RTC Conference Primers: #25 – Sun Belt Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 10th, 2011

Danny Spewak of SunBeltBasketball.com is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference and a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @dspewak.

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Restoring the Glory: In a mere three-year span, the Sun Belt has taken a discouraging tumble. During the 2007-08 season, the league’s RPI ranked 14th among the 31 Division I conferences. It placed two teams in the NCAA Tournament, including a Sweet 16 squad in Western Kentucky (thanks in part to this shot). Now, fast forward to present day: the SBC finished 23rd in the conference RPI in 2010-11, and the auto-bid winner (Arkansas-Little Rock) lost the play-in game as a 16-seed. Hoping to curb the trend, the commissioner’s office decided to take action, forcing every team to schedule a stronger non-conference slate starting this year. That tactic should help improve the league’s overall rating, but more importantly, it actually appears the league has upgraded its talent significantly. With every head coach returning and a wave of star recruits incoming (see below), the Sun Belt looks ready for a rebound.
  • The New Guys: Tony Mitchell, the five-star North Texas forward who originally signed with Missouri, headlines a brilliant crop of newcomers across the conference. In addition to Mitchell, UNT coach Johnny Jones inked all sorts of talent out of the state of Texas, including coveted shooting guard Jordan Williams. Western Kentucky will also rely on a highly-touted recruiting class to help rebound from a disappointing season, and Middle Tennessee welcomes Iowa State transfer LaRon Dendy. Florida International might have the most intriguing prospect in big man Joey De La Rosa, but his eligibility isn’t a given right now.

After Enrolling at North Texas, Tony Mitchell Is Finally Set To Take The Court. (USA Basketball)

  • Goodbye, Denver: The Pioneers will leave for the Western Athletic Conference after the season, but coach Joe Scott has a competitive roster in place to compete for the West division in DU’s final year in the Sun Belt. That’s the only realignment update to note with this league, although more moves at the top of college sports could eventually trickle down to the SBC.
  • Tough Luck, ULM: After failing to meet academic standards, the NCAA ruled the Warhawks ineligible for postseason play in 2012. Keith Richard is still in the process of rebuilding the program, so an appearance in even the CIT or CBI looked like a pipe dream. Still, the ruling also means the Warhawks cannot participate in the Sun Belt Tournament, and that’s a harsh way to end the careers of the five seniors on this squad.

Predicted Order of Finish (conference records in parentheses)

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RTC Conference Primers: #26 – Big South Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2011

Mark Bryant, Big South Director of Multimedia Development and writer of BigSouthSHOUT, is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference. You can find him on Twitter at @BigSouthSports

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Mountain High Expectations: Will UNC Asheville hold serve as the favorite, now that the team is no longer in its typical role as the scrappy underdog?  Observers and opponents will not have their focus elsewhere this year, and Asheville will be showing off a new arena, no longer in the extra-cozy confines of the Justice Center which always provided a significant home court edge.
  • New to the Big South: Some familiar names to SEC fans have found their way to the Big South.  Mamadou N’Diaye, who played for Cliff Ellis at Auburn, will join Ellis on the Coastal Carolina bench, and B.J. McKie, who played at South Carolina when Barclay Radebaugh was an assistant there, will be part of Radebaugh’s staff at Charleston Southern.  Meanwhile, Radford is the lone school with a new head coach, as Mike Jones comes in to lead the Highlanders.  Campbell, a founding member of the Big South, rejoins the conference for the 2011-12 season.
  • Tourney Turnover: Changes to the Big South Championship format will allow all ten eligible teams into the field (Presbyterian College has one remaining year of transition to Division I and cannot play in the postseason).  Championship Week will be a wild ride, with the #7 & #8 seeds hosting the #9 and #10 seeds as “play-in” games on Monday night to get into the straight eight-team bracket.  The winners will be reseeded as the #7 and #8 seeds for the quarterfinals to allow for traditional pairings (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5).  Wednesday and Thursday of that week will be the quarterfinals and semifinals, all planned for the top seed’s home, with the Saturday final at the home of the higher surviving seed.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Conference Primers: #27 – Big Sky Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 7th, 2011

Jonathan Reed of Big Sky Basketball  is the RTC correspondent for the Big Sky conference. You can find him on Twitter at @bigskybball.

