Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 16th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Looking Back

While games with the highest-ranked six conferences accounted for only 35 percent of last week’s conference schedule, they accounted for six of the eight losses the Atlantic 10 recorded. George Washington‘s win over DePaul represented the lone win the league has recorded this season against the Big East, but Rhode Island‘s E.C. Matthews, despite scoring 27 points, could not notch another one over intrastate rival Providence. Fordham took the other loss to a Big East team last week, as the Rams fell to crosstown rival St. John’s. The Big Ten’s Penn State beat two A-10 teams this past week, squeaking by Duquesne on Wednesday before turning around to beat George Washington over the weekend. Duquesne and Saint Louis lost troubling games to teams that play among the lowest-ranked conferences; Duquesne was upset by local rival Robert Morris of the NEC while the Billikens dropped a decision to the Summit Conference’s South Dakota State. Those kinds of losses drag down the conference-wide RPI, something to watch as the season carries on.

Despite a big game for E.C. Matthews, the Rams came up just a little short against their in-state rival. (AP)

Despite a big game for E.C. Matthews, the Rams came up just a little short against their intrastate rival. (AP)

Three Games to Catch This Week

  • VCU vs Belmont (Tuesday 12/16 7:00 PM ET) — This should be a bear of a week for the Rams, as they face giant-killing Belmont on Tuesday and Cincinnati on Saturday. Tuesday should be an easier game, given VCU’s notable home court advantage and Belmont’s two-game losing streak. Both teams press and rely on turnovers to fuel their offense, and given that fact, both also have poor field goal defense. VCU has trouble defending the three-point line while Belmont converts efficiently from there. Hitting that three on a delayed break is the key stat for determining Belmont’s prospects.

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VCU’s Win Over Northern Iowa Does Little to Mask Defensive Deficiencies

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 14th, 2014

Sometimes a team, if it has enough overall talent and a few breaks, can win a game in which its major flaws are exposed by an opponent. That’s exactly what happened in VCU’s thrilling double-overtime 93-87 win over an excellent Northern Iowa team on Saturday night in Richmond. Coming in, VCU’s detractors were wondering how the team dubbed Shaka Smart’s best since he took over the Rams program in 2009 could be a mere 5-3 and out of the national rankings already. The answer(s) to that question surfaced early and often against the Panthers; luckily the Rams’, buoyed by an always boisterous home crowd, overcame their nagging issues on the defensive end to win.

Shaka Smart's Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

Shaka Smart’s Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

VCU’s HAVOC defense is now a nationwide buzzword, and their pressing style can be utterly infuriating for opponents. But what has caused this Rams team to struggle in the non-conference schedule is the fact that once that press is broken or has been rendered impossible to set up, they’re a subpar half-court defensive team. Coming into the Northern Iowa matchup, the Rams were allowing opponents to shoot nearly 41% from three-point range. For a team that loves to chuck from long-range themselves, that can negate any good three-point shooting night they have. They’re not a whole lot better inside the arc, either, mostly because they take chances with their guard-heavy lineup and don’t have any true rim-protectors on the roster.

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O26 Games of the Week: Utah-BYU, Northern Iowa-VCU, Gonzaga-UCLA…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 10th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Utah (6-1) at Brigham Young (7-2) – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Wednesday.

Perhaps a look-ahead spot for Utah, with Kansas looming on Saturday? Not a chance. Basketball matters in the Beehive State, and these intrastate rivals – who have continued playing each other annually, despite both leaving the Mountain West in 2011 – might be its top two programs. The Cougars boast the 11th-most efficient offense in America, led by arguably the nation’s premier scorer, Tyler Haws, who comes in having scored 30-plus points in three of his past four outings. Joining him is versatile point guard Kyle Collinsworth (13.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.8 APG) and a cast of shooters capable of lighting up the scoreboard in bunches. Guard Anson Winder (50% 3FG) has been a perimeter-shooting X-factor in the early-going, reaching double-figures in eight of the team’s first nine games. Scoring shouldn’t be an issue for Dave Rose’s uptempo bunch.

