Conference Tournament Primer: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 10th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the MAC and the MEAC get started.

Dates: March 10, 12-15
Site: First Round: Campus sites; Second Round, Quarters, Semis and Championship: Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland, OH)

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What to expect: The MAC’s power pendulum has swung numerous times this season, so it’s difficult to tell which contender has the best shot in Cleveland. Buffalo came on strong in the second half of the year and might boast the league’s most dominant player in Javon McCrea, a double-double machine who recently set the school’s all-time scoring record, while Western Michigan enters the event having won 10 of its last 11 games. Toledo, meanwhile, set a school record with 26 overall wins and will get a triple-bye (yes, a triple-bye) all the way to the semifinals, along with the Broncos. More likely than not, one of those three clubs will emerge as champion. Still, don’t be surprised if one of the conference’s other up-and-down challengers – like recent NCAA Tournament representatives Ohio and Akron – put together a run and leave with a trophy.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Toledo, Jerrelle Benimon, UTEP & Chicago State…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 22nd, 2014

The rigors of conference play began taking its toll last week as several O26 league favorites discovered just how hard conference road games can be. Some teams dealt with these hurdles better than others, the results of which ranged anywhere from surprising upsets to crazy comebacks to clutch shots. Let’s pass out a few awards to the performers who handled themselves best during the O26 week that was.

O26 Team of the Week

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (Jeremy Wadsworth/Blade)

Toledo. First it was the expected-but-still-disappointing loss to Kansas followed by a forgettable defeat at Western Michigan, and all of a sudden the Rockets — once unbeaten and the talk of the mid-major world — were in serious jeopardy of losing their groove. Some teams might have become deflated, lost confidence and continued to slide, but not Toledo. Head coach Tod Kowalczyk remained calm after falling to the Broncos, noting “We didn’t play well in two games all year. This is one of two… we’ll be fine.” His team has responded in similar fashion, handling Central Michigan with ease two Saturdays ago before collecting a pair huge wins this past week to remain the MAC West kings. First was a home contest against surging Buffalo, a squad on a four-game winning streak that looked poised to make it five in a row. The Bulls jumped out to a quick lead in the opening minutes that it wouldn’t hand over until midway through the second half, even then not backing down from the Rockets. A big reason for that was because Javon McCrea was his usual beastly self, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks and enabling his team to keep pace and ultimately knot things up at 59 with a minute and a half to play. But just when the game appeared to be headed for overtime, Toledo point guard Julius “Juice” Brown made the magic happen, capping off an eight-point, 90 second stretch by receiving the second pass off a full-court inbounds play, hoisting from just inside the arc, and nailing a buzzer-beater to win the game, 67-65. It was one of the most exciting finishes you will see all season and an emphatic completion to an important win for the Rockets.

Despite the mid-week heroics, though, it was Saturday morning’s match-up at Akron that was supposed to provide the drama, with two teams pegged to win their respective divisions in the preseason and each featuring first-team all-conference talent. But as the game wore on, it became more evident that this was not going to be the hotly contested battle many thought — Toledo thoroughly and resolutely outplayed the Zips for much of the 40 minutes, pounding them on both ends of the glass and putting the game completely out of reach midway through the second half. Brown finished with his second straight 20+ point outing, while former Ohio State forward J.D. Weatherspoon — who has emerged as a vital paint presence in recent games — scored 20 points and secured a game-high 14 rebounds. The win was something of a statement for the Rockets, an assertion of dominance over a club predicted by many to win the league and return to the NCAA Tournament this season. Now 15-2, Kowalczyk’s group has regained its status as one of the more dangerous non-power conference teams in America, a position it hopes to maintain through MAC play and into the postseason. The wins over Buffalo and Akron were key steps on that path and important demonstrations of resiliency, earning Toledo our award for Team of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: George Washington (2-0: vs. VCU, @St. Bonaventure); Towson (2-0: @Drexel, @College of Charleston); UTEP (2-0: @Middle Tennessee State, @UAB).

