As you know if you read this blog, we take pride in providing our readers with the most comprehensive coverage of all 31 Division I conferences available in the so-called alt-media. But given our pitiful pay scale, sometimes perfectly good correspondents lose interest in providing their usual excellent coverage, and we need to find some new reliable bloggers/writers who are willing to step in and take over for certain leagues. This is especially important as we move into conference season and start thinking about bubbles and brackets over the next ten weeks until Selection Sunday. So please, if you have any interest in becoming an RTC correspondent for one or more of the below conferences, or if you know of someone who would, please drop us a comment below or send us an email.
Conferences Needing Correspondents
Email us at rushthecourtATyahooDOTcom if you think you can help…
For those of your who haven’t been spending as much time on Rush the Court the past few months as you should (looking at myself in the mirror), we thought we would offer you a quick guide to what we have been working on over the past few months.
General Overview: Some top quality writing/prognosticating to get you in the spirit for the run from today until the early morning hours of April 7th, 2009.
– Finally, It’s Here: New RTC feature columnist John Stevens offers his thoughts about the upcoming season.
– A Little Preseason Bracketology: RTC co-editor (Do we even have titles?) rtmsf does his best Joe Lunardi impression and makes a surprising pick for his national champion. I’m smelling an attempt to make the RTC preseason bracketology championship the new Madden cover.
– Vegas Odds – Preseason Check-In: For the degenerate gamblers out there, RTC co-founder rtmsf offers an analysis of the Las Vegas odds for the 2009 NCAA champions for pure academic purposes. . .
– Preseason Polls Released: The surprisingly employed (I’m running out of titles here) rtmsf analyzes the AP and Coaches polls going into the season with a deeper look at unanimous #1 UNC’s early schedule.
– ESPN Full Court: 562 Games of Gooey, Delicious Goodness*: Once again, rtmsf comes through with the entire ESPN Full Court schedule with a Steve Nash-style assist from Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball.
Big Early Season News: While there are several big stories going into this season, there were 2 major stories that have come out recently that you should know about before you start watching games.
– Tyler Hansbrough Out Indefinitely: Who? Oh yeah, that guy. Everybody’s favorite for national POY and NBA Draft Day snub (get ready for the annual Dick Vitale rant) Psycho T will be out for a while, but we think the Tar Heels will be ok by March.
– Jai Lucas Leaving Florida: In a story that isn’t getting nearly the attention that the Psycho T story has (for good reason), Billy Donovan has lost last season’s starting point guard on the eve of the new season. While it appears that Lucas was probably heading towards a role as a backup point guard on the Gators, the timing of this announcement is surprising. It will be interesting to see what the Gators will do if freshman guard Erving Walker struggles in adjusting to SEC basketball.
As the season progresses, we will have more features and content including updates from all 31 conferences. We hope all of you are looking forward to the new season as much as we are and even if your team looks like it will struggle to make it to the NIT, remember the words of Kevin Garnett, who incidentally didn’t play a minute of college basketball (that’s another post), “Anything is possible!”
We’ve made it through eighteen of our thirty-one season conference primers so far, and our correspondents continue to top each other with their breadth of knowledge and coverage of the one-bid leagues. So we want to thank them and once again highlight their fantastic work over the past few weeks by anchoring their primers in one post here, so that you (and we) can easily access them. Going forward, we’ll primarily be dealing with the traditional multiple-bid conferences or conferences that should expect to see multiple bids this season. Conference #13 will go up tonight, and we’ll be counting down to tipoff on Nov. 10, when the #1 conference primer will be unveiled.
Also, keep in mind that our correspondents will continue to bring RTC comprehensive coverage of each league throughout the season. Each of the above leagues will have an update post every two weeks, beginning in mid/late November.
Andrew Baker is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and Southern conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Belmont Bruins (23-6) (17-3)
ETSU Buccaneers (20-10) (15-5)
Jacksonville Dolphins (18-11) (14-6)
Stetson Hatters (16-13) (12-8)
Lipscomb Bisons (15-14) (11-9)
Mercer Bears (14-17) (9-11)
Kennesaw State Fighting Owls (13-16) (7-13)
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (11-20) (6-14)
Campbell Fighting Camels (10-18) (6-14)
USC-Upstate Spartans (9-21) (5-15)
UNF Ospreys (4-25) (1-19)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K).
Non-Conference. I know how far of a stretch this may seem, but all signs point to an improving Atlantic Sun Conference. Some of you will ask, ‘How can a conference that has been mired in the bottom three of the conference RPI be improving?’ Well it can’t get much worse than 29th in the conference RPI ratings, but there is proof of improvement just over the last two seasons. During the 2006-07 campaign the conference went 1-38 against the power conferences (including Mountain West and CUSA). During 2007-08 the conference went 8-41 with three wins coming over SEC teams (Gardner-Webb over Kentucky, Belmont over Alabama, and ETSU over Georgia). Look for the Atlantic Sun’s top five to play tougher against the power conference teams as all those teams are returning a great deal of talent and scoring. The conference also improved upon their overall non-conference record at 46-108 (.299) last year, with 17 more OOC wins than the previous year (excluding non-D-I games). Look for the Atlantic Sun to pull a few more upsets this fall.
