Morning Five: 05.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 16th, 2014

morning5

  1. Pundits have been proposing ideas on how to increase scoring and make college basketball more entertaining for years. One of the most common suggestions has been to reduce the shot clock from the current 35 seconds towards the NBA standard of 24 seconds. The ACC might not be willing to go that far, but they will be using a 30-second shot clock during exhibition games this coming season and give its feedback to the men’s basketball rules committee. We doubt that we will see this in regular season games for several years at the earliest, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out and how teams adapt to the changes.
  2. Speaking of the ACC, they will be moving the ACC Tournament from its traditional Sunday afternoon slot–the one it has been in since 1982–to Saturday night in prime time. According to the ACC the reason for doing so is to move into the 8:30 PM time slot on ESPN on Saturday traditionally the conference formerly known as the Big East as well similar spots on Friday night. Although the conference is not saying it publicly we would not be surprised if the NCAA also encouraged them to move it forward to give the Selection Committee more time to finalize its seeding.
  3. The NCAA released its APR scores on Wednesday revealing that eight schools–Alabama State, Appalachian State, Florida A&M, Houston Baptist, Lamar, San Jose State, Central Arkansas, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee–will be ineligible for the 2015 NCAA Tournament. None of these names comes close to having an effect on the national title picture so Mark Emmert won’t get called out at the 2016 Final Four by any of the players from these teams, but there are a couple of notable things about this group. The first is that three of the schools are from the Southland Conference meaning that over 20% of the conference cannot play in the NCAA Tournament. The other is that Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which won the Horizon League Conference Tournament last year after going 7-9 in conference regular season play will also be ineligible. Outside of that we have to wonder how much some schools are getting players to graduate or not count against their score just to keep themselves eligible rather than helping the student-athlete. We assume that some schools are already doing this and that the ones that are failing to meet the scores probably just are not doing a good enough job of it.
  4. If you were expecting Georgia Tech to be competitive in the ACC this season you might want to adjust your expectations after Robert Carter, who averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds as a sophomore despite suffering a torn meniscus in January. Carter, who was the star of Brian Gregory’s first recruiting class at Georgia Tech, has not announced where he is planning on transferring or even his reason for transferring, but the school has already come out and said that he will not be allowed to transfer to Georgia. With several players graduating and Carter transferring, Marcus Georges-Hunt will be the only one of its top five scorers from last season returning this season. On the bright side for Gregory, he already has an extension through 2018 that he signed at the end of last season and we doubt that Georgia Tech would be willing to buy out the rest of his contract.
  5. Jermaine Lawrence will transfer from Cincinnati to be closer to his father, who is suffering from an undisclosed illness. Although Lawrence’s performance last season (2.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game) might not seem like much of a loss he was the second-highest-rated recruit during Mick Cronin’s time at Cincinnati as he was a consensus top-25 recruit. Lawrence is expected to transfer to a school closer to his home in Springfield Gardens, New York (basically New York City) and given the way that transfer waivers have been granted we would expect him to be able to play next season if he chooses to do so. With his pedigree and his options close to New York City he should have plenty of options about where to head to next.
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Conference Tournament Primer: SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 12th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet 10 more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Southland, SWAC, Mountain West and Atlantic 10.

Dates: March 12-15
Site: Toyota Center (Houston)

2014 swac bracket

What to expect: The most bizarre conference tournament you’ve ever seen. Four of the league’s 10 teams are ineligible for postseason play due to low APR scores yet the SWAC is allowing that quartet to compete in the conference tourney. That means that the eligible team that advances the furthest in the bracket will win the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In case of a tie — multiple eligible teams advancing to the same round but no further — the highest-seeded team — second-seeded Texas Southern is the leader in the clubhouse — would advance to the Big Dance. Crazy, right? Just imagine how weird it will feel if a team loses in the tournament championship game and still gets to celebrate an NCAA Tournament bid. The SWAC hasn’t won a non-play-in game in the NCAA Tournament since Southern beat Georgia Tech in 1993.

