Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday Night

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.

#16 Manhattan vs. #16 Hampton— Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 PM ET on truTV.

Manhattan and Hampton Start Us Off in Dayton Tonight (USA Today Images)

Manhattan and Hampton Start Us Off in Dayton Tonight (USA Today Images)

Battling for the right to face unbeaten #1 Kentucky in Louisville on Thursday are MAAC champion Manhattan and MEAC champion Hampton. The 19-13 Jaspers pulled off a stunner over heavy favorite Iona to take home the MAAC title, and as winners of seven of their last eight, they seem to be playing their best basketball of the season. If you recall, Manhattan was in the NCAA Tournament last year where it was a #13 seed and pushed #4 Louisville to the edge before the Cardinals grabbed the victory in the last few minutes. Gone from last year is standout guard George Beamon, but experienced forwards Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey are still around to carry the load for Steve Masiello‘s group. Hampton is the only team in this season’s field with a losing record, as the Pirates are just 16-17. While the 16-17 mark is less than ideal, it should be noted that they are a very respectable 5-1 in neutral site games, and Dayton certainly qualifies as that. Hampton’s offensive attack is led by forward Dwight Meikle and Tennessee transfer guard Quinton Chievous. The advantage in this one looks to be when Manhattan has the ball, as Hampton’s defense enters the game 224th in the country in points per game allowed. Look for Andujar and Pankey to set the tone early for the Jaspers, as they will advance to the main bracket to take on Masiello’s alma mater in what will be truly a David versus Goliath matchup.

The RTC Certified Pick: Manhattan

#11 BYU vs. #11 Mississippi – West Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) – Approx. 9:10 PM ET, truTV.

Kyle Collinsworth is Worth Watching Tonight (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth is Worth Watching Tonight (Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

While Ole Miss limps into the First Four as losers of five of their last eight games including an opening round loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, BYU comes in playing as well as it has all year. The Cougars won eight games in a row, including a win at Gonzaga, before running out of gas in the WCC championship game. Still, with a talented backcourt highlighted by senior leading scorer Tyler Haws and junior do-everything guard Kyle Collinsworth, head coach Dave Rose has to feel confident in his group. Andy Kennedy’s Rebels, meanwhile, are an experienced team too, with upperclassmen representing all three of the team’s leading scorers. Junior Stefan Moody is one of the nation’s best shooters, while senior Jarvis Summers is a no-mistakes kind of lead guard. With both teams interested in playing a quick tempo and with both squads better with the ball than defensively, this could be a fun, high-scoring, back-and-forth game. In the Big Dance, benefit of the doubt goes to the team playing its best ball.

The RTC Certified Pick: BYU

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BYU Season: A Possession Short?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 11th, 2015

Lesson number one that we’ve learned over the enlightened years of basketball analytics is that hoops is a game of possessions. Keeping possession, extending possessions, ending opponents’ possessions and making the most of every last possession can be the difference between a win and a loss. Maximizing your possessions makes all the difference. When the Selection Committee sits down to discuss the NCAA Tournament fates of teams around the country this week, a single possession otherwise forgotten to history may well be the difference between a dance and a disappointment.

One Possession Matters

One Possession Matters

Enter BYU. As the Cougars faded down the stretch against Gonzaga in the WCC Championship game last night in Las Vegas, the discussion turned to their NCAA Tournament resume: an RPI of 38; a big win at Gonzaga on the final weekend of the season; not a whole lot else. Dig a little deeper and you find that they played San Diego State to double-overtime on a neutral court and then two nights later played Purdue to a single-overtime on that same neutral court. Later in their non-conference slate, BYU lost at home to Utah by four points. Any one of those wins – three losses decided by four total possessions – could have been the difference between the Cougars leaving Orleans Arena on Tuesday night confident about their NCAA Tournament hopes or, as they actually did, mourning their way through a postgame press conference. Another few dashes of salt for that BYU wound – their four WCC losses came by a total of 27 points, with only their loss to Gonzaga in Provo coming by more than two possessions.

