ATB: Only 3 More Ls for Gavin Grant

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2007

ATB v.4

11.18.07

Story of the Day. New Orleans 65, NC State 63. When a bank-three from 25 feet wins a game (note: we looked all over for video evidence of this three but couldn’t find it online yet – if anyone has it, link us…) for a mid-major over a ranked team, that’s gotta be the story of the day. We’ve been vocal in our critique of whether NC State should be a ranked team this year, but we take nothing away from UNO tonight as they defeated their first ranked team in fourteen years. The Privateers scored eight straight points to take a 62-61 lead with 15 seconds remaining; after NC State’s Gavin Grant made a layup with eight seconds remaining to give the Wolfpack the lead again, a broken play ensued which ultimately led to UNO’s TJ Worley throwing up the prayer that was answered. Despite NC State converting at a higher rate (eFG% of 50% v. 38%), the Privateers took advantage of 14 NCSU turnovers and poor foul shooting (10-19) to stay in the game. Bo McCalebb, one of the best one-bid conference players in the nation, had a poor shooting night (5-19), but he still managed to hit 20 pts. NC State’s JJ Hickson (another stud frosh) went for a dub-dub (22/13) in a losing effort. The pollsters in the MSM and the blogworld all think NCSU is going to finish in the top three in the ACC this year – maybe they should start listening to us! (oh, and memo to Gavin Grant, you only get three more…)

Other Games Today. Villanova 70, Bucknell 64. We had our eyes on this one along the bottom line this afternoon, and for a while, we thought Bucknell was going to get its first win at Nova since WW2. The Bison were simply on fire from three, hitting 15 of 31 shots, which means that only 19 of their points came from elsewhere on the court. Despite leading by eight at halftime and for nearly 75% of the game, Villanova took the lead for good with 3:25 remaining on a Scottie Reynolds three. Bucknell should be a good team again this year – Villanova, we’re still unsure about. #17 Arkansas 70, VCU 60. We watched this game and we couldn’t be more disappointed in VCU so far this season. We ranked them as the top mid-major to watch this season, and they’re just not playing with the same zeal we saw from them (and Eric Maynor in particular) last season. Arkansas struggled with VCU’s pressure (17 TOs, but nowhere near the 32 v. Providence the night before), but VCU could never get a run going to really threaten the balanced Hawgs. We like John Pelphrey and his athletes, but Arkansas will be limited by its sloppiness with the ball and lack of an inside game this season.

Tough Day for the ACC. Last night we talked up the ACC for having lost only two non-conference games thus far – today the ACC lost three more. Winthrop 79, Georgia Tech 73. This was one of our upset alerts last night, and it went as predicted. Georgia Tech went ice-cold in the second half (35%) after being hot in the first (58%), and the steady Tigers took advantage to give Tech its second loss to a low major conference in the first two weeks of the season (SoCon and Big South). Winthrop will meet Baylor (who defeated Notre Dame 68-64) in the finals of the Paradise Jam tomorrow. South Florida 68, Florida St. 67. Florida St. is doing its part to qualify as the crappiest team in the ACC by losing for the second consecutive night to a questionable opponent. Jason Rich takes home our award for worst game of the night with his 2 pt performance on 1-12 shooting. USF stud Kentrell Gransberry put up 21/8. Miami (FL) 64, Providence 58. Ok, so it wasn’t all bad for the ACC tonight. In an ugly game (both teams had ppp’s under 1.0) for the title of the PR Shootout, Miami persevered and outlasted the Friars thanks to James Dews, who led the Hurricanes with 17 pts. We have trouble believing that Miami is legit this year, but this is a nice win for their resume come March.

Ranked Teams.

#2 UNC 107, Iona 72. Psycho-T with 27/9 as UNC destroyed Iona. Should 21 TOs worry Roy?
#7 Louisville 84, Jackson St. 53.
We’re starting to wonder if this is Pitino’s best team at UL.

#10 Indiana 100, Longwood 49.
E-Giddy relaxes for only 21 tonight as IU rolls.

