Bracket Prep: UNC-Asheville, Murray State & Belmont

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2012

The first three NCAA Tournament bids were earned on Saturday afternoon, so as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

UNC Asheville

UNCA Was the First Team to Dance This Year (E. Brethauer/Citizen-Times)

  • Big South Champion (24-9, 19-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #108/#123/#128
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +4.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. UNC-Asheville is one of the smallest teams in America, sporting a starting lineup that goes between 6’1″ and 6’5″.  Their next three players off the bench are roughly the same size, which means that UNCA’s primary objective each night is to make the game into a full-court running affair. The Bulldogs are among the top 35 fastest tempos nationally, and you might expect them to rely heavily on the three-ball, but that’s not the case. Asheville’s offense instead seeks to drive the ball into the paint to shoot twos (52.5% 2FGs) and pick up fouls (77.4% FTs).
  2. The straws that stir the Bulldog attack are the backcourt duo of JP Primm and Matt Dickey, both all-Big South selections (Dickey was the conference POY). The pair of seniors are both capable shooters and distributors who played well in last year’s First Four win against Arkansas-Little Rock and subsequent loss to #1 seed Pittsburgh. They’ve played enough high major teams in their careers — North Carolina, NC State, Connecticut, Tennessee in just this year — so that they’re unlikely to get rattled.
  3. The best matchup for the Bulldogs would be another undersized First Four team that does not defend well, allowing the uptempo guards of Primm and Dickey to pick their spots and make things happen. Their next round game against a #1 seed is unlikely to matter in terms of a favorable matchup, but clearly bigger teams would be more difficult for Eddie Biedenbach’s team to handle. The Bulldogs were competitive with each of the power conference teams mentioned above.

Murray State

  • OVC Champion (30-1, 17-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #24/#47/#41
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#6

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ATB: Friday Night Lights With Jack Cooley, Harvard, and Plenty of Conference Tourney Action…

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Friday night is usually reserved for the likes of the Ivy League and the MAAC, but that’s not the case during Championship Fortnight. With eight mid-major conference tournaments in action and 22 more teams eliminated from national title contention tonight, there were plenty of reasons to stay interested. Furthermore, we were treated with some compelling Ivy action as well as another look at one of the surprise teams of not only the Big East but also the entire country this year. Let’s jump into it…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cooley Than You.

Jack Cooley Is One of the Big East's Biggest Surprises This Year (US Presswire)

Just four days after Jack Cooley’s worst game of the year — a two-point, zero-rebound outing at Georgetown — the junior center returned to the lineup with a vengeance tonight, going for a 27/17 masterpiece on 10-15 shooting from the field to lock his team into a double-bye at next week’s Big East Tournament. The fact that we just wrote the previous sentence — that Notre Dame finished in the top four of the Big East standings and received a double-bye — is nothing less than phenomenal and a testament to the vast improvement of Cooley and several of his teammates this season. After losing its top three players to graduation (Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott) and injury (Tim Abromaitis), nobody expected the youthful Irish to do much of anything this year. Instead, Mike Brey’s team is now locked into the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament and owns the only victory of the season over the Syracuse juggernaut. We’re not completely sold on the Irish making a deep run into March Madness, but the fact of the matter is that Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in the country given that he’s pushed his team to six straight 20-win seasons and will make the NCAAs for the fifth time in six seasons.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Harvard Keeps Hope Alive. It’s seemed a foregone conclusion for months that Harvard would win the Ivy League’s automatic bid this season and earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in over six decades. After last weekend’s home loss to Penn, however, the Crimson and Quakers were locked in a tie with two defeats each in the loss column. The Ivy doesn’t do artificial tiebreakers — like last year’s Harvard-Princeton classic, they decide their ties on the court. With alumnus Jeremy Lin watching from the stands in Morningside Heights tonight, Harvard barely survived Columbia in a nail-biting game that went to overtime. Penn kept the pace with an easier win over Brown, but HU will travel next to Cornell while the Quakers still have a home game against Yale before its rivalry game at Princeton on Tuesday. With one more win Saturday, the Crimson are at least guaranteed a berth in the Ivy playoff game again, but they probably do not want to tempt the basketball gods by losing that one.
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

  • After each school opened league play in December, the A-Sun’s conference season resumed on Monday. Belmont and Mercer each scored a pair of impressive victories. The Bruins own the only unblemished A-Sun mark at 4-0, while the Bears sport a 3-1 mark – with that lone loss coming at Belmont. Both have positioned themselves inside of’s top 100.
  • For the Bruins, this start only builds off their dominating championship season of a year ago. Over their last 27 games against A-Sun foes, the Bruins own a 26-1 mark with the one loss came against their next opponent, cross-town rival Lipscomb.
  • For Mercer, wins against Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson came on the heels on a 13-day road swing on which the Bears notched wins at Georgia Tech and Navy to conclude the non-conference portion of the season at 8-5, their best non-conference record since going 5-2 in 2004-05.

