Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Intrigue: Eight Storylines on Opening Weekend…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Adam Stillman on November 14th, 2014

Basketball is nearly upon us! Here are eight O26 storylines to keep an eye on during the opening weekend of hoops:

Does VCU seize the opportunity against Tennessee without Briante Weber?

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min / Times Dispatch)

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Times Dispatch)

The Rams should be one of the better teams in the country this season, and they will have several marquee opportunities to prove it before the calendar flips to 2015 – opportunities not only to justify their top-15 ranking, but also to better position themselves come Selection Sunday. The first of those chances will be tonight against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. The fact that the Vols, a decent-but-not great SEC squad, have serious questions at point guard would normally be good news for VCU and its disruptive pressure defense. But without Briante Weber in the lineup – the senior guard is serving a one-game suspension – the Rams are down their peskiest defender and a guy who’s on track to break the NCAA’s all-time steals record. HAVOC will press on (literally), but keep an eye on whether Weber’s absence enables Tennessee to limit its turnovers, make this more of a half-court game, and minimize VCU’s easy transition buckets. The last thing Shaka Smart’s group wants is to drop a nationally-televised opener (6:30 PM ET, CBSSN) against a beatable power-conference opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Top of the O26 Class: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC & WCC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Western region of the U.S: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region, Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region and the Southern region.

Top Units

Mountain West

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II need to step up offensively for the Aztecs. (Ben Margot — AP)

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II will need to step up offensively for San Diego State. (Ben Margot/AP)

  • San Diego State – 2013-14 record: 31-5 (16-2). San Diego State will be very good defensively, that much we know, but whether it can replace do-everything guard Xavier Thames (17.6 PPG, 120.0 ORtg) is the most pressing concern this time around. The Aztecs – which have ranked among the top-20 nationally in defensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons – return several long-armed stoppers like Dwayne Polee II and 6’10’’ center Skyler Spencer (best block percentage in the league) while adding a highly-touted Arizona transfer in 6’9’’ Angelo Chol. But Thames was the only consistent offensive threat last year and points were hard to come by when he struggled, so the ability of guys like Polee and guard Winston Shepard to thrive in more prominent scoring roles is crucial. Steve Fisher’s club should win the Mountain West considering the talent he has on hand (five-star forward Malik Pope also joins the mix), but the team’s offensive development, especially in the backcourt, will determine its ultimate national stature.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Conference Tournament Primer: Big West Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five 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 Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-15
Site: Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)

BW

What to expect: The Big West pecking order finally sorted itself out in the final month of the season, as UC Irvine – league favorites entering 2013-14 – captured the title over UC Santa Barbara and grabbed the top seed in Anaheim. The Anteaters are a stingy defensive unit that holds opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage in the country, and enters the tournament having won nine of its last 10 games. They will be the slight favorites this week. However, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State and Hawaii were all competitive this season and each will be capable of making a championship run, or at the very least knocking off UCI. The champs will meet the fourth-seeded Warriors on Friday if both advance to the semifinals, which could mean drama: They split a pair of overtime thrillers in the regular season, including one that featured a half-court, haltime buzzer-beater and a crazy game-tying bank shot. Likewise, LBSU pushed Russell Turner’s club to the brink twice this year, losing two games by a combined five points. It’s the Gauchos, though – led by brawny center Alan Williams, who averages 21.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and two blocks per night – that will be the Anteaters’ strongest threat in the Honda Center. KenPom suggests they are almost identically-matched teams, and Williams shredded UCI for 26 points, 10 rebounds and three steals back in January. The next three days should be interesting.

Favorite: UC Irvine. The Anteaters will be slightly favored this week, if only because their quarterfinal opponent, UC Riverside, is easily the worst team in the tournament. Beyond that, it’s probably a toss-up between UCI and UCSB.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Superlatives, Part III: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt & WAC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2014

In Part III of our three-part series (click here for Part I and Part II), we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from six different O26 conferences: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC. In alphabetical order: 

Big Sky

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

  • Team of the Year – Weber State (17-11, 14-6). After winning 55 games in the previous two seasons, this was the year – the most parity-driven in recent memory – that Weber State outlasted Montana and won the Big Sky. The Wildcats now host the conference tournament, which could mean a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
  • Player of the Year – Davion Berry – Weber State. Narrowly edging out Montana’s Kareem Jamar and North Dakota’s Troy Huff for our Player of the Year, Berry averaged 19 points per contest, distributed the ball effectively, shot almost 40 percent from long range, and led his team to a title.
  • Coach of the Year – Tyler Geving – Portland State. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the conference, an outlook that became even worse when senior Aaron Moore, averaging nearly 12 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early January. After the Vikings lost four straight close games in the middle of the Big Sky season, Geving deserves credit for leading his guys to a 5-1 finish and a fifth-place tie in the league.
  • Upset of the Year – Northern Colorado over Kansas State, 60-58. Until last Saturday, Kansas State was pretty much unbeatable at home this season: Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, and George Washington — all these teams left Manhattan without a win. But you know who did manage to leave Manhattan with a win (aside from Baylor)? BJ Hill’s Bears. Gotta love early November.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Jaron Nash – North Dakota. Nash goes baseline, emphatically stuffs it with one hand, then salutes the home crowd. Great stuff.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Game of the Week: Indiana State Looks to Ruin Perfection