Conference. There are two teams in the Atlantic Sun who are thinking about the three time defending champion Belmont Bruins with an incredible amount of rage. The East Tennessee Bucs and Jacksonville Dolphins are both coming into this season with huge chips on their shoulders after losing to Belmont in last season’s Atlantic Sun Championship semifinals and finals respectively. ETSU hates to be reminded of the circumstances, but for those that don’t know it’s worth watching the below video to see why they can’t wait for their games with Belmont. Jacksonville was never competitive in the final and got completely dismantled by Belmont’s signature three-point attack. Only seven teams are eligible for the A-Sun tournament this year out of the eleven in the conference, so expect a dogfight at the top to secure that first round bye into the semifinals.
Champion. Belmont Bruins (#15 NCAA) – Many will think this pick is made because the Bruins are the three time champions. This is partially correct. The real reason is that the Bruins are 30-2 against conference opposition in February and March over the last three years including the conference tournament. They simply find ways to win late in the season. While Jacksonville and ETSU may have more talented squads, the Bruins make up the difference with superb coaching. Belmont has the longest tenured coaching staff in the conference. Rick Byrd has brought his program along from NAIA in 1996 and found a successful formula for winning in this league that has helped them become the first back to back to back champions the A-Sun has ever seen. It also helps that the Bruins will return four starters (Dansby, Wicke, Renfroe, and Dotson) that have 42.1 PPG between them. Wicke and Dotson have not had a season where they haven’t come out as A-Sun Champions. However, it won’t be easy, as ETSU and Jacksonville won’t be far behind the defending champs.
Others Considered. With the departure of Gardner-Webb, the Atlantic Sun will be one big happy family again without the north and south divisions. What does this mean? Well it means teams like Jacksonville and Stetson will have to play more games against Belmont, Lispcomb, and East Tennessee, which for these teams usually ends in an L. This is not to say that Jacksonville won’t be good. They will be excellent, but they will have to play six games against these teams whereas they only played four against them last year, including the A-Sun Final against Belmont. Jacksonville did not come up with a single W against those three squads. Stetson didn’t fare much better, going 1-2 and losing to Garnder-Webb (North) in the A-Sun Quarters. Both teams will have to expect to run at least 4-2 against these teams to even have a shot at the title. Of the two, Jacksonville has the better shot. The Dolphins return fours starters and most of their production. If Stetson is to win then they will do it with defense. Stetson ranked first in the conference last season limiting conference opponents to only 67.4 PPG and only 27.8% from beyond the arc.
What can you say about East Tennessee State? They had the semifinal game in their grasp to move on to the finals, but one technical and a subsequent missed front end of a 1 & 1 doomed their season (see video above). Does ETSU have the talent? Of course they do. Kevin Tiggs (14.6 ppg & 5.6 rpg) and Courtney Pigram (15.8 ppg & 3.2 rpg) are two of the best players in the conference. ETSU’s supporting cast will be bolstered by the arrival of 6’11” Seth Coy and 6’6” PG Adam Sollazzo, whom ETSU considers one of their finest prospects ever. The presence of a big man should add some depth to the ETSU attack and make them a dangerous team come conference time. The Bucs offense is a potent one, but where they struggled was in assists/turnovers (.802 A/TO Ratio). Turning the ball over 20% of the time is just not going to cut it for any team that has aspirations of a trip to the Dance. Can the Bucs break their duck against Belmont? Maybe, but Coach Murray Bartow is going to have to find a way to get a W against the Bruins to get back to the promised land.
Important Games/Games to Watch: Make sure you jot down any game between that involves Belmont and the following teams: ETSU, Jacksonville, and Lipscomb. Belmont has an intense rivalry with Lipscomb being as that they are only two miles away on Belmont Boulevard and have always fought for attention in the saturated sports world of Nashville. The Battle of the Boulevard has gone into overtime five times since Lipscomb’s move into the Atlantic Sun in 2003-04 including the 2005-06 Atlantic Sun Championship Game. The ETSU v. Jacksonville games should be great as well. The most important game of the year of course is the A-Sun Tournament Championship Game in March as only one team in the Atlantic Sun is going to get to Dance.
Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03/07/09)
RPI Boosters. The Atlantic Sun will be looking to improve on the eight wins they had over power conference opponents last year. ETSU is also going to be involved in the Charleston Classic which should add some quality competition, so keep an eye out on their schedule as well. Here are some dates to keep in mind for the top five:
Stetson @ Texas (11/14/08)
Jacksonville @ Florida State (11/15/08)
Jacksonville @ Georgetown (11/17/08)
Stetson @ Florida State (11/20/08)
Jacksonville @ Baylor (11/24/08)
Belmont @ Pittsburgh (11/25/08)
Jacksonville @ Georgia Tech (11/28/08)
Belmont @ Tennessee (12/20/08)
Stetson @ Miami (FL) (11/29/08)
Jacksonville @ Ohio State (12/17/08)
Lipscomb @ NC State (12/20/08)
Stetson @ Missouri (12/20/08)
Lipscomb @ Indiana (12/28/08)
Stetson @ Florida (12/30/08)
The Curse of Two. The Atlantic Sun has sent two teams to the dance only once. In 1993-94, the College of Charleston and Central Florida broke through as 12 and 16 seeds respectively. They both lost in the first round. The only teams that were in the league when that happened were the Mercer Bears and the Stetson Hatters. Both the Bears and the Hatters have seen only two winning seasons since.
