2008-09 Season Primers: #14 – Horizon

Posted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2008

Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.  

Predicted Order of Finish.

  1. Wright State  (24-6, 15-3)
  2. Cleveland State  (21-10, 13-5)
  3. Green Bay  (19-12, 11-7)
  4. Butler  (16-13, 11-7)
  5. Loyola  (20-11, 10-8)
  6. UIC  (13-16, 8-10)
  7. Milwaukee  (13-16, 7-11)
  8. Valparaiso  (12-18, 7-11)
  9. Youngstown State  (10-19, 4-14)
  10. Detroit  (7-22, 4-14)

What You Need to Know.  It’s been a slow and steady climb for the Horizon League, but the midwestern ten-member league has built itself into a force to be reckoned with on the mid-major college basketball scene.  The buzz word among Horizon League coaches last season was depth, referring to the overall strength of the league from top to bottom.  Nowhere was that more evident than in the fact that four teams (Butler, Cleveland State, Wright State, Valparaiso) topped the 20-win plateau.  Having four 20-win squads was a first for the Horizon League, and led to three of those four competing in postseason play (Butler – NCAA, Cleveland State – NIT, Valpo – CBI).  While having multiple teams competing in the postseason is nothing new in this league, having multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament isn’t yet the “norm,” but it isn’t completely foreign either (3 times in the last 11 years).  What’s the point, you ask?  This league may be even deeper this season, as seven teams return three or more starters from last season, including front-runners Wright State, Cleveland State, and Green Bay.  Butler, by most accounts, is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes the Horizon League has ever seen to go along with reigning Newcomer of the Year, Matt Howard (12.3ppg, 5.5rpg).  Meanwhile, UIC has a favorite for league POY honors in sharpshooter Josh Mayo (17.1ppg, 47% 3fg%), and one of the few true “bigs” in the entire league in 7-footer, Scott VanderMeer (9.3ppg, 7.5rpg).  This could be another year where the Horizon receives multiple NCAA bids, but for the first time in awhile, that at-large bid isn’t likely to have Butler’s name on it (Butler advanced to the S16 as an at-large NCAA bid in 2003 and 2007).  

Predicted Champion.    Wright State  (#11 seed NCAA).  The Raiders have plenty of talent, and trust me, we’ll get to that in a moment.  But the green-and-gold have the ultimate ace in the hole: head coach Brad Brownell.  Brownell, if he really tried, could probably turn the Oakland Raiders into a winner, all while keeping Al Davis satisfied in the process.  Seriously.  Alright, kidding aside, all Brownell has done is win wherever he’s been (including two NCAA appearances in four seasons at UNC-Wilmington).  He won the Horizon League in his inaugural season two years ago, and followed that up with 21 wins and a 3rd-place regular season finish last year.  Admittedly, his team was lacking athleticism and a go-to scorer, but the “other” school in Dayton got it done with grit and commitment on the defensive end, giving up just 60.4 ppg and notching 13 wins in games decided by 5 points or less.  In a guard-dominated league, Wright State returns its entire backcourt.  Vaughn Duggins (HL 1st Team, 13.8 ppg), Todd Brown (12.7 ppg), and 5th-year senior Will Graham (5.9 ppg, 3.5 apg), will lead the way with a three-headed-monster of Ronnie Thomas, Cooper Land, and Gavin Horne battling for time down low.  Two newcomers are expected to see significant minutes from the start.  Scott Grote, a transfer from Duquesne, (9.9 ppg in 29 games as a freshman) and Cory Cooperwood (two-time JUCO All-American at Wallace State CC, 15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), will undoubtedly inject energy, electricity, and most importantly, more points into the Wright State attack.  The schedule is solid for a mid-major, but not impressive enough to warrant a single-digit NCAA seed unless the Raiders were to, say, run the table.  

Others Considered.   Cleveland State.  Most prognosticators will likely choose the Vikings as the team to beat this year in the Horizon League, and they may very well be right.  Gary Waters has no doubt turned this program around in just two seasons at the helm, and while his programs have a history of taking major leaps forward in year number three (Kent State, Rutgers), a major leap forward this year will be hard to achieve given the depth in the Horizon League and the Vikings brutal non-conference schedule.  The two unknowns about this squad are: 1) How will they respond to having a target on their back?  And, 2) How will they respond to losses?  After all, they came out of nowhere last year to score 21 wins and finish 2nd in the Horizon League.  But, in late January the Vikes held a two-game lead over Butler in the league standings, only to lose five straight and fall back to the pack.  One thing is for sure, however, J’Nathan Bullock (HL 1st Team, 14.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Cedric Jackson (HL 2nd Team, 13.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) make up the best inside-out combination in the league.  Waters readily admits his team struggled shooting from the perimeter last season (30.2% from 3) and combine that with a trend of using several bodies on the bench — nine players averaged at least 14 mpg and played in at least 33 of 34 games last year — and freshman bombers like Jeremy Montgomery, Josh McCoy, and Charlie Woods could find themselves in crucial roles.  All five starters return in Green Bay, along with coach Tod Kowalczyk’s top two reserves.  Mike Schachtner, Terry Evans, and Rahmon Fletcher each took home Horizon League postseason honors last year.  Senior forward Ryan Tillema is no slouch either.  Battered and bruised, this team struggled to a 15-15 mark last season.  If healthy, the Phoenix will be much improved.  Underachieving again would be a bittersweet way to go out for Schachtner, Evans, and Tillema.  The player to watch at Butler — aside from Matt Howard, whose exploits are well documented (check out #96) — is freshman combo guard, Shelvin Mack.  His maturation process will determine how successful the extremely young Bulldogs will be this season.  Loyola top gun J.R. Blount and the rest of the Ramblers should rebound from a rough season, thanks to a returning core of veterans (four starters).  Valparaiso may be in for a big slide after losing their top two scorers to graduation, and two more major scoring threats in the offseason — Bryan Bouchie and Samuel Haanpaa — who both left the program (Bouchie transfered to Evansville, Haanpaa returned overseas and signed a professional contract).  Here are Butler’s final seconds in last year’s Horizon League championship.

Key Games / RPI Booster Games. 

Cleveland St.:

  • @ Washington — 11.18.08 (…tough)
  • @ West Virginia — 12.6.08 (…tougher)
  • @ Syracuse — 12.15.08 (…toughest) 
  • vs. Kent State — 12.23.08 (…a rivalry game to boot!)

Butler: 

  • @ Ohio State — 12.13.08
  • @ Xavier — 12.23.08 (…a good measuring stick for the Bulldogs)

Green Bay: 

  • vs. UMass — 11.29.08
  • @ Wisconsin — 12.13.08 (…please re-name: “Dick Bennett Classic”)

Wright State: 

  • @ Wake Forest — 12.14.08 (…Wake is rumored to be “back”)
  • vs. Oral Roberts — 12.20.08 
  • vs. Cleveland State — 12.30.08 
  • @ Cleveland State — 1.31.09 

 Loyola: 

  • Pre-Season NIT vs. Georgia — 11.17.08 (…guaranteed 4 decent games)
  • @ UIC — 12.6.08 
  • vs. UIC — 2.27.09 

Valparaiso: 

  • vs. North Carolina — 12.20.08 (…in Chicago @ United Center)
  • @ Purdue — 12.28.08 

*A complete list of Horizon League contests set to be broadcast by the ESPN family of networks can be found here.  All league contests can be viewed online, for free, on the Horizon League Network. 

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  If Cleveland State can get to their  first showdown at Wright State, (12.30.08) sporting a record of 11-3 or better, then the chances of the Horizon League being a two-bid league are very solid.  Only the Vikings boast a non-conference schedule strong enough that, if they can win a couple of the big games, would compensate for a couple of extra losses in league play.  Of course, if Wright State runs away with the regular season title (or anyone for that matter), an upset in the championship game could also result in multiple bids for this league.  

Did You Know.  Following the 1992-1993 season, University of Michigan assistant coach Perry Watson left Ann Arbor to take over as the head coach at Detroit-Mercy.  The spot vacated by Watson at Michigan was initially filled by Ray McCallum, but McCallum never coached a game at Michigan.  Instead, he returned to his alma mater, Ball State, and became the head coach of the Cardinals.  After a successful run in Muncie, IN, McCallum moved on to lead the University of Houston, followed by assistant coaching jobs at Oklahoma and Indiana.  This past spring, McCallum was hired as the head coach at Detroit, once again filling a void left by Watson, who resigned after 15 seasons with the Titans.  Watson guided Detroit to the NCAA second round in 1998 and 1999, and the NIT in 2001 and 2002.  

65 Team Era.   Let’s get this out of the way right now – over the last decade the Horizon has been the most successful mid-major conference in the NCAA Tournament (defining mid-major as normally a one-bid league).  In six of the last eight tournaments, a Horizon team has won at least one game (with an average seed of #11.1).  Three of those years, a Horizon team played itself into the Sweet Sixteen (Butler – 2003, 2007; Milwaukee – 2005).  Additionally, you wanna talk about a tough out – consider the teams that are knocking out these Horizon squads – three #1 seeds, three #2 seeds, two #3 seeds, including both Florida national champions.  Not bad, not bad at all.  The Horizon’s record of 20-32 (.385) over this era matches up even or better than every one of its peers, and there’s no reason to believe it will end soon. 