#14 Texas 100, Ark-Monticello 52.
Ark-Monticello had 11 pts at halftime
.

On Tap Today (all times EST). The Maui gets under way along with the finals of the Paradise Jam.

  • Marquette (NL) v. Chaminade (ESPN2) 2:30pm – our first look at the Marquette guards.
  • LSU (-1.5) v. Oklahoma St. (ESPN2) 5pm - two teams that might be in the College BB Invtl. in spring 08.
  • Georgia Tech (NL) v. Notre Dame 6pm – the ‘supposed-to-be’ finals of the Paradise Jam.
  • UCLA (-10) v. Maryland (ESPN2) 7pm – more Maui – have a bad feeling for the Terps here.
  • Alabama (NL) v. Belmont (CSS) 7pm – Belmont with another shot at distinguishing itself.
  • Baylor (NL) v. Winthrop (FCSP) 8:30pm – how cool would it be if Winthrop wins this tourney?
  • Duke (-22) v. Princeton (ESPN2) 9pm – this is not Pete Carril’s Princeton.
  • Michigan St. (-4) v. Missouri (ESPNU) 9:30pm - another good Maui matchup.
  • Illinois (-2.5) v. Arizona St. (ESPN2) 11:30pm – how will Sendek’s guys look in Y2?
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Conference Primers: Single Bid Conference Recap

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

So we figure we’ll be done with these conference primers by Christmas 2008 Thanksgiving, which is about the time most people start keeping an eye on college hoops anyway.  In the meantime, we thought we’d take a moment to recap the seventeen single bid conferences we’ve already reviewed.  Keep in mind, our definition of a single bid league is a conference that does not regularly compete for multiple NCAA bids (even if they occasionally get multiple bids).

31.  SWAC
30.  MEAC
29.  Northeast
28.  Atlantic Sun
27.  Ohio Valley
26.  Southland
25.  America East
24.  Big South
23.  MAAC
22.  Ivy
21.  Patriot
20.  Sun Belt
19.  Big Sky
18.  Summit
17.  Southern
16.  Big West
15.  MAC

Some brief Single Bid Conference superlatives while we’re at this point:

  • Best Team. Davidson (#9 Seed NCAA) - this team has a shot at the Sweet 16 this year
  • Possible Spoiler. Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt) – everyone loves WKU in the Sun Belt, but ULM has an excellent team returning
  • Low Major All-Americans.
    • Stephen Curry (Davidson) – POY
    • Bo McCalebb (New Orleans)
    • Kyle Hines (UNC-Greensboro)
    • Jason Thompson (Rider)
    • Alex Harris (UCSB)
    • Hon. Mention – Courtney Pigram (ETSU), Arizona Reid (High Point), Courtney Lee (W. Kentucky), Tim Pollitz (Miami (OH))
  • Conference We Wish Were on TV More Often. America East. We dunno why, other than we’ve enjoyed watching teams like Albany, Vermont and BU over the past few years.  Seems like a fun conference.
  • Conference We Wish Would Re-Organize (or Implode). Sun Belt.  Despite a long and proud history, there are simply too many teams (13) located in too many places (from Denver to Miami).  This conference has lost its bearings.
  • Conference Champ You Can Count on to Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08Big West.  Although Ivy league champs tend to stay close, Las Vegas knows that, so we like the Big West instead, where teams not named Long Beach St. have lost by an average of only 7 pts during the 2000s.
  • Conference Champ You Can Count on to NOT Cover the Spread in NCAA Tourney 08Summit.  In its last nine first round games, the Summit champ has lost by an average of 22 pts.

And here’s how our Consensus Conference Picks are shaping up (RTC choice in red):

Consensus Conf Picks 11.07.07

Since last time, we added the CBS Sportsline picks as well as the conference media days selections for each league.  We had three more leagues came on with a full consensus (Patriot – Holy Cross; Sun Belt – W. Kentucky; Southern – Davidson) to join the OVC (Austin Peay), while the Big Sky (Montana) was only one vote short.  The Big West (UCSB) and MAC (Kent St.) were solidly in one team’s corner, while the Summit (IUPUI) and Ivy (Cornell) weren’t far behind.   We’re still not buying that Ivy selection of Cornell, though.

