In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part five)

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Five: SCHEDULING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: Williams has been the AD at Portland for six years now following a five year stint as the head of licensing and product marketing at his alma mater Notre Dame. Williams was a two-time All-American offensive lineman with the Irish before starting 44 games in the NFL.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.

For the most part, our first two articles on scheduling at the mid-major level have talked about the difficulties associated with lining up game. We mentioned that some schools see benefits to playing big-time programs with talented rosters, both in recruiting and in preparing their teams for conference and postseason play. Another benefit to playing these types of games is the money. Very few of the programs at this level have huge athletic budgets, so the money from taking a guarantee game and going on the road to face a bigger school is important not only to the basketball program, but also to the entire athletic department and the university. So while getting a chance for publicity from playing these games is a great incentive, the money associated with them is also a strong enticement.

Guarantee Games Are Not Always Guaranteed

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: The Big 12, the ACC, they’re all paying out big guarantees. It all depends on that particular school’s budget – some big schools will pay $55,000 or $60,000 guarantees. You can even get up to $80,000 or $90,000. And the later you wait, if there is a BCS school still looking for games, they may have to raise up the ante, they’ll pay a larger amount than they would have three months earlier.

Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty: It’s an important part for most mid-majors. Here at Liberty, the athletic department typically tries to reinvest a lot of that money back into the program, so we’re able to use it in a way that enhances Liberty basketball and the athletic department in ways that everybody can appreciate.

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: We think the money is very important, and the main thing when we play those games, you want to do everything you can to help out within the athletic department and the university. So we don’t have a problem playing guarantees. It’s a great thing for the guys to play that kind of schedule, you’re playing some of the top players in the country, some of the top coaches in the country, so I think it is a great experience for all of us.

Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: We will play guarantee games. At some places there are mandates where you’ve gotta play these many guarantees and earn this much money, but we don’t do that. We’re trying to be very conscious of the growth of our program. And if an appropriate guarantee presents itself, we’re not afraid to play it, because quite frankly, we can win those games too. So, we’ve gotta be conscious of the opportunity to get a win and a paycheck.

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: I wouldn’t say we have a mandate. My AD and I have a very good relationship, and I, based on conversations with him, know what he is hoping to get, in terms of number of guarantee games, and know what he is hoping for based on the current budget and the current situation. So he and I sit down and visit and based on those conversations I know what I need to do. The bottom line is, I don’t mind playing those games.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: You can ask ten different schools about guarantee games and get like five different answers. I don’t have a lot of pressure on me, on our basketball program, to play guarantee games. We do play them, but we don’t play too many of them. Last year for instance, we played one against Mississippi State, this year we play one at Pitt. It does help us with revenues within our athletic department at a school like ours, but fortunately our administration isn’t saying to me, you have to go out and play four guarantee games so that we can fund a different program. You know, I don’t have that pressure on me, I don’t have a certain number of dollars that we have to generate through guarantee games. If I choose to, if I want to maybe buck our RPI up in a year when we think we have a chance to be pretty good, maybe help us with getting into a postseason tournament, I have the opportunity to schedule them if I’d like. But I don’t have pressure from my administration to schedule them to bring in a lot of money, and I think that’s a very good situation to be in, where your program is funded enough that there’s not pressure to go take four losses, just to help out with the budget. And I’m very appreciative that I don’t have to do that.

While road guarantee games are the usual case for mid-major match-ups with BCS conference teams, there are other ways to get matchups with BCS schools in other environments, the most common and a greatly preferred way, is in the early-season tournaments like the NIT Season Tip-Off or the Maui Invitational. These tournaments often (although not always) give mid-major programs a chance to face high-majors on a neutral court.

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Starting Tomorrow, We’re Talkin’ About Practices

Posted by jstevrtc on October 14th, 2010

Fall is the most appropriately named season. It is called that because the sun is falling below the celestial equator, for you amateur astronomers out there, but poets and writers far better than this one have described so many other reasons throughout time to illustrate why fall is known as the “season of descent”  — the decreasing number of daylight hours, the leaves, the mercury in your thermometer, the amount of filler material on SportsCenter. Of the few things that do indeed rise at this time of year, one of them has become one of surest signs that fall has arrived…

When the Tents Sprout in Lexington for Big Blue Madness Tickets, You Know That Fall Is Here.

