Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013
Hooray! The Mountain West has its hero. November is in the books and the conference finally has a victory worth crowing about under its collective belt. In fact, San Diego State scored a couple really meaningful wins this week at the Wooden Legacy, knocking off both Creighton and Marquette to earn the tournament title. Still, I for one have yet to put a MW team in my weekly national Top 25. I’ve considered New Mexico previously and have kept them just on the outside looking in. Boise State also remains in the back of my mind, where they’ll stay until they play anybody of note. And the Aztecs were among my final cuts this week. So what leaves SDSU still needing to prove itself? I know they’re going to defend like nuts all year long and stay in games that way, but I just don’t believe that Xavier Thames is going to be able to knock down shots at his current rate forever, and aside from him, there aren’t a whole lot of polished offensive players on this team. Still, there is no denying that the Aztecs have looked awfully good so far this year and are beginning to earn the benefit of my doubt.
Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)
Team of the Week
San Diego State – We’ll get to Thames shortly, but there have been a lot of guys stepping up for this squad who deserve attention. J.J. O’Brien has been the most regular second option for the Aztecs, averaging nearly 14 points per game before a hand injury limited his production on Sunday. Matt Shrigley has emerged from his redshirt year to display not only a nice shooting touch but a good game off the bounce. Winston Shepard has clearly worked on his body and his game in the offseason, and he’s well on his way to becoming a great college player. And true freshman Dakarai Allen is out of the gates with a strong start to his college career. Even if Thames does slow down a bit, there are some options here who could pick up the slack.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
Highlights and Lowlights From the Week (from highest to lowest)
Looking for high profile wins in the early season invitational tournaments and traditional home-away settings, the conference had some bright spots but overall the results were mixed:
Big man Cady Lalanne has been outstanding for UMass. (Maria Uminski/ Massachusetts Daily Collegian)
Massachusetts — The Minutemen were voted #24 in the AP’s Top 25 on the strength of their weekend at the Charleston Classic. Coach Derek Kellogg’s squad ran their winning streak to six with wins over power conference representatives Nebraska (81-65) and Clemson (62-56) and (then) #19 New Mexico over the course of the Charleston weekend. Center Cady Lalanne became the much anticipated low post beast, scoring 47 points on 17-of-36 (13-of-16 from the line) shooting while grabbing 35 rebounds over the three game run. He logged two double-doubles in the three game set. Chaz Williams is the guiding force for the squad (and he did not disappoint in Charleston either), but if Lalanne (along with Maxie Esho and Raphiael Putney) emerge as legitimate threats game-to-game, this Massachusetts squad will challenge for the conference title. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013
We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.
Team of the Week
Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.
Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.
Player of the Week
Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
Upset Alert Mainstays – Princeton said goodbye to one of its best two-way players of all time. Columbia graduated two three-year starters. Brown not only lost three senior contributors from last season, but also had to deal with the abrupt loss of swingman Tucker Halpern, who had battled injuries throughout his career and couldn’t get healthy enough to remain on the Bears’ roster. The common belief was that those three teams would spend 2013-14 rebuilding, but Butler, Michigan State and Providence would strongly disagree. Princeton trailed the Bulldogs by 11 with less than six minutes to play before missing a potential game-tying two just before the buzzer. Brown rallied from 16 points down in the second half against the Friars to lead with under five minutes to play before a Sean McGonagill missed three with six seconds to play finally ended the Bears’ hopes. Columbia easily took the biggest stage, though, leading at the half and trailing by one with just four minutes to play. Two critical shot clock violations in the final few minutes gave the Spartans the space they needed to put the game away.
In a league that is getting younger and younger, Harvard’s Kyle Casey is chugging along. (Harvard Athletics)
Youth Served — A year after losing six seniors who posted offensive ratings over 100 with a usage rate of 20 percent or more, the Ivy League has reloaded and gotten even younger while doing so. There are no seniors and three members of the sophomore and freshman classes among the five highest usage players in the league, and just two seniors are using more than 21 percent of their team’s possessions (Harvard’s Kyle Casey and Dartmouth’s Tyler Melville). The sophomore and junior classes are driving the production, as 18 of the 22 players posting an above average usage rate (over 20 percent) are from one of those two cohorts. Given that the Ivy League has settled into the No. 15 spot in Pomeroy’s conference ratings and won’t lose as many productive seniors as it has in previous years, the 2014-15 season could provide the first real shot for the league to make a push toward the Top 10.
