It’s an old familiar name versus a new one in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game, as Xavier will match up against surging St. Bonaventure on Sunday afternoon with a guaranteed bid on the line.
It’s an old familiar name versus a new one in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game, as Xavier will match up against surging St. Bonaventure on Sunday afternoon with a guaranteed bid on the line.
Joe Dzuback filed this report from the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Coach Rick Majerus is a Gentleman. The Saint Louis coach was as effusive in his praise of Xavier, winners over his Saint Louis team earlier today, as he was of La Salle, the Billikens quarterfinal victim on Friday. The coach began each of his postgame press conferences this weekend with complementary remarks about the play and dedication of their opponents. The referee crew assessed Saint Louis player Brian Conklin with a “Flagrant 1” foul early in the second half, effectively benching Saint Louis’ man in the middle for another precious five minutes during a crucial part of the second half. The call put Tu Holloway on the line and gave the ball back to Xavier. Given how miserly Saint Louis is with possessions, giving the ball back to Xavier must have hurt at least as much as the free throws. When asked about that call and some of the other no-calls at the end of regulation, Majerus, in a sharp contrast to NC State Coach Mark Gottfried’s postgame comments, blamed himself for not being more demanding on his players.
Two, Three or Four? Speculation over the number of bids the conference could get took a dramatic turn this afternoon when Xavier eliminated Saint Louis in its semifinal game. Both Temple and Saint Louis will get at-large bids, leaving the third bid to go to the conference tournament winner tomorrow. If, as suggested by RTC’s Zach Hayes and CBSSports’ Jerry Palm, Xavier is in, then a Saint Bonaventure win tomorrow should bring a fourth bid to the conference. Will the Selection Committee see it that way? The conference final is played on Sunday and for the last two postseasons, the Selection Committee appears to have set the conference’s seeds on Saturday night rather than working out alternative scenarios that might account for multiple outcomes. By seeding the 2009-10 tournament champion Temple #5 and runner-up Xavier #6, and the 2010-11 tournament champion Richmond on the #12 seed line, the committee appears to settle on a compromise seeding that would account for either outcome (a Temple or Xavier win in the 2009-10 conference tournament and Richmond or Dayton win in the 2010-11 conference tournament) in the conference tournament championship game. Will the committee develop a “compromise seed line” this time around? According to virtually every bracketologist near a microphone tonight, Xavier’s win over Saint Louis seals a bid for the Muskies irrespective of tomorrow’s outcome. Of course having Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski on the Selection Committee should also help motivate the committee to do its homework.
Saturday night’s Mountain West Championship game between San Diego State and New Mexico provided plenty of great storylines: the two regular season co-champions meeting in a rubber match; the two-time defending tournament champion Aztecs against a Lobo team that hadn’t won this tournament since 2005, when Ritchie McKay was still the head coach; and the battle between the top two candidates for the conference Player of the Year, the winner, Jamaal Franklin and the jilted, Drew Gordon.
Gordon had made no bones about the fact all week that he felt he deserved the individual honor and that other awards, such as Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth-Man of the Year, should have wound up in Lobo hands, and he played with a chip on his shoulder all weekend, averaging 15.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament on his way to the Most Outstanding Player award. But the win on Saturday night was a total team affair. Tony Snell got things off on the right track, scoring the first five points of the game and turning in his third straight double-digit scoring game after slumping through February. Freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood continued his do-whatever-it-takes style and contributed ten boards and a couple threes. And bench players Phillip McDonald, Demetrius Walker, and Cameron Bairstow all made major contributions. McDonald, who has lost minutes this season as Snell and Walker have stepped up, came off the pine and had a three, an assist, a rebound and drew a charge, all in his first couple minutes of action. Bairstow battled on the boards and at one point scored six straight points for the Lobos. And Walker, despite not making a field goal, provided energy and hit clutch free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.
But more than anything else, this win was about the New Mexico defense. They held San Diego State to 0.86 points per possession (the number was quite a bit lower than that until Chase Tapley went nuts late) and at times in the second half just completely froze the Aztecs out in the paint. Kendall Williams took San Diego State point Xavier Thames completely out of rhythm and Snell helped frustrate James Rahon into an 0-for-8 shooting night. Franklin, meanwhile, was hounded into six-of-14 shooting and six turnovers. And, despite wrapping up their semifinal game late in the evening on Friday night, the Lobos never showed fatigue and kept competing (and hard) right to the final whistle. They were consistently first to loose balls and always scrapping and making multiple attempts at rebounds.