Utah-BYU should be a battle tonight. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Utah-BYU should be a battle tonight. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Stopping Utah, however, might be cause for concern. Everyone knows that Delon Wright, the Utes’ 6’5’’ point guard, is really good – he might be more versatile than Collinsworth – but the bigger match-up issue could be seven-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl. The Aussie has been a revelation for Larry Krystkowiak, flashing an advanced offensive skill set (10-of-10 FG against North Dakota), muscle on the glass (leads the nation in OReb%) and strong interior defense (15th in block percentage). If he plays like he did against Wichita State (12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks), the big man will be tough for BYU’s foul-prone frontcourt to handle. Utah is the more balanced team – a top 50 squad in both offensive and defensive efficiency – and might be the better team, but the Marriott Center should be louder than ever with the rival Utes coming to town. You’ll want to flip over to ESPNU tonight.

More to Watch

  1. Northern Iowa (8-0) at VCU (5-3) – 7:00 PM ET, NBCSN, Saturday.  Will VCU lose twice in a row at the Siegel Center? The Rams’ 22-game home winning streak was broken last Saturday in a loss to Virginia, and they will certainly have their hands full against a Northern Iowa unit that just cracked the Top 25. Believe it or not, these teams are very familiar with each other – this will be their third meeting in the last four years – and the Panthers upset VCU in Cedar Falls last December. The Rams forced 16 turnovers in that game and nailed 10 three-pointers, but their interior defense was lackluster (UNI shot 67% 2FG) and they allowed Northern Iowa too many trips to the free throw line. Similar problems have plagued Shaka Smart’s bunch so far in 2014-15, which could be a problem against a team with lots of shooters and a newfound attack-first mentality (Panthers rank 22nd in FTA/FGA). Of course, VCU has capable shooters of its own and will amp up HAVOC in front of its always-raucous home crowd. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Game of the Week: Gonzaga in Tucson, UTEP-Colorado State, More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 3rd, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Gonzaga (7-0) at Arizona (6-0) – 5:15 PM ET, ESPN, Saturday

Following the Wildcats defeat of San Diego State in the Maui Invitational, this weekend’s Gonzaga-Arizona matchup might now be the unofficial showdown for ‘Best in the West’ – the outcome of which could go a long way in determining the region’s top-seed come Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Gonzaga-Arizona should be one of the best non-conference matchups in 2014-15. (thesportspost.com)

Both teams have notched impressive early-season victories – SMU and St. John’s for the Bulldogs, Kansas State and SDSU for the Wildcats – both possess seven-plus-foot frontcourt players, athletic wings and veteran point guards, and each squad is led by a coach who’s won a bunch of games over the past decade. Sean Miller’s group pounded Gonzaga in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs are a much different, much deeper unit in 2014-15; Kevin Pangos is back to full-health and Mark Few added transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer in the offseason, along with impact-freshman Domantas Sabonis (12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG). As a result, it seems doubtful the Zags will turn the ball over 21 times like they did in March, nor are they likely to be as overwhelmed athletically. Then again, this year’s iteration does take place in Tuscon, against a Wildcat team thanks to the return of 6’8’’ forward Brandon Ashley (Arizona has not lost with him in the lineup since 2012-13) and the addition of an eventual lottery pick, freshman wing Stanley Johnson (13.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Considering the individual talent on both rosters, it’s hard to say exactly who or what will dictate the outcome – does the frontcourt battle between Przemek Karnowski and Kaleb Tarczewski decide things? Or will it be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s energy, or Pangos’ hot-shooting? – but regardless, the game is sure to be among the biggest and most impactful non-conference tilts this season.