In Memorial

Iconic coach Gene Bartow, seen here with his wife, Ruth, will be greatly missed by the college basketball community. (AP)

  • On Tuesday, legendary head coach Gene Bartow passed away at the age of 81. His son, Murry, took to the bench one day later guiding his East Tennessee State Buccaneers to an 88-73 victory against USC Upstate. Following that win, which improved the Bucs’ record to 6-7 (1-2 in league play), Bartow said, “Today was difficult and the last 24 hours were tough with the news of my dad. But I was proud of my guys and the way they came out ready to play. We had a lot riding on this game because we started the year 0-2 in our conference, and then my dad passing away just added even more motivational factors. Honestly, I would have shocked if we had lost considering all of that.” Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 12.09.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2011

  1.  We were very afraid of this when we saw it happen live on Tuesday night, and sure enough, the results came back yesterday. Marquette center Chris Otule has torn his left ACL and may miss the rest of the season depending on the severity of the tear and the treatment decision between he and his doctors. As we mentioned in that night’s After the Buzzer, we really hate this for the 6’11” junior. Not only is he playing with the severe disadvantage of only having vision in one eye, but he’s suffered broken bones in both his left and right foot during his time in Milwaukee. Despite his best efforts, the guy has seemingly never been able to stay healthy. No matter his decision on a treatment plan, he’s only been able to play in 57 games in four seasons, so we’re crossing our fingers that he’ll get at least one more injury-free season of basketball at Marquette.
  2. How about some better injury news? Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton is expected to officially return to his team for Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe after spending the better part of the last month rehabilitating a hamstring injury suffered in the first game of the season. His loss hasn’t impacted A&M’s fortunes terribly against a light schedule, as the Aggies have only one loss against Mississippi State so far, but he will be needed on the floor for an upcoming game against Florida and of course the 18-game Big 12 schedule. In other good news, Ohio State sounds like it expects to have its NPOY candidate, Jared Sullinger, back in action for Saturday’s monster game versus Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Although Thad Matta played coy with his answers in the article, if Sullinger is “dancing around” his dorm room, he’ll be ready to play this weekend.
  3. In a somewhat odd turn of events, St. John’s sophomore point guard Nurideen Lindsey has decided to transfer out of the program. What makes it peculiar is that the starter has averaged nearly 30 minutes per game and is putting up good numbers in the first month of the season — 12.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG. His statements about leaving are even more confounding: “I came to St. John’s for a couple of reasons. One was to be close to my mom, whose health has been up and down due to some past experiences. The second was to play for Coach Lav. In both instances, it has not worked out how I envisioned.” He surely isn’t holding Lavin’s own health issues against him, so there has to be something else going on here. More on this later today on RTC’s Big East microsite.
  4. The number of D-I schools is apparently set to grow again, as Northern Kentucky will join the Atlantic Sun Conference and start playing a full conference slate as soon as next season. Even though the school will not be eligible for league championships and revenue sharing for a few years while going through a probationary period, NKU preferred to join the much-farther geographic footprint of the A-Sun rather than the closer-to-home OVC because it was willing to let them play games next season. The A-Sun is generally located in the deep South — Georgia, South Carolina, Florida — although it does have two schools in Tennessee and as we’ve learned in conference realignment theater, geography rarely matters anymore. The article reports that the average road trip within the league will be around 580 miles, though, which can seriously add up for mid-major school budgets.
  5. You’ve been waiting patiently for it, well here it is: Luke Winn‘s weekly power rankings. Per usual, there’s more graphs, still frame images, and thoughtful analysis than you can shake Seth Davis’ stick at, but if you look carefully, you’ll find his All-Americans after one month, his analysis as to why Louisville fails to impress us, and an rundown of why Saturday’s delightful stack of games without the annoyance of football is something worth carving your day around.  Enjoy.
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Belmont Leaves Atlantic Sun for OVC

Posted by rtmsf on May 16th, 2011

You may have thought that after last summer’s seismic shifts of conference realignment (or the threat of it) involving nearly all of the major conferences, we’d have an uneventful offseason in that regard this year.  So far, that’s generally been true.  With the the moves pending at Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, BYU, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and TCU, and the television dollars already in place for the new Pac-12 and Texas/ESPN deals, it’s generally been all quiet on the realignment front this year.  The ridiculous incentives and free-for-all mentality that drove last year’s posturing and maneuvering among the major players of the sport have now settled; but at the lower levels of Division-I basketball, the party never ends.  Schools are always looking for ways to upgrade from one conference to another, and Friday’s announcement that Belmont University will switch from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley Conference beginning in 2012 should surprise nobody.

