It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.
Dates: March 4, 7, 10
Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded teams host)
What to expect: St. Francis-Brooklyn is the team to beat after winning nine of its last 10 games and clinching the NEC title with ease. The Terriers boast the league’s best home record and its most dominant player, double-double machine Jalen Cannon. But they don’t exactly come in ‘hot,’ either, fresh off losing to Bryant on Saturday and squeaking by LIU-Brooklyn two days before that. Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s also gave them problems this season, and the conference tournament’s top seed has not advanced to the NCAA Tournament since 2012. If St. Francis-Brooklyn stumbles, there are probably five different teams capable of winning this event, the Colonials best among them.
Favorite: St. Francis-Brooklyn. Since the dawn of KenPom rankings, there has never been a larger chasm between the NEC’s best and second-best teams; St. Francis-Brooklyn ranks 145th while Robert Morris comes in at 204th. Throw in home court advantage and the conference’s top player and you understand why the Terriers are the favorites.
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, 11 Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
What to expect: Robert Morris was in this position a season ago. The Colonials won the regular season title before falling to Mount St. Mary’s in the conference tournament. Will this year be any different? Robert Morris won the league with a 14-2 mark this year, besting second-place Wagner by two games. Wagner, however, beat Robert Morris in the last game of the season on Saturday and has won eight straight contests. It should come down to these two program. Any other winner would be a major shock.
Favorite:Robert Morris. The Colonials split the season series with second-seeded Wagner, winning at home and losing on the road. Robert Morris has the home court advantage, but a potential title game between the two could be a doozy.
The end of the winter exam period could not come soon enough for college basketball fans. Yes, we know that it’s important for the kids to take care of their academics, but even the most fervent of followers would have to admit they could only take so many more nights of Bryant being featured in the headline contest of the evening. Nothing against the Bulldogs and their tidy 6-5 start, but this weekend’s spate of entertaining match-ups should help us all regain a little sanity Last night’s Hawkeye State battle served as a worthy appetizer for Saturday’s feast of action, but before you grab the remote and plop down in the front row seat in your living room, check out these four storylines to monitor on Saturday.
Arizona Takes Its #1 Ranking to Ann Arbor Today
Chances For Validation, Redemption In Ann Arbor
It may be hard to believe now, but public perception of Arizona and Michigan was pretty comparable at the start of the year. Needless to say, that is no longer the case. The Wildcats, now also known as the #1 team in the land, get a shot at validating that ranking when they visit Ann Arbor today (12:00 EST, CBS), while the floundering Wolverines will seek to redirect the trajectory of their season. Wins over the #1 team in the country have a way of curing a lot of ills, but it will take a yet-to-be-seen vigor for Michigan to earn that antidote, even on their home floor. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will clash with Aaron Gordon and the rest of that vaunted Arizona front line down low, but keep an eye on the battle of the Ni(c)ks. We saw against Duke how crippling a subpar night from Nik Stauskas can be for the Wolverines; if Nick Johnson’s rep as one of the best stoppers out West carries weight in Ann Arbor, Michigan may again find themselves searching for other scoring outlets. For Michigan, Saturday is an opportunity to prove that the Wolverines still might be who we thought they were; for the Cats, it’s another chance to show us that they are exactly who we think they are.
Like many other college basketball sites we have talked quite a bit about Emmanuel Mudiay’s decision to commit to Southern Methodist and how it could affect their recruiting forward. One thing that most writers glossed over, but Mike DeCourcy goes in-depth about is Emmanuel’s brother, John Michael, and how he could have a huge impact on the program even if he does not fill up the box score. While we remain surprised that Emmanuel turned down Kentucky and many other top-tier programs to come to SMU, the fact that he would enroll at a school to play with his brother (and a Hall of Fame coach) should not be that shocking. Having said that we will wait until Emmanuel actually matriculates before we are ready to officially put him in SMU’s column.
In the wake of the NCAA laying down the hammer on Johnny Manziel, several media members and a few anonymous coaches/administrators have taken shots at the NCAA, but few individuals have as much reason to criticize the NCAA as former Miami guard Dequan Jones. You may remember Jones as the Miami player who was forced to sit out 11 games of his senior year after the NCAA took Ponzi scheme mastermind Nevin Shapiro’s word that a Miami assistant had asked for $10,000 to get Jones to commit to Miami before the NCAA finally backed down when they could not find any evidence against him (other than the word of Shapiro). As you can imagine Jones was less than thrilled with how the NCAA handled their investigation of Manziel in comparison to how his was handled. We suspect that Jones is not alone among athletes who have previously been targeted by the NCAA and walked away with much larger penalties that what Manziel incurred.
