You might have missed this over the weekend, but we’re back with our conference check-in series called, fittingly, Checking In On… Since we don’t want to crowd up the valuable real estate we have on the main page with too many conference-specific posts, we’ll encourage you to look for these updates in this space as well as regularly reviewing the Conference Check-In box above, which will always list the most recent eight to ten of these we’ve published. Here’s the list from mid-major Friday, which will include these leagues on an every-other-week basis (next update: December 3).
Conference Tourneys. Given the propensity of conference tournaments this weekend, we’ve divided up the ATB this weekend so that this post will cover only the eleven mid-major tourneys that were in action today, while our other ATB post will discuss the end of the regular season for the major conferences.
Missouri Valley Championship – Northern Iowa 67, Wichita State 52. When Northern Iowa held Drake without a field goal for 28 minutes during their quarterfinal matchup on Friday, many people on press row who were unfamiliar with their stingy defense dismissed it as a statistical anomaly made possible by an inferior opponent. After holding #2 seed and NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch team Wichita State scoreless for 12 minutes during a 23-3 second half run today, those same people became believers. The Panthers had the second best defense in the country this year, and over three days in St. Louis, they showcased that defense in winning their second consecutive Arch Madness title. In a 67-52 victory over the Shockers, UNI got big contributions from their bench: 25 points and a contagious energy level that gave their starters a chance to breathe easier in their third game in as many days. “Our bench stepped up huge for us tonight just like they did the night before,” commented Ali Farokhmenesh. “I think our bench was the biggest difference in that (23-3 run) and then probably in the entire game overall. They made huge plays for us and they wore down the starters for Wichita.” Jack Koch was the chief contributor off the UNI bench, hitting three clutch treys and finishing with 13 points. Kwadzo Ahelegbe, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the way with 24 points, which included 12-14 from the free throw line. He also hit two big three-pointers for the Panthers, whose other starters struggled for most of the day. “I have an easy job,” Ahelegbe told reporters after the game. “When you can get to the basket and nobody’s there because you have two great shooters, it’s easy, easy money.” Along with Ahelegbe, teammate Jordan Eglseder was also named to the All-Tournament team. Eglseder had remarkably consistent lines all weekend, scoring 10 points in each game, and grabbing 4, 5 and 5 rebounds in the three games while blocking five shots in the final. Northern Iowa earns the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t won a game since a 1989 upset of Missouri in an era before they joined the MVC. They’ll almost certainly be favored to win their game this year, however, as the 28-4 Panthers should be a “protected” seed when the brackets come out. Can the Panthers stay motivated over the 12-day layoff between now and their first round game, though? “The players get to decide as a team what their goals are, and there are a couple still on there that we have not gotten,” noted coach Ben Jacobson after the win. “So there is a lot of motivation still. I really like how we played here. I knew today was going to be a close game, so that momentum helps as we go into practices getting ready for this. That’s an important part and we’ve got momentum and confidence.” As for Wichita State, they’re a bubble team that likely finds itself on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. Coach Gregg Marshall tried to make a case for them after the game to reporters. “We’ve got 25 wins, a couple of top 25 victories, we were undefeated at home. We’re a very talented team…we’ve got size, we’ve got 7-footers, we’ve got long, rangy athletes. We’re going to defend.” He then defended the league itself. “This is a pretty good basketball league. We had to play a team with 20 wins in the quarterfinals that was getting top 25 votes for December as a 2 seed. So that goes to show you the depth of the conference.” In the end, what Northern Iowa showed against a good Wichita State team is that their defense is for real, and that they’re one of the better teams in the country. As Marshall noted afterwards, “Northern Iowa’s a great team. They’re well coached, they’re seasoned and they’re experienced. They’ll win games in the NCAA Tournament. Period.”