Final Thoughts.   It’s hard to imagine a program like Valparaiso finishing 8th, but someone has to end up there in this deep, talented league.  Heck, we haven’t even mentioned Milwaukee yet, as scoring machines Ricky Franklin, Avery Smith, and Deonte Roberts are all back.  While programs like Detroit and Youngstown State seem to be a step behind the rest of the league right now, you can bet they’ll be competitive night in and night out.  If you catch a Horizon League game on television, you won’t be “wowed” by superb athletic ability, but what you will find, for the most part, is team-oriented basketball with disciplined student-athletes who are just as comfortable grinding out a 54-52 victory as they are pushing their team’s point total into the 80s.  The players are skilled, the action is rough, and the future is bright.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #15 – MAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2008

Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

MAC East

  1. Kent  (22-9, 12-4)
  2. Miami (OH) (16-13, 11-5)
  3. Ohio  (20-9, 10-6)
  4. Akron  (16-15, 8-8)
  5. Bowling Green  (16-13, 7-9)
  6. Buffalo  (12-17, 6-10)

MAC West

  1. Western Michigan  (18-12, 10-6)
  2. Eastern Michigan  (16-14, 10-6)
  3. Central Michigan  (14-15, 9-7)
  4. Toledo  (13-17, 6-10)
  5. Ball State  (10-19, 4-12)
  6. Northern Illinois  (7-22, 3-13)

WYN2K.  The MAC’s new logo is just a small part of the change that the Mid-American Conference is hoping will push their league to the next level.  Seven of the league’s twelve head coaches are either in their first or second year, a sign that it really is a new era in the MAC.  The league is hoping to make the leap that leagues such as the Missouri Valley have made over the past decade.  It’s been ten long years since the MAC has had two teams in the NCAA Tournament.  That was back in 1999 when Kent earned the automatic bid while Miami (OH) picked up the league’s last at-large bid.  They proved very worthy as Wally Szczerbiak carried the RedHawks to the Sweet 16.  But the MAC has not since been able to recapture the glory of 1999.  Yes, they did watch Kent make a run to the Elite Eight in 2002, but it’s been quantity rather than quality that has plagued the MAC in the new century.  Since that multiple bid year of 1999, the league has sat back and watched a number of conferences do what they’ve been unable to do.  We mentioned the Valley, who has been a multi-bid league eight times in the interim.  Additionally, the Mountain West (8), WAC (7), West Coast (5), Horizon (2), CAA (2), Sun Belt  (1) and Big West (1) have all been a multi-bid league at least once.  In order to make that leap to a multi-bid league, the MAC must schedule better and most importantly take advantage of the opportunities they do get against the major conference teams.

Predicted Champion.  Kent (#13 NCAA).  As it’s been 7 of the past 10 years, the winner of the MAC will come from the East.  Just what team from the East remains to be seen?  Miami, Kent and Ohio all should make serious runs at the title, but none would be anything higher than a #12 seed in the Big Dance. 

  • As long as Jim Christian was at Kent, the Flash were guaranteed a 20-win season (ten straight).  But Jim Christian left for TCU.  Kent assistant coach and former MAC superstar Geno Ford (Ohio ’97) takes over the bench for the Flashes, but he will have some familiar faces to help him in his first season.  Guard Al Fisher (13.9 ppg, 4.0 apg) is the first returning MAC Player of the Year since 2002.  Fisher leads a group of eight returners that made up 65.1% of the KSU attack.  Chris Singletary and Jordan Mincy help Fisher solidify the backcourt.  The frontcourt is where Kent will have to fill some holes.  Gone are  Hamminn Quaintance and Mike Scott, both All-MAC performers who averaged over 23 points and 13 rebounds per game. 
  • Miami (OH) has veteran leadership on their side.  Charlie Coles, the dean of MAC coaches, is back for his 13th season with the RedHawks and he returns four starters and eleven letterwinners.  The most significant is Michael Bramos, a POY candidate.  Bramos (16.3 ppg) is a sharp-shooter who has the ability to light it up at anytime.  He went for 30+ points four times last year.  His scoring and the RedHawks always-frustrating defense will keep Miami in the hunt all year.  Miami has to find someone to replace the production of All-MAC frontcourt star Tim Pollitz. 
  • Ohio might be the longshot of these three, but don’t sleep on the Bobcats.  Like Kent, they have a new head coach in John Groce who comes from Ohio State where he played a big part in the recruiting of Greg Oden and Mike Conley.  It will take Groce some time to work his recruiting magic in Athens, but he does have some talent to work with.  Jerome Tillman (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg) might be the best player in the league.  He’s been very solid the past three years for the ‘Cats, posting 18 double-doubles.  The only question with Tillman is can he do it without his tag-team partner of the past two years?  Gone is Leon Williams, who garnered double and triple teams throughout his career in Athens.  Williams opened things for Tillman, but with him gone on the inside, how will Tillman handle the bulk of the attention?  The Bobcats also return senior starter Justin Orr in the frontcourt, a player who has yet to tap into his full potential.  Michael Allen is the only other senior on the team.  He’ll be asked to be a leader on the floor from the point guard spot where he showed flashes of brilliance last year.  The Bobcats must find a way to win on the road if they want to be a serious contender.  They were 7-1 at home in the MAC, 2-6 on the road last season.

Others Considered.  Eastern Michigan hasn’t been dancing since 1998 and hasn’t had a winning season since 1999-00.  So why would we mention the Eagles?  Well, they could be a darkhorse in the West.  All-MAC guard Carlos Medlock returns as well as 2006-07 All-MAC freshman forward Brandon Bowdry who missed all of last year with a stress fracture.  The Eagles did finish second in the West last year at 8-8, so a winning season in 2008-09 is not out of the question.  Western Michigan will be considered the West favorite thanks to the return of All-MAC guard David Kool.  Along with having one of the best names in the MAC, he averaged over 16 points per game.  The Broncos will struggle trying to find a replacement for inside workhorse Joe Reitz.  In the East, Bowling Green and Buffalo could be sleepers.  BG returns almost everyone and has a talented coach in Louis Orr.  Buffalo was only 3-13 in the MAC last year, but they return all five starters and ninth-year head coach Reggie Witherspoon has won in this league before.

RPI Boosters.

The MAC does have a number of games against the BCS schools.  But overall, the league has done a pretty poor job of scheduling.  They’re aren’t nearly enough key games at home.  It’s been an ongoing problem for years in the MAC in trying to get bigger schools to come on-campus and play.  This year is no different.  But with that being said, there are chances to make some noise in the non-conference season.  The league plays quite a few mid-majors including a handful of teams from the MVC and Atlantic 10.  Here is a list of the top 25 games where the MAC really has a chance to put themselves on the map.  The italicized games are the rare times a big school has agreed to play at a MAC school.  If the MAC is able to pull a few upsets in these games, then what those teams do in conference will go a long way in earning them a possible at-large bid. 

  • Miami at UCLA  (11.13.08)
  • Toledo at Florida  (11.14.08)
  • Miami at Pitt  (11.17.08)
  • Toledo at Xavier  (11.17.08)
  • Eastern Michigan at Purdue (ESPN2)  (11.17.08)
  • Akron at Pitt  (11.21.08)
  • Bowling Green at Ohio State  (11.24.08)
  • Kent vs. Illinois (South Padre Invitational)  (11.28.08)
  • Kent vs. Texas A&M/Tulsa (South Padre Invitational)  (11.29.08)
  • Miami at Xavier  (11.29.08)
  • Kent at Kansas (ESPNU)  (12.01.08)
  • Central Michigan at Marquette  (12.02.08)
  • UMass at Toledo  (12.03.08)
  • St. Mary’s at Kent (12.04.08)
  • UConn at Buffalo  (12.04.08)
  • Ohio at Louisville  (12.07.08)
  • Purdue at Ball State  (12.09.08)
  • Ohio at Xavier  (12.10.08)
  • Eastern Michigan at Michigan  (12.13.08)
  • Western Michigan at UNLV  (12.14.08)
  • Southern Illinois at Northern Illinois  (12.17.08)
  • Miami at WVU  (12.20.08)
  • Houston at Toledo  (12.20.08)
  • Western Michigan at Southern Illinois  (12.22.08)
  • Eastern Michigan at Illinois  (12.28.08)
  • Central Michigan at Kentucky  (12.29.08)

The league is set up for teams to open with five division games, six cross-division games and then five division games to finish.  So we’ll have a good idea of the front-runners in both the East Division and West Division by late January.  It also sets up for some potentially big games in late February/early March to decide the division races.  On paper, the East Division is again stronger than the West Division.  The Michigan directional schools will all get their cracks at the East to prove otherwise in late January.

  • Kent at Ohio  (01.11.09)
  • Ohio at Miami  (01.14.09)
  • Miami at Kent  (01.17.09)
  • Eastern Michigan at Kent  (01.27.09)
  • Kent at Western Michigan  (01.31.09)
  • Miami at Eastern Michigan  (01.31.09)
  • Eastern Michigan at Ohio  (02.07.09)
  • Ohio at Western Michigan  (02.11.09)
  • Bowling Green at Toledo  (02.11.09)
  • Western Michigan at Miami  (02.14.09)
  • Miami at Ohio  (02.16.09)
  • Ohio at Kent  (02.17.09)
  • Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan  (02.18.09) 
  • Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan  (02.28.09)
  • Kent at Miami (03.01.09) (could decide East champion)
  • Central Michigan at Western Michigan  (03.08.09)

Neat-O Stat.  If history is any indicator, Kent will be there in the end.  They’ve played in the MAC Tournament title game 7 of the last 10 years, winning five of them.

Hello, My Name Is…

The league has 7 coaches who are either in their first or second years.

First-Year Head Coaches

  • John Groce – Ohio
  • Geno Ford – Kent
  • Gene Cross – Toledo

Second-Year Head Coaches

  • Louis Orr – Bowling Green
  • Ernie Ziegler – Central Michigan
  • Billy Taylor – Ball State
  • Ricardo Patton – Northern Illinois

Veteran Coaches

  • Charlie Coles – Miami (13th year)
  • Reggie Witherspoon – Buffalo (9th year)
  • Keith Dambrot – Akron (5th year)
  • Charles Ramsey – Eastern Michigan (3rd year)
  • Steve Hawkins – Western Michigan (6th year)

65 Team Era.   There’s a reason every coach gets a lump in his throat when the brackets first come out and he sees a MAC team opposite his sqaud, and it’s not necessarily because he thinks they’re going to lose.  Rather, if history is any indication, he’s likely to win the first-round game, but he’s in for an all-out war in doing so.  Despite an average seed of #11.9 throughout the era, MAC teams play their first-round opponents very tough, losing by 12 pts or less in all but seven of their first-round matchups.  The overall conference record of 15-29 (.341) with four trips to the Sweet Sixteen isn’t too shabby either.  Unfortunately for MAC fans, however, the conference is on a five-year streak of first-round losses, which is the longest such streak of the era.