Readers’ Take

Top Storylines

  • The Return of Damian Lillard – Three years ago, Lillard was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year. Two years ago, he was the Big Sky Player of the Year. Last year, he was the Preseason Player of the Year and his team, Weber State, was the pick to win the Conference. Then, he broke his foot in the ninth game of the year, and the Wildcats finished third. Due to some smart scheduling tactics, Lillard was granted a medical redshirt and will be a junior this season. He says he is one hundred percent healthy, and if that is true, Weber State is the easy favorite to win the Big Sky.

Weber State's Damian Lillard Is The Toast of the Big Sky. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

  • Beginning of the Jim Hayford Era For Eastern Washington – Out is Kirk Earlywine, who put together four bad seasons in Cheney, finishing with a 42-78 record. In is Jim Hayford, who had been extremely successful at Division III Whitworth University, where he had a 217-57 record. Earlywine did not leave the cupboard bare (even with would-be top returner Glen Dean transferring to Utah), and a top three finish is possible for the Eagles. Hayford has also showed early recruiting prowess, getting Collin Chiverton to keep his commitment to EWU.
  • How Does Northern Colorado Build on Momentum? – 2007 was Northern Colorado’s first season in the Big Sky, and they finished a sparkling 4-24 (with a 2-14 conference record). Last season, BJ Hill continued the impressive turnaround begun by previous head coach Tad Boyle (now with Colorado), leading the Bears to their first ever NCAA Tournament berth, where they lost to San Diego State. However, nobody in the conference was hit harder than UNC by graduation, most notably losing Player of the Year Devon Beitzel. Hill brought in a solid recruiting class, and he will need guys to step up early.  The Bears could be picked as low as seventh in the conference this year, but anything in the top five would keep the program’s momentum going strong.
  • Wide Open Race in the MiddleWeber State and Montana are the prohibitive favorites to win the Conference, but the race really opens up after those two. If you ask five different people who will finish third in the Big Sky, you will get five different answers. That will add up to a lot of competitive ballgames, as the balance in the conference is strong. Anyone is capable of beating anyone else on a given night.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Conference Primers: #28 – Southland Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 6th, 2011

Zach Birdsong of The Houstonian is the RTC correspondent for Southland Conference. You can find him on Twitter at @zachbird_nerd

Readers’ Take I

Top Storylines

  • McNeese State Returns Championship Squad: Last season, the McNeese State Cowboys finished conference play with an 11-5 record. That was enough to claim the regular season league title, but the team was knocked out of the conference tournament by UT-San Antonio. McNeese returns eight players from last year’s team, though, including team MVP and All-Southland Conference forward Patrick Richard. With an experienced team, the Cowboys are hoping to break through to win the conference tournament and get to the Big Dance for the first time in ten years.
  • A Knight In Sight: Pat Knight, son of legendary head coach Bobby Knight, was signed as Lamar‘s new head coach. After being fired from Texas Tech back in March, the Cardinals signed him to take over the program in April. With a new setting and bringing his Big 12 experience to the Southland, it will be interesting to see if Knight can improve on last season’s disappointing 7-9 finish.
  • Bearkats Move On Without ClavellSam Houston State will be without star forward and Southland Conference Player of the Year Gilberto Clavell, as he graduated in May. Clavell averaged 19.5 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Head coach Jason Hooten will be bringing in a younger team as he looks to limit any slippage as a result of Clavell’s departure.

