Bracket Prep: Albany, Tulsa, Texas Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014

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As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

Albany

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  • America East Champion (18-14, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #210/#195/#199
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. For the second straight year, Albany capitalized on its home court advantage in the America East non-championship rounds before pulling off a road upset in the title game. That means the Great Danes – instead of league champion Vermont or preseason favorite Stony Brook – will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts or Seawolves would probably have been more serious upset threats (especially Vermont, once projected in the 13-seed range), but Albany is among the more experienced teams in the country and did go dancing last season, which never hurts.
  2. The Danes’ identity lies on the defensive end, where they held opponents to under one point per possession in conference play. Will Brown’s club switches between man defense and a stout 2-3 zone that gave Stony Brook all kinds of issues on Saturday, including a six minute stretch where the Seawolves failed to make a single field goal early in the second half. Albany is anchored inside by 6’10’’ center John Puk, whose defense against America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney showed he’s capable of holding his own against skilled big men – the kind he’ll surely face in the NCAA Tournament. Offensively, the team is led by Australian shooting guard Peter Hooley, who averages nearly 16 points per game and shoots 40 percent from behind the arc. Fellow Aussie Sam Rowley is the team’s leading rebounder and was the go-to scorer on Saturday – he averages 11 per night – while speedy point guard DJ Evans and small forward Gary Johnson also score in double figures.
  3. With an adjusted tempo of 63.3 possessions per game and an average offensive possession length of 19.3 seconds, the Danes look to methodically execute in the half-court and control the pace. The vast majority of their shots are taken from inside the arc – besides Hooley and Evans, no player has attempted more than 50 threes on the season – and they are proficient both at drawing fouls and making their free throws; Hooley ranked second in the conference at 86 percent from the stripe. Ultimately, though, Albany wins with its defense, preventing opponents from getting easy looks and cleaning up misses at a high rate. In their upset of Vermont, the Danes allowed the Catamounts to corral just 20 percent of their misses.

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Conference Tournament Primer: America East

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2014

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

Dates: March 8, 9, 15
Site: Quarterfinals and Semifinals: SEFCU Arena (Albany, NY); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)

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What to expect: After suffering its only conference defeat in late January, Vermont thoroughly dominated the America East over the remaining five weeks of the regular season. Throughout the month of February, the team steamrolled opponents, winning ten straight games by an average of 21.3 points per contest and capturing the league’s top seed in the process. Their KenPom ranking has skyrocketed from 169 to 62 since the New Year, a byproduct of the numerous beatdowns in that span. Stony Brook has talent – 6’8’’ forward Jameel Warney is a load underneath – and should present the most substantial threat in this tournament. There could be some level of drama if they meet up in the title game, but either way, expect the senior-laden Catamounts to go dancing for the third time in five years.

Favorites: Vermont. The Catamounts nearly upset Duke back in November, yet they might be a better team now than they were then. Five of their six top-scorers are seniors, and each of them probably remembers the sting of last year’s home loss to Albany in the conference championship game. Focus will not be an issue for Vermont.

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O26 Superlatives, Part I: AmEast, ASun, Big South, Horizon, MAAC, NEC, OVC & Patriot…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 5th, 2014

In Part I of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Horizon, MAAC, NEC, OVC, and Patriot. In alphabetical order:

America East

Brian Voelkel and the Catamounts led the way in the America East. (Photo/burlingtonfreepress.com)

Brian Voelkel and the Catamounts led the way in the America East. (Photo/burlingtonfreepress.com)

  • Team of the Year – Vermont (21-9, 15-1). After starting the season 4-8, the Catamounts won 17 of their final 18 games, walloping nearly everyone in the league and capturing the America East title. The veteran team now looks poised to reach the NCAA Tournament, where it will be a serious upset threat.
  • Player of the Year – Brian Voelkel – Vermont. Voelkel is one of the most fascinating players in college basketball. At 6’6’’, the senior is a small forward who rebounds like a true big man and distributes like pass-first point guard. His numbers are both strange and excellent: 6.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists a game, with a free throw rate that ranks first in the country.
  • Coach of the Year – Pat Duquette – UMass Lowell. The River Hawks began their first year in D-I hoops 1-11 before winning nine of their final 16 games, finishing the season 10-18 overall and 8-8 in league play. Duquette is trying to build a program from the ground up, and 2013-14 was a great first step.
  • Upset of the Year – Duke over Vermont, 91-90. Okay, so this wasn’t actually an upset – Duke won! – but for a few minutes on a Sunday night in November, the Catamounts captured the imagination of the sports world, NFL fans included. Some Cameron home cooking, er, I mean a late foul on Clancy Rugg ended the bid, but it was one mighty effort.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Ahmad Walker – Stony Brook. An athletic freshman, the 6’4’’ Walker made the SportsCenter Top 10 with an awesome (and important) ‘oop against Binghamton.