Harvard (4-0) — While the Crimson has yet to face a Top 100 opponent, it’s not like Harvard is entirely untested to this point. The 10-point neutral site win over Holy Cross and the 18-point home victory over Bryant look a lot better when you consider that the only other losses those two squads have incurred have come against Top 25 opposition. The Crimson has managed injuries to center Kenyatta Smith and guard Brandyn Curry without skipping a beat, getting some surprising, big nights from forwards Steve Moundou-Missi and Jonah Travis. The cupcakes are almost all behind the Crimson at this point, and the next six games heading into the winter exam break finally will provide the stiff test that everyone wants to see this Harvard team face.
Yale (2-2) — There may be no better snapshot of what this Bulldogs team is all about than its 47-14 run against Central Connecticut State in the season opener in Bridgeport. It wasn’t the magnitude of the run, but the fact that Yale scored on all but three possessions (all turnovers) over the final 13 minutes of the game to cobble together a massive comeback from 17 points down. Yale bullied its way to the free throw line and corralled every wayward shot on the offensive glass to stun a Blue Devils team that looked comfortably in control. Yale’s only losses thus far have come at Connecticut and Rutgers with the latter being decided by just a point on the final possession. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I Actually):
A 79 percent winning percentage conference-wide looks good, but it masks a disappointing 36 percent (4-7) winning percentage versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) plus the AAC and Big East — two fragments of the former Big East that should trouble those A-10 fans who anticipate more than two NCAA bids next March. The league must cut into that win deficit and the early season invitational tournaments which will play out over November’s last two weekends are the best place to start. Opportunities for non-conference signature wins diminish during December. Temple and Xavier, two teams with the “anywhere, anytime” scheduling attitude and the programs to back it up on the court have moved on. Massachusetts, Virginia Commonwealth and La Salle have beefed up their schedules, but other “flagship-in-waiting” programs (Saint Louis and Dayton for example) scheduled beatable but not RPI-notable opponents. The conference is crushing comparable conferences (the West Coast, Missouri Valley and the Mountain West conferences) and the low-majors in head-to-head play; that, combined with a (close to) 50 percent winning percentage versus the power conferences will translate into extra bids on Selection Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 19th, 2013
Last year about this time, the Mountain West’s record as a collective was 27-3. Sure, there wasn’t a large number of top shelf wins among those 27, but they were wins. This year the teams are a combined 19-12. UNLV lost by 21 at home to UC Santa Barbara. Colorado State got drilled by 32 at Gonzaga. Nevada lost at home to Pacific. Fresno State lost by 21 at Pitt. Air Force has lost to Jackson State and VMI. And newcomer San Jose State has lost to everybody it has faced, and that certainly hasn’t been a murderer’s row. Last year, the conference as a whole rode its strong RPI numbers, built up by a collection of a mostly good teams, to a best-ever five NCAA Tournament bids. This year, it remains to be seen just how good teams the teams at the top are, while the middle of the conference seems significantly weaker than it was last year, and the bottom of the conference even worse. Too long, didn’t read? The takeaway is there isn’t a chance in a million that the Mountain West sends five teams dancing this year.
Team of the Week
Utah State – The Aggies are one of the newcomers in the conference, but they’re off to a fine start, having won all three of their games including one over USC and another over that UCSB team that beat up on MW heavyweight UNLV. Behind veteran trio Spencer Butterfield, Preston Medlin and Jarred Shaw, Utah State looks like it will have an easy transition to its new conference.
Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)
Player of the Week
Cameron Bairstow, Sr, New Mexico – There may not be a player in the country who has improved as much as Bairstow in his four years in Albuquerque. As a freshman, he was notable only for his below-the-rim, scrappy style, as he averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game and fewer than three points per outing. But thus far this season, the 6’9” Aussie has been almost unstoppable, averaging 25.5 points, eight rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, all while shooting 78.3 percent from the field. Oh, and not to be outdone, his frontcourt mate Alex Kirk has double-doubled in both his games on the way to 20 points and 12 rebounds per game averages.