Belmont is a Mid-Major Hoops Powerhouse These Days

The driving force behind this move is, what else, money.  Belmont, located in Nashville, is in the northwestern hinterlands of the A-Sun’s footprint, a league that stretches from Tennessee east into the Carolinas and all the way down to south Florida.  The OVC, on the other hand, is clustered in Tennessee and Kentucky, with the majority of its schools located within a couple-hour drive of Nashville.  As Belmont AD Mike Strickland noted, the school stands to save at least a quarter-million dollars a year on travel costs alone.  Even with the $200,000 buyout required to leave the Atlantic Sun, the program expects to have that cost more than covered in its first year within the OVC.

While we certainly understand the financial incentives and the better “fit” aspect of this move, we’re not as convinced as to the benefit to Rick Byrd’s basketball program.  The Bruins have made four of the last six NCAA Tournaments out of the A-Sun, and it will be joining a top-heavy OVC led by Murray State, Austin Peay and Morehead State.  The problem is that even with the inclusion of Belmont into the Ohio Valley, the league is still going to be a one-bid conference, so it appears to us that Belmont’s move will only make it more difficult for the school to earn its way into the Big Dance.  In a comment relating to the move, Byrd stated that Belmont will now have a “one in twelve” shot to make the NCAAs, whereas it was “one in nine” in the A-Sun — notwithstanding the probability error inherent in his analysis, why would viewing your odds of going dancing as less likely ever be a good thing?

Byrd’s team will bring back nearly everyone from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team that made the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11, losing to Wisconsin, 72-58, in the Second Round.  The methodical ball-control style of Bo Ryan’s Badgers was a bad matchup for the Bruins, but they’re already getting some buzz as a team to watch next season.  As you’re well aware, the OVC’s Morehead State upset Louisville last season, and Murray State knocked out Vanderbilt the season before, yet despite Belmont’s considerable hype, Rick Byrd’s program is still awaiting its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.  As a final encore in a league they’ve owned the better part of the last half-decade, perhaps 2011-12 will be the year, serving notice to its future OVC brethren that their treasured automatic bid will be significantly tougher to secure in the future.

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ATB: Jordan Taylor Goes Jordanesque Against Indiana

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2011

The Lede.  There are only a handful of days left in the regular season.  After 10,000 games, we’ve already eliminated a number of teams from national title contention and we’ll spend the weekend talking about positioning.  Most teams are who we know them to be at this late point in the season — like last call in a college bar, it becomes about finding the best light to present yourself to the evaluators, in this case, the NCAA Selection Committee.  The numbers ultimately will rule the day, but perception and the ‘sniff test’ are things not easily erased from one’s mind.  Let’s see who helped and hurt their positions tonight…


Taylor Was Magnificent Tonight (Indy Star/J. Cecil)

Your Watercooler MomentJordan Taylor Dominates Indiana.  The ascent of Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor from solid role player to unknown good player to rising superstar has been remarkable.  So remarkable, in fact, that the Cousy Award folks had originally left him off its list of the ten best point guards in America despite the fact that he is clearly more valuable than half the finalists on the list (Brandon Knight — is this a joke?).  In watching Taylor blow up Michigan State, Ohio State and now Indiana tonight with a career-high 39 points on 11-19 FG (7-8 from deep), we’re regularly astonished with how well he gets his shots off while defended and they still manage to find the bottom of the net.  Many players can shoot the ball when they’re standing open beyond the arc; Taylor, however, is the best player in college basketball shooting the ball with someone right in his face — he regularly takes jumpers where your initial reaction is “wow — tough shot,” only to be surprised when the ball swishes through.  Wisconsin has gone from an unranked team in the preseason to a top ten mainstay in the latter part of the year, and as good as Jon Leuer has also been, the primary reason is Taylor.  He gives Bo Ryan’s team an offensive option that Madison hasn’t seen since Alando Tucker was residing in Madison; and with the defense that his teams always bring to the table, this makes the Badgers just that much more dangerous this March.  If you’re looking for a Final Four darkhorse, you might want to consider this team — they’re every bit as good as all but a few teams in America this year.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Emergence of Scotty Hopson.  In the last three weeks, UT’s star wing has been playing as well as he has at any point in his Tennessee career.  In his last six games including tonight’s win at South Carolina, he’s averaging 23.7 PPG on 52% shooting from the field.  While UT’s record hasn’t necessarily improved as a result of his stellar offensive play — UT has gone 3-3 in those games with two one-point losses — the Vols absolutely must have Hopson play like the star he was supposed to be in order for Bruce Pearl’s team maximize its potential this March.  If his recent play is any indication, the athletic guard may have finally figured out his role as alpha dog on this team, high fade and all.
  • A Fourth Pac-10 Team? Washington probably re-secured its Dance ticket with a nice win over UCLA tonight, so we can reasonably expect that those two, along with Arizona, will hear their names called on Selection Sunday.  Is there a chance that a fourth Pac-10 team, notably Washington State, could sneak into the NCAA’s crosshairs in the next week or so?  After tonight’s home win over USC, if the Cougars can also defeat UCLA over the weekend, Ken Bone’s team would sit at 20-10 (10-8 Pac-10) with a reasonable profile head-to-head against other bubble teams Baylor and Gonzaga (both of whom Wazzu beat earlier this year).  Don’t get us wrong — Washington State would still need to make a run in the Pac-10 Tournament to merit serious consideration, but with the right matchups, the Cougars could find themselves in the finals and pushing the Selection Committee to make a difficult decision.
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O26 Primers: Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley & Patriot League Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 2nd, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