True, in the Driesellian sense, nobody has true “Midnight Madness” anymore. And there’s so much more interaction now between coaches and players that happens prior to that circled mid-October day where once none was allowed. It doesn’t matter, because the psychosis to which college basketball aficionados across the nation willingly give in is real, and it arrives tomorrow.

That’s right, tomorrow. A big black “x” in the October 15th square on your wall calendar means that hoopheads are celebrating their own national holiday, which, inasmuch as it isn’t real Midnight Madness, we’ll call the First Official Day of Practice (FODP). Like it or not, the NCAA still calls the shots, and if they say that that particular day is open season for full-squad, you-can-use-a-ball workouts to begin, then celebrate we will, for the season is short but sweet for certain (apologies to Dave and the boys).

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part four)

Posted by rtmsf on October 12th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Four: SCHEDULING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: Lang has been the beat writer for Liberty University since 2005 after having spent eight years as the Sports Editor at the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.

Last time we talked about the difficult process that mid-major basketball programs go through when putting together their non-conference schedules, and we’ll get more of that here. When teams have a hard time finding quality opponents who are willing to come to their place, their choices get relegated to playing insanely tough opponents (like with Long Beach State who we discussed last time), playing a ton of road games as is normal for many mid-majors, or watering down the schedule with teams in the bottom reaches of Division I and even lower divisions of basketball. At East Tennessee State, for example, they had trouble finding anybody to come to Johnson City to play them, with Tennessee Tech and NAIA-school Milligan College the only non-conference home games on their schedule.

It's Tough When Scheduling NAIA is a Viable Option

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Yup. That’s all we’ve got is two non-conference home games, and one of those in a non-DI school. But we just really struggled, more this year than I ever have as a head coach, to get home-and-homes started. And again, to get games is easy. To go on the road is easy. To get people to be willing to play you at home is not an easy thing.

Chris Lang, Beat Writer for Liberty, Lynchburg News & Advance: Between Liberty and Virginia or Virginia Tech, the biggest difference is scheduling. They can’t get anyone to come here to play men’s basketball games. There’s a reason they play three or four NAIA or non-DI’s a year, because you can’t get anyone. If you’re Coach Layer, you can take money game after money game, but do you want to put your team through that and never get a chance to play at home and get used to your home court? I know for this year’s schedule they have five non-conference home games and only two of them are against Division I teams. They got George Mason and William & Mary to come here, but it is very difficult.

The difficulties in scheduling, and specifically the difficulties in getting home games, lead to problems in terms of winning games. No matter the level of competition, it is hard to win on the road. So, the more road games a team has to play, the more likely losses can begin piling up.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: The thing is, the leagues at mid-major level are just so balanced, and you can’t get non-conference home games, so in order to have a great year, you have to either dominate your league or win a lot of non-conference road games. And over time, those two things have been very difficult to do. It is hard to dominate a league that is so balanced where every night you can get beat. And non-conference road games are very difficult to win. So it makes having that 22- to 25-win year hard -– you had better be really, really good. And that’s why you see so many of the mid-majors at the end of non-conference play under .500 and so many of them hovering around .500.

And when mid-major programs lose games early, whether they be against big BCS teams on the road or in tournaments 0r even in their home games, it can hurt the confidence of the players, and it can diminish the support of the fans.

Bartow: The fans just have to be realistic. As a head coach, you don’t want to come out in the paper and be negative, you don’t want to come out and say, “hey fans, we’re going to lose a lot of these games,” but fans have to be realistic, fans have to understand the big picture. Again, when I go into these games, I hope we can win them all, I hope we can go undefeated, but I’m also old enough and experienced enough as a head coach to know when you go in and play Kentucky or Ole Miss on the road or Dayton on the road, chances are, you’re going to lose those games. So you just have to understand the big picture of what you’re trying to get done and fans have to be understanding as well.

At Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they worked their way through a rough 0-11 start to last season during a tough non-conference stretch featuring 11 straight road games with eight of them against BCS conference teams, before being able to turn it around and eventually earn their way into the NCAA tournament.

Is the UABP Model of Scheduling the Right One?