Newcomer of the Week
Paul Watson, Fr, Fresno State – The 6’6” freshman out of Phoenix doesn’t have the type of body yet to lead you to believe he would succeed playing up front in major college basketball. But out of necessity, Watson has been forced to play the role of a big man for the Bulldogs. And, so far so good, as he’s averaged five rebounds a night, has scored both around the basket and from deep, and has eaten up minutes. There’s a big future for this Dog.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
A Look Back
It should be no surprise that the team that sprinted out to a 9-1 start took home the title in the 14-Game Tournament. The only shocking part is how it happened. For the second-consecutive year, Harvard entered the penultimate weekend of the season needing to beat just one team to all but clinch the league’s NCAA bid. Just like the 2011-12 campaign, in which the Crimson fell to Pennsylvania, bringing the two teams even in the loss column, Harvard lost for the 24th consecutive time at Jadwin Gymnasium, allowing Princeton to grab a virtual tie for first place. Then, the Crimson compounded its error, losing the next night to a surging Quakers squad at The Palestra and falling behind the Tigers in the Ivy standings for the first time this season. With just two games remaining, Harvard needed a home sweep of Columbia and Cornell, as well as a Princeton loss in one of its final three road contests to force a one-game playoff at The Palestra.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Tommy Amaker’s crew earned the Ivy League title. (Getty)
The hangover lasted well into the following weekend, as Harvard trailed Columbia by as many as eight early in the second half in front of a lethargic crowd before news arrived from New Haven that the Tigers trailed Yale by double digits. An 11-2 run over the final two minutes allowed the Crimson to slip past the Lions, and the Bulldogs withstood a late charge from Princeton to hand Harvard back a half-game lead and an opportunity to clinch a share of the Ivy title the next night. The Crimson did just that with a 65-56 win over Cornell on NBC Sports Net. A muted celebration followed, but most fans had already turned their attention to Providence, as Brown led Princeton by double-digits early in the second half. Roughly 100 fans remained in the arena with most huddled around computer screens watching the Bears-Tigers score updates. When Brown sank enough free throws to put Princeton away, Harvard had improbably clinched the Ivy title – the first time it had done so without the season-ending Pennsylvania-Princeton game mattering.
The dramatic final weekend capped off what was a surprisingly strong year for the league, after several All-Ivy caliber players unexpectedly dropped off rosters just before the season started. While the league will see its streak of three-straight years with at least three postseason invites come to an end, the Ivies still posted their second strongest showing as a conference in the Pomeroy era. The improvement came from the bottom, as the league avoided having a team rank worse than 275th nationally for the first time in at least a decade.
Player of the Year: Ian Hummer, F, Princeton– At the start of the season, this was Hummer’s award to lose, and all he did was put together the finest year in his stellar career. The 6’7″ senior led the league in Offensive Rating among heavy usage players and finished second in both scoring and assist rate. Hummer averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds in his two games against Harvard, single-handedly willing the Tigers to victory at Jadwin in a game that kept Princeton in the Ivy race. Hummer’s heroics often hid the struggles of his surrounding pieces. The extent to which he carried this team was never more evident than during Princeton’s final three games. After Yale successfully took him out of the game, allowing Hummer just eight shots and nine points, the Princeton captain scored 21 points against Brown, but on 5-of-15 shooting and with four turnovers. Hummer continued to struggle against the rival Quakers, shooting 1-of-7 from the field in the first half, but responded with a 16-point, second-half outburst to keep the Tigers from losing each of their last three Ivy contests.
Ian Hummer was an easy choice for the Ivy League’s best player. (Princeton athletics)
Hummer’s off nights were still exceedingly rare, as he scored in double-digits in all but three games this season. His deceptive athleticism has consistently buoyed Princeton in games against higher-level opponents, giving the Tigers a player on the floor that can clearly play with the best in college basketball. While this is a Player of the Year award and not a career achievement award, it’s hard not to see this distinction as a fitting celebration of four years of a caliber of basketball that this league rarely gets to see.