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O26 Weekly Awards: Akron, Taylor Braun, Marvin Menzies & Texas Southern…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 25th, 2013

While this past week may have been devoid of many huge upsets or season-defining wins, there was certainly no shortage of great basketball games and interesting storylines across the O26 landscape. Just take Saturday, for example: There were 11 players who scored 30+ points, seven games that went to overtime, a few big boys taken down at home, an example of HAVOC on steroids, a MAC squad that improved to 11-0, an 81-possession game, a coast-to-coast buzzer beater… and a partridge in a pear tree. And remember, that was all in one day. So as Christmas is here, let’s take a moment to pass out some weekly honors to a few top performers.

O26 Team of the Week

Demetrius Treadwell and the Akron Zips had a fine week. (Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian)

Demetrius Treadwell and the Akron Zips had a fine week. (Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian)

Akron. Yes, the Zips were throttled over the final 13 minutes by Iowa State in Hawai’i on Monday, and no, they are not the aforementioned undefeated MAC team—that’s headline-generating Toledo. But over a three-game span last week, stretching from The JAR in Akron to the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Keith Dambrot’s group was nothing short of excellent. At home on Monday, Akron took an early lead on Southland favorite Oral Roberts and never relinquished control, as 6’7’’ forward Demetrius ‘Tree’ Treadwell recorded his first of three-straight double-doubles and the Zips forced 20 turnovers en route to a 10-point win. It was their best home win of the young season and a sign of good play to come. That is, until Wednesday, when things got off to extremely rocky start against Horizon League foe Detroit. At one point trailing 22-8 in the first half, the Zips saw their win probability dip below 30 percent and wound up taking a nine-point deficit into the locker room. To any clear-sighted onlooker it would have appeared that an upset was beginning to take hold… until the second half began. Seemingly at the drop of a hat, Akron took complete—and I mean complete—control of the basketball game, nailing three three-pointers in less than two minutes to tie it up and then proceeding to blitz the Titans out of the gym with a 58-point second half and a 19-point victory. It was an impressive run, and Treadwell finished with a superb 22-point, 13-rebound line. But it was by no means the team’s finest moment of the week.

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Holiday Hoops Mission Briefing: Oregon State In The Diamond Head Classic

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 21st, 2013

One Pac-12 early-season tournament remains, and we break down the road ahead this Christmas for Oregon State.

What They’ve Done So Far: If you could use one word to describe the start to Oregon State‘s season, strange would fit the bill. The Beavers opened with a loss to now 4-5 Coppin State, but they were without starting forward Devon Collier, who is averaging 21.3 PPG and 9.6 RPG, who served a one game suspension because of a failed drug test administered during the summer. They have since won six of their last seven, two of which coming against possible NCAA Tournament teams in Maryland and Towson.

Combo Forward Devon Collier Has Been A Force Down Low For The Beavers So Far This Season (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Combo Forward Devon Collier Has Been A Force Down Low For The Beavers So Far This Season (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

First Round Preview: The Beavers kickoff play in Honolulu on Sunday afternoon against Akron. Everything goes through senior forward Demetrius Treadwell for the Zips, who averages 14.6 PPG. But while Treadwell dominates the post, there are plenty of other targets that the soft Beaver defense will have to keep an eye on. Sophomore small forward Reggie McAdams has good range and has knocked down 12 of 25 three-point attempts for a 48% clip. Another senior big, Quincy Diggs is a top ten player in the MAC and can play any position except center. Diggs is the team’s second leading scorer, but his defense his key. When playing man, expect head coach Keith Dambrot to put him on the Beavers’ senior Roberto Nelson, who leads the team with 22.1 PPG. If the Zips have any shot of an at-large bid come March, they will need a win here, so I expect them to come out firing on all cylinders. This one should come down to a battle between Collier and Treadwell in the paint. The winner of that battle advances into the winner’s bracket. Definitely a game to watch late Sunday as you enter your Christmas vacation.