More to Watch

  1. Wichita State (4-0) at Utah (5-1) – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Wednesday. Does Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak end in Salt Lake City? The Shockers have not looked prone to defeat so far in 2014-15, having drubbed New Mexico State, Memphis and Tulsa by an average of 17 points per game, but knocking off Utah on its home floor should prove much more difficult. The Utes boast one of the best all-around guards in America, 6’5’’ junior Delon Wright, and are markedly tougher in the Huntsman Center – they were a couple of two-point, overtime losses against Oregon and Arizona from going undefeated at home in 2013-14. Luckily, Gregg Marshall has a pair of experienced, All-America type guards in his own right – Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker – who should hold their own in the hostile environment. KenPom has this one pegged as one a near-coin flip (54% in the Wichita State’s favor), and if the Shockers can emerge victorious, their impressive streak might persist well into the New Year.
  2. UTEP (5-1) at Colorado State (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Colorado State won the Great Alaska Shootout and UTEP nearly won the Wooden Legacy over the holiday weekend, punctuating a very good month of November for both units. Even with the Miners falling to Washington on Sunday night, each group appears talented and capable enough to be in the at-large discussion by season’s end – making Wednesday’s game in Fort Collins an important opportunity for both. The Rams, led by senior point guard Daniel Bejarano (13.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and forward J.J. Avila (14.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG), have been very proficient from deep so far in 2014-15 (40.5% 3PT) and are the fifth-most experienced team in the country, while UTEP – paced by athletic, versatile forward Vince Hunter (five straight double-doubles to begin 2014-15) – boasts one of college basketball’s largest front lines.
  3. Wyoming (7-0) at SMU (4-3) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPNews, Friday. This is an important bellweather game for Wyoming, which has gotten off to an excellent start in 2014-15 – including a dominant victory over Colorado – but has yet to play a game outside of Laramie. The Mustangs, despite a rocky start without their best player, Markus Kennedy, are a good, well-rounded team that’s always tough inside Moody Coliseum. The Cowboys have found great looks near the basket this season (66.2% 2PT; second-best in NCAA) and SMU’s interior defense has been less dominant without Kennedy, so Wyoming’s ability to patiently run its sets in a road environment might be the key to success.
  4. Virginia (7-0) at Virginia Commonwealth (5-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday. VCU edged Illinois State on Tuesday night, but the Rams still seek a marquee victory after two disappointing losses last week. This home contest against newfound in-state rival Virginia provides that opportunity. In what should be an exercise in contrasting styles – VCU plays frenzied, uptempo basketball, whereas the Cavaliers like to grind on both ends of the court – the outcome may depend on whether Shaka Smart’s group can force Virginia into turnovers with any kind of regularity. If not, the preseason Atlantic 10 favorites – who already struggle to score in the half-court – could be in for a long night against Tony Bennett’s defense [See: Rutgers game].
  5. San Diego State (5-1) at Washington (6-0) – 9:00 PM ET, Pac-12 Network, Sunday. In another very good west coast showdown, the Aztecs will have to play without guard Aqeel Quinn (9.7 PPG), who broke his finger against Arizona last week. The Huskies have the advantage at point guard with Nigel Williams-Goss (14.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG) – important against an aggressive defensive unit like SDSU – but the Aztecs have more athletic wings, and both squads possess plenty of size underneath. Should be close.

Other Notables

  •  Northeastern (5-1) at Harvard (4-1) – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday.
  •  Long Beach State (4-4) at Stephen F. Austin (4-3) – 8:00PM, Friday.
  •  Boise State (4-2) at Saint Mary’s (5-0) – 11:30 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.
  •  Florida Gulf Coast (6-1) *at Massachusetts (5-3) – 2:00 PM ET, Sunday (*Springfield, MA).

Upset Special

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Can Yale hang around with Connecticut on Friday night? (The Providence Journal/Glenn Osmundson)

Yale (6-2) at Connecticut (3-2) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Friday. There are plenty of reasons why this upset can’t happen – I mean, we are talking about the defending National Champions…playing at home – so how about one reason why it can: Huskies guard Ryan Boatright might miss the contest with a sprained ankle. If he does sit out, Connecticut will be without the guy who leads it in scoring (20.8 PPG), assists (4 APG) and steals (1.6 SPG), who  plays virtually every minute of every game, who shoots almost one-third of the team’s shots while on the floor, and who racks up fouls in bunches. Yale, which looked good in a hard-fought loss to Providence last weekend, has bodies to bang with Connecticut on the glass and should do a better job taking care of the ball (turnovers have been a problem) against the Boatright-less Huskies. If Javier Duren, Jack Montague and Armani Cotton get hot from behind the arc and Justin Sears (15.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG) stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs have a chance.