We are a little over a month away from the new Midnight Madness, but there is still some movement within the coaching ranks. Normally the hiring of an assistant coach at a mid (or low)-major would not merit a mention here, but the announcement that former Boston College coach Al Skinner had been added as an assistant on the Bryant staff intrigued us. Gary Williams might remain the most well-known (and successful coach) to grace the Chestnut Hill sidelines, but it is Skinner who remains the all-time winningest coach in school history. Obviously Skinner left under circumstances that can best be described as less than ideal, but if this current stint at Bryant works out for him he could soon be in the running for some fairly prominent coaching vacancies.
It has been a precipitous fall for Anrio Adams. After enrolling at Kansas (arguably the most successful program in the country in recent years) Adams found himself stuck behind Ben McLemore before a series of unfortunate tweets led to Adams’ departure/dismissal from the team. From there Adams wound up at Ohio (a solid, but not elite program). Now after his decision to leave Ohio after just two months to pursue options at the junior college level we have to wonder where he is headed next. Although Adams was probably never headed for the NBA this is not the ideal trajectory for a player who was once a 4-star recruit. We do not know Adams’ motivation for leaving Ohio, but at this rate we do not expect to see Adams playing a meaningful role at the Division I level any time soon.
After a hot streak picking up transfers it appears that at least one of USC‘s transfers–Ari Stewart–will not be playing for the Trojans this season as the former Wake Forest transfer reportedly failed to qualify academically. Stewart, who sat out the 2011-12 as a transfer redshirt, averaged 3.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game last season for the Trojans and would have helped the Trojans on the inside this season. Unfortunately for Stewart he already used his redshirt year when he transferred meaning that his college career is over. Thankfully for Andy Enfield he will have VCU transfer D.J. Haley available this season to take some of the minutes that Stewart likely would have had.
Tonight’s Lede. Two Questionable At-Large’s Cash In. At the end of a long season, after a mixed bag of wins and losses leaves you wanting more, every now and then the schedule throws you a lifeline. Teams get big resume-boosting opportunities right in their own home gyms. Sometimes they take advantage; other times not. Villanova and Iowa State were blessed with such propositions in their respective home confines Wednesday night, with Oklahoma State visiting Hilton Coliseum and Georgetown making its way to the Wells Fargo Center. With Tourney ticket-punching affairs hanging in the balance, their agendas were simple. Win and you’re in.
Your Watercooler Moment. Bubble-Dwellers Score Big.
Taking out a top-half seed like Oklahoma State will make waves in the at-large picture (AP)
When national player of the year candidates meet desperate bubble teams, I’ll take the latter every time and never think twice. Arguably the best player in college basketball over the past few weeks, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, came upon a collective force he could not overcome in Philadelphia, PA. That force was Villanova’s home court advantage and added motivational edge, and the Wildcats – having already knocked off Syracuse, Louisville and Marquette at home this season – were not about to let this golden opportunity slip away. Sure, Jay Wright’s team could have busted off a few Big East Tournament wins and maybe, maybe snuck into the field after a loss Wednesday night. Instead, thanks to the efficient offense of JayVaughn Pinkston and solid defensive work on Porter, Villanova can go into Selection Sunday feeling optimistically comfortable about its position in the field. The other big bubble game didn’t feature a top-five team. A National POY candidate was in the building, though, and not even Marcus Smart could hold down the Cyclones’ potent offense in Ames. Like the Georgetown win, ISU’s triumph should get them over the hump (ISU’s case is thornier than Villanova’s, no doubt), provided it takes care of business Saturday at West Virginia. It’s never smart to make definitive statements about who’s in and who’s out before the selection committee gets together and sets in stone the field of 68. The committee has been known to make some puzzling decisions from time to time. And I don’t consider myself skeptical when I say the selection process will render more than a few dumbfounding choices this season. But on Wednesday night these two teams may have eliminated the possibility of selection day robbery altogether. Their profiles look worthy.
Also Worth Chatting About. Uh, Miami?