Potential Later Round Matchup: Considering the Beavers tend to play up to their competition, and that they will have a decided home court advantage with at least 300 Oregon State fans making the trip with the football team playing in the Hawaii Bowl two days later, I’m going to project a tight win and send them into a semifinal matchup, most likely against #17 Iowa State, who faces 5-4 George Mason in its opener. I don’t see the Beavs springing a Top 20 upset, however, and if the bracket holds to form, they would face Boise State in the third place game (less than 24 hours after the Beavers and Broncos meet on the gridiron across the way at Aloha Stadium). Another possible choice in that third game is Saint Mary’s, who comes to the Islands boasting a 9-0 record.

Outlook: For the Beavers to have any decent chance at the NCAA Tournament, they need two wins in Honolulu. And with teams like Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Arkansas-Pine Bluff dragging down Oregon State’s RPI, a trip to the winner’s bracket is also a must. A loss to Akron would mean George Mason on day two and most likely Hawaii in the final game, much less appealing games. You can catch Oregon State’s opener at 4:45 PM Pacific on Sunday on ESPNU.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Oregon State Beavers

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 26th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Oregon State Beavers

Strengths. Oregon State boasts one of the finest frontcourts in the conference. Starting the group off is senior Devon Collier, a strong small forward who can score either driving to the hoop or with a nifty little jumper. Senior center Angus Brandt missed the majority of last season after tearing his ACL in the fourth game of the year, and his ability to score from both inside and behind the arc took away a big threat from that team. Finally, there’s Eric Moreland. Moreland’s career in Corvallis has been an up-and-down one, including two “violation of team rules” suspensions in the past 10 months and a declaration for the NBA Draft (which he later pulled out of and decided to return). Now he is serving that second suspension and will miss the first 14 games of the 2013-14 campaign, but will provide a monster boost on both the glass and the defensive end of the court when he returns.

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Weaknesses. This team has very little experience on the bench. The backup point guard is Malcolm Duvivier, a true freshman who was originally in the Class of 2014 but reclassified to join the team immediately. Backing up Roberto Nelson at the two will be the newcomer that Beaver fans should be most excited about, Hallice Cooke out of St. Anthony High School (NY). And the best option to spell Brandt will be sophomore Olaf Schaftenaar, who shot a completely unnecessary amount of three-pointers his initial season in Corvallis, and at a 30.9% clip to boot.

Non-Conference Tests. A trip to College Park to face Maryland awaits Craig Robinson’s team just seven days after its season opener. DePaul isn’t exactly a “test,” but the Blue Demons present a challenge at home against the Beavers on December 1. The toughest stretch comes in the four games before Christmas break, beginning with a visit from Towson, a team that came from 19 down last year at Gill Coliseum to top the Beavers in overtime. After that they head to the Islands to face Akron in their Diamond Head Classic opener. Either Iowa State or George Mason will be on tap in the second game, and a solid group of choices, headlined by Saint Mary’s, are in play for the Christmas Day finale.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan 78, #5 VCU 53

Posted by Will Tucker on March 23rd, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 VCU and #12 Akron from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

McGary Was a Huge Factor for the Wolverines Today

McGary Was a Huge Factor for the Wolverines Today

  1. VCU had no answer for Mitch McGary in the post. Juvonte Reddic challenged him well on both ends of the floor in the opening minutes, but once Reddic picked up his second foul less than 7 minutes in, he had to sit. With Reddic out, McGary exploited the lack of size in the Rams’ frontcourt. David Hinton and Justin Tuoyo really struggled with his size, at which point 6’4 Troy Daniels and 6’5 Traveon Graham had the misfortune of alternating on McGary. Shaka was forced to put Juvonte Reddic back in two minutes before halftime with two fouls, and he picked up his third less than four minutes into the second half. McGary ended up with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and keyed advantages of 41-24 in rebounding and 12-6 in second-chance points.
  2. The Rams depleted all their hot shooting on Thursday. After hitting 8 of 16 threes and shooting 54% from the field in their blowout win over Akron, the Rams shot 30% in the first half and connected on just 1 of 8 threes. They ended the game at 40%, but most of the second half scoring took place effectively in garbage time. Perhaps VCU’s hot streak lulled them into complacency, or maybe the hostile crowd had an impact on them, but the result was the same. “The shots that were open, we just didn’t make,” said Rob Brandenberg. But the results are encouraging for Michigan fans that have heard their team’s defense disparaged all season.
  3. John Beilein beat Shaka Smart at his own game. Michigan dictated a frantic pace from the opening tip, with McGary cleaning the defensive glass and making outlets to Trey Burke, who deftly pushed the ball in transition with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. Michigan forced 11 VCU turnovers and built a +7 margin in points off turnovers, using stout transition defense and running the fast break to perfection. Burke was responsible for 7 of Michigan’s 12 turnovers, but he atoned with 7 assists and 18 points. It was a brilliant strategy that demonstrated the versatility of John Beilein’s team and the preparatory abilities of its coach, who typically isn’t mentioned in the same group as Tom Izzo and Coach K. His game plan helped Michigan reach its first Sweet Sixteen in 19 years.