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Our team was good about it. You come to school and you want to play against tough competition. We started 0-11, but our minds were always positive. One thing we did last year that was maybe a little different than the year before was to just focus on our academics and the guys understood that their number one goal when coming to college was to get a degree. So we focused on that and it kept a lot of tension off of the 0-11 stretch for our guys.

The Arkansas-Pine Bluff model, a model similar to Long Beach State’s plan, is to play tough teams to toughen your squad up for conference play and the postseason. And many coaches found at least some validity to such a plan.

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RTC Conference Primers: #31 – SWAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 4th, 2010

David Ely is an occasional contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Jackson State (15-3)
  2. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (13-5)
  3. Alabama State (12-6)
  4. Texas Southern (11-7)
  5. Alabama A&M (9-9)
  6. Prairie View A&M (9-9)
  7. Mississippi Valley State (9-9)
  8. Grambling State (7-11)
  9. Southern (3-15)
  10. Alcorn State (2-16)

All-Conference Team

  • Junior Treasure (G) — Texas Southern
  • Tyrone Hansen (G) — Jackson State
  • Savalance Townsend (G) — Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  • De’Suan Dixon (F) — Jackson State
  • Shannon Behling (F) — Mississippi Valley State

6th Man:

  • Cornelius Hester (G) — Alabama A&M

Junior Treasure (with ball) is the best among the bevy of guards featured in the SWAC. (AP/Val Horvath)

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part two)

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Two: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State – Miles starts his third year in Long Beach following a seven-year stretch at Boise State where he was the primary media relations contact for the basketball team.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.

Last time around, we heard about the challenges mid-major schools face in competing for recruits and the importance of player development at the mid-major level. This time, we’ll look at some of the more practical questions to be answered when recruiting, such as what types of players coaches are going to be looking for and where they are going to find them. If you’re in a talent-rich area, you may not ever need to go outside of your region to find players, but the bigger pool of talent from which you are able to draw, the more likely you are to be able to land talented players.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: We’re in a great location. We sit right in the middle between Philadelphia and New York City. We’re about 35 miles from Philadelphia and about 50 miles from New York City, which also puts us two hours from Baltimore, maybe three hours from Washington DC, within three hours of Virginia, we have a couple of kids from Delaware, so again we’re in a location that allows us to recruit regionally. I think most coaches will tell you that they want to take care of their back yard, but how big your back yard is changes for everybody. If you’re in the Midwest and there are not as many players within a two-hour radius of your school, then obviously you have to change your approach. But in our situation we are able to do the majority of our recruiting close to home.

Locating Talent is Extremely Important

Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin: As far as location, we try to bring in student-athletes within about a six hour radius from us, we’ve been more successful doing that, but saying that, we kind of go where we know people, where people can help us and we’ve been able to be successful because of our contacts.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: Coach (Dan) Monson’s goal is always to get the best player in Long Beach. That’s his number one goal. That’s how we got Larry Anderson. Casper Ware is a local kid, T.J. Robinson happened to come from Connecticut, but he came because we were recruiting Larry Anderson who was at a prep school and we saw T.J. But, with this team this year we had a lot of returners, so they were trying to find pieces that would fit with this team, with all these returners they had certain needs and they may have been a little more particular about who they wanted. Three years ago when Coach Monson and his staff came here, they needed players, and it didn’t matter what position. And I think this year maybe more they wanted to recruit to a position or to a skill set.

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: We prefer to recruit locally, but really, it is all based on need. Certain classes are stronger than others: 2012 looks to be stronger than the 2011 class, as an example. And then there might be times when you have to recruit for need, like you need a point – it’s not just about recruiting a position, like you need a guard or forward – you might have more specific needs, like you need an athletic, guard-the-rim post-player, they may not need to be a great offensive post player. Or you might need a post player who can pick-and-pop and hit the three, but isn’t that great on the block. Or you might have a bunch of 6’4/6’5 athletes who are drivers/slashers, but you need to find a guy that can hit the three. If a player can do it all, they’re not going to come to our level. Sometimes we just need to find guys that can fit a need. In this case, we got some really good kids out of state and if we have a need and don’t think that need can be best filled out of the local area, we go to wherever it is we can get it.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: There are some years where we sign a number of guys from the area and other years where it’s a little bit different, but yeah, our base is the local area. Last year we brought in two kids from the DC area. Obviously we want to stay with that as much as possible, but there are times when there is just not enough volume in your area when you’ve got to get five or six kids in a year, which we’ve had to do. You know, we had to get 10 guys in two years and so sometimes when there’s not as much in the area and you’ve got to get quality, you’ve got to go to places out of the area, and I think that’s where TV has helped us as well.