University of Northern Fail. The UNF Ospreys have had a tough life since joining Division I. The Ospreys have only scrounged five Atlantic Sun wins in their first three seasons. New members Florida Gulf Coast and USC-Upstate both equaled and in FGCU’s case surpassed them with six wins in their maiden seasons. Coach Matt Kilcullen will most likely be feeling the heat this season if they don’t start seeing better results.
65-Team Era. The A-Sun is 3-24 during the modern era, and despite Belmont’s ridiculously close 71-70 loss to Duke last year, they have simply not been able to get over the hump in the NCAA Tournament during their otherwise impressive run.
Final Thoughts. The Atlantic Sun should be more fun to watch than it has been in recent years. Expect games between the top five schools to be knock-down, drag-outs. A massive amount of talent returns for these schools and it should be fascinating to watch. Don’t expect to see two bids out of this league unless someone wins a majority of their power OOC games and sweeps through the conference schedule only to lose in the final. Is the Atlantic Sun Conference one on the rise? Only if the Atlantic Sun can muster more OOC wins and their champion can again come close or win a NCAA Tournament game when March rolls around.
Story of the Day. The marquee games of the day were held in KC in the semis of the CBE Classic at the spanking new Sprint Center tonight. We’re still wondering why Kansas City built this thing (we hear the Sonics are available), but it looked like a nice joint for some collegiate hoops. #3 UCLA 71, Maryland 59. In this game, UCLA only had eight players dress out (Darren Collison in particular is still injured), but the Bruins under Ben Howland do what they always do – they uglified the game and ultimately imposed their will on the Terps. The first half looked like someone had greased the basketball, as both teams combined for 30 turnovers and only 46 pts. Advantage: UCLA, as they took a ten-pt lead into the half. The second half wasn’t as painful to watch, but Maryland never truly threatened to get back into the game – every Terp push seemed to be met with a UCLA player hanging off the rim on the other end. Kevin Love had a nice dub-dub (18/16), but we’re with Vitale in agreement that this kid is shy of 6’9 – maybe we’ll see him again next year after all. The only player that impressed on Maryland was Bambale Osby, who had several ridiculous blocks including one stuff of a stuff on Aboya that had us coming out of our seat. The bottom line is this – when UCLA gets Collison back running the show, they are without a doubt the most difficult matchup in the nation because of their defense, size and athleticism. They’re the only team around that can win games going away while shooting poorly (like tonight – 38%).
Michigan St. 86, Missouri 83. This was a much better game from a viewing standpoint. MSU looked very impressive in the first half, building as much as a 16-pt lead over the quasi-home team, but Mizzou looked equally as impressive in the second half as they charged back into the game, using the 40MoH pressure defense to fluster the Spartans on numerous possessions. MSU’s Raymar Morgan had a perfect night (19 pts on 6-6 FG and 6-6 FT), but it was Drew Neitzel (21 pts) and Goran Suton (17/8) who made the big plays late to secure the win for Tom Izzo’s team. We still think Indiana is the team to beat in the Big 10, but MSU can prove us wrong tomorrow night against UCLA. As for Missouri, we really like what Mike Anderson has already accomplished there – at any moment, we expect to see those twins he had at UAB throwing over-the-head passes 90 feet. The rebuild is over – Missouri could be an NCAA team this year.
Maui Invitational. Four games, four ho-hummers. Oklahoma St. 83, LSU 77. We thought this would be a close game, and we were wrong, as OSU ran out to an 18-pt halftime lead before nearly blowing the whole thing down the stretch (LSU got within three at the 1:46 mark). OSU was led by James Anderson (25 pts) and Terrel Harris (24 pts), but neither team really impresses us. Where has Anthony Randolph (5/5/5 turnovers) gone? Marquette 74, Chaminade 63. Visions of Virginia ’83 were dancing in the heads of local fans as Chaminade hung with Marquette for much of this game, but Jerel McNeal and his 22 pts held off the upstarts in the last five minutes for the win. Duke 83, Princeton 61. A completely outclassed Princeton team was overwhelmed from the opening tip against Duke, falling behind 24-4 in the first seven minutes of the game. Kyle Singler continued his impressive November, tallying 21/12 in the blowout. Illinois 77, Arizona St. 54. The nightcap game started much the same way, as Illinois ran out to a 20-0 lead on Arizona St. before coasting the rest of the way. Illinois might be better than we thought, but frankly, we expected a better performance in the first game from Herb’s boys tonight. Oklahoma St. will play Marquette and Duke will play Illinois tomorrow. Our picks – Duke and Marquette.
Paradise Jammy. Baylor 62, Winthrop 54. Is Baylor a team on the rise in the Big 12? It would appear to be so after defeating Wichita St., Notre Dame and Winthrop in successive nights to win the Paradise Jam. We would have picked against Baylor in all three games. Georgia Tech 70, Notre Dame 69. The consolation game featured a three with two seconds remaining from Tech’s Matt Causey that gave the schizo Yellow Jackets the win. ND’s Luke Harangody had 22/11 in the loss.