Three more conferences get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.

Atlantic Sun

The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.

Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.

Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.

Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.

First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.

How’d They Fare? ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.

Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.

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O26 Primers: Big South and Horizon League Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 1st, 2011


RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences. Up first are the Big South and Horizon League.

Being the “Other 26” guy around these parts, I deemed it appropriate to give a quick look into all 25 (the Ivy, of course, has no tournament) of the non-BCS conference tournaments prior to their commencement. I will bring you these previews for each conference on the day their first round games are slated to be played. We kick things off with the Big South and the Horizon League. Both will unquestionably be interesting tournaments as Coastal Carolina’s recent issues and allegations regarding NCAA violations have opened the door for the rest of the conference. Unlike the Big South which was dominated by Coastal for nearly the entire year, the Horizon League had great parity at the top of the conference with six teams reaching ten wins or better.

Big South

The Favorite: Coastal Carolina—dare I say it—no longer the favorite to win the Big South tournament? After coming up just short last year as Winthrop dashed their hopes of advancing to the NCAA Tournament, Coastal came out with a vengeance this year to take back what they thought should have been theirs. They won 22 straight games—14 of them coming in the Big South—and appeared untouchable. But, amidst recruiting violations and eligibility issues, Coastal’s chance at advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993 has taken a serious hit. Now, the league is wide open with Liberty, and UNC-Asheville also vying for the coveted auto-bid. I like Asheville as they have won three straight heading into the conference tournament with one of the wins coming in dramatic fashion against Coastal at the buzzer.

Dark Horse: They score a whole lot of points, but also give up a ton as well. Clearly, I am referring to the VMI Keydets. The scoring ability of Austin Kenon with his deadly shot is an aspect of VMI’s game that always makes them a threat to win games.

Who’s Hot: VMI happens to be the hottest team entering the tournament having won five of their last six games.

Player to Watch: Now that Coastal Carolina’s Desmond Holloway has been ruled ineligible, there is no other obvious player to keep an eye on. Austin Kenon for VMI is certainly one to keep tabs on as he can light up the gym maybe better than anyone in the conference, but I believe Matt Dickey of UNC-Asheville is poised for a big tournament. If Dickey’s name sounds familiar it is due to his heroics as he miraculously stole Coastal Carolina’s inbounds pass and hit an off-balance three to propel his Bulldogs to a big win.

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ATB: Buckeyes Lay Waste to Boilers to Defend Top Ranking

Posted by rtmsf on January 26th, 2011

The Lede.  It was an exceptionally strange night out there in college basketball-land.  The best game on paper was a complete dud, while a couple that didn’t look very exciting at all turned out to be outstanding.  A team that looked unbeatable in its conference race got knocked out by an old crosstown rival, and a venerable old program with a curmudgeonly old coach who’s been telling us his team isn’t very good suffered a beatdown that nobody else saw coming.  The NPOY race may have gotten a tad more clear tonight as east coast candidate #1 struggled, but let’s wait until tomorrow and west coast candidate plays before rushing to judgment on that decision.  Here we go…

This Guy Gets It Right (C-D/C. Russell)

