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Patriot League Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight. You can find him on Twitter @KLDoyle11.

Tournament Preview 

The Favorite: Despite losing back-to-back games against Lehigh and Holy Cross down the stretch, and a less than stellar performance against bottom-dweller Navy, Bucknell remains the favorite to win the Patriot League. The Patriot League Tournament—like many of the smaller conference tournaments around the country—has its championship game located at the highest remaining seed. Playing in the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion has treated the Bison quite well over the past two seasons as they are a combined 26-3 there. The last road team to win the PLT was, ironically enough, Bucknell back in the 2004-05 season in Worcester against Holy Cross. Home court does have its perks, and Bucknell can rest easy knowing that if they take care of business all three tournament games will be played in Lewisburg. Semantics and seeding aside though, it also doesn’t hurt that Bucknell has far and away the league’s best big man in Mike Muscala. Steady guard Cameron Ayers, sharpshooter Bryson Johnson, and a lunch pail kind of player in Joe Willman make the Bison a formidable group. More on the Muscala—or, as the Bison faithful like to call him, “Moose”—later.

Dark Horse: Back in early February, the Holy Cross Crusaders looked as if they had mailed it in. Poor efforts on the defensive end, not playing as a cohesive unit, and questionable game preparation all contributed, among other things, to a 3-5 start in league play. After being on the wrong end of a 75-51 drubbing at Lehigh, something clearly happened inside the Holy Cross locker room and during practice sessions; the Crusaders’ six game winning streak, their longest since the beginning of the 2007-08 season, did not happen by chance. While the offense is still inconsistent and stalls during inopportune times, the defense has spearheaded the late charge. During the first eight games of league play, Holy Cross gave up an average of 69 points per game. Since then, they are giving up a remarkable 54.7 points. All that being said, the Crusaders have greatly struggled on the road (4-11) and the road to the Patriot League Championship in all likelihood runs through either Bucknell or Lehigh. A tall task for the Crusaders no doubt, but they are peaking at the right time.

Who’s Hot: Hide the women and children, C.J. McCollum is playing his best basketball of the season and the vaunted Lehigh offense is clicking on all cylinders as the Mountain Hawks enter the tournament. Over the course of their last 10 games—nine of them wins—McCollum is averaging 23.4 points. His lowest output during this run was 15 points against Bucknell, but his final three points of this contest came just before the buzzer as he connected on a triple from the top of the key to propel Lehigh to a comeback victory.

Some may call McCollum cocky and arrogant—especially in the preceding clip as he stares down the Bucknell student section—but his play certainly backs it up.

Player to Watch: All eyes will be on C.J. McCollum, but it behooves you to overlook the Patriot League’s best forward in several year: Mike Muscala. The junior from Minnesota is one of the most efficient players on the offensive end you will see this year as he shoots better than 50% from the field and close to 90% from the charity stripe—not too shabby for a 6’11 guy. On the defensive end, Muscala is on the verge of cracking the Top 10 in the Patriot League for blocks all time. What goes unnoticed is how intelligent he is on the floor with his exceptional positioning and court awareness. Muscala has not fouled out of a game this season, and has only picked up four fouls once. Staying out of foul trouble has enabled him to earn 30 minutes a night and really increased his production. While much of the talk from the media and those outside of Patriot League circles will be of McCollum, don’t forget the “Moose” at Bucknell.

Game to Watch: Lafayette @ Holy Cross—After having their season ended by Lafayette the past two years, Holy Cross will look to return the favor this time around. In the regular season, the teams split the season series with each team winning on the opponent’s home floor. The last time the teams met in Worcester, Holy Cross jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead only to be outscored by 21 points in the second half. Lafayette will be at a major disadvantage in the third meeting though as Second-Team All-League performer Tony Johnson is out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury.

How’d They Fare: Bucknell was trounced by eventual National Champions Connecticut 81-52. It may be hard to believe, but this score doesn’t reflect how lopsided the game actually was. Bucknell looked to push the tempo and played exclusively man-to-man throughout the game, but simply did not have the horses that Connecticut had. Sometimes, the brains can outplay the talent, but very rarely are they able to outrun them.

A Look Back

How’d I Do? – Prior to the season beginning, here is how I saw things shaking out (preseason on the left, final standings on the right):

  1. Bucknell (11-3)                  1.     Bucknell (12-2)
  2. Lehigh (9-5)                        2.     Lehigh (11-3)
  3. Holy Cross (7-7)               3.     American (10-4)
  4. Colgate (7-7)                      4.     Holy Cross (9-5)
  5. American (6-8)                  5.     Lafayette (7-7)
  6. Navy (6-8)                           6.     Army (5-9)
  7. Lafayette (6-8)                  7.     Colgate (2-12)
  8. Army (4-10)                        8.     Navy (0-14)

I was right on the mark in predicting that Bucknell and Lehigh would finish one/two, and that Holy Cross would finish in the top four, but believed in Colgate and Navy more than I should have and undersold American. (Just as an aside, Jeff Jones has never finished in the bottom four of the Patriot League and American has advanced to the semifinals in every year they have been in the league. Clearly, I have learned to no longer bet against coach Jones.)

As for Colgate, the Raiders performed up to many expectations in the non-conference, but struggled in the Patriot League against all teams not named Navy. Given that the Raiders are a senior laden team who finished last season going 6-8 down the stretch, I believed Matt Langel would have that moderate success carry over—it did not. Although, it should be known that their star forward Yaw Gyawu has been hindered by injuries for much of the year—Gyawu was pegged as a member of my All-League Team in the preseason.