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Morning Five: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 11th, 2015

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  1. The automatic bids are starting to fill up. In the past two days, automatic bids have gone to Northeastern (Colonial), Manhattan (Metro Atlantic), Wofford (Southern), Valparaiso (Horizon), Robert Morris (Northeast), North Dakota State (Summit), and Gonzaga (West Coast). There are obviously some big story lines from Monday night that Tommy Lemoine covered in his Bracket Prep for Wofford, Northeastern, and Wofford. We will cover last night’s story lines a little more later today, but the things that jumped out at us were St Francis-Brooklyn remaining one of only five original Division I programs to never make the NCAA Tournament (Army, Citadel, Northwestern, and William & Mary are the others) and the questions surrounding whether or not BYU will receive an at-large bid.
  2. The coaching carousel is starting to heat up as three new positions opened up with SIU-Edwardsville firing Lennox Forrester, Illinois-Chicago firing Howard Moore, and Citadel firing Chuck Driesell. Forrester had been the coach at SIU-Edwardsville for eight seasons going 83-149 with losing seasons in each of his final seven seasons after going 17-11 in his first season, which also happened to be the school’s last year in Division II. Moore went 49-111 in five seasons with his only winning season happening in 2012-13 when he went 18-16. Driesell, the son of the legendary Lefty Driesell, had his best season in the last of his five seasons. Unfortunately, that was only 11-19 and he finished 42-113. Like the other positions we mentioned before, none of these would be what we consider big-time jobs, but the Illinois-Chicago position offers the appeal of being in one of the best basketball areas in the country and a decent conference (Horizon) to play in, which could entice a high-major assistant who might feel that he has waited long enough.
  3. The coaching carousel might generate most of the attention in terms of movement, but be sure to keep an eye for some potentially significant transfers now that many players are having their seasons end. One of the first big ones to hit the transfer market is Evan Payne, who announced on Instagram that he would be transferring from Loyola Marymount. Payne, who averaged 18 points and 2.8 rebounds per game this past season, will probably end up at a high-major school especially since he has two more years of eligibility remaining even if he has to sit out a year as we have not heard anything about him looking for a hardship waiver.
  4. If you thought there were grey areas with social media, just wait until we get into the crowdfunding. According to a report from Darren Rovell, FanAngel is proposing to allow fans to contribute money towards an athlete who returns to school instead of leaving to play professionally. The company would take 9% off the top as its commission. Of the remaining 91%, when the athlete completes his or her eligibility, the athlete would get 80%, the athlete’s teammates would get 10%, and the remaining 10% would put into a scholarship fund. Although this has generated quite a bit of buzz based on it being featured on ESPN.com, we have a hard time believing this will ever be approved as even the company’s founder admits that the NCAA has not signed off on it and expressed reservations about it. There are also issues with how the money gets distributed to the athlete since neither the athlete nor anybody representing him or her is supposed to contact the company before the athlete’s eligibility is complete. Given all of these issues, we have a hard time seeing how this will hold up to NCAA scrutiny.
  5. With the start of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week away (don’t get us started on the ridiculous event in Dayton) you are going to start seeing a lot of lists talking about the best games, players, shots, etc. We doubt that you are going to see many lists like Ken Pomeroy’s most tense NCAA Tournament games since 2010. Like many things that Pomeroy does, some of these are obvious and are easily remembered by even the most casual fan while others are things you would not have remembered without his work. Now, you can question his methodology here, which is admittedly not as rigorous as his usual statistical analysis, but it is a fun trip down memory lane.
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Conference Tourney Primers: West Coast

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

West Coast Tournament

Dates: March 6-7, 9-10

Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)

wccWhat to expect: Gonzaga looked well on its way to in-conference perfection and possibly a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before BYU spoiled things last Saturday. That should only make the Bulldogs angry this weekend in Las Vegas. Expect the league champs to reach their 18th-straight West Coast Conference title game – where they will probably meet the Cougars for a third time – and make a statement heading into Selection Sunday. As for that BYU team… with numerous outlets projecting it among the ‘last four in’ and ‘last four out’, the Cougars can ill afford to stumble prior to the championship game. Their postseason hopes could come down to a semifinal tilt with Saint Mary’s on Monday – not an easy task, considering the teams’ regular season split.

Favorite: Gonzaga. The Zags went 29-2 during the regular season, rank among the top 10 nationally by most polls and metrics, and largely breezed through their WCC schedule. On a neutral floor, this is a no-brainer.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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Best of the West: Top 25 Teams in the West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 18th, 2015

We’re now less than four weeks from Selection Sunday, so it’s a good time to check back in with our Best in the West, with a special focus on these 25 teams’ NCAA Tournament prospects. If you haven’t seen this post before, we take all the schools west of the Rockies (basically the schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West Conferences, and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and list the top 25 teams. Rather than just ranking schools #1 though #25, though, we divide them into tiers, because, for instance, while one team may be ranked third overall and another fourth, there may be a huge gap between teams three and four. Below are ourTop 25 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses) with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on each and their NCAA Tournament hopes

The Best of the Best – In a league of their own.