Star of the Game. Mitch McGary (21 points, 14 rebounds) was the single most dominant player on the court today. While Michigan’s guards beat the VCU press and got McGary open looks, it was the freshman center who controlled the pace of the game with his work on the defensive glass and superlative hustle on defense. McGary helped keep Reddic benched with fouls, he disrupted driving lanes for VCU’s guards, and he set crushing screens in the set offense to open space for Burke, Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 VCU 88, #12 Akron 42

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 VCU and #12 Akron from Auburn Hills. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. As if there was any doubt, VCU proved it’s back in Tournament form. After losing a tough Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament championship to Saint Louis, the Rams showed no semblance of a hangover. They mercilessly inflicted their havoc system on Akron for 40 minutes, generating 34 points off of 22 Akron turnovers, 20 of which came on fast breaks. A Zips player told reporters after the game, “We used so much energy trying to get the ball up the court that we couldn’t guard them.” After shooting below 34% and hitting 3-of-18 three-point attempts against SLU, the Rams found their range in their NCAA opener, draining 8-of-16 from beyond the arc and shooting 54% overall.

    Shaka Smart and his fiest VCU squad jumped all over Akron Thursday night. (Getty)

    Shaka Smart and his fiest VCU squad jumped all over Akron Thursday night. (Getty)

  2. Lack of size didn’t hamper the Rams against the bigger Zips and 7’ senior Zeke Marshall. There were concerns that VCU’s undersized frontcourt would be a significant liability in the Tournament, but in their first game the Rams used a collaborative effort to defend and rebound inside. 6’9″, 235-pound Juvonte Reddic, the team’s biggest starter, scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed five boards. His teammates did the rest, as five of them grabbed three or more rebounds, helping to build advantages of 36 to 29 in rebounding and 40 to 28 in points in the paint.
  3. The game was essentially over after VCU doubled up on Akron 50-25 at halftime, but Shaka Smart didn’t let up. The Rams again doubled Akron’s scoring in the second half, led by 48 with 6 minutes left, and their 46-point margin of victory was apparently the largest ever in a 6/12 seeding matchup. This was particularly uncomfortable because Smart and Akron coach Keith Dambrot are close friends, but the Zips coach said it wasn’t a disrespectful gesture. “He’s got a job to do. His job is to prepare his team to win the next game, and I don’t take any offense to it,” Dambrot said. For his part, Shaka insisted the Zips were victims of circumstance and a poor matchup, and that he called off his trap with nine minutes left and his press with seven remaining. “There was a lot of time on the clock. We’re not just going to fall back in a zone, that’s not what we do,” Smart said.

Star of the GameTroy Daniels edged Reddic for this one after scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, hit 6-of-11 threes, and grabbed five rebounds in 21 minutes. Most importantly, the 6’4″ senior guard atoned for a scoreless performance in 17 minutes against SLU.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan 71, #13 South Dakota State 56

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. Will is covering the Auburn Hills pod of the Midwest Region. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Both teams tried their hand at defense, but their true characters shown through. A deceptive low number of possessions in the low-scoring first half obscured the fact that both teams shot above 40%, and the second half showcase the offensive efficiency of the Wolverines and Jackrabbits as the pace picked up. Both teams came into this game averaging around 65 possessions, but the uptempo pace played to Michigan’s favor once Nate Wolters went cold and couldn’t keep up with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.