All-League Team (statistics from conference games only)

  • G C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (23.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.6 SPG)
  • G Charles Hinkle, American (16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 47.6 3PT%)
  • F Ella Ellis, Army (17.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 89.2 FT%)
  • F Ryan Willen, Lafayette (14.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 82.1 FT%)
  • F Mike Muscala, Bucknell (18.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 89.5 FT%)

All-Rookie Team (statistics from conference games only)

  • G Justin Burrell, Holy Cross (7.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 A/TO)
  • G Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette (7.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 50.0 3PT%)
  • G Maxwell  Lenox, Army (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
  • F Worth Smith, Navy (6.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
  • F Dan Trist, Lafayette (6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG)

Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—This has been a two player race for much of the season, even though American fans would like to think that Charles Hinkle was in the discussion, but, in the end, the Player of the Year debate was going to come between C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala. Arguments can easily be made for both players. Each is the focal point of their team and have experienced a good deal of success as individual players. However, it was McCollum’s dominance and ability to take over a game makes him the Player of the Year. Not a shot against Muscala at all, but it is easier for a 6’3 guard to take over a basketball game than a 6’11 forward. McCollum ranks sixth nationally in points per game at 21.7, but is more than just a scorer—the rest of his stat line reflects that. By many accounts, he has become more of a complete player, but certainly understands when he needs to carry Lehigh.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Jones, American—Losing virtually his entire frontcourt with Vlad Moldoveanu graduating and Stephen Lumpkins pursuing a career in baseball, Jeff Jones’ outlook for the year was bleak. Relying on transfers who had only been with the program for a year and two forwards who seldom saw the floor a year before, Jones had his work cut out for him. Fortunately for him, Charles Hinkle—one of the transfers from Vanderbilt—emerged early in the season as a reliable scorer, and sophomore Tony Wroblicky proved to be a serviceable big man. Even still, Jones turned a team that seemed destined for the middle-of-the-pack into a title contender.

Rookie of the Year: Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette—The 6’7 guard from Minnesota is a pure shooter in every sense of the word, and fits perfectly into Fran O’Hanlon’s jump shot friendly offense. Although Hinrichs has the height that would suggest he is a forward in the Patriot League, he lacks the bulk and size to work in the paint, and with a shot like his it would be foolish to put him down there. Hinrichs shot an impressive 50% from three, 54.8% from the field, and averaged 7.4 points all in Patriot League play. With Ryan Willen and Jim Mower graduating, Hinrichs will become a primary option next year for Lafayette.

Defensive Player of the Year: Bryan Cohen, Bucknell—Rather than bore you with analysis on Cohen’s ability to shut down an opponent’s top scoring threat, I’ll let the following numbers do the talking:

Lehigh, American, and Holy Cross were three of the top four teams in the Patriot League. Against these teams, Cohen has done a remarkable job limiting the scoring production of C.J. McCollum, Charles Hinkle, and Devin Brown.


Average points against all PL teams other than Bucknell

Average points scored against Bucknell

C.J. McCollum



Charles Hinkle



Devin Brown



One can attribute the disparity in scoring to a poor shooting night, but such a pattern suggests that Cohen is a significant part of the lower scoring output. Dave Paulsen has a real luxury in matching him up with the opposition’s top scorer and knowing life will be made very difficult for him. Cohen was recently tabbed as the Patriot League’s Defensive Player of the Year; this is the third time he has received the honor. I’d like to see any other player garner such an award three times in their career—quite the feat.

6th Man of the Year: Mike Cavataio, Holy Cross—It has been quite the journey for Holy Cross senior swingman Mike Cavataio, just take a gander at his lengthy college basketball timeline:

  • 2007-08: Played under Norm Roberts at St. John’s where he saw six minutes of action per game and made one start during Big East play against Marquette
  • 2008-09: Transferred to Holy Cross to play under Ralph Willard, but had to sit out the entire season
  • 2009-10: In his first season of eligibility, he played under first year coach Sean Kearney and averaged 11.3 points in 31 games
  • 2010-11: After Sean Kearney was fired after one year, he played under Milan Brown and averaged 8.9 points in 29 games
  • 2011-12: He was injured in the first game of the season against the College of Charleston and missed every game in the non-conference. He returned January 7th against Lehigh

Suffice it to say, this is not how Mike Cavataio drew up his college basketball career. Coming out of St. Francis Prep in New York, Cavataio had aspirations of lighting up Madison Square Garden playing for St. John’s. He soon realized that he could earn more minutes and play a significant role at a smaller school, and Holy Cross seemed like the perfect fit—a successful mid-major program under the tutelage of Ralph Willard. After sitting out a year, experiencing five different coaches between high school and college ball, and suffering through an injury—something he is accustomed to after breaking the same ankle twice during his sophomore year in high school—Cavataio has developed into the prototypical sixth man. He provides an instant spark off the bench with his defense—the Crusaders best on-ball defender—and mid-range and slashing ability on offense. Although he averages a mere 5.4 points, many of his contributions do not show up in the box score, something that his teammates and keen observes would tell you.

Most Improved Player: Charles Hinkle, American—Whatever Charles Hinkle did during the summer months and offseason, it worked. After averaging 11.6 points last year, many assumed that Troy Brewer would have to carry the load this season. And Brewer has been no slouch averaging 12 points a night, but the emergence of Hinkle as the go-to guy has alleviated the pressure Brewer and others may have felt. In his first three seasons, Hinkle rarely shot from behind the arc, and when he did he shot just 25%. This year, he is almost 20 percentage points better at 43.4%. His scoring average by year: 2.0, 1.4, 4.4, 18.8. A 14.4 point increase from his junior to senior season—unheard of. Jones told the Washington Post earlier this month: “We knew he was a good player, we knew he could help us. How much and in what role, that was up in the air. He was playing a role of working hard, good defense, as opposed to what he does best: shooting the ball in the basket.” I’d say that Hinkle has found is role just fine for Jeff Jones.

