that’s because they were wrong about nearly everything. So we’re going to try to provide a modicum of accountability here. The idea is that we’ll post the predictions of the varoius media outlets now with the intent to revisit them next spring.

And if you never hear about this again, you’ll know that our predictions were waaaaaay off. :-)

So for starters, we’re going to post consensus conference predictions for the leagues we rated #31 through #24. We’ll show you every media outlet’s pick for conference winner in addition to the school that got the most picks (if there is one). If we’re missing anyone, please notify us so we can add them as well. Our picks are below in red.

#31-#23 Conf Picks

As you can see, we agree with the consensus pick in five of the nine leagues we’ve reviewed so far – NEC, A-Sun, OVC (wow, Austin Peay has a lot to live up to - unanimous!), Big South and the MAAC. We don’t understand the Grambling pick (we have them 3d) nor the Hampton pick (4th). The BU pick in the America East makes sense to us (2d in our prediction) and the Southland is a three-way tie, with understandable choices of UT-Arlington and Texas A&M-CC.

We’ll update this accordingly as we complete another group of leagues for the season preview.

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Conference Primers: #23 – Metro Atlantic

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Loyola (MD) (19-9) (14-4)
  2. Siena (18-9) (13-5)
  3. Marist  (16-11) (12-6)
  4. Manhattan (16-12) (11-7)
  5. Niagara (13-13) (9-9)
  6. Rider  (11-16) (8-10)
  7. Fairfield (10-18) (8-10)
  8. Iona (8-21) (6-12)
  9. St. Peter’s (7-21) (5-13)
  10. Canisius (5-23) (4-14)

 MAAC Logo

WYN2K.  The Metro Atlantic, or the MAAC in local parlance, is a league that usually has a handful of good teams that can consistently compete with the mid-majors and beat the low-majors, but just doesn’t have the horses to run with the high majors.  As a case in point, the league went 1-19 against BCS teams last year (Marist 63, Minnesota 56), but still managed to have one of the best low-major records against nonconference opponents over the last three years (122-174, .412).  This is also exhibited by the league’s average seeding (#13.8) in the NCAA Tournament over the last decade – only two times has the MAAC received a #16 seed (2001 – Siena; 2007 – Niagara), and both times it won the PiG as a result.  As such, the league is typically competitive at the top, and this year is no different as we can foresee as many as five teams making a run at the title. 

Predicted Champion.  Loyola (MD) (#15 seed NCAA).  We’re a bit of a sucker for a great turnaround story, and none this year could possibly be better than Loyola.  In 2004 the Greyhounds endured a 1-27 season, tied for the fewest victories in D1.  Enter Jim Patsos, a smooth-talking optimist who guided Loyola to 6 wins, then 15 wins, then 18 wins last season as he has re-energized the program.  Now in his fourth year, the Greyhounds are poised to win the MAAC and earn an NCAA bid, led by former transfers such as Gerald Brown (22.2 ppg – #8 nationally) from Providence, Hassan Fofana (a 6’10 bruiser) from Maryland and Joe Miles (an instant-offense guy) from Marshall.  With four returning starters from a 12-6 conference record last year, we think that Loyola is the team to beat in the MAAC this year. 

Others ConsideredSiena is another school that returns a slew of talent from a 12-6 team, including Kenny Hasbrouck, the 2006 MAAC ROY and an all-league selection last year.  The Saints won nine of their last ten games last year before losing to Niagara in the MAAC title game, but we feel that the loss of big man Michael Haddix gives Loyola the edge here.  It will be a close race in any case.  Last year’s regular season champ Marist returns a good amount of experience and adds some key transfers (including former Syracuse guard Louis McCroskey), but the loss of second-round NBA draft pick point guard Jared Jordan, who led the nation in assists for two years in a row, will be tough to replace.  We also expect Manhattan to make some noise this year, as the Jaspers return seven sophomores from a team that surprised the MAAC by going 10-8 last season.  Niagara also should be mentioned even though it lost four starters from its NCAA team; after all, the Purple Eagles have won two of the last three NCAA bids, and the one starter returning is all-MAAC forward Charron Fisher, who will be assisted by the MAAC conference tourney MVP Tyrone Lewis.  We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Rider, if for no other reason than they have an NBA prospect named Jason Thompson on the team, the only returning 20/10 player in all of D1 this season. 

Games to Watch.  We’re still in the low-majors, so only one game matters.

  • MAAC Championship Game (03.10.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games.  The MAAC doesn’t play many BCS games in a typical season, and this year is no different with 21 on the slate.  As always, there are a few opportunities to grab a handful of wins against some BCS bottom-feeders in addition to improving the overall profile of the league simply by showing up and taking your medicine.   

  • Siena @ Syracuse (11.12.07)
  • Marist @ Miami (FL) (11.15.07)
  • Stanford @ Siena (11.17.07)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Seton Hall (11.20.07) 
  • NC State @ Rider (11.22.07)
  • Fairfield @ Georgetown (12.01.07)
  • Niagara @ St. John’s (12.15.07)
  • Loyola (MD) @ Illinois (12.28.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Once again, for the record, zero.

Neat-o Stat.  Former Pitino assistant Kevin Willard takes over for Jeff Ruland at Iona after the Gaels’ horrendous 2-28 performance last season.  How do you lose that many games?  Well, first, you turn the ball over on more than a quarter (26.1%, 329th nationally) of your possessions; and second, when you manage to hang onto the ball long enough to get to the foul line, you convert at only a 57.7% rate (334th nationally).  Iona lost six conference games by <5 points or in overtime – you think extra possessions and making foul shots might have helped?  

