Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 31st, 2014

It’s been awhile since we checked in on the Mountain West. But with conference play set to begin on New Year’s Eve, it is time we get all caught up with the state of the league. We can break the league into three broad tiers: the conference favorites (San Diego State, Colorado State and Wyoming, in some order); an intriguing group of talented teams with recent success in the middle (New Mexico, Boise State and UNLV); and everybody else.

San Diego State's Offense Has Been Awful, But They're Still A Force To Be Reckoned With In The Mountain West (Stephen Dunn)

San Diego State’s Offense Has Been Awful, But They’re Still A Force To Be Reckoned With In The Mountain West. (Stephen Dunn/AP)

The Championship Tier: San Diego State came into the season as the clear-cut favorite in the conference. Somewhere in the middle of an egregious display of offense in a 36-point outing at Washington, that prognosis changed somewhat. With Colorado State out to a 13-0 start, the Rams are making their case as a challenger to the returning champions, while Wyoming is trying to claim the name Dunk City on their way to a big role in the conference championship chase. But really, go back and look at who either of those last two teams have beaten. Both have wins over Colorado and New Mexico State as among their best wins. The Rams can throw in wins over Georgia State, UTEP and UC Santa Barbara for flavor, but the biggest accomplishment for both teams is really the absence of bad losses. Meanwhile, the Aztecs, despite those three losses and offensive issues, has wins over Utah and BYU, both of which are better than anything on Colorado State or Wyoming’s ledger. And, just realistically, we’ve seen Steve Fisher succeed with atrocious offense backed up by excellent defense; it has been their M.O. for the past two years at least. While this level of offensive ineptitude is concerning, and the Aztecs are no longer the prohibitive favorite in the league, smart money still puts San Diego State a notch above the competition. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 30th, 2014

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

George Washington’s Big Week

Mike Lonergan‘s George Washington squad swept its three games at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu last week to bring home the Atlantic 10’s lone early season invitational trophy this season. In the process the Colonials had to defeat 3-4 Ohio, from the MAC, 6-3 Colorado, from the Pac-12, and 8-1 Wichita State, from the Missouri Valley Conference. Given the team’s early season stumbles — versus Penn State, Seton Hall and Virginia — such an outcome was not preordained. Although George Washington carried legitimate expectations into this season, those losses had dampened enthusiasm about the team’s long-term prospects. Lonergan’s tandem of junior guards — Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage — had been a big part of the reason for the disappointment.

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have a big week coming up. (USATSI)

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have a big week coming up. (USATSI)

While Savage managed two strong efforts in Hawaii, different players scored the team-highs in each of the team’s three games. Junior center Kevin Larsen‘s 19 points paced GW in its 77-49 opening round win over Ohio (he also grabbed 15 rebounds to pace the team in both categories); McDonald’s 14 points spurred the Colonial’s 53-50 comeback win over Colorado; and Savage’s 12 points led the 60-54 upset over the top-10 Shockers. The key to these wins was not finding more offense from his pair of juniors, but instead that the Colonials’ defense was outstanding — the best that Ohio and Wichita State have faced so far this season (and second-best for Colorado). That three such stalwart defensive performances were posted on a neutral court has to be very encouraging for Lonergan’s team heading into conference play. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 23rd, 2014

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

Freshmen Who Caught Our Attention

This preseason Rookie of the Year, Fordham’s Eric Paschall, has some competition. The postseason award may still be his to lose, but if these five freshmen keep the pace they set in this out of conference through the conference schedule, Paschall may be looking over his shoulder come March. In any event, the conference’s future is in very good hands.

  • Payton Aldridge (Davidson) — It appears just about everything about Davidson was underestimated in the season previews, including this 6’7″ 205 pound forward out of Leavittsburg, Ohio. Aldridge has earned two Rookie of the Week nods plus a pair of Honorable Mentions. Aldridge has earned starts in all of Davidson’s games, averages 25.5 minutes, 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for the Wildcats. Combined with senior wing Tyler Kalinoski (offensive rating 125.8) and sophomore point guard Jack Gibbs (offensive rating 132.5), Aldridge gives Coach Bob McKillop a very efficient (offensive rating 124.4) third option. Aldridge has converted 46% of his three point attempts, giving Davidson the kind of offense that stretches defenses.