Game of the Year: Lehigh 56 Bucknell 53 (February 16th at Sojka Pavilion)—It was far from the prettiest game: more turnovers than assists, a combined 9-39 shooting from behind the arc, both teams shooting below 37%, and neither team cracking the 60 point mark, but the Lehigh-Bucknell tilt in Lewisburg was a dandy. In what may be a prelude to the championship game, a C.J. McCollum three pointer—this shot alone may have earned him the Patriot League Player of the Year award—won the game for Lehigh and ended Bucknell’s Patriot League winning streak at an impressive 20 games.

Big West Wrap & Tourney Preview

Ryan ZumMallen is the RTC correspondent for the Big West conference.

Tournament Preview

Northridge is a confusing team. They lost to a terrible UC Davis team and then upended Pacific for the No. 3 seed, followed by a first-round blowout of Fullerton. So one could assume they are rolling, but who knows in the Big West? One night is typically a complete wash from the next. Still, Northridge is hungry while Santa Barbara has looked tired all year. Maybe they were taking the Lakers’ approach and coasting through the regular season. We’ll see, but either team will provide a worthy challenge in the title game. In the other game, expect Long Beach to handle Riverside, who doesn’t have the depth nor scoring power of the Irvine team that troubled the 49ers on Thursday.

Could Long Beach State pose a threat to a first-round NCAA opponent? Maybe. Could any of the other Big West teams? No. They will be mercilessly run ragged. And it will be tough for Long Beach to hang with a top-tier squad, as well. They would have to play mistake-free basketball for a complete forty minutes, something that has been difficult all year. The 49ers do have impressive wins over Iowa and Montana, as well as near-misses at UNC and on a neutral site against St. Mary’s. But an NCAA Tournament game would require a level of focus that they haven’t shown yet, not to mention depth that will keep coach Dan Monson confident even going seven players deep.

Even with all of that in mind, Santa Barbara has weapons. They beat a very good UNLV team earlier this year and are difficult to contain when James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson are both hitting. They were one-and-done last year, but they made it, and a second chance could mean trouble for a high seed looking ahead to their next round.

A Look Back

Once you get to the conference tournament, regular seasons go out the window. In no other conference is that truer than the Big West, where so little stands between teams that the actual seedings don’t mean much once the ball goes up. Several teams looked good on paper, only to falter on the court because of unforeseen circumstances. Or because they just weren’t as good as expected. Even late in the season, teams were swapping positions up to the last second, criss-crossing very thin lines that were trying – unsuccessfully – to settle the teams into place. In round one of the conference tournament, for instance, a No. 7 beat a No. 2, a No. 5 beat a No. 4, and No. 8 gave No. 1 a run for their money. It’s unpredictable, exciting and entirely frustrating. That’s just how it goes out here. Let’s take a look back before we march forward.

Big West Player of the Year: Casper Ware (G, Long Beach) The smallest man on the court was unquestionably the best player in the building on any given night. At just 5-10 (maybe), Ware was a dagger machine, hitting one big shot after another. In the offseason, he drastically improved his long distance shooting and made more three-pointers this year than in his previous two seasons combined. That extended range made it impossible for defenders to contain the lightning quick penetrator who previously made his name on attacking the basket. Ware was also the head of the Long Beach offense and finished second in assists. For good measure, he was also named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, and by the end of the season made a habit of chasing down breaking guards to pin their layups against the glass, a la LeBron.

All-Conference Team:

  • Casper Ware (Long Beach)
  • Larry Anderson (Long Beach)
  • Orlando Johnson (Santa Barbara)
  • David Hanson (Cal Poly)
  • Sam Willard (Pacific)

Big West Coach of the YearJoe Callero (Cal Poly) – The Big West awarded this honor to Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson, but I always said that Callero deserved the award if Cal Poly finished in the top four. When they did me two better and grabbed the No. 2 spot, I definitely had to stick to my word. Cal Poly was not the most talented team in the Big West this season; they were maybe the sixth or even seventh. But the tightest defense I have seen in years lifted the Mustangs high above more talented teams that were not offensively disciplined. Cal Poly finished first in the conference in scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage. They forced turnovers without committing them, and that is unquestionably a sign of solid coaching. In 2009, Callero took over a notoriously poor team and in two years has earned 27 overall wins, a monumental feat for the perennial doormats. This isn’t a total rarity in the Big West, as teams will regularly focus all attention on a one-year run at the NCAA Tournament and then fall back into dark matter once their seniors graduate. Callero hasn’t had success because of a massive influx of talent or transfers, he’s done it with fundamentals and defensive intensity and deserves to be recognized. The fact that Cal Poly fell to the No. 7 seed UC Riverside in the conference tournament on Thursday does not take away from their achievements this season but instead illustrates the tiny margin of error between Big West teams. It only takes two (sometimes just one) hot shooter to take a team to the title in this conference. Riverside took Cal Poly out of their snail’s-pace comfort zone and that was enough to halt what the Mustangs have achieved this year. Still, cheers to making the most of what you have, Coach Callero.

Power Rankings

1. Long Beach State (14-2, 21-10) – Defeated UC Irvine, 79-72, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. At one point, conference Player of the Year Casper Ware nailed four consecutive three-pointers to keep the Anteaters at bay, but this game went down to the wire before the 49ers pulled away for their tenth straight win. Long Beach is playing very well and their greatest attributes have been Ware and their intense focus. An over-reliance on Ware is beginning to show, though, as the point guard collapsed in pain in the second half with cramps and the 49ers, even armed with capable forwards and guards, struggled without him. There must be a priority to feed forward T.J. Robinson inside if Long Beach wants to dance this year.

