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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Putting a Bow on the Atlantic 10 Regular Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on March 8th, 2016

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

A Wild Finish to an Unusual Season

Is Dayton Poised For Yet Another Postseason Run? (USA Today Images)

Is Dayton Poised For Yet Another Postseason Run? (USA Today Images)

The Atlantic 10 had no fewer than four teams share or outright hold the top spot in the standings during the last five weeks of the regular season. VCU (8-0) entered February with a one-loss lead over Dayton (8-1) and Saint Joseph’s (7-1), but the toughest tests for Will Wade’s team were deferred to the last month of conference play. A 1-2 start to the month dropped the Rams into a tie for second place with the recovered Hawks, two wins behind the preseason favorite Flyers. Having snatched the baton, Dayton could not hold it. Two losses in the third week of February dropped Archie Miller’s squad into second place, again behind VCU. Things then became even more complicated as the league’s top five teams — VCU, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure and George Washington — finished the season with a virtual round robin. By the beginning of March, Saint Joseph’s and VCU were tied at the top with identical 13-3 records, one game ahead of Dayton (12-4) and St. Bonaventure (12-4). Heading into the final day of the regular season, Dayton pulled VCU back to the pack with a 68-67 overtime win, while St. Joseph’s, which had lost another game to the Bonnies, absorbed a 78-70 loss to Duquesne to spare the conference a four-way co-championship. Instead, Dayton, VCU and St. Bonaventure shared the crown. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Mid-Major Disadvantage: The Power of the Power Conferences

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 25th, 2016

For the first time in recent memory, Gonzaga is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament. Throughout a season in which the Zags began in the top 10, they have experienced a variety of miscues (home losses) and misfortunes (Przemek Karnowski’s injury) that have resulted in a spot squarely on the bubble. Their ups and downs this year will lead the upcoming HBO documentary following Mark Few’s team around this month to look less like Ballers and more like Game of Thrones (For those without a friend’s HBO Go password, find some new friends.)

Kyle Wiltjer's Team Has Not Had the Season It Expected. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Kyle Wiltjer’s Team Has Not Had the Season It Expected. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

In eight games against the KenPom top 60, Gonzaga has gone 1-7 with four of those losses coming at The Kennel. Conversely, the Bulldogs are a perfect 20-0 in the rest of their games. In determining their status on the bubble, the Zags are in a difficult spot because of a combination of zero signature wins without any corresponding bad losses. Gonzaga’s national brand name makes it unique in how it can schedule, but most other mid-major programs don’t get the chance to notch resume-building wins nearly as often as their power conference peers. Michigan, one of the Zags’ primary competitors on the bubble, will play 13 games against the top 60 this season, including six opportunities at home (five games against Big Ten teams). A different mid-major on the bubble cannot use multiple opportunities late in the season to enhance its resume — it can only avoid bad losses.

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Rhode Island Loses Hassan Martin in an Injury-Filled Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2016

The announcement from Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley on Wednesday was short but hardly sweet: Starting forward Hassan Martin is done for the rest of the regular season. The consensus all-conference player has tendinitis in his right knee that caused him to log only 10 minutes in the Rams’ 11-point loss at Davidson on Tuesday, and although it’s unclear how long he’ll be out, the school does not expect him back in action prior to the start of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Coupled with the loss of EC Matthews in Rhode Island’s first game of the season, Hurley has now lost the services of the two players he was most counting on to propel his team into the conference elite.

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

Hurley retooled his offense to cover for the loss of Matthews, turning to the trio of Fore McGlynn, a fifth-year senior from Towson, and two developing sophomores, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell. Martin, who shared frontcourt playing time with transfer Kuran Iverson, fifth-year senior Earl Watson and freshman Nicola Akele, had already missed two previous games with an ankle sprain, while Garrett and Iverson missed games because of injury back in January. Although Hurley has described his 15-13 squad as exceptionally “resilient,” the loss of Martin for at least the next few games has drastically lowered expectations for the home stretch. Touted as the sleeper team during Atlantic 10 Media Day last October, the Rams will do well to finish .500 in league play and earn the #7 seed at the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

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