Schools like Long Beach State and George Mason have easy access to major metropolitan areas. Obviously, not all schools enjoy such a location, and as a result cannot rely entirely on getting recruits from their local area.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Part One: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.

First up: recruiting. This is the biggest, most pressure-packed area in college athletics. No matter how good coaches are at the X’s-and-O’s, they need players to execute their plans. At the mid-major level, the likelihood of a coach winding up with a ready-made pro is minuscule, so coaches have to find diamonds-in-the-rough, and, perhaps more importantly, develop their players over the course of their careers. Not only do schools at this level have to compete with other schools of similar size, if they find themselves competing with  a higher-level school for the same prospect, they may have to make a decision as to whether or not continuing to recruit the player is a worthwhile use of time. And the schools have to make the most of every advantage they can find in order to land the best student-athletes for their institution.

Recruiting Players Takes on Many Forms

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Obviously, if you’re a college basketball coach, the most important part of your job is making sure that you’ve got good players.

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: There are a lot of things that go into recruiting. It comes down to what that kid is really looking for and what that kid wants out of college.

Bartow: There are so many things that go into it. There is no question that the relationship is critical, whether that’s with the head coach or an assistant coach. But that is very pivotal in the decision, building the relationship with not only the prospect, but a mom or a dad or whoever is going to be helping them make that decision. And certainly the product you’re trying to show them is important. Fortunately, I think I’m in a situation where I think we’ve got a good product, but there are a lot of things that are important: the school, the community, the housing, the fan’s support of your program, how many times you’re potentially going to be on TV and what conference you’re in, your history, the success you’ve had and how many times you’ve been to the NCAA tournament recently. So there are a lot of things and certainly different things are important to different players. For instance, we’ve been to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, and for some prospects that is very, very critical and important, and for others that might not be so important. So there are different things for different prospects.

When George Mason broke through to the Final Four in 2006, they were the first big mid-major success story in the NCAA Tournament since, arguably, Larry Bird’s Indiana State team made it there in 1979. Sure, there have been other non-BCS schools to get to the Final Four (Memphis ’08, Louisville ’05 and Marquette ’03 all came out of Conference USA, and Utah ’98 out of the WAC are all examples of non-BCS teams advancing to the Final Four, but none of those teams can really be considered a mid-major given their substantial basketball budgets), but Mason, an 11-seed and one of the last teams into the tournament that season, is clearly the first “modern” mid-major Cinderella story. While their success opened some doors recruiting-wise, new challenges arose as well.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: I don’t think anything has gotten easier since the Final Four, but it has been different for sure. I think we’ve gotten some good players, but you’ve got to caution yourself against those with superficial interest, people who will put you on their list because it sounds good, but they’re really not considering you because they are too far from home or whatever. You still want to make sure you’re getting guys that really want to be there and they’re hungry. Sometimes when you have success there are certain kids who are really attracted to the success and maybe not as attracted to working, almost like they’re feeling, “hey, if I get a scholarship over at George Mason, that’s it, I don’t have to work anymore.” But the guys that helped us get there, they signed with George Mason when it wasn’t as fashionable and they were driven to succeed. The one thing that the Final Four appearance has done for us is that it has helped us get involved with guys who maybe we previously couldn’t have gotten involved with. It helps us get into homes in different areas. You know, our school is much more of a household name nationally, and we’ve become a stronger name in our area as well. I think it has been good, but you also have to be careful with it too.

For mid-majors, a lot of the big-name recruits (McDonald’s All-Americans), are out of the question in all but the rarest of circumstances. This season, point guard Ray McCallum, Jr. chose Detroit over BCS schools like Arizona, Florida and UCLA, a decision which would have been startling were it not for the fact that his dad is the head coach there. For most mid-major programs, these players aren’t even in consideration. To make up for that, mid-majors have to find players that fly under the radar of some of the bigger schools and guys who are willing to put in the hard work to improve.