Final Thoughts. 

  • While the MAC desperately wants to make the move to the next level and earn multiple NCAA bids, the reality is, this might not be the year for that to happen.  The league lost a lot of star power from last year and with a ton of new coaches, it might be a year or two before this league really starts to take off and maybe even return to the form of the late 1990s where they were not just earning NCAA bids, but winning NCAA games.  2008-09 will be like most years in the MAC.  Once they get to conference play, it will be an all-out war with teams beating up each other.  That makes it tough to earn an at-large out of this league.  Despite the top-heavy league records, the MAC is a tough league to win within, especially on the road. 
  • On a more positive note, this league is getting better.  You will see some budding coaching stars in Geno Ford, John Groce and Gene Cross.  Not to mention a few coaches who have been around the block that know a thing or two about winning like Charlie Coles, Ricardo Patton and Louis Orr.  They do have stars to replace, but there are stars ready to shine.  Keep an eye on Jerome Tillman (Ohio), Michael Bramos (Miami), Al Fisher (Kent), Carlos Medlock (EMU), Tyrone Kent and Boomer Tucker (Toledo) and David Kool (WMU).
  • This might not be a league who earns multiple NCAA bids in 2008-09, but they will make noise out of conference.  Miami always gives people fits.  Ohio is usually good for an upset.  Kent has been rock-solid for the last decade.  And with the much-improved Bowling Greens, Eastern Michigans and Toledos of the world, the MAC could jump up and surprise a big boy or two if they’re not careful.
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2008-09 Season Primers: #16 – Southern

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2008

Andrew Baker is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and Southern conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Davidson Wildcats  (22-6, 19-1)
  2. College of Charleston Cougars  (20-10, 15-5)
  3. UT-Chattanooga Mocs  (19-13, 14-6)
  4. Georgia Southern Eagles  (18- 11, 13-7)
  5. Appalachian State Mountaineers  (17-12, 13-7)
  6. Elon Phoenix  (14-13, 11-9)
  7. UNC-Greensboro Spartans  (14-15, 11-9)
  8. Furman Paladins  (13-16, 8-12)
  9. Samford Bulldogs  (13-16, 7-13)
  10. Western Carolina Catamounts   (10-20, 7-13)
  11. Wofford Terriers  (9-20, 6-14)
  12. The Citadel Bulldogs  (10-21, 4-16)

WYN2K.  In 1921, the Southern Conference was founded with a hodgepodge of future SEC and ACC members.  Since the league has hosted many different schools who have left for other conferences, the only constants since 1936 have been The Citadel and Furman (Davidson left for three seasons from 1988-1991).  Since 1921, the SoCon has never had two bids into the NCAA Tournement.  That’s the entire history we’re talking about boys and girls, not just in the modern era.  Last year was the best chance the SoCon has seen in a while.  Had Elon beaten Davidson in the conference tournament finals, it would have been a tough justification to leave the Wildcats out.  Davidson looks to be on track for another title, but upsets do happen and should Davidson have the same kind of regular season they had last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the first two-bid SoCon ever.       

Predicted Champion.  Davidson (#8 NCAA).  The Davidson Wildcats were one of the best teams in the country in the year.  There are several good reasons for this.  Most people will point to one man: Stephen Curry (25.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) (see one of his explosions last year vs. Chattanooga below).  It is true that having Curry on any team would make them very hard to beat, but Coach Bob McKillop has built a team that is more concerned with ball control and defense.  It also helps that Davidson scored at a clip of 80.9 ppg last year.  Looking at their numbers makes it easy to realize how they went 20-0 in SoCon play last year.  Their numbers last year were astounding, and are the underlying reason they were able to make it to the Elite Eight and one shot away from the Final Four.  Davidson gave up 11.6 to/g and forced their opponents into 16.2 to/g.  That’s a turnover rate of 24% for their opponents as opposed to 16.5% for Davidson, both good for 12th in the nation.  Check it here if you don’t believe me.  Look for Davidson to use ball control and their not so secret weapon, Curry, to continue to dominate the league.  It is very difficult to say whether or not the Davidson is going to sweep the league as they did last year because their 20-0 record was the first time any team in the Southern Conference has won twenty games in league play.  It will be hard to go through the season unbeaten again, as every team who will play the ‘Cats will bring their A game, and even with the addition of Samford, the league’s 12th team, teams will still play a 20-game conference slate.

         

Others Considered.  Who are we kidding, no team is going to get the #1 seed for the Southern Conference Tournament unless something terrible happens to Stephen Curry.  However, the beauty of the oldest conference tournament in the land is that everyone gets a chance at redemption and glory. 

  • College of Charleston looks to be in the best position to pull off an upset down the road.  The Cougars return all of their starters from last season and are led by the 1990 Naismith Coach of the Year, Bobby Cremins.  The Cougars will need to see improvement in their ball control and defensive capabilities if they are to succeed Davidson to the throne.  More turnovers to assists (.910 A/TO) and a turnover rate of 19.6% of the time killed the Cougars in close games last year.  In every game that CofC lost last year by less than 10 points, the Cougars had more turnovers than their opponents.  Their defensive prowess was only mediocre, ranking at 192nd in the land with their opponents connecting on 44.3% of their shots.  Look out for CofC if there is early season improvement in these areas. 
  • UT-Chattanooga also looks to be in a advantageous position for a deep SoCon tourney run.  The Mocs excelled in shooting (45.9% FG) and on the boards last year.  However, turnovers caused them to have a less than impressive 18-13 record last year.  Turning the ball caught up with them, as was the case when the Mocs’ 7-0 SoCon start ended in a disappointing 6-7 record the rest of the way.  The Mocs horrific turnover rate was 24.2% and landed them worst in the SoCon and 317th in the nation.  The Mocs are hoping that incoming freshmen Jasper Williams will provide some depth at the one slot.  If the Mocs don’t see improvement in the turnover category then look for them to slump to another disappointing season. 

Important Games/RPI Boosters.  The Southern Conference will also be looking to improve their OOC record against the major and money leagues, as SoCon teams were only 5-24 against the BCS conferences plus CUSA and Mtn West last year.  However, the SoCon did much better against their mid-major brethren with a record of 30-27 against their contemporaries.  Like most mid-major leagues, the most important game of the season is the SoCon Tournament Final on Monday, March 9th, 2009.  However, there will be plenty of intrigue as the regular season moves forward.  Davidson has again loaded their non-conference schedule with big boys and should they win one or more of those games there is no reason to believe they can get a higher seed than this preview has listed.  The 7th of January could be huge if Davidson and College of Charleston can pull off huge upsets against the boys from Durham and Chapel Hill, respectively.  Here are some important conference and RPI booster games that you should keep an eye out for:

  • Chattanooga @ Tennessee   (11/15/2008)
  • Chattanooga @ Missouri  (11/17/2008)
  • Chattonooga @ Memphis  (11/20/2008)
  • Winthrop @ Davidson  (11/21/2008)
  • Elon @ Virginia Tech  (11/26/2008)
  • South Carolina @ CofC  (11/28/2008)
  • NC State v. Davidson  (12/6/2008)
  • Davidson v. West Virginia  (12/9/2008)
  • Davidson @ Purdue  (12/20/2008)
  • Chattanooga @ Alabama  (12/22/2008)
  • Davidson @ Duke   (01/07/2009)
  • CofC @ North Carolina  (01/07/2009)

Neat-o Fact.  36.  Davidson currently has the longest conference winning streak in the country dating back two seasons.  The last conference loss the Wildcats had was against Appalachian State on January 20, 2007, by a score of 81-74.  Their first conference game is on the 13th of December, meaning the between the time of their last loss and that game that the country will have elected a new President and a new Congress, two world champions have been crowned in every professional and amateur sport, and nearly 13% of Division I members have seen a coaching change.    

65 Team Era.  With Davidson’s three wins last year on its run to the E8, the conference doubled its win total to six during the modern era (6-24, .200).  That record, however, belies just how tough the SoCon representative has traditionally been in the NCAA Tournament first round.  From ETSU to College of Charleston to UT-Chattanooga to Davidson, SoCon teams have made many high seeds sweat bullets to survive and advance, as nine of the twenty-one first round losses of the era were ‘close’ losses (<10 pts), and five of those were a mere possession away (<4 pts), despite a relatively poor average seed of #13.7 over the period. 

Final Thoughts.  While many people will only see the Southern Conference as Davidson’s to lose, there will be other interesting story lines that you should pay attention to that could have effects through this season and spill over into future seasons.  College of Charleston returns all starters from a season that will only be remembered as the season that broke a long streak of winning seasons, and should challenge for the conference tournament title.  Chattanooga will be looking for more consistent point guard play in an attempt to build on season that saw a great beginning but crashed as ball control killed in the long run.  In conclusion, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the first two bid Southern Conference in history should Davidson be upset in the Conference Tournament.     

