O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

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

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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CIO… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2012

CIO header

John Hurwitz is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

Looking Back

Many predicted the Big West conference to have a down year after key departures from previous championship contenders such as Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara. While the loss of two of the conference’s top playmakers last year in Casper Ware from Long Beach and Orlando Johnson from Santa Barbara may tone down the excitement going into conference play, it opens the door for fresh faces to become marquee names among Big West fans.

  • Hawaii In The Mix: The Hawaii Warriors are set to begin conference play this season as the Big West’s only school located outside of the state of California. At 4-3, the Warriors have already proved they can hang with anyone (especially on their home floor), after nearly upsetting Illinois on November 17. Senior center Vander Joaquim led the way with 22 points and 11 boards, while junior guard Brandon Spearman contributed 20 points before D.J. Richardson of Illinois hit a three at the overtime buzzer (below) to win the game.

  •  Can Pacific Make A Return To The Top? Head coach Bob Thomason’s Pacific Tigers are making noise in the early going, having already secured wins over Xavier and Saint Mary’s in Anaheim at the DirecTV Classic on Thanksgiving weekend. This will be Thomason’s 22nd year at the helm in Stockton and there is no reason not to believe this year’s group is capable of capturing the program’s first bid to the Big Dance since 2006. What makes the Tigers so dangerous is their potent combination of depth and experience as ten players average over 10 minutes per game, four seniors and six juniors. If there is one individual to watch on the 2012-13 edition, it is senior point guard Lorenzo McCloud, who leads the team in points and assists per game at 12.4 and 4.0 respectively.
  • Race Wide-Open: At this point in the season it is almost impossible to rule out any team from conference championship contention. The field is about as wide open as it gets and every team has high hopes as conference play begins at the end of the month. How will former top dogs Long Beach State and Santa Barbara recover after losing so many important players? Can Hawaii challenge for a top seed and a potential automatic bid in their first year in the Big West? Every conference game, little by little, will help piece together and solve the puzzle that is the 2012-13 Big West.
Cal Poly's Upset Over UCLA Is The Big West's Marquee Victory (Richard Mackson-US Presswire)

Cal Poly’s Upset Over UCLA Is The Big West’s Marquee Victory. (Richard Mackson-US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Pacific (5-4) – Despite a small sample size, the Tigers already are putting together an impressive portfolio with their wins over the Musketeers and the Gaels. Any team traveling to the Spanos Center this season will have their hands full and should be prepared to battle for the entirety of the game. If I were a coach in the Big West, I would have my matchups with this squad circled on the calendar. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 08.17.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 17th, 2012