Less than two minutes into the nightcap on semifinal Friday night, New Mexico found itself in a hole, down 12-0 to UNLV on the Rebels’ home court, a place where UNLV had not lost since last year’s Mountain West Tournament. Not only were they clicking on all cylinders (they had gotten threes from Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall and a couple of old-fashioned three-point plays from Oscar Bellfield), but the Lobos looked awful, struggling to do simple things like catch the ball. But the Lobos responded. “They gave us a good punch in the face right there to start the game,” said head coach Steve Alford. “But there’s a lot of game left. They scored 17 points in the first three minutes of the half, then only scored 17 points the last 17 minutes of the half. After that initial barrage of points, we settled down and played extremely good defense.” The Lobos packed their defense in, dared the Rebels to hit threes against them, and that dare paid off. UNLV started three-for-three from deep in the first four minutes, then made just five of their 21 attempts over the final 36 minutes. UNM didn’t try to force anything defensively (in fact, they forced just three turnovers on the night), but made the Rebels have to score over them.
More importantly, however, the Lobos dominated the Rebels inside. Led by RTC MW Player of the Year Drew Gordon (who hit eight of 10 field goal attempts on his way to 19 points and 13 boards), New Mexico grabbed 85% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 26.9% on the offensive end, while outscoring the Rebels in the paint, 30-18. Senior Brice Massamba was generally solid for UNLV, scoring six points and adding nine rebounds before fouling out after 34 minutes, but the rest of their frontcourt was largely absent. Mike Moser had solid stretches at the start and at the end of the game, but was largely invisible in the middle three-quarters of the game, winding up with just three rebounds and 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Senior Chace Stanback hit a three on the first offensive possession of each half, but beyond that produced almost literally nothing (one point, one rebound and one assist the rest of the game), a concern as the Rebels head to the NCAA Tournament next week.
The Atlantic 10 quarterfinals will tip off Saturday between four teams that all believe they should be in the next week’s NCAA Tournament. The truth is that two, maybe three, are likely to be invited. This is no time to leave anything to chance, which is why the semifinals should be outstanding and competitive. It’s UMass-St. Bonaventure in the early game, followed by Xavier-St. Louis in the mid-day slot. Join us!
The Atlantic 10 quarterfinal round has already opened up with top seed Temple losing to Massachusetts earlier this afternoon. Among tonight’s teams, Xavier, Dayton, and St. Louis all have dreams of at-large bids, while La Salle is thinking tournament title. It should be an equally competitive and fun evening from Atlantic City tonight down on the Boardwalk.
Game of the Day
On Monday, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was named the Mountain West Player of the Year (nevermind the fact that we at RTC gave Drew Gordon the nod) after a blazing conclusion to the regular season. On the first day of postseason play in the conference, Franklin reminded everybody just how good he can be.
With the shot clock turned off and Boise State having run back to tie their quarterfinal game with the Mountain West regular season champion, the Aztecs called a timeout and set up a play that everybody in the Thomas & Mack Center knew was headed Franklin’s way. The Broncos tried to deny him the ball, but San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames got him the ball, and then, as Franklin is known to do repeatedly in practices, he counted down the final seconds on the clock and threw up a prayer at the buzzer, this time over the hands of two Boise State defenders. And the prayer was answered, as the ball settled softly into the net, advancing the Aztecs to Friday night’s semifinal.
Head coach Steve Fisher painted the picture of Franklin playing the part of a kid on a playground or in his back yard, knocking down imaginary game winners against a clock of his own making. During practices, the Aztecs have a period of spot shooting and, according to Fisher at the end of that session, “Jamaal waits and waits and waits and he shoots one as the clock hits zero. If he makes it, he falls down,” mimicking a buzzer-beating celebration. All the practice has paid off for Franklin, as twice now this year, he has scored game-winners as time expired. “Everyone in the gym knew who the last shot was going to,” said Boise State freshman guard Derrick Marks, fighting through tears. “So, Xavier Thames passed the ball, I was supposed to go double and he just made an incredible shot.” Franklin commended the Boise State defense, saying it was a “very tough look. X did a great job giving me the ball because they denied me all the way out to basically halfcourt. My first object was to get to the rim, but they kind of double‑teamed me and I just shot the three.”