64/65-Team Era.  The MAAC is 5-24 (.172) over this era, which actually accounts for the second-best record among the traditional low-majors (only the Mid-Continent is better), but this is a little misleading because two of those wins were from PiGs.  As we stated above, the league tends to receive a favorable seed (among low-majors), averaging a #13.0 over the entire period.  Still, only three teams have managed to win a true first round game, and one of those was as a surprising #4 seed (1990 – LaSalle and Lionel “L-Train” Simmons over #13 Southern Miss 79-63 – believe it or not, we found a clip of the L-Train in action in 1988 below).  The other two upset victories for the MAAC were in 1995 (#13 Manhattan over #4 Oklahoma 77-67) and 2004 (#12 Manhattan over #5 Florida 75-60).  Seems as if only the Jaspers can pull off the upset from this conference.    

Note:  video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.

Final Thought.  The MAAC as a whole has seen better days, but really it’s the bottom half of the league that’s keeping it down.  It’s an exaggeration, but it seems as if every year the worst team in America (as judged solely by records and media coverage) comes from the MAAC.  Several years ago it was Loyola, and last year it was Iona.  Part of this probably derives from increased media attention due to its location of schools centered in and around New York.  Nevertheless, the perception of this league is worse than its actual performance.  Still, it has been slipping a smidge over the past couple of years and it needs to put together a strong season this year to earn back some of that respect.   

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Conference Primers: #24 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. High Point (18-8) (10-4)
  2. Winthrop (18-9) (10-4)
  3. Coastal Carolina (14-14) (8-6)
  4. VMI (15-11) (8-6)
  5. UNC-Asheville (15-14) (7-7)
  6. Liberty (12-17) (6-8)
  7. Charleston Southern (12-17) (5-9)
  8. Radford (7-22) (3-11)

Big South logo

WYN2K. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. The Big South has not traditionally been a very good league. The only thing keeping it from the conference dregs along with the likes of the MEAC and Atlantic Sun has been the ascendence of Winthrop (seven of the last nine conference NCAA appearances) as a legitimate mid-major program. During the last three years the Big South has gone 87-171 (.337) against nonconference opponents, but nearly a quarter of those wins (20) belong to the Eagles (including all four conference wins over BCS opponents). With coach Gregg Marshall’s move up the food chain to Wichita St. and the loss of three key starters (not to mention the untimely death of DeAndre Adams in a car accident in May), the Big South championship just might be open to an enterprising suitor no longer cowed by Winthrop basketball.

Predicted Champion. High Point (#16 seed NCAA). We believe that there is too much turnover (eight new players + a new coach) and potential turmoil for Winthrop to hang on to their crown this season, but we also think it will be a very tight race at the top (predicting both teams to finish tied in the regular season, with HP taking the tournament title). High Point returns conference POY Arizona Reid and two other starters to a second-place Big South squad that was 14th in the nation in 3pt% defense last year. More importantly, High Point was the team that played Winthrop the toughest during its 14-0 conference run last year, losing by a single point at home and twelve on the road (no other team had a lower combined margin of -13 points).

Others Considered. Should High Point stumble, we know that Winthrop will be there to pick up the pieces. We also think Coastal Carolina, with new coach Cliff Ellis, could make a run at the conference title. Ellis inherits Jack Leasure, the 2006 conference POY, in addition to Joshua Mack, the 2007 conference ROY, so clearly he has some talent to work with. We’re not ready to jump on the Loyola Marymount VMI bandwagon just yet (101 ppg), but their surprising run to the conference finals and scare of Winthrop (VMI lost 84-81) raised some eyebrows. Reggie Williams alone (28.1 ppg, 53% FG) might be worth the price of admission. UNC-Asheville returns four starters, but six straight losing seasons doesn’t exactly inspire confidence despite the presence of 7’7 mantree Kenny George, who averaged decent numbers (5.5 ppg; 3.5 rpg) in only ten minutes per game.

Games to Watch. One-bid league = one important game.

  • Big South Championship Game (03.08.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games. As we alluded to above, the Big South doesn’t perform very well when facing BCS teams (2-23, .080 in 2006-07). In fact, all four wins against BCS opponents in the last three years have come at the hands of Winthrop (big surprise there) – Mississippi St. (2007), Notre Dame (2007), Marquette (2006), and Providence (2005). Still, there are a few opportunities for Big South teams to win against bottom-feeder BCS teams this year.

  • Coastal Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.16.07)
  • Auburn @ Charleston Southern (11.19.07)
  • VMI @ Ohio St. (11.25.07)
  • Winthrop @ Mississippi (12.13.07)
  • Winthrop @ Miami (FL) (12.29.07)
  • High Point @ Florida (01.02.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None. Winthrop would have trouble getting a bid as an at-large last year had it lost the title game, and nobody is going through this league unbeaten this year.

Neat-o Stat. Gotta be VMI, right? The Keydets set NCAA records for threes made (442), threes attempted (1383), threes per game (13.4) and total steals (490) in a season. Coach Duggar Baucaum‘s philosophy is for his players to take over 100 shots a game (half of which are 3s). All he needs now is a Hank Gathers and a Bo Kimble and he’ll be all set.

64/65-Team Era. The Big South began participating in the NCAA Tournament in 1991, and the league has gone 2-16 (.111) during this period, with one of those wins being the 2003 PiG (UNC-Asheville defeated Texas Southern). The other win, of course, was last year’s #11 Winthrop over #6 Notre Dame 74-64. Part of this is due to seeding, as the league has averaged a 15.2 seed over the era. In fact, the only three times that the league has gotten a seed better than #15 were all Winthrop (2000 – #14, 2005 – #14, 2007 – #11). So what does this mean for a non-Winthrop team such as High Point who might make the NCAAs this year? Probably not much – the last two times another school made it (2003 – UNC-Asheville; 2004 – Liberty), they both got #16 seeds and were blitzed by twenty in the first round. So for now, let’s just enjoy highlights of last year’s upset over the Irish.

Note:  video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.