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Conference Primers: #20 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2007

Season Preview Banner 3

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Western Kentucky (20-7) (14-4)
  2. Florida Atlantic (21-10) (12-6)
  3. South Alabama (15-13) (9-9)
  4. Middle Tennessee St. (14-15) (9-9)
  5. Troy (11-18) (7-11)
  6. Florida International (11-18) (6-12)

West

  1. Louisiana-Monroe (19-9) (13-5)
  2. New Orleans (18-12) (11-7)
  3. Arkansas-Little Rock (16-13) (10-8)
  4. North Texas (14-15) (8-10)
  5. Arkansas St. (12-17) (7-11)
  6. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-18) (6-12)
  7. Denver (8-20) (4-14)

WYN2K. The Sun Belt is a league that has seen better days in the eyes of the basketball world. In the 80s and early 90s, the conference was a top ten league that regularly sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament (10 times from 1980-95), peaking at four bids in 1986. Since 1995, however, the league has been exclusively a one-bid conference, as its corresponding seed average has dropped from a #10.9 (1985 to present), to a #12.6 (1995 to present), to a #13.8 seed in the last five years. In other words, the Sun Belt is trending downward (and league officials know it). What was once a proud mid-major league is now clearly a low-major (albeit near the top of that heap), despite its relatively robust 167-208 (.445) record against OOC opponents in the last three years. Some of this may be attributable to a loss of league identity, as the conference expanded away from its mid-South roots and has swelled to thirteen schools that span three time zones in locations that often have very little in common with each other (i.e., Boca Raton, FL, Bowling Green, KY, and Denver, CO).

Predicted Champion. Western Kentucky (#13 seed NCAA). Darrin Horn’s Hilltoppers have been a bit of a hard luck team over the past few seasons, averaging 20.5 wins over his four year tenure and winning one regular season championship, but having no NCAA appearances to show for it. Guards Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and Ty Rogers comprise a returning perimeter corps that is among the most experienced and talented in the league, and three other significant contributors return from a 22-11 (12-6) team. If WKU is to slip up, it will probably be because of its sometimes porous defense that has a tendency to give up easy baskets (allowing an eFG% of 52.6% – #272 nationally) and foul a lot (43.2 FTAs given up per game – #284 nationally). We believe this is the year that the Toppers get it done. Check the nasty follow dunk from C-Lee below.

Others Considered. Should WKU falter, the next best teams we see are Louisiana-Monroe and Florida Atlantic. Monroe returns all five starters from an 11-7 team that lost in overtime in the conference finals against North Texas last year. They were nearly unbeatable at home (14-0) and seemed to win all the close games (5-0 in games decided by <6 pts in conference) last year. Because of this, they were considered one of the “luckiest” teams in America last year (#10 via Pomeroy), earning 2.7 wins more than expected by their overall profile. Notwithstanding their luck, we’re just not comfortable picking a team that has nobody taller than 6’8 on their roster. Florida Atlantic is another team that returns substantial experience including the league’s best big man Carlos Monroe, a burly 6’8, 245 lb. beast who shot nearly 60% from the field and pulled down over a quarter (25.8%, #18 nationally) of his team’s defensive boards last year. The Owls also finished strong, winning six of their last seven games and pestering WKU in a tough quarterfinal matchup in the conference tourney before bowing out. New Orleans is also intriguing simply because the Privateers have a new coach in former Cal assistant and Bob Knight disciple Joe Pasternack, but they also have the league’s best player in Bo McCalebb, a Wooden Award candidate who averaged mind-numbing numbers last year (25 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.0 spg). Did we mention that he was the team’s leading rebounder as a 6’0 guard? There are three other starters returning from a 9-9 team that was #4 nationally in 3fg% (41.4%), #5 nationally in stl% (7.1%) and #11 nationally in to% (17.0%). The Privateers shoot well, take care of the ball, and have a fantastic player – if any team was going to make a huge improvement with a new coach, it would be this team. Quick note: last year’s regular season and tourney champs simply lost too much to be considered as a contender this year – South Alabama lost three starters and its head coach, John Pelphrey, while North Texas lost its top two scorers.