Atlantic Sun

  • Team of the Year – Mercer (23-8, 14-4). Sure, the Bears lost a couple games down the stretch and wound up sharing the A-Sun title with Florida Gulf Coast instead of winning it outright, but their 23 overall wins – including non-conference victories over Seton Hall, Denver and Ole Miss – was unmatched in the league.
  • Player of the Year – Langston Hall – Mercer. The 6’4’’ senior was a key scorer and superb distributor for the league’s best team, averaging 15 points per game and sporting a top-40 assist rate of 33.1 percent, just ahead of Shabazz Napier. Hall scored at least 24 points six different times and notched four games of 10-plus assists.
  • Coach of the Year – Bob Hoffman – Mercer. Hoffman will likely set his career mark at Mercer for wins in a season and is guaranteed a third-straight postseason appearance, perhaps this time in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Upset of the Year – East Tennessee State over Stephen F. Austin, 66-58. On November 23, Murry Bartow’s Buccanneers topped Stephen F. Austin at home. Guess how many games the Lumberjacks have lost since then? You got it – zero.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – FGCU’s Bernard Thompson is probably the Dunker of the Year, but check out this alley-oop by USC-Upstate’s Torrey Craig. Woah.

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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

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In America East Race, Vermont vs. Stony Brook Looms Large

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 24th, 2014

Stony Brook entered 2013-14 with a combined 49-15 record in conference play over the previous four seasons, a stretch which included three regular season titles and a few trips to the NIT — a categorical success by most measures. But for Steve Pikiell and the Seawolves, there’s one ever-important goal that has continuously eluded them despite all that winning, often in heartbreaking fashion: a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Odd things tend to happen in a league that rewards the highest remaining seed in its conference championship game home court advantage. And that is why Stony Brook’s tilt against fellow-undefeated Vermont tonight looms large in the team’s quest to go Dancing — the top seed matters in the America East.

Jameel Warney and the Seawolves look to take control of the America East tonight. (Ryan Restivo/Big Apple Buckets)

Jameel Warney and the Seawolves look to take control of the America East tonight. (Ryan Restivo/Big Apple Buckets)

Based on tangibles alone, the Seawolves are probably the most talented team in the conference, featuring a stable of excellent guards and one supremely skilled, load of a big man in sophomore Jameel Warney. The 6’8’’, 280-pound center is almost unguardable when he gets the ball on the low block, either using his size to back down defenders or finding buckets by utilizing his wide range of post moves, the soft-touch baby hook being among his favorites. With any one of team’s backcourt studs able to attack the basket — Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson the senior leaders, Carson Puriefoy the breakout sophomore — or run the pick-and-roll with Warney (who also possesses great hands, mind you), Stony Brook has a clear personnel advantage over just about every other league opponent. Indeed, Pikiell’s group would probably be the standalone favorite this season if it weren’t for one area where it might have a meaningful disadvantage, especially against Vermont: experience.

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Morning Five: Independence Day Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 4th, 2012