One of the main takeaways from Saturday’s loss at Duke, besides Ryan Kelly’s marvelous return, was the way Miami hung tough for 40 minutes, battled the Blue Devils every step of the way, and came one three-point shot away from sending the game into overtime. Miami came away with a loss, but if you’re Jim Larranaga you head back to Coral Gables feeling like your team not only managed the pressures of a brutal environment with poise and aplomb, but also nearly knocked off arguably the best team in the country (I don’t subscribe to this notion, but it’s out there) on a night when its newly-healthy senior forward miraculously returned from a weeks-long absence to play one of the best games in program history. It happens. Conference games are hard to win on the road. And besides, Miami still had the ACC regular season crown to bank on, right? All it had to do was win one of its final two regular season games to clinch its first outright conference title since moving to the ACC; easy stuff. On Wednesday night Georgia Tech was anything but “easy” at the BankUnited Center. The Yellowjackets stunned Miami, delaying its outright conference title and shaking up the ever-fluid NCAA Tournament seeding permutations, but more than anything else, Georgia Tech handed the Hurricanes their first truly worrisome lost of the conference season (shout out to Florida Gulf Coast!). Mere weeks away from the opening round, Miami will need to assess its mistakes and roll into the tourney riding the same confidence and momentum it had throughout most of league play.
Tonight’s Lede. West Coast Stand Up.The West Coast staged the best of Thursday night’s games. For those who enjoy the spoils of the Pacific Time Zone, that’s entirely positive. Nighttime hoops is a normal occurrence. West coast denizens are exposed to these teams and players as part of their usual television viewing habits. And for the diehard fans out there living on central and eastern time, staying up a few extra hours to either a) watch or b) write about college basketball isn’t the end of the world. The masses aren’t so willing, by and large, which means many of the nation’s best conferences and leagues are something like foreign entities. Getting caught up by reading, watching highlights or studying these teams isn’t difficult, but the national audience is doubtless downsized for these West Coast-heavy nights. This isn’t a personal problem – I’m speaking in generalities. I have no qualms eschewing sleep for the best of the west, which is nice, because otherwise you’d be left without a tidy nightly recap of all that late-night cant-miss hardwood drama.
Your Watercooler Moment. Hey Now, Pac-12.
A late-push from the Golden Bears could shake up the Pac-12 race (Photo credit: AP Photo).
I could spill boundless quantities of digital ink on the frustrating development of the UCLA Bruins – the inconsistency of Ben Howland’s team, the perplexing reality of his team playing better defense (0.95 points per-possession in conference play) than offense (1.00). Or I could rip the Arizona Wildcats, a team I staunchly defended against early-season claims of specious success and smoke-and-mirrors late-game fortune. I’ll stay off both subjects, because on Thursday night the floor belonged to Cal and Colorado. Huge bubble-shifting opportunities were on offer for both clubs – Cal getting UCLA at home and Colorado welcoming Arizona – and neither failed to pull through. I wouldn’t call this a revenge game for the Buffaloes (Arizona players didn’t waive off Sabatino Chen’s should-be game winner; referees did), but Tad Boyle’s club played with purpose and grit throughout, to the point where last-possession bank-shot heaves were completely beside the point. Cal’s win was similarly uninteresting, scoreline-wise, and it gave it another big Pac-12 win to go alongside recent victories over Arizona and Oregon. The Bears need every sliver of profile-boosting juice they can get; they missed on pretty much every big opportunity in the non-conference, and hadn’t beaten anyone of note before the February 2 win over the Ducks. Beating UCLA is another nice chip, and Mike Montgomery’s team is looking more and more like an at-large worthy group. Colorado’s win is icing on an already solid portfolio – but, boy, must it feel nice to get even with the Wildcats, even if that loss had as much to do with a blown lead and faulty officiating as it did Arizona itself. Anyway, the Pac-12, somewhat insanely (remember last year?), has some real, actual depth: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, Cal, Stanford (eh), Arizona State (eh) and Colorado are all at least relevant talking points in the NCAA Tourney discussion.
Tonight’s Lede. Hey, Kansas. Of Kansas’ three most recent losses, the only one that made Monday night’s home match-up with Kansas State feel even somewhat dubious was the inexplicable TCU slip-up. The other two are concerning, but only by Kansas fans’ warped standards – a product of Bill Self’s remarkable string of excellence in Lawrence. Oklahoma State is a solid all-around team, with a set of explosive scorers and one of the best and most versatile point guards in the country making everything work. Oklahoma is brutally physical, extremely well-coached, and an absolute bear to play on the road. Those losses aren’t bad, per se, as much as they are out of character for a Kansas team most believed had another conference title sealed up at the turn of the New Year. Kansas is not the unparalleled Big 12 demigod it was billed to be, but that’s OK. It doesn’t have to be. Kansas can and probably will wind up winning the Big 12, again. This team has warts, and things can get ugly on the offensive end every now and then, but when these Jayhawks get going in their own building, few teams have what it takes to keep up. Monday night was one of those nights.
Your Watercooler Moment. Kansas Ends the Speculation.