Coach of the Year: Tommy Amaker, Harvard – The Ivy League does not give out a formal Coach of the Year award, but it would be incredibly interesting to see who the main office picked in a year with some stellar candidates, including James Jones of Yale and Mike Martin of Brown. Amaker gets the nod here not just for winning the Ivy title, but for navigating a tricky season to continue his recent history of success. After the “Intro To Congress” cheating scandal rocked the campus and left Harvard without his star guard Brandyn Curry and forward Kyle Casey, Amaker faced a brutally tough non-conference slate with a starting five comprised of one returning starter, three lightly used sophomores and a freshman. The Crimson still managed to go 8-6 with road wins at Boston College and California, as well as a one-point loss at Saint Mary’s and a three-point loss at Massachusetts. Amaker also guided Harvard through a roller-coaster Ivy season, keeping his team focused even after it saw its lead slip away – a steady approach that led the Crimson to its third-straight Ivy title.
Rookie of the Year: Siyani Chambers, Harvard – From start to finish, the dynamic Crimson point guard electrified the league, taking over several games with his strong scoring ability and his nifty passing. Chambers finished 64th nationally in both assist rate (32.8 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (44 percent), while ranking fourth in the Ivy League in free throw percentage and fifth in free throws made. His performance was bigger than his mere offensive output, as there were no other true point guards in the rotation, which forced Chambers to log the fifth highest percentage of team minutes of any player in the nation.
Shonn Miller’s defensive prowess was on display on a nightly basis. (Getty)
Defensive Player of the Year: Shonn Miller, Cornell – The Ivy League has rarely had so many pure interior shot blockers and rebounders as it has at present, making the race for this award incredibly tight. Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith didn’t see enough floor time to qualify, and Brown’s Cedric Kuakumensah was a clear contender as well. Anyone that followed Cornell’s final four games without Miller patrolling the interior can attest to how important he was to that Big Red squad. Miller finished in the Top 100 nationally in defensive rebounding rate, block rate and steal rate – the only Ivy player to rank that highly in all three.
RTC All-Ivy First Team
Wesley Saunders, G, Harvard – From the moment he led the team in scoring during Harvard’s preseason trip to Italy, everyone expected big things from the 6’5″ sophomore, and he delivered. Saunders had the second-highest offensive rating of any Ivy player using 24 percent or more of his team’s possessions and ranked 52nd nationally in free throw rate. Like Chambers, Saunders played grueling minutes – roughly 92 percent of his team’s total – and still took on the challenge of defending the opponent’s best perimeter scorer every night.
Sean McGonagill, G, Brown – After a dismal 2011-12 campaign, in which McGonagill was forced to carry a terrible offense for vast stretches at a time, the junior guard finally got enough help to push the Bears all the way into the league’s upper division. The offense still ran through McGonagill, as he finished sixth in the league in assist rate and sixth in percentage of team shots taken, but the added talent around him allowed him to pick his spots and become a more efficient player. McGonagill’s most memorable performance was his final one this season, as he racked up 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists against Princeton in an 80-67 upset win.
Shonn Miller, F, Cornell
Ian Hummer, F, Princeton
Siyani Chambers, G, Harvard
Game of the Year – Harvard 82, Dartmouth 77 (OT) – With less than two minutes remaining, a Harvard team that had looked so strong during the non-conference slate and had been nearly invincible at Lavietes Pavilion trailed Dartmouth by a seemingly insurmountable 10-point margin. Harvard guard Christian Webster buried a three-pointer to make the deficit seven with 90 seconds to play, but the Big Green made enough free throws to hold a six-point cushion with 45 ticks left. That’s when Webster drained another three and then knocked down another following a pair of Dartmouth free throws. Big Green guard John Golden came up empty on his trip to the stripe, and Chambers’ driving layup allowed Harvard to force overtime. The Crimson scored the first six points of the extra session and never looked back, completing a comeback win that, in hindsight, was critical to its NCAA hopes.