    Eric Paschall is still the favorite, but other freshmen have really impressed as well. (AP)

    Eric Paschall is still the favorite, but other freshmen have really impressed as well. (AP)

  • Oskar Michelsen (Davidson) — Another overlooked gem in Davidson’s entering class, Michelsen, at 6’9″ 210 pounds, has started with Aldridge and Kalinoski to give Davidson three scoring forwards. Michelsen averages 20.2 minutes in a front court rotation that includes junior Jake Belford and fellow freshman Nathan Ekwu. Michelsen’s specialty is three pointers. 75% of the freshman’s field goal attempts have been three pointers, a point he made with authority with an 18 point outburst on 6-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc in his debut against Division 3 Catholic University. He has cooled off to a 51% three point conversion rate. Michelsen has earned two conference Honorable Mentions.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

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

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

Three Games to Catch This Week

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

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on December 16th, 2014

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

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Closing out the Ivy League: Harvard Victorious, But Didn’t Come Easy

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on March 12th, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

The end result was expected, but that’s about all that went as planned in the Ivies this season. Harvard claimed the league crown, a result that had been deemed inevitable by the national media since it was clear that Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were returning to campus as fifth-year seniors. Its four-game victory margin appears commanding but was hardly so, as it took until March to finish off both a Columbia team projected to finish last in the Ivy media poll and a Yale squad which began Ivy play outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 200. Meanwhile, Penn, the popular preseason pick to be the Crimson’s number one contender, beat three teams ranked in the Top 275 all season.

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

As expected, Kyle Casey and Harvard earned the Ivy League crown. (Boston.com)

Princeton lost its best player since the turn of the century in Ian Hummer, but sprinted out to a 9-1 start that had Twitter abuzz with chatter about a #2BidIvy. Then, it proceeded not to win a Division I game for more than a month during an 0-4 start to the Ivy campaign, only to rebound and finish third with 20 victories for the fourth time in five years. Brown lost two entire backcourt spots off a team that finished 224th in Pomeroy last season but proceeded to get half of its total team minutes from freshmen and rose all the way to the fringe of the top 150. Dartmouth looked like a legitimate sleeper before losing All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas for the season, but bookended a seven-game Ivy losing streak with shocking sweeps of Penn and Princeton and Brown and Yale.

So, yes, in the end the NCAA bid went to Harvard, but that simple narrative fails to do justice to what was an entertaining and surprising 2013-14 campaign.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 5th, 2014

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

If the Season Ended Today

Table01140305

The conference standings are ordered by winning percentage (in conference play through Tuesday) using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences are used here to identify those teams that might be under- or over-seeded for the conference tournament. Virginia Commonwealth closed out a 4-3 February by beating conference leader Saint Louis by 11 to open March, If this run continues, the Rams might be peaking at exactly the right time. Saint Louis’ two-game losing streak (to Duquesne by seven AT THE CHAIFETZ! and to Virginia Commonwealth by 11) will not jeopardize its conference standing. The Billikens hold a tie-breaker over Saint Joseph’s should they drop one of their two remaining games. The damage, beyond their pride, was taken by their projected NCAA Tournament seed line. Touted as a #3 for much of February, many bracketologists moved Saint Louis down to the #4 or #5 seed line as a result. Dropping their last two games would be problematic for head coach Jim Crews’ squad. The highlighted teams (Virginia Commonwealth and George Washington) have the highest conference efficiency differences of any team grouped in their respective side of the latest version of the conference tournament brackets (see below), yet neither holds the #1 or the #2 seed. The brackets below show how the conference tournament would be seeded if the season ended on Tuesday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 4th, 2014

As we head into the final week of the season, the regular season conference championship remains very much up for grabs San Diego State and New Mexico are tied atop the standings at 14-2, four games ahead of third-place UNLV, each with one game to go prior to their showdown at Viejas Arena on Saturday evening for what figures to be a battle for the outright conference title. The Aztecs have a bit more precarious mid-week exam ahead of them, as they’ll travel to those previously mentioned Runnin’ Rebels tomorrow to renew what has become one of the better rivalries in the conference in recent years.

Team of the Week

UNLV – The Rebels bounced back from an 0-for-2 previous week to score a solid win over Colorado State and a blowout of Air Force this week, securing their credentials, at least for the time being, as the third-best team in the conference. And, there’s little doubt that this Rebel team is significantly improved from the squad that was stinking up the Thomas & Mack in a home loss to those Falcons back in the early days of 2014. Dave Rice and company are probably still in a position where their only chance at an invitation to the Big Dance involves a Mountain West Tournament win in a week’s time, but at least such a possibility is no longer just a punch line to a bad joke.

Bryce Dejean-Jones Has Helped The Runnin' Rebels Become More Stable

Bryce Dejean-Jones Has Helped The Runnin’ Rebels Become More Stable

Player of the Week

Bryce Dejean-Jones, Junior, UNLV – His teammate Khem Birch won the official conference player of the week, but we’re going to go with the team’s most consistent offensive performer, who turned in a solid week of 14.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per night while knocking in shots at an efficient 54.7% eFG clip this week. Dejean-Jones has been maddening at time with erratic shot selection early in his career, but on a team without a ton of other guys capable of creating for themselves, he has been a high-volume shooter who has also significantly increased his capacity to separate a good shot from a bad one.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 27th, 2014

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

Looking Back

Perris Blackwell is pulling down rebounds for Washington, De’End Parker is leading Cal State San Marcos to the top of NAIA ranks, and Cody Doolin is plotting his comeback next year at UNLV. But Rex Walters has commanded a resolute Gang of Six anchored by senior forward Cole Dickerson to propel San Francisco to the brink of second place in the WCC with an outside chance of tying for the title. By holding off hapless Saint Mary’s and still-struggling Pacific at home last week, the Dons moved to 11-5 in conference play and into a virtual tie with BYU for the second spot (the Cougars have a half-game lead by virtue of having played one more game). If the Dons sweep Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this week in Southern California and BYU and Gonzaga stumble in their final contests, Walters’ embattled troops will have pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in WCC history.