Final Thought. This season will be the test to determine whether Winthrop has staying power like its fellow mid-major sister schools Gonzaga and Southern Illinois, to name a couple. Gonzaga survived the loss of its coach and architect Dan Monson without missing a beat, and SIU did the same when Bruce Weber left Chris Lowery at the helm in 2003. Let’s sit back and see what Randy Peele can do.

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Conference Primers: #25 – America East

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Vermont (21-7) (13-3)
  2. Boston U. (18-10) (12-4)
  3. Albany (16-13) (10-6)
  4. Binghamton (14-13) (9-7)
  5. Maryland-Baltimore County (13-16) (8-8)
  6. Maine (9-19) (6-10)
  7. Stony Brook (10-18) (6-10)
  8. Hartford (9-21) (5-11)
  9. New Hampshire (6-21) (3-13)

America East Logo

WYN2K. The Am East has a tendency toward top-heaviness, with a couple of good teams in a given year that are competitive with mid-major and (sometimes) high-major teams while the rest are relegated to the morass of low-major fiefdom. Over the last several years, the three sentinels of America East basketball have been Vermont , Boston U. and Albany, the three of which have won the last six regular season and conference tourney championships of the league (although only once in the same year – Vermont in 2005) . Led by these programs, the conference has gone 119-176 (.403) against nonconference opponents over the last three seasons, which is a clear step up in success from the conferences below it. We expect the same three programs to battle it out for this year’s crown.

Predicted Champion. Vermont (#16 seed NCAA). Choosing UVM here was an extremely close call, as we fully expect BU and Albany to make a push for the league crown as well. Despite the losses of rebounding fiend Chris Holm (#3 in oReb% nationally) and rising star Joe Trapani (transfer to BC), the Catamounts return probable Am East POY Mike Trimboli at the point guard slot. We feel that his heady play, combined with the losses at the other schools will allow Vermont to hang on to the top spot.

Others Considered. BU is rising quickly, led by a quartet of precocious sophomores who surprised the league by finishing 8-8 in the conference last season. The most interesting of these players is Tyler Morris, reigning Am East ROY who also has the distinction of being the HS teammate of Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr. See if you can find him in the video below (look very closely for the white kid in green). Two-time defending NCAA entrant Albany must also be dealt with, despite losing Am East POY (twice over) Jamar Wilson. Brent Wilson and Brian Lillis (Am East DPOY) have more than enough support to make another run at the title. A final consideration goes to Binghamton, who hired Georgetown assistant coach Kevin Broadus to bring the Princeton offense to upstate NY. Considering that Binghamton was already one of the most sure-handed offenses in the nation (#9 in oStl%), we think this group will be ready for the transition. It also doesn’t hurt that the 2008 conference tourney will be located in Binghamton. Watch out for the Bearcats as a darkhorse.

Games to Watch. As a one-bid league, only one game will matter to most people.

  • America East Championship Game (03.15.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games. The America East shies away from playing numerous BCS conference teams (18 games scheduled last year; 16 this year), but it makes up for it by playing quite a few winnable games against mid-major teams. For example, last year Albany defeated Utah to go along with the league’s three wins vs. BCS opponents (Vermont 77, BC 63; Binghamton 79, Miami (FL) 74; Stony Brook 59, Penn St. 51). There are several such opportunities this season.

  • Vermont @ George Mason (11.09.07)
  • Vermont @ Virginia (11.11.07)
  • Boston U. @ George Washington (11.14.07)
  • Maryland-BC @ Wichita St. (12.04.07)
  • Albany @ Duke (12.17.07)
  • Boston U. @ UMass (12.29.07)
  • Albany @ Iowa St. (12.30.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Zip. Even with Vermont going 15-1 in the league last year and losing to Albany by one point in the conference tourney final, they were relegated to the NIT (losing to Kansas St. 59-57). This year will be a more competitive race, which leaves no opportunity for multiple bids.

Neat-o Stat. We have several today. The Am East is a league where coaches get their starts – names like Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino, Mike Jarvis, Mike Brey, and Jay Wright all earned their chops in the league before moving onto bigger and better things. Will Binghamton’s Kevin Broadus be the next coaching star from the America East? Also, just call Maryland-Baltimore County’s Brian Hodges the Human Cannon this season – he ranked sixth in the nation in shots attempted, taking 37.4% of his team’s shots while on the floor. Finally, everyone thinks UVM stands for University (of) Ver… Mont, right? Well, no – it actually is latin (Universitas Viridis Montis) for University of the Green Mountains. Go figure.

64/65-Team Era. The America East is 3-23 (.115) over this era, with three first-round victories from 1989 (#14 Siena over #3 Stanford), 1996 (#12 Drexel over #5 Memphis), and 2005 (#13 Vermont over #4 Syracuse). #13 Albany was blitzed last year by #4 Virginia, but in 2006 the Great Danes were leading #1 seed UConn 60-48 with eleven minutes remaining before Marcus Williams took over and finished them off down the stretch (34-9 run by the Huskies). And who can forget the Sorrentine and Coppenrath show vs. Cuse in 2005?


Final Thought. The Am East is one of our favorite low-major leagues. In the few games we see involving these teams, the fans seem to be incredibly rowdy and into the games. The level of basketball as a rule is decidedly below the rim, but teams make up for it in execution and shooting. And how can you not like resident Am East cheerleader (and former UVM coach) Tom Brennan doing studio work for ESPN all winter.

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The Best from The Madness

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2007

A few leftovers and detritus we found from last night’s Midnight Madness festivities around the nation:

JTIII gets funky at Georgetown:

Cool clip of Roy Hibbert bouncing with the students:

UK fans doing what they do:

More strange skits at Late Night with Roy:

Maryland doing likewise?:

DeAndre Jordan at Maroon Madness:

WVU throwdown:

If anybody’s seen any other really cool ones, send us the link or leave a comment. Thanks.