The Atlantic Sun Strikes Again. Belmont 85, Alabama 83. Is Belmont winning on the road against a BCS team an upset anymore? No, especially against an SEC team these days, as the suckeastern conference has been taking it on the chin lately. Right now, who besides Tennessee (and maybe a very young Florida) looks worth a damn? As for this game, a review of the stats shows that both teams played pretty well – it was just that Belmont converted more plays down the stretch. Specifically, Justin Hare dropped a pullup J from the foul line with 2.2 seconds remaining to put the Bruins up two points. What’s amazing about this is that Hare has achieved Jordanesque end-of-game status at Belmont, as this was the thirteenth time he had hit a shot to win or send a game into OT in his career. Bama’s Richard Hendrix went for 25/10 in the losing effort.
On Tap Today (all times EST). The Maui continues, and the Game of the Year (so far) takes place in KC at the CBE.
Indiana (-21.5) v. UNC-Wilmington 7pm – the only reason we wish we had the Big Ten channel is E-Giddy.
Marquette (-3) v. Oklahoma St. (ESPN) 7pm - we have no idea what will happen in this game, sorry.
Connecticut (NL) v. Gardner-Webb (ESPN FC) 7:30pm – didn’t we just do this?
Tennessee (-22.5) v. Middle Tennessee St. (ESPN FC) 7:30pm – will Lofton wake up this season?
Maryland v. Missouri (-5.5) (ESPN2) 7:45pm – this should be an exciting, uptempo game.
Florida (NL) v. North Florida (ESPN FC) 8pm – when does Florida play a road game again – January?
Vanderbilt (-14) v. Valparaiso 8pm – the way SEC teams have been falling…
Duke (-7) v. Illinois (ESPN) 9:30pm - Illinois has the inside play to exploit Duke, but whither their guards?
UCLA (-3.5) v. Michigan St. (ESPN2) 10pm – blood, guts, and glory. This will be a slugfest.
Oregon (-5) v. St. Mary’s (ESPNU) 10pm – upset alert! SMC is legit, but Oregon has looked fantastic thus far. How will the Ducks fare in their first road test?
Story of the Night. Boring. There was really only one good game tonight – Syracuse 72, St. Joseph’s 69. We had this one on our upset alert radar last night, and it took a three from Jonny Flynn at the top of the key to put the Hawks away at the Carrier Dome tonight (see vid below). Amazingly, that was Flynn’s only hoop of the game, coming after his record 28 pts last night. His backcourt mate Paul Harris picked up the slack tonight, going for 18/14/6 assts/2 stls in the win. How a 6’5 guard tallies 29 rebounds in two games confounds us. Syracuse has shown that it has the guards to play with anyone, but will the Orange have anything on the interior this year? We shall see, but until then, Cuse blog Axeman Cometh tells us to get the popcorn ready.
Things We Saw. Not much else tonight. Ohio St.-Columbia was the other ESPN game tonight, and although the Ivy League Lions gave a good effort, there was never a realistic chance for the upset. Once again, OSU didn’t really impress us, but we thought back to last year, and when did they ever impress us then either? They won 35 freakin’ games last year and we can only remember a handful where we thought ‘this is a pretty good team’ – the Big 10 championship game v. Wisconsin, the Tennessee second half comeback, and the Georgetown F4 game. So that’s how they do. We’re not going to count them out this year based on first impressions. Koufos (19/7/3 blks), Butler (18/7/3 assts) and Lighty (13/4/4 assts) led the way (Ohio St. 68, Columbia 54).
SEC Goes on the Road. Two interesting games for SEC teams involved Vanderbilt going on the road to Toledo and Alabama going to upstart Mercer tonight. These were games that neither could afford to lose if they expect to be seriously considered for at-large bids next March. Vandy burst out to an 18-0 lead before Toledo bothered to score a single point, and although the game got close, Vandy continues to show with a balanced attack from Shan Foster and AJ Ogilvy why it will be heard from in the SEC East this year (Vanderbilt 77, Toledo 70). Bama went into a sold-out arena at Mercer and survived A-Sun Mayhem thanks to Richard Hendrix’s 28/14, but we’re patiently waiting the bottom to fall out on this team without a true point guard (Alabama 90, Mercer 83). Ole Miss also got a solid mid-major win at home over South Alabama tonight (Ole Miss 81, South Alabama 78).
Big Halftime Leads. #8 Michigan St. up 19 on Chicago St., Missouri up 30 on Fordham, #2 UCLA up 35-11 on Cal St.-San Bernardino, Washington up 21 on NJIT… (all blowout wins).
Ranked Teams. #9 Washington St. 86, Boise St. 74. Wazzu struggled before blowing it open with a 60-pt second half. #16 Gonzaga 80, Idaho 43. Another huge second half (44-13) led by Austin Daye (18/4/3 assts/6 blks). #19 Texas A&M 67, Oral Roberts 53. This surprised us that it wasn’t very close. #20 Arizona 76, N. Arizona 69. Lute is due back soon. Budinger with 25/6/4.
Upset Alert. Like we said, it was a boring night.
On Tap Tonight (all times EST). 50 more games tonight, including numerous ho-hums on FC .