  1. Happy ID4 to you and yours, folks. Try to stay cool out there but make sure to enjoy the barbecues, fireworks and time with family and friends that this holiday has come to represent. From our perspective, the Fourth isn’t just a celebration of the nation’s birthday (Happy 236th USA!), but it also marks just about the halfway point of the college basketball offseason. It’s been 93 days since Kentucky cut down the nets in New Orleans, and we’re just under 100 days until practice tips back off again with Midnight Madness. It’ll be here before you know it.
  2. People are still talking about last week’s NBA Draft, and with good reason. One of the top post-draft storylines among the blognoscenti has been how Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones, and especially Perry Jones, III, and Jared Sullinger made poor financial decisions to stay in school for their sophomore seasons. It’s an easy ex post facto argument to make, but it ignores the fact that there are other extraneous values to sticking around campus for another year. Mike DeCourcy points out this very thing with respect to Jones and Sullinger through the prism of Indiana’s Cody Zeller, who, along with UNC’s James Michael McAdoo, is the top returning sophomore in college basketball next season. The key takeaway here is that even though players may have lost some of their elusive and fleeting upside by returning to school, they became better basketball players and more mature young men because of it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and could pay additional financial dividends down the line.
  3. The Cody Zellers of tomorrow are of course already in the pipeline and it won’t be long before the Class of 2013 dominates all the recruiting news as elite prospects come off the board. As of today, only 15 of the Rivals top 50 prospects have committed anywhere, and only four of the top 25. But two names populating the top 100 recently made their decisions, and their ultimate destinations are places more familiar with the matriculation of elite academic types rather than athletic ones. This week Northwestern received a commitment from Jaren Sina, a player ranked #86 by Scout and #106 by Rivals, who is the highest rated player that Bill Carmody has ever signed in Evanston. This comes on the heels of the March decision by Zena Edosomwan to play basketball at Harvard after doing an additional college prep year, making it possible that the Ivy League school that reached its first NCAA Tournament in generations last year will garner its first top 50 recruit in program history (Edosomwan is currently #66 on Rivals and moving up).
  4. In a mid-major episode of the high stakes world of conference realignment, you may recall that Boston University announced last month that it was leaving the America East Conference for the Patriot League. As a result, the America East announced yesterday that BU would not be allowed to participate in next year’s men’s or women’s America East Tournament in Albany, NY. Citing league bylaws that were instituted in the mid-2000s after Northeastern’s departure to the CAA, BU will suffer the punishment no matter how good next year’s team might be. On the above-linked article, a commenter named “BU Athlete” said that he is “a BU Athlete and I feel absolutely heartbroken that someone who doesn’t even know the amount of effort I put in to my sport can ban me from playing my senior season.” It certainly sucks for the student-athletes such as this player (assuming his legitimacy) who probably doesn’t want to waste his senior year but also likely has no interest in transferring elsewhere at the last minute. Realignment — isn’t it fun?
  5. Finally, the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has announced its next chairman, Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman (the 2012-13 chairman, in case you’ve forgotten, is Xavier’s Mike Bobinski). Wellman has two decades of experience as an AD for the Demon Deacons and is widely respected in the industry for building a strong athletic program despite Wake’s status as one of the smallest schools in the FBS (Division I-A). Wellman will need to see considerable improvement in his basketball team, though, if he hopes to have a chance to walk out of the room as his school is discussed next year — Jeff Bzdelik’s squad has a miserable two-year record of 21-42 (5-29 ACC).
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Checking In On… the America East Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2012

John Templon is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets or on Twitter @nybuckets

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • New Hampshire feeds teams hungry for wins: No one saw UMBC’s victory at New Hampshire coming before conference play began. It caused quite the stir in America East. Chase Plummer scored 23 points to lead the Retrievers in that 82-76 win, just their second of the season. The thing is, the Wildcats followed that loss up by losing at Hartford, the Hawks’ first win of the season.
  • BU a man down: The Terriers were without star guard D.J. Irving for three games as he worked through the effects of post-concussion syndrome. The concussion happened sometime during the Villanova game, which BU lost 68-43. It’s proving to be much more costly in the long run. Irving returned for the game at Vermont on Thursday, but he went 1-8 from the field in 27 minutes in the Terriers’ 14-point loss.
  • Gerardo Suero shoots a lot of free throws: Albany’s junior college transfer is one of the most prolific free throw shooters in the nation. He’s on pace to attempt over 300 free throws this season. That’s a whole heck of a lot. One Bid Wonders had a great breakdown of Suero and past results in America East play.