2. Cal State Northridge (9-7, 14-17) – Defeated Cal State Fullerton, 75-54, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. With the collapse of Pacific and Santa Barbara this season, the Matadors found themselves in the No. 3 seed and promptly handled their first round opponents. This is not a bad team, but neither are they a complete team. They having scoring on the inside in Lenny Daniel and the outside in Reshaun McLemore, but consistency issues need to take a backseat if Northridge wants to contend for the title. That could be difficult, relying on a swarm of underclassmen and some true freshmen. The Santa Barbara draw is a tough one in the second round, but that’s what champions are made of.

3. Santa Barbara (8-8, 16-13) – Defeated Pacific – 79-67, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. I said last week, forget the records, no one wants to play UCSB in the first round of the conference tournament. The Gauchos responded to a listless season with a big win over the Tigers and are very dangerous with a little momentum. Still, this is a squad with very serious off-court and on-court issues: Vital scorer James Nunnally played poorly down the stretch and is rumored to be feuding with All-Big West teammate Orlando Johnson, while the Gauchos are below-average rebounders and have little control over their pace or even their own offense without a capable point guard. Explosive and a certain title contender, but do not bet on UCSB.

4. UC Riverside (6-10, 14-18) – Defeated Cal Poly, 70-66 in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday. Riverside was able to speed up the game to avoid the suffocating Cal Poly defense and jumped out to a 14-0 lead. All three starting guards scored in double figures, led by 23 from Kareem Nitoto. It forced Cal Poly to play catch up and shoot an eye-popping 36 three-pointers, but 18 from All-Big West forward Shawn Lewis and 16 from My-Big West forward David Hanson forced overtime. Still, Riverside showed poise that had been absent from the conference season

5. Cal Poly (10-6, 15-15) – Lost to UC Riverside, 70-66 in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

6. Pacific (8-8, 16-15) – Lost to UC Santa Barbara, 79-67, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

7. Cal State Fullerton (7-9, 11-20) – Lost to Cal State Northridge, 75-54, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

8. UC Irvine (6-10, 13-19) – Lost to Long Beach State, 79-72, in first round of Big West Tournament on Thursday.

9. UC Davis (4-12, 10-21) – Did not qualify for Big West Tournament.

This is a one-bid league, so the Big West Tournament champion will be the team that punches a ticket to March Madness. Even Long Beach State, with 20 wins and a jaw-dropping non-conference schedule, will be an NIT invite without a tourney title. If Long Beach State does take the tourney, expect them to come in around the No. 13 seeding. If it’s any other team, expect a No 15. When the 49ers made it in 2007, the committee placed a lot of confidence in them with a No. 12 seed and Tennessee promptly blew them out by 35 points. The Big West hasn’t had a seed that high since. Until a Big West team steals a win, I wouldn’t expect any different.

Big Ten Wrap & Tourney Preview

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten. With action set to tip from Indianapolis on Thursday, get set for the postseason with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

The Big Ten Tournament should prove to be quite the entertaining tournament. With so many teams on the bubble, every game is going to have a do-or-die atmosphere to it. Three of the four quarterfinal games, excluding the one in which Ohio State is playing, could propel teams to NCAA Tournament at-large bids. Another important matchup to watch is Northwestern vs. Minnesota in Round 1 – where they’ll probably be playing for an NIT berth.

  • Cold Teams: Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana
  • Is Battle Ready For last Stand?: The Nittany Lions’ Talor Battle will try to finally make the NCAA Tournament. Can he shoot Penn State off the bubble and into the field?
  • Is Nolen Healthy?: Al Nolen hasn’t played January 22 against Michigan, but he could return this week. Would it be enough to get the Gophers rolling?
  • Can Anyone Stop Ohio State?: The Buckeyes look like a juggernaut, and this isn’t the time to be putting big decisions in the hands of the selection committee. In order to feel comfortable about its #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, OSU probably needs to win the Big Ten’s first. Northwestern played them close at Welsh-Ryan Arena – is a big upset in the making?
  • Will Izzo’s Tournament Touch Get Going?: Of the teams playing in the first round, Michigan State seems like the most likely candidate to reach the tournament finals. It seems like Tom Izzo just has a knack for this kind of thing by now.
  • Is The Next Generation Ready?: There are nine seniors on the three All-Big Ten teams selected by the coaches, and just one freshman. Are players like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. ready to play significant crunch time roles? Or will they wilt under the bright lights in Indianapolis?

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ACC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC. With conference tournament action set to tip from Greensboro on Thursday, get set for March Madness with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

North Carolina is hot.  It took almost all of the regular season, but the Tar Heels are finally living up to preseason hype.  UNC  should definitely be favored to win the ACC Tournament, but I wouldn’t bet on them.  I think the Heels are due for one more hiccup before the Big Dance.  They’ve flirted with disaster a couple of times and are coming off a huge win against Duke.  It’s tough to keep a young team focused, and this team starts two freshmen and two sophomores.  I also expect Duke to be playing with real purpose after the beatdown in Chapel Hill as it fights for a top seed.

As far as the bubble is concerned, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Boston College all need wins.  I don’t think any of them are safe at this point (which is the unfortunate part of Clemson clinching the bye).  Unfortunately, Clemson and Boston College will probably meet in the second round in a de facto “win and in” game.