San Diego State was in that dogfight down the stretch in part because they helped a game Boise State get back in the game. The Aztecs were up 11 with under six minutes left, but down the stretch they missed layups, missed free throws and turned the ball over three times, the most memorable one coming when Chase Tapley turned it over in the backcourt, leading directly to the game-tying layup for the Broncos on a nice dish from freshman Anthony Drmic to sophomore Thomas Bropleh. Tapley was, however, a hero most of the day for the Lobos, at one point scoring 10 out of 12 San Diego State points and contributing 20 points (including four threes) and numerous under-the-radar plays.
David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.
By and large, the Big West wound up largely like the preseason prognosticators predicted. Long Beach State dominated with their senior-laden team, winning 15 straight in conference play before Cal State Fullerton tripped them up. CSF was probably the biggest surprise and also most improved over the season, as coach Bob Burton pulled together his team of transfers and formed an offensive powerhouse. UCSB once again had a slightly disappointing conference season, while UC Irvine did better than predicted, tying for sixth when they were picked last overall. UC Riverside peaked early, upsetting a few teams early in the season, threatening to break into the top half of the conference. However, they faded down the stretch, and finished tied for sixth, about where they were picked. UC Davis, picked to finish seventh, had an abysmal season that was only slightly salvaged by a late season surge where they managed to upset both Pacific and CSF.
Ultimately, the top four and bottom five divide was very evident for the 2011-12 season. It will be one of the top four: Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, UCSB or Cal Poly, who will have a realistic chance at going dancing.
Co-Players Of The Year – Larry Anderson & Casper Ware: So technically there’s only supposed to be one POY, but this one was too hard to choose. Ware is still the go-to player on the best team in the conference, a guy that seemingly steps up in crunch time game after game. At the same time, his 16.9 PPG and 3.2 APG are both slight dips from last year’s numbers, when he also won POY. Picking up the slack was fellow 49er senior Anderson, who won defensive player of the year for good reason. When he was injured against Cal State Fullerton in the season finale, Titans guard DJ Seeley went off, carrying CSF to victory. Without either Anderson or Ware, I don’t think the 49ers go 15-1. Really, the same case could be made for TJ Robinson. It’s been a three-headed beast all year.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Coming into the year, we thought we had a couple really good teams in New Mexico and UNLV, and six other teams with more questions marks than answers. Four months later, add San Diego State to the list of really good teams, but add the other five teams in the conference as, at a minimum, pretty good. Only Air Force and Boise State end the season with losing records, and each of those teams has risen up and played one of the top three tough at some point, with the Falcons even pulling off a win over San Diego State. There are four teams (so far) with 20 or more wins and it looks more and more like Colorado State, with home wins over each of the top three teams in the conference, will join them in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Wyoming and TCU both remain strong candidates for NIT inclusion. All told, this was an excellent encore performance for a conference that was coming off their best season on the national stage, especially given the turmoil surrounding the Mountain West’s hits and misses in the conference realignment game. In short, despite a few bumps and bruises along the way, the MW is still alive and well. At least for now.
Player of the Year. Drew Gordon, Senior, New Mexico. This was a tight race, with Gordon, UNLV’s Mike Moser and San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin all neck and neck at the finish line. But, I’ll always hold true to the theory that when in doubt, a tie goes to the senior. And I’ll still gladly make the argument that Gordon edges out the other two on his own merits as well. The one thing that all three players do well is rebound the ball, but Gordon is the best of the three. Franklin is more capable of creating his own shot than Gordon, but Gordon generally plays within himself and is more efficient offensively; likewise, while Moser has a perimeter jumper that is missing from Gordon’s game, it doesn’t go far enough to make up for the other advantages that the Lobo star has. And, defensively, Gordon is significantly more polished than either of his younger competitors. The race is very close, and in no way am I denigrating either Moser or Franklin. But likewise, I don’t want to take the easy way out and just call it a three-way tie. Call Gordon the better of equals.