Gerald McLemore Has Helped Maine Shoot To The Top Of The Standings (goblackbears.com)

Power Rankings

  1. Maine (7-5, 1-0) – Maine has been living on the road for a while and finally gets to return on home on Saturday to take on UMBC. The Black Bears might have five losses, but three of them (at Connecticut, Notre Dame and San Diego) are completely understandable. With Gerald McLemore and freshman sensation Justin Edwards leading the way, this might be Maine’s year to rise up. Read the rest of this entry »
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Summer Updates Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on August 23rd, 2011

Now that we’ve spent the last six weeks reviewing most of the Division I conferences, let’s take a look back at the entire list with the summer #1 power ranking for each as we head into the fall…  [ed note: to see all of the Summer Updates in order of release, click here]

We currently have openings for conference correspondent roles with the following six leagues. Please email us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com with links to writing samples if you have an interest.
  • Atlantic Sun
  • Big West
  • MAC
  • MEAC
  • SWAC
  • Southland
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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Tom Brennan, Part I

Posted by rtmsf on June 29th, 2011

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

You know him from his gregarious, affable demeanor as a studio host on ESPN as well as an on-air radio analyst for Sirius and Westwood One, but there’s a lot more to former Vermont head coach and media personality Tom Brennan than a friendly quip and a quick smile.  The personable transplanted Vermonter who has a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream named after him coached the game for thirty-five years, taking him from Georgia to Fairleigh Dickinson, Villanova, Seton Hall and William & Mary as an assistant, before elevating to the top position at Yale, then the Universitas Viridis Montis (UVM).  In talking to Brennan, you get a sense that he’s not only a guy you’d want to play ball for, but the kind of person you’d also ask to be the best man in your wedding.  He’s got so many stories, anecdotes and ironic twists from a lifetime of achievement that we decided to break up the interview into two parts.  In today’s Part I, we’ll track Brennan from his early days as a player in the segregated South to his crowning achievement as a three-time champion of the America East Conference at Vermont.  Tomorrow we’ll move into the broadcasting career he never thought he’d have, and talk about how likely it is that one of the neatest guys we’ve come across in this sport ever gets back onto the sidelines.

Ed. Note: Brennan uses some colorful language during this interview, so if you’re sensitive to such things, you may want to skip past this one.

Tom Brennan is as Entertaining as They Come

Rush the Court: Let’s talk a little bit about your career arc.  You’re an east coast guy who grew up in New Jersey.  How did you end up down  in the South in Athens, Georgia, in the early 70s playing ball — what was that like?

Tom Brennan: Segregation.  I can answer you in one word.  Segregation.  Seriously.  I loved going to Georgia, I loved every minute of it.  We had a coach [Ken Rosemond] from North Carolina who was on the ’57 championship team, and he was an assistant — he and Dean Smith were Frank McGuire’s two assistants.  Dean Smith got the Carolina job, and my guy got the Georgia job, and he really felt much like McGuire, that he wanted to get players from the North.  He felt the competition was better and that basketball was more important up this way.  But really, I’m not naive, there’s no way if it was ten years later that I think I would have been recruited to Georgia.  I think I was a Division I player, I mean I played in the SEC, and I would have gone somewhere and I could have gone a lot of other places besides Georgia, but honestly as I look back on it now, had integration been in play, I probably would have gone somewhere in the East.  I loved when I visited there.  He saw me in some all-star game, and I happened to have a good game, and so I just went down to visit and I really liked it.  He was going to get it going, and they had the same building [Stegeman Coliseum], honest to God, in 1967 that they have now.  They still play in it; they’ve upgraded it.  But back then it was like off the hook, it was like from Mars.  We had a lot of northern guys, and I just loved going to school there, made a lot of great friends.  Matter of fact, I just got off the phone with somebody I’m going to go spend some time in Maine with, who was our manager during my time there.  You know, I was the oldest of seven kids and I kinda wanted to get away.  I thought it would be like an adventure, and it kinda turned out to be that way.  I just think, and I don’t say it as a wise guy, I just think if it had been 1977 [rather than 1967], it would have been a lot different.

RTC:  It’s a beautiful campus — the Georgia campus — and I’ve been to the arena you’re talking about.  I’m just wondering, Vandy was one of the first schools in the SEC to integrate in the late 60swere there any other schools at that point that were integrated or was it pretty much still all white?