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed in March

Gonzaga is #2 in The AP Poll And In The Mix For A #1 Seed 

  • Gonzaga (#1 overall, WCC #1) – The Bulldogs are 26-1 with the lone defeat an overtime loss at the McKale Center on the first weekend of December. For me, an overtime road loss equates to a win in the grand scheme of things, so I’ve got Gonzaga slightly ahead of that team that came out on the good side of the scoreboard in Tucson. Admittedly, the rest of the Gonzaga resume is a little light. Their best win is, what, a road win at St. John’s? Or is it the one at BYU? Or maybe the one at UCLA? All of those are good wins to be sure, but none of those are mindblowingly great entries on the Zags’ balance sheet compared with the teams with whom they will be competing for a #1 seed. For instance, the other two teams in this category both have better wins and tougher overall schedules than the Zags. But if they’re able to get from here to Selection Sunday with a “1” on the right-hand side of that record (which would mean additional wins at Saint Mary’s, over BYU and then another over one of those two teams in the WCC Championship game, they’ll probably nose out either Arizona or Utah. Now, teams like Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova (not to mention Kentucky) may be a different story.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Pepperdine, Keifer Sykes, James Whitford & Miami (OH)…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Pepperdine. Entering last week, you know how many WCC teams had beaten BYU in the Marriott Center since it joined the conference in 2012? Four, and Pepperdine wasn’t one of them. In fact, the Waves had lost their previous three contests there by an average of 25 points per game. So when Marty Wilson’s team went to Provo and beat the Cougars in wire-to-wire fashion on Thursday night, yeah, it was kind of a big deal. The six-point win turned heads and garnered Pepperdine some positive national attention for the first time in a long while (the game was on ESPNU). And as for the Waves’ encore victory at San Diego on Saturday? That win may have propelled Wilson’s club into the upper echelon of the conference.

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Defense has been Pepperdine’s M.O. this season and it put that stinginess on full display against BYU. The Waves, which entered the contest tops in the country at taking away the three-point line, held the oft-scorching Cougars (15-of-28 threes in their previous game) to just 23 percent (6-of-26) from behind the arc. BYU’s high-scoring, hyper-efficient attack had trouble finding consistent offense all night long, ultimately winding up tied for its lowest point total of the season (61 points). “We talked about our discipline and our toughness and we showed that from the tip,” Wilson said afterwards. Yet, his best coaching move of the night had nothing to do with an instilled mindset or strong defensive principles. Instead, it was probably his decision to bring top scorer and rebounder Stacy Davis (15.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG) off the bench for the first time. The 6’6’’ junior responded with a 23-point, eight-rebound performance that included a couple big free throws to ice the game. “They got us a little bit out of rhythm and they got us to take tougher shots out of our sets,” BYU guard Anson Winder said after the game, summing it up perfectly. “They scored on the other end and it’s hard to beat a team when you can’t stop them from scoring.”

But Pepperdine wasn’t done. Despite having not won back-to-back WCC road games since 2007, the Waves promptly travelled to San Diego two days later, put forth another excellent defensive effort and beat the Toreros by 12. No San Diego player – not even Johnny Dee, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer – ended up with double figures, as Bill Grier’s crew mustered only 0.75 points per possession. In a matter of three days, the team that had been picked seventh in the preseason outdid the second and fifth-place picks in their own gymnasiums. Now at 4-1 in WCC play and cracking the top-100 in KenPom, Pepperdine appears to have staying power among the top half of the WCC.

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On This Season’s Gonzaga Dilemma

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2015

Two years ago, the debate raged. Did Gonzaga, the #1 team in both polls on Selection Sunday, really deserve a #1 seed? It was a question rarely faced by teams towering over the polls at such a late juncture, but the Zags’ 31-2 record didn’t impress everyone. Critics brought up the weak WCC. They pointed out an unflattering RPI ranking of #8. More anecdotally, they looked up and down the Gonzaga roster and asked — other than Kelly Olynyk — where all the pros were. The Zags claim to a #1 seed was as energized a debate as any on Selection Sunday in March 2013.

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zag's Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team's Spot Within The Bracket?