Final Power Rankings
Harvard(19-9, 11-3 Ivy) – Ultimately, Harvard’s Ivy title hinged on one crucial coaching decision that Amaker made in the middle of the league season. The Crimson’s solidly Top 100 defense from the non-conference slate had been torn apart through the first six games of league play to the point that Harvard ranked dead last in the Ivies on that end of the floor. Enter Kenyatta Smith. The 6’8″, 250-pound sophomore had gone from a starter at the beginning of the year to a very lightly used reserve during December and January. With Harvard getting shredded inside, Amaker rolled the dice and went to the bench, and Smith delivered with an average of 17 points, eight boards and eight blocks during a home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton. The Crimson allowed just two of its final eight league opponents to eclipse a point per possession offensively after allowing five of its first six to do so.
Kenyatta Smith was a huge reason for Harvard’s eventual league championship. (The Crimson)
Princeton (17-11, 10-4) – The Tigers became only the second team in the Pomeroy era to win the conference efficiency margin battle without winning at least a share of the Ivy title (Pennsylvania, 2004). While that’s hardly consolation for a team that won all but one first place vote in the league’s preseason media poll, it does accurately convey how dominant Princeton was at times during Ivy play. Ultimately though, it was Princeton’s 3-2 mark in close games, compared to Harvard’s 6-1 showing, that proved to be the difference in the title chase.
Yale(14-17, 8-6) – The Ivy League won’t get a third postseason invite this year, but the Bulldogs are certainly deserving. While Yale went 4-11 versus Division I competition in non-conference play, that mark came against the nation’s 30th most difficult schedule and included just four games against teams outside the Top 200. After a 1-3 start in league play, the Bulldogs closed with a 7-3 record, tied with Harvard and a game better than Princeton over those final 10 games. With a weaker non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs might have been looking at another appearance in the CIT.
Brown(13-15, 7-7) – Speaking of teams that are postseason worthy, the Bears likely came within a blown six-point lead with two minutes remaining against Pennsylvania of making the CIT. Matt Sullivan sparked a tepid offense over the final five games of the season, allowing Brown to come within that collapse against the Quakers of going 5-0 down the stretch and hitting the .500 mark. Sullivan will graduate following this season, but the remainder of Brown’s key pieces will return, meaning the momentum should carry over to 2013-14.
Pennsylvania(9-22, 6-8) – Finishing anywhere but first fails to please the Quaker faithful, but the job Jerome Allen did to guide this team to a 6-8 Ivy record is remarkable. Pennsylvania lost its best player just 10 games into the season and watched as other pieces of the rotation struggled through injuries. While points were lacking for vast swaths of time, the Quakers’ consistently solid defense kept it in games, allowing it to grab some victories even with a struggling offense.
Dartmouth (9-19, 5-9) – At 2-3 with a near miss against Harvard, the Big Green looked like it was primed to leave the Ivy cellar for the first time since 2009. It ultimately accomplished the feat, but not before dropping five straight games – four by double digits – and sinking back to the bottom of the league with two weekends to go. Dartmouth’s offense saved the day, though, scoring over a point per possession in each of its final four games and running off a 3-1 record over that stretch to finish tied for sixth in the league with Cornell.
Columbia(12-16, 4-10) – The 8-6 non-conference record with a win over Villanova seemed to justify the Lions’ selection as the third-place team in the Ivy preseason media poll. Then, the wheels fell off the wagon. Columbia stumbled out to a 1-4 league mark before an upset win over Harvard kept the Lions’ slim postseason hopes alive. The victory was merely a mirage, though, as Columbia went 2-6 over the remaining eight games to become the most disappointing Ivy team since 2005 Princeton. With guard Brian Barbour and center Mark Cisco graduating, it’s going to take a lot of effort for the Lions to avoid the basement of the Ivy standings next year as well.
Cornell(13-18, 5-9) – Three Ivy weekends ago, the Big Red was a weekend home sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton away from being a legitimate contender. Cornell lost both games to dash their hopes, but then things got really strange. Starting guard Johnathan Gray had already missed two games with an unspecified injury and was soon joined by guard Devin Cherry and All-Ivy forward Shonn Miller. Heading into the final weekend of the year, sophomore Galal Cancer decided to leave the Cornell program entirely. The result was an ugly six-game losing streak to close out the season, causing the Big Red to miss out on an upper division finish that had seemed like a lock just three weekends prior.