TB:  It was pretty much all white.  Perry Wallace [the first black SEC basketball player] was it for Vandy, and he was a stud.  He was a really good player, and I mean, you had to be a special guy to do it.  I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.  And then when I got there, the first African-American came to Georgia.  His name was Ronnie Hogue, and it’s a cute story because when I was a senior, he was a sophomore, and I was starting the first couple of games.  And he replaced me and got 43!  [laughter] [Don't tell Coach B, but Hogue actually scored 46 points!]  And so I became a contributor!  And you know what too is interesting, at that time, my brother who is now a PhD psychologist, was in Vietnam, and we had integrated at Georgia and we had the first African-American player, and I wasn’t even in tune to anything.  I’m thinking now as I look back on Vietnam, I should have written my brother a letter every day.  Every single day.  I just didn’t even think about it.  It was kind of the same way with Hogue.  He was just a good guy, a really good guy, and being from New Jersey, I’m thinking, what is taking so long [with respect to integration]?  How is this even an issue?  When are these people gonna figure out that we all are created equal and if a guy’s good enough to play, it shouldn’t matter what he looks like or what his background is.  I never really took it seriously.  And then I read a book about all the athletes that were the first to integrate, and Ronnie had some interesting comments in there, and there were things that I didn’t think about, but I wasn’t black.  I’m thinking, sh–, I never even thought about that, I never even thought to say to him, are you doing ok?  I was just trying to beat the guy out!  And he was a good kid, it wasn’t like he was a pain in the ass at all.  It wasn’t real prejudice, but he was just a player, and I was a player, and we tried to treat him as well as we could.  It was such a historic thing but I didn’t know it.  I didn’t have any kind of frame of reference about that at all.  It was neat being a part of that.  I’m proud of being a part of the first integrated team at the University of Georgia.  I’m not sure if they had a football guy yet — I think maybe they did.  I’m not 100% sure about that, but I know Ronnie was the first black basketball player. [Georgia had five black football players enroll in the fall of 1971.]  You know, we were boys and we hung out.  The thing is that there was a big black community in Athens, and it wasn’t socially mixed so much, but there was a lot of places he could go and there was a lot of people he could see, and he was really obviously a hero to all those people and I certainly understand that.

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That’s Debatable: Small Conference Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2011

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

This Week’s Topic: Many of the small conferences are starting their tournaments this week.  Which one do you find the most compelling in terms of the possibility of upsets and/or creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee in a little over a week?  Also, pick a relatively unknown team that you’d like to see make a run through their conference tourney so that America will get to watch them play on the big stage in March Madness. 

Walker Carey, RTC contributor.

I think the Horizon League Tournament is the small conference tournament that is the most compelling in terms of creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee. In my mind, Butler, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee are the only teams that have the capability of winning the tournament. If Butler loses (which is very possible), it will be very interesting to see how the committee will view the Bulldogs’ resume. I tend to believe that Cleveland State will win the Horizon League championship because they have the best player in the league on their team in senior guard Norris Cole. I would enjoy to see the Vikings make a run to the Horizon League championship and shake things up in the tournament like they did when they were a #13 seed and upset #4 seed Wake Forest two seasons ago. With Cole, I think this is very possible for Gary Waters’ Cleveland State squad.

John Stevens, RTC editor.

I’ll take the Colonial. You’ve got six 20-win teams out of twelve, and you’ve got to figure George Mason has a bid locked up with Old Dominion looking good, as well. Let’s say someone like Drexel (a 20-9 team with a resume that includes a win at Louisville, mind you) gets hot and wins this thing. Could we be looking at a four-bid year for the Colonial, with James Madison or VCU sneaking in as a function of the soft bubble this year? And how can you not root for William & Mary, a team that’s never been to the NCAA Tournament, after the fantastic case they made for at-large inclusion last year? As far as a team I’d like to see make a run, I’ll go with Morehead State. It wouldn’t be much of a run, of course, since as a 2-seed they earned that weird double-bye in the OVC Tournament and only need to win two games (same situation as 1-seed Murray State) to claim the title. But the world needs to see Kenneth Faried play at this level one more time. He and the Eagles won a preliminary round game in 2009 before getting cooked by 1-seed Louisville, and two NCAA Tournament games for the Fabulous Faried just doesn’t seem like enough.

Danny Spewak, RTC contributor.