Stars Aligned: Great Individual Match-Ups

  • Green Bay’s Kiefer Sykes at Georgia State’s Ryan Harrow – 7:00 PM ET, Thursday. Both Sykes (18.5 PPG) and Harrow (20.3 PPG) are small, explosive point guards who thrive on their quickness and ability to penetrate. They also happen to be two of college basketball’s best players, on two of the better teams at the mid-major level. You won’t want to miss this battle.
  • William & Mary’s Marcus Thornton at Richmond’s Kendall Anthony – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. Another pair of talented scoring guards go at it tonight, as Thornton (17 PPG) and Anthony (15.3 PPG) square off in Richmond. At just 5’8’’, Anthony gives up a full eight inches to his William & Mary counterpart, so it seems doubtful they will actually wind up guarding each other. Either way, expect a bevy of points from these two guys and a hard-fought game between quality intra-state foes.
  • Valparaiso’s Alec Peters vs. someone(s) on Eastern Kentucky – 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday. This game is projected to be a toss-up, but I’m not sure who on the Colonels is going to stop Peters. The 6’9’’ forward has been nothing short of exceptional so far this season, averaging 19.3 PPG and shooting 55% 3PT. With that combination of size and shooting ability, Eastern Kentucky’s best hope might be to exploit Valpo’s weakness at point guard, turn the Crusaders over and limit Peters’ touches as much as possible.
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O26 Weekly Awards: Northern Iowa, Craig Bradshaw, Pat Duquette & Eastern Washington

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition. 

O26 Team of the Week

Northern Iowa began the week in Cancun and ended it with a home victory over Richmond. (unipanthers.com)

Northern Iowa began the week in Cancun and ended it with a home victory over Richmond. (unipanthers.com)

Northern Iowa. With all of the marquee tournaments and showdowns taking place over the holiday weekend, it’s understandable if Northern Iowa’s trip to Mexico for the ‘Cancun Challenge’ was lost in the shuffle to some extent, especially considering the fellow competition: Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Miami (OH). If you did miss it, here’s a quick synopsis: after hammering Virginia Tech by 19 points, the Panthers held Northwestern to a paltry 0.76 points per possession and pounded the Wildcats by 21 to claim the championship. But although a tournament title is certainly a nice preseason prize, it’s not even the hardware that made Northern Iowa’s week so impressive. No, the reason Ben Jacobson’s club is our Team of the Week is because after delivering those back-to-back drubbings against high-major (if subpar) opponents, thousands of miles away from Cedar Falls, the Panthers flew back to the United States and kept the train rolling against an even better Richmond team. All signs pointed to a post-Thanksgiving, post-showcase letdown, especially against a tough, well-rounded Spiders unit ranked 54th in KenPom and boasting one of the Atlantic 10’s best guards in Kendall Anthony. But instead of coming out emotionally lethargic or physically fatigued or preoccupied with thoughts of warm resort towns, Northern Iowa took control of the game – just as it had in Cancun – and completely outclassed Richmond from start-to-finish, never once relinquishing the lead and defeating the Spiders, 55-50. In all, the Panthers maintained a lead for roughly 110 of 120 minutes this week against Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Richmond combined, a trio of dominant victories that has both propelled Jacobson’s unit to an impressive 7-0 start and further improved its at-large prospects.

Honorable Mentions: Gonzaga (2-0: N-Georgia, N-St. John’s); Green Bay (3-0: N-East Carolina, N-Evansville, N-Florida Gulf Coast); Colorado State (3-0: N-Missouri State, N-Pacific, N-UC Santa Barbara); Valparaiso (3-0: N-Drake, N-Murray State, N-Portland).

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2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Mid-Makeovers: Which O26 Units are Poised for a Turnaround?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 12th, 2014

With the season now only a few days away, let’s look at five teams in great position to improve considerably this year – and in some cases, even compete for a conference crown.