Pat Knight Is Ready To Lean In For His First Season At The Helm Of Lamar's Program.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Conference Primers: #29 – America East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 5th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • Getting Healthy: A number of America East teams are counting on the healthy return of star players to help boost their fortunes this season. New Hampshire has two players returning from injuries that cost them time last season, Alvin Abreu and Ferg Myrick. Abreu was a second-team all-league choice in 2009-10 before missing all but two games of last season with a knee injury. Myrick averaged 12.1 PPG and 4.1 RPG last season, but missed 16 games due to his own knee injury. Another second-team player from 2009-10, Tommy Brenton, returns for Stony Brook as well. Even after missing last season, Brenton is the current conference leader in career rebounds. One player who missed most of last season, Boston University’s Jake O’Brien, unfortunately re-injured his ankle and will miss the entire 2011-12 campaign as well.
  • Departed Head Men: Two of the top teams in the America East lost their head coaches during the offseason carousel. Pat Chambers made the NCAA Tournament at Boston University and then left for Penn State and Mike Lonergan went from Vermont to the head job at George Washington. Former Columbia head coach Joe Jones is replacing Chambers, while the Catamounts decided to promote John Becker. Becker was Lonergan’s assistant for the past five seasons.
  • Learning The Hard Way: Boston University is one of the league favorites and the Terriers will find out quickly if they’re for real. The non-conference schedule is a very difficult one that includes road games at Texas, Boston College and Villanova. Another way to learn about the conference early in the season is to watch Boston College. The Eagles also play against New Hampshire, a team which could surprise people, and Stony Brook during non-conference play.
  • The Great Race and Parity: This season’s conference race looks like it’s going to be a three-horse race with Boston University, Vermont and Stony Brook ahead of the pack. That might be good news for the Seawolves as five different teams have won the conference title in the past five seasons. Since the Catamounts won in 2010 and the Terriers in 2011, maybe 2011-12 is the season where Stony Brook breaks through for its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Terrier Fans Should Expect To See Plenty of Darryl Partin This Season. (AP Photo)

Predicted Order of Finish
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RTC Conference Primers: #30 – SWAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 4th, 2011

For our complete list of 2011-12 conference primers working backward from #31 to #1, click here.   

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Southern & Grambling APR Victims.  When the NCAA released its annual Academic Progress Rate report in May, the SWAC contained two of the five basketball programs facing a postseason ban in 2011-12 as a result of consistently poor scores over several years.  While this news shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the APR since it was implemented several years ago, the teeth of the rule is finally taking hold on individual institutions.  Southern and Grambling probably were not going to be in a competitive position to make the NCAA Tournament this season anyway, but this is something that each school must take seriously in order to secure their D-I existence.  The two institutions submitted APR improvement plans to the NCAA over the summer, and with good reason — without a considerable short-term jump in scores,  the next penalty is restricted membership in Division I.
  • Will the APR Eliminate HBCUs in Division I?  Southern and Grambling’s APR predicament highlights a harrowing situation among the two Division I basketball leagues comprising historically black colleges and universities.  With the APR cut line increasing from 925 to 930 as of next year, and a corresponding postseason penalty for programs failing to make that cut in the future, the SWAC  and MEAC could face an untenable situation where every one of its members is ineligible for postseason play, and ultimately on restricted status.  If the 930 threshold had been in effect last year, for example, only one school — the SWAC’s Alcorn State, with its 4-24 overall record and 944 APR score — would have been eligible for the NCAA Tournament.  The APR has been shown to correlate strongly with African-American enrollment, and at the low-budget HBCUs that comprise the SWAC and the MEAC, this development presents tremendous cause for concern.  Whether this is purposeful or not, we’ll leave for you to decide.
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RTC Conference Primers: # 31 – MEAC

Posted by jstevrtc on October 3rd, 2011

For our complete list of 2011-12 conference primers working backward from #31 to #1, click here.   

Readers’ Take I

Top Storylines

  • Turmoil at Bethune-Cookman.  Bethune-Cookman is the defending regular season champion, but can they concentrate on basketball? Since least season, the school has fired Clifford Reed, its head coach for the previous nine years, because of “insubordination and failure to cooperate” during an investigation of the basketball program. His son, C. J., was last year’s conference Player of the Year and the league’s top scorer, but was named (not charged) in a now-closed sexual assault case and has left the college. The elder Reed is suing the school for wrongful termination. Forget that the Wildcats will be under new leadership and have to place replace C.J.’s scoring; will they be able to concentrate on hoops with this stuff hanging over the program all year?
  • NCCU Wild Card.  We ask the above poll question about North Carolina Central because even though they’ve been readmitted to the MEAC, the Eagles welcome three transfers from Power Six conferences (on whom more in a bit). In the few pre-season writeups we’ve seen so far, NCCU has been predicted anywhere from first to 12th. They’re by far the biggest wild card in this conference this season.
  • MEAC Parity.  From 2000 to 2009, the MEAC post-season tournament saw only two schools claim more than one title (Hampton and South Carolina State). Hampton took the conference tournament crown last year and won the honor of a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Morgan State took the two before that, and Coppin State won in 2008. Those three schools have separated themselves in recent years as the top programs in this league. Which one will rise up this year, or can another squad challenge that trio?

Predicted Order of Finish

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