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First Round Game Analysis: Friday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Friday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Florida State  (Buffalo pod)

This is a very tough game to call, so let’s start with what we know about it.  The Zags, no stranger to cross-country travel, come into Buffalo after an 11-day layoff where St. Mary’s took Mark Few’s team behind the woodshed and beat them handily in the WCC Tournament championship.  Florida State comes in having dropped its quarterfinal game against NC State in an effort that had their fans shaking their heads in disgust.  So needless to say, both teams are looking for a fresh start here.  The Zags are always dangerous, and this year’s squad led by Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris has the offensive firepower to score with just about anyone in America.  Merely an ok three-point shooting team, they tend to rely on the drives of Harris and mid-range game of Bouldin to create offense.  However, they don’t tend to respond well to teams that crowd and push them around, but unfortunately, FSU is just such a team.  The Seminoles enjoy the nation’s top defensive efficiency, and while they have the opposite problem of finding points, they should have no problem putting the clamps down on the Zag scoring options.  The question here comes down to whether the FSU defense, anchored by 7’1 Solomon Alabi and 6’9 Chris Singleton’s combined four blocks per game, is better than the Gonzaga offense, and we think that it is.  And as up/down as the Seminoles were in the ACC, they never came close to losing to the likes of Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, as Gonzaga did this year.

The Skinny:  The Zags this year aren’t quite as good as they usually are, and they’re facing a team that will shut down their biggest strength.  FSU wins this one by eight points to get a date with Syracuse.

7:15 pm – #7 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Georgia Tech  (Milwaukee pod)

Here’s another one that’s got people confused.  For good reason, too.  All year long we’ve been waiting on Georgia Tech to do something with all that talent, and now they’re playing better basketball, just in time.  Oklahoma State’s showing against Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament will cost them some support, but we’re going to excuse that performance.  That was a tired basketball team, playing their third game in a six day span with K-State at the end of it — and the Wildcats were coming off of a five-day rest.  Georgia Tech is going to go inside to Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal like crazy, but when the Yellow Jackets actually shoot the three, they shoot it well.  Defending the three is a glaring OSU weakness, so it will be interesting to see how often Georgia Tech eschews their big men in favor of launching it from the arc, because those shots will be there.  So…good outside shooting, great inside players…sounds pretty good for Tech, right?  The question will be whether or not they can get to that point in their offense.  Georgia Tech ranks in the bottom twenty of Division I teams in terms of turning the ball over.  Can the Jackets, then, find a way to keep James Anderson from shredding them or Keiton Page from raining threes?

The Skinny: Oklahoma State won’t have to exert too much energy guarding the three, since Tech’s propensity to turn the ball over will take care of some of that.  The Cowboys have been getting more and more help from their role players, and we feel 9-7 in the Big 12 is better than 7-9 in the ACC this year.  It’ll be a great first round game, but we like Oklahoma State in a close one.

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ATB: Play-In Game and NIT Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Welcome to the Real Dance, BluffersArkansas-Pine Bluff 61, Winthrop 44.  Well, we’re off to a great start so far this year.  With tonight’s convincing win over Winthrop, UAPB becomes the 64th entrant into the bracket, and those who fret about completeness (“I can’t make my picks yet!!”) are able to finally concentrate.  For a team that started the season 0-11 as it traveled all over the country taking regular beatings, a win tonight and another roadie to Jacksonville to face Duke on Friday feels like just desserts.  Allen Smith had 14/5 and Tavaris Washington contributed 8/13/5 assts as the Golden Lions broke open a close game at the half to slowly pull away in the second.  Even though it is only the PiG, this is the first win by a SWAC team in the NCAA Tournament since Southern University pulled the trick as a #15 in 1993.