  1. Ever wake up on a random summer Thursday to learn about something planned for five years from now, and spend the rest of the day giddy thinking about it? Yeah, us too. When the Champions Classic was announced two years ago featuring a rotating schedule between Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, we were happy. When the as-yet-unnamed Phil Knight event was announced yesterday featuring a ridiculously cool dual tournament format that includes the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Texas, Oregon, Stanford, Butler, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Xavier and Portland facing off over four days, we were ecstatic. Everyone loves some March Madness — this one-of-a-kind event to celebrate the 80th birthday of Nike founder Phil Knight will be as close as it gets to November Madness. Football people have trouble understanding this, but basketball at every level has always been a tournament sport — you win, you advance; you lose, you go home. Our only beef with this idea — why only one year? Make it permanent!
  2. If all the contracts are signed and this Phil Knight event actually comes to pass in 2017, perhaps some of this summer’s younger prep stars will be playing in it. This year’s high school juniors would be college seniors in the 2017-18 season if they played straight through, after all. SI.com’s Frank Burlison released a summer recruiting report for those of us who haven’t kept up with all the news from the summer camps and tournaments, and from his perspective, North Carolina and Florida had the most successful season on the prep circuit. Interestingly, Burlison’s analysis of Jabari Parker, SI’s cover boy as the best prospect since LeBron James, rates him fifth in his own class. His educated opinion is that Class of 2014’s Andrew Wiggins is the best player in high school basketball, regardless of class. Maybe SI will put him on the cover next year with the headline “Best Since Jabari Parker!”
  3. Everyone knows that Boise State‘s blue-fielded football program is poised to join the Big East on the gridiron beginning in 2013 — what was less certain is what would happen to all of the university’s other sports, including men’s basketball. No longer is this in question, as it appears that the Broncos will join the Big West just as fellow Big East/Big West member San Diego State has already done. Confused? Yeah, when you take into account that Boise State’s football (Big East), wrestling (Pac-12), gymastics (WAC), women’s swimming and diving (Mountain West), and men’s basketball and all other sports (Big West) reside in five different leagues from coast to coast, it really hits home just how ridiculous certain results of conference realignment has gotten. The volume of paperwork running through the athletic department alone must be downright Himalayan.
  4. Most college basketball head coaches are notoriously apolitical — at least publicly — being either too busy or too strategically diplomatic to engage in much discussion about the issues facing the country in an exceptionally polarized political environment. In a slightly odd twist from the norm, a number of prominent head coaches including Tom Izzo, Ben Howland, Johnny Dawkins, Tubby Smith, Jamie Dixon, Mike Montgomery, and Phil Martelli recently filed a “friend of the court” brief along with the NABC and Black Coaches and Administrators organizations regarding a Supreme Court case about race-based admissions decisions. The amicus brief (in full here), one of over 50 submitted for this case, argues that public universities should have considerable discretion in how they choose their admitted students, which may include attempts at balancing diversity by considering factors other than test scores and grades. This is a touchy subject for many people, but we’ll leave it at this — schools have always found ways to admit people who fell outside the numbers, long before anyone knew what affirmative action was. There’s no reason to believe that will ever change, simply because it’s not in their best interests to do so.
  5. It appears that all of the external pressure on North Carolina is resulting in some much-needed action. On Thursday, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp announced that former North Carolina governor James G. Martin (for those of you wondering, he’s a Davidson alumnus) will lead an independent review of UNC’s academic issues prior to 2007 in tandem with Virchow, Krause & Company, a national management consulting firm. Thorp said that he expects the team’s findings to be reported within a few weeks in the hopes that the school can put this scandal behind them, but of course that will also ultimately depend on what any new findings actually reveal. It’s good to see that UNC is taking this seriously, though, and has removed the investigation from its internal mechanisms. Roy Williams has an opinion on the matter, for what it’s worth.

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Morning Five: 07.02.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 2nd, 2012

  1. It came a few days later than we expected, but the biggest college basketball news from the weekend was that Mississippi State guard Rodney Hood is heading to Duke. Hood told ESPN.com on Saturday night that Coach K said he could develop the 6’8″ wing into one of the best all-around players in the country. He’s already quite impressive, averaging 10/5 last season in 32 MPG for the Bulldogs while earning all-SEC freshman team honors. If it seems a little weird that he’s transferring to Duke, that’s because it is — Hood marks only the fourth transfer player that Krzyzewski has accepted during his long tenure in Durham. The other three — Roshown McLeod, Dahntay Jones, and Seth Curry — were all key contributors on good Duke teams (Curry, of course, is a rising senior), and McLeod and Jones both parlayed their time as Blue Devils into becoming first round selections of the NBA Draft.
  2. It was something of a rough weekend for college basketball in the nation’s midsection this weekend, as a prominent player and program were put on the defensive and will have some damage control to implement this week as a result. First, Central Florida’s Marcus Jordan, allegedly “animated, intoxicated and uncooperative,” was arrested early Sunday morning in Omaha, Nebraska, for getting into a fracas with two women outside an Embassy Suites hotel. He was released on Sunday night after being charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and obstruction. What on earth Jordan was doing in Omaha over the weekend is anyone’s guess, but he might be better served by mimicking his old man’s drive and determination on the court rather than in hotel parking lots.
  3. Forgive us for thinking that the feds spending valuable taxpayer dollars pursuing low-level marijuana traffickers is a complete waste of everyone’s time and energy, but occasionally an amusing anecdote spills out of one of these investigations and that’s what we have here. A federal prosecutor charging a miscreant named Samuel Villareal, III, of selling dope in the Kansas City area stated in an open hearing recently that his client list included a number of players on the 2010-11 Kansas basketball team. No specific names have yet been released, but we’re sure that both KU fans and their rivals have their inklings of who the offenders might have been. KU policy requires three positive tests before a player is suspended from action, and the NCAA does its own testing as part of the NCAA Tournament — still, what this situation proves more than anything is that there will always be hangers-on associating with prominent athletes around an elite program. It’s incumbent on the school to properly vet and limit contact with folks like Villareal as much and as early as possible. Otherwise, embarrassing public relations situations such as these are almost guaranteed to occur.
  4. For folks who work under academic calendars or mid-year fiscal calendars, Saturday night at midnight was an important moment as 2011-12 moved into 2012-13. While meaningless to most of us, Boise State was one entity who took the date very seriously — the reason is that the university was required to give the Mountain West at least one full year’s notice prior to leaving the conference or face a substantial $5 million penalty. The Broncos program gave notice on Saturday, meaning that its football program will compete in the Big East starting in the fall of 2013. But, as Andy Katz reported over the weekend, all of its other sports including basketball are currently hanging in limbo. The hoped-for outcomes is that the Big West chooses to accept Boise State for all other sports in the same way that it did for San Diego State, but given that it would be at least 500 miles to the nearest conference school (UC Davis), travel costs could be a big concern.
  5. To that end, Sunday at midnight also marked the exact point in time that the SEC became a 14-team league with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M, while the Big 12 replaced its two lost members by adding West Virginia and TCU. For some interesting reads as to how fans reacted to the official transitions locally, check out the following writeups in their local papers: Missouri, Texas A&M, West Virginia, TCU. It may not be something we’re supportive of here at RTC HQ, but we, like everyone else, are going to have to learn to love it.
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ATB: Power Conference Round Up – All Leagues Now in Tournament Action, Big East Works Overtime

