Gonzaga And Saint Mary’s: Excitement and Disappointment

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

In one way, it was the most predictable thing ever: Gonzaga appeared in its 19th consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship game and came away with a win to seal its 18th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But in another way, it was very different. For the first time since 2007, the Bulldogs’ flimsy resume meant that they absolutely needed to win the league’s automatic bid in order to ensure a trip back to the Big Dance (they ended up as a #11 seed that year and would have probably dropped to the NIT had they lost).

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The 2007 team went on to get run out of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana. But in a season without a bevy of elite teams, this year’s squad has great potential as a nightmare matchup for a higher seed. The veteran Zags frontcourt combination of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis is as talented a duo inside as any other in the country, while backcourt players Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins are playing the best basketball of their careers. The Bulldogs aren’t a deep team but they’re strong offensively, well-coached, and have significant postseason experience.

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Putting a Bow on the Atlantic 10 Regular Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 8th, 2016

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

A Wild Finish to an Unusual Season

Is Dayton Poised For Yet Another Postseason Run? (USA Today Images)

Is Dayton Poised For Yet Another Postseason Run? (USA Today Images)

The Atlantic 10 had no fewer than four teams share or outright hold the top spot in the standings during the last five weeks of the regular season. VCU (8-0) entered February with a one-loss lead over Dayton (8-1) and Saint Joseph’s (7-1), but the toughest tests for Will Wade’s team were deferred to the last month of conference play. A 1-2 start to the month dropped the Rams into a tie for second place with the recovered Hawks, two wins behind the preseason favorite Flyers. Having snatched the baton, Dayton could not hold it. Two losses in the third week of February dropped Archie Miller’s squad into second place, again behind VCU. Things then became even more complicated as the league’s top five teams — VCU, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure and George Washington — finished the season with a virtual round robin. By the beginning of March, Saint Joseph’s and VCU were tied at the top with identical 13-3 records, one game ahead of Dayton (12-4) and St. Bonaventure (12-4). Heading into the final day of the regular season, Dayton pulled VCU back to the pack with a 68-67 overtime win, while St. Joseph’s, which had lost another game to the Bonnies, absorbed a 78-70 loss to Duquesne to spare the conference a four-way co-championship. Instead, Dayton, VCU and St. Bonaventure shared the crown. Read the rest of this entry »

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Austin Peay Returns to the Big Dance With a Surprise Run

Posted by David Changas on March 7th, 2016

After finishing the 2012-13 season with a record of 8-23, Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos decided it was time to relinquish his duties as the school’s athletic director and refocus on his first love: coaching basketball. Loos had been at the school since 1990 and had led the Governors to three NCAA Tournament bids in his first 18 seasons, but in 1997, he added the role of AD to his title. Things steadily slipped over time, and even after Loos returned solely to the sideline, many wondered if the longtime coach would again compete for OVC championships. Austin Peay won only 20 games over the two seasons that followed Loos’ resignation before suffering through a middling 14-17 campaign entering last week’s OVC Tournament. The #8 seed in the event exhibited nothing on its resume to suggest that anything special would happen in Nashville.

Dave Loos's fourth trip to the Big Dance is his most improbable one.(AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)

Dave Loos’ fourth trip to the Big Dance is his most improbable one. (AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)

But therein lies the beauty of college basketball. After easily dispatching #5 seed Tennessee Tech in the first round, the Governors overcame a 10-point deficit with just over five minutes remaining to beat #4 seed Tennessee State. In a subsequent semifinal game that may have been the best of Championship Week thus far, Austin Peay then stunned regular season champion Belmont by a single point in overtime after the Bruins’ go-ahead putback was waved off. That led to Saturday night against #2 seed Tennessee-Martin, where the Governors trailed by nine early before charging back and ultimately coasting to their fourth victory in four days, an 83-73 win that came with an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

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Lock Your Doors: Potential Bid Thieves

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 4th, 2016

No two words strike fear into the hearts of college basketball’s bubble-dwelling teams like “bid thieves.” The aptly named conference tournament crashers have a ripple effect on the rest of the landscape, impacting teams from leagues far beyond their own. When a team with no legitimate at-large aspirations wills their way into the field, another program’s season is suddenly viewed through a dramatically sadder lens (such is life in the NIT). A bid thief, like any good bandit, is sneaky and unsuspecting. If we all knew who they were at the outset of the conference tournaments, they wouldn’t be very effective thieves. Still, there are signs and symbols to look for. First and foremost, the pool of suspects all hail from a conference that has a team that owns a resume strong enough to merit an at-large bid. That means the potential bid thief population comprises second tier mid-major clubs and the also-rans of power conferences. From that group, at least one or two teams will almost definitely rise and dash the hopes of those on the bubble. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can spot some a caper before they become one.