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zags’ Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team’s Placement Within The Bracket?

That story’s ending shouldn’t have escaped memory yet (Cliff Notes: #1 seed granted, but Sweet Sixteen appearance sold separately) and it may have more damage to deliver the Bulldogs. This season boasts an equally dominant Gonzaga outfit and a similarly helpless WCC, which puts Mark Few’s team on a crash course for a familiar Selection Sunday predicament. After easily knocking off San Francisco on Thursday night, the 15-1 Bulldogs look as poised as ever to rip through a soft WCC and reach Selection Sunday with just one loss, an overtime defeat at Arizona (who is kind of good!). Early results indicate competition for the four #1 seeds is likely to be even fiercer this season than it was two years ago, but this Gonzaga group also looks to be stronger as well. Dominoes in the race for a #1 seed will be falling from now until March — in both Spokane and elsewhere — but round two of the great Gonzaga debate is coming. There’s no reason not to begin considering the question now: Will the kings of the WCC deserve to be on the bracket’s top line?

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O26 Midseason Awards: Jeff Jones, Kyle Collinsworth, 10 All-Americans…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2015

With conference play having begun in most leagues across the country, it‘s time now to pass out some midseason superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next couple months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones – Old Dominion. The Old Dominion basketball program took a sharp turn in 2013 when – after more than a decade of sustained success – the school fired its longtime coach, Blaine Taylor, during a 5-25 campaign in which the coach’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. In came Jones after spending 13 seasons at American, and immediately things turned around as the Monarchs went 18-18 last season and reached the CBI semifinals. But perhaps even the most optimistic Old Dominion fan couldn’t have envisioned how quickly the team would go from the dregs of the CAA to the cream of Conference USA; at 12-1 with wins over LSU, VCU, Georgia State and Richmond, the Monarchs have cracked the Top 25 and should be in the at-large discussion by season’s end. How has Jones orchestrated such a sharp turnaround? Campbell transfer Trey Freeman has helped. The 6’2’’ point guard paces the team with 16.4 points and 3.5 assists per contest, with Jones calling him “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached” after the team’s victory over LSU in November. The success has been the result of more than just Freeman, though, as the Monarchs have thoroughly bought into Jones’ system, predicated on patient offense and tough man-to-man defense – the latter of which has held opponents to 0.91 points per possession so far, the best mark in C-USA. Likewise, Jones deserves credit for his ability to seamlessly integrate both Freeman and George Mason transfer Jonathan Arledge into a deep cohort of returnees. The head man said in an interview recently (regarding his first year at the program), “We just needed to make people understand it would take some hard work [and] it would take some time, but we were going to just try to be as patient as we could moving forward.” “Time” and “patience,” sure, but it’s taken not even two full seasons for Jones to completely revamp and re-energize things in Norfolk; and for that, he earns our Midseason Coach of the Year honors.

Honorable Mentions: Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa; Bob McKillop – Davidson; Porter Moser – Loyola (IL); Keno Davis – Central Michigan; Mark Few – Gonzaga; Eddie Payne – USC Upstate

O26 Midseason Player of the Year

BYU's versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

BYU’s versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Kyle Collinsworth – BYU. It feels a little weird deeming Collinsworth O26 Midseason Player of the Year when his teammate, Tyler Haws, is college basketball’s third-leading scorer. But remember how BYU looked last March without Collinsworth after he went down with a torn ACL? The Cougars were crushed by Oregon in what should have been a competitive #7/#10 NCAA Tournament match-up. The point guard’s versatility, defense and toughness – not to mention eye-popping numbers, which we’ll get to in a moment – make Collinsworth the glue that holds BYU together and the player worthy of our midseason honor. “He is a really effective player in so many different areas of the game,” head coach Dave Rose said recently. At 6’6’’, there are few players (perhaps no player) who do what Collinsworth does: Not only is he the facilitator for the nation’s ninth-most efficient offense, but he also serves as BYU’s best rebounder and defender, leading the team in assists, rebounds and steals. At this point, the junior’s impressive across-the-board averages (13.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG) are overshadowed only by his record-setting triple-double pace. With three already under his belt, Collinsworth needs just one to tie and two more to break the single-season NCAA mark. That all-around ability has allowed Rose to utilize a four-guard lineup in recent weeks, a move that’s enabled BYU to hit its stride just as WCC play heats up – evidenced by the team’s 99-68 drubbing of San Francisco on Saturday. “Kyle’s a big reason because he can rebound as well as any guard in the country. To have him on the floor, you have a guard that’s a great rebounder,” Rose noted. With Collinsworth healthy and playing at an incredibly high level, the Cougars should return to the Big Dance this March.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Sycamores, Kyle Collinsworth, Bob McKillop & Fresno State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Indiana State. The Sycamores entered the week 4-8, having lost seven straight games against Division I programs, including the last two – home defeats to Eastern Illinois and UMKC – against teams ranked well below 200th in KenPom. Sure, three key seniors did graduate in the offseason and Greg Lansing’s program was picked sixth in the Missouri Valley, but the first two months of 2014-15 failed even to live up to those modest expectations. Conference play can do funny things to a basketball team, and it certainly did something to the Sycamores this past week; despite all signs pointing the other way, Indiana State upended two of the MVC’s better squads to begin its league slate.