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Midnight Madness v. 2.0

Posted by rtmsf on October 13th, 2007

Midnight Madness went off at several venues around the country tonight, and as a result the message boards and blogs have been buzzing all night long with news about how players looked and speculation on what to expect this season. Since ESPN was typically worthless no help whatsoever in letting us see how some of these teams looked, we decided to try to piece together some fan commentary and photos (and in a couple cases, video footage) of opening night impressions.

We start with Indiana, where expectations are sky high with the unveiling of uber-frosh Eric Gordon in a Hoosier uniform. From The Hoosier Scoop blog:

Kelvin Sampson walked out to the middle of the court, microphone in hand. It took a minute, at least, for him to actually be able to say anything. The fans kept chanting his name.

Sampson is thanking the fans for being here, and telling them how excited they are to start a new season.

He’s called Holman out to the middle of the court, and has congratulated him on being eligible. Crowd loves that.

Now DeAndre Thomas has been called out to mid-court. Sampson is discussing his weight, opening with the line “I don’t want to make a big deal of his weight . . .” I think it’s already become a big deal, with 14,000 people watching. Thomas has gone from 356 to 299.

Now Sampson is talking football, saying that he’s looking forward to watching the Hoosiers beat the Spartans tomorrow. And he’s saying “Why not a BCS bowl?”

What will happen when Gordon faces a little adversity? When his shot doesn’t fall, or he’s fouled four times in a row by a team trying rattle him?

Well, Gordon missed his first dunk attempt during this drill — which is nothing more than the guys running up and down dunking. But then he came back with a behind-the-head slam that was so utterly resounding I only hope somebody got it on video.

After the dunk practice, Indiana ran a transition drills, with three players breaking down the court against two defenders and then, following a possession, those two defenders breaking the other way again one player. Sampson has stated that this team will score more in transition, and here’s early proof.

Oh, and the passes made by Eric Gordon in this video sequence are pretty sick.

What about Billy G. over at Kentucky? 23,000+ filled Rupp Arena to greet the new coach and rooks Patrick Patterson and Alex Legion. Gary Parrish has the take:

Jody Meeks MM

We’re Diggin the New Nike Warmups, Mr. Meeks

And then the curtains dropped.

And right there behind them, there he was, the person who made this always wild atmosphere even wilder than normal. Standing and waving and flashing that big old goofy smile, Billy Gillispie received an ovation fit for, well, fit for the new basketball coach at Kentucky. And when the chant died down and the clapping finally ceased, this Texas man who was an assistant at Illinois just six years ago was handed the microphone and asked for his first impressions.

“I can’t talk,” Gillispie said.

Ahhh, (Wild)cat got your tongue, Billy?

But in all seriousness, it’s difficult to blame Gillispie for being totally overwhelmed. Because regardless of all the games he’s won and lost in his still relatively young career (featuring stops at UTEP and Texas A&M), there’s nothing in Gillispie’s 47 years on this planet that happened before Friday night that could’ve possibly prepared him for what it’s like to stand in the middle of Rupp Arena and give other humans goosebumps.

No, I’m not exaggerating.

Over in Lawrence, RTC’s preseason #1 Kansas Jayhawks put on a show in the Phog.

Kansas MM

Sherron Collins led all scorers with 13 points coming on 6-of-13 shooting. He hit only one of his six three-point attempts, but that’s no big deal because, well, no one ever looks all that sharp in Late Night scrimmages.

More important on Collins is that he looks like he did in mid-season as a freshman. He drove to the basket in a smart manner, only recorded one of the game’s 14 turnovers and looked noticeably lighter and bouncier.

He put on a display of mid-air acrobatics before the game in layup lines. When asked after the game if he could have done all that a year ago, his answer, with a smile, was simple: “Absolutely not.”

He was also a pretty good dancer, to boot.

Jeremy Case led the Red team with 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting, including a pair of threes. Now, of course, nothing concrete in terms of Bill Self’s rotation can come from tonight’s scrimmage, but Case looked at ease on the Fieldhouse floor. That, too, could be because he’s entering his fifth season as a Jayhawk.

Case said he’s playing right now with no pressure on him, which could do nothing but help his basketball endeavors. It’ll be interesting to see how having his degree out of the way already helps Case as he tries to work himself into the rotation. He could be this year’s feel-good story, I would predict if solely based on what we saw tonight.

Elswewhere… Sasha Kaun had a workmanlike nine points and six rebounds for the Red team, though should probably stay away from wearing top hats, which he donned as a backup dancer during Russell Robinson’s ‘New York, New York’ performance. With his fledgling afro, it wasn’t the greatest of looks…Darrell Arthur was third on the red squad with eight points, while Mario Chalmers paced the offense up and down the floor repeatedly, notching five points, five assists and two steasl in 15 minutes on the floor…Conner Teahan, Brady Morningstar and Darnell Jackson each had six points for the Blue team. Jackson also registered six rebounds, three assists and three steals, giving him the most balanced line of any Jayhawk on the night.

An enterprising and informative Memphis Tiger fan had this to say about his Blogpoll #1 squad:

Joey Dorsey MM

Rose: Looked confident running the team. You can just tell that this kid has “it.” He showed freakish athleticism on his one dunk in the dunk contest. He is very fast and seems to play under control. He probably will get lost during the season as most freshman do, but once he figures it out. Dorsey: Just a physical freak. He dunked anything he could get his hands on. Douglas-Roberts: CDR always looks uncoordinated, then he just puts the ball in the basket. His upper body looked bigger. He had a sweet stroke on one three pointer. If he improves from behind the line, how do you defend him. Anderson: Didn’t really notice Antonio much, but he always does the dirty work that doesn’t get noticed anyway. Dozier: Definitely looked bigger. Rob showed some fire when dunking the ball, which seemed to be lacking last year. Maybe going up against Taggart every day will turn Dozier’s potential into improved stats. Kemp: Willie looked good. He shot the ball well from behind the line. I think he will do well backing up Rose at the point this year. Probably will play some two guard with the way he can shoot. Mack: I think Doneal hit 12 or 13 three pointers in the three point contest. His shot looked really good. I liked how he dunked the ball during the scrimmage. He has the hops to turn drives into highlight dunks. It is incredible the amount of talent on this roster. No offense to guys on past teams, but it amazes me that we used to start guys like Chad Allen and Michael Brittain in the post.