    Tim Hardaway Jr. had an outstanding game for Michigan. (Getty)

    Tim Hardaway Jr. had an outstanding game for Michigan. (Getty)

  2. Michigan was uncharacteristically careless with the ball against a mediocre defensive team in the first half, but they actually settled down once the pace picked up. The Wolverines turned it over seven times in the first half, approaching their average of 9.2 per game, but would only commit 2 turnovers after halftime despite playing at a frenzied pace. It bodes well for the Wolverines should they end up facing VCU’s “havoc” press in the Third Round, and it’s encouraging that Trey Burke managed the game well despite starting 0-of-7 from the field with two early turnovers. The point guard finished with seven assists and didn’t cough it up again for the rest of the game.
  3. Michigan enjoyed a much more noticeable home-court advantage than did their rivals from East Lansing earlier in the day. That’s not to disparage the Spartans, because the first session still boasted an attendance of nearly 19,000. But several factors –– weekday afternoon versus evening; a high-octane, offense-oriented opponent led by a cult-superstar point guard –– made the Wolverines’ first tournament game much more festive, energetic and well attended. Nate Wolters repeated after the game that he didn’t believe the atmosphere affected his team’s play, but Hardaway suggested the familiar environment helped his shooting: “We’ve played here before last year, so we know what to expect out of the court and out of the rims. It felt good.” 

Star of the Game. Tie: Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. While Trey Burke struggled to get it going, Hardaway essentially kept the Jackrabbits from building a substantial lead, hitting four first-half three pointers to pace Brayden Carlson and Nate Wolters. In the second half, Robinson took over where Hardaway left off, draining four 3-pointers in the first three and a half minutes. The two combined for 42 points on 16 of 22 shooting, hitting 8 of 10 from beyond the arc.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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Bracket Prep: Akron, Louisville, Northwestern State, Montana, Oregon, Pacific & New Mexico State

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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Saturday’s flurry of bid snatching wound down out West and left us with a near-complete picture of the puzzle. Just four automatic bids remain to be earned on Selection Sunday. As we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.

Akron

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

  • MAC Champion (26-6, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #49/#54/#62
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Last year’s Tournament darlings, the Ohio Bobcats, saw their shot at a return bid die on Saturday night, but don’t be surprised if their conquerors put some of that MAC mojo to use again this year. The Akron Zips turned in one of the most impressive performances of the day, comprehensively picking apart a good Ohio team en route to the MAC Tournament title. A pair of late regular season losses had recently killed the bubble talk surrounding the Zips, but let’s not forget how they entered the conversation in the first place. Keith Dambrot’s club ripped off 19 straight wins between December 15th and March 2nd in what still measures up as the longest winning streak in all of college basketball this season.
  2. Akron is as well-rounded a mid-major as you will find, but the Zips truest strength lies in a tougher-than-nails frontcourt. Demetrius Treadwell is the team’s second leading scorer at 11.4 PPG and leading rebounder at 7.9 RPG. His crafty, below-the-rim game may not be the sexiest, but it’s a great complement to the other important Zip on the interior, 7’0” Zeke Marshall. Marshall is the team’s leading scorer (13 PPG) and one of the nation’s leaders in FG percentage at 66%, but the big senior truly excels on the defensive side of the ball. He boasts the 4th best block percentage in the country (14.1%), and is, quite literally, a huge reason why Akron is one of the 20 best teams in the country in effective field goal percentage defense.
  3. The March suspension of point guard Alex Abreu (for drug charges) momentarily shook the team, but back-to-back good wins provide Keith Dambrot with some hope that his team has moved on, however much the loss of Abreu (10.3 PPG, 6.0 APG) hurts on the floor. Freshman Carmelo Betancourt has seen his minutes rise from 10 to 26 a game since the Abreu suspension, but the youngster will certainly not be asked to replicate Abreu’s production. The Zips have won with a balanced, team approach all season long, and the “next man up” attitude should come naturally for Betancourt and others. Dont overlook that even before that 19-game surge, the Zips beat Middle Tennessee State, pounded Penn State (by 25) and took OK State to overtime. Could a MAC team crash the Big Dance for the second straight season?