Colonial. The CAA semis resulted in two excellent games, and RTC Live was there for both this afternoon in Richmond. Top seed Old Dominion survived a tough-minded attack by VCU, whose campus is merely a few blocks down the road from the Richmond Arena. Gerald Lee was awesome, scoring 26 points on 10-13 FGs, but it was his teammated Ben Feeney (11/6) who saved the day down the stretch as the Monarchs came from behind in regulation to tie VCU and send the game to overtime. In the other semifinal, #3 William & Mary held on to outlast #2 Northeastern in a game that also came down to the last shot of regulation. The Tribe’s David Schneider hit a three with 35 seconds remaining in the game — his only field goal — giving W&M the lead on a clutch shot for the second consecutive night. Northeastern had seven chances on the final possession to tie or win, but none of them dropped for the Huskies. ODU and W&M played twice previously this season, with the Monarchs winning both, and as you probably have heard, the Tribe will play for their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid tomorrow night.
Wild Saturday. Obviously, there’s a million things to talk about this weekend, but this special ATB Saturday edition will focus exclusively on the thirteen conference tournaments that were going on across the country today. In our usual weekend edition on Sunday night, we’ll discuss all the other games from the bigger conferences who are still finishing up regular season action, including the upsets of #1 Syracuse, #5 Kansas State and so forth. Bear with us, as we’ll be back tomorrow.
Conference Tourneys. The ‘expanded’ NCAA Tourney continued today with another 35 teams eliminated on this glorious Saturday of hoops across the nation.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the America East Conference.
Hottest Team. Stony Brook
We still have to see what the Seawolves do once they start playing better competition, but they have beaten the teams they should have and lost the games we expected. Regardless, they are the only team in the conference with a winning record, and what more can you ask from a team other than that.
Stud Player. Maurice Joseph (G) Vermont – 14.8 ppg, 40% three-point. Joseph has taken the step. Vermont needed a scorer this year that could take over if Marqus Blakely was taken out of the game by the opposing team. Joseph became that and more in the past couple games. It will be interesting to see if Joseph can continue this throughout the year.
Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between correspondents Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore that will appear every Wednesday in Rush the Court. This week they review the horror film Binghamton: 2009.
DAVE ZEITLIN: So I have this friend who’s about as optimistic a sports fan as they come. How do I know this? Because he watches nearly every single Kansas City Royals game, and is convinced each summer they have a good team. (They’ve had only one winning season since 1994.) It’s no different when he talks about the college basketball team at his alma mater. He’ll text me as soon as the schedule comes out, claiming the mid-major he roots for will surprise some big-name squads. He’ll predict big things from players I’ve never heard of. He’ll take moral victories out of 20-point losses. If you ask me, rooting for an underdog with that kind of attitude is admirable. But the last time I talked to him about his favorite college basketball team, he took a different tone. It was jarring but predictable. “They should just cancel the season,” he said with a sigh. His favorite team is Binghamton, and this is the point of the story where you should feel bad for my friend, who after these all years may finally need to look for the It’s-time-to-give-up switch.
By now, everyone knows the almost unfathomable plight of Binghamton basketball. From Division I newcomer to Division I upstart to Division I laughingstock, the Bearcats managed to follow the program’s first NCAA tournament berth last season with the kind of disaster that terrifies even John Cusack and the little girl on his back. After just about every impact player was dismissed from the program (RTC gives a nice recap here) for juicy stuff like stealing condoms, getting in bar fights, selling crack, the head coach responsible for bringing these guys in was put on paid leave for essentially giving high school players his business card a day after the NCAA contact period ended — which almost seems akin to Al Capone getting arrested for a speeding ticket. (Also, paid leave? Can I get paid to destroy a basketball program and then do nothing all day? Is there a listing for that on Monster?)
While the Binghamton implosion has faded somewhat from public view, there are still many things to discuss here. There’s the issue of the right and wrong ways to build a program (guess which way Binghamton did it) and there’s the issue of how Binghamton was even able to field a team this season (though these guys did pretty well with just a handful of players) just to name a couple. But first I’ll let Steve, a fan of a rival America East school, take his digs. Just try to remember my poor friend.
STEVE MOORE: Back in college at Boston University, I covered the men’s hoops team for the school paper during one of Binghamton’s first seasons in Division I. They struggled a little then, but they seemed to have everything in order, and were far ahead of their don’t-call-us-SUNY-school brethren — Albany and Stony Brook — who joined the America East at the same time. They had a beautiful on-campus facility being built, some solid recruits in the pipeline, and a seemingly bright future. They locked up the rights to host the conference tourney for a few years, and everything seemed on track.