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2008-09 Season Primers: #18 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008

 

Rick Henderson of The Owl’s Nest is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Middle Tennessee  (19-11, 13-5)
  2. Western Kentucky  (18-11, 12-6)
  3. South Alabama  (18-11, 11-7)
  4. Florida Atlantic  (17-14, 10-8)
  5. Florida International  (15 -16, 8-10)
  6. Troy  (12-20, 5-13)

West

  1. Arkansas-Little Rock  (17-9, 12-6)
  2. North Texas  (16-13, 10-8)
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette  (15-14, 10-8)
  4. Arkansas State  (14-15, 8-10)
  5. Denver  (12-17, 7-11)
  6. Louisiana-Monroe  (15-14, 7-11)
  7. New Orleans  (11-19, 4-14)

WYN2K.  The Belt took a step forward last season with the NCAA Tourney appearance of South Alabama, and the deep run of Western Kentucky into the Sweet 16, jumping from 17 to 14 in the RPI rankings.  Accordingly, recruiting is on the way up all around.  However, this year the final league standings should look different as both teams lose key contributors from last year’s roster (we’ll get to that later).  You can expect a couple games difference in parity within the final standings at season’s end.  Here are our preseason SBC All First Teamers and Player of the Year picks:

  • Desmond Yates – MTSU
  • Carlos Monroe – FAU  (Player of the Year)
  • Josh White – NT
  • Russell Hicks – FIU
  • Brandon Davis – USA

Trio of new Head Coaches a big plus for the League.  The SBC welcomes the return of Mike Jarvis to the coaching ranks as the new Head Coach for the Fighting Owls of Florida Atlantic.  Jarvis boasts a conference best resume with 350 career wins and a myriad of post season tournament appearances – 9 NCAA and 5 NIT.  He is confident the Owls are a stock on the rise, having all but promised that they will make a return trip to The Big Dance in the very near future.  Jarvis is known for the development of NBA Hall of Fame player Patrick Ewing, and also coached a talented Ron Artest while at St John’s University. He has added a pair of nationally recognized prep guards to the already solid nucleus he inherits at FAU. PF Carlos Monroe (15.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg) will get some much needed double team help from this duo.  A little further north and west, John Brady joins The Sun Belt assuming the reins of the recently rebranded Arkansas State Redwolves program.  Brady enjoyed very successful tutelages with Samford (89 wins), and LSU (192 wins), where he led the Tigers all the way to The Final Four in 2006.  A heralded recruiter, Brady has coached an impressive 25 All TAAC (now The Atlantic Sun) and Southeastern Conference selections.  He hit the JUCO recruiting trail hard in the off-season, with four transfer signees heading to Jonesboro for the upcoming season.  Rounding out the trio of newcomers, Ken McDonald returns to Bowling Green to take over for the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky.  McDonald previously served as an Assistant Coach at WKU and most recently as the top assistant under Rick Barnes at the University of Texas.  He is a talented recruiter and was instrumental in the Longhorns signing of NBA draftees Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.  McDonald will have his hands full though, as this year’s team will be without the services of Courtney Lee, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA draft (22nd).
 
Predicted Champion
Arkansas-Little Rock (#13 Seed NCAA).  Bold pick?  Absolutely.  Realistic?  Definitely. Destiny?  Perhaps.  Here’s why:  The Trojans have finished atop the West Division in three of the last five years, but have never won the crown.  Unlike all other West Division teams (and even the East minus MTSU), all five starters return for UALR.  Couple this with a weaker East Division, and a potential homecourt advantage for the SBC Tournament and you have the makings of a championship.  Rest assured that someone will knock out one of the higher eastern seeds given its parity this season – paving the way for UALR.  The Sun Belt has gained much needed size all around this year, but UALR will display the truest balanced attack.  They will feature the league’s lone true big man down low in Ole Miss transfer Mike Smith 6-7, 295Lbs (52.9 FG%).  And that will be a big advantage (pun intended) along the way.  Joining him will be SG Steven Moore who should emerge even more this season after shooting a staggering 42-97 (43.3%) from downtown last season.  The clincher:  come March they can both click their heels like Dorothy, and say “there’s no place like home.”  Despite the fact that the SBC front office claims the tournament site is neutral this season, the championship will be played in Hot Springs, AR, which is 52 miles from UALR.  This virtually ensures them home court advantage during the SBC Tournament.
 
Others Considered.  They will be formidable opponents on a number of nights this season, but Western Kentucky has flat out lost too much: a whopping 60.3% of total offense, 59.2% of total assists, 50.3%  of total steals, and 39.6% of total rebounds.  A lot of this can be attributed to the departure of both SG Courtney Lee (20.4 ppg), and PG Tyrone Brazelton (14.4 ppg).  The same goes for South Alabama who must find backcourt answers for the losses of 1st Team All SBC guard Demetric Bennett (19.7 ppg), and 2nd Team All SBC guard Daon Merritt (11.5 ppg, 5.5 apg).  North Texas could be in the race for the West Division with the return of PG Josh White (13.9 ppg), but like the others considered, they face key losses with only two starters returning.  MTSU should be atop the East Division as season’s end, and does have talented returnees in both Desmond Yates (16.0 ppg) and Demetrius Green (12.5 ppg), but it’s a long drive to Hot Springs come tournament time. 
 
Games to Watch.  Traditional powers South Alabama and Western Kentucky will face off in a nationally televised contest that is sure to be entertaining.  The Deuce will also air the SBC Championship live:

  • South Alabama @ Western Kentucky (02.07.09) 1:00PM ESPN2
  • Sun Belt Conference Championship Game (03.10.09) 9:00PM ESPN2

RPI Booster Games.  Quite a few non-conference games could help elevate the SBC in the RPI standings this season.  SEC opponents are strewn throughout league schedules, as well as a few quality west coast opponents.  Winning these contests would certainly offer nudges here and there.  And some are winnable.  But upsetting the bad boys below would do some serious damage.  Are they winnable?  Probably not.  Cliché alert: That is why they play the game. Well, that and some guarantee money.  Without any further ado, please cue: “Facing the Giants.” 

  • Florida Atlantic @ Arizona (11.17.08) 10:00PM
  • Tennessee @ Middle Tennessee (11.21.08) 7:00PM
  • Western Kentucky @ Louisville (11.30.08) 2:00PM

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  Last year was a pleasant surprise, with both WKU and USA making the tourney.  If the West Division represents the SBC in The Big Dance, there is a long shot that an East Division top finisher could get in.  But it is highly unlikely and would take some serious non-conference results to convince the committee.

65 Team Era.  During the era, the Sun Belt is 13-34 (.277), but with WKU’s two additional wins last year, the Hilltoppers are responsible for seven of those wins and both of the conferences trips to the Sweet 16.  In fact, WKU is the only Sun Belt team to win an NCAA game in the past sixteen seasons (Louisiana-Lafayette won a game in 1992).  Seven times during this era has the Sun Belt gotten more than one team into the Dance, including last year’s duo of S. Alabama and W. Kentucky.  Speaking of which, who can forget what was arguably the (second) most exciting moment of the 2008 Tournament?


 
Final thought.  The SBC is one to two years away from making the climb back to where it was prior to adding football as a sponsored collegiate sport.  Serious recruiting classes have come in during the off-season.  It will be fun to watch some of the young talent begin to develop and blossom on the hardwood this upcoming season.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #19 – Summit

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2008

Ryan Pravato of collegefastbreak.com is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. North Dakota State Bison   (19-10, 13-5)
  2. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles  (20-10, 13-5)
  3. Oakland Golden Grizzlies  (18-13, 12-6)
  4. IPFW Mastodons  (16-13, 11-7)
  5. IUPUI Jaguars  (16-15, 9-9)
  6. UMKC Kangaroos  (14-17, 8-10)
  7. Centenary College Gentlemen  (11-19, 8-10)
  8. South Dakota State Jackrabbits  (13-18, 7-11)
  9. Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks  (9-20, 6-12)
  10. Southern Utah Thunderbirds  (6-23, 3-15)

WYN2K. 

  • 22 out of 31. Conference RPI ranking for the Summit League in each of the last two seasons.
  • Oregon, Marquette, Oklahoma St., Kansas, Texas Tech, Utah.  Casualties at the hands of Summit league teams throughout the past 2 seasons. Does beating Seton Hall count? What about Louisiana Tech, twice?  Not bad, not bad. The Summit is not quite knocking on the door of the Missouri Valley in stature as of yet, but at least they’re in the neighborhood. Some will never be in the continent.
  • Guardplay.  Guards rule this conference in more than one way. They not only light up the scoreboard from downtown, but they also grab more than their share of rebounds. Lots. Last season 6’5 Derick Nelson led the Oakland Grizzlies with 7.4, 6’6 Brett Winkelman led the North Dakota State Bison with 8.3, and 6’2 George Hill led IUPUI with 6.8.  The big men you will find, and there are some actually, are your rudimentary mid-level giants who usually possess the muscle tone of Kevin Durant and the post-up game of Muggsy Bogues. Besides that, Summit league big men are studs 

Predicted Champion. North Dakota State (#14 NCAA).  Coincidentally this happens to be the very first season in which the Bison are postseason-eligible. But the Bison seem to be the consensus these days. And for good reason. The three-headed monster returning for the Bison all redshirted their freshman year so that they would be able to have an opportunity like this. The littlest of the fifth year senior trio, Ben Woodside, scored over 20 ppg last season while also dishing out over 5 feeds.  At 5’10, Woodside is a very creative attacker and gauging from the few times I have seen him play in person, he will hoist from anywhere, anytime.  The giant of the group is Brett Winkelman, all 6’6 of him. While you already know he’s a terror on the glass, he’s also quite the assassin on the perimeter, hitting 43.8% of his threes last year. Winkleman is an efficient player and one not to shy away from the dirty work. He’d be in any team’s rotation.  6’4 Mike Nelson is the third head of this Bison monster. Often overlooked because of the other two, Nelson just goes about his business, you know, the usual 46.1% from downtown, 13.8 ppg, and 32 mpg. Not a shabby third option.  All numbers aside, this Bison squad is downright hungry. They’re ready for the limelight, ready for the Summit league tourney.

