NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4). Despite receiving a 30-minute test from #9 Michigan State on Sunday, Kansas remains the favorite to win the Midwest Region. The Jayhawks smashed #16 UC Davis 100-62 before dominating the last 10 minutes against the Spartans in the Round of 32 — a hard-fought victory that should prepare them well for an even stronger Big Ten opponent, #4 Purdue, on Thursday. If you buy into advanced metrics, this appears to be a fairly even matchup: Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom, while the Boilermakers rank 13th. Unfortunately for Matt Painter’s group, the game will be played in Kansas City, where a sea of Jayhawk faithful is sure to outnumber Purdue fans several fold. Assuming Kansas prevails, it will be a similar story against #3 Oregon or #7 Michigan. Beating Kansas is one thing, but beating Kansas in a semi-road game is something entirely different.

Kansas Rolls Into KC as the Clear Midwest Region Favorite (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Michigan (26-11). The Wolverines have not lost since that epic defeat at Northwestern on March 1, a nearly three-week stretch which has included a near-plane crash, a Big Ten Tournament championship, and a pair of gutsy NCAA Tournament victories over Oklahoma State and Louisville. Michigan now boasts the third-most efficient offense in college basketball, thanks in large part to blistering performances like the one Moritz Wagner (26 points on 11-of-14 FT) put on against the Cardinals on Sunday. If John Beilein’s group can get past shorthanded Oregon on Thursday, there’s no reason to think it can’t win this region. Heck, the Wolverines have already beaten Purdue twice since February 25, and the last time they played Kansas in the Big Dance, this happened. Look out.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Rhode Island (25-10). Rhode Island entered the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, so its victory over #6 Creighton in the Round of 64 was not that surprising. The fashion in which it whipped the Bluejays, though — winning by 14 points and trailing for exactly zero seconds in game time — was quite unexpected. So too was the Rams’ effort against #3 Oregon on Sunday night, a game in which they led by double-figures in the second half before falling victim to a cold-blooded Tyler Dorsey three-pointer in the closing seconds. For a program that had not gone dancing since 1999, Rhode Island was certainly ready for prime time.

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O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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Rhode Island & the Atlantic 10 Searching For Answers

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 12th, 2016

The phrase mid-major is thrown around a lot by those of us who watch this sport. At some point we got lazy and decided to classify every school outside of the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC as mid-major programs. While leagues like Conference USA and the Mountain West would not have fit the mid-major description in the early-to-mid 2000s, their basketball reputations have taken a dive in recent years as schools have relocated. Meanwhile, the Atlantic 10 has produced 52 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2000, the most of any conference outside the Power Six. As the preseason pick to finish second in the league, Rhode Island, much like the league it plays in, finds itself in an uncomfortable mid-December position.

Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews scored 31 points in Saturday's loss to Houston, one point shy of tying a career high. (Photo courtesy of GoRhody.com)

Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews scored 31 points in Saturday’s loss to Houston, one point shy of tying a career high. (GoRhody.com)

Although projecting the fortunes of this program is one of the tougher queries in college basketball, we have written in this space that 2016-17 could finally be the Year of the Rams. Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s recent basketball history is riddled with disappointment. Despite accumulating six 20-win seasons since the 1998-99 season — including four in a row from 2008-11 — the Rams have not appeared in the NCAA Tournament over that span. A healthy combination of returnees E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, in addition to improving depth and a jam-packed non-conference schedule, led many pundits to believe in the preseason that Rhode Island’s breakthrough was imminent.

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O26 Early Impressions: Takeaways From First 10 Days

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 21st, 2016

With Feast Week now upon us and two weekends of college hoops in the books, let’s take a step back and reflect on what we’ve learned, which teams have impressed, and why Florida Gulf Coast’s loss at Michigan State was unforgettable… for all the wrong reasons.