Favorite: Texas Southern. I guess I’ll go with the favorite to make the NCAA Tournament. This is all so confusing. Top-seeded Southern, the team that won a game by 104 points earlier this year, should actually win the SWAC Tournament. But thanks to APR issues, the Jaguars aren’t eligible for the Big Dance. So Texas Southern is the favorite to go dancing.

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Morning Five: 07.01.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 1st, 2013

morning5

  1. We have expressed our feelings about the use of family hardships waivers by players to avoid having to sit out a year, but the case of Joseph Young may raise the stakes. Young, who led Houston in scoring last season with 18 points per game, left the program after his father decided to quit rather than be reassigned within the program. On Friday, Young announced that he will be transferring to Oregon and there is some speculation that he will apply for a hardship waiver because his father is no longer at Houston. As we have noted before we have our qualms about the use of hardship waivers to be able to play right away, which go beyond the scope of this space (as would our commentary on whether players should have to sit out at all when transferring when their coaches can move around without suffering any adverse consequences), but letting a player get a waiver because his father did not like taking a different job with the same pay seems like a stretch in terms of family hardship no matter what your perspective is.
  2. We usually see transfers going up or down a level, but the move to a program of similar caliber is much less common. So the move by Zach Price from Louisville to Missouri is somewhat unique, but given the circumstances should not be that surprising. Price, who entered Louisville as a highly touted big man, only averaged 1.7 points per game as a sophomore as he was stuck behind a rotation of solid frontcourt players and saw limited playing time. Price will join a growing contingent of transfers at Missouri which is quickly becoming Transfer U with its lineup largely built around transfers.
  3. Thursday night was a big night for many former high school stars, but it was also a disappointing for many who had what were considered legitimate NBA dreams a few years ago. Perhaps the best example of this is Renardo Sidney, who was considered a can’t miss prospect coming out of high school, but had a complicated and disappointing college career to put it mildly. Following the NBA Draft Dana O’Neil tried to track down the enigmatic Sidney and while she was unsuccessful her inability to even find out where he was living should serve as a cautionary tale to the next sure thing.
  4. Package deals are not a particularly novel idea in the world of college recruitment, but the manner in which Isaiah Whitehead and Ja’Quan Newton announced the possibility that they would be a package deal–through a series of tweets–is somewhat unique. Whitehead, a five-star  shooting guard, and Newton, a four-star point guard, are reportedly looking at several schools with Minnesota and Syracuse being the leaders. With the possibility of adding two top-50 players you can be sure that the recruitment of these two players will heat up.
  5. When the NCAA announced this spring that it was banning several schools from postseason play it led to outrage among some individuals as it appeared to primarily affect schools with less resources in particular historically black colleges. Now at least one of those schools–Alabama State–has been declared eligible for postseason play after the school submitted additional data leading the NCAA to withdraw its initial sanctions. One of the more interesting aspects of this announcement is how it will affect the players who transferred from Alabama State with the expectation that they would be able to play next year as the NCAA grants a waiver to athletes transferring from a school banned from the postseason due to a low APR score. Now that Alabama State’s postseason ban has been overturned the NCAA will have to make a decision on how to proceed with determining the eligibility of those players.
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ACC Game On: 12.19.11 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on December 19th, 2011

After a week that featured only a single game, this weekend worked out pretty well for the ACC. Of the nine games played over the course of the weekend, all but one of them was a victory. The exception? North Carolina State‘s loss against top-ranked Syracuse. While Syracuse pulled away at the end of the game, the Wolfpack still managed to hang for most of the game, showing some real moxie in their biggest game to date.  Now, however, most teams enter into one of the odder stages of the college basketball schedule: the soft end of the non-conference schedule. While some teams still have a few tough tune-ups leading up to conference play, this stretch of games features some of the most lopsided games these teams will see all season. Still, there’s something to be said for blowouts: most folks who make predictive basketball models find big wins against inferior opponents to be more informative in terms of a team’s future performance than a close win against a roughly equal foe. Seeing who takes care of business and who stumbles could provide some critical insight into the  future fortunes of these teams.