Games to Watch. The top of this league should be exciting to watch this year, as there are several excellent players (Courtney Lee, Bo McCalebb, Carlos Monroe) who could singlehandedly influence the conference race. With the unbalanced schedule in this league, New Orleans appears to be the most likely beneficiary (only three games against the other three, two at home).

  • Florida Atlantic @ WKU (01.16.08) & WKU & Florida Atlantic (03.01.08)
  • WKU @ UL-Monroe (01.10.08) & UL-Monroe @ WKU (02.23.08)
  • UL-Monroe @ New Orleans (02.09.08)
  • WKU @ New Orleans (01.23.08)
  • New Orleans @ Florida Atlantic (01.30.08)
  • Sun Belt Championship Game (03.11.08) ESPN2

RPI Booster Games. Given its location (spanning 2000+ miles from Denver to Miami), the Sun Belt takes on a full complement of SEC and Big 12 teams every year. Last year the league was 2-30 (.063) against BCS teams (WKU 70, Georgia 67; Ark-Little Rock 67, Minnesota 66), and there are a similar amount of games scheduled this year. Here are some highlights.

  • Louisiana-Monroe @ Kansas (11.09.07)
  • Florida Atlantic @ Boston College (11.12.07)
  • South Alabama @ Mississippi (11.13.07)
  • New Orleans @ NC State (11.18.07)
  • WKU @ Gonzaga (11.22.07)
  • Nebraska @ WKU (12.05.07)
  • Middle Tennessee St. @ Memphis (12.05.07)
  • Mississippi St. @ South Alabama (12.15.07)
  • WKU @ Southern Illinois (12.22.07)
  • Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas (12.29.07)

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. We’re a long way removed from the Sun Belt’s glory years, so none this year.

Neat-o Stat. Joe Scott is returning to Colorado to take over as head coach at Denver, just a few clicks down the road from where he revitalized the Air Force program in the early 2000s. What should we make of this guy? Using the Princeton offense that he learned under Pete Carril in the 80s as a player and 90s as an assistant, he successfully built the Air Force Academy into a Mountain West champion and NCAA Tournament team in 2004. So how do we explain how he went back to Princeton in 2005 and orchestrated two (out of three) terrible seasons and an overall record of 18-24 in the Ivy League (2-12 in 2007) during his time there? He has yeoman’s work ahead of him, as Denver ranked in the bottom five teams nationally in defensive efficiency (#330) and four other defensive statistics, as well as in the bottom dozen two-point fg% (42.8%) teams in America. Work on layup drills, perhaps?

64/65-Team Era. The Sun Belt is 11-32 (.256) in the NCAA Tourney during this era, but due to the severe drop in league cachet over the last ten to fifteen years, those numbers are somewhat skewed for present consideration, especially when you consider that the league’s last NCAA victory was in 1995 (#8 WKU defeated #9 Michigan 82-76). Despite ten trips to the second round (most trips: WKU with 4), only one team has broken through to the Sweet 16, Ralph Willard’s #7 Western Kentucky squad in 1993. In fact, that Hilltopper team was an overtime loss away (Florida St. 81, WKU 78) from meeting Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team in the elite eight.

Final Thought. We’d love to be able to say that the Sun Belt contains solid mid-major material at the top, but recent history belies that position as only once in the last four years has a Sun Belt team so much as tested its first round NCAA opponent (2005: Louisville 68, Louisiana-Lafayette 62). The other three years the Sun Belt team got blitzed by an average of 16.7 pts, and we’re not sure we see a way for this league to turn things around. It’s uncertain if there’s been any talk to this effect, but perhaps going the WAC/Mountain West route and drafting a few more teams, only to split into two leagues, is the way to re-focus itself.

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