Besides interesting bubble match-ups, look out for Duke and Maryland in the second round.  Maryland has been down this year, but the Terps never back down from a fight (especially one with Duke).  Also keep an eye on the semifinals when Boston College or Clemson will probably meet North Carolina.  The Tigers and Eagles both played North Carolina incredibly close in Chapel Hill, and both would really benefit from the resume boost.

The most exciting conference tourney prospect is a rubber match between Duke and North Carolina in the tournament finals.  These two teams are far and away the best teams in the conference, and both are in the conversation for a number one seed.  Oh yeah, and who wouldn’t want a third game of one of the best rivalries in sports.

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SEC Wrap & Tourney Preview


Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC. With tournament action set to tip from Atlanta on Thursday, get set with RTC’s regular season recap and postseason outlook.

Postseason Preview

Hottest Teams Going Into The Postseason:

  • FloridaPasting Alabama to close out the season is a really good sign.
  • KentuckyLooking good on a lot of people’s brackets after winning two tough ones and they’ve been top 10 at all season.

Tournament Sleeper: Mississippi State – Too much talent here to not be dangerous when push comes to shove.  The question is, will they play the way they’re capable or the way when they’ve fumbled?

Best First Round Matchup: Tennessee vs. Arkansas, Thursday – The South Carolina/Ole Miss game doesn’t carry much weight, and I don’t see Georgia having too much trouble with Auburn, nor Vanderbilt with LSUArkansas is the higher seeded team here due to the wackiness of the Southeastern Conference Tournament seeding (more on that later).  Arkansas won the previous meeting 68-65 in Fayetteville.

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O26 Primers: Conference USA, Mountain West, Southland, SWAC and WAC Tourneys

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

With three conference tournaments concluding last night, it is only appropriate that five more get underway today. Conference USA and the Southland Conference are two of the most balanced leagues in the nation, while the WAC and Mountain West were just the opposite as they were dominated at the top. The SWAC is always a bit of a mystery come Championship Week and tournament time, but Texas Southern is the class of the league this year and will no doubt do their best to bring respect to the league if they are fortunate enough to advance to the Dance.

Conference USA

The Favorite: UAB won the regular season title with a 12-4 record, but that means very little in the ultra competitive CUSA this season as five teams are just behind the Blazers. There is something to be said though about UAB’s strong play down the stretch and the steady play of Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore. These reasons alone amidst several injuries that Mike Davis‘ club has overcome makes UAB the slight favorite over the rest of the bunch.

Dark Horse: Southern Mississippi is one the teams that are nipping at UAB’s heels. Although they fell in their last three games of the regular season, Larry Eustachy’s squad proved throughout the year they can beat anyone in the conference. Having Gary Flowers roam around the pain never hurts either.

Who’s Hot: UAB has won their last four games and seven of eight heading into the tournament. As well as UAB is playing, it would be very easy for that to stop on a dime. Throughout each week during the conference schedule, it appeared that one team in CUSA was emerging as the top dog, but they would quickly fade. Can UAB keep their streak going all the way into the NCAA Tournament?

Player to Watch: Papa Dia, Southern Methodist’s senior forward all the way from Senegal, is enjoying the best season of his career as he is averaging 18.5 points and 9 rebounds a game. In each of the previous three seasons, SMU has been below .500; Dia and his teammates clearly have something to prove in this tournament.

First-Round UpsetCentral Florida over East Carolina. UCF was the nation’s favorite story in the early going as they jumped out to a 14-0 record with wins over Florida, Miami (FL), and Princeton. The Knights then went onto lose eight straight games, thus proving that their early success was a fluke. Now, UCF has won five of seven games and if they can regain that success they had in those 14 games, a victory over East Carolina is absolutely within reach.

How’d They Fare? After going 7-9 in the conference, Houston caught fire in the tournament to surprise everyone by winning the title. In doing so, the Cougars stole a bid from a team on the bubble and earned a #13 seed in the Tournament where they lost to Maryland 89-77. UTEP—the team Houston beat to advance onward—was trounced by Butler as a #12 seed.

Interesting Fact: The last team to win an NCAA Tournament game hailing from Conference USA not named Memphis was Louisville in the 2005 Tournament. The ‘Ville advanced all the way to the Final Four that year where they lost to Illinois 57-52 in the semifinals. Both UAB and Cincinnati also won Tournament games that year.

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Pac-10 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference. Get set for this weekend’s conference tournament with RTC’s season recap and postseason preview.

Tournament Preview

This tournament is as wide open as a Pac-10 tournament has ever been. One of Arizona, UCLA or Washington is the favorite (in some order or another) and the three teams likely to be invited to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of the Pac-10 Tourney. However, Cal, USC and Washington State are three teams who will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives (none of the three are likely to be in the final field of 68 without a Pac-10 championship this weekend) and each is more than capable of stringing together three straight wins and earning the conference’s automatic bid. Of course, each of those teams has shown that they are more than capable of bowing out in the first round on the wrong end of a blowout. What will actually go down in Los Angeles this weekend is anybody’s guess, but what it lacks in predictability, it could make up for in excitement.

