From the quiet of November to the clamor of March, several O26 performers and performances stood out from the pack in the regular season. Let’s pass out some awards to the most deserving among them.
O26 Team of the Year
Wichita State’s run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken/USA TODAY Sports)
Wichita State (31-0, 18-0). When the Shockers rolled through their non-conference schedule and entered league play 13-0, people began to talk. Could this team be better than the Final Four squad from a year ago? Then, as they hammered their Missouri Valley challengers game after game, week after week, month after month, an even more profound question began to emerge: Does this team have a legitimate chance to go undefeated? National media attention descended on Wichita, the pressure mounted (or was supposed to) and every time Gregg Marshall’s group took the floor, something historic – but still unlikely – was on the line. Yet it was only when they completed the impossible, finished 31-0 and promptly dominated Arch Madness that an even weightier thought took hold. Will Wichita State go down as one of the best teams of all-time? The mere asking of the question is indication alone that these Shockers are truly special. Only team to win 30-plus games in the regular season without suffering a loss. Most ever wins entering the NCAA Tournament. First team since UNLV in 1990-1991 to enter the Dance undefeated. Regardless of whether or not they wind up in North Texas in a few weeks, those records are enduring, this team’s legacy will be enduring.
Honorable Mentions: San Diego State (27-3, 17-2), Saint Louis (26-5, 13-3), Stephen F. Austin (29-2, 18-0), VCU (24-7, 12-4), Green Bay (24-5, 14-2) Read the rest of this entry »
As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. The second team to gain entry into the 2014 NCAA Tournament is Eastern Kentucky, the Ohio Valley Conference Champion. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winner, and if you’d like to peruse all of the previously minted conference champs, click here.
Get Your Dancing Shoes On Glenn Cosey And Company — Eastern Kentucky Is NCAA Tournament Bound.
OVC Champion (24-9, 14-5)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #113/#132/#150
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.4
Likely NCAA Seed: #15
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
Many folks may have penciled March mainstay Belmont into the NCAA Tournament field when they saw Saturday’s OVC title match-up between the Bruins and Eastern Kentucky on the docket, but it’s their stylistic comrades that will represent the conference in the Big Dance. Much like Belmont, Eastern Kentucky boasts an efficient offense that, 24 times out of 33 games this year, was able to overcome the Colonels’ extensive defensive shortcomings. The contrast in EKU efficiency between ends of the floor is best captured by their eFG% and eFG% against – only three teams have been better nationally in the former category, but just nine D-1 teams have fared worse in the latter. Read the rest of this entry »
In 2007, while in his second year as head coach at Eastern Kentucky, Jeff Neubauer led the Colonels to the NCAA Tournament, getting there with a group that he largely inherited from his predecessor. That team was a #16 seed and lost to a Tyler Hansbrough-led North Carolina squad in the first round. In the seasons that followed, Neubauer has had teams that have been competitive in the Ohio Valley Conference, but none of which has been able to get back to the Big Dance. That changed on Saturday, when Eastern Kentucky took down defending champion Belmont, 79-73, to win the OVC Tournament championship in Nashville. It was a surprising result to many, mostly because Belmont, which had won the regular season title, seems to never fall short of the NCAA Tournament. But to those who have watched the league closely over the past couple of years since Belmont’s arrival, it was no surprise at all that Neubauer was able to get this senior-laden team back the place every coach in a one-bid league aspires to.
Corey Walden, the OVC Tourney MVP, Cuts the Nets (AP)
For Neubauer, despite the many years of being not quite good enough, there was never a doubt that he would eventually make it back. “The thing I’ve had in my mind is that it is inevitable that we will end up back in the NCAA Tournament. I think, as a coach, you have to have that mentality that it’s going to happen,” he said after the win. “It’s something we all should really appreciate.” Given the wealth of experience that this team had, missing the NCAAs would have been a lost opportunity. The Colonels are led by guards Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden, who combined for 52 points in the win, and who give Eastern Kentucky as athletic a backcourt as exists in the OVC. With a total of six seniors, this was clearly Neubauer’s best opportunity to get back to the Big Dance. Last year, in a league with an even better Belmont squad and an extremely talented Murray State team, winning the league’s automatic bid was a tall order and was one the Colonels narrowly fell short of in a semifinals loss to the Racers. It was that game that proved to Neubauer that his team could win it. “Our experience being here last year in the semifinal, if you would ask these players, really helped us understand what this OVC Tournament was all about.”