Posted by EJacoby on March 9th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime

Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)

The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
  • Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.

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O26 Primers: Big West Tourney

Posted by KDoyle on March 10th, 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.

We have finally reached the last Other 26 conference to begin their tournament. It has been an incredibly entertaining journey beginning with the Big South and the Horizon League getting started back on March 1st, and concluding with the Big West today. As fun as it has been to track each of the 25 tournaments—remember, there are not 26 of them due to the Ivy League—it will certainly be even more enjoyable to watch how each of the conference victors match up in the NCAA Tournament against the big boys.

Big West


The Favorite: After experiencing a rough stretch to end their non-conference schedule that saw the 49ers lose four straight games to the likes of Utah State, North Carolina, St. Mary’s, and Arizona State—their five point loss to UNC and eight point loss to SMC are noteworthy—Long Beach State sprinted through the Big West with a 14-2 record. Barring an upset, this is LBSU’s tournament to lose.

Dark HorseUC Santa Barbara is limping into the tournament having lost three of four, but this is a confident team with NCAA Tournament experience. The Gauchos defeated UNLV earlier this season and boast probably the best one-two punch in the league with Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally.

Who’s HotLong Beach State enters the tournament riding a nine game winning streak. Their margin of victory during this stretch is 13.1 points.

Player to Watch: Speaking of Johnson, he is arguably the most exciting player in the Big West and someone to keep a close eye on. He fills up the stat sheet as he is the only Big West player to average more than 20 points, while also corralling 6.6 rebounds and distributing a shade over three assists a game.

First-Round UpsetCal State Fullerton over Cal State Northridge. In a battle between both of the Cal State schools, I like Fullerton to get past Northridge. The Titans have had a disappointing season, but they won their last two games of the regular season—road games, mind you—by slim margins. A two point victory at Pacific and five point victory at UC Davis will give Fullerton some much needed confidence heading into their game with Northridge.

How’d They Fare? As a #15 seed, UC Santa Barbara was able to keep it competitive against Ohio State for much of the game, but never truly threatened as the Buckeyes cruised to a 68-51 victory.

Interesting Fact: The last time a team from the Big West advanced to the second weekend of the Tournament was back in 1992 when New Mexico State—now a member of the WAC—defeated DePaul and Louisiana-Lafayette as a #12 seed.

Up next for many of the best Other 26 teams? Congregating in a tension-filled and exhilarating room on Selection Sunday as their fate is determined and then for those fortunate enough, onto the NCAA Tournament. Let the Madness begin!

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O26 Primers: Conference USA, Mountain West, Southland, SWAC and WAC Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 9th, 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.

With three conference tournaments concluding last night, it is only appropriate that five more get underway today. Conference USA and the Southland Conference are two of the most balanced leagues in the nation, while the WAC and Mountain West were just the opposite as they were dominated at the top. The SWAC is always a bit of a mystery come Championship Week and tournament time, but Texas Southern is the class of the league this year and will no doubt do their best to bring respect to the league if they are fortunate enough to advance to the Dance.