Allen Smith Moves On to Play Duke (DDN/L. Powell)

Argument for the Play-In-Game.  In watching some of this game tonight in front of 8,000+ fans at the UD Arena in Dayton, while switching over to some of the more interesting NIT games tonight, we once again come back to the idea of expansion and how the NCAA might look into integrating ideas into the existing system using something that approximates logic and reason.  Obviously, the preferred scenario is no additional expansion, but it’s also the least likely.  We’re never going back to a perfectly symmetrical sixty-four team bracket now that we’re at 65, so let’s consider the next best alternative.  The Tuesday night PiG is widely mocked among bracketeers around the country, but as you can see by clicking through the link above, people in Dayton attend and enjoy the game.  We’ve said for the better part of a decade, though, that having a single game hanging out on a thread like that is weird and feels a little funny — it’s like finding a box of raisins in the paper towels section at the grocery store.  We think that the fix for this is to have four play-in games, which means 68 teams would be invited to the NCAA Tournament.  Each region would have one PiG, and all four of them would be played in the 7pm and 9pm time slots on Tuesday night, with winners moving on to the Friday games around the country.  Dayton could host two games and another great basketball city such as Salt Lake or Memphis could host the other two.  Here’s the rub, though.  Rather than making the four PiGs a situation where the worst eight teams (#16 seeds) are slotted into them, make it so that the games utilize the unyielding buzz and conversation about the bubble that dominates the entire previous weekend.  You achieve this by slotting the last eight at-large teams into these four play-in games.  This year, that would have meant the following scenario:

  • Utah State vs. Mississippi State
  • UTEP vs. Illinois
  • Minnesota vs. Arizona State
  • Florida vs. Virginia Tech

How ridiculously fun would that be to watch on Tuesday night?– no offense to tonight’s competitors, but it’s no contest!  Bubble teams, this is the chance for you to make your case against a similarly situated team — it’s win or go home.  The UAPBs and Winthrops of the world would already be in the round of 64 (aka the first round) as #16 seed auto-bids.  The winner of these four PiGs comprised solely of the eight lowest at-larges could be slotted as #12 or #13 seeds regardless of who wins.  Can someone tell us what’s wrong with this idea?

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.16.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • The first “upset” of the tournament occurred in the South Region when SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff took down the Big South tournament champion Winthrop, 61-44. The Golden Lions earned the right to play top seeded Duke on Friday night.
  • When #9 Louisville takes on #8 California on Friday night, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says he’ll be ready for the Bears’ “organized chaos.”  There is also an interesting quote in the article from Cardinals’ guard Edgar Sosa that says he has heard Cal referred to as “poor man’s Marquette”.
  • Utah State’s leading scorer, junior guard Tai Wesley, broke his nose in the WAC tournament final on Saturday when the Aggies got pounded by New Mexico State.  He will play in the Aggies’ upcoming game versus Texas A&M, but you have to wonder what kind of effect it will have on USU’s star. On TAMU’s side, they will have Dash Harris back in the lineup after he missed the Big 12 Tournament with a bone bruise in his right wrist. Head coach Mark Turgeon said that if his team wants any chance to win this weekend, they will need Harris healthy.
  • Fran McCaffery is not letting his Siena team think they can beat Purdue by just showing up in Spokane on Friday. He says Purdue is by far the best team Siena will face all season even without Robbie Hummel. You’d have to think a Butler Bulldogs fan would think otherwise.
  • Here is an interesting article from The Times-Picayune which highlights the #3 Baylor vs. #14 Sam Houston State game. Not only are the two teams from Texas, but they have two New Orleans natives returning to their home town for the first round. Star senior guards Tweety Carter (Baylor) and Ashton Mitchell (Sam Houston State) both played their high school ball in The Big Easy.
  • Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer about his team’s lackluster play in first round games the past two seasons. Wright said “we’ve survived first-round games, but we really haven’t played well in first-round games.”

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

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RTC Bracketology Seed Update: 03.14.10

Posted by zhayes9 on March 14th, 2010

From today until Selection Sunday, keep checking Rush the Court for updates on who’s in, who’s out and seeding.

UPDATES ALL DAY TODAY. FINAL BRACKET REVEALED JUST BEFORE 6 PM ET.

(Note: each of the four teams in one seed grouping is listed in pecking order in terms of who is closer to moving up a seed line. This is used to determine game location and matchups similar to Joe Lunardi’s S-Curve listing).

Also: play the NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday challenge at NCAA.com to be your own Bracketologist.

Italics indicates conference leaders/champions.

Last update: 03/14, 3:50 PM ET.