Florida (NL) v. NC Central (ESPN FC) 7pm – yes, this is the same team Duke beat by 1000 pts.
UNC (-11) v. Davidson (ESPN) 7pm - Stephen Curry, neutral court??? Naaaah…..
St. John’s (NL) v. St. Francis (NY) (ESPN FC) 7:30pm – these are the games we wish we could give back to ESPN FC.
LSU (NL) v. McNeese St. (ESPN FC) 8pm – tune in just 5 mins to see Anthony Randolph.
North Texas (NL) v. Oklahoma St. (ESPN FC) 8pm – see above re: St. John’s.
Sam Houston St. (NL) v. Texas Tech (ESPN FC) 8pm – upset alert! SHSU is legit, and Knight isn’t what he used to be.
Bradley (NL) v. Iowa St. (ESPN FC) 8pm – Bradley should win this game for the Valley.
Story of the Night. Is the A-Sun the best conference in college hoops this season? Three nights after Gardner-Webb shocked the hoops world against Kentucky, and one night after Belmont whacked Cincy… the Mercer Bears went into LA and pushed around #25 USC and OJ Mayo. That’s three road wins against three BCS teams in the span of about 72 hrs (remember: the A-Sun was 0-34 v. BCS teams last year!) As for this game, sure OJ got his numbers (32/7/4 assts on 12-27 FG + 8 tos), and isn’t that really why he’s there? In shooting 59% for the game (led by James Florence’s 30), Mercer rode a 17-pt halftime lead into an easy win. We have a bad feeling that more of this is on the horizon for USC with Mayo running the show. We’re just sayin… (Mercer 96, USC 81)
Things We Didn’t See. #5 Georgetown appears to have had a shaky opening game against Bill & Mary tonight, leading by only 2 pts with under 10 mins to play. When the Hoyas finally realized they have something nobody else in CBB has – a skilled 7’2 center named Roy Hibbert (23/8/3 blks) – they put the game away. We love the Hoya backcourt of Wallace and Sapp (combined for 33/10 assts), but we’ll continue to have a lingering concern over the long-term prospects of this year’s version until we see if Dajuan Summers or someone else can adequately fill the departed role of Jeff Green (Georgetown 68, William & Mary 53). Staying in the Big East, Pitt is a team we never know what to make of from year to year game to game. Tonight they throttled a solid NC A&T team, with a big contribution from Sam Young (career-high 24/11/4 stls). We’re sure they’re on their way to another 20-25 win season and a top 4 seed, where we’ll either pick them to go to the E8 and they’ll lose in the first round; or, the reverse (Pittsburgh 86, NC A&T 61). Tubby Smith’s debut today at Minnesota went much as his debuts at Kentucky (88-49 v. Morehead St.) and Georgia (91-71 v. W. Carolina), with a blowout win versus an overmatched team. In typical Tubby fashion, the Gophers held Army to 35% shooting and forced 23 turnovers. One Gopher blog lauded the hustle and dedication from players that has been missing in recent years (Minnesota 84, Army 52). Over at Oregon, we were interested to see how the Ducks would respond to the loss of Aaron Brooks, and so far, so good, as a balanced attack quickly overwhelmed Pepperdine tonight. Malik Hairston, Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor all had 17 pts each as the Ducks raced out to a 30-pt lead at halftime and cruised the rest of the way – we likey (Oregon 100, Pepperdine 70). Vandy is an SEC team that we probably have overlooked this year, but the Dores picked up a solid win over a mid-major tonight by beating Austin Peay. Showing just how tough it is to beat Vandy in Memorial Gym once again, the Commodores shot 55% from the field and 52% from three in keeping AP comfortably at bay most of the night. Shan Foster (21 pts) and AJ Ogilvy (18/9/2 blks) led the way for Vandy, while AP star Drake Reed had a rough night (12/7 on 3-16 shooting) (Vanderbilt 81, Austin Peay 67). There was a great game tonight in Milwaukee when Marquette took on another talented mid-major, IUPUI. Marquette’s 8-pt halftime lead was quickly erased by a second-half 17-2 run by IUPUI, but spurred by Jerel McNeal’s 20 pts, the Warriors came storming back with a 23-8 run of their own to ensure victory (Marquette 76, IUPUI 68).
Score of the Night. Unbelievably, we’re going back to The Farm. For the second consecutive night, Stanford had a 30+ pt halftime lead over an opponent, and again, no starter played more than 20 minutes. Tonight’s beneficiary was Northwestern St. – what’s TJ giving those boys (Stanford 97, Northwestern St. 58)?
Upset Alert. Other than the above USC game, there were no big upsets today.
Joey Dorsey Award. OJ Mayo (USC). Not for his game tonight, but for his quote that hearing his name called in the starting lineup “was a lot of fun. I wish we would’ve won.” Maybe we’re being nitpicky here, but after getting thumped by Mercer, we’re not sure any part of the night should be remembered as fun.
On Tap Today (all times EST). 47 games on tap, several of which are worthwhile (assuming Comcast doesn’t screw us again and gets FC working).
Loyola (MD) (-5) v. Pennsylvania 12pm – our favorites in the Ivy and the MAAC.
Rutgers (NL) v. North Dakota St. 1pm - NDSU gave Florida trouble; they can do more than that with Rutgers.