Your Watercooler MomentBuckeyes Defend Their #1 Ranking With Authority.  For some reason or another, there was an underlying sentiment among some people out in the world that Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes were not nearly as good as their #1 ranking.  We don’t personally claim to know any of those folks, but one thing is certain.  After tonight’s thorough destruction of a game Purdue team with a couple of all-americans in its lineup and a night after Pittsburgh shot itself in the foot at home against Notre Dame, let there be no question:  Ohio State is the best team in America right now.  And they might just be the favorite to cut down the nets in Houston in early April as well.  The Buckeyes unleashed a flurry of early threes against a team with a great defense, the kind of defense that doesn’t allow teams to drain five threes against it prior to the second television timeout.  Then, as soon as Purdue started figuring out how to take away that weapon, Thad Matta’s team started penetrating for open looks inside.  The scariest part for every other team in the country — NPOY candidate Jared Sullinger really wasn’t even a part of the 20-point halftime lead that OSU built.  He only had four points while veterans William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty did their thing.  No other elite team in America — not even Duke with Kyrie Irving healthy — has the inside/outside balance and experience that Ohio State brings to the table.  Against lesser teams, of course, a twenty-point lead is something that really good teams like Purdue can overcome; yet, everybody watching this one knew that Purdue was simply outclassed tonight.  Short of a massive misstep, OSU will most likely hit February still unbeaten after a win at Northwestern this weekend.  A home game against Michigan follows, and then a road game at Minnesota (now without Al Nolen).  The most likely chance for the Buckeyes to lose next now appears to be the February 12 game at Wisconsin.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

  • Florida-Georgia as Must-See TV.  Tonight’s Super Tuesday matchup between Florida and Georgia was 1000 times more interesting and exciting that last week’s horrific Florida-Auburn game on ESPN.  The Gators and Dawgs went at each other tonight in a way we haven’t seen in years in the SEC (the closest comparison is some of the epic Tennessee-Florida battles in recent years), but it was Erving Walker who managed to go from the Gator goat to hero in the course of just a few game minutes.  Walker’s missed FT attempts down the stretch of regulation allowed Georgia to have a chance to tie the game on Trey Thompkins’ putback at the buzzer, but it was his 30-footer at the horn of the first overtime (see below) that gave his team another chance in the second extra period.  Florida ran away with it in the second OT, putting the Gators at 5-1 in the SEC with big road wins already at Tennessee and Georgia.  We’re never going to be completely sold on these Gators because of their personnel, but we’ll give them credit for winning two nailbiters in very tough SEC East venues this season.  Do it at Vandy and Kentucky… then they’ll have our attention.

  • Kemba Walker’s Teammates, Again.  What was especially impressive about tonight’s clutch 76-68 UConn win at Marquette was that despite the NPOY candidate’s poor shooting night (5-16 FG; 0-5 from three), other players stepped up to carry the load.  Usually that’s been Alex Oriakhi, at least in the past month since Jim Calhoun called him out, but not tonight — Oriakhi only contributed 6/2 this evening.  Rather it was the talented corps of freshmen led by Jeremy Lamb’s career-high 24/3/4 assts that kept UConn competitive throughout — Roscoe Smith added 11/8 and Shabazz Napier had 11/6/4 assts/3 stls.  The reason that UConn has gone from an NIT team to a possible Final Four team in one season is twofold — 1) Kemba, obviously; but also, 2) the talented freshman class in addition to Alex Oriakhi’s development from stand-around-and-watch players to actual contributors.  If this keeps up much longer, Jim Calhoun deserves serious NCOY consideration.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by rtmsf on December 26th, 2010

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A Look Back

  • Belmont‘s the Best: There is no team as consistent in this league as the Bruins, who came within a Scotty Hopson layup of scoring an upset win at Tennessee Thursday night. How good is Belmont? It went 8-of-35 from the 3-point line, had a 37-10 disadvantage in free throw chances and still fought a top 20 team — a top 20 team with decisive neutral court wins over Villanova and Pittsburgh — down to the wire. Between ripping his team after the game, Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl couldn’t stop expressing his admiration for the Bruins’ half court offense. If Belmont wins this league, it could win a first round game in the NCAA Tournament with the right draw.
  • Jacksonville‘s Not Far Behind: And what about those Dolphins, going into Florida on December 20 and walking away with an overtime win against a team which two days earlier held Kansas State to 44 points? Right now, Cliff Warren is the favorite for A-Sun Coach of the Year. All he’s done is take a team which lost its top scorers to graduation (Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert) and usually has no one taller than 6’5 in its lineup and make it a much better defensive outfit. While it helps to have a do-it-all type like Ayron Hardy in your lineup, JU keeps getting meaningful contributions from the likes of Keith McDougald, Glenn Powell and Travis Cohn. Mark down January 10 on your calendar; that’s when the Dolphins visit Belmont.
  • Player of the Week: Scott Saunders, Belmont. Coming off the bench — which should tell you just how deep this team is — Saunders averaged 12.7 PPG and 7.3 RPG in wins over Kennesaw State, Troy and Alabama State. His 19-point, 10-rebound performance December 16 against Kennesaw State represented the first double-double of his career. A year after his arrival, the Rice transfer is having the impact many thought he would. Just missing the gold medal is Jacksonville’s Keith McDougald, a freshman who averaged 15 PPG in road games against Saint Louis and Florida. McDougald canned four free throws in OT to clinch the Dolphins’ 71-68 upset of the No. 20 Gators.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (9-3, 2-0)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Miami (OH)