It’s day three of Championship Fortnight and with three more conferences tipping off today, what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the Big South, NEC and OVC get started.
Dates: March 5-8 Site: Nashville Municipal Auditorium
What to expect: A battle royale between top-seeded Belmont and second-seeded Murray State. Belmont earned the OVC’s automatic bid in the Bruins’ inaugural season in the league last year, while Murray State took those honors the year before. They look to be on a title-game collision course, and either could be a threat to advance in the Big Dance.
Favorite:Belmont. Move over Murray State, Belmont is the new king of the Ohio Valley. The Bruins won the regular season title for the second straight season, thanks to a 14-2 league mark. Murray State finished at 13-3, and remember, Belmont won AT North Carolina in mid-November.
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.
Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.
Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)
Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.
Here’s to hoping that this week brought you plenty of holiday cheer, because it surely did not supply you (or anyone else!) with much quality college basketball. Entertaining Diamond Head Classic final aside, this week was as slow as the college basketball season gets. Don’t despair, however, because Santa has delivered a Saturday chalk-full of college hoops. Two big-time rivalry games occupy the prime real estate on this weekend’s marquee, but there’s plenty of substance, albeit understated, sprinkled throughout Saturday’s docket of action. Here’s a quick primer on the big games in Syracuse and Lexington, plus a few other worthwhile narratives to monitor on this busy Saturday.
For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents
A Couple Of Old Big East Friends
In the world of college basketball, eleven months is far from an eternity, but my, oh my; how things have changed since the last time Villanova and Syracuse locked horns! What was a Big East conference game last January will be an ACC versus (new) Big East affair today (2PM EST, CBS), and with both teams set to embark on their maiden voyages in the new leagues next week, the Carrier Dome will serve as the clinic for anyone needing one final dose of Big East nostalgia. Subplots abound in this game, but I’ll be especially interested to see how Villanova attacks the Syracuse zone. The Wildcats haven’t been a bad offensive team to this point in the season, but the Cats’ statistical breakdown on the offensive end puzzles. Villanova is 18th best in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.1%), also shoots the ball pretty well from the stripe (72.2%), but struggles from beyond the arc (204th nationally in 3P% at 32.7%). With those splits, you’d expect Jay Wright’s team to focus their efforts inside the three-point line. So far, however, they’ve done the exact opposite – the Wildcats are 7th in the country when it comes to percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (45.7%). Will the chucking continue against an Orange zone that begs opponents to settle for deep shots (43.1% of Syracuse opponent’s field goal attempts are threes), or can the Wildcats throw aside this bit of statistical dissonance and find a way to get quality interior looks against the zone? Remains to be seen, but expect 30,000+ to get a first-hand view of the answer.
The 2013-14 college basketball season is off to a great start. We’ve seen a good number of upsets, buzzer-beaters and down-to-the-wire games. Yet all this fun is just a prelude to those glorious three weeks in late March and early April. For a majority of the O26, reaching the NCAA Tournament is most of the battle. Those teams spend their seasons attempting to build a resume that will stand out when compared to other bubble teams on Selection Sunday. While it’s only about a month into the season, it’s never too early to start reviewing resumes from projected bubble teams. Let’s start with 10 of them.
Note: Since we’re limiting this to projected bubble teams, let’s leave off Gonzaga, VCU, New Mexico and Massachusetts for now. We can always revisit them later should they slide into bubble territory. UNLV is also out until the Runnin’ Rebels can climb above .500.
Belmont boosted its at-large resume with a shocking win at UNC. (chapelboro.com)
Good wins: UNC, Indiana State (for bubble purposes)
Bad losses: None
Thoughts: Belmont is the Ohio Valley Conference favorite, but should the Bruins falter they can always hang their hat on that great road win at North Carolina. The victory against Indiana State is nice too, considering both teams could find themselves on the bubble. The Bruins’ losses are to VCU and Richmond, with the latter hurting a little bit. Belmont gets a shot at Kentucky and another contest against Indiana State later this month to help boost its resume. Belmont sits at #21 in the way-too-early RPI rankings, and that’s sure to drop once conference play rolls around. Is an undefeated run to the OVC title game enough to get the Bruins an at-large?