Seton Hall (NL) v. Monmouth (ESPN FC) 1pm – um, we’ll be washing our hair at that time.
Virginia (NL) v. Vermont 2pm – don’t understand why this isn’t FC worthy but the garbage game above is.
Florida (-17.5) v. Tennessee Tech 3pm – really would like to see if Calathes can keep it up.
Gonzaga (-12.5) v. Montana 4pm – we’re very high on Gonzaga this year, but Montana is no slouch.
Stanford (NL) v. UCSB 6pm – if Stanford is up 30+ at half of this game, we’re putting them #1 in Monday’s blogpoll ballot.
Pittsburgh (NL) v. St. Louis (ESPN FC) 6pm – we’re tuning in just to see Majerus back on the sidelines.
Kansas (NL) v. UMKC (ESPN FC) 8pm – let the Kansas Kremations continue.
Oregon (NL) v. Pacific (ESPN FC) 9pm – both of these teams had great first games.
Story of the Night. 93 Games. 186 teams. Thank God college hoops is back, baby. We’re a little late, but this is why we care. We got to watch pieces of six games tonight, and while the games looked like Nov. 9, meaning sloppy, it was soooo refreshing to see and hear the sneakers squeaking on the hardwood again.
Things We Saw. Kansas is so loaded we can’t understand how they lose to anyone. Darnell Jackson (21/4/4 stls) off the bench, Sherron Collins (22/6 asts/4 stls), and so much more. UL-Monroe isn’t that bad either, but they were really never in the game (Kansas 107, UL-Monroe 78). In Florida, the Gators are (as expected) extremely young but talented – their freshmen scored 46 of their 75 pts and Nick Calathes looked great, leading the team with 21 pts. They were never threatened with an L by North Dakota St., but they could never really put them away either. That will likely come with experience (Florida 75, North Dakota St. 65). Staying in the SEC, Tennessee took a while to get going against Temple, and they didn’t shoot well from 3 (27%), but they still won comfortably. We still have trouble distinguishing between the 47 Smiths they have on the team (all of them are about 6’5 and wear headbands), but they combined for 38/9/6, while Lofton was otherwise limited (10 pts) (Tennessee 80, Temple 63). One question – will Temple ever be relevant again? The best game of the night that was televised was actually the Ohio-NMSU game. New Mexico St. played without stud freshman Herb Pope, but it was evened out because Ohio’s star forward Leon Williams spent most of the night on the bench in foul trouble anyway. The rest of the Ohio starters picked up for Williams, though (64/25/11), despite NMSU clearly having the more athletic team. Martin Iti (7’0, 240) has an NBA body, but why isn’t he more productive (8/9) (Ohio 80, New Mexico St. 72)?
Score of the Night. Stanford 111, the Tommy Amakers 56. None of the Stanford starters played more than 17 mins, and keep in mind they were w/o Brook Lopez in this game as well. The halftime score was 63-28. Good grief, man! Way to inspire confidence in your first game at Harvard, TA.
Upset Alert. UNC-Greensboro 83, Georgia Tech 74. Who said this yesterday – “upset alert if Ga Tech doesn’t come ready to play…” :-) It appears that mid-major all-american Kyle Hines absolutely shredded the Jackets’ front line (25/9/2 blks on 10-12 shooting). You never know what you’re going to get with Ga Tech, but UNCG is a team to watch as a potential at-large out of the SoCon next spring if they get a couple more of these. Belmont 86, Cincinnati 75. This really isn’t an upset, but Cincy was a 9-pt favorite at home. Wait… who said this yesterday also – “upset alert again – UC was horrid last year. Have they improved?” Now that we’re 2-0 this season on upset alerts, we’re quitting. Great BCS win for Belmont, who we perhaps foolishly did not pick to win the A-Sun again this year (gulp… we didn’t pick Gardner-Webb either). Belmont had 19 layups, 12 threes and 10 FTs, which amounted to 84 of their 86 points – now that’s efficiency. Wow. Other upsets:Tulane 77, Auburn 62 – maybe not the result, but the margin.
Line of the Night. There is no question about this one. Michael Beasley (Kansas St.) (34/24/4 assts/4 blks). 24 rebounds sets a new Big 12 conference record. Just sick numbers for a first game. Kansas St. 94, Sacramento St. 63.
Freshmen. Aside from Beasley at K-State, Kevin Love at UCLA also had an impressive debut (22/13) in a Bruin whomping (UCLA 69, Portland St. 48). The Duke trio of freshmen Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Taylor King combined for 51/14 in a complete and utter destruction of NC Central (Duke 121, NC Central 56). The Devils even pulled out some zone defense, they say.
In Memoriam. Wake Forest honored Skip Prosser by hanging a banner in their arena recognizing his contributions to the school and athletic program. The Deacons played hard and honored his legacy by winning easily (Wake Forest 85, Fairfield 60).
Nov. Bracketbuster. George Mason already helped their at-large profile with tonight’s win over Vermont, one of the better teams in the America East this year. GMU’s Will Thomas (yes, he’s still around) blew up for 16/17, overcoming the Patriots’ abysmal 1-17 from the three point line (George Mason 60, Vermont 53).