Others considered.  Oral Roberts, the Summit League representative in the tourney the previous three years, will always be in the discussion for the title.  Oral Roberts consistently plays defense year in and year out the way it should be played: stay between your man and the basket.  Alright, that may not be their textbook philosophy on defense, but a casual fan watching this team would probably not argue against it actually being THE PHILOSOPHY. Offensively speaking, combo guard Robert Jarvis and forward Marcus Lewis are the only returning players that averaged north of 5 ppg last season. Jarvis is a star though. He’s without a doubt the most streaky player in the conference (16.1 ppg in 29 mpg…off the bench). I’m not real sure Oral Roberts can survive the shoot first mentality of Jarvis as their point guard, but it sure looks like that will be their only chance to make it 4 straight tourney appearances.  Oakland finished third in the conference in 2008. They have one heck of an opening stretch of road games to begin the year. If they can come out of it with an upset or three, it might just be all the confidence this team needs to make a run. Scoring the ball is not a concern for head coach Greg Kampe. Guards Johnathon Jones, Erik Kangas and Derick Nelson all averaged over 14 ppg last season. Nelson has a tendency to try to do too much, but when he plays within himself, he can hurt you in a variety of ways, whether it’s on the offensive glass, in transition, or with an occasional trey. Defense and rebounding seem to be the problem for this team, especially up front. They can usually get away with lackluster defensive lapses against the weaker teams, but losing four out of five to last year’s strongholds IUPUI and Oral Roberts should be an indication of what Oakland must drastically improve on to legitimately be considered a threat . A pair of highly touted freshman (as opposed to lowly touted), 6’9 Jay Thames and 7’0 Ilija Milutinovic, hope to give this lacking front line a boost. Ilija, says coach Kampe, might be just what the doctor ordered: “There is a lot of hype with him and we have never had this much hype about a recruit before. He turned down six figures to play professionally in Serbia because he wants to go to the NBA.”  Kampe later referred to Ilija as “very comparable” to Darko Milicic.  I’m still not sure what to make of that.

RPI Boosters/Games to Watch. You won’t see many of the Summit League teams on tv, but if you live in a midwestern state, chances are you’ll be able to take in a game at a very reasonable price.

  • For the state of Michigan at least, Oakland vs. Michigan State (12.27.08 @ The Palace) will be a fun affair.  Last season Oakland lost @ MSU by only 4.
  • NDSU @ Minnesota (11.29.08).  Intriguing early season test for the Bison against an up-and-coming Minnesota team.
  • Oral Roberts @ North Carolina (12.13.08). This game will be on ESPN2.
  • NDSU @ Oakland (1.2.09) & Oakland @ NDSU (1.29.09).
  • NDSU @ Oral Roberts (2.28.09).  Last game of the regular season for both of these schools, a #1 seed could be on the line.
  • And of course the Summit League Tournament, where mascots take themselves seriously (see below).  This is a one bid league fellas.

Did You Know.

  • Oral Roberts freshman Beloved Rogers led all Maryland high schoolers in scoring last season with 27.8 ppg.
  • UMKC senior Dane Brumagin, had games of 40, 35, 29, and 27 points last season while improving his 3pt% by almost 10% from the previous season.  Unfortunately for Dane there’s not much else besides a possible conference scoring title to look forward to this year.  UMKC players 6’8 or taller equal the number of playoff series Tracy McGrady has won. 
  • Valparaiso is the last school to win a non-PiG NCAA tournament game as a member of this conference (known as the Mid-Continent Conference until 2007). Valpo won 2 games back in the 1998 NCAA tourney.
  • Waste Management Court at Western Hall is home to the Western Illinois basketball team. I know, I know, ‘Coach K Court’ and ‘Jim Boeheim Court’ are so much more original.

65 Team Era.  The MCC/Summit has had a fair amount of success throughout this era, going 8-24 (.250), but most of those wins were performed by teams no longer affiliated with the conference ten or twenty years ago (Valpo, UW-Green Bay, Northern Iowa, Cleveland St.).  In the past ten years, only Oakland has won a game, and that was the dreaded #16 v. #16 play-in game.  In the ten first-round games of the last decade, the MCC/Summit representative has lost by an average of 21.4 points.  The only close game was #14 Southern Utah’s three-point loss to #3 Boston College in 2001. 

Final Thoughts.  In the end I feel like there are five to six quality teams in this conference, but only three of them have any realistic shot at knocking off somebody come NCAA Tourney time. Oral Roberts has the defensive discipline and experience factor going for them. Oakland can put points up in a hurry and is the deepest team in the conference. North Dakota State has the firepower and sense of urgency. They have not had the chance to taste March Madness. Those talented seniors get one crack at it, and they’re ready to battle.  Heck, give which ever team wins the tourney a shot at Duke. We all saw the trouble perimeter savvy Belmont gave them.  Bring ‘em on!

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2008-09 Season Primers: #20 – Southland

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2008

There is no RTC correspondent for the Southland Conference, but we’re still taking applications.

 

Predicted Order of Finish:

 

East

  1. Stephen F. Austin  (18-9, 12-4)
  2. Northwestern St.   (18-13, 10-6)
  3. SE Louisiana    (14-15, 9-7)
  4. McNeese St.    (12-17, 8-8)
  5. Central Arkansas  (10-19, 4-12)
  6. Nicholls St.   (8-21, 4-12)

West

  1. UT-Arlington  (19-10, 11-5)
  2. Lamar   (16-13, 11-5)
  3. UT-San Antonio   (15-13, 10-6)
  4. Sam Houston St.  (13-16, 7-9)
  5. Texas A&M-CC  (9-21, 5-11)
  6. Texas St.  (9-20, 4-12)

 

What You Need to Know (WYN2K).  The Southland Conference is an overlooked conference in an area of the country that doesn’t exactly embrace college basketball.  While the league has traditionally been cannon fodder for first-round high seeds in the NCAA Tournament, there are indications that may be changing.  Last year’s champion, Northwestern St., was a Cinderella entrant who got bombed by #1 Memphis, but in the period from 2005-07, the Southland champion was competitive with #2 seeds Oklahoma and Wisconsin, and of course everyone remembers the #14 NW St. upset victory over #3 Iowa in 2006.  In the early 2000s, the league was consistently rated among the bottom half-dozen conferences on an annual basis, but in the current environment with a solid few programs leading the way, the conference is now regularly in the 20-25 range.  It’s moving on up!

 

Predicted Champion.   Stephen F. Austin (#16 NCAA).   The ‘Jacks are jacked.  Coming off a 26-6 (13-3) 2007-08 campaign that led to an NIT appearance (SFA lost 80-60 to UMass), Danny Kasper’s squad returns four starters, including arguably the best two players in the league (Josh Alexander and Matt Kingsley), from a withering defensive-minded unit that only allowed 56 ppg last year (on 39% FG shooting).  Last year’s team had NCAA written all over it, having won road contests at NCAA entrants Oklahoma and San Diego, until Northwestern St. upset SFA in the semis of the conference tournament – the ‘Jacks are loaded and will probably not be denied this time around.   

 

Others Considered. 

  • UT-Arlington.  As a #7 seed in last year’s conference tourney, UT-Arlington got hot at the right time and defeated three higher seeds en route to its first conference championship and NCAA appearance.  The Mavericks return two key starters, Rog’er Guignard and Brandon Long, but all eyes will be on BC transfer Marquez Haynes, a 6’3 guard who played starter’s minutes for the Eagles in 2006-07.  This team won’t be overlooked again.
  • Lamar.  Lamar should provide the biggest challenge for UT-Arlington in the West, as the Cardinals return significant experience in the form of nine returnees.  The key to Lamar’s success lies with PG Kenny Dawkins, last year’s Newcomer of the Year, who averaged 15/5 apg leading his team to a league-best 13-3 record.
  • Northwestern St.  We threw Mike McConathy’s team on here as a challenger simply because, no matter what personnel they lose from year to year, they always seem to find a way to remain competitive, having been to the last four conference title games (winning one).   The Demons’ style of play doesn’t depend on one or two players, so this year should be no different.   

RPI Boosters. 

  • Northwestern St. @ Indiana (11/15/08)
  • Stephen F. Austin @ Texas A&M  (11/18/08)
  • Northwestern St. @ LSU  (11/23/08)
  • Lamar @ Kentucky  (12/03/08)
  • Lamar @ Louisville  (12/08/08)
  • Texas Tech @ Lamar  (12/13/08)
  • Stephen F. Austin @ Arkansas (12/20/08)
  • UT-Arlington @ Baylor  (12/20/08)
  • Northwestern St. @ Oklahoma St.  (1/03/09)

Neat-O Stat.   The Southland, like many conferences is a twelve-team league with two divisions of six each (East and West).  Ok, no big deal, right?  Well, what’s strange about this setup is that the current alignment allows for Stephen F. Austin (East) and Lamar (West) to switch divisions every two seasons.  Since the current alignment began in 2006-07, this means this will be the first year of SFA in the East and Lamar in the West for a while.   The league made this arrangement for travel purposes, with seven Texas teams (v. five Louisiana/Arkansas teams), but can you imagine if the SEC did this – Florida and LSU switch sides every couple years?

65 Team Era.  The Southland is 4-24 (.143) in the era, but one of those wins was from the PiG in 2001, and two others are from Karl Malone’s #5 Louisiana Tech team back in 1985 (La Tech is no longer in the conference).  In other words, the league has had only one legit NCAA win since 1985, but oh, what a great one it was (see video below). 

Final Thoughts.  As mentioned above, the Southland appears to be a conference on the rise.  The big-conference team that gets pitted against SFA in the NCAAs this year (assuming they make it through the conference tourney unscathed) should really pay attention or they will get burned.  The conference has proven it can play with teams at the BCS level in a one-game scenario.  This was not always the case – from 1997-2004, the average margin of loss for a Southland team in the NCAA Tournament was 29 points.  Since then, it has been 12 (including a 1-pt win).  Who will be the next Iowa?