Projected seed for now: #12
Boise State (8-1)
Good wins: None
Bad losses: None
Thoughts: Boise State missed a chance at a resume-making win on Tuesday night at Kentucky, falling 70-55. Nobody can fault the Broncos for that loss, nor will be it hurt them at any point. Had Boise State won, the selection committee basically could have considered the Broncos in the field barring a disastrous MW campaign. A game against Saint Mary’s awaits Saturday before a rugged 18-game league slate.
David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Lipscomb and Belmont in Nashville.
When he lost his three leading scorers to graduation, including standout guards Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark, many assumed that Belmont coach Rick Byrd would see his team take a step back from last year’s OVC championship squad. But this is Rick Byrd, and rebuilding at this point in the program’s existence is no longer a concern. As evidenced by Sunday’s win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, his latest group is once again likely the team to beat in the OVC, and a return to the Big Dance for the seventh time in nine seasons appears to be a distinct possibility.
Rick Byrd Has One of the Most Consistently Good Mid-Major Programs Going
On Wednesday night, the Bruins backed up their win over the Tar Heels with a resounding 94-64 thumping of cross-town rival Lipscomb in the season’s second “Battle of the Boulevard,” giving Belmont its NCAA-best 22nd consecutive home win. And in getting off to a strong start that includes not only the North Carolina win, but also a home victory over an Indiana State team that crushed Notre Dame in South Bend, Byrd’s squad is proving that it has simply reloaded. Now led in the backcourt by the solid duo of Reece Chamberlain and Craig Bradshaw, both of whom saw valuable minutes last season, Belmont relies on a stronger front line than it had last season. J.J. Mann, whom Byrd recently called one of the hardest workers and most competitive players he’s coached, proved his mettle by hitting the game-winning three against North Carolina. The senior forward looks poised to lead the Bruins in scoring this season, and his role as a vocal leader has increased with the departure of Johnson and Clark.
Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2013
Brad Jenkins is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday afternoon’s North Carolina vs. Belmont game from Chapel Hill.
Normally when a small school like Belmont wins a road game against a traditional power like North Carolina, it is deemed a major upset. But the Bruins’ 83-80 victory in Chapel Hill Sunday afternoon did not look like a big surprise. This statement has more to do with North Carolina’s team right now than it does with Belmont. After a lackluster win over a lightly-regarded Holy Cross on Friday night, RTC ACC microsite columnist Lathan Wells pointed out that North Carolina was suffering from an offensive identity crisis. As of Sunday, the Tar Heels are still looking for answers.
Roy Williams is Searching for Answers in Chapel Hill
The story of the first half was certainly the pathetic 9-of-28 free throw performance by North Carolina, leaving the Heels behind by seven points at the half. They were better from the charity stripe in the second half but still finished a dismal 22-of-48 for the game. For a team with only one perimeter shooting threat in Marcus Paige, attacking the basket aggressively against the smaller Bruins would appear to be a sound strategy. The problem was that the two guys repeatedly getting fouled are both bad free throw shooters. J.P. Tokoto and James Michael McAdoo were a combined 15-of-35 from the free throw line on Sunday, but that’s not a total shock given their history: McAdoo shot 58% last year and Tokoto managed to make only 38.5% of his free throws. So maybe that strategy isn’t so great after all. The only real effective thing North Carolina did on the offensive end was hit the glass. The Heels collected 21 of their misses out of a possible 43, for a phenomenal offensive rebound rate approaching 50 percent.
Pitt News: Great article from a couple of weeks ago from Pittsburgh student Jasper Wilson, who spent some time with Panther alumnus Ricardo Greer. Greer was a star (though he took a backseat role to All-American Brandin Knight his senior season), who graduated in 2001. Now Greer plays basketball in France, where he’s played the majority of his professional career. Wilson does a great job illuminating Greer’s life with the boons and challenges that come with playing basketball in Europe. Really great work.
Run the Floor: Suffice to say Boston College‘s season hasn’t opened the way Steve Donahue planned. The Eagles are 1-4. Their one win came by three, at home against a bad Florida Atlantic team (the same team Duke beat by more than thirty points). Their losses are all to decent teams (Providence, Massachusetts, and Toledo), but decent losses don’t help your RPI–especially home losses against Toledo. Donahue’s team may just be taking some time to come together, but their performances are starting to look eerily consistent.