Final Standings:

  1. Arizona                                  25-6        14-4
  2. UCLA                                      22-9        13-5
  3. Washington                           20-10     11-7
  4. USC                                         18-13     10-8
  5. Cal                                           17-13     10-8
  6. Washington State              19-11     9-9
  7. Oregon                                  14-16     7-11
  8. Stanford                                 15-15     7-11
  9. Oregon State                        10-19     5-13
  10. Arizona State                        12-18     4-14


  • Player of the Year – Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona. On the best team in the conference, Williams was far and away the best player. A shoo-in for the All-America first team, Williams is among the top ten players in the nation in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes and the rate at which he gets to the foul line. Oh, and the guy is shooting over 62% from behind the three-point line, a number that is truly astounding, even considering his mere 45 attempts, and especially considering that the three wasn’t even part of his game in his first year in Tucson. While Williams was one of the best players in the Pac-10 as a freshman, no one could have predicted the extent of his improvement as a sophomore. His free throw percentage is up eight points, his effective field goal percentage has skyrocketed from simply very good to excellent, his rebounding has jumped, and this season he was the second most efficient high-use offensive player in the nation, behind Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins. In short, while guys like Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas have had strong seasons for their respective teams, those two guys were a not even on the radar for this award; this year was all Derrick Williams.
  • Coach of the Year – Mike Montgomery, California. This was a year in the Pac-10 when there was no shortage of strong candidates for this honor. Dana Altman, Sean Miller and Ben Howland all did strong jobs with their respective teams (in fact, even two weeks ago I figured Altman was the no-brainer for this recognition), but the nod goes to Montgomery for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his amazing player development. All over his roster, Montgomery has gotten contributions from players above and beyond what was expected of them. Below, you’ll see Jorge Gutierrez as my pick for the conference’s Most Improved Player, but Harper Kamp and Markhuri Sanders-Frison exhibited an effectiveness down low that nobody outside of the biggest Cal homers had any reason to expect. Allen Crabbe turned a mediocre non-conference performance into a great first run through the Pac-10 schedule. And Brandon Smith, a guy who committed to Cal as a walk-on two years back and registered an offensive efficiency rating below 70 last season, stepped in as the starting point guard after freshman Gary Franklin abruptly announced his decision to transfer out of the program in the middle of the season, and delivered an extremely solid performance for the Bears down the stretch. For a program that lost its top four scorers from last season (and eight of their top ten scorers from last year – just 14% of their scoring from last season returned), what Montgomery did this season in Berkeley was nothing short of spectacular.
  • Freshman of the Year – Allen Crabbe, California. Crabbe’s season can really be divided into two categories: with Gary Franklin and without Gary Franklin. With Franklin, Crabbe averaged less than 8.5 points per game and shot just 33.3% from three; after he transferred out, Crabbe scored 16.5 points per game and hit 46.4% from deep. If you eliminate the game in which Crabbe suffered a concussion against Washington and his first game back against UCLA, where he was obviously not quite right yet, Crabbe averaged 18.4 PPG after Franklin. Throw in the fact that, at 6’4 and with long arms, Crabbe was an effective perimeter defender, capable of matching up defensively with opposing small forwards and even helping out his big guys on the glass (5.4 RPG), Crabbe has been an efficient and versatile offensive threat for the surging Bears.
  • Defensive Player of the YearMalcolm Lee, Junior, UCLA. On the most efficient defensive team in the conference, Lee epitomizes everything that went right for Ben Howland and the Bruins this season. Last season the Bruins were 138th in the nation defensively; this year they have vaulted back to 29th, certainly not back to the level of the elite Bruin teams from 2006-2008, but a drastic improvement. And Lee was a big part of that, making a habit of shutting down opposing guards like Isaiah Thomas, Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Greens and even Jimmer Fredette, helping his interior defenders by using his long frame to discourage post feeds and just generally harassing the opposition. While his effort doesn’t show up a whole lot in the stat sheet in terms of steals and blocked shots, without a doubt the Bruin defense is significantly less efficient when Lee is not at full strength.
  • Most Improved Player: Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California. There’s no argument that last year Gutierrez was a good, solid role player on a senior-laden Golden Bear roster. He played about 20 minutes a game, provided irksome and aggressive defense, never failed to hustle after a loose ball and every once in a while knocked down a shot along the way for 5.5 points per game. But with Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and others plying their trade elsewhere this season, Gutierrez was called upon for far more than just hustle. At times he has been the team’s de facto point guard, other times he has been their go-to scorer, but along the way he has kept his energetic way. This season he leads the Bears in scoring (14.8 PPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.6 SPG), and certainly in clutch plays. While it stood to reason that Gutierrez’ role would increase this season, the extent to which he has taken on new responsibilities has been impressive.

All Pac-10 First Team:

  • G Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington (16.6 PPG, 5.7 APG)
  • G Klay Thompson, Junior, Washington State (22.4 PPG, 4.0 APG)
  • G Jorge Gutierrez, Junior, California (14.8 PPG, 4.5 APG)
  • F Derrick Williams, Sophomore, Arizona (19.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
  • F Nikola Vucevic, Junior, USC (17.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG)

All Pac-10 Second Team:

  • G Allen Crabbe, Freshman, California (12.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
  • G Jeremy Green, Junior, Stanford (16.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
  • F Reeves Nelson, Sophomore, UCLA (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG)
  • F Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Senior, Washington (16.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
  • F Joevan Catron, Senior, Oregon (14.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Power Rankings