Want to know two more reasons why the Bruins win? Rebounding and depth. They are outrebounding foes by nearly four per game, including an impressive 47-40 wiping of the boards at Tennessee, and play 10 players at least 10 minutes per game. In that respect, they play the game exactly like a BCS school, which is why they are this league’s favorite until further notice. One troubling trend, though, is that sophomore Ian Clark’s scoring average is down to 11.9 ppg. He had just six points and fouled out late in the loss at Tennessee. Belmont becomes a bit more vulnerable if Clark keeps slumping.

2. Jacksonville (7-3, 2-0)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Bethune-Cookman

The Dolphins‘ win at Florida made them the first A-Sun team to beat a top 25 foe since Mercer walloped USC and O.J. Mayo in the 2007 season opener. They don’t win with a lot of style points, given their low shooting percentages across the board, but JU is better equipped to win games in March this year thanks to its emphasis on defense. It is in some ways harder to guard because of the absence of a go-to player like it had last year in Ben Smith. If Belmont has some slippage, this looks like the team best suited to jump into the breach.

3. Lipscomb (7-3, 2-0)

Next week: 12/30 at Memphis

Predictably, Jordan Burgason has found his lost 3-point shooting touch, canning 16-of-32 in the team‘s last three games and averaging 20 points in that span. Center Adnan Hodzic continued his run to 2,000 career points, climbing to 1,670 for his career after a rare off-game netted him just 12 at Alabama. That was about the only thing worth mentioning from a 71-51 loss which was highly disappointing to coach Scott Sanderson, who said his team competed for five minutes of the second half. Losing at a BCS school is expected, but losing by 20 against a .500 BCS school when you expect to contend for a league title just doesn’t sit well with Wimp’s son. Nor should it.

4. Campbell (7-3, 1-0)

Next Week: 12/30 at East Tennessee State

No team in the league won in more dramatic fashion last week than the Camels, who trailed UNC Wilmington almost all night until Junard Hartley unloaded a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left for a 57-56 decision Dec. 22. Campbell is winning with defense, limiting its last four opponents to less than 40 percent marksmanship from the field. We’ll start finding more out about the Camels next Thursday night when they visit two-time conference tourney champ East Tennessee State.

5. East Tennessee State: (5-7, 0-1)

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Campbell

The Buccaneers‘ inconsistent point guard play is a nightly concern, but so are their slow starts. Until a 79-51 win on Christmas Eve against Appalachian State, they fell behind by double figures before the second media timeout in three straight games — all losses. It appears more and more likely that senior forward Tommy Hubbard is headed for a redshirt year, shifting more of the load to Mike Smith, Micah Williams, Justin Tubbs and Isiah Brown. So far, none of those four has consistently been able to be the No. 1 offensive option for more than a game or two at a time. Someone has to at some point or a once-promising season could end in a sea of mediocrity.

6. North Florida: (4-7, 1-1)

Next Week: 12/29 at Maryland

Now we get to the A-Sun‘s second division, where there presently seems to be little difference from sixth place to the cellar. On the premise that the Ospreys have played the toughest schedule in the league, we’ll go with them at No. 6. It’s not a good sign that they continue to have trouble scoring the ball. It’s an even worse sign that they have failed to earn more trips to the foul line than their opponents in 11 straight games. For a team which struggles to score consistently, it needs to find more ways to draw fouls and get easy points.

7. Mercer (3-8, 0-2)

Next week: 12/30 vs. Charlotte

You had to feel bad for Brian Mills, who fumbled a potential game-winning layup against Georgia Dec. 23 through his hands and out of bounds. Talk about the Grinch rappelling down your chimney at rocket speed. It was a lost opportunity for a team which continues to struggle to score points. And it was a rotten ending to a great game for Mills, who had 21 points and 12 boards. The Bears are still getting almost nothing out of underclassmen, a bad sign long-term.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (3-7, 0-2)

Next week: 12/27 vs. IUPUI

Reed Baker is going out with a bang, firing in a game-high 25 points in a Dec. 21 win over North Carolina Central. The senior guard is averaging nearly 18 points per game, although his usage rate suggests he needs to score more to justify his low shooting percentage. Other than sophomore forward Anthony Banks, who might be the league’s top offensive rebounder, there’s still little to like about this team across the board. Ole Miss transfer Kevin Cantinol hasn’t contributed much, suggesting there’s considerable rust to chip off his game.