But the stories in the last few seasons had gotten a little different, at least from what I read from afar. Friends I knew who covered the team recently told stories about the arrogance and insanely huge ego of head coach Kevin Broadus, and anyone who looked at their roster knew it had more than a few shaky names on it. There’s nothing wrong with scooping up transfers from other schools, but to do so with total disgregard for personal history is irresponsible. And it ended up setting this program back by five or 10 years.
It is time to rejoice college basketball fans. After seven long months college basketball is back (officially). Since the last game of importance (UNC dismantling Michigan State), we’ve put up with the drama of Billy Gillispie getting fired and John Calipari getting hired (technically before the title game) along with John Wall, Lance Stephenson, and Renardo Sidney taking a ridiculously long time to decide where they would go to college (maybe just for one year) then waited to see if they would be eligible to play, which will probably be an ongoing drama throughout the season, and put up with a lot of really bad behavior by players and coaches. Now it is time for the games to begin. To be honest, the opening week is a little light on great games, but the pace should pick up next week as the early season tournaments get underway and we know that college basketball fans are craving a fix of real games so this week should still be exciting.
FIU at #4 UNC at 7 PM on ESPNU: Ok, I’ll admit it. This game is more interesting for the sideshow that is Isiah Thomas more than it will be compelling basketball unless Isiah decides to lace them up one more time. As for the actual basketball, I’ll be “watching” (quotation marks since this game is on ESPNU which nobody has) UNC to see how they have reloaded with the departure of Tyler Hansbrough (last seen filming awful commercials), Ty Lawson (last seen talking about how he should have left Chapel Hill after his freshman year), and Wayne Ellington (last seen on the bench in Minnesota). My guess is that we will be seeing a lot out of the frontcourt with John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Deon Thompson, and Ed Davis. Watch for the emergence of Ed Davis as Roy Williams will no longer have the option of hiding this budding superstar in what some believed was an attempt to keep his draft stock down and keep him in Chapel Hill for at least one more year (see Roy blowing off my question about Ed at the press conference after the Miami-UNC game last year–it’s the last question on the video as he is folding up his papers both while I am asking the question and as he is dodging the question).
Albany at #25 Syracuse at 9 PM on ESPNU: A week ago I wouldn’t have even thought this would be a contest, but that was before the world learned about Le Moyne. While Albany is a nice middle-of-the-pack America East team they shouldn’t be much of challenge for the Orange, but that depends on how shell-shocked they are after the Le Moyne debacle. Watch for Jim Boeheim to try to pound the Great Danes on the inside. Virgina transfer Will Harris will have his hands full on the inside with Wesley Johnson, Rick Jackson, and Arinze Onuaku.
Murray State at #12 California at 11 PM on ESPN U: This might be the most interesting game of the night even if it might be the least interesting to the casual fan, but we will be courtside covering the game for this year’s opening RTC Live (and we’ll be back two nights later when Detroit comes to Berkeley). I’m not expecting the Racers to pull off the upset although I think this game could be closer than a lot of people expect as Billy Kennedy brings a team that has the potential to win the Ohio Valley Conference into Berkeley. Kennedy will rely on his talented trio of Danero Thomas, Ivan Aska, and Isacc Miles against Mike Montgomery‘s talented group of perimeter players led by Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, and Theo Robertson. Montgomery’s trio (with some help from Duke transfer Jamal Boykin) should be enough to hold off the Racers, but if they come in believing the considerable hype we might just have our first upset of the regular season.