Saint Mary's center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

To this point, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

The West Coast Conference looks even better than expected. We ranked Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s #1 and #2 in our preseason Power 13, respectively, with Brigham Young also cracking the list. Each has lived up to—perhaps even exceeded—expectations in the early going. In their first major test, the Zags crushed San Diego State by 21 points, holding the Aztecs to 0.69 points per possession and receiving major contributions from freshman big man Zach Collins (16 points on 6-for-7 FG). The Gaels, to their credit, blitzed a talented Nevada team in their opener before earning a huge, resume-bolstering road win at Dayton two games later. The Cougars began their season with a double-digit victory over Ivy League favorite Princeton. As for potential WCC Player of the Year candidates? There may wind up being too many to count. Along with Gonzaga’s cast of contenders, BYU forward Eric Mika (21.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG), back from his two year LDS mission, has looked downright dominant on both ends of the floor through three games. Likewise, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale (20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG)—who averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game in 2015-16—has been an offensive revelation for Randy Bennett, in addition to hyper-efficient point guard Emmett Naar (9.0 PPG, 9.7 APG). Strap in for a heavyweight battle atop the WCC.

Rhode Island is the real deal. Sure, the Rams (4-1) lost handily to #1 Duke in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game, but they looked like they belonged, and they only got there by grinding out a 76-71 victory over #24 Cincinnati one day earlier. E.C. Matthews (19.5 PPG) appears to be his old self after missing last season with a knee injury, while forward Hassan Martin (4.3 BPG)—who blocked seven shots against Duke—looks well on his way to repeating as Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Rhode Island has the grit, the talent, and (finally) the offensive punch to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1999. The season’s first 10 days have only reaffirmed that.

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2016-17 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 11th, 2016

At long last, college basketball has arrived. Here are our Preseason O26 All-American and Player of the Year selections.

Player of the Year

Valparaiso's Alec Peters is our pick for O26 Player of the Year. (Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images)

Valparaiso’s Alec Peters is our pick for O26 Player of the Year. (Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images)

  • Alec Peters – G – Valparaiso. Peters, an outstanding shooter with tremendous size, could have transferred nearly anywhere he wanted this offseason and probably started immediately—something people thought might happen following the departure of head coach Bryce Drew in April. Instead, the senior chose to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to Valparaiso, making the Crusaders instant favorites to win the Horizon League and establishing himself as a legitimate AP All-American candidate. As a tall, mobile, high-percentage outside shooter (44% 3FG), Peters’ ability to stretch the floor is virtually unparalleled in the mid-major ranks, enabling him to create and exploit mismatches all over the court. His usage numbers are substantial (82% Min, 25.2% Shots), but you wouldn’t know if from his sparkling true shooting percentage (64.7% TS) or Offensive Rating (127.1 ORtg)—the 20th-best in college basketball. What’s more, Peters became a better offensive rebounder last season, which, along with his improved post game, helped him become nearly as dangerous in the paint as he is on the perimeter. The Illinois native could average more than 20 points per game this season, and even non-conference opponents like Oregon, Rhode Island and Kentucky may have a difficult time stopping him.

First Team

  • Jack Gibbs – G – Davidson. Gibbs led the Atlantic 10 in scoring last season (23.7 PPG) and is projected by Sports Illustrated to lead the entire country in that metric this season. He may not be Stephen Curry, but the 6’0″ point guard does far more than merely put the ball in the basket. Gibbs posted the conference’s second-highest assist rate, third-highest steal rate and drew more fouls per 40 minutes than anyone in the league a year ago. After shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range in 2014-15, he’s also (likely) a better long-range shooter than his 33.6 percent clip last season indicates; as one of the most heavily used players in college hoops, Gibbs may have fallen victim to late-season fatigue.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss – G – Gonzaga. A former McDonald’s All-American, Williams-Goss was nothing short of excellent during his two seasons at Washington. As a freshman, he led the Huskies in assists and was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team; as a sophomore, Williams-Goss ranked second in the league in assists (5.9 APG) and seventh in scoring (15.6 PPG) on his way to second team all-conference honors. Now at Gonzaga, the junior arguably has more talent surrounding him than he did in Seattle, including California transfer Jordan Mathews (13.5 PPG) and 7’1″ center Przemek Karnowski, an All-WCC Preseason pick. Expect massive production in Spokane from Williams-Goss.

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O26 Power 13: WCC Teams Reign Supreme

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2016

With the start of the regular season now just a few days away, it’s time to examine the O26 programs we think will shine in 2016-17. The school atop this list should come as no surprise.