JTIII and friends had a roaring time in McDonough Gym on the campus of Georgetown, as one fan who got a coveted seat (only 2000 available) reports:

Roy Hibbert MM

I think it was well received by the recruits, at least the couple I was sitting upstairs with. They were into it and yelling along. I thought the crowd inside was great, loud and much better behaved than last year and Athletics did a great job getting folks in the gym. Some quick hits:

Step team’s routine was 5 minutes too long and way longer than any other performance (wife-beaters, really?). Dance team … well, I’m gonna leave it at that. Groove Theory awesome as usual. Two new male cheerleaders, so now a total of three. Cheerleaders still look as though they are in Junior High. A lot of Soulja Boy, and extended dancing this year (more dancing then anything else): each of the players as they were introduced; men’s vs women’s team; and both teams with AKD’s little brother.

Coach’s dance moves were old school smooth. The appearance of Jeff Green’s mom and dad was great (the unveiled his jersey). The seniors unveiled the 2007 Final Four banner … in fact, they now have new Final Four banners along with a Championship banner on the opposite wall of the jerseys (main entrance side).

Lay-up line turned dunkfest (Tyler Crawford is gonna be a beast this year, you already see the aggressiveness … him, Wallace and Sapp had some solid dunks). A nasty scoop behind the back dunk by Ewing Jr was best dunk of the night. Coach said they probably dance better, so he stopped the drill and they started dancing again: both teams together; both teams vs the crowd; and Ewing Jr. tutoring Mr. Rice for the Soulja Boy.

They did the five man weave full-court drill as well. But it seemed that the program was running long and the team seemed to tucker out a bit towards the end. Gotta say, it was a shame not to see the women’s team get a little bit of time to run drills (they basically sat around and watched the men, was kinda awkward). I know ESPNU was covering the men’s team but some time would have been nice.

Overall I thought the event inside the gym was great and the teams represented Georgetown in a great light for the recruits (recruits busted up at some of the dancing on the women’s team and a few of the guys as well).

We have to go to Yahoo for a report on USC and OJ Mayo:

OJ Mayo MM

 

Southern California has got Mayo, as in O.J. Mayo, and the Trojans showed off their star recruit when he and the rest of the team scrimmaged for fans Friday night.

The Midnight Madness session kicked off the start of practice for the Trojans, who open the season Nov. 10, at home against Mercer.

Introduced next-to-last, Mayo jogged onto the court with the index and middle fingers on both hands signaling the Trojans’ V-for-victory sign. He wore a No. 32 jersey in tribute to his favorite player, Magic Johnson.

Mayo teamed with a female fan in a 2-ball game, with each of them trying to make as many shots as possible in 60 seconds. He tossed up an air ball on his first attempt and smiled as he chased after the ball.

Mayo made four of nine shots, mostly from the perimeter, capped by a miss on a half-court attempt.

Late Night with Roy in Chapel Hill was another exercise in weirdness, but the Heels fans were generally pleased with what they saw, as a fan reports:

UNC MM

I was very pleased with Graves. I believe that we did not look quite as explosive as last year. I will kind of run down the players for you. I will put them in order as to the way that I thought that each player played with an emphasis on expectations.

1. Tywon A+ I thought that he looked a little winded/slow to start, then he settled down, and he was slap awesome!!!! I think this will be his last year.
2. Tyler A+ His usual self!
3. Graves A+ I was very pleasantly surprised. I will preface the rest of my reports to say that I was in the nose bleed section, and much of my view was heavily obstructed by everyone leaving. It seemed that halfway through the scrimmage, half of the audience was gone. It seemed that 1/4 left at the beginning of the scrimmage, and they just kept filing out one by one. I was most surprised at his intensity and tenacity on the defensive effort that he put out there. Then he was equally effective on the offensive side of the ball. Some one needs to tell him that he is not McCants. He even guarded Bobby pretty well.
4. Danny A I will bet that we play a lot of small ball this year. Danny did very well rebounding, and he played under control. His shot was also falling.
5. Marcus A Great job did very well.
6. Bobby A steady, ran the team, knocked down a few shots.
7. Wayne B It was very obvious, he is intent at taking it to the rim, but not great at it yet, and probably to the detriment to his shot. I don’t think he hit any jumpers. I was pretty disappointed with him. I would say that he def. looked like a 4 year player. I hope that his shot returns. His will to drive might well pay off if he can get his shot back on.
8. Alex B about what I expected. I think that he was trying to tear the rims off. He will be a defensive force!! He bobbled the ball some on offense.
9. Deon B- He was kind of transparent in that I did not notice him do very much, except one steal and ran the break. Other than that, I am not sure he was even on the court. He ties with Wayne as the two biggest disappointments of the night.

Over all, I think that we will have a slightly worse regular season, but may actually make it to the final four, because we should have last year. I think that we will def. play small ball a lot. From what I could tell tonight, Deon and Alex were not ready. Of course it was pick up style, and one bad game does not a season make, unless it is in March.

We conclude with Illinois for two reasons – 1) we really wanted to show this pic of Jeffrey Jordan wearing his dad’s jersey rising for a monster flush; and 2) it was kinda neat that everyone in the crowd wore pink as a show of solidarity to fight cancer. Two Illini fans gives their takes on Weber’s squad:

Jeff Jordan MM

1. shaun pruitt is GOOD. i mean GOOD. ive always been hard on the guy but he brought the ball down the court once and was doing all this ball handling and i thought it was one of our guards at first til he stood up, i was like, what the heck! looks much more mobile and better handles.
2. jeff jordan jumps OUT OF THE GYM. hes short, but good lord can he jump. he did a 360 in warm ups.
3. as someone mentioned in another thread, carlwell wearing jamars jersey was good to see. i think in the end, believe it or not, jamar will be a better person from all this.
4. besides the outside threat, we could be a very solid team. alexander and davis are both very very athletic and seem to have decent shots. mccamey has mad ball handling skills and i thought holdren looked very well too.