Northern Iowa is peaking at just the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa is peaking at the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa

The Panthers are the perfect place to start, as they boast a textbook bid thief background. UNI has beaten North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Sounds like the beginning of an at-large case? Not exactly. Ben Jacobson’s club also had a stretch this season where they lost 10 of 15, including duds against Missouri State (KenPom #241) and Loyola (KenPom #185). They’ve been utterly inconsistent throughout the season, despite the aforementioned flashes of impressiveness. If the team that’s 4-1 against the KenPom top 50 shows up to Arch Madness, the Panthers are absolutely a threat to knock off Wichita State and steal the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid. UNI has won eight of its last nine (which includes a victory in Wichita), so everything could be breaking right for this thief to emerge in St. Louis.

Iona

If Monmouth fails to win the MAAC tournament, the Hawks would find themselves squarely on the bubble, even with that tidy list of non-conference wins (most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown). The MAAC tournament will be far from a cakewalk for Monmouth, with second seeded Iona looming as its toughest test. The Gaels and Hawks split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Monmouth came out on top in a wild, 200+ total point, trash-talking, slap-fight-inspiring battle in mid-January, while Iona returned the favor by beating Monmouth by 16 in a less remarkable affair. If the basketball gods are good to us, we’ll see these two square off again in Albany. Both play at a breakneck pace (each are in the top 30 nationally in possessions per game), as Iona is able to run with Monmouth in a way most teams can’t. They also may have the best player you don’t know about. Iona senior AJ English is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game and has multiple 40+ point games this season. An English-dominated conference tournament could mean a two-bid MAAC – a scary proposition for bubble teams everywhere else.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Texas Southern’s Derrick Griffin Plays Two Sports With Same Tenacity

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 26th, 2016

Scoring 19 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a collegiate debut is impressive — especially when you do it on the road at an SEC school after a 12-hour bus ride. When you’ve known your teammates for 48 hours and only practiced with them once. And haven’t played competitively in two years. And you were playing a different sport at a Division I level five days before. Somehow, Texas Southern wide-receiver-cum-forward Derrick Griffin managed to pull that off on December 2 at Mississippi State in a closer-than-it-appeared 85-73 loss. The Houston native and former Rivals.com four-star football recruit – he signed to play football at Miami before failing to academically qualify – has turned his athleticism into a series of highlight-reel dunks, gobbled-up rebounds and impressively blocked shots, and he’s part of his hometown Tigers’ 13-1 start in SWAC play.

A first round pick in the NFL or the NBA?! Derrick Griffin is that type of athlete. (Houston Chronicle)

A first round pick in the NFL or the NBA?! Derrick Griffin is that type of athlete. (Houston Chronicle)

“I’m like a junkyard dog out there,” Griffin says. That tenacity has the 6’7″, 225-pound post ranking eighth-best in the country in two-point field goal percentage, 12th in offensive rebounding rate and among the top 125 nationally in defensive rebounding rate and shot-blocking rate, according to KenPom. And if there were a stat for alley-oops per game, Griffin would have to be leading the nation. He tallied four in the first half alone against Syracuse – and that was just his fifth game as a collegian. He hasn’t missed more than one shot in a game in February – he’s 29-of-33 in six games – and he’s had 10 or more rebounds in 13 of Texas Southern’s 14 conference games. “On the court, he’s really quiet,” says head coach Mike Davis, who led Indiana to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game in 2002. “He’s really aggressive. He has an inner rage, not in a bad way, but inner rage. Like, you push that button and he’s got ultimate, ultimate aggression on plays. He can be standing there and all of a sudden block a shot with so much aggressiveness, and you’re like, ‘Wow.’” Read the rest of this entry »