Louisville

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

  • Big East Champion (29-5, 17-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #3/#2/#1
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +19.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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ATB: Buzzer-Beaters Galore, Conference Tournament Aplenty and Bubble Consolidation…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 11th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC C0lumnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. Regular Season Finale. The end is here. Sad, isn’t it? When I say end, I don’t mean the real end. That comes later, at the end of the greatest tournament in American sports. No, what I’m referring to is the regular season, the five-month long slog that took us through the uncertain fall months of non-conference play, across the New Year into a rugged conference landscape, and finally, into the brink of league tourney season. Other than the official crowning of regular season conference champions, select NCAA bids handed out in smaller leagues and a spate of meaningful bubble movement, nothing really happened over the weekend. It was sort of ordinary – if ordinary means a continuation of the craziness we’ve witnessed all season. So without further ado, I present your final regular season weekend ATB. Let’s have at it…

Your Watercooler Moment. The Big Ten Title Bout. 

A Big Ten Title was just one of the benefits Indiana will enjoy in the wake of a huge win at Michigan (Gettty Images).

A Big Ten Title was just one of the benefits Indiana will enjoy in the wake of a huge win at Michigan (Gettty Images).

The Big Ten regular season championship was up for grabs when the league’s five top teams (Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State) began action Sunday afternoon. The basic expectation was that Indiana, after being manhandled at home by Ohio State earlier this week, would lose at Michigan to open up the conference crown to all kinds of contingencies and x-way split scenarios. The Buckeyes wanted a piece of the pie; Tom Izzo’s team didn’t want to be left out; and the Wolverines, well, their fate was in their own hands. The thinking was absolutely on point – the Buckeyes showed Tuesday night in Bloomington what grit and defensive focus and physicality can do to the nation’s most efficient offense, how it can throw Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford into a funk and render the Hoosiers’ hot jump shooters mostly impotent for large stretches. The optics of IU’s postgame celebration – a major national talking point the next day, oddly enough – only increased the wackiness of the entire situation. IU had fallen in a game it was widely expected to win, and the postgame ceremony was expected to include not just a celebration of Indiana’s seniors, but also the official honoring of the Hoosiers’ first outright Big Ten title since 1993. It took another five days before checking that second box, but Indiana got its long-coveted conference title. The Hoosiers sunk Michigan (and its conference title hopes) in the final minute on a debilitating string of missed UM free throws, six consecutive IU points, a crucial layup from Cody Zeller and a whole lot of late-game savvy in front of a deafening Crisler Center crowd.

An outright conference title is just one of the prizes IU shored up Sunday. Another? The inside track on landing the Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis) hosting site for the NCAA Tournament, where red-and-white partisans will turn any IU game into a virtual home court advantage. Then there’s the NPOY implications – the fact that Oladipo, in the biggest game of the season, came up huge with 14 points, 13 rebounds (not to mention Zeller’s 25/10, if you still believe in Zeller’s outside shot at the POY awards) and his usual brand of supercharged defensive disruptiveness, and that Trey Burke just couldn’t get his team over the hump when it mattered most. Yes, Indiana won a lot more than standings supremacy over the nation’s toughest league. Just days after a puzzling loss, the Hoosiers now roll into postseason play with utmost confidence in their ability to make good on the preseason No. 1 ranking.

Also Worth Chatting About. Wildcats Buck up in Must-Win Finale.

The Wildcats seized the biggest resume boost available in the SEC by knocking off Florida at home (Getty Images).

The Wildcats seized the biggest resume boost available in the SEC by knocking off Florida at home (Getty Images).

Like any historically dominant sports entity, Kentucky has its share of location-agnostic dissidents within its sport. It is one of two teams, along with Duke, to drown in the national hatred. The Wildcats are blue, well-funded, a self-generating news cycle and in most seasons, good. Kentucky is good; oceans hold water; the sky is blue (you get the point). Making that argument would have seemed a bit silly for much of this season, with the possible exception of a mid-season stretch where the Wildcats tore off five straight wins, watched Nerlens Noel develop into a bona fide defensive star and potential lottery pick, and laid waste to most of the NCAA Tournament doubts heaved their way during an uninspiring non-conference performance. When Noel lost his season to an ACL injury in a road defeat at Florida, the stakes changed. Kentucky needed to show the selection committee that it belonged in the Tournament without its best and most important player. It needed to prove it was good, again. The only sign of goodness prior to Saturday from this current UK team came in an inspired overtime win over Missouri. The rest of the Wildcats’ Noel-less work, including road losses at Arkansas and Georgia, was less than inspiring. Kentucky had work to do before its at-large credentials could be considered even reasonably acceptable by selection committee standards.