5 things i noticed:

1) Mike Davis is a freak of an athlete. He can jump high and far and in control.
2) I agree with Quadcities that Jeffrey Jordan inherited his father’s ability to jump.

3) I also agree with Quadcities that McCamey had some really really impressive ball handling skills

4) Rodney Alexander looks very fluid, smooth, and an overall great package

5) This team is going to be better and more athletic than last years team. I really believe that.

If you seek even more info, Andy Katz gave this report on several other places, including Texas A&M and Washington St. Also, CSTV live blogged several events tonight, although the depth of detail is a little lacking. We guess they get ESPNU on their package.

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Midnight Lameness

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2007

College basketball doesn’t really have a traditional Opening Day/Night like most of the other sports. It’s more or less a mishmash of games scattered throughout early to mid-November that nobody really pays much attention to. But what we do have that no other sport has is Midnight Madness – a bacchanalia of excitement and frenzy that tips off the college hoops season in earnest. Midnight Madness is Christmas Eve come early – it feeds into every hoops fan’s hopes for the coming year, with visions of upset victories and championships dancing in our heads.

At Midnight Madness, every returner looks lean, mean and ready to have a breakout season.

At Midnight Madness, the freshmen all look like the next Melo or Shaq.

At Midnight Madness, even the walk-ons look ready to contribute this year.

Joakim Noah MM 04

Why Won’t ESPN Cover Midnight Madness Anymore?

And so, with all this excitement and the knowledge that the WWL is planning on showing over 400 hoops games on its 27 different channels this winter, what great things do they have planned for the big night? Live action from KU’s Late Night in the Phog, right? A check-in on Big Blue Madness in Lexington, perhaps? How about Late Night with Roy over in Chapel Hill? Sounds like a great night in front of the tube, right? Right?

ESPNU Midnight Madness Schedule (All times EDT)

Time – School

  • 7 – 8 p.m. – Davidson
  • 11 p.m. – 12 a.m. – Georgetown (delayed)
  • 12 – 1 a.m. – Memphis (delayed)
  • 1 – 1:30 a.m. – Southern Illinois (delayed)

Ummm… or not.

Look, we appreciate that ESPN is going to throw some mid-major love at Davidson and Southern Illinois Friday night. And sure, it’s worthwhile showing top five teams Georgetown and Memphis as well. But come on – ESPNU? We’re sure all five people who get that channel will be glued to their sets.

So what has ESPN decided to show on its other channels instead of Midnight Madness coverage? The flagship channel has college football – Hawaii vs. San Jose St. – no argument with that choice here. ESPN2, though, has NASCAR Busch Series all night – the equivalent of AAA baseball. Can’t wait for that. ESPN Classic is showing a bunch of old heavyweight fights (zzzzzzz…), and ESPN360 is showing its typical fare of the daily news shows repeats. Even the aforementioned ESPNU is wasting the prime hours of 8-11pm to show a high school football game instead, waiting until 11pm to show delayed broadcasts of Georgetown, Memphis and SIU.

The main point we’re making here is that unless you have ESPNU, and we know you don’t, there’s no way you’ll see more than a few clips on Sportscenter tomorrow night. It wasn’t that long ago when a whole night was devoted to this event – what happened? Way to step it up there, ESPN.

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Conference Primers: #26 – Southland

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Lamar (18-11) (11-5)
  2. Northwestern St. (19-11) (11-5)
  3. McNeese St. (14-15) (8-8)
  4. Nicholls St. (10-19) (7-9)
  5. Southeast Louisiana (9-19) (5-11)
  6. Central Arkansas (7-20) (4-12)

West

  1. Sam Houston St. (20-9) (12-4)
  2. Texas – Arlington (19-9) (11-5)
  3. Texas A&M – Corpus Christi (14-13) (10-6)
  4. Stephen F. Austin (14-15) (8-8)
  5. Texas St. (8-20) (6-10)
  6. Texas – San Antonio (7-23) (3-13)

Southland Logo

WYN2K. On its surface, the Southland appears to be an improving league. Over the last three seasons, the league has won progressively more games against OOC D1 opponents (26/33/41) for an overall record of 100-212 (.321) during this period. Additionally, while the league has been a #16 seed in six of the last eleven NCAA Tourneys, it has earned a higher seed five of the last six years (#14/#15/#16/#15/#14/#15). The #14 seed in 2006 (Northwestern St.) paid off with one of the biggest upsets of that year’s tournament, as the Demons defeated #3 Iowa 64-63 in miraculous fashion (see below). We think that the competitive balance among the top of the league this year will allow the Southland to continue to earn a higher seed than #16.

Predicted Champion. Sam Houston St. (#15 seed NCAA). There are five teams who we figure can win this league, but out of the group, we like SHSU’s experience returning along with POY candidate Ryan Bright. Bright is a stat sheet stuffer extraordinaire – he finished in the top 250 players nationally last year in several categories, including eFG% (183), dReb% (120), blocks% (161) and steals% (178). The Bearkats were poised to challenge Texas A&M-CC last year before a first-round conference tournament upset at the hands of Lamar.

Others Considered. Texas-Arlington is a rising program, returning everyone of consequence from a team that won eight of its last eleven games last year. Still, we’re not completely sold on a team that had a losing record (13-17). Lamar is another intriguing team, as they return four starters and have brought in a couple of juco PGs to battle over that position, but again, they only went 15-17 last year. Texas A&M – Corpus Christi lost nearly everyone from a team that gave Wisconsin a huge scare last year in the NCAAs (Tx A&M-CC was up 25-7 at one point), but the one key player they return (7’0 Chris Daniels) was last season’s conference POY and tournament MVP. Northwestern St. can’t be counted out either, as they always seem to find themselves in the conference mix, having been to five of the last eight Southland title games.