Detroit – Horizon League – 2013-14 record: 13-18 (6-10). After finishing eighth in the Horizon League standings in 2013-14 (out of nine teams) and graduating its top rebounder and second-leading scorer, Evan Bruinsma, Detroit was picked third in this year’s preseason poll. Why such high expectations? The simple answer is twofold: Juwan Howard Jr. is back, and a wave of talent joins him. Howard, a 6’5’’ senior who led the Titans in scoring last season (18.3 PPG), should be one of the best players in the conference this year, even if his numbers do not drastically improve. He was probably relied upon far too heavily a season ago – the wing took 20-plus shots on six different occasions – so this year’s additions should help reduce the pressure and enable Howard to score more efficiently. Those reinforcements – transfers Chris Jenkins (Colorado) and Brandan Kearney (Arizona State), along with redshirt freshman Paris Bass – will bring depth at small forward and provide supplemental offensive punch. Add that to the trio of quality guards in the backcourt, plus 6’10’’ Penn State transfer Patrick Ackerman down low, and Ray McCallum’s team should rediscover its winning ways this season.

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Courtesy of Detroit athletics media relations)

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Detroit athletics)

Lafayette – Patriot League – 2013-14 record: 11-20 (6-12). Lafayette forward Seth Hinrichs missed 10 games in the middle of last season because of a knee injury, and the Leopards proceeded to lose all 10, including their first eight league contests. When he returned to the lineup? Fran O’Hanlon’s group won eight of its last 12. Needless to say, the 6’7’’ senior – a versatile wing who can stretch the floor – is enormously important to Lafayette’s success. With virtually the entire roster back alongside him, including now-seasoned point guard Nick Lindner and sharpshooter Joey Ptasinski (43.5% 3FG), Hinrichs (16.3 PPG) should make the Leopards legitimate Patriot League contenders and put himself in discussion for conference Player of the Year. A postseason berth is more than possible for the Patriot’s most offensively-efficient unit.

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Fright Club: The O26 All Hallows’ Eve Team

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 31st, 2014

With Halloween upon us, it’s only natural that we examine the spookiest, scariest, creepiest, crawliest, most fear-inducing hoopsters in the O26 world. WARNING – you may experience nightmares, especially if none of these guys play for your school.

Siena's Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows' Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

Siena’s Jimmy Patsos coaches our All Hallows’ Eve team. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

‘The Robbin’ Goblin’

Briante Weber – PG – Virginia Commonwealth. Weber is arguably the most terrifying player in college basketball. Over his first three years in Richmond, the 6’2’’ guard has consistently and relentlessly harassed opposing ball-handlers to the point that Phil Martelli hailed him as the best defender in the country last March. Not only does Weber own the VCU and Atlantic 10 records for career steals, but he’s also posted the highest steal rate in the country for three consecutive seasons. In 2013-14, he logged more than five thefts 11 different times, including seven apiece against Stony Brook and George Washington – impressive outings to be sure, but neither of which even touch his 2012 season opener. In one of the most incredible defensive performances in recent memory, Weber tallied a whopping 10 steals in just 18 minutes on the court, a rate so absurd that even Gary Payton would have to tip his cap (er, glove). To this day, the mere thought of Weber must send shivers down Andy Enfield’s spine.

‘The Serial Thriller’

Desi Washington – SG – Saint Peter’s. The Peacocks’ second-leading scorer does his most sinister work late in games, a fact that repeat-victim Fairfield knows all too well – Washington beat the Stags with buzzer-beaters (or near buzzer-beaters) three different times last season. That’s uncanny, improbable and – if you’re Sydney Johnson, or really any other MAAC coach – downright horrifying entering 2014-15. Incredibly, the now-senior shooting guard also picked off Seton Hall in similar fashion, scoring 34 points and drilling a deep three in the closing seconds to pull off the road upset. To call Washington ‘clutch’ would be an understatement; ‘categorically lethal’ is probably more appropriate.

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Top of the O26 Class: A-10, A-Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC & SoCon

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region of the U.S: the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC and Southern Conference. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues and the Midwest region conferences.