  1. Arizona (25-6, 14-4) Projected NCAA Seed #6: For all the Pac-10 teams expecting to be invited to the NCAA Tournament (and that includes Arizona, UCLA and Washington), the current seeding expectations are somewhat fluid. If Zona, for instance, were to run through the Pac-10 tourney and some other things ahead of them break their way, it is not out of the question that they wind up with a four seed (although really, a #5 is a more realistic high). Likewise, if they bomb out in the opening round against Stanford, maybe they drop all the way to an eight (and again, a #7 is probably the more realistic low). The big question, however, is how far they can go once they get to the Tournament. While Williams is an elite enough player to carry a team a long ways, the question mark remains about the Wildcats’ complementary parts. The Oregon schools showed last week that if you just limit Williams, there’s a good chance the rest of the Arizona team may not be good enough to put their team over the top, and I think that possibility will increase as they run into better and better competition. Throw in the fact that as a forward, Williams is in need of other players to get him the ball where he can impact the game and the ‘Cats could be ripe for an early round exit.
  2. UCLA (22-9, 13-5) Projected NCAA Seed #7: While the Bruins outperformed expectations this season and showed vast improvement from last year’s team, the fact remains that this is the third straight year in Westwood without a Pac-10 title. And there is some frustration arising around the UCLA basketball program as a result. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers has repeatedly bashed Ben Howland and his coaching style, Bill Plaschke has likewise questioned Howland’s coaching and recently the Bruins Nation blog dedicated a post to asking whether Howland’s offense has taken the Bruins as far as they can go. Now Simers has the reasoning ability of a plough-horse and Plaschke’s column came before the Bruins improved in the last couple months of the season, but the fact remains that there is a significant portion of the UCLA fanbase that is unhappy with the results under Howland. Three straight Final Fours were awful nice, but there was always an undercurrent of dismay around the program that the Bruins didn’t finish the job on any of those occasions. As good of a job as Howland has done with the team to this point, UCLA fans have some very high expectations, and a second-place finish, no matter what degree of improvement occurred along the way, is not really regarded as an accomplishment. While the Bruins are capable of winning the Pac-10 Tourney this week, and even pulling an upset and getting to the Sweet Sixteen or a bit further (another accomplishment that won’t earn Howland many plaudits among boosters), it is exceedingly unlikely that this UCLA squad is capable of putting together the type of run that will make all of these questions go away.
  3. Washington (20-10, 11-7) Projected NCAA Seed #11: The Huskies are probably safe for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but as of right now Lorenzo Romar has got to have a little gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. Washington’s resume is paper thin. There are no quality wins outside of their conference, and they went 4-6 down the stretch in conference play, despite having a pretty favorable schedule. And yet, this team is talented enough that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them as the sole Pac-10 Sweet 16 team, much like last year when they finished third in the conference and got a favorable draw to run to the second weekend on the Tournament. For that to happen, Isaiah Thomas will need to get his swagger back. After playing the best basketball of his career through much of late January and all of February, in his two games in March he has averaged 12.5 points on 32% shooting, is 0/6 from deep and has just one more assist (six) than turnover (five). As Thomas goes, so go the Huskies, so he’ll need to turn it back up, and fast.
  4. California (17-13, 10-8) NIT: The Bears are streaky, and currently they’re streaking good. They’ve won four straight games, after having previously lost four straight, and even that streak came at the end of an entirely different four-game win streak. The four-game losing streak in the middle can be explained away partly because Crabbe played just ten total minutes in the final three games of that slide after sustaining an injury against Washington, and the first of those four losses was an epic three-overtime loss to conference champion Arizona. In other words, when this team has been whole, their only loss since late January was a two-point loss in triple overtime. Of the teams not currently expected to earn NCAA Tournament invites on Sunday, I’d take Berkeley as the most likely team to win the automatic bid.
  5. USC (18-13, 10-8) NIT: While I’d take Cal as the upset pick for the Pac-10 title, the Trojans aren’t far back. USC has won five of its last six and Vucevic is absolutely on fire of late, having racked up double-doubles in his last eight games, while shooting 55% from the field and adding a previously unknown three-point shot to his game. While the fact that the Trojans get most of their minutes from just a six-player rotation may wear them down in a three-game tournament, this squad will not go quietly.
  6. Washington State (19-11, 9-9): The Cougars are the last of the teams currently on the outside of the bubble that stands a reasonable shot at winning this tournament, now that it is clear that Klay Thompson will be available for the Pac-10 tournament. Thompson was arrested for possession of marijuana following Thursday night’s win over USC and Ken Bone’s hand was forced to suspend him for the final game of the season, a close loss to UCLA. Bone, however, announced on Monday that his suspension was ended and that he would be available for the Pac-10 tourney. Of additional concern is the health of point guard Reggie Moore, who also missed the UCLA game due to an injured foot and whose status is still uncertain.
  7. Oregon (14-16, 7-11): The Ducks faded down the stretch, losing their last four games, but the fact is that a 7-11 conference mark is a pretty good outcome given how big of a hit the program took in the offseason. And with reinforcements arriving next year, there is little doubt that Altman has this program headed in the right direction. The Ducks have shown the ability to sneak up and surprise teams in the upper division of the conference (they’ve beaten Washington, Washington State and USC twice), but the odds of them stringing together the four wins necessary to win the conference tournament are quite large.
  8. Stanford (15-15, 7-11): Much like the Ducks, the Cardinal have a good future ahead of them despite all the lumps they took in conference this year. With no graduating seniors, five freshmen who got significant time and all-conference player Jeremy Green returning for his senior season, this Cardinal team could be trouble next year. And, really, if Green catches fire in the conference tournament and freshman Dwight Powell turns in one of his all-too-rare good performances, this Cardinal team could spring an upset. Patching together several upsets seems unlikely.
  9. Oregon State (10-19, 5-13): This Beaver team is one of the more frustrating teams I’ve ever come across. Under no circumstances is this the ninth most talented team in the conference. There is certainly a higher level of talent here than on Stanford or Oregon, and you could make the argument that this team has more horses than WSU or USC. They put up wins over Washington, Arizona and USC, yet got swept by Oregon and were one of the worst teams in the nation in three-point shooting, defending the three (and really, defending any shot), and turning the ball over. They return a lot of exciting talent next season, but this team is in need of a complete attitude makeover.
  10. Arizona State (12-18, 4-14): Break up the Devils. After a nightmare season, they enter the Pac-10 Tournament on a two-game winning streak, having swept the Oregon schools in Tempe by an average of 17 points. Their three seniors, Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan, combined for a total of 105 points in the final two games, more than 20 points higher than their average for the rest of the season. If those three can continue the fiery end to the careers, it is not out of the question that they could end the Pac-10 tourney for a higher seed or two.