NCAA Representative – Harvard (Seed Prediction: #14): The daunting non-conference road schedule that had Harvard facing seven Top 100 Pomeroy teams will likely pay dividends in the seeding process. Sure, the Crimson only went 2-5 in those games, but it lost two of those five at the buzzer, potentially giving the committee something to think about from the “eye test” perspective. Enough conference tournament upsets have happened to push Harvard off the 15 line, while enough quality mid-majors have won their league’s bids to keep the Crimson from sneaking onto the 13 line. Any three-seed the Crimson would face will likely have very few weaknesses, but the best opponent for Harvard would be one that fouls a fair deal defensively and isn’t overly imposing inside. For the Crimson to pull off the upset, it will need to have its three-point shooters get hot and limit the second-chances defensively.
Other Expected Postseason Representatives: Princeton (CBI or CIT) - The Tigers’ non-conference struggles have pretty much erased any hopes of an NIT bid. Princeton will definitely receive an invite to the CBI or CIT. The CBI has been quite kind to the Tigers, as they’ve racked up three wins in their last two appearances in the 16-team tournament.
Conference Realignment: Who’s Got Next? A non-story for the entire season, the divorce negotiated between the Catholic 7 and the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East was finalized last week, a development guaranteed to kick off another round of musical partners. The Catholic 7 got custody of the last name (Big East) and the house (an older but stately palace in downtown New York), along with a promise to process the paperwork quickly. The new/old conference needs three more members to share the TV money and national exposure they are rumored to have negotiated with Fox Sports. The yearly payout per team, believed to be just under ten times the per-team amount the Atlantic 10 just agreed to with CBS, should draw interest. Butler and Xavier have been at the center of Catholic 7 alignment rumors since last October. Unlike Temple’s announced exit in February of last season, however, neither school has confirmed – or denied – the rumors. Xavier, a member since 1995-96, would be the second flagship program (behind Temple) to exit the conference in that last 13 months. Butler who twice went to the Final Four within the last five years, has barely had time to unpack before moving on. When given the news of Temple’s exit in February of 2012, commissioner Bernadette McGlade took a proactive tack and had two replacements in place eight weeks into the offseason. Expect her to do the same this off season. George Mason and Wichita State are the two mentioned most by fans and conference followers.
The Best Basketball-Centric Conference? Mountain West fans may disagree, but it seems certain that the Atlantic 10 Conference will send at least five members to the NCAA Tournament, equaling the highest ever achieved (1997 and 1998). Saint Louis, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth are all but certain to receive bids regardless of what happens this weekend, and prospects for Temple and La Salle remain very strong. On top of that, Massachusetts or Xavier could, with strong conference tournament showings, squeeze out an unprecedented sixth bid for the conference, though it seems unlikely.
The last week of conference play opens with only three conference tournament spots – all three on the sidelines, determined. Others (that Saint Louis will take the #1 seed, Virginia Commonwealth will take #2 and La Salle most likely the #3) seem nearly certain, but note that seeds #4 through #12 are pretty much up for grabs…at least until Wednesday.
Jim Crews has the right to smirk a little after leading the Billikens to their first regular season title in 42 years. (USATSI)
Saint Louis (24-6, 13-3; #16 AP; Projected NCAA Seed #5) – The Billikens stumbled in the last week versus Xavier, but locked down the #1 seed in Brooklyn by beating La Salle. Off until Friday, coach Jim Crews’ team will meet the winner of the Richmond/Charlotte game (most likely Richmond), and if seed holds, most likely La Salle Saturday (and Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday). On the radar however is the NCAA tournament (yes the Bills are a lock at this point, win or lose Friday) seed. The consensus today is a #4-#5 seed with little prospect of moving up without a slew of early conference tournament losses elsewhere. RTC’s Dan Evans’ early March bracket matched the #5 Bills against #12 seed OVC Champion Belmont. The Bears run and gun, which would make this an interesting matchup. Read the rest of this entry »
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
New Mexico (26-5, 13-3)
Colorado State (24-7, 11-5)
UNLV (23-8, 10-6)
San Diego State (21-9, 9-7)
Boise State (21-9, 9-7)
Air Force (17-12, 8-8)
Fresno State (11-18, 5-11)
Wyoming (18-12, 4-12)
Nevada (12-18, 3-13)
Player of the Year. Jamaal Franklin, Junior, San Diego State. The fact that the Aztecs finished four games out of first place and just a game above .500 in conference play could rightfully give one pause in selecting the reigning MW Player of the Year to repeat, but with several teammates slowed by injury, Franklin stepped up his numbers almost across the board. With his minutes ticking up just slightly, his point total took a minor dip, while his rebound numbers jumped and, most impressively with point guard Xavier Thames dealing with injuries all year long, his assist averaged doubled. No, he’s nowhere near a finished product – he turns it over too much and actually got worse shooting from range – but in a conference with no dominant players, Franklin’s consistent production (he’s scored in double figures in all but one game) earns the nod. Kendall Williams and Colton Iverson were considered as well, in part due to their impact on their team’s successes, but both New Mexico and Colorado State earned their superior records on the strength of team efforts.
Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. At the start of the year, while the Lobos were considered one of three teams as favorites in the conference, they were largely seen as trailing UNLV and San Diego State. And when all is said and done, they come away with a conference title by two games. Behind a lock-down defense and a patchwork offense, the Lobos won 11 games by two possessions or less. He’s done a great job developing Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow along the frontline and got solid production out of his backcourt. And we can’t discount the job he and his staff did in putting together a schedule that earned New Mexico the fourth-ranked strength of schedule and an RPI of #2.
Once Again, Steve Alford Got Everything Possible Out Of His Lobo Team.
Freshman of the Year. Anthony Bennett, Freshman, UNLV. During non-conference play, Bennett was regularly a double-double threat and a constant presence on the highlight reels. His numbers dipped in conference play, in part due to a late injury (he only scored in double figures in conference play nine times in 16 games) and he still hasn’t figured out how to play effectively with Mike Moser, but despite those late dips, he’s still the runaway winner of our Freshman of the Year award.
Newcomer of the Year, Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State. Entering conference play, Bennett was the favorite for the conference’s best newcomer. But while Bennett’s performance dipped, Iverson’s never did. With 13 double-doubles to his name, not only is Iverson the clear choice here, he was a strong contender for Player of the Year.
#4 George Mason vs. #5Drexel, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. — If you were to tell me last March that Mason and Drexel would meet in the first round of the CAA tournament, I would have said, “Really? What happened? Did four teams become ineligible for the tournament while the Patriots and Dragons underperformed?” And the March 2012 version of me would have been strangely prescient. But this is a heavyweight bout in Round 1, and the winner could certainly take the whole fruit basket. The teams split two regular season matchups, with each road team winning. Mason blew a 20-point first-half lead in its loss, but for the most part, both games came down to the final eight minutes, when the teams traded leads. This one should also go to the wire —and I’ve got Mason barely holding on in a thrilling opener to the weekend.
Pick: George Mason 62, Drexel 61
#2 Delaware vs. #7 Hofstra, Saturday, 6 p.m. — Hofstra, in this writer’s opinion, is the only team of the seven incapable of winning the tournament. Which means that Delaware, which hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2003, should finally make the final four. The Hens have weapons all over the court, while Hofstra counts on the same few players to log big minutes and try to make something happen. There won’t be many blowouts this weekend, but this game has a chance to be over quickly if Delaware shoots the ball well in the first half. Hofstra’s best gameplan is to limit possessions, remain within striking distance, and catch some second-half breaks. The Pride can hang around, but won’t seriously threaten.
128 Games, 59 Days, 16 Teams, 12 Seeds – For this season the Atlantic 10 decided to expand the conference tournament to a fourth round at the tournament site, to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Four of the conference’s 16 members will not be seeded in the field. Going into the last week of the regular season one of the 12 tickets to Brooklyn has yet to be won and the games this week will decide which of the three “bubble teams” will get their tickets punched… and which will not.
IN – While the conference tournament has yet to settle seeds #2 through #11 precisely, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, La Salle, Butler, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier, Saint Bonaventure and Richmond are guaranteed (to varying degrees) a seed.
OUT – Duquesne, Fordham and Rhode Island, currently #14-#16 in conference standings, will not be in the field. Rhode Island’s three-game losing streak in the past two weeks effectively ended any discussion of a late season surge and a tournament seed.