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #21 – Big West

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2008

Ryan ZumMallen, LBPOSTSports columnist, is the RTC correspondent for the Big West conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Cal St. Northridge
  2. UC Santa Barbara
  3. Long Beach State
  4. Pacific
  5. UC Irvine
  6. UC Davis
  7. Cal St. Fullerton
  8. Cal Poly
  9. UC Riverside

What You Need To Know (WYN2K).  I know what you’re thinking: no good teams ever come out of the Big West.  Oh yeah?  What about 2006-07’s Long Beach State 49ers who ran roughshod over their schedule to a 24-8 record and an NCAA berth… losing to Tennessee by 35.  Or last year’s three-way tie for first?  UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton each won 12 conference games and two earned postseason berths… one bowing out in the NCAA opener and one in the NIT.

Ok, there hasn’t been much success outside of the conference lately – and last year produced some colossal stinkers – but that doesn’t mean that intense basketball isn’t being played within the Big West’s confines.  After a conference flooded with seniors last season, nearly every team is starting anew, making for one of the most wide-open conferences in the country.  All you need is one stud to will your team to victory, and if 2007 Fullerton product and recent Sacramento Kings signee Bobby Brown is any indication, it is definitely possible for raw talent to be developed in the Big West.  Don’t expect the top teams to feast on the bottom-feeders again – all it takes is one hot hand for any team to have a shot on any night.  So let’s get into it!

Bottom Feeders.  UC Riverside, Cal Poly SLO and Cal State Fullerton.  I mention them now because I shan’t be mentioning them again.  All three lost a vast majority of their scoring to graduation, and senior leadership is vital in the Big West.  Expect painful rebuilding from these three, although Fullerton’s Josh Akognon (video footage below) will win a few games for the Titans all by himself.  The 5’11 guard averaged 20 ppg last year and won Big West Tournament MVP honors, but with only 2 returners and Akognon the only returning starter, it’ll be a long year in the cellar for CSF.

Middle of the Pack.

  • One team that you can (surprisingly) expect to emerge from that very cellar this year is UC Davis.  Yes, the UC Davis that went 2-14 in the Big West last season.  Stop laughing.  Last year’s Aggies fielded zero seniors and this year’s edition has five.  They return a trio of senior starters that scored 28.4% of the team’s points, boast two key transfers in Joe Harden and Todd Lowenthal and look to Big West Freshman of the Year Mark Payne to step us as a sophomore.  With all of that, I’ve still got them pegged in 6th because, c’mon, it’s UC Davis.
  • UC Irvine gets the nod for 5th in the Big West, even after losing their top two scorers who brought in a combined 29.5ppg.  They do return their other three starters, though, and while the team is not particularly heavy on seniors or explosive guardplay, last year’s squad won 9 of 12 down the stretch so these guys know how to win.  Adding three recruits sized 6’8” or taller does not hurt, either.  But the Anteaters could well fall prey to the experience of UC Davis, and certainly neither is worthy of a Top 4 spot. 
  • The Pacific Tigers come in 4th, based yet again almost entirely on the genius of the Big West Conference’s greatest basketball mind, head coach Bob Thomason.  Thomason consistently squeezes more productivity out of less talent than any other BW coach, and I’ve learned the hard way not to bet against the Tigers.  They don’t have the talent to dominate this year, but the high-flying Anthony Brown enters his senior season, and I am intrigued to see what magic Thomason has worked with the 6’9” forward who wowed us with his potential and now will have to show us what’s been done with it.  What wins games in the Big West? Guards.  Anyone who gives senior sharpshooter Chad Troyer more than an inch of room deserves to be cut and sent to UC Riverside.

Top Tier. 

  • As we saw last season, the cream of the Big West crop can be extremely competitive.  So these next three teams could end up in any of the top spots, or even in a three-way tie for first like the Trio of ’08.  They’re clearly the most talent-laden squads and have the best shot at the hardware.  At the rear of the triumvirate is – pains me to say it – Long Beach StateDisclosure: I’m a graduate, and last season’s 6-25 campaign was one of my life’s more painful experiences.  But we relied heavily on first-year coach Dan Monson’s genius and junior guard Donovan Morris’ magic.  This year, we’ll again need plenty of both, but have added more ammunition than a Howitzer tank to back them up.  The 6’3” Morris is the only returning All-Big West honoree in the conference, led the Big West in scoring and is the likely preseason Player of the Year.  But the 49ers also add three transfers and a four-member freshman class that is oozing with raw talent in one-guard Casper Ware and freakish swingman Larry Anderson.  The experience and talent are there after recording barren levels of both last year.  My pick is 3rd place and possibly higher – it’s just tough to get past the oddness of picking a 6-win team to win the conference, even if it’s my own.
  • Here then, we arrive at #2.  This team could definitely end the season in a lower position than this, and probably doesn’t have much chance at the top spot due to a lack of real scoring power or explosive guards.  But a notoriously stingy defense and hard-nosed hustle, coupled with eight returners (including three starters) earns the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos the second spot.  Well-rounded forward Chris Devine begins collecting Social Security this year enters his sixth season with UCSB after being granted another year of eligibility due to injuries.  His leadership will be invaluable as the Gauchos look to recapture the magic after being one of the three teams tied for the conference title in ’08.  They’ll rely heavily on a suffocating half-court defense that allows few second chances, and will look for junior James Powell on the perimeter after shooting 46.7% from three-point land and averaging 12.3 ppg last season.  Experience and guard-play win out, and the Gauchos legendary grit put them in a class above (most of) the rest.
  • Experience experience experience.  The Cal State Northridge Matadors (#16 NCAA) field five seniors and eight juniors on their roster, including last year’s conference leaders in rebounds, assists and blocked shots.  They too shared the Big West title and have a great shot to repeat with Tremaine Townsend returning to terrorize Big West post players for yet another season.  Townsend led the conference in rebounds with 9.8 rpg, and blocked shots with 1.3 bpg.  The Matadors led the conference in team rebounding, and senior guard Josh Jenkins will look to improve upon his conference leading 6.4apg as well.  CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell has never won an outright Big West title in 13 years at the helm, but this is his best chance ever to break the streak.

RPI Boosters. 

  • California @ Pacific  (11/15/08)
  • Long Beach St. @ Wisconsin  (11/16/08)
  • Cal St Northridge @ Stanford  (11/18/08)
  • UNC @ UCSB  (11/21/08)
  • Wake Forest v. Cal St Fullerton  (11/27/08)
  • Cal St Northridge @ UCLA  (12/7/08)
  • Long Beach St. @ Syracuse  (12/13/08)

65 Team Era.   Due to UNLV’s former association with the conference in the late 80s and early 90s, the Big West has a solid overall record for the era (28-30, .483).  But if you take out the Rebels, you’re left with a true mid-major level performance (7-24, .226) with only three wins in the last sixteen years.  Pacific’s nice run in the 2003-05 seasons accounts for two of those; the other belongs to another former member of the conference, Utah St. in 2001.

Final Thought.  Just for fun, let’s throw in the final seconds of Cal St Fullerton’s Big West championship game…

 

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2008-09 Season Primers: #22 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2008

 

Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South conference and writer for Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

 

Predicted Order of Finish:

 

  1. Winthrop               (19-10, 13-5)
  2. Radford                  (17-12, 12-6)
  3. Gardner-Webb        (16-13, 11-7)
  4. Liberty                   (16-15, 11-7)
  5. High Point              (15-14, 9- 9)
  6. Charleston So.     (13-16, 9- 9)
  7. VMI                         (13-16, 8-10)
  8. Coastal Carolina      (14-16, 7-11)
  9. UNC Asheville         (11-18, 6-12)
  10. Presbyterian            (6-23, 4-14)

  

 

What You Need to Know (WYN2K).  When the preseason balloting of the media and coaches produces seven teams with first-place votes (out of ten teams overall), it’s a pretty good clue that the race is wide open and/or that nobody really knows how it’s going to shake out.  Why the mystery?  Well, player losses may be cyclical for everyone, but the hits were hard across the board for Big South teams: a high number of star seniors, career record-holders, and all-conference representatives have departed (see: Arizona Reid, Reggie Williams, Chris Gaynor, and Jack Leasure, among many others).  That turnover has left several coaches wondering what they have to work with this season—for example, Winthrop draws its somewhat traditional slot at the top, but as Head Coach Randy Peele pointed out, that’s without any Eagles on the preseason All-Conference team and with only 18 ppg returning this year!  If Media Day interviews are to be taken at face value, the majority of Big South coaches believe the greatest talent pool likely belongs to Radford, so the Highlanders may make some noise.  New member Gardner-Webb won’t be able to sneak up on anyone, a by-product of last year’s epic upset of UK at Rupp Arena.  Liberty’s Anthony Smith has the skills to play anywhere, and he has earned preseason Player of the Year honors as he begins his senior campaign.  The middle of the pack could finish in any order, with High Point, Charleston Southern, VMI and Coastal Carolina all working on their identities for 2008-09—only VMI and its trademark up-tempo offense offer a good sense of what may come this season.  Between senior departures and the loss of 7-7 center Kenny George to injury, UNC Asheville will not be expected to duplicate last year’s surprising run to the top.  Presbyterian is working through its transition to D1 and will have its work cut out for it just to stay off the bottom this year.

 

Predicted Champion.   Winthrop Eagles (#14 NCAA).  Last year’s top three scorers may be gone, but enough pieces are still there—including tournament experience and skilled coaching.  WU has won the last four conference tournaments and the Eagles grabbed a first round NCAA win for the Big South in 2007 by toppling Notre Dame, so there are still plenty of guys in Rock Hill who know all about winning when it counts.  If players like Charles Corbin and Mantoris Robinson step into the leadership void with some authority, the team will be fine—but they will be challenged by others who think there may be room at the top this year.  Look for Winthrop to be touch-and-go for 20 wins, maybe coming up just short and finding a #14 seed in the works when the brackets are announced.  Below are some highlights of Winthrop’s most recent Big South championship game. 