Conference USA

The Favorite: UAB won the regular season title with a 12-4 record, but that means very little in the ultra competitive CUSA this season as five teams are just behind the Blazers. There is something to be said though about UAB’s strong play down the stretch and the steady play of Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore. These reasons alone amidst several injuries that Mike Davis‘ club has overcome makes UAB the slight favorite over the rest of the bunch.

Dark Horse: Southern Mississippi is one the teams that are nipping at UAB’s heels. Although they fell in their last three games of the regular season, Larry Eustachy’s squad proved throughout the year they can beat anyone in the conference. Having Gary Flowers roam around the pain never hurts either.

Who’s Hot: UAB has won their last four games and seven of eight heading into the tournament. As well as UAB is playing, it would be very easy for that to stop on a dime. Throughout each week during the conference schedule, it appeared that one team in CUSA was emerging as the top dog, but they would quickly fade. Can UAB keep their streak going all the way into the NCAA Tournament?

Player to Watch: Papa Dia, Southern Methodist’s senior forward all the way from Senegal, is enjoying the best season of his career as he is averaging 18.5 points and 9 rebounds a game. In each of the previous three seasons, SMU has been below .500; Dia and his teammates clearly have something to prove in this tournament.

First-Round UpsetCentral Florida over East Carolina. UCF was the nation’s favorite story in the early going as they jumped out to a 14-0 record with wins over Florida, Miami (FL), and Princeton. The Knights then went onto lose eight straight games, thus proving that their early success was a fluke. Now, UCF has won five of seven games and if they can regain that success they had in those 14 games, a victory over East Carolina is absolutely within reach.

How’d They Fare? After going 7-9 in the conference, Houston caught fire in the tournament to surprise everyone by winning the title. In doing so, the Cougars stole a bid from a team on the bubble and earned a #13 seed in the Tournament where they lost to Maryland 89-77. UTEP—the team Houston beat to advance onward—was trounced by Butler as a #12 seed.

Interesting Fact: The last team to win an NCAA Tournament game hailing from Conference USA not named Memphis was Louisville in the 2005 Tournament. The ‘Ville advanced all the way to the Final Four that year where they lost to Illinois 57-52 in the semifinals. Both UAB and Cincinnati also won Tournament games that year.

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Tuesday’s Check-Ins…

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2010

Some big-name conferences went up today…  as always, check back daily to see when your league is available.

  • ACC: Virginia’s definitely better than everyone thought, but that’s still inexcusable for a team searching for an elusive at-large bid.  I wrote in the Conference Primer that “Seth Greenberg’s squad should hear their names called come Selection Sunday, and they should be a pretty high seed.”  I was totally wrong.  There’s almost no chance they sniff a high seed, and they’re currently staring at another disappointing Selection Sunday if they can’t get it together.
  • Big East: The Big East, as of today, might actually be the best conference in the country. There are 19 college basketball teams left without a loss on the season. Seven of them are members of the Big East conference — Pitt, Georgetown, UConn, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville. Three more have just one loss — St. John’s, Villanova, and a 9-1 Providence team off to their best start since 1988.
  • Big Ten: Bruce Weber got his team prepared for the young Tar Heels team and then got them back up for a game in Spokane with the Bulldogs. Illinois started bombing threes in the game against Gonzaga (12-23 from three-point range), which probably has future opponents a bit worried.
  • Big West: After a stalled start, UC Santa Barbara looks to be hitting the groove that caused the media to pick them to win the conference, while Pacific has hit a snag and people like me are still waiting to see if their risky UC Davis pick is going to pay off. Meanwhile, Long Beach State and UC Irvine both posted impressive showings.
  • Mountain West: This week was about as good of a week as the Mountain West can expect to have. Not only did member institutions glide through the MWC/MVC Challenge on their way to an 8-1 victory, but of the 18 games played involving MWC teams this week, the MWC posted a 16-2 record, with only a hard-fought TCU loss to Northern Iowa and an entirely predictable embarrassing Wyoming loss to South Dakota on the negative side of the ledger.
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Weekend Check-Ins

Posted by rtmsf on November 22nd, 2010

You might have missed this over the weekend, but we’re back with our conference check-in series called, fittingly, Checking In On… Since we don’t want to crowd up the valuable real estate we have on the main page with too many conference-specific posts, we’ll encourage you to look for these updates in this space as well as regularly reviewing the Conference Check-In box above, which will always list the most recent eight to ten of these we’ve published.  Here’s the list from mid-major Friday, which will include these leagues on an every-other-week basis (next update: December 3).