CBSSports.com: Gary Parrish thinks that Lebron’s Decision influenced consensus top-five recruits Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor in their decision to pick a school together. It’s an interesting idea, and I think it also applies to the super-classes that John Calipari has strung together. Jones and Okafor chose Duke, giving the Blue Devils the top class in the country for next season. Consensus top-ranked prospect Okafor, a back to the basket center, will give Mike Krzyzewski his most skilled big since at least Carlos Boozer (and possibly Elton Brand).
Tar Heel Blog and One Foot Down: A couple of ranked teams got embarrassed this weekend. Lathan’s article from Friday looks especially prescient after North Carolina lost to Belmont at home. The Tar Heels went a shocking 22-48 from the free throw line, which certainly contributed to their loss. But they also choked up a six-point lead in the final minutes thanks to some hot shooting from Belmont. Notre Dame also lost at home to Indiana State (the first November loss of Mike Brey’s tenure) thanks to putrid offense and absolutely nothing from its backcourt. [side note: Syracuse also produced an abhorrent free throw line this weekend, putting up the old 12-28 from the charity stripe]
Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia‘s loss to VCU raised a lot of questions about the team’s ability to close games. Yes, Tony Bennett is playing an inexperienced point guard, but that’s no excuse for letting any game close on a 10-1 run. After the game, Bennett noted that his team needed to be mentally stronger (quoting Bob Knight in the process). Unfortunately, mental strength won’t cause a shot-creator to appear. Joe Harris is one of the best players in the ACC, but he’s not a guy that will break you down at the end of the shot clock. He has to find a way to be more effective (probably drawing a foul on a drive into the lane) because Virginia won’t come close to it’s potential if it continues playing like it did against the Rams.
Tonight’s Lede. Tournament Commencement. Day one of the NCAA Tournament proper, the field of 64, is officially in the books. Games were won, upsets were wrought, careers ended and through it all, bracket hope springs eternal for those who survived their first big test. The second half of “second round” competition will tip off in just a few hours, followed by a weekend of further elimination and refinement. There is no mistaking it: the NCAA Tournament is here and we’ve only barely scratched the surface of the drama to come in later rounds.
Your Watercooler Moment. What? Harvard?
The most shocking result of the day came as an almost unthinkable late-night surprise (Getty Images).
Next year was going to be the year I picked Harvard to not only win its opening round game, but – depending on how the matchups shook out – quite possibly rip off a sweet-16 or even Elite 8 run. The Crimson get seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey, snagged this offseason in a sweeping academic scandal, back for 2013-14, along with another solid recruiting class and a promising young backcourt in Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders. The Crimson have all the pieces to crash the field next season. It is from this backdrop that you can understand why what Harvard pulled off Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena was a year ahead of schedule. The Crimson downed three-seed New Mexico in the biggest upset of the Tournament’s first day. It was also Harvard’s first ever NCAA Tournament win, and it came thanks to a depleted roster holding one of the nation’s best backcourt duos, Tony Snell and Kendall Williams, to a combined 17 points and two assists. The Lobos were a trendy Final Four pick. They had size and experience and a skilled seven-foot big man to anchor their offensive attack. They had the considerable weight of being the Mountain West’s Tournament entrepreneur. Harvard has its first Tournament win in school history and maybe the most remarkable upset we’ll see this March.
Also Worth Chatting About. A12-5 Upset Double. You Saw it Coming.
A seeding mismatch left Oklahoma State with a brutal first-round matchup (AP Photo).
Because there was so little immediate uproar about teams actually getting in/left out of the Tournament, people channeled their anger towards the bracket itself. Two of the biggest points of contention within were Oregon’s mystifying 12 seed following a Pac-12 conference Tournament championship and Cal’s comfy opening-round location (San Jose). The Ducks deserved more respect than a 12-seed and the Bears, for all their success in conference play, did not deserve the benefit of playing so close to their Berkeley Campus. Oregon’s underseed wasn’t just a slight to Dana Altman’s team, it was a menacing first-round predicament for Oklahoma State, a five-seed criminally burdened with a Ducks team that was in contention for a Pac-12 regular season crown for much of the season. Oregon dominated Marcus Smart and company from start to finish; an innocent observer would have suggested Oregon was the five seed, and OSU the 12. A few hours later, fellow Pac-12 12-seed Cal did not disappoint the hometown crowd in avenging a regular season home loss to UNLV. Neither of these P-12 squads belonged in their respective bracket locations. Oregon is not a 12 seed; it’s just not! And the Rebels, with their putative seeding advantage, never should have had to play what amounted to a road game in their opening-round matchup. None of it was very fair, and all of it confirmed what most instinctively believed upon bracket reveal Sunday afternoon: the committee screwed up.