 

 

Others Considered. 

  • Radford Highlanders.  Forward/center Joey Lynch-Flohr gives RU a strong presence in the middle and the Highlanders certainly have their share of talent, but Coach Brad Greenberg will have to catch some breaks to pass Winthrop and break Radford’s poor postseason history (only Big South Tournament Championship: 1998).
  • Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs.  All-Conference junior guard Grayson Flittner is a complete player, and GWU returns most of the team that pulled off the upset heard ‘round the nation (over UK), but the Bulldogs fell flat after that early win and there’s nothing to indicate that they will be better off this time out.
  • Liberty FlamesAnthony Smith is sensational, and you have to keep your eyes on a team that has an asset like that, but there are still too many unknowns for Coach Ritchie McKay in his second season at LU—look for the Flames to keep improving and to produce for McKay after this building year with its wave of freshmen.

Important/Key Games & RPI Boosters.  A year ago, teams in the current Big South knocked off multiple teams in the ACC and the SEC, so where could that come from this year?  There are games on the slate against the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big East, Big 12 and other significant out-of-conference foes—plus the opponents still to be announced for the ESPN Bracketbusters games with Gardner-Webb, Liberty, and Winthrop. Here are a dozen to watch:

  • VMI @ Kentucky  (11/14/08)
  • Radford @ Virginia  (11/21/08)
  • Winthrop @ Davidson  (11/21/08)
  • Gardner-Webb @ Oklahoma  (11/22/08)
  • High Point @ NC State  (11/22/08)
  • Liberty @ Virginia  (11/25/08)
  • Gardner-Webb @ South Carolina  (11/25/08)
  • Liberty @ Clemson  (12/7/08)
  • UNC Asheville @ Ohio State  (12/22/08)
  • Winthrop v. Florida  (12/28/08)
  • Virginia Tech @ Charleston Southern  (12/29/08)
  • Radford @ Wake Forest  (12/30/08)

Honorary Big South members among majors this year?  Try Virginia (3 games), South Carolina (3), Florida State (2), Clemson (2), Cincinnati (2), NC State (2), and Virginia Tech (2).  Additional opponents in the RPI hunt for the Big South: Duke, UNC, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Kansas St., West Virginia, and USF, among others.

 

Here are a half-dozen games to watch in Conference play:

  • UNC Asheville @ Liberty  (11/18/08 – part of ESPN’s 24 hours of basketball special)
  • Radford @ Gardner-Webb  (12/4/08 – December showdown for the challenger and the newcomer)
  • Winthrop @ Radford  (12/6/08 – a very early barometer of the potential duel for first)
  • Liberty @ Winthrop  (1/3/09 – gauge to see if Liberty will make a 2009 charge)
  • Radford @ Winthrop  (2/2/09 – will it be a fight for first or a battle to stay in the race?)
  • VMI @ Liberty  (2/24/09 – old rivalry may determine if either will be contender)

Did You Know?

  • the Big South Conference is marking its 25th Anniversary this season
  • star recruit Seth Curry (bother of Stephen) will play for Liberty this year…the son of former NBA player Dell Curry is not the only Big South newcomer with a pro pedigree—GWU adds junior transfer Roy Hinson III, son of the NBA’s Roy Hinson
  • VMI has led the nation in scoring for two consecutive years, only the 11th team to ever accomplish that feat (and a 3-year run has only been done twice before)
  • as alluded to above, the 2004-05 All-Freshman Team has departed, but its members have left their marks on the Conference record book:  Reggie Williams (all-time leading scorer), Arizona Reid (all-time leading rebounder), Jack Leasure (the Big South 3-point record-holder), and Chris Gaynor (Conference career marks for assists and steals).
  • games against Presbyterian will count in the regular season standings, and the Blue Hose can compete for the regular season title, but PC is ineligible for any postseason play (as part of its transition to D1)
  • two coaches in the Big South have major conference head coaching experience: Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellis (Clemson, Auburn) and Liberty’s Ritchie McKay (Colorado State, Oregon State, New Mexico)…plus Radford’s Brad Greenberg has been an assistant in the NBA (Knicks, Clippers)

65 Team Era.  UNC Asheville was the first to win an NCAA Tournament game, with its PiG win over Texas Southern in 2003.  Winthrop has been the Big South representative for four consecutive seasons, and was the first to advance past the first round with its win over Notre Dame in 2007.  In two other years (2005 and 2006), the Eagles gave #2 Tennessee (63-61) and #3 Gonzaga (74-64) all they wanted in first round matchups.    

 

Final Thoughts.  There are those outside the region who will overlook the Big South as a one-bid league without a history of deep tournament runs, but that would be short-sighted.  The conference has now been around for a quarter-century; its caliber of coaching has improved and its competition for recruits has stepped up; its teams have demonstrated the ability to take down foes like Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Miami (FL) and other teams from the major conferences.  With this year’s conference race believed to be an open playing field, any team could get hot at the end of the year if it finds the right chemistry among its young players and then perhaps enjoy an extra turn (or two?) at the Dance.  It should definitely be fun to watch unfold over the course of the season.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #24 – Big Sky

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2008

Jordan Freemeyer is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Big Sky conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Portland State  (20-9, 13-3)
  2. Northern Colorado  (21-10, 11-5)
  3. Idaho State  (15-14, 10-6)
  4. Montana  (18-11, 10-6)
  5. Weber State  (13-16, 8-8)
  6. Northern Arizona  (12-15, 7-9)
  7. Montana State  (11-17, 6-10)
  8. Eastern Washington  (10-19, 5-11)
  9. Sacramento State  (6-23, 2-14)

What You Need to Know (WYN2K).  The Big Sky is a nine-team conference stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the southern Rocky Mountains. The Big Sky has historically been an eight-team conference, but added Northern Colorado as its ninth member in 2006. Unlike most conferences that feature a balanced eight or twelve team tournament, only the top six Big Sky teams get the chance to go dancing. The conference is generally a power in FCS (formerly I-AA) football, but does not have a rich men’s basketball tradition. However, Weber State in particular has been noted for big upsets in the NCAA Tournament. In 1995, a #14 seed Weber State team beat #3 seed Michigan State 79-72, and in 1999 the Wildcats repeated the feat, taking down another #3 seed, North Carolina, 76-74. More recently, Montana made a run to the second round in 2006 with a wins over #5 Nevada.

Predicted Champion.  Portland State (#14 NCAA). This is a relatively safe pick, as the Vikings won both the regular season and tournament championships last season. Portland State returns three starters, including 2007-08 Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year Jeremiah Dominguez (pictured below). The 5’6” Dominguez scored 14.4 points per game last season, while averaging 4 assists per game and leading the conference with 1.9 steals per game. Also returning for the Vikings is junior Kyle Coston. The 6’8” forward averaged 7.4 points per game last season and made over 40 percent of his three-point attempts. PSU lost leading rebounders Scott Morrison and Deonte Huff, but return enough firepower offensively to make them the favorites in the Big Sky.

 

Others Considered.  Behind the Vikings is a pack of about four teams that can challenge them. Northern Colorado is my pick to finish second in the league. The Bears return nine letterwinners from last season, the most in the conference, and are led by all-conference center Jabril Banks. Banks led UNC last season with 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Idaho State should also contend for the conference title; the Bengals are led by guards Matt Stucki and Amorrow Morgan, who combined to average just under 22 points per game last season. Perrenial favorites Montana and Weber State should also be in the mix, led by forward Jordan Hasquet and guard Kellen McCoy, respectively.

Important Conference games.

  • Northern Arizona @ Montana State (1/10/09) – This game could go a long way toward determining the final berth in the Big Sky Tournament.
  • Portland State @ Northern Colorado (1/19/09) – This is just Northern Colorado’s third year in the conference, but Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion is already proving to be one of the toughest places to play. The Bears were 9-4 there last season.
  • Idaho State @ Weber State (1/31/09) – Dee Events Center should be rocking for this matchup between rivals that will have a big impact on what the top of the conference standings look like.
  • Montana at Montana State (2/7/09) – It’s Montana against Montana State, when is it ever not important?
  • Big Sky Championship Game (3/11/09)

RPI Boosters.

  • Northern Colorado @ Colorado State (11/18/08) – This is perhaps the biggest college basketball rivalry in the state of Colorado. The Bears beat the Rams, 72-59, last year.
  • North Dakota State @ Northern Arizona (11/25/07) – This is the first of two meetings between the two teams this season, and catches the Bison in the midst of a very tough three-game road trip.
  • BYU @ Weber State (12/3/08) – This is yet another chance for the Big Sky to prove itself against an in-state rival. You can bet the biggest venue in the Big Sky will be nearly full for this one.
  • Portland State @ Washington (12/14/08) – This game presents a good chance for the Vikings to make a statement against a quality Pac-10 opponent.
  • Idaho @ Idaho State (12/29/08) – The Bengals host their former conference-mate and in-state rival at Holt Arena with a chance to prove basketball supremacy in the state of Idaho.

Neat-O Stat.  Sacramento State hired a new head coach for the 2008-09 season, Brian Katz. This is Katz’s first NCAA head coaching job, but he is not the only coach in the league that is in a relatively new place. Only one coach in the Big Sky, Northern Arizona’s Mike Adras, has been at his school for more than four years. Portland State’s Ken Bone is entering his fourth season with the Vikings, and is the second-longest tenured coach in the conference. Idaho State’s Joe O’Brien, Montana’s Wayne Tinkle, Montana State’s Brian Huse, Northern Colorado’s Tad Boyle and Weber State’s Randy Rahe are all in their third season with their respective teams. Last year, Eastern Washington brought coach Kirk Earlywine into the mix.

65 Team Era.   The Big Sky is only 3-24 (.111) over the era, but as stated above, it has some quality upsets on its resume, with #14 Weber St. in both 1995 and 1999, and #12 Montana breaking into the second round in 2006.  Its champion typically receives a #14 or #15 seed in the NCAAs, but generally avoids the dreaded #16.  Here’s an amusing YouTube clip of some of Portland State’s practice and media session before playing #1 Kansas in last year’s first round below. 