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could record an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could earn itself an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

Gonzaga paved the way for this potential outcome by dropping both its road contests last week, first to an aroused BYU in Provo, and then to a scrappy San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. The Zags’ lack of depth was a factor in both losses, as Mark Few has narrowed his rotation to exclude anyone besides Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower, Jr. in the frontcourt. Providence transfer Gerard Coleman, Louisville transfer Angel Nunez and two freshmen are anchored on the bench as the Zags plow unsteadily towards another conference championship and a top seed in the WCC Tournament, opening March 6 in Las Vegas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 26th, 2014

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

If the Season Ended Today

Table01140226

The conference standings are ordered by A-10 winning percentage (through February 25), using the rules to determine conference tournament seeding applied to order those with identical marks. The efficiency differences do not match the conference standings, but that is not unusual. A few of the larger differences, however, do stand out (note the shadings). Massachusetts, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Bonaventure in particular are out of place relative to the teams above and below them. Those efficiency differences, especially if the standings hold through the end of the regular season, could play a larger than expected role in the conference tournament. Note the brackets below represent the seeds if the conference tournament were seeded based on results through Tuesday.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 25th, 2014

This week in the Mountain West conference had it all: a much-awaited Top 25 match-up between the two teams remaining in the race for the conference title; an epic (game of the year?) overtime battle between what appears to be the third- and fourth-best teams in the conference that went down to, literally, the final split second before some postgame controversy; and straight heartbreak, when an all-conference performer had his season abruptly ended by injury. Let’s get right to it.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – A little patience, plenty of hard work and steady improvement, and the Lobos are back where their fans expected them to be all along – in first place in the conference. After going on the road and handling the Runnin’ Rebels with relative ease, Craig Neal and company returned home and, in front of a raucous home crowd, showed San Diego State that there is at least another team in the conference capable of some lockdown defense on occasion. Inside the Top 25 and tied atop the conference standings, the Lobos seem to be peaking at just the right time.

Cameron Bairstow And The Lobos Earned A Big Home Win Over San Diego State on Saturday Night (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Cameron Bairstow And The Lobos Earned A Big Home Win Over San Diego State on Saturday Night. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Player of the Week

Cameron Bairstow, Senior, New Mexico – Prior to today, we had awarded the Mountain West Player of the Week 11 different times this season. Four players had earned our award twice – Xavier Thames, Larry Nance and Khem Birch. That tie has now been broken, and at precisely the time when the senior Aussie big man first inched ahead of Thames in the Player of the Year race. There is plenty of work left to be done, but with Bairstow’s averages this week of 22.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 3.0 BPG in two huge conference games, his inclusion here can hardly be argued with. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James (@mrjames2006) on February 21st, 2014

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Looking Back

  • Ivy Race Reset – While 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament will be doled out following the sometimes wild and often thrilling conference tournaments, the remaining one gets decided during the two-month grind known as The 14-Game Tournament. The upside of the Ivy’s unique structure is that (usually) the best team represents the league. The downside is that many teams are effectively eliminated by the middle of February. While Cornell is the only Ivy squad that has been mathematically eliminated from the title chase, four more teams sitting on four or more league losses (Columbia, Penn, Princeton and Dartmouth) would essentially need too much help to fathom. That leaves the co-leaders Harvard and Yale, both at 7-1, and third-place Brown (5-3) as the remaining contenders for the Ivy auto bid. The Crimson remains the odds-on favorite with a +0.22 points per possession margin in league play, well ahead of both Yale (+0.08) and Brown (+0.07). If the Ivy season were 140 games long, that efficiency differential might slowly allow Harvard to separate itself from the pack, but with just six games remaining in The 14-Game Tournament, not nearly enough time remains to assume that the Bulldogs will regress to the mean.

    Tommy Amaker and Harvard are still the favorites to earn the Ivy League auto bid. (AP)

    Tommy Amaker and Harvard are still the favorites to earn the Ivy League auto bid. (AP)

  • Historic Postseason Eligibility – During the 2011-2012 season, the Ivy League sent four teams to the postseason and nearly had a fifth until Columbia lost six out of its last seven games. It was viewed as another watershed moment for a league which had just two years earlier sent its first representative to the Sweet 16 in the 64-team era. While the league continues to play competitively at the top, as shown by Harvard’s win over New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament last season, the depth of the Ivies has been the most surprising development. Princeton and Columbia sit just one win away from clinching postseason eligibility, while Yale and Brown need just two victories to join the party as well. Assuming those four clear that modest hurdle, they will join the Crimson to give the league five postseason-eligible teams for the first time in the modern era. Read the rest of this entry »
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