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Rhode Island Loses Hassan Martin in an Injury-Filled Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2016

The announcement from Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley on Wednesday was short but hardly sweet: Starting forward Hassan Martin is done for the rest of the regular season. The consensus all-conference player has tendinitis in his right knee that caused him to log only 10 minutes in the Rams’ 11-point loss at Davidson on Tuesday, and although it’s unclear how long he’ll be out, the school does not expect him back in action prior to the start of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Coupled with the loss of EC Matthews in Rhode Island’s first game of the season, Hurley has now lost the services of the two players he was most counting on to propel his team into the conference elite.

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

Hurley retooled his offense to cover for the loss of Matthews, turning to the trio of Fore McGlynn, a fifth-year senior from Towson, and two developing sophomores, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell. Martin, who shared frontcourt playing time with transfer Kuran Iverson, fifth-year senior Earl Watson and freshman Nicola Akele, had already missed two previous games with an ankle sprain, while Garrett and Iverson missed games because of injury back in January. Although Hurley has described his 15-13 squad as exceptionally “resilient,” the loss of Martin for at least the next few games has drastically lowered expectations for the home stretch. Touted as the sleeper team during Atlantic 10 Media Day last October, the Rams will do well to finish .500 in league play and earn the #7 seed at the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

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Checking In On…The Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 24th, 2016

First It Got Crazy, Then It Didn’t

Reviewing the scores from last Wednesday, it looked as if the shake-up at the top of the conference would continue for another week. VCU had dropped two games the week before and put itself a loss behind Dayton, the coaches’ preseason pick for the conference title. The City of Brotherly Love was unkind to a pair of visiting teams on that night, however, as Dayton lost to Saint Joseph’s 79-70, and up the road, La Salle (1-10 in the A-10) earned its second conference win of the season over St. Bonaventure. The Flyers’ loss dropped them into a three-way tie for first with the victorious Hawks and struggling VCU.

As the A-10 contenders come down the stretch, Archie Miller and crew is once again right in the thick of things. (Getty)

Archie Miller and his crew are once again right in the thick of things heading down the stretch. (Getty)

St. Bonaventure had been in the midst of a 9-3 tear through the conference, but saw its at-large dream grow more distant with the loss to the Explorers (#224 in the RPI). Fast forward to Saturday, where two frontrunners again suffered crippling losses. Dayton fell 79-72 at home to those Bonnies, while Saint Joseph’s had its eight-game road winning streak snapped at Davidson, 99-93. At the end of a chaotic week, the conference standings had somehow remained nearly the same as the week before. VCU was back in first place, while Dayton and Saint Joseph’s fell back into a two-way tie for second place, a loss behind the Rams. St. Bonaventure did slide up the standings page, moving into sole possession of the fourth slot, as George Washington slipped to fifth.

If the standings were status quo ante, the prospects for NCAA bids were not. St. Bonaventure, whose at-large hopes appeared grim on Wednesday, added a signature win to their resume in winning at Dayton over the weekend. Their RPI bumped to #34. Bracketologists will argue about the eye test and ugly losses (see: La Salle) when it comes to the Bonnies’ profile, but the RPI figure has definitely earned them a serious look as the season winds down. Right now, bracketologists Jerry Palm, Chris Dobbertean and Joe Lunardi project the same three teams, Dayton, VCU and Saint Joseph’s, in the field of 68, but disagree on the seed. Dobbertean and Lunardi have both St. Bonaventure and GWU in their First Four Out, while Palm lists only the Bonnies among the first four on the outside of the cutline.  Read the rest of this entry »

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High Flyers: Dayton Builds On Recent Success

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 18th, 2016

When Archie Miller signed a contract extension at Dayton in May 2015, ensuring that he would remain at the school for at least another season rather than jumping to a power conference program, he praised the university for its commitment to him. “It’s very humbling. It’s a privilege to coach at a place like this,” Miller told the Dayton Daily News. “There’s not a day that’s gone by that we haven’t had everything we need to be successful,” he added. Nearly a year on, this has continued to be the case. The 2015-16 season marks Miller’s fifth with the Flyers, having recorded winning records in the previous four and including multiple NCAA Tournament wins capped by a run to the Elite Eight two seasons ago. With Miller back on the sideline and four starters returning, Dayton looks to build upon its recent achievements.