Gottfried's Team Played #1 Syracuse Tough, But Couldn't Hang for 40 Minutes

If I Had To Pick One

  • North Florida at Virginia Tech at 7:00 PM on ESPN3.com

Let me be frank, none of these matchups tonight should be very competitive, but if I had to pick one of these games to watch for an upset, it would be this one. North Florida is one of the most battle-tested teams in the country, having already played Alabama, Florida, Miami, Ohio State, and Kansas State. All of these games were losses, but North Florida managed to take Kansas State to overtime, and they are not going to be fazed or starstruck playing the Hokies. They will come in prepared and ready to challenge. Virginia Tech is dominant in every possible comparison or matchup between the two teams, but UNF’s ability to play capable defense and their experience against big-time competition gives them an outside shot at upsetting the potentially rusty Hokies, who haven’t played against a tough opponent since December 4.

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ACC Game On: 12.14.11 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on December 14th, 2011

It’s a slow basketball week in the Atlantic Coast Conference as students presumably take exams and wrap up their semester by focusing on their academics. Or play a lot of video games. Something like that. In any case, there is only one interesting matchup the entire week and thank your lucky stars — it’s going down tonight.

The Only ACC Game Between Sunday and Saturday

  • Florida International at Maryland at 7:30 PM on ESPN

Okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly a great game, but it’s all we have until Saturday so let’s try to look at the interesting parts about it. Isiah Thomas‘s team is not a good one. Despite a season-opening overtime win over George Mason, the team has only managed to win two more times. Two-point wins against the likes of Coastal Carolina and Stephen F. Austin aren’t impressive, but at least they are wins. FIU also has more than a couple of bad losses on the books including losses to Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and NAIA school Texas Wesleyan, a school best known in athletics for it’s dominance/scholarships in table tennis. Maryland should win this game to get its third win in a row. The reasons why the Terrapins don’t take this in a walk? The few strengths of the Panthers align well with Maryland’s weaknesses. The Panthers are a good offensive rebounding team while Maryland struggles on the defensive glass. Likewise, outside of the remarkable Terrell Stoglin, the Terrapins guards have had trouble maintaining control of the ball while the Panthers have been fairly effective at forcing turnovers. It’s a long shot, but if FIU gets easy buckets off turnovers, a good number of second chance shots, and gets hot against Maryland’s indifferent defense, they have a reasonable shot at the win. Otherwise, the Terrapins should dominate every other facet of the game, and, provided they take the game seriously, should win easily.

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930 And You: The 2011 Tournament Under The New APR Rule

Posted by jstevrtc on August 17th, 2011

The new APR rule is a fact. 930 Or Bust is happening. So let’s talk about it.

On the ESPN blog last week, Diamond Leung, a gentleman we’re happy to file under Official Friend Of RTC, posted an article in which he listed the 12 teams that would not have been eligible to compete if the new APR standard had been applied to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. #1-seed Ohio State? Watching from home. Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State? Sorry, they’d have been studying for finals and not playing basketball. Leung also noted how eventual champion Connecticut would not be invited to the 2012 edition to defend its title since, according to the latest numbers, over the 2006-07 to 2009-10 academic periods the Huskies managed an APR of just 893. They could go undefeated throughout the entire 2011-12 season and it wouldn’t matter. In that scenario they’d win as many NCAA Tournament games as Centenary.

Bill Carmody and Northwestern (18-13) May Have Been Dancing Last Year, Had the New APR Rule Been In Play

Mr. Leung’s article got us thinking: if there would have been 12 fewer teams in the Dance last March, who would have replaced them? Among the unlucky 12, seven were automatic qualifiers through conference tournament titles and five were at-large entries. A quick examination of who would have replaced the disqualified teams shows how putting a binary, all-or-nothing, you’re-in-or-you’re out emphasis on a specific number would have affected the Tournament; as you’ll see, the reverberations go deeper than just the aforementioned 12 teams.