9. USC Upstate: (2-9, 1-1)

Next week: 12/30 at Virginia Tech

Unlike Mercer, which recruited a bunch of freshmen and isn‘t getting much production from them, the Spartans can boast of freshmen who lead the team in scoring (Torrey Craig), rebounding (Craig) and blocked shots (Babatunde Olomuyiwa). In fact, Olomuyiwa’s 35 blocked shots are more than six teams in the conference. So while Upstate is probably headed for another 20-loss season, it at least is bringing along young players who appear capable of leading this program to brighter days in 2-3 years.

10. Stetson: (3-9, 1-1)

Next week: No games scheduled

One could say the Hatters crapped out in Las Vegas, where they lost on consecutive days to Rice, Akron and Arkansas-Little Rock to stretch their losing streak to five games. Defense was an issue in the final two games as the Zips and Trojans combined to hit a total of 25 3-pointers. The one consistent scorer individually continues to be sophomore Ridge Graham, who’s eighth in the league at 15 points per game and third in rebounding at 7.3. With the Nashville schools coming to town after the New Year, followed by a road trip to Upstate and ETSU, Stetson needs to improve first-shot defense soon or their five-game losing streak might not end for a while.

11. Kennesaw State: (2-9, 0-2)

Next Week: Dec. 28 at Wyoming

What‘s happened here? Since an 80-63 blowout of Georgia Tech Nov. 15, the Owls have lost nine in a row and are getting blown out more often than worn tires on a pothole-strewn expressway. Not even a lineup shakeup in a Dec. 22 loss at Fordham could change this team‘s slumping ways. This team shouldn’t be losing nine in a row, but will lose more than that unless it starts hitting more shots and making more of a commitment to playing tough defense like it did in last year’s A-Sun tourney.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we’ll look at an intriguing individual or team stat and determine fluke or trend.  This week, we eyeball Belmont‘s first half dominance. Until it trailed 35-23 at halftime of a December 23 game at Tennessee, the Bruins had outscored their first 11 opponents by a combined 156 points, or an average of 41-27.  We’re going to say fluke, even though we think this is the conference’s top team. With conference opponents — the guys who see you twice a year — on the docket for most of the season’s remainder, Belmont might not display this type of dominance immediately.

A Look Ahead

After opening Santa‘s presents, A-Sun teams will mostly practice and get ready for the bulk of conference play in the last week of 2010, although there are some intriguing games.

  • Campbell tries to improve to 2-0 in conference play when it makes its final trip to Johnson City for a date with two-time A-Sun tourney champ East Tennessee State.
  • Belmont plays Miami (Ohio) in what should be a fascinating battle for tempo control. The Bruins love to play fast but Miami coach Charlie Coles gets almost everyone to play at a waltz pace.
  • North Florida goes back to the road (and the bank) when it fleshes out a brutal non-conference schedule with a Maryland-Kansas State swing.
  • Lipscomb takes its last swing at a significant non-conference road win when it makes a 200-mile bus trip to Memphis. The more experienced Bisons will have had nine days to stew over a rotten performance in a loss at Alabama.
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Morning Five: 12.15.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on December 15th, 2010