Games to Watch. Again, only one Southland game will be on the national radar.

  • Southland Championship Game (03.16.08). ESPN2.

RPI Booster Games. The Southland hasn’t shied away from scheduling BCS teams, with 34 on the agenda this season. Last year the conference defeated three BCS bottom-dwellers (Texas A&M – CC over South Florida; SE Lousiana over Oregon St. and Penn St.), and there are some similar opportunities this year.

  • Northwestern St. @ Stanford (11.10.07)
  • Texas Tech @ Sam Houston St. (11.14.07)
  • Lamar @ Mississippi (11.16.07)
  • Northwestern St. @ LSU (12.15.07)
  • Mississippi St. @ Texas A&M – CC (12.21.07)
  • Texas A&M – CC @ Auburn (01.02.08)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Slim to none. Had Texas A&M-CC not lost just about everyone, we could have made an argument for their inclusion as an at-large and likely 26-4 team, but that’s not the case. This is a one-bid league.

Neat-o Stat. Nicholls St. apparently believes in stomping on its players’ throats and eviscerating their spleens trial by fire, as its nonconference schedule last year was rated #17 by Pomeroy and it is on target for that level of difficulty again. Last year the Colonels played Mississippi St., Northern Iowa, Washington, Pepperdine, LSU, Texas, Ole Miss, Auburn and Vanderbilt, losing every game. This year NSU will play the likes of Florida St., California, LSU, Alabama, UNC, Minnesota and UNLV – all on the road, all before the new year, and all likely Ls. Hard to build much confidence that way.

64/65-Team Era. The Southland is 4-23 (.148) in the era, but those four wins are a little misleading – two of the wins were from Karl Malone’s Louisiana Tech team in 1985 that went to the Sweet 16, and one of the wins is from the PiG in 2001 (Northwestern St. defeated Winthrop 71-67). The only other first-round win was mentioned above – Northwestern St. over Iowa in 2006.

Karl Malone draft suit

We’ll Take Any Excuse to Bust Out this Pic

Final Thought. The champion of this league is a team to watch next March. Last year, Texas A&M – CC gave Wisconsin all it wanted for 30 minutes. The previous year we know what happened to Iowa at the hands of Northwestern St. And in 2005 #2 Oklahoma St. struggled against #15 SE Louisiana before pulling away to win 63-50. The championship-caliber teams that come out of this league can play, especially against the Big 10 (it seems)!

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Conference Primers: #27 – Ohio Valley

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish.

  1. Austin Peay (20-9) (16-4)
  2. Eastern Kentucky (17-11) (14-6)
  3. Murray St. (17-10) (13-7)
  4. Tennessee Tech (17-13) (12-8)
  5. Southeast Missouri (15-14) (11-9)
  6. Eastern Illinois  (13-14) (10-10)
  7. Samford (12-16) (9-11)
  8. Tennessee St. (10-17) (8-12)
  9. Morehead St. (9-18) (8-12)
  10. Jacksonville St. (10-17) (6-14)
  11. Tennessee-Martin (3-23) (3-17)

OVC Logo

WYN2K.  The OVC is a league that has been incredibly up-and-down depending on a given year.  In the last five years its RPI has hovered between the 19th and 25th best conference, and its Sagarin rating between 16th and 26th.  As a testament to its herky-jerkiness, no league champion has received the same seed as the prior year’s champion for the last eight years (13/15/14/13/12/15/14/16).  But if there is one trend worth noting, it is that the league’s overall profile appears to be dropping.  After a seven-year period from 1998-2004 where the league champion averaged a #12.7 seed, the last three seasons have resulted in an average of #15.0.   This is supported by the reality on the court, as no OVC team has won an NCAA Tourney game since the 80s, when Austin Peay (1987), Murray St. (1988), and Middle Tennessee St. (1989) comprised a three-year string of first round upsets. 

Predicted Champion. Austin Peay (#15 Seed NCAA).  This was the easiest pick of the previews yet.  “Let’s Go Peay” returns all five starters (including OVC POY Drake Reed) from a team that was the regular-season champion in 2007, but who lost on a buzzer beater to Eastern Kentucky in improbable fashion.  6’5 forward and resident muscle man Fernandez Lockett is likely another first-team all-OVC selection.   

Others ConsideredEastern Kentucky was the second-best team in the OVC last season, and Jeff Neubauer’s methodical style (310th in tempo nationally) led to EKU rankings near the top of the nation in effective FG% (18th) and two-point FG% (8th).  In other words, the Colonels consistently take and make good shots.  If any team is ready to supplant Austin Peay again, it’s likely to be EKU.  Murray St. is always in the mix in this conference (20 straight winning seasons), and we expect this year to be no different.  The Racers finished strong in 2007 winning eight of their last ten, and return many of their key players from last season.  Another team that finished very strong last year was Tennessee Tech, who won twelve of their last fifteen games as their coach Mike Sutton continued to arduously work his way back from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.       

Games to Watch.  If they OVC Championship game is anything like last year’s, then it should most definitely be on your March viewing calendar. 

  • OVC Championship Game (03.08.08). ESPN.

RPI Booster Games.  Last year the only BCS opponent that the OVC managed to defeat was Northwestern (by Tennessee Tech) at a neutral site.  Otherwise, the league was 0-20 against BCS teams.  We’ve identified several opportunities for an OVC squad to pull an upset this year to help the league’s overall RPI. 

  • Tennessee Tech @ Rutgers (11.09.07)
  • Austin Peay @ Vanderbilt (11.10.07)
  • Georgia Tech @ Tennessee St. (11.11.07)
  • Murray St. @ Mississippi St. (12.01.07)
  • Samford @ Florida St. (12.02.07)
  • Tennessee Tech @ Oregon St.  (12.16.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  Absolutely no chance. 