Tonigh’s Quick Hits…
Two One Seeds. Two Totally Different Stories. There are big expectations for Gonzaga this season. The questions aren’t about the Zags’ worthiness as a No. 1 seed so much as they are what follows: can Mark Few’s team finally break through into the deep rounds? Judging by their-opening round game against 16-seed Southern, the answer is an emphatic no. The Jaguars pushed Gonzaga to the brink in Salt Lake City, and were it not for a couple of clutch deep jumpers from point guard Kevin Pangos, Thursday may have brought the first-ever 16-1 toppling. Phew. Louisville’s first-round game was far less interesting. The Cardinals whipped North Carolina A&T, holding the Aggies to 48 points and validating their overall No. 1 seed in every which way.
Memphis! Whenever Josh Pastner’s name cropped up in conversation, the impulsive reaction was to spew out the following statistic: 0. As in, tournament wins since Pastner took over the Tigers’ head coaching job in 2009. No longer will Pastner be juxtaposed with Tournament ignominy so immediately – Memphis fans will very much want another win or two before Pastner is off the hook – not after the Tigers fought off Matthew Dellavadova and Saint Mary’s in a highly anticipated 6-11 matchup Thursday. With Memphis headlong into a round-of-32 date with Michigan State this weekend, Pastner’s Tournament run is probably over. But the first one is always the toughest, or so they say, and Pastner and his team managed to accomplish that much in a year where first-round failure would have triggered an unrelenting stream of local fan venom throughout the long offseason.
Three Trendy Upset Picks Fall Short. In any given year, there are a few matchups where you feel confident enough, matchup-wise, to pull the trigger on a brave and courageous high seed victory. I heard a wide selection of suggested first-round knock offs in the lead up to Thursday, and three of the most frequent were (11) Bucknell over (6) Butler, (14) Davidson over (3) Marquette and (11) Belmont over (6) Arizona. All of which seemed very reasonable for different reasons: Mike Muscala can really work the paint; Davidson boasts one of the better frontlines in the country along with an elite in-game coach; Belmont is almost perennially Tournament-worthy under Rick Byrd. I wouldn’t have been shocked in the least to see any of those dominoes fall. None of them did, only Davidson really came close and now those doubted favorites (Butler, Marquette, Arizona) can press forward without the burden of potential first-round upset embarrassment.
Not So Efficient Now, Pitt. According to Ken Pomeroy’s win prediction formula, Pittsburgh went into Thursday’s 8-9 game against Wichita State with a 73 percent chance of advancing. Pomeroy’s efficiency ranks have recommended the Panthers all season (they ranked eighth as of Thursday in his per-possession database), and many data-savvy bracketeerists took that as a cue to simply and heedlessly push Pitt on through to a third-round matchup with Gonzaga, where Jamie Dixon’s team would give the Zags all kinds of physicality matchup issues. The only problem? The Shockers, ranked 34th in Pomeroy’s system, were more efficient than Pitt in every conceivable way throughout their 40-minute second-round tussle, and after an 18-point win it is Wichita, not the Panthers, who will get a clean shot at dropping the Zags this weekend.
The Point Guard Duel That Wasn’t. More than a genuine interest in seeing whether South Dakota State could pull off an unlikely upset of three-seed Michigan Thursday night, there was considerable buzz about what Nate Wolters – a semi-nationally known lead guard with an alluring all-around game – could conjure up against consensus First Team All-American and projected first-round draft pick Trey Burke. Fans were expecting a back-and-forth, individual, put-the-team-on-my-back kind of PG battle; this was Wolters’ night. It never materialized. Burke finished with just six points on 2-of-12 shooting and Wolters dropped 10 while making just three of 14 field goal attempts. The game itself was competitive going into the half, but without Wolters doing crazy, Wolters-like, 53-point things, the Jackrabbits never really stood a chance. The point guard battle of the Tournament was a dud and the game wasn’t much better.