Coach of the Year. Steve Fisher, San Diego State. It has been a year of great coaching jobs in the Mountain West as well, but the race here is slightly less contentious. While we give Gordon the MW POY award by a nose, Fisher wins this by a full body length over guys like Jim Christian, Larry Shyatt, and Tim Miles. Christian and Shyatt took teams with basically the same personnel as last year and led a complete 180, while Miles took a team that lost three of its best players and has them a nose ahead of where they were last year. Meanwhile, Fisher took a team that lost its four leading scorers, including NBA First Round pick Kawhi Leonard, off a Sweet 16 team and led a ragtag bunch that included a undermanned frontline (Tim Shelton and his three knee surgeries, basketball novice Deshawn Stephens, and graduate transfer Garrett Green) to an unlikely Mountain West title. Along the way, he helped transform Chase Tapley from a role player into a team leader and a go-to scorer and Jamaal Franklin from a little-used reserve to a big-name player on the national scene. Oh, and then there’s the whole conference title and national top 25 ranking. That’s nice too.
WAC Tournament Glance
It may sound cliché, but the tournament is wide open.
Even though top seed Nevada ran away with the league, the second half of the conference schedule was not a cakewalk. The Wolf Pack won the first seven games by over 10 points per game, but won by just under four points per game in the second go-round (and took a loss against Idaho). There was much jostling in the final weekend of play with seeds two through six up for grabs heading into the final game this past Saturday.
The first round boasts three intriguing matchups with upset potential (seed-based) in all three. New Mexico State struggled to put away Fresno State in both regular season meetings, winning by four and then by five in overtime (overcoming a 19-point second half deficit in the process).
Idaho and Hawai’i split the regular season meetings with each winning on the other’s home floor.
Utah State swept the season series with Louisiana Tech, but the Bulldogs lost by just four points in the first meeting and has won five of their last six games.
With apologies to San Jose State, they don’t stand much of a chance against Nevada and this one should be a breeze although the Spartans did play tough in the game in San Jose losing by just six points.
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
Conference Tournament Preview
After a thrilling regular season, it’s on to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Despite being a three-seed, Ohio State has to be considered the favorite given how well they ended the regular season. If either Michigan State or OSU wins the Big Ten Tournament, they will get strong consideration for a one-seed. Teams like Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue can all improve their NCAA Tournament seeds with strong showings this weekend.
Northwestern is the only clear bubble team in the conference, and as such is under the most pressure to string some wins together. If the Wilcats can beat Minnesota in the first round, they’ll face a Michigan team that they only lost to twice this season, though both losses came in overtime. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament should make them a virtual lock for their first-ever tournament birth, but it’s much easier said than done with this level of competition.
A Look Back
A Look Back
In by far the toughest Ivy since the 1970s, Harvard delivered exactly as expected, slogging through the treacherous league slate with a 12-2 mark and a second Ivy title. What wasn’t expected was the company the Crimson would have at the top. The average expectation had no other Ivy teams eclipsing the 10-win plateau, but Penn paid no heed to those projections. After losing to Harvard 56-50 at home to fall two games off the pace, the Quakers ripped off an amazing stretch of seven straight wins to climb even in the loss column after the final Ivy back-to-back weekend. But tradition left Penn with work to do. Its second-most difficult game of the season still remained – the annual meeting with rival Princeton after the rest of the league’s regular seasons had already drawn to a close. The Tigers double-teamed Quaker star Zack Rosen all game, stifling the Penn offense, and executed efficiently on the other end, cruising to a 10-point victory and ending the Quakers’ title hopes.
It was a historic year for the league by a variety of metrics. The league has never posted a higher Pomeroy Rating in the efficiency era, has never had seven non-conference wins over Pomeroy Top 100 teams in a season, and has never had a higher ranked team in the Pomeroy era than Harvard at No. 37. It is also currently hanging on to the 13th spot in the Conference RPI rankings, which would eclipse the 2001-02 mark of 14th, and could have as many as four teams earn postseason bids. With so many pivotal seniors, it will be hard for the Ivies to avoid a collective step back, but with a solid incoming freshman class, don’t expect a return to the dark ages of 2008 and 2009.
Yale and Princeton each posted solid campaigns, flirting with the RPI Top 100 for most of the season and building postseason-worthy resumes – the former by its quantity of wins and the latter with its quality. Columbia had a great non-conference run followed by an incredibly unlucky Ivy campaign, while Cornell did just the opposite, stumbling a bit outside the league, before putting together a solid 7-7 mark in Ivy play. Brown and Dartmouth had forgettable seasons, but the Bears will return several players from injury and ineligibility while the Big Green will see its talented freshmen continue to grow and mature.