BUBBLE – Saint Joseph’s, Charlotte, Dayton and George Washington will rely on games this week to decide if they make the tournament field. Of the four bubblers, the Hawks, are best positioned to make the field. The most likely scenario has the George Washington – Dayton match-up Saturday becoming a one-game play-in to the conference tournament.
More Conference Alignment Rumors – About 10 minutes after the Catholic 7 announced their secession from the Big East Conference last October, Xavier and Butler (and a variety of others) were rumored to be ready join the new basketball-focused association when the conference details were settled. As of last weekend however, though the Catholic 7 appear on the verge of securing the Big East name, a TV deal and the immediate rights for a conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, Butler and Xavier have yet (according to commissioner Bernadette McGlade) to notify the A-10 that they intend to withdraw from the conference. Charlotte (to CUSA) and Temple (to Conference TBD) are slated to leave in July, losing two more would place membership numbers at 12 going into July and beyond. Though committed to maintaining a strong basketball-focused conference, the front office has been short on details and candidates to replace the lost members or protect itself from even more exits as newly consecrated Big East looks to pick up other members.
NBC Sports Network Will Televise Thursday Rounds – McGlade announced that the NBC Sports Network will televise all four of the games that will open the Conference Tournament on Thursday, March 14. CBS has committed to televise Saturday’s semifinal games and Sunday’s Championship game as part of their Selection Sunday coverage.
Mitch Goldich is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. Follow him on Twitter (@mitchgoldich) for live updates throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
Bucknell Locks Up Home Court Advantage: The Bison made history this season, becoming the first Patriot League team ever to win three consecutive outright regular season titles. Their 12-2 conference record gives them the top seed in the tournament, ensuring that all of their games will be played in Sojka Pavilion. Their success in Sojka is one of the key reasons they’ve been so great over the last few years, and is a big reason they’ll be tough to take down in the tournament. The Bison went 11-1 on their home floor this season, including a 6-1 mark in conference play. The Bison are an astounding 75-15 all-time against Patriot League foes in Sojka, though that does include a loss to Lehigh in last year’s Patriot League Championship Game.
McCollum Unlikely To Return:The entire complexion of the Patriot League season changed on January 5, when Lehigh star CJ McCollum broke his foot in a nationally televised game against VCU. Lehigh’s preseason All-American became one of the breakout stars in college basketball when he scored 30 points in the Mountain Hawks’ upset over Duke in last year’s NCAA Tournament. He lived up to the hype surrounding his senior season, and led the nation in scoring (25.7 points per game) before the injury. The initial time frame had him out 8-to-10 weeks, which is anywhere from March 2-16. Head coach Brett Reed said on the Patriot League coaches’ conference call that McCollum continues to get healthier, but that he is preparing for the tournament with his squad that went 8-4 in league play without their star. Even if McCollum was healthy enough to take the court, there’s no way to know how many minutes he could log or how effective he’d be.
Leopards Running Hot:While Bucknell and Lehigh dominated the preseason and early-season headlines, it’s that other team in Pennsylvania playing the best ball in the conference right now. The Lafayette Leopards started the season 1-6 and 3-8. On December 14, I even had them dead last in my Patriot League Power Rankings. A close loss at Stanford left them 5-10 at the new year, but seemed to offer hope that the team had figured things out. Behind Tony Johnson’s stellar play at point guard, the Leopards won nine of their final 11 conference games, including an upset over Bucknell and a season sweep over the hated rival Lehigh. The Leopards enter the Patriot League Tournament on a five-game winning streak, and are a legitimate contender to win their first league championship since the 1999-2000 season.
Breaking Down the Tournament Field
Bucknell(25-5, 12-2) – Bucknell spent the non-conference portion of their season flirting with an automatic bid, but their run through league play was not dominant enough to keep them in that discussion. They have simply not looked as good since they nearly beat Missouri in January (more on that below), but they are still the favorite to win the tournament. In addition to Muscala, they have a strong cast with seniors Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman, also in the 1,000 point club. Johnson set the conference record for most three-pointers made in a career and Cameron Ayers joined him at better than 41 percent from beyond. Read the rest of this entry »
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