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Mid-Season Awards: Gregg Marshall, Chaz Williams, Jon Severe and Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 9th, 2014

With non-conference action all but wrapped up and league play already going in earnest, it‘s time now to pass out some mid-season superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn some national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next two months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. Could the Shockers actually outdo themselves from a year ago? Even with expectations high coming into 2013-14, very few could have predicted the kind of start Wichita State has had to this season, fresh off its Final Four run last March. Monumental success of that type often breeds sluggish beginnings or even major letdowns the year after, which is what makes Marshall’s coaching job so impressive — his team has not missed a beat. The Shockers have jumped out to a 16-0 record that includes wins over BYU, Tennessee, Saint Louis and Alabama, the latter two coming on the road and all of them despite losing key seniors Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead to graduation. Together with preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early and NCAA Tournament hero Ron Baker, Marshall has inserted Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton into the lineup — complementary pieces a season ago — along with JuCo transfer forward Darius Carter to create a starting five arguably more efficient and consistent than last year’s group. They are balanced (four players average in double figures), deep, and rarely lack focus from night to night. And while the early winning has generated a lot of buzz about Wichita State possibly going undefeated in the regular season, its coach won’t let the commotion deter his team’s one-step-at-a-time approach. Marshall recently said, “I’ve always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we’re not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We’re thinking about our next meal.” That mentality has earned Marshall our award for mid-season O26 Coach of the Year.

Honorable MentionsSteve Fisher – San Diego State, Derek Kellogg – Massachusetts, Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo, Mitch Henderson – Princeton

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

O26 Weekly Awards: GW, Alan Williams & Green Bay…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 9th, 2013

It was a return to normalcy for many teams last week after the bevy of tournaments and showcases and neutral-court extravaganzas that marked the latter part of November in college hoops. Across the O26 landscape, some programs were able to play much-needed home games after weeks of travel, while others made trips to take on regional power conference foes or fellow mid-majors. Conference play even tipped off for one league in particular (we’re looking at you, MAAC). And while only a handful of schools took the court more than twice last week, there was plenty enough action in the opening days of December to hand out some superlatives to deserving performers.

O26 Team of the Week

Maurice Creek helped George Washington to an outstanding week. (Richard A. Lipski/Washington Post)

Maurice Creek helped George Washington to an outstanding week. (Richard A. Lipski/Washington Post)

George Washington. After capping off Thanksgiving weekend with an upset over 20th-ranked Creighton in the Wooden Legacy, the Colonials had every reason to be on letdown alert in a return home on Wednesday versus a maligned-but-talented Rutgers team. Instead, George Washington maintained its momentum by defeating the Scarlet Knights by six in an outcome that featured knock-down shooting and a 106-point second half. The team’s two star transfers again the led the way for head coach Mike Lonergan, with former Villanova forward Isaiah Armwood scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and Maurice Creek — the Indiana graduate who took to D.C. for his final year of eligibility — dropping in 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Yet, while that contest was relatively tight throughout, it paled in comparison to Sunday’s outcome at the Verizon Center in the BB&T Classic. Thanks to the late-game heroics of Creek, the Colonials edged out fellow capital-area opponent Maryland, 77-75, in a thrilling, impressive win that helped further solidify George Washington as a legitimate at-large (and A-10) contender. The Terrapins made a furious rally in the game’s final stages after trailing by 14 with fewer than seven minutes to play, turning GW over multiple times and eventually tying the game at 75 with a few seconds remaining. But in the game’s final possession, Creek worked his magic, drilling a clutch shot over Nick Faust to make it three straight victories for the Colonials, moving them to 8-1 on the year. With several more very winnable non-conference games on the slate before league play begins in January, Lonergan’s club has a great chance to continue its winning ways and put itself in the NCAA Tournament discussion for the first time since 2007. If that happens, its work this past week may be one big reason why.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Not-So-Rushed Reaction: Utah State 71, UC Santa Barbara 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 1st, 2013

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Utah State vs. UC Santa Barbara game Saturday night.