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Morning Five: 06.28.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on June 28th, 2011

  1. Coaches whose teams participated in the First Four in Dayton last March were repeatedly asked if they felt like they were part of “the real NCAA Tournament.” Our favorite answer came from VCU’s Shaka Smart, who noted that the backdrop behind him in the interview area was bedecked with NCAA logos and there was a big one in the middle of the court. Then his team went out and obliterated any future need for anyone to ask that question. We enjoyed the First Four — not just for the games, but because we also got to meet USC’s Song Girls (thank you, God), say hello to Kyle Whelliston and Bally, and groove with the bands from VCU (“You don’t wanna go to waaaaaar!…”) and Alabama State, the latter of which absolutely brought the house down and should have sold CDs at the door. Dayton has earned the right to keep this event. It belongs there. For the next couple of years, at least, it looks like the NCAA agrees. Don’t start no stuff, won’t be no stuff.
  2. What would you say to making just a shade over $5.4 million for each of the next eight years? Counting endorsements and incentives, that’s what Kentucky will be direct-depositing, on average, into John Calipari’s bank account from now until 2019 after a little re-working and extending of his contract. The Lexington Herald-Leader’s John Clay points out that, despite the big dollar amounts and talk of seasons in the distant future, all of this isn’t as meaningful as it sounds, since (like most big-time coaches) Calipari can leave any time he wants with little to no penalty. And we agree with Mr. Clay’s assertion that if Calipari leaves for the NBA someday, it will be for one reason and one reason only, and it has nothing to do with money.
  3. It’s been a tough couple of years for former Oklahoma State head coach Sean Sutton, to say the least, but now he’s officially back into coaching. Sutton has fought a lengthy battle with an addiction to prescription painkillers and was arrested in February of 2010 for attempted possession of controlled substances after leaving a rehab program. His brother Scott, the head coach at Oral Roberts, brought Sean aboard as an unpaid advisor last season, but obviously those volunteering days are over with Sean’s promotion to lead assistant. We hope it’s safe to assume that his ascent at ORU indicates that he’s doing well and staying clean. Glad to hear it.
  4. This Ed O’Bannon “likenesses lawsuit” still has a little life, yet, though it’s not clear how much. Yesterday, a cease-and-desist letter was sent by O’Bannon’s attorney (who also represents other previous athletes who’ve joined up) to ESPN, CBS, and other major media entities alerting them to the fact that they have no right to use the names, images, or likenesses of former college athletes without asking. Like any threat, a cease-and-desist letter is only as powerful as the punishment that could follow if the recipient doesn’t comply, which in this case is…well, nothing, right now. But if someone with power decides in the future that these guys have a point and the law then changes, O’Bannon’s representatives can now at least say, “Yeah, you were warned.”
  5. You may have heard that Jeff Goodman is now the FNG over in CBS Sports’ college basketball wing, which means that 1) he’s getting hazed like a freshman pledge by Seth Davis and Gary Parrish, and 2) Parrish got the first pick in the mock draft for 2012 that the two gentlemen posted yesterday. Seniority and all that, you know. Interesting picks and enjoyable comments reside therein, especially for a couple of rabid fanbases whose schools — we’re not going to tell you who they are, but they’re more loaded than Christina Hendricks — produced six of the first ten picks in the thing.
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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part II

Posted by KDoyle on March 17th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.

Call it what you want with this seemingly erroneous preamble of the NCAA Tournament known as the “First Four,” but the opening game of this year’s edition of the Dance could not have been much more entertaining. We have already had a clutch shot in the final seconds and an overtime game under our belts. Many people will not even remember that UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock even partook in the Tournament, but for a few hours last evening the stage was all theirs. Even if it is merely a play-in game—errr, first round game—this is the NCAA Tournament and keen basketball observers were no doubt glued to their screens and smartphones last night tracking the game.

Just as a refresher in case you missed yesterday’s look into the Other 26 teams in the East and West Regions, I elected to break down the 16 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here.