  1. Quiz time: of conferences which are eligible for consideration in the mid-major rankings, which league has racked up the most wins against teams from the big six? Time’s up — it’s the Atlantic Sun. We dig it when a small conference takes an opportunity to strut a little bit, especially when they provide good evidence as to why you should take heed. Yes, that’s the A-Sun’s Belmont tucked in neatly at 66th in the latest KenPoms, and that is indeed the A-Sun listed in the top half of all conferences at (14th). Another good thing about the linked article is that it reminded us about the names of the two divisions in the Cancun Challenge: Riviera and Mayan (won by the A-Sun’s North Florida). Come on. At least it skunks Leaders and Legends.
  2. We can’t say for sure, but hopefully the folks at Siena take it as a compliment that we’ve come to expect so much from them every year, especially come tournament time. It’s in that spirit that we ask…what happened, here? We all knew it wouldn’t be easy replacing studs like Alex Franklin and Edwin Ubiles, not to mention departed coach Fran McCaffery. Sure, the Saints seem to have taken a serene, trance-like approach to playing defense at times this season, but nobody handicapped a 3-6 start. Mark Singelais of the Albany Times Union details how Siena has decided to put the first month of the season behind them, and proclaim Tuesday’s win over Florida Atlantic as the new beginning to their 2010-11 campaign.
  3. There’s now a Wolf among the Huskies. Connecticut has announced the mid-season addition of Enosch Wolf, a 7’1 center from Germany, to the squad. He’s enrolled and ready to go, eligible to practice on Sunday and play his first game on Monday. Coppin State — the Huskies’ foe on that night, whose tallest player playing at least 20 MPG stands at 6’8 — is not amused. Wilkommen in Connecticut!
  4. If Syracuse’s Rick Jackson looks different to you this season…good eye. Here’s a nice piece from Fanhouse about how Jackson’s lopping off of about 10% of his body mass during the off-season has led to increased expectations for Jackson from his coaching staff and teammates. You can sense the pride that fellow Orange(-man) Kris Joseph and guru Jim Boeheim feel toward Jackson in the way they talk about him in the article. More noteworthy is that you get the same sense of increased confidence from how Jackson talks about himself, his increased responsibility, and his improved skills. Averaging a robust 14.0 PPG and 12.5 RPG doesn’t hurt the ol’ confidence, either. But it’s all cyclical…
  5. We’re among those who really want New York to become a college hoops town again, and New York magazine’s Will Leitch — yes, that guy — has provided a tidy summary of how the NYC schools are doing so far. It’s shocking to see the depths to which Manhattan has plunged, and to note that, even though the Johnnies are limping right now, there’s still a Secretariat-like gap between St. John’s and the next-best NYC team (Long Island). So, even though the Steve Lavin rebuild of SJU is still in its infancy (or possibly still a fetus), all hopes of turning NYC back into the college basketball town that it should be still rest with them. We really want this to happen, no matter which school leads the way, but if it’s the Johnnies, that’s fine with us. Plus, that means we’ll probably all have more Erin Sharoni in our lives (SJU sideline reporter — it’s only a matter of time for her), and that’s just good for everyone.
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Weekend Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on December 13th, 2010

From the in-case-you-missed-it department… the weekend’s conference check-ins.

  • Atlantic SunEast Tennessee State notched an impressive win last Wednesday at Dayton, which had a 40-game winning streak at UD Arena against non-conference foes. So with all that momentum behind them, the Buccaneers naturally went down to USC Upstate and face-planted, losing 60-59 in a game which saw them hit nine of their first 40 shots and blow no less than a dozen layups.
  • Big SkyDon’t look now, Weber State, but the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona are on a roll! Coach Mike Adras has his team firing on all cylinders. They have won the last seven games in a row, with three of those wins coming on the road.
  • Big SouthWhile the Big South has mounted appropriate marks of 3-3 against SoCon foes and 2-2 vs. A-Sun opponents so far this season, other records may not reflect as well on the league, most notably an 0-6 total against the Colonial–and throw in a combined 0-4 vs. teams from the MEAC, MVC, and Patriot.
  • Missouri ValleyEveryone anointed Wichita State the preseason favorites. Some thought Creighton was ready to break out even with a new coach. There were others that said Northern Iowa would just reload. But very quietly, Missouri State has strung together the most consistency so far.
  • NECA few hours later, St. Francis (NY) came from four down to edge defending NEC champion Robert Morris in Brooklyn. Senior guard Akeem Bennett hit two free throws with four seconds left to put the Terriers on top. Bennett then raced down court and blocked a potential game winning three-point attempt to seal the verdict.  It is going to be that type of year….
  • Patriot League.  The Patriot League has yet to win that one game that causes the rest of the Mid-Major world to turn their collective heads in. In years past, the league has beaten the likes of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College, and Maryland, but right now, the two best wins for the league are against Boston University (Bucknell) and George Washington (Navy)—hardly a blip on the radar.
  • Sun Belt.  Tristan Thompson had a masterful four-game stretch for North Texas recently, averaging 26.5 points per game against Rice, Texas State, Texas Arlington and Grambling. Although Josh White and George Odufuwa are also All-Conference performers, nobody’s been better than Thompson.
  • WCC.  It began as a whisper earlier in the season, but recent events have given it full throat – the WCC is down this year. Gonzaga, which has waved the conference’s banner brilliantly for over a decade, has stumbled to a 4-4 record, most recently Wednesday’s 81-59 beat-down at Washington State. Saint Mary’s, coming off a Sweet Sixteen year with high expectations, has whiffed in its only two statement games.
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