Final Thoughts.  The Big Sky should be a very interesting conference to watch this season. There are about five or six teams that could win the regular season title, and the conference tournament should amount to a crap shoot. Whoever wins the league, I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see them upset a big conference team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #25 – Ivy

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2008

Marty Leon is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot and Ivy Leagues.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Cornell  (20 – 9)  (12-2)
  2. Penn   (19-9)   (10-4)
  3. Harvard   (12-16)   (8-6)
  4. Brown   (13-15)   (7-7)
  5. Yale   (13-16)   (7-7)
  6. Dartmouth   (14-13)   (6-8)
  7. Princeton   (13-14)    (4-10)
  8. Columbia   (6-22)   (2-12)

What You Need to Know (WYN2K).  In the conference of the true student-athlete, Cornell looks to be the heavy favorite after a 14-0 league record last season.  They posess a huge home court advantage, playing their  games in snowy Ithaca and return the league’s player of the year in Louis DalePenn will be nipping at their heels trying to regain their championship form,  while Harvard, with the best freshmen crop in the league, looks to be third best.  Beyond that, a logjam ensues where anyone can beat anyone on a given night.  Dartmouth has a possible player of the year in Alex Barnett and Zach Rosen out of Penn should be the best rookie. 

Predicted Champion.  Cornell (#15 NCAA) should come away with the title, as they have all the pieces to the puzzle.  Besides Dale, Ryan Whitman is one of the country’s best 3-point shooters, and 7 footer Jeff Forte provides huge frontcourt presence.  Cornell will be a #15 seed at best, as they were pounded by Stanford 77-53 in the NCAA tournament last year.  Here’s a video of their clinching game against Harvard last year.

Others Considered.  Penn could challenge Cornell as they provide three super sophomores.  Tyler Bernardini returns after a rookie of the year season, while forward Jack Eggleston and point guard Harrison Gaines are back.  Though very talented,  this team will need to rely too much on youth to go the distance.  Harvard falls in the same boat, as Coach Amaker has recruited the Ivy League version of the “fab five.”  We can’t count out Yale and Brown who are also capable of beating these three teams.

Important Games.

  • Penn @ Harvard  (1/31/09)
  • Cornell @ Penn  (2/7/09)
  • Penn @ Cornell  (3/6/09)

RPI Boosters.

  • Penn @ UNC  (11/15/08)
  • Villanova @ Penn (12/2/08)
  • Cornell @ Syracuse  (12/3/08)
  • Cornell @ Minnesota (12/6/08)
  • Cornell @ St. Joseph’s (12/22/08)
  • Harvard @ Boston College (1/7/09)
  • Temple @ Penn (1/14/09)

Neat-O Stats.

1.  Intensity –  Every league game is crucial with no conference tourney to fall back on. 
2.  Scholarships – None given in this league.  All need based financial aid.  Coaches still successfully recruit nationwide.
3.  Family Feud – Yale coach James Jones and Columbia coach Joe Jones are brothers.
4.  Roots – Hall of Fame coaches Al McGuire of Marquette and Dave Gavitt of Providence began their coaching careers at Dartmouth.
5.  Vermont Connection – Brown coach Jesse Agel and assistants TJ Sorrentine and Kyle Cieplicki were all part of the Vermont team that shocked Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA tournament.

65 Team Era.  Since 1985, the Ivy has gone 3-24 (.111) in the NCAA Tournament, with all three of the wins coming within five seasons of each other (1994 – Penn; 1996 & 1998 – Princeton).  The Ivy is now on an ten-year drought without a win in the NCAAs, and eight of those losses have been by double-digits.  Ouch.

Final Thoughts.  If you want to see the purest college basketball, the Ivy League is one of the few places left where true scholar-athletes are on the floor.  On a rare occasion, the league winner makes a decent showing in the NCAA Tournament, but that won’t be the case this season.  No team is athletic enough to compete with the big boys in March.  The real story out of the Ivy this year is second year coach Tommy Amaker’s troubles at Harvard.  After being vindicated of improper recruiting charges, the NY Times ran an article questioning Amaker’s coaching methods after he dismissed several players for no other reason than he passed over them.  The question is, “Is Amaker trying to bring big-time coaching philosophies to a school where winning isn’t the number one priority?”

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2008-09 Season Primers: #26 – Northeast

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2008

Ray Floriani from College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Northeast (NEC) and Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Mount St. Mary’s  (20-9) (15-3)   
  2. Central Conn. St. (19-9) (14-4)
  3. Sacred Heart   (17-10) (13-5)
  4. Robert Morris    (17-12) (12-6)
  5. FDU    (14-14) (10-8)
  6. Quinnipiac   (13-14) (8-10)
  7. LIU    (11-16) (7-11)
  8. Monmouth   (11-17) (6-12)
  9. Wagner   (11-18) (5-13)
  10. St. Francis (NY)  (9-20) (4-14)
  11. St. Francis (PA)  (5-23) (3-15)

What you need to Know (WYN2K). The Northeast Conference, in its 28th season of operation,  formed in the Eighties from the old ECAC Metro. The eleven school league has granted admission to Bryant University who begins NEC play in 2012. The league postseason tournament admits the top eight finishers. Each game is played on the home floor of the high seed in the pairings. What this all means is February games are played hard each night out. Teams are fighting for a tournament berth, a higher seeding or to just become a spoiler. After Valentine’s Day everyone is scoreboard watching. The nation’s fourth most improved conference (behind the Southland, MAAC and Sun Belt) a year ago will see 60% of its starters return. Featured among them are All-NEC performers Jeremy Chappell, a senior swingman for Robert Morris, and  LIU junior guard Jaytomah Wisseh. Central Connecticut also welcomes back 2008 NEC Rookie of the Year, sophomore point guard Shemik Thompson.
 
Predicted Champion. Mount St.Mary’s (#16 NCAA). The NEC defending tournament champs return four starters from a team that captured nine of their last ten games and took the tournament title on Sacred Heart’s floor. Junior lead guard Jeremy Goode, the team leader in scoring, assists and steals is back. Sophomore guard Jean Cajou caught fire late last season and wound up as NEC tournament MVP. Talent plus the momentum of a year ago, which included a play-in win over Coppin State, certify Mount as the favorite. Look for another 16 seed – could a Tar Heel rematch be in the works?

Others Considered. Central Connecticut St. will be in the mix. Four starters return and veteran coach Howie Dickenman is certain to have the Blue Devils playing their best as the season winds down. Sacred Heart finished as tournament runner-up the last two seasons and cannot be counted out. The same goes for Robert Morris, last year’s regular season champion who was upset in the NEC semis and represented the conference in the NIT.

Important Games.

  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Sacred Heart  (12/4/08)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Central Connecicut  (12/06/08)
  • Quinnipiac @ FDU  (01/03/09)
  • Robert Morris @ Mount St.Mary’s  (1/25/09)
  • Sacred Heart @ Central Connecticut State  (2/19/09)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Robert Morris  (2/28/09)

RPI Boosters.

  • FDU @ Pitt  (11/14/08)
  • FDU @ Wazzu  (11/18/08)
  • Rhode Island @ Monmouth (Hoop Group) (11/20/08)
  • FDU @ Mississippi St.  (11/22/08)
  • Monmouth @ Villanova (Hoop Group) (11/25/08)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ George Mason  (11/25/08)
  • Akron @ FDU  (11/30/08)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Georgetown  (12/20/08)
  • Robert Morris @ Xavier  (12/31/08)
  • FDU @ TBA in Bracketbuster  (02/20/09)

Neat-o-Stat. The NEC boasts three coaches who have hit the 400 win total. Dave Bike (464-414) of Sacred Heart leads the way. Mike Deane of Wagner and FDU’s Tom Green hit the magic number this past season. Deane, in his sixth year at the NEC school, has a 416-292 mark. Green, entering his 26th season at FDU, has a 400-328 ledger.  Of the trio, Bike owns a national championship. He led the Sacred Heart Pioneers to the D2 crown in 1986.

Neat-o-Stat con’t. Robert Morris owns the best overall record among conference schools over the past two seasons even though it hasn’t won the tournament title. The Colonials are 43-19 during that time. Interestingly they did it with two different coaches. Mark Schmidt put together a 17-11 record in 2006-07 before heading to St. Bonaventure, and last season, in his first year in Coraopolis, Mike Rice’s club was a gaudy 26-8.

65 Team Era.  NEC life usually means facing a #1 or #2 seed (20 of the past 24 years), and unfortunately, the NEC has yet to defeat one of those teams in the first round. FDU under Tom Green has been competitive each time out. In 2005, they gave top ranked Illinois a battle for twenty minutes, and have also given #1Michigan (1985) and #2 UConn (1998) scares over the years. Last season, conference tournament champion Mt. St. Mary’s defeated Coppin State in the play-in game before running into the UNC juggernaut the next time out.  
 
Final Thoughts. In a perfect world the NEC would be a multiple bid conference. This is not a perfect world (see the $700 billion bailout) so the conference gets one invitation to the Big Dance. From a fan perspective that makes for added drama as the regular season and postseason tournament takes on huge meaning. The championship is especially intense as teams vie for that one spot on Selection Sunday.  Geographical proximity is another issue. You have three schools (St. Francis (PA), Robert Morris and Mt. St. Mary’s) ‘way out west’. But a good percentage of the membership is in relatively close driving distance of each other. In fact, FDU, LIU, Wagner, Monmouth and St.Francis (NY) are all within a 40-mile radius which affords their fans an easy, nearby road trip.  Another attractive feature of the NEC is that players stay around. If a coach recruits a player, then outside of transfer or academic issues, they are typically on board for the duration. No ‘one and done’ to David Stern’s league here.

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