Joey Dorsey Award. We like him, but tonight’s award goes to Chris Lofton (Tennessee), for shooting 1-8 (0-5 from three) from the field and only scoring 10 pts. With a stroke like that, we expect nearly all of them to go in.
On Tap Today (all times EST). Another pretty big day with 63 games, although not much on tv because of college football. Here are some of the games to keep an eye for along the bottom line while you watch pigskin.
Yale (NL) v. Sacred Heart 1pm – presumptive favorites from the Ivy and NEC play.
Texas Tech (-19.5) v. UC Riverside (ESPN FC) 2pm - we have no idea why this is FC worthy.
Minnesota (NL) v. Army 3pm – Tubby’s debut will probably go a little better than Billy G’s last game.
USC (NL) v. Mercer 4pm – we cannot wait to see the OJ highlights from this one.
Bucknell (NL) v. Albany 7pm – a game that could affect seedings (#14 or #15) next March.
Oregon (-26) v. Pepperdine (ESPN FC) 7:30pm – how will the Ducks look w/o Aaron Brooks?
Vanderbilt (-12) v. Austin Peay 8pm – beating the dead horse here, but this is the kind of game we wish FC would have instead.
Marquette (NL) v. IUPUI (ESPN FC) 8:30pm – we’re not completely sold on MU – this could be an interesting game.
Pacific v. W. Michigan (-4.5) 9:30pm – if Pacific is back this year, they need to win this game.
Upset of the Year? We had a lot to say already on the UK upset at the hands of Rick Scruggs’ Gardner-Webb squad, but we didn’t really discuss the numbers behind an upset of this magnitude. Obviously, not much went well for the Cats – they shot a tepid 36% while allowing 53% (god only knows the last time an opponent shot that well at Rupp Arena) and they were outrebounded by eight. The dearth of any noticeable inside game aside from Patrick Patterson (12/12) is obvious – one night after Mark Coury pulled a double-double, he followed it up with 2/4. The two “stars” of this team, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, combined for 6-21 shooting and it appears at first blush that UK will only go as far as the offense of these two (+ PP) will take them. Which means… probably not very far. The one other bright spot for the Cats was freshman Alex Legion, who came off the bench for 13 pts. Gardner-Webb has a lot to be proud of, and they can ride a win like this to far greater heights than expected in the Atlantic Sun. With four starters in double figures, great shot selection and patience with the ball, they very well may be a team to watch this season in that league.
Connecticut 69, Morgan St. 65. Before the Gardner-Webb upset, we were all set to discuss how overrated UConn was again this year, and how excited we were to see read about the big intra-sectional matchup tomorrow night between the Huskies and Holy Cross. Oh wait, Jim Calhoun don’t play like that. No offense to Todd Bozeman’s Morgan St. squad, but we’ll just have to settle for UConn being overrated. What’s not to like? Well, for starters, the Huskies are having trouble shooting the ball again, going a mere 3-15 from behind the arc. And while the nation’s #1 defensive fg% team last year held MSU to 35% shooting, they might want to concentrate a little more on stopping the long shots (11-22 from downtown). Jeff Adrien (12/10/7 blks) and Jerome Dyson (20/2) carried the Huskies, but 7’3 Hasheem Thabeet (3/6/2 blks) continues to underwhelm us. It seems as if UConn has a long way to go if they want to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year.
Is it safe to say that Billy Gillispie’s honeymoon at Kentucky is already over? Before we can even start talking about what happened there tonight (since we didn’t see it! thanks again, ESPNU), we should give a little historical perspective.
Consider that UK was a 25.5 point favorite and lost by 16 points for a spread difference of 41.5 pts. We know that Stanford was a 39 point underdog vs. USC in football when the Cardinal won 24-23 this year, but at least those teams are in the same conference, right? Honestly, we can’t remember another spread reversal quite so large in basketball.
Then consider that Gardner-Webb (9-21 in 06-07) was by all objective measures one of the worst teams in America last year (#279 Pomeroy; #265 RPI; #300 Sagarin), and was picked to finish near-last in the Atlantic Sun among its NCAA-eligible teams. The Bulldogs from Boiling Springs, NC, lost to UNC by 53, Georgia by 29, Wisconsin by 58 and Wake Forest by 32 pts last season, and its entire conference was 0-34 as a whole against BCS teams in 06-07.
Coach Gillispie Has Bigger Problems Now than His Sordid Past
Gardner-Webb scored the game’s first 14 points, led by as much as 16 and took a 38-27 lead at intermission. The Runnin’ (and thinkin’) Bulldogs played with one purpose and repeatedly got good scoring opportunities. Backdoor cuts nullified UK’s pressure defense. Plain scrappiness netted other scoreboard rewards. At times, the Cats looked like the same disjointed team that so frustrated former coach Tubby Smith and the fans in recent seasons.
Gardner-Webb took immediate charge of the game. Grayson Flittner, a 6-foot native of Sharpsville, Ind., who walked on the Gardner-Webb team because his girlfriend played on the women’s team, scored 22 points. He hit a pair of three-pointers in the 14-0 run. Thomas Sanders, who was home schooled until college and came to Gardner-Webb through an “Availables Game” designated for unsigned junior college players, added 21 points and 10 rebounds. Kentucky responded with too many solo flights of fancy. None were more ugly than Joe Crawford’s leaning, one-hand flip shot [airball] that evoked thoughts of a YMCA pickup game.