Vermont won the America East Conference by one game and rightfully earned the top seed in the tournament by avoiding slip-ups against the league’s lower-tier teams. You’ll want to keep an eye on this tourney, though, because Vermont hasn’t exactly faired well against the top of the AE.  Second-seeded Boston University swept Vermont this year, including an overtime win Sunday. And the third seed, Maine, routed the Catamounts on their home floor back in January. The Black Bears, a preseason favorite, have since collapsed and lost seven of eight games to finish the season. Regardless, either team could still pose a threat to Vermont’s NCAA tourney hopes at some point during the next week.  For sympathy’s sake, I’d like to see Weber State win the Big Sky this March and pluck a spot in the Big Dance. How can you not feel bad for this program? Two years ago, the Wildcats ripped through the league with a 15-1 record but slipped to the NIT. Last year, Anthony Johnson’s legendary performance helped Montana stun the regular season champs again. Finally, 2010-11 appeared to be “The Year,” with two-time POY Damian Lillard returning for his senior year. Naturally, he broke his foot and played just 10 games this year, and he’ll now wait on the status of a medical redshirt. It’d be nice to see the third-seeded Wildcats win three games for their tragic hero. 

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ATB: Jordan Taylor Goes Jordanesque Against Indiana

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2011

The Lede.  There are only a handful of days left in the regular season.  After 10,000 games, we’ve already eliminated a number of teams from national title contention and we’ll spend the weekend talking about positioning.  Most teams are who we know them to be at this late point in the season — like last call in a college bar, it becomes about finding the best light to present yourself to the evaluators, in this case, the NCAA Selection Committee.  The numbers ultimately will rule the day, but perception and the ‘sniff test’ are things not easily erased from one’s mind.  Let’s see who helped and hurt their positions tonight…

 

Taylor Was Magnificent Tonight (Indy Star/J. Cecil)

Your Watercooler MomentJordan Taylor Dominates Indiana.  The ascent of Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor from solid role player to unknown good player to rising superstar has been remarkable.  So remarkable, in fact, that the Cousy Award folks had originally left him off its list of the ten best point guards in America despite the fact that he is clearly more valuable than half the finalists on the list (Brandon Knight — is this a joke?).  In watching Taylor blow up Michigan State, Ohio State and now Indiana tonight with a career-high 39 points on 11-19 FG (7-8 from deep), we’re regularly astonished with how well he gets his shots off while defended and they still manage to find the bottom of the net.  Many players can shoot the ball when they’re standing open beyond the arc; Taylor, however, is the best player in college basketball shooting the ball with someone right in his face — he regularly takes jumpers where your initial reaction is “wow — tough shot,” only to be surprised when the ball swishes through.  Wisconsin has gone from an unranked team in the preseason to a top ten mainstay in the latter part of the year, and as good as Jon Leuer has also been, the primary reason is Taylor.  He gives Bo Ryan’s team an offensive option that Madison hasn’t seen since Alando Tucker was residing in Madison; and with the defense that his teams always bring to the table, this makes the Badgers just that much more dangerous this March.  If you’re looking for a Final Four darkhorse, you might want to consider this team — they’re every bit as good as all but a few teams in America this year.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Emergence of Scotty Hopson.  In the last three weeks, UT’s star wing has been playing as well as he has at any point in his Tennessee career.  In his last six games including tonight’s win at South Carolina, he’s averaging 23.7 PPG on 52% shooting from the field.  While UT’s record hasn’t necessarily improved as a result of his stellar offensive play — UT has gone 3-3 in those games with two one-point losses — the Vols absolutely must have Hopson play like the star he was supposed to be in order for Bruce Pearl’s team maximize its potential this March.  If his recent play is any indication, the athletic guard may have finally figured out his role as alpha dog on this team, high fade and all.
  • A Fourth Pac-10 Team? Washington probably re-secured its Dance ticket with a nice win over UCLA tonight, so we can reasonably expect that those two, along with Arizona, will hear their names called on Selection Sunday.  Is there a chance that a fourth Pac-10 team, notably Washington State, could sneak into the NCAA’s crosshairs in the next week or so?  After tonight’s home win over USC, if the Cougars can also defeat UCLA over the weekend, Ken Bone’s team would sit at 20-10 (10-8 Pac-10) with a reasonable profile head-to-head against other bubble teams Baylor and Gonzaga (both of whom Wazzu beat earlier this year).  Don’t get us wrong — Washington State would still need to make a run in the Pac-10 Tournament to merit serious consideration, but with the right matchups, the Cougars could find themselves in the finals and pushing the Selection Committee to make a difficult decision.
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O26 Primers: Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley & Patriot League Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 2nd, 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.

Three more conferences get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.

Atlantic Sun

The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.

Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.

Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.

Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.

First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.

How’d They Fare? ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.

Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.

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