1. Gonzaga  West Coast. No Kyle Wiltjer (20.4 PPG) or Domantas Sabonis (17.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG) this year? No problem. Like a true power program, Gonzaga simply reloads, adding three high-major transfers — guard Jordan Mathews (California), forward Johnathan Williams III (Missouri) and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) — along with several elite recruits to an already-talented lineup. Williams-Goss, a second team All-Pac-12 performer in 2014-15, should be a legitimate contender for WCC Player of the Year, while Mathews (41.6% 3FG in 2015-16), Williams (7.1 RPG in 2014-15), and McDonald’s All-American big man Zach Collins add scoring pop and defensive strength to the roster. With guard Josh Perkins (4.1 APG), rim-protector Przemek Karnowski (now healthy) and several other contributors back in the fold, Gonzaga’s ceiling appears higher than ever.

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary's meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

2. Saint Mary’s — West Coast. Based purely on returning production, Saint Mary’s should probably top this list. The Gaels welcome back everyone from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, including All-WCC point guard Emmett Naar (121.6 Offensive Rating) and forward Dane Pineau (126.2 Offensive Rating), arguably the league’s two most effective players at their positions. But really, the offense is everywhere. Forwards Even Fitzner (8.7 PPG) and Calvin Hermanson (10.9 PPG) each shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc on 130-plus attempts. Joe Rahon (10.7 PPG, 4.5 PPG, 5.4 APG) is among the most versatile guards in the conference. Center Jock Landale — one of five Aussies on the roster — scored 8.0 PPG in just 14.5 minutes per game last season, and should see more of the court this year. This might be Randy Bennett’s best team yet in Moraga. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 At-Large Watch: Early Season Games With Late Season Impact

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 7th, 2016

With March still several months away, it’s impossible to know which non-conference match-ups will actually prove critical once Selection Sunday arrives. But we here at the Other 26 microsite can certainly take an educated guess. Here are 11 pre-January contests that we think may play a significant role in deciding which O26 contenders will be in position to earn at-large bids on March 12.

Princeton will have several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

Princeton has several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

  • Princeton at Brigham Young – November 14, 10:00 PM EST, ESPN2. BYU essentially struck out in non-conference play last season and wound up paying the price on Selection Sunday. The Cougars’ margin for error may be even slimmer this year. As it stands, Princeton (#39 RPI in 2015-16) is probably BYU’s best non-league opponent, making this Tip-Off Marathon home tilt critical for Dave Rose’s offensively gifted group. For the Tigers — who also play VCU, California and Monmouth in the season’s first two months — a victory at the Marriott Center would be a giant feather in their non-conference cap.
  • San Diego State at #14 Gonzaga – November 14, 11:59 PM EST, ESPN2. If the Mountain West has another down year, San Diego State could find itself with a very hollow resume come March even if it lives up to its preseason billing. The Aztecs simply don’t have many opportunities for quality non-conference wins. Luckily, the bulk of their roster back, and the addition of two power-conference transfers should enable one of the nation’s most effective defensive teams to become more impactful on offense. Which is to say that Steve Fisher’s group should be able to compete with a talented-but-unproven Gonzaga unit, especially early this season. A win in the Kennel would be huge.

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Atlantic 10 NCAA Tournament Reactions

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 15th, 2016

Shock at the NCAA Tournament’s exclusion of St. Bonaventure, the first regular season conference champion with an RPI better than #30 to be left out of the NCAA field since it was expanded to 64 teams, was not limited to members of the school’s community, fans of the conference, veteran bracketologists and a wide consensus of sportswriters. Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade weighed in with a scathing critique of the committee’s judgement and a promise to “talk to the selection committee representatives and compare the stats of all of the at-large selections to understand why [the Bonnies] were not selected to hopefully avoid this disappointment in the future”.

The other three projected teams were included in the field of 68. Let’s take a look at each.