Hofstra at #1 Kansas on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: I’m not really expecting this to be a competitive game, but it is worth watching to see the consensus preseason #1 open up. Expect to see Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich play about 20-25 minutes in what should be a glorified exhibition. Hofstra has a pretty big name for a mid-major, but coach Tom Pecora will have the unenviable task of having to replace Antoine Agudio, the school’s all-time leading scorer, and he also lacks an interior presence to battle Aldrich on the inside–expect to see Aldrich dominate Greg Washington and Miklos Szabo on the inside. One match-up that might turn out to be interesting is at point guard with Collins going against Charles Jenkins (the only returning player in D1 to average more than 19 PPG, 4 RPG, and 4 APG last season). Outside of that check out the game to see Xavier Henry, who will have to work for his minutes this season on a deep and talented Jayhawk team.
Morehead State at #5 Kentucky on ESPNU: We would like to talk about how we think that one of the contenders for the Ohio Valley Conference title could take down Kentucky’s vaunted group of freshmen in their opening game, but it’s more likely that this could be a preview of a NCAA tournament game — a 1st round NCAA tournament game. Donnie Tyndall‘s team will have its hands full going into Rupp Arena with 23,500 rabid Kentucky fans ready to witness the rebirth of their program. One match-up that might be interesting will be Patrick Patterson (yes, Kentucky does have players outside of its freshmen) against Kenneth Faried, the odds-on favorite to win OVC POY. For the NBA scouts who might be reading this, you’ll have to wait to see John Wall who is sitting out as part of his suspension, but there will still be NBA talent on the court with Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins on the inside for the Wildcats.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference. Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.
Predicted Order of Finish:
6th Man. Muhammad El-Amin (G), Sr., Stony Brook
Impact Newcomer. Luke Apfeld (F), Fr., Vermont
What You Need to Know. This offseason has been a rocky one for reigning America East champion Binghamton to say the least. The Bearcats went through one of the biggest roster changeovers due to disciplinary reasons in history of NCAA basketball. They are returning only four players as nine from last year are now gone. Out of those nine players, six were dismissed for disciplinary reasons including three starters and two all conference selections. Talk about a rough offseason for Binghamton fans. The latest blow (probably not a blow after how much trouble he got this program into) is that Coach Kevin Broadus has been placed on paid leave and assistant coach Mark Macon will take over in the interim. My humble opinion is that Coach Broadus will never be back. The school will try to work out some type of settlement and they will ultimately part ways. It is crazy to think that Broadus could stay with the program after all the public relations damage already inflicted. Mark Macon is going to have a tough first season to say the least. This team should not be expected to win more than two or three conference games, which is even a stretch. In other news, Boston University fired Coach Dennis Wolff, the all time leader in wins for the BU program, after 15 years. They hired Villanova assistant Patrick Chambers to lead the Terriers back to the top. With the roster he walked into, Chambers has it easier than most first time coaches. This season Vermont’s Marqus Blakely is going for his third consecutive America East Player of the Year award which would put him in the select company of only two others in history, Reggie Lewis of Northeastern and of Vermont. Blakely also has a shot at his third straight America East Defensive Player of the Year, which would be unprecedented.
Binghamton (#15, East, Greensboro pod)
vs. Duke (#2)
Thurs. 3/19 @ 9:20pm
Vegas Line: Binghamton +21.5
Location: Vestal, New York
Conference: America East/ Automatic
Coach: Kevin Broadus, 37-24
08-09 Record: 23-8, 13-3
Last 12 Games: 11-1, won last 11
Best Win: 91-83, Vermont,January 8, 2009
Worst Loss: 63-60, @ Bucknell, December 20, 2008
Off. Efficiency Rating: 100.9; 178
Def. Efficiency Rating: 100.8; 159
Nuts n Bolts
Star Player(s): D.J. Rivera, 20.1ppg, 6.6rpg, 1.8spg, 46.8% FG
Unsung Hero: Reggie Fuller, 0.0ppg, 7.0rpg, 1.7bpg, 56.9% FG
Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): None
Key Injuries: None
Depth: 26.3%, 280
Achilles Heel: Ineffective bench and only one good forward
Will Make a Deep Run if…: D.J. Rivera scored 30ppg
Will Make an Early Exit if…: they only play like the bullies of the America East they are
Last Year Invited: First appearance
Best NCAA Finish: N/A
Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): N/A
Six Degrees to Detroit: Kevin Broadus was recruiting coordinator of 2007 Georgetown Final Four team.