Top Units

Which mid-major will make the most noise this season? in Rush the Court's Polls on LockerDome

Atlantic 10

  • VCU – 2013-14 record: 26-9 (12-4). Shaka Smart has led VCU to four straight NCAA Tournaments including a Final Four run in 2011, and yet this might be his most talented bunch to date. Perhaps his most highly motivated, too. After suffering a bitter, never-should-have-happened defeat to Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64 last March, preseason all-conference picks Treveon Graham and Briante Weber return, along with several other key pieces and Smart’s best recruiting class. Graham, a 6’6″ forward, is poised to break the school scoring record this season, while the quick-handed Weber looks to build on the career steals mark he already shattered – it’s like the guy was built for HAVOC. The presence of forward Mo Alie-Cox, backcourt contributors JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson, and a trio of heralded freshmen – including four-star Terry Larrier – makes this team more than ready for a tough non-conference slate. Expect a bunch of wins, an A-10 title and big things come March.
VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Dayton – 2013-14 record: 26-11 (10-6). Last year’s Cinderella should be top-three good in the A-10, but it may need some time to rediscover the magic. Gone is Dayton’s best all-around player, Devin Oliver, its most important big man, Matt Kavanaugh, and two productive guards. Luckily, Archie Miller’s tendency to use a deep rotation last season – 10 to 12 guys a game – should pay off; this year’s newly-anointed starters all saw quality minutes in 2013-14. Among them will be Scoochie Smith, who steps in as starting point guard following the transfer of Khari Price. Smith’s ability to open up the offense, along with the continued emergence of forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, will be important factors. Dyshawn Pierre and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert should lead the way, but it is the (probably large) supporting cast that will determine the Flyers’ ceiling.

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Dayton vs. Goliath: Four Keys to Slaying the Gators

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2014

Dayton is this tournament’s Cinderella, whether it welcomes that designation or not. As an afterthought 11-seed, the Flyers took down in-state rival Ohio State and its suffocating defense in the opening round, upended Syracuse and its sea of Orange in the round of 32, and then toppled Stanford, only slight favorites, on Thursday night. It’s been a surprising run to say the least. Still, this is not some out-of-nowhere program emerging from a one-bid league – Dayton has history, and the Atlantic 10 is among the better conferences in America – and the upsets, while upsets, haven’t really been inconceivable shockers. That could change tonight against Florida, the number-one overall seed and owners of the nation’s longest winning streak. The Gators are 10-point favorites in Vegas, 9-point, 84 percent favorites at KenPom, and very few pundits and prognosticators project them losing. So then, how can Archie Miller’s surprising bunch overcome the odds and pull off another one in Memphis? Let’s take a look.

They Flyers must be sharp tonight in order to keep the party alive. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Flyers must be sharp tonight in order to keep the party alive. (Photo: Getty Images)

  1. Attack in transition. It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that the smaller, less-talented team try running against the top dog. But there are two reasons why it makes sense here: The Flyers have the personnel to do damage on the run, and they cimply cannot allow Florida to set up its half-court defense with regularity. To the first point, Dayton is unique in that the majority of its players can push the ball up the floor, finish at the rim and shoot threes. As a result, transition scoring options are abundant – whether it’s shooting guard Vee Sanford or power forward Jalen Robinson – which allows for an effective attack even against higher level athletes. Since so many guys are competent ball-handlers, breaking the press and finding quick looks should be possible, and probably necessary, this evening – the Gators’ defense (while pretty great in all aspects) is especially stingy in the half-court. Once they slow you down, the SEC champs apply swarming double-teams, deny passing lanes and shut down the paint like few other teams in college hoops. UCLA was at its offensive best on Thursday when it ran the floor and attacked early in the shot clock, and Dayton will need to do much the same. Read the rest of this entry »
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March Chameleons: Dayton Adapts, But Can It Beat Stanford?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2014