WAC Wrap & Tourney Preview

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

Postseason Preview

It’s Utah State and everyone else.  At least that’s what it looks like on the outside looking in.  However, this could be one of the most wide open tournaments in years.  Anyone can beat anyone.  Heading into the final week of play, there was a scenario in which five teams could have finished 9-7 and tied for second.  While it didn’t turn out that way, the teams are still tightly bunched and it should lend itself to a few upsets.

The hottest team coming into the tournament is Boise State, having won seven in a row.  Right behind them is Utah State with five in a row.  Idaho earned the 4-seed and is the only team to have handed Utah State a loss.  Hawai’i could be the darkhorse in this tournament as the 5-seed.  If they make it past Adrian Oliver and San Jose State, they certainly will have revenge on their minds against Idaho, who swept the season series.  The Warriors are the only team to push Utah State in both regular season meetings and have what it takes on a neutral court to upset the regular season champs.

On the other side of the bracket, an exciting showdown between New Mexico State and Boise State looms in the semifinals.  That is, if the Aggies can get past their quarterfinal game.  They face the winner of the Nevada/Fresno State game and both of those teams beat the Aggies this year.  Should fans be lucky enough to see a Boise State/New Mexico State game, it could be the game of the tournament in terms of excitement.  These two teams played an epic triple-overtime championship game in the 2008 tournament, with Boise State coming out on top.  The Broncos and Aggies split the season series and the average final score of the past nine games is 92-85.

New Mexico State is the defending tournament chance and could make a run to its second straight title and third in five years IF they play with a higher level of energy.  Head coach Marvin Menzies is 10-3 in his tournament career and knows how to get his players up for tournament games.  The Aggies have made it to at least the semifinal game each year they’ve been in the WAC.

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Mountain West Wrap & Tourney Preview

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West conference. With the MWC tourney tipping off Wednesday, get set with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and tournament preview.

MWC Wrap-Up

For the top four seeds, the MWC Tournament is of great importance, with Colorado State the team with the most on the line. The Rams sit firmly on the bubble for an NCAA at-large invitation, and while winning the whole thing and the automatic bid that goes along with it would be their best bet, prevailing wisdom indicates that if they can take care of New Mexico in the quarterfinals and then upset BYU in the semifinals, Tim Miles’ club will have gone a long way towards punching its ticket. Meanwhile, for the top-seeded Cougars, they’ve still got some things to prove. In the wake of last week’s dismissal of its best interior player, Brandon Davies, for a BYU honor code violation, the Cougars hopes of possibly earning a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament have disappeared. However, where they will wind up seeded remains a real question – a good showing in the MWC Tournament and a run to the championship could still earn them a #2 seed, while an early exit could confirm the doubts of the NCAA Selection Committee and relegate them to a #3 or even a #4 seed. For San Diego State, they’ve still got plenty to prove as well. Their best wins on the season are over Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and a season-sweep of UNLV – good wins, but certainly not great. However, if SDSU can add another win over UNLV and get the BYU monkey off of its back, it could prove its credentials as a possible #2 seed. And then there’s UNLV, a team that has had a roller coaster ride of an offseason. If they can defend their homecourt in the conference tournament and come away with an MWC title, they could wind up as high as a #6 seed (assuming they knock off SDSU and BYU along the way), while an earlier exit could relegate them to a #9 or so. For seeds five through nine in the MWC Tournament, the stakes are clear: win the title or consider your options for the “other” postseason tournaments. New Mexico has a good shot at an NIT bid, should they fail to win three games in Las Vegas, while the rest of the bottom five seeds will determine whether to call it quits or consider possible invitations from the CBI or CIT.

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Conference USA Wrap & Tourney Preview

Stephen Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA. With the C-USA tournament set to tip on Wednesday, RTC has you covered on the regular season wrapup and postseason preview.

Postseason Preview

  • Who’s Hot: UAB – The Blazers are red hot heading into the postseason and they match up favorably against all the teams in their part of the bracket. If they play Memphis in the semi-finals, which they may not considering Southern Miss is the No. 5, UAB has an advantage in the backcourt with Aaron Johnson. The point guard has proven to be the top passer in the conference, and that has to make any team comfortable heading into the postseason.
  • Memphis Skids Into No. 4 Seed – The Tigers can’t be a team anyone wants to play due to their previous success and overall young talent, however the team enters the postseason as one of the colder teams and despite a first-round bye will be challenged in every contest.
  • Tulsa Nabs No. 2 Seed. Tulsa doesn’t have big bodies, which could prove to be a problem when they host either SMU or Rice at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. The Golden Hurricane is playing its best basketball of the season, but that could abruptly end.


First Round:

  • UCF 82, ECU 72
  • Southern Miss. 73, Tulane 51
  • Marshall 88, Houston 69
  • Rice 77, SMU 73 (OT)

Second Round:

  • UAB 83, UCF 77
  • Memphis 75, Southern Miss. 71
  • UTEP 90, Marshall 81
  • Tulsa 73, Rice 62


  • UAB 76, Memphis 71
  • UTEP 73, Tulsa 62


  • UTEP 75, UAB 69

NCAA Tournament Outlook:

Although many have UTEP out of the Dance right now, a C-USA championship game run would give them 25 wins, including victories over Michigan and Memphis. Their losses hurt, but they should be credited for playing BYU, even if not well. They lost in triple OT to conference-winner UAB and came within one at Tulsa, the No. 2 team in conference (1-1 on the season).

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