#1 Seeds: Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, West Virginia

#2 Seeds: Duke, Ohio State, Kansas State, Georgetown

#3 Seeds: New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Purdue

#4 Seeds: Baylor, Wisconsin, Temple, Tennessee

#5 Seeds: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Michigan State, BYU

#6 Seeds: Maryland, Butler, Richmond, Xavier

#7 Seeds: Gonzaga, Northern Iowa, Texas, UNLV

#8 Seeds: Notre Dame, Marquette, Clemson, Oklahoma State

#9 Seeds: Florida State, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Missouri

#10 Seeds: UTEP, Old Dominion, Saint Mary’s, San Diego State

#11 Seeds: Wake Forest, Washington, California, Siena

#12 Seeds: Utah State, Minnesota, Cornell, Illinois

#13 Seeds: Murray State, New Mexico State, Oakland, Houston

#14 Seeds: Wofford, Sam Houston State, Ohio, Montana

#15 Seeds: Morgan State, UC-Santa Barbara, North Texas, Vermont

#16 Seeds: Robert Morris, East Tennessee State, Lehigh, Winthrop, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Last Four In: California, Utah State, Minnesota, Illinois

Last Four Out: Mississippi State, Florida, Virginia Tech, Seton Hall

Bids per conference: Big East (8), Big 12 (7), Big Ten (6), ACC (5), Mountain West (4), SEC (3), Atlantic 10 (3), Pac-10 (2), West Coast (2), WAC (2), C-USA (2).

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #27 – SWAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 9th, 2009

seasonpreviewJC of HBCUSportsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the MEAC and SWAC conferences. Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Alabama State (20-9)
  2. Jackson State (16-13)
  3. Alabama A&M (15-11)
  4. Prairie View (13-16)
  5. Mississippi Valley State (13-18)
  6. Alcorn State (10-19)
  7. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (10-19)
  8. Texas Southern (9-20)
  9. Grambling State (5-21)
  10. Southern (5-26)

All-Conference Team:

  • Christopher Jones (G) – Prairie View – Purest point guard in the SWAC, but will have to reduce his turnovers for the Panthers to be successful this season.
  • Troy Jackson (G) – Alcorn State – Ruthless scorer who also shot better than 40 percent from the field in 08-09.
  • Grant Maxey (F) – Jackson State – Versatile forward will likely emerge as the 09-10 SWAC Player of the Year
  • Douglas Scott (F) – Southern – Tenacious rebounder, came on late last season with three double-doubles in his last five games.
  • Darnell Hugee (C) – Prairie View – If he stays out of foul trouble, could be one of the best post players in Division I basketball.

6th Man. Deandre Hall (G) – Texas Southern – Turnover prone, but can do damage from interior and perimeter.

swac logo

What You Need to Know.  The SWAC is among the worst conferences in all of Division I basketball. There’s no sugarcoating the lack of talent and the brutal out-of-conference schedules that the SWAC member schools play just to keep their athletic budgets afloat. But what they are lacking in appeal and talent, their upper-echelon teams make up for in competitive drive and great coaching. Alabama State took SEC opponents Auburn and Mississippi to the wire on the road last season before dropping both games by fewer than five points.

Predicted ChampionJackson State (NCAA Seed: #16). Jackson State has played second fiddle to Alabama State in the regular season for two years in a row. But while the Tigers return key seniors Grant Maxey and Garrison Johnson, the Hornets of ASU lost a lot in the departure of PG Brandon Brooks and forward Andrew Hayles. The JSU Tigers will prevail in the conference championship, but not without serious tests from the likes of Prairie View and Alabama State.

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Checking in on the… SWAC

Posted by rtmsf on February 13th, 2009

JC of HBCUSportsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the SWAC and MEAC Conferences.

Just when you were starting to get those early brackets together and were set to peg the SWAC as the 65th seed, the top two teams in the conference may have you thinking otherwise.

Alabama State and Jackson State are coming down the stretch for the top seed in the conference and the inglorious mockery of the college hoops nation heading into March Madness. But there’s a lot more to the Hornets and Jaguars than being a play-in place holder.

Here’s the scoop on the this week in the SWAC.

THIS WEEK - Alabama State was this close to being undefeated in the SWAC conference. A hiccup against Alcorn State is the Hornets’ lone defeat of 2009, and one of two in the last 14 games. Jackson State has traveled a similar road, with two winning streaks of four games or better in 2009, and only two conference losses to Prairie View A&M and…Alabama State.

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