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(8, Southwest) UNLV—After the conclusion of the 2010 Tournament, there is no doubt that a bitter taste was left in UNLV’s mouth. The Runnin’ Rebels lost to Northern Iowa in the final minute and then two nights later, in one of the gutsiest shots in Tournament history, Ali Farokhmanesh drilled a three from the wing to seal the victory over Kansas. UNLV had to painfully watch the remainder of the Tournament and endure the arduous offseason pondering the question: “Why couldn’t that have been us?” Now, UNLV is in a similar situation, as they are in the 8 vs. 9 game again. They are an experienced bunch with Tournament experience under their belts; if they are fortunate enough to get by Illinois, they will ironically play none other than Kansas.

(12, Southwest) Richmond—The Spiders were upset by St. Mary’s last year, and this year they are the ones who will have to be playing spoiler. Richmond has arguably the most dynamic player in the field with 6’10 senior forward Justin Harper. To make a comparison, Harper is the Atlantic 10’s version of Dirk Nowitzki. Although he spends most of his time inside the arc, his ability to step outside and hit a three poses endless match-up problems for opponents. Harper is complemented nicely by his running mate Kevin Anderson. Richmond matches up well against Vanderbilt, but containing John Jenkins—maybe the best shooter in the Tournament—will be a challenge. Expect a variety of match-up and 2-3 zones from Chris Mooney.

 

Harper is a Tough Matchup for Vandy

(3, Southeast) BYU—It is painfully obvious that the loss of Brandon Davies has detrimentally affected BYU’s play considerably; in the first game after his absence the Cougars were thrashed by New Mexico 82-64 on their home floor. While there is little doubt that Jimmer Fredette is the face of the program and their top player, the country is now officially seeing that there is much more going on in Provo, Utah, that can be attributed to BYU’s success  other than simply Fredette. While a deep run no doubt becomes more difficult without the services of Davies, the backcourt of Fredette and Jackson Emery has the ability to carry the Cougars to the second weekend.

(9, Southeast) Old Dominion—ODU presents all of the intangibles to be successful in the Tournament. They have an intelligent and proven coach in Blaine Taylor, a senior-laden team with NCAA experience, and the confidence that they belong here and can win—especially after knocking off Notre Dame as an 11 seed last year. It is more than merely intangibles for ODU though. The Monarchs are quite possibly the best rebounding team in the field, incredibly tough on the defensive end—according to Frank Hassell: “We go 50% man and 50% zone”—and run a deliberate offense that minimizes their opposition’s possessions. Blaine Taylor has created a formula for his team to have success in the NCAA Tournament.

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RTC Live: First Four — Day Two

Posted by jstevrtc on March 16th, 2011

Tonight, two more from the First Four in Dayton. First, at 6:30 PM ET, SWAC Tournament champions Alabama State take on Texas-San Antonio, winners of the Southland Conference tournament. ASU prides itself on its defense, ranking in the top 30 nationally in turnovers forced and 2FG%. The Roadrunners, on the other hand, are more of a balanced squad and will look to speed things up. The Hornets won’t shy from a fast pace, but as good as their defense within the three-point arc is, their defense of the three point shot ranks as one of the worst in the game, so you can bet UTSA will look for long range opportunities in transition. The winner gets overall #1 Ohio State on Friday.

The second game has a pair of at-large bid earners battling for the right to face Georgetown in Chicago in 48 hours. Nikola Vucevic averaged a double-double (17.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG) this year and Alex Stepheson (10/9.2) wasn’t far from one, but they and the rest of their USC mates will have their hands full trying to keep up with a VCU team that launches threes with abandon. It will also be interesting to see if the Rams play with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder; since the bracket was released on Sunday, VCU (along with UAB) has been treated like an uninvited guest who shows up at a party and then promptly knocks over the drink table.