Dayton #7 seed, Midwest Region

After the seeds were assigned to their NCAA Tournament sites a Dayton supporter suggested (tongue firmly in cheek) that fans of his school and Xavier gather at a known St. Louis watering hole to catch their respective games and swap stories about the old Atlantic 10. Dayton drew Syracuse and a roster that has been ravaged by NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions. The Orange run a six-man rotation, which may explain why Syracuse’s record since Valentine’s Day is a paltry 2-5. Dayton can crack Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone with outside shooting (Cooke, Smith or Pierre) or utilize its bouncy forwards (Pierre, Pollard) flashing to the free throw line to convert or find open shooters. Archie Miller typically goes nine deep, so expect the Flyers’ high-energy rotation to wear the Orange down over the course of the game. Survive that and #2 seed Michigan State is up next, a team that many thought deserved a #1 seed. Should the Flyers survive the first weekend, challenges in the form of Seton Hall (or Utah) and ultimately one from a mix of Virginia (#1 seed), a Tubby Smith-coached Texas Tech (#8) or Iowa State (#5) await. Michigan State is without question the toughest draw for Dayton in this region. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts on the Atlantic 10’s Postseason Teams

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 14th, 2016

As we head into the heart of March Madness with the NCAA Tournament starting this week, let’s quickly review some of the key takeaways from the Atlantic 10 Tournament over the weekend in Brooklyn.

St. Joseph's Celebrated (USA Today Images)

St. Joseph’s Celebrated Its A-10 Title on Sunday in Brooklyn (USA Today Images)

At least six Atlantic 10 teams are still playing basketball, although only three will do so in the NCAA Tournament. It was clear as January turned to February that four A-10 teams were playing in a league of their own — Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Bonaventure. All four were dialed in during conference play, fighting among themselves to determine which would take or share the regular season title. After Selection Sunday, the three teams included in the field of 68 drew seeds ranging from #7 (Dayton) to #8 (Saint Joseph’s) to #10 (VCU). The shocker of Selection Sunday might have been the snub of the Bonnies, a team projected to make the field in 71 of the 80 brackets included in Bracket Matrix. Meanwhile, Davidson and George Washington joined a disappointed St. Bonaventure club in scooping NIT bids. Beyond those six, look for Fordham and/or Richmond to play in the CBI, CIT or Vegas 16. Rhode Island is, as coach Dan Hurley admitted after the Rams lost to Massachusetts Thursday, too banged up to be effective. Its season is over. Here are some thoughts on those teams still playing:

  • Dayton and VCU won’t sneak up on anyone this season. They may represent the conference’s name brands but each has significant flaws this season. VCU lacks multiple scoring threats, especially when their offense is initiated from the half-court. Senior guard Melvin Johnson and center Mo Alie-Cox can score — but only when someone besides Johnson is hot from the outside does the Rams’ offense look dangerous. Dayton won two games last year and ran all the way to the Elite Eight in 2014. This season’s ennui may stem from a variety of minor injuries, a concussion protocol implemented at the worst time and a fall semester suspension. On paper this team looks better than last season, but the Flyers have really struggled since Valentine’s Day.

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Jim Crews Era Over at Saint Louis

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 10th, 2016

George Washington beat Saint Louis 73-65 this afternoon at the Barclays Center in the second round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The outcome was rarely in doubt, but the post game press conference with SLU coach Jim Crews was anything but business as usual. Three minutes before Crews arrived to deliver his remarks and take questions, the Billiken Athletic Department distributed a press release that began:

Saint Louis University Director of Athletics Chris May announced today that Jim Crews has been released as SLU’s head men’s basketball coach. This decision comes as the Billikens ended their season Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship in Brooklyn, N.Y. After reviewing the 2015-16 season and talking with Coach Crews, I have decided that a change in leadership of the men’s basketball program is needed for the program to move forward in meeting our goals.

No Smiles On This Day, As Jim Crews Is Out At Saint Louis (Photo: Post Dispatch)

No Smiles On This Day, As Jim Crews Is Out At Saint Louis (Photo: Post Dispatch)

The press release arrived in the interview room two minutes after Dan Wolken broke the news on Twitter. Atlantic 10 Media Director Drew Dickerson announced no players would be available for the post game press conference only seconds before Crews, noticeably pale and subdued, entered to give his remarks. He congratulated the Colonials on a game well played and shared a number of thoughts about a career that has spanned four decades with head coaching stops at Evansville, Army and Saint Louis.

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