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March Moment: Lest We Forget, Sometimes It’s Good Just To Be Invited

Posted by jstevrtc on March 31st, 2010

Few college basketball fans are born with their love for the game. For most aficionados, at some point on the way from infancy to college hoops fan, there is a moment. A single play, shot, player, game, or event at which point they say to themselves, “I will always have this in my life.” Because it is the time of the season that carries the most gravitas, these things often happen in March. We asked some of our friends and correspondents: what was the thing that turned you into a lifelong college basketball fan? What was your…March Moment?

Our final installment for this year has a pair of remembrances that remind us how just being part of the magic of the NCAA Tournament is something for which to be thankful. RTC correspondents Kraig Williams and Russell Burnett recount being in the crowd (and eventually on the floor) to see their teams earn automatic invites to the NCAA Tournament.  Butler may be a 5-seed but they’re still a so-called “mid-major,” and this is obviously the biggest storyline of this year’s Final Four.  These stories from Messrs. Williams and Burnett amplify how great Butler’s achievement is, and goes to show that if you think every single mid-major program in the nation doesn’t take pride in and hope from the Bulldogs’ presence in Indy this weekend, you’d better think again:

KW: I’ve always been a big college basketball fan, and fondly remember the days of filling out a bracket before I even knew how to pronounce some of the schools’ names. Growing up in Utah, I remember watching Keith Van Horn carry Utah to a championship game; I jumped on the band wagons of Duke in ’01 and Syracuse in ’03 to win bracket pools among my friends and slowly college basketball seeped into my blood. It wasn’t until last season that I had my ultimate March Moment.

As a student at Utah State University, we survived the adjustment from the Big West to the WAC only to surfer heartbreaks in the conference tournament year after year. Last season though, things were different. It was clear the Aggies were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference. Utah State steamrolled through Fresno State, somehow survived New Mexico State in the semi finals, and then came the dream matchup with Nevada on their home floor. Sitting outside the arena a couple hours before they would even let us in, it became apparent that this would be our night. Utah State students had the Nevada crowd nearly outnumbered, and when we got into the stadium it became clear that we would have the better team. Utah State jumped out to a 21-4 lead and the party began in the student section. After years of following the Aggies, and watching them come oh-so-close so many times, we were finally going to have a conference tournament banner to hang in The Spectrum. The clock ticked down, we shouted the “winning team, losing team” chant, and then we rushed the court in Reno like our lives depended on it. We spent the next hour or so just standing on the court, talking to the players, taking photos with the trophy, and watching our guys cut down the nets. That’s a feeling I’ll never forget, knowing that we weren’t going to be sweating bullets at home waiting to see if the selection committee would be nice enough to send us to the dance.

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Big West Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Steve Coulter of the Clarion is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

Regular Season Recap

A year after making the NCAA Tournament, Cal State Northridge is the final team to make the Big West Conference tournament. However, it hasn’t been a year of complete surprise, rather just a season of emergence.  Depending on who plays in Big West Tournament final game on Saturday afternoon, the Big West could have their conference champion as high as a No. 12 seed come the NCAA tournament. Both Santa Barbara and Pacific have had great seasons and they could be rewarded greatly by if the selection committee if they win the conference crown.

Overall the conference’s bottom four teams—Cal Poly, UC Irvine, CS Northridge and CS Riverside–have had ugly seasons with sub-.500 conference records. Despite this they have produced some of the conference’s best players. The Highlanders’ Kyle Austin would be conference player of the year, and still has a shot, if it weren’t for his team’s last place finish. His back-to-back 35+ point effort against Fullerton and Cal Poly is one of the bigger achievements of the year. Like Austin, senior forward Kenny Daniels has an argument for being player of the year despite the Matadors’ tough season. He scored in double figures in all of his last eight games and finished averaging 15.3 points a game.