Neat-o Stat.  Reigning OVC Player of the Year Drake Reed was the first sophomore to win the honor since Popeye Jones did so back in 1990 at Murray St.   It’s unclear whether Reed is related to Jones (see below). 

Popeye Jones family 2

64/65-Team Era.  The OVC has gone 3-24 (.111) over the era.  As mentioned above, the glory days were the late 80s, when the OVC won a first round NCAA game each year from 1987-89.  The league hasn’t won a game since, although it has had a couple of very close calls (#2 Duke 81, #15 Murray St. 78 – 1997; #1 Michigan St. 75, #16 Murray St. 71 (OT) – 1990).   

Final Thought.   The OVC is definitely a top-heavy league this year.  There are three or four teams that can realistically win the NCAA bid, while the others are fairly noncompetitive.  Even with the lack of a balanced league, there is likely only one team with the experience and talent for us to consider it as possible first round upset material – Austin Peay.  But as we saw last year, even with the best team in the OVC, there’s no certainty that the Governors can win the conference tournament in its own back yard (47 miles from Clarksville, TN, to this year’s site again, Nashville, TN).   

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Four Days Left…

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2007

Four Balls

Just a little reminder. Midnight (er, 8pm EDT) Madness cometh…

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Conference Primers: #28 – Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on October 7th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

North

  1. East Tennessee St. (20-7) (13-3)
  2. Belmont (19-12) (12-4)
  3. Lipscomb (15-15) (10-6)
  4. Campbell (13-16) (7-9)
  5. Gardner-Webb (10-18) (6-10)
  6. South Carolina – Upstate (6-21) (4-12)

South

  1. Jacksonville (17-10) (11-5)
  2. Mercer (17-12) (10-6)
  3. Kennesaw St. (14-14) (10-6)
  4. Stetson (13-15) (8-8)
  5. Florida Gulf Coast (5-23) (3-13)
  6. North Florida (3-24) (2-14)

Atlantic Sun logo

WYN2K. The Atlantic Sun has been an up and down league over the past decade. It spent much of the late 90s and early 2000s as a league hovering at the top of the low-majors (#19-#23 ranked conference most years). But the last two seasons it has fallen hard, finishing as one of the bottom four conferences in the computer rankings both years. Its OOC record (70-174, .287) the last three years is standard for a league at this level. Still, the NCAA typically shows some love to the conference champion, having given the A-Sun only five #16 seeds in 64/65-team era (and two of those were when the league received multiple bids) and peaking with a #11 seed in 2001 (Georgia St. defeated #5 Wisconsin in the first round). The league has earned a #14 or #15 seed each of the last six years, and we see no reason for this to end.

Predicted Champion. East Tennessee St. (#15 Seed NCAA). We see Murray Bartow’s ETSU squad (16-2 last season in the A-Sun) as the team to beat here. They return league POY Courtney Pigram and bring in former juco D2 POY Kevin Tiggs, a combo guard from whom big things are expected immediately. As a program, ETSU is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made the Dance two of the last five years (as a member of the Southern Conference) and seven times overall.

Others Considered. The A-Sun North division is clearly the class of the league, containing two-time defending tourney champion Belmont and rising Lipscomb. Belmont is a system program predicated on efficient ball movement (#21 nationally in eFG%) and tight defense (#5 nationally in eFG% defense), but the loss of their two best post men (Boomer Herndon and Andrew Preston) makes it difficult for us to pick them again. Lipscomb is another intriguing choice if for no other reason than they’re hosting the conference tourney this year – oh, and they’re 24-2 at home during the last two seasons. Jacksonville engineered one of the all-time greatest turnarounds last year, going from one win in 2006 to fifteen in 2007, and while they won eight of their last eleven regular season games, we’re not ready to push them past the more experienced teams just yet.

Games to Watch. There’s likely only one A-Sun game probably worth watching this year.

  • Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03.08.08).

RPI Booster Games. The A-Sun has thirty games against BCS opponents scheduled this year, and hopefully it can perform a little better than last year when it was 0-34. There are some opportunities against lower-tier BCS teams, however, in the following list of games:

  • Belmont @ Cincinnati (11.09.07)
  • ETSU @ Georgia (12.21.07)
  • Lipscomb @ Vanderbilt (12.08.07)
  • Campbell @ South Carolina (11.28.08)
  • Jacksonville @ Florida (12.03.07)
  • Alabama @ Mercer (11.13.07)
  • Kennesaw St. @ Auburn (11.13.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. <5%. It’s extremely unlikely that this is a two-bid league, but if any team was going to make it so, it would be ETSU. It would require domination of the league as well as a scintillating non-conference record before they lose in the conference tourney – we don’t see that happening.

Neat-o Stat. We have a couple for the A-Sun. First, North Florida last season enjoyed the dubious distinction of having the least efficent offense in the nation, scoring a mere 79.6 pts per 100 possessions. Secondly, Florida Gulf Coast (one of four transitional schools making the jump to D1 in the A-Sun) is the youngest D1 university in America, having opened its doors to students in 1997.

64/65-Team Era. In 26 appearances, the Atlantic Sun is 3-23 (.115) over the era, scoring the #11 over #6 upset mentioned above, #12 College of Charleston defeating #5 Maryland in 1997, and #14 Arkansas-Little Rock defeating #3 Notre Dame (Digger!) in 1986. That UALR team then took NC State to double OT in the next round before succumbing – that is the closest the league has gotten to the Sweet 16 in its history.

Final Thought. Belmont has gotten destroyed by Georgetown (80-55) and UCLA (78-44) in the last two years in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t appear that their style of play is conducive to pulling off an upset against a bigger, more athletic team. The league would have a much better chance at the first round upset if an uptempo, athletic team like ETSU earns the automatic bid.

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