A blowout win over Kansas State ought to ease concerns about Kansas’ after a three-game losing streak (Photo credit: Getty Images).
Because Kansas has been so consistently dominant under Self, and because this Jayhawks team looked nigh-unstoppable for much of this season, questions about this team’s long-term health were a major discussion point heading into Monday night’s contest with intrastate rival Kansas State. Not only did the Wildcats have the upper hand in the latest AP Poll, they were also riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak along with the added confidence of a reeling KU team seeking to end a three-game skid. The way both of these teams were headed – Kansas State rising higher and higher, with Kansas sinking into a mid-season rut – Monday night felt like one of the only times during Self’s tenure when picking against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse didn’t sound like such a horrible idea. Forty minutes and 30 Ben McLemore points later, whatever suspicions arose in the past week about Kansas’ ability to legitimately contend for a Big 12 and national championship were effectively silenced. The Jayhawks punked their basketball step-brother; Kansas State was rarely even competitive from the opening tip. Kansas bossed the game from start to finish, just the way we saw it impose itself during the first few months of the season. It was the kind of game Kansas so often conducts in its own building: dominant, efficient, smothering, deafening. On Monday night, Kansas played like Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse was Allen Fieldhouse, and the natural order of things seemed to fall back into place. Concerns about the Kansas offense, especially point guard Elijah Johnson, won’t go away, and the Jayhawks might well take a few losses the rest of the season, but for 40 minutes Bill Self’s team looked like the conference juggernaut we’re so accustomed to seeing under his tutelage. It looked like a team incapable of going on a three-game losing streak.
Tonight’s Quick Hits….
Offense vs. Defense in DC.It’s not every day you get drastic strength-on-strength match-ups with teams from the same conference. Leagues typically breed a certain style of play or tactical focus. The Big Ten, for example, is a physical, bruising conference known for its toughness, defensive discipline and pace-averse offense. Not every league can be so easily defined – some conferences feature a wide spectrum of different styles and strategic emphases. Georgetown and Marquette brought the polar opposite ends of the offense-defense balance into their Big Monday night game, and when a great offense (Marquette owns the nation’s 17th best O, per KenPom) meets an even better defense (The Hoyas are 10th in defensive efficiency), the outcome is simple and predictable. Georgetown held Marquette to 55 points, leaned on Otto Porter Jr. for another All American-worthy performance (21 points, seven rebounds), and finished the night with Big East win number eight, its sixth straight.
Tonight’s Lede. Pac-12 Takes Center Stage. Last season, the Pac-12 made history by becoming the first Big Six conference not to send its regular season champion to the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid. The downward spiral that lead to this unfortunate circumstance began in non-conference play, where the league squandered nearly all of its big match-ups, which deflated the Pac-12’s RPI and set up a vicious cycle whereby teams had no shot of upward movement on the NCAA bubble shuffling line. This year, the league is marginally better. The high-end quality, starting with UCLA and Arizona, is light year’s ahead of where it was last season, but the league as a whole isn’t all that much improved. Three momentous Pac-12 matchups – Cal at UCLA, Colorado at Arizona and Stanford at USC – highlighted tonight’s slate, each of which allowed for valuable observation and analysis. Without giving away the rest of tonight’s ATB, I’ll reveal this much: the Pac-12 isn’t horrible!; which is to say, the regular season champ, whoever that may be, should be on solid footing come Selection Sunday.
Your Watercooler Moment. Apparent Buzzer-Beater Waved Off To Deny Colorado Huge Road Win At Arizona.