Distance to First Round Site:
School’s Claim to Fame: PTI’s Tony Kornheiser is a proud alum
School Wishes It Could Forget: Malik Alvin was arrested early in the season for stealing condoms early in the season
Prediction: First round loss. The America East is a competitive small conference but nothing that can compete with the big time schools they will play in the first round.
Major RTC stories: N/A
Preview written by Corey Johns of UMBC Sports Blog.
There are twelve automatic bids today, so we’ll be updating these as the day moves forward…
#16 – Binghamton (23-8, 16-3 Am East). Binghamton took care of business today against upstart UMBC to win their eleventh in a row and earn the school’s first ever NCAA bid. Reggie Fuller had 19/10 and alleged non-POY DJ Rivera added 16/5 in the RTC home win. We had more coverage on today’s BGTD.
Projected Seed: #16
Something to Remember: Binghamton is um, size-challenged. Their tallest starter is the 6’6 Fuller. And have you heard that Tony Kornheiser has an affinity for this school for some reason? Yeah, we hadn’t either.
#17 – Memphis (31-3, 19-0 CUSA). 25 straight wins in a row. 61 CUSA wins in row. Memphis just keeps on truckin’, with another stellar defensive performance in holding Tulsa to 26% from the field and 2-14 from three. This was also the 135th win for the Tiger senior class, who is focused on getting to #141, according to Coach Calipari. Robert Dozier had 18/14 and Tyreke Evans had 18/5/6 in the same-old, same-old for Memphis.
Projected Seed: #2
STR: We’re going to be a little contrarian here, but we’re not buying that Memphis is a national title contender this year. Are they better than anticipated? Absolutely. Are they on the same level as UConn, Pitt, Louisville, UNC, etc.? No freakin’ way. Their defense is outstanding, statistically the very best in the land. And CUSA is a better league than people tend to think it is. But the fact of the matter here is that Memphis is playing with house money right now. They were beaten by Georgetown, Xavier and Syracuse in the pre-conference slate. Tennessee took them down to the last possession. They rolled up Gonzaga in their building, but the Zags wilted in the face of their athletic defenders. Memphis is a very good team – but they’re not going back to the F4. Remember that you heard it here first.
Overview. What a day. By our count, there were eleven conference tournament games today that went down to the final minute where either team had a realistic shot to win. We’re proud to say that we saw most of those games and recorded it for all posterity over at our daily journal of hoopsography, Boom Goes the Dynamite. So without rehashing everything that we transcribed over there, let’s take a look at some of the key storylines that we’re keeping an eye on going into Championship Saturday.
Get Your Voodoo Dolls Out. These are the teams that Bubble Nation despises right now because these are the guys still standing in their conference tourneys that are in position to take away ‘their’ much-more-deserving spot in the field of 65. So if you’re a fan of one of the below teams and you feel a prickly feeling tomorrow in your thigh emanating from Omaha, Las Cruces, Gainesville, Providence, et al, you’ll know why.
Championship Saturday. Twelve automatic bids will be earned tomorrow. Her’e's a brief primer on each.
A Few Other Thoughts.
Finally, Welcome American to the Dance… (15 down, 50 to go…).
#15 – American (24-7, 13-1). American earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAAs with its easy win today over Holy Cross, 73-57. Jeff Jones’ squad got 24 from star guard and Tourney MVP Garrison Carr, but it was their defense that once again shut down a conference foe (holding HC to 32% shooting).
Projected Seed: #15
Something to Remember: American got bombed by Oklahoma, Georgetown and Maryland this year, but it’s their defense that should have high seeds concerned. They have the 24th best defensive efficiency, but they likely don’t have enough offense to run with the big dogs unless they catch a really poor offensive team on an off night.
On Tap Tomorrow. Be sure to check in with us tomorrow, as we’ll be back with BGTD all day, covering the dozen auto-bids plus the four other conferences that don’t finish up until Sunday. The three games that have us most excited on Championship Saturday? Louisville-Syracuse, Illinois-Purdue and Utah St.-Nevada. See you then.