Although neither are going to win conference player of the year, the Anteaters’ Eric Wise and Michael Hunter proved to be one of the conference’s more lethal tandems. Hunter, a senior, was a scoring threat for the Anteaters, but his biggest contributions were on the court leadership and defense. He finished the year with 1.4 steals per game. The middle teams—CS Fullerton, Long Beach State and UC Davis–all had back and forth seasons that included both winning streaks and losing streaks. Overall Fullerton had a pretty consistent season, finishing over .500 both at home and on the road. After a three-game losing streak in January, the Titans turned things around in February and almost earned a first round bye. The 49ers had the roughest schedule of any team in the Big West, playing five top 25 teams during the season. Despite their 15-15 overall record, they played through the tough schedule to earn a first round bye. The 49ers biggest conference win came on January 14 when they beat the No. 1 seeded Gauchos by 20 points. The Aggies also had success against the top of the conference, beating Pacific on February 10. Despite Dominic Calegari’s departure after this season, the Aggies return their two top guards in Payne and Harden, which will put them in a position to be conference favorite next season.

The real difference between the league’s elite teams, Santa Barbara and Pacific, and the rest of the conference, is depth.  Although the Gauchos have relied on only a few guys for scoring, the teams bench has given valuable minutes. In conference play they have at least four bench players averaging over ten minutes of action a night. As for the Tigers, they are a team that spreads the scoring effort around and does not rely on a single person to lead them each night. The similarities between Pacific and Santa Barbara are clear though, in that they are both teams that like to use their bench and use it effectively. That is why they are atop the conference going into the postseason.

Big West POY and COY Predictions

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Checking in on… the Big West

Posted by rtmsf on February 21st, 2010

Steve Coulter of the Clarion is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference.

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Santa Barbara knocks off red hot CS Fullerton; takes conference lead

UC Santa Barbara won their fourth straight game Wednesday night when they defeated Fullerton 73-65.  With the win the Gauchos (10-3, 15-8) maintain sole possession of first place in the Big West Conference going into the final two weeks of play. Santa Barbara moved into first place with their two-point win last Saturday against Long Beach State. Against the Titans, Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally each had 18 points, leading all scorers. Going into the game, the Titans had arguably been the conference’s hottest team, winning five of their last six and ascending into the third spot in the conference. The win gives the Gauchos their fourth straight win heading into a big road matchup today against Fresno State.

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Pacific regains stride after losing conference lead, plays outstanding defense

Pacific beat both Long Beach State and Cal State Bakersfield this past week, surrendering a total of 96 points combined to both opponents. The Tigers (9-3, 17-8) remain only a half-game back of conference leader Santa Barbara. The Tigers lost their conference command when UC Davis upset them 62-59 on February 10. Julian Welch led the Aggies with 19 points and helped his team end a 49-game losing streak to Pacific that dated back from the 1940-41 season. The Tigers redeemed themselves by blowing out the Roadrunners on the 13th and silencing Long Beach State this past Wednesday. The 49ers (6-7, 12-14) came within two points of beating Santa Barbara on the road the previous weekend, but failed to compete at all with the Tigers, who shot 53 percent from the field in the game. Sophomore T.J Robinson, the 49ers’ leading scorer and rebounder, found himself in early foul trouble and played only 19 minutes. He finished with 11 points and a season low two rebounds, and as a result the 49ers were outrebounded 35 to 28 on Wednesday.

Anderson named player of the week; Fullerton outlasts Northridge in 3OT

Senior Gerald Anderson of CS Fullerton was named Big West Conference Player of the Week this week after he led the Titans to two road wins last week. After beating lowly UC Irvine 71-62 on February 10, the Titans took part in an epic contest against CS Northridge, which resulted in a 113-112 win in triple overtime. With the Titans down 112-110 late in the third overtime, Anderson intentionally missed his second free throw attempt in order for his teammates to grab a possible offensive rebound and score quickly to tie the game and force it into a fourth overtime. Eric Williams grabbed Anderson’s intentional miss and hit a bank shot while being fouled. Williams hit his free throw seconds later to propel the Titans to victory. All of this couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a magical performance from Anderson. After regulation, the forward had just seven points, but ended up finishing with a career-high 25 points when the game had concluded. In the third overtime with all five of the Titans leading scorers fouled out, Anderson scored 11 points, which helped the Titans squeeze out the thrilling win. The Titans and the Matadors combined for 225 points, 75 fouls, and 110 free throw attempts in a game that was definitely one of the most entertaining of the year. Anderson finished with seven rebounds, two blocks, and two steals against the Matadors, in addition to scoring 19 points and grabbing career-high 10 rebounds in the previous win over UC Irvine.