Dyshawn Pierre and Dayton (USA Today Images)

Dyshawn Pierre and Dayton Look to Make Noise in March Again (USA Today Images)

Despite a road loss last night at St. Joseph’s, this year’s Flyers appear to be more ready for the postseason than any of their predecessors. Dayton’s current ranking of #15 in the AP Poll is its highest in the last three seasons, and the team is currently projected as a much higher seed than it was during each of their past two NCAA Tournament appearances (#11). In the most recent bracketology projections from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBSSports’ Jerry Palm, Miller’s team was slotted as a #4 seed, carrying with it both the burden of expectation but also geographic preference.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 18th, 2016

The Atlantic 10 regular season is winding to a close but much is still to be decided. Four teams (Dayton, VCU, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure) have a legitimate shot at taking home the crown this season, and all (save Dayton) will be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in the coming weeks. Before things get too tense, let’s take a look at several of the young players who have made this season in the Atlantic 10 a special one.

Early All-Freshmen Leaders

All-conference awards will be announced in about three weeks. While a few of the preseason picks are on track, there have also been a few surprises. Several years ago, the conference was loaded with wings and combo forwards. This season marks a return to what the conference has always been known for — tough, smart guards. The pool of candidates for Freshman of the Year is decidedly guard-heavy, so expect the All-Freshmen Team to feature guards over bigs. One member of the group below is likely to take home Freshman of the Year honors, and they are listed from most to least likely to do so.

(Fordham Athletics)

  • Joseph Chartouny, Fordham, G: If these picks had been made on January 1, Chartouny would have won in a landslide after receiving three Freshman of the Week nods and an Honorable Mention in the season’s first seven weeks. Skill meets need is the best description of Chartouny and Fordham’s relationship. The freshman averages 9.9 points per game with a team-high 98 assists and a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is the top assist man in the conference and ranks third in steals, sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio and ninth in defensive rebounds per game.
  • Steve McElvene, Dayton, C: The redshirt freshman has become a fixture among the weekly honorable mentions (seven times through 14 weeks) while averaging 6.3 rebounds and 6.2 points per game. McElvene also leads the Flyers in offensive rebounds (46) and blocked shots (46). He is the highest-ranked freshmen among conference rebounding leaders, ranking second in blocked shots and 14th in offensive rebounds per game.

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VCU Holding Steady Under Will Wade

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on February 16th, 2016

As with any beloved family member, the longer Shaka Smart stayed in Richmond, the harder he was going to be to replace. And contrary to what many outside the area may think, VCU’s strong basketball tradition didn’t start with the charismatic and personable young coach, but it made him a seemingly impossible act to follow. A 2011 trip to the Final Four is the most notable element of Smart’s impressive coaching resume, but he also won at least 26 games in all six seasons at the helm, going to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five years (VCU is one of 11 schools nationally with such a streak). In the school’s first three years since moving up to the Atlantic 10, Smart led the Rams to 12 conference wins each season and the Rams never received a seed lower than #7 in the NCAA Tournament.

Once under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

Once an assistant under Shaka Smart, the young Will Wade is beginning to plant the seeds towards his own legacy at VCU. (Getty)

VCU did its best to keep Smart from leaving. To call his departure inevitable is probably inaccurate, but they certainly knew it was a distinct possibility all along. After Smart bolted for the resource-rich program at Texas, it didn’t take long for VCU to appoint Will Wade to replace him. Wade, like Smart, is a young, energetic, new-age leader who never played at a high level. At 33 years old, he is currently the fourth-youngest Division I coach, but, unlike Smart, this young head coach brought two years of D-I head coaching experience with him, leading Chattanooga to a 27-7 Southern Conference record over two seasons from 2013-15. Wade was also an assistant for four years under Smart (including the Final Four campaign) prior to that, and was a key member of the Harvard dynasty in the Ivy League before joining the VCU staff.

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