Here are four quick thoughts on Utah State’s seven-point win at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night:

  1. It was a big disappointment that UCSB big man Alan Williams was a late scratch for Saturday night’s game following a bout of back spasms suffered in pregame warm-ups. Having averaged 24 points and 13 boards in his first two games this year, including a 21-point win over UNLV, Williams had six NBA scouts in attendance to see him go up against Utah State’s own big-time center in the long and athletic Jarred Shaw. Minus Williams the Gauchos got hammered on the boards, but still played well enough to keep it a game throughout. And, the good news is that UCSB will get another crack at the Aggies, next time hopefully with Williams, as the two schools will play again on December 20 in Logan as part of the Basketball Travelers Classic.

    Alan Williams Sat Out Saturday Night's Game Following An Ill-Timed Bout With Back Spasms (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

    Alan Williams Sat Out Saturday Night’s Game Following An Ill-Timed Bout With Back Spasms (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

  2. The Aggies got eight threes and a combined 34 points from senior wings Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield, and they certainly impressed with their versatility. Both are able to handle the ball well, defend on the perimeter, help out on the glass, and, of course, score. But despite a roster deep with passable ballhandlers, the UCSB press gave the Aggies trouble down the stretch. While there are a lot of skilled perimeter guys on this team, there remain questions about the point guard duo of TeNale Roland and Marcel Davis. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Wyoming Destroys UC Santa Barbara, But Bigger Tests Loom For Cowboys

Posted by AMurawa on November 29th, 2012

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. He filed this report after the Wyoming-UCSB game in Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.

While most of the college basketball world was focused on Durham, North Carolina, and other venues in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Wednesday night, I took a drive up the coast to UC Santa Barbara to check out Wyoming and see with my own eyes if their 6-0 record compiled against weak competition was anything for Mountain West watchers to get excited about. Well, after a 68-40 demolishing of the Gauchos (a game that really wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate), the Cowboys’ record now stands at 7-0, but the evaluation of the current state of this team needs to wait for another day.

Leonard Washington, Wyoming

Leonard Washington and His Teammates Looked Impressive Against UC Santa Barbara, But More Significant Tests Loom

Yeah, the Cowboys looked pretty good. Leonard Washington had nine points (on 3-3 shooting from the field) and four boards while having his minutes slightly limited due to a pair of frustration fouls picked up over the course of a single minute in the first half, but those numbers don’t express all that Washington was in that game. He wound up credited with four steals and two blocks on the game, but frankly, his defensive effort is not summed up by those numbers. He challenged any shots in his vicinity, ripped down rebounds around the rim, and scrapped for any loose balls in his area. On offense, it was all about attacking the rim, and he had at least a pair of massive dunks on the faces of unsuspecting Gauchos. Larry Nance, Jr. joined in on the fun himself, throwing down a monster dunk on two UCSB bigs just before the half.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… The Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • Long Beach State Draws Creighton At Home: The 49ers’ last chance to boost their nonconference slate and RPI through the ESPN BracketBuster couldn’t have turned out much better, as they drew a ranked Creighton team on national TV. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone so well for the Bluejays since the announcement as they have lost three straight including a blowout loss to Wichita State. Regardless, the away game in Omaha on ESPN2 will be a great opportunity for Dan Monson’s team to make one last statement on national TV before the end of the season. If Long Beach is to entertain any notion of an at-large bid, this game is a must-win.
  • Titans, Tigers Surge: With the Big West Tournament less than a month away, the standings are beginning to stabilize. Cal State Fullerton, aka Transfer U, has really gelled over the last month. They have won six of their last seven, thrusting themselves into talk of being the second-best team in the league, ahead of UC Santa Barbara. Likewise, Pacific has improved vastly under the legendary coaching of Bob Thomason, winning five of its last seven. The Tigers find themselves tied for fourth at 6-6 with Cal Poly, much better than their early season struggles would have predicted.
  • Davis Finally Gets First Win : Eighteen losses in a row was enough for  UC Davis, as the Aggies finally pulled out their first Division I win of the year on Feb. 9 against Cal State Northridge. With a 1-11 mark in conference play, the Aggies are only a game down from the 2-10 Matadors, but are automatically in the Big West Tournament due to Northridge being ineligible for post-season play. That virtually guaranteed first round matchup between UC Davis and Long Beach State should be a real nail-biter.

Casper Ware And The 49ers Face The Creighton Bluejays, Who Are Looking To Break A Three-Game Losing Streak.

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (19-6, 12-0) – It has been more smooth sailing in Long Beach over the past two weeks, with four more wins to keep the 49ers unbeaten in Big West play. Although all of their opponents have geared up for better than usual performances against Long Beach State, it seems like Casper Ware and crew have been able to turn it up a notch down the stretch, putting away games comfortably in the end. It was also a record-setting week for Ware and T.J. Robinson with Ware became the all-time career assists leader at Long Beach State and Robinson becoming the all-time career rebound leader in the Big West Conference. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story