Cal Poly also has overtime heroics

With a slew of close games last Saturday, including Fullerton’s triple overtime win and UC Irvine’s two point win, Cal Poly’s double overtime victory over UC Riverside almost went under the radar. Sophomore David Hanson scored a career-high 26 points in the contest, but it was two clutch free throws from freshman Kyle Odister that made the difference. With the win the Mustangs snapped a five-game losing streak and propelled themselves into a tie amongst several teams in the Big West Conference standings. UC Riverside’s Kyle Austin also scored a career-high of 39 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the loss.

Conference standings to remain the same until next week

With every team in the conference playing a non-conference game over the weekend the Big West Conference standings will not change until conference play resumes next Wednesday when Santa Barbara takes on Northridge. Over the course of the weekend, all nine Big West teams take on non-conference tests either at home or on the road. Conference leader Santa Barbara travels to take on Fresno State, while Pacific hosts New Mexico State. Other games include Riverside vs. Youngstown State, Fullerton vs. SIU-Edwardsville, UC Davis vs. Boise State, Long Beach State vs. Idaho, UC Irvine vs. Marist, and Northridge vs. Drake. On Sunday, Cal Poly takes on Hawaii.

Conference Standings

Top Tier: Santa Barbara (10-3), (15-8); Pacific (9-3), (17-8)

Like it has been for a majority of the season the race for conference top spot will come down to the Gauchos and the Tigers in the final two weeks of the season. The game that will perhaps make the difference is Pacific’s March 4th showdown against Fullerton, the team currently in third place. As for the Gauchos, after their non-conference duel with Fresno State, their schedule presents three of the Big West’s bottom teams—Northridge, Cal Poly, and UC Irvine. Something to note is that the Tigers have four conference games left on the schedule, while the Gauchos have only three. However, if the two teams finished with the same conference records then Santa Barbara will win the Big West Tournament’s top spot, because they have won both games against Pacific so far this season. The difference between both teams is easy to decipher, the Tigers have a balanced team with seven players averaging more than five points a game. On the other hand, the Gauchos pose the conference’s greatest tandem with Johnson and Nunnally, who at this point are both contenders for conference player of the year.

Middle of the Pack: CS Fullerton (7-6), (13-12); UC Davis (6-6), (10-15); Long Beach State (6-7), (12-14); Cal Poly (6-7), (9-16); CS Northridge (5-7), (10-16)

Despite their February success, the Titans remain in the middle of the pack and three games removed from Santa Barbara in the standings. The Titans are currently 0-3 against the conference heavyweights, but they one last chance to move up in the conference standings when they host Pacific on March 4th. Fullerton’s offense is a dangerous one; it contains five players who average more than 10 points a game. UC Davis remains the only other interesting team in this group. The Aggies do not have to face either Pacific or Santa Barbara in the final two weeks and are coming off an upset of the Tigers earlier this month. Although they have a terrible overall record, the Aggies are in a good position to claim one of the tops four seeds come conference tournament time. As for Long Beach State and Cal Poly, they are fighting an uphill battle that doesn’t look promising. Each team plays either Pacific or Santa Barbara in the following weeks in addition to taking on either Fullerton or UC Davis as well. As for CS Northridge, their season long quest to get out of the Big West cellar has been accomplished. Unfortunately for the Matadors, with upcoming games against both the Tigers and the Gauchos, they are bound to stay close to the bottom.

Bottom dwellers: UC Riverside (4-9), (10-15); UC Irvine (4-9), (11-16)

Despite having the conference’s best scorer and potential player of the year in Kyle Austin, Riverside is a lost cause. The Highlanders have three road games to finish out their regular season schedule, two of which are against the conference powerhouse. The only intriguing storyline here is who finishes in dead last. UC Irvine’s home game against Northridge on February 27 could prove to be the difference maker. As long as the Anteaters can get the combination of Michael Hunter and Eric Wise going then they should be able to avoid finishing dead last.

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