Dayton’s run the stylistic gauntlet this month and lived to tell the tale, at least for a few more hours. Just look at the Flyers’ March: They beat Massachusetts in a 71-possession footrace, the type of up-and-down affair the Minutemen love; it toppled Saint Louis – on the road – and its grinding, exhausting, limit-your-threes defense; they methodically took down Richmond’s tough match-up zone, and then, in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone; and it outdid Ohio State, one of the best defenses in the country with one of the best individual defenders in the country. If not for Langston Galloway’s near-buzzer-beater (and push-off?) in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, they might have defeated Saint Joseph’s too. Archie Miller’s group has won games fast and slow, physical and finesse, tactical and chaotic. And now Stanford looms, a club that mixed 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses on Sunday to utterly baffle Kansas and send the heavily-favored Jayhawks packing for the offseason. Trouble on the horizon for the Flyers? Perhaps. But if their recent play is any indication, it won’t be because they can’t adapt.

Dayton was flying high in Buffalo, but can they beat the Cardinal? (Photo: Jamie Germano Staff Photographer)

Dayton was flying high in Buffalo, but can they beat the Cardinal? (Photo: Jamie Germano)

That adaptability starts with both the depth and versatility of Dayton’s roster. The Flyers ranked second in the A-10 behind only George Mason this season in bench minutes, with reserves accounting for nearly 36 percent of playing time. Among those reserves is Vee Sanford, a team captain and former starter who hit the game-winner against Ohio State in the second round. He, along with Scoochie Smith – a heralded freshman out of the Bronx –point guard Khari Price, and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert, make up a backcourt quick off the dribble and adept from long range. But to suggest that the team’s ‘backcourt’ is easily distinguishable from its ‘frontcourt’ would be a mistake, and almost impossible to conclude if you watch it play. The fact is, most players are able to handle the ball and nearly everyone can run the floor. At 6’7’’, Devin Oliver is the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, tough and physical but also capable of banging home threes. Dyshawn Pierre, the forward who hit clutch free throws in both games over the weekend, fits the same mold. Even 6’9’’ Jalen Robinson can move with ease and drain outside shots. Throw in a few other reserves who provide quality minutes at multiple positions, and Miller is able to mix-and-match lineups on a night-to-night, minute-to-minute basis.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 55, #3 Syracuse 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Dayton is headed to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo : reuters).

Dayton is headed to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo : reuters).

  1. Dayton meant business. Dayton guard Vee Sanford (the hero on Thursday) said during Friday’s press conference that he saw Syracuse as “just another game” and repeatedly mentioned the team’s business-like approach entering Saturday. If the Flyers’ performance tonight was any indication, that sentiment was genuine. Archie Miller’s guys – showing no signs of an upset-hangover – were sharp defensively and made a concerted effort to penetrate the teeth of the Orange 2-3 zone on offense. In the second half, they looked for more outside shots, crisply rotating the ball and nailing six big threes in the final 20 minutes. The game plan was deliberate, the players were focused, and the positive results followed – a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. More resilience from the Flyers. Syracuse took a three-point lead with about eight minutes remaining – its largest of the night – and looked to be on the cusp of a big run. It could have been the moment where Dayton fell apart and the Orange, with its roaring crowd, ran away with victory. Instead, the Flyers responded with a four-point possession to retake the lead, knocked down big free throws down the stretch, and never surrendered their advantage. Just like it did against the Buckeyes, Miller’s group showed its ability to counterpunch after taking a few in the chin.
  3. Shooting woes crippled Syracuse. Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney shot 6-of-33 in his team’s five losses entering Saturday night. Against Dayton, he finished 0-of-5 from behind the arc. But it wasn’t just the sophomore: As a team, the Orange shot a dismal 0-of-10 from distance and could never find much of a groove offensively. Forward Jerami Grant played a big role in the win over Western Michigan but was virtually non-existent tonight. Syracuse looked more like the team everyone questioned in the season’s final month than the one that started off 25-0.

Star of the GameDyshawn Pierre (14 points, six rebounds). For the second straight game, Pierre knocked down some huge free throws to keep the Flyers in control in the game’s final moments. The shots were especially crucial following a key miss at the line by teammate Devin Oliver.

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