In truth, I’d love to discuss the way Colorado went out and fought Arizona for 40 minutes (and OT), the way Tad Boyle’s team got five players in double figures and played remarkably resilient hoop against the No. 3 team in the country in a tough road environment, the way the Buffaloes proved the Pac-12 race is far from the foregone conclusion many envisioned after the Wildcats’ veritably peerless non-conference work. But I just can’t. The biggest talking point is unavoidable – Sabatino Chen’s buzzer beater that wasn’t. Debate will rage on for days about whether or not Chen’s banked-in three was released before the buzzer, and whether the officials had enough evidence to overturn the initial ruling (a made bucket, a Colorado win). For a closer look, assuming you’re not satisfied with the real-time footage provided above, check out this GIF segmenting Chen’s release into discrete steps. The controversy will intensify if this ultimately leads to Colorado’s NCAA Tournament denial. But seeing as Colorado took the undefeated Wildcats to the absolute brink – and did so without a productive scoring night from star forward Andre Roberson (nine points on 3-of-7 from the floor) – this team looks very capable of making noise in the Pac 12 title chase and earning an at-large bid without sweating Selection Sunday. Besides, an event as controversial and contentious as this often has a galvanizing effect on a team. This could springboard Colorado into a substantial winning streak; the opposite effect – a demoralizing defeat that leads to a downward losing spiral – is a possibility, but I’m not betting on Colorado feeling sorry for itself. Tad Boyle will have his bunch playing inspired basketball when they take the floor at Arizona State in three days. Fairly or unfairly officiated, it’s a total drag to see such a tight game come down to an official’s whistle. When two of the Pac 12’s best teams meet up, I think we can all agree the teams, not the referees, should be the ones settling the final score.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Wolverines Dispel B1G Road Game Theory. The common perception about this year’s Big Ten is that every road game, save a few locales, will be a chore. That’s been the look of things so far, with Illinois losing to Purdue Wednesday night, and Indiana just barely hanging on at Iowa on New Year’s Eve. Michigan had no such trouble on its trip to Northwestern. The Wolverines trounced Bill Carmody’s team on the strength of 44 combined points from backcourt duo Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke got anything he wanted, whenever and wherever he wanted it. The Wildcats, already without defensive specialist JerShonn Cobb (suspension) and perimeter weapon Drew Crawford (injury), were without leading scorer Reggie Hearn, which turned an already undermanned lineup into coterie of inexperienced freshmen and marginal role players. Whether or not Northwestern was at full strength, Michigan wasn’t losing this game. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a team in the country that can beat the Wolverines when they shoot 59 percent from beyond the arc and just under 60 percent overall. Read the rest of this entry »
On the heels of transfer announcements from Gerard Coleman and Bilal Dixon, the rumors started swirling at Providence in early April that yet another guard — then-sophomore Bryce Cotton — asked for his release and was set to leave the program. The thought was that with Vincent Council returning for his senior year and at least two superstar guard recruits entering the program, Cotton saw the writing on the wall and was headed for a place that offered more playing time.
The Friars Have A New Star Of The Show, But The Team Should Be Happy It Has Him At All
Friars’ fans did not take the news well but the discussion was never about losing a starting guard, it was about losing “depth” and a solid player who could back up Council and uber-freshmen Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. Never mind that the then-sophomore was coming off a season in which he had averaged 38.6 minutes and 14.3 points per game, the message was already clear. Cotton was a nice player, but he wasn’t Council, or Dunn, or Ledo.
Fast forward to present day and you can bet that the Providence faithful is thanking its lucky stars that Cotton decided to stick around. The backcourt logjam that was supposed to eat into Cotton’s minutes never materialized. In fact, the backcourt has gone from an area of strength to an area of weakness almost overnight. First Dunn had shoulder surgery, then Ledo was ruled ineligible, and then, early in the team’s season-opening win over the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Council injured his hamstring, leaving him sidelined for an undetermined amount of time.
College basketball tipped off Friday and as the weekend drew to a close, all but two Big East teams have played and only two of them lost. From Connecticut’s shocking win over Michigan State to South Florida’s disastrous debut against Central Florida, Big East fans who weren’t able to get to their televisions this weekend missed a lot of good action. Rather than recap each game individually or only focus on some of the games, we figured the best way to get the uninformed up to speed was with a broad look at some of the best and worst from conference programs this weekend.
UConn’s Surprising Victory in Germany Represented a Big East Highlight of the Weekend
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s debut. The first year coach couldn’t have scripted a better start to his career than his team’s gritty 66-62 win over No. 14 Michigan State in Germany. Not only did the rookie head coach beat a legend in Tom Izzo, but his team played with passion and determination, especially considering they don’t have a postseason to look forward to. The good Shabazz Napier (25 points and zero turnovers) showed up for the Huskies and the defense held the Spartans to just 37.5 percent from the field for the game. Ollie isn’t going to earn a long-term contract after one game, but if he can get his team to play that hard all season, he may win over the decision-makers in Storrs.
Jack Cooley’s first game as Notre Dame’s offensive focal point. The team effort wasn’t great and if it wasn’t for the all-around performance of Cooley (19 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) the Fighting Irish may have lost their season opener to Evansville. The obvious elephant in the room is that the Aces didn’t have anyone in their frontcourt remotely capable of dealing with Cooley’s size and strength, and that will definitely not be the case every week. But Cooley was ruthlessly efficient, active defensively and on the glass, and smart with the ball in the post. The Fighting Irish will need to be better on the perimeter if they want to meet expectations this season, but it is always nice to have an anchor in the post if they need it. Read the rest of this entry »