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Morning Five: 03.08.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 8th, 2013

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  1. What appeared to be a historic season for Akron could be on the verge of going down in flames after Alex Abreu, its starting point guard (10.3 points and 6 assists per game), was arrested on drug charges and suspended indefinitely. Abreu was arrested on third-degree felony drug trafficking charges after receiving a shipment of marijuana from undercover officers. With Abreu out the Zips will be susceptible to an upset in the MAC Tournament. Although their record suggests that they could be in the conversation for an at-large bid if they were to lose late in the MAC Tournament, the ongoing absence of Abreu would most likely put them on the outside of the bubble looking in.
  2. Akron is not the only school that will be missing a key piece for a potential March run as Colorado announced that Andre Roberson is out indefinitely after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. The loss of Roberson, the leading rebounder in the country at 11.5 per game, is a big one as he had grabbed over 30% of the team’s total rebounds heading into last night’s game. Like Akron, Colorado is already on the bubble, but thankfully for the Buffaloes they have a bit more wiggle room than the Zips as nobody on the NCAA Selection Committee would have been expecting the Buffaloes to win the Pac-12 Tournament even before Roberson’s illness.
  3. We hear coaches make  ridiculous comments about how important each game is, but we still find Rick Pitino‘s statement that Louisville’s game on Saturday against Notre Dame is the most important home game the school has played during his 12 seasons there amusing. Pitino’s rationale is that not only are the Cardinals playing for at least a share of the Big East regular title and that they will be ” saying goodbye to two really, really special young men.” We can appreciate Pitino’s desire to win the school’s second Big East title since he got there, but we don’t quite get what makes this game so much more important than the others that led to the one that put them in position to win the Big East regular season title. As for the “two really, really special young men” that he is talking about we are assuming he means Peyton Siva (senior) and Gorgui Dieng (a junior, but assumed to be leaving) who the school will be honoring before the game. Again we do not get what puts these two ahead of the other significant players who were played their last home game for the Cardinals during the past 12 seasons. Having said that we wish Pitino the best of luck in their most important home game ever. Until the next one.
  4. It seems like almost every year a handful of writers churn out columns suggesting that there is “parity” in college basketball citing anecdotal evidence. Peter Tiernan decided to take a semi-scientific look at it and based on his analysis of how often non-power conference teams make the NCAA Tournament and how they perform against seed expectation and it is not that clear that there is as much parity as some would think. Breaking the past 28 NCAA Tournaments (when it expanded to 64 teams) into distinct 7-year eras he notes that the most recent era has the fewest non-power conference teams in the NCAA Tournament although those teams do tend to perform much better than their seeding would suggest. Tiernan does point out that the latter is aided by the fact that non-power conference teams tend to have significantly lower seeds than power conference teams making it relatively easier to outperform their seed. We are not sure we buy Tiernan’s assertion that this argues against the idea of parity as it might actually suggest that non-power conference teams are not getting the respect they deserve from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee although that would probably need a matched-pair analysis of performance of teams with similar seedings from power and non-power conferences.
  5. The Super Bowl halftime show is a much bigger announcement, but we doubt that they have a more eclectic mix of musical talent than the Final Four based on the announced line-up–Dave Matthews Band, Sting, Muse, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Flo Rida, Ludacris, and others–for this year’s Final Four. We won’t pretend to be fans (or even that familiar) with all of the acts, but we have to give the NCAA credit for picking a diverse group of bands as the listed line-up seems to cover most of the music genres we think that fans at the Final Four might be interested in outside of country music, but we are pretty sure you can find that in or around Atlanta if you are really looking for it.
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