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Lansing’s club opened the week on the road against shorthanded-but-talented Illinois State, a good team (which beat Old Dominion by 19 in November) with a 91 percent chance of winning, according to KenPom. But despite those long odds, and although it had not beaten the Redbirds in Normal since 2011, Indiana State came out hot from the perimeter (43 percent from behind the arc), limited Illinois State top-scorer Daishon Knight to just five points, and overcame a halftime deficit to pull off the road upset. Neither team managed more than 0.90 points per possession – “We’ve always been a program that wins ugly games,” Lansing said afterwards – but the Sycamores produced enough late buckets and a big, last-second block to secure the victory. “That’s a really good start for us beating a good team.” Next up was Evansville on Sunday, a team fresh off a win over 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa on New Year’s Day. Again substantial underdogs and again hitting from the three-point line, the Sycamores kept pace with the Aces all afternoon and ultimately forced overtime tied at 70. Momentum swung towards Indiana State when Evansville big man Egidijus Mockevicius fouled out with 3:20 left in the extra period, and another big defensive play – this time a Devonte Brown steal – put Lansing’s group up for good. Big man Jake Kitchell led the way for Indiana State with 21 points and 11 rebounds.  “A lot of us struggled at the start of the year, including me. Guys are playing better now and the results are showing,” Lansing noted after the game. Indeed. One week ago, his team looked like it’d be hard-pressed to win two conference games all season. Now? The Sycamores sit coolly atop the MVC standings at 2-0. “It’s only a couple of wins, but we’re happy with them.”

Honorable Mentions: New Mexico (2-0: vs. Fresno State, vs. Colorado State); Coastal Carolina (2-0: at High Point, vs. Charleston Southern); St. Francis-Brooklyn (2-0: vs. Columbia, at Sacred Heart); BYU (3-0: vs. Portland, at Santa Clara, at San Francisco); Idaho (2-0: vs. Idaho State, vs. Weber State) Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Rewind: Kentucky Flexes Muscles, Rough Pac-12 Weekend, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 29th, 2014

Never a dull week… Never a dull week, I tell you. The holiday season was supposed to be the last down time for college basketball, but this past weekend – the last without wave after wave of important conference games – was anything but silent. From a clash at the summit in Kentucky to another stunner from Texas Southern – yes, really – it was another fine weekend on the hardwood.

Weekend Headliner: Kentucky 58, Louisville 50.

If it was going to happen, it was going to happen here; at least, so it seemed. Only one game stood between Kentucky and a feeble SEC slate. Only one major challenge remained. Only Louisville. And thus, there’s no place to start but here when rehashing the final 2014 weekend of college hoops. Because it – a Kentucky loss – didn’t happen.

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

John Calipari’s team further cemented itself atop the collegiate basketball landscape with an ugly but effective victory over its bitter rival. The most striking thing about Saturday’s game was the difficulty Louisville had finding shots and scoring on the offensive end. If a top-five team with an All-American forward and an electric home crowd looked overwhelmed, how must other teams feel? The Wildcats’ smothering defense held the Cardinals to an ice cold 26 percent shooting and 0.85 points per possession. Most importantly though, Kentucky was able to do exactly what makes its defense so special: It forced Louisville to take an inordinate number of contested mid-range jumpers. A whopping 34 of the Cardinals’ 58 field goal attempts (58.6 percent) came from between five and 20 feet from the basket, an area from which they’ve shot 29 percent on the season. This was a significant departure from Louisville’s standard shooting distribution, and its a big reason why they had such trouble with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

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