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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part I

Posted by KDoyle on March 15th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

By now, we have all read, watched, and heard the breakdown of those teams fortunate enough to have earned a top seed in this year’s Tournament. We know Pittsburgh has the easiest road to Houston of the four #1 seeds—or do they? Georgetown, with Chris Wright returning to the lineup, is poised to make a run to the second weekend. Ohio State and Kansas are the favorites to advance to the Final Four according to many of the so-called experts. They can only review so many times how teams with Tournament experience traditionally perform well, and that having a formidable frontcourt is essential to reaching the Final Four. But, what about those pesky teams from the Other 26 conferences? While there are several popular teams that have the capability of playing the role of Cinderella this year that have received ample coverage—Belmont, Utah State and Oakland just to name a few—let’s dive in and investigate the fifteen O26 teams on the left-hand side of the bracket: the East and West Regions. Yes, even you, Texas-San Antonio and Long Island, are getting some love here.

I elected to break down the 15 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(6, East) Xavier—Despite a setback to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Xavier breezed through their conference schedule with their only loss coming to Charlotte. Subsequently, they are one of the hotter teams entering the Tournament and possess one of the most dynamic and potent point guards in the country in Tu Holloway. The Musketeers’ date with Marquette in the first round is one of the most intriguing early match-ups of the tournament. Getting by the Golden Eagles would undoubtedly give them confidence against another Big East foe in Syracuse in the following round. Bare in mind, Xavier has reached the Sweet 16 in the past three NCAA Tournaments.

Tu Holloway Makes the XU Offense Go

(2, West) San Diego State—The Aztecs are one of the best feel good stories of the entire year. They have a very likable team with guys like D.J. Gay and Kawhi Leonard being the face of the program, and Steve Fisher’s journey back to the top of the college basketball world has been great to watch. San Diego State sprinted through their entire regular season schedule with their only two blemishes coming at the hands of Jimmer Fredette and BYU. The play of Gay in the backcourt and Leonard in the frontcourt makes it hard for any opponent to cope with. SDSU will look to avenge their first round loss to Tennessee in last year’s tournament with a much deeper run this year.

(7, West) Temple—In the illustrious career of Fran Dunphy, the longtime coach has never won an NCAA Tournament game. After a strong non-conference performance that translated to a 14-2 record in the Atlantic 10, Temple seems poised to give Dunphy that first “W.” The Owls are one of the best defensive teams in the tournament, which will suite them well for Penn State’s hard-nosed and methodical offense. The match-up featuring Ramone Moore and Talor Battle will no doubt be a great one that may determine the outcome of the game.

Can win a game

(8, East) George Mason—The nation is finally witnessing the highly touted recruits that Jim Larranaga attracted to George Mason following their magical Final Four run back in 2006. The play of Ryan Pearson and Cam Long has been nothing short of exceptional during the second half of the season as GMU won 16 consecutive games. The streaking Patriots will take on the slumping Villanova Wildcats in the first round who have lost five straight games and 10 of their last 15. While the Nova backcourt is one of the best around with Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, GMU is playing with confidence and swagger that Villanova seems to have lost. I’ll take the hotter team in this one.

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The Week That Was: Tournament Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2011

Introduction

March Madness is officially here. Introduction over.

What We Learned

What a Run, Young Man.

Connecticut scoffs in the face of conventional wisdom that says it’s better for a team to be well rested before the NCAA tournament. The Huskies won five games in five days to capture the Big East Tournament title last Saturday night. And for my money, Kemba Walker locked up the Naismith Award with his play over those five games. Walker averaged 26 PPG and 38 MPG at Madison Square Garden, carrying a team that finished 9-9 in the Big East to the #3 seed in the West. We are a little concerned that Walker went only 2-16 from three during the tournament, but he countered his poor outside shooting with at least nine attempts from the free throw line each game. For those who think Walker has to be running on fumes right now, remember that he had enough left to break some ankles, rise and knock down a J to beat Pittsburgh despite playing all 40 minutes of that game. Because of their 7:20 PM ET tip on Thursday, the Huskies will have had nearly five days off to ready themselves for the Tournament. That’s plenty of time for Kemba to recharge for another run.

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

Posted by KDoyle on March 9th, 2011

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

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

Conference USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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