Game-Winner of the Night. Everyone’s confident Davidson upset pick looked really convincing for about 35 minutes. Then Marquette shifted gears, found its three-point stroke late and Vander Blue did the rest.
Derrick Nix, Michigan State (NPOY) – The first game on Thursday was not what anyone would call competitive: Nix poured in 23 points and 15 rebounds as the Spartans controlled Valpo throughout.
Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis – A lot of people like Saint Louis as an Elite 8-Final Four-range team. Evans (24 points, six rebounds) gave you no reason to reconsider in Thursday’s stomping of New Mexico State.
Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon – Scoring touch aside, Kazemi affects the game exclusively with his defense and rebounding more than perhaps any other player in this Tournament. His 11-17 double-double Thursday is standard issue evidence.
Dorian Green, Colorado State – Not all of the Mountain West flopped Thursday. UNLV and New Mexico are good as gone, but CSU, thanks in part to Green’s 26 points against Missouri, are gearing up for an intriguing third-round fixure with Louisville.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga – I can’t ignore Olynyk’s 21 points and 10 rebounds – Olynyk has been consistently awesome all season. Whether he can lift the Zags to a win Saturday over Wichita State, I’m not so sure.
Tweet of the night. Beating a rugged three-seed like New Mexico, who many believed actually merited deserved a two-seed, is a huge feat in the moment. It’s even bigger for Harvard in a historical context.
New Mexico just became the Land of Disenchantment. And brackets implode nationwide. Like everybody else on Twitter right now #Harvard
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 Arizona and #11 Belmont in Salt Lake City.
Three Key Takeaways.
First Half Domination. It’s the same old song and dance for Belmont: great season, plenty of love on Selection Sunday as a possible Cinderella, then they come out and lay an egg in the tournament against a bigger and more athletic opponent. The Bruins turned in perhaps their worst half of the season on Thursday evening, grabbing just 9.1% of their own misses and only 50% of their opponents misses, while also getting outshot 52.2% to 29.6% in effective field goal percentage. While senior Ian Clark cobbled together enough offense to tally 11 points, the rest of his team combined to make just 2-of-17 field goal attempts. All of which combined to equal a 32-20 halftime deficit. Belmont played Arizona pretty tight in the second half, but the first-half damage was done.
Mark Lyon was the star of the game for Arizona. (AP)
Too Much Size and Athleticism. With the tallest guy on Belmont checking in at just 6’7” and with Arizona featuring four rotation guys along the frontline at least that tall, not to mention significantly more athletic, you probably should have seen this coming to some extent. But the sheer level of the domination along the frontline was startling. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett have been improving slowly but surely all year and today, after getting through the grind of the Pac-12 and similar level athletes, they seemed to get a lot of joy out of beating up on overmatched opponents. And Mark Lyons? After seeing guys like Jahii Carson and Larry Drew II and Dominic Artis and Spencer Dinwiddie, he seemed to know he could get by whichever Belmont guard was checking him and get into the lane with ease. Credit the Wildcats for exploiting mismatches and advancing, but things are about to get much more difficult.
Pac-12. Underrated? On a day when the Pac-12 went 3-0 in the Tournament you’ve got to start to wonder just how good this conference is. They haven’t had much of a chance to prove it outside of the league since December, consider what Oregon did to Oklahoma State today. And consider that Arizona, for instance, has wins against teams like Miami, Florida, San Diego State and now Belmont in their undefeated non-conference slate, but struggled to seven losses against Pac-12 competition. Maybe the Pac-12 is better than we thought?
Star of the Game. Mark Lyons, Arizona. Look, Lyons is never going to be the type of distributing point guard that would fit in so well on this Arizona team. But tonight at the very least he was the guy Mark Lyons is really good at being. He attacked off the bounce and seemed to get to the rack just about whenever he wanted. And when the ball found its way to him around the perimeter in the halfcourt game, he stepped up and drilled catch-and-shoot jumpers. And, especially in the first half, he harassed Kerron Johnson and got inside his head, limiting Belmont’s second-leading scorer to just four first-half points.