All that gladhanding and backslapping that Coach Gillispie has been getting in the Bluegrass State for the past seven months is over – the good-time wagon has lost a wheel and the pioneers are pissed. As far as we can tell, the much-maligned Tubby Smith’s worst loss in ten seasons at the helm of UK was to Western Kentucky at home in 2001-02, and WKU made the NCAAs as a #14 seed that year. What must ole Ten-loss Tubby be thinking right now? Obviously, G-W is far beneath WKU in historical status considering they just joined D1 in 2000. This is probably UK’s worst loss in almost twenty years, dating back to a 1989 home loss against SW Louisiana in the old UKIT during Rick Pitino’s first year at the helm – of course, he was playing with essentially a bunch of walk-ons, some chewing gum and silly putty that year, so that loss was none too surprising.
After the game, Gillispie had this to say:
You can’t just show up on the court and think you’re going to beat somebody because you wear a certain jersey. We didn’t play like a hunter tonight.
Well, Coach, UK fans were already booing tonight, and with good reason. You’re going to have to figure out how to become Daniel Boone in a hurry, or things could get very ugly for you there.
For a tough-love assessment of this upset from a fan’s perspective, A Sea of Blue gives it to Gillispie for his lack of um, coaching logic in this game.
WYN2K. The Atlantic Sun has been an up and down league over the past decade. It spent much of the late 90s and early 2000s as a league hovering at the top of the low-majors (#19-#23 ranked conference most years). But the last two seasons it has fallen hard, finishing as one of the bottom four conferences in the computer rankings both years. Its OOC record (70-174, .287) the last three years is standard for a league at this level. Still, the NCAA typically shows some love to the conference champion, having given the A-Sun only five #16 seeds in 64/65-team era (and two of those were when the league received multiple bids) and peaking with a #11 seed in 2001 (Georgia St. defeated #5 Wisconsin in the first round). The league has earned a #14 or #15 seed each of the last six years, and we see no reason for this to end.
Predicted Champion. East Tennessee St. (#15 Seed NCAA). We see Murray Bartow’s ETSU squad (16-2 last season in the A-Sun) as the team to beat here. They return league POY Courtney Pigram and bring in former juco D2 POY Kevin Tiggs, a combo guard from whom big things are expected immediately. As a program, ETSU is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, having made the Dance two of the last five years (as a member of the Southern Conference) and seven times overall.
Others Considered. The A-Sun North division is clearly the class of the league, containing two-time defending tourney champion Belmont and rising Lipscomb. Belmont is a system program predicated on efficient ball movement (#21 nationally in eFG%) and tight defense (#5 nationally in eFG% defense), but the loss of their two best post men (Boomer Herndon and Andrew Preston) makes it difficult for us to pick them again. Lipscomb is another intriguing choice if for no other reason than they’re hosting the conference tourney this year – oh, and they’re 24-2 at home during the last two seasons. Jacksonville engineered one of the all-time greatest turnarounds last year, going from one win in 2006 to fifteen in 2007, and while they won eight of their last eleven regular season games, we’re not ready to push them past the more experienced teams just yet.
Games to Watch. There’s likely only one A-Sun game probably worth watching this year.
Atlantic Sun Championship Game (03.08.08).
RPI Booster Games. The A-Sun has thirty games against BCS opponents scheduled this year, and hopefully it can perform a little better than last year when it was 0-34. There are some opportunities against lower-tier BCS teams, however, in the following list of games:
Belmont @ Cincinnati (11.09.07)
ETSU @ Georgia (12.21.07)
Lipscomb @ Vanderbilt (12.08.07)
Campbell @ South Carolina (11.28.08)
Jacksonville @ Florida (12.03.07)
Alabama @ Mercer (11.13.07)
Kennesaw St. @ Auburn (11.13.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.<5%. It’s extremely unlikely that this is a two-bid league, but if any team was going to make it so, it would be ETSU. It would require domination of the league as well as a scintillating non-conference record before they lose in the conference tourney – we don’t see that happening.
Neat-o Stat. We have a couple for the A-Sun. First, North Florida last season enjoyed the dubious distinction of having the least efficent offense in the nation, scoring a mere 79.6 pts per 100 possessions. Secondly, Florida Gulf Coast (one of four transitional schools making the jump to D1 in the A-Sun) is the youngest D1 university in America, having opened its doors to students in 1997.
64/65-Team Era. In 26 appearances, the Atlantic Sun is 3-23 (.115) over the era, scoring the #11 over #6 upset mentioned above, #12 College of Charleston defeating #5 Maryland in 1997, and #14 Arkansas-Little Rock defeating #3 Notre Dame (Digger!) in 1986. That UALR team then took NC State to double OT in the next round before succumbing – that is the closest the league has gotten to the Sweet 16 in its history.
Final Thought. Belmont has gotten destroyed by Georgetown (80-55) and UCLA (78-44) in the last two years in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t appear that their style of play is conducive to pulling off an upset against a bigger, more athletic team. The league would have a much better chance at the first round upset if an uptempo, athletic team like ETSU earns the automatic bid.