O26 Early Impressions: Takeaways From First 10 Days

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 21st, 2016

With Feast Week now upon us and two weekends of college hoops in the books, let’s take a step back and reflect on what we’ve learned, which teams have impressed, and why Florida Gulf Coast’s loss at Michigan State was unforgettable… for all the wrong reasons.

Saint Mary's center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

To this point, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale has been nothing short of excellent. (USATSI)

The West Coast Conference looks even better than expected. We ranked Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s #1 and #2 in our preseason Power 13, respectively, with Brigham Young also cracking the list. Each has lived up to—perhaps even exceeded—expectations in the early going. In their first major test, the Zags crushed San Diego State by 21 points, holding the Aztecs to 0.69 points per possession and receiving major contributions from freshman big man Zach Collins (16 points on 6-for-7 FG). The Gaels, to their credit, blitzed a talented Nevada team in their opener before earning a huge, resume-bolstering road win at Dayton two games later. The Cougars began their season with a double-digit victory over Ivy League favorite Princeton. As for potential WCC Player of the Year candidates? There may wind up being too many to count. Along with Gonzaga’s cast of contenders, BYU forward Eric Mika (21.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG), back from his two year LDS mission, has looked downright dominant on both ends of the floor through three games. Likewise, Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale (20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG)—who averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game in 2015-16—has been an offensive revelation for Randy Bennett, in addition to hyper-efficient point guard Emmett Naar (9.0 PPG, 9.7 APG). Strap in for a heavyweight battle atop the WCC.

Rhode Island is the real deal. Sure, the Rams (4-1) lost handily to #1 Duke in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game, but they looked like they belonged, and they only got there by grinding out a 76-71 victory over #24 Cincinnati one day earlier. E.C. Matthews (19.5 PPG) appears to be his old self after missing last season with a knee injury, while forward Hassan Martin (4.3 BPG)—who blocked seven shots against Duke—looks well on his way to repeating as Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Rhode Island has the grit, the talent, and (finally) the offensive punch to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1999. The season’s first 10 days have only reaffirmed that.

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Previewing Tight Races in the Mid-Majors: Part I

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 2nd, 2016

In this NCAA Basketball preview season, we are bombarded with lists. One common list is that of the trendy mid-major ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting college hoops world. Unfortunately, some of these high-quality teams find themselves in the same conference staring each other down for scarce March Madness bids. No mid-major is ever guaranteed an invitation to the Field of 68, of course, no matter how impressive it looks in November and December. Just ask the 2015-16 iterations of Monmouth and St. Mary’s about that. In this preseason post we will analyze several mid-major conference races that should be two-horse races, with details on each team, why they will (or not), and a bonus sleeper who isn’t yet in the conversation. Part I covering the WCC and Atlantic 10 will publish today. Part II on the Ivy League and MAAC will release later this week.

West Coast Conference—Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga

It's always fun when these two guys get their teams together

It’s always fun when these two guys get their teams together. (AP)

St. Mary’s

  • Who they are: Randy Bennett’s team came out of absolutely nowhere last year to become an offensive juggernaut, and the Gaels return every important piece from that 29-6 team. All six returning perimeter players are above average three-point shooters, with junior Aussie guard Emmett Naar looking an awful lot like the next Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Rahon acting as a capable secondary playmaker. On the inside, Dane Pineau is ruthlessly efficient and productive, and his backup Jock Landale is no slouch either. The Gaels play at a glacial pace and they don’t beat themselves.
  • Why they will win: This is going to be one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball once again. Last year’s team went 29-6 and last year’s team is essentially this year’s team with another year of experience. The Gaels could be second weekend good.
  • Why they will lose: If we learned anything last year, it is that St. Mary’s has no margin for error with Gonzaga also in the conference. The defense has to be good enough to compete and the outside shots have to fall. Otherwise, the Gaels may be on the outside looking in once again.

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Keeping the Big 12 Expansion Doors Open

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2016

For a little while on Monday, it seemed like the Big 12 might actually expand after months of indecisiveness. As we all know now, the league’s press conference ended up being a whole lot of nothing as commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced an extension of the status quo (until it comes up again this winter and we do this dance all over again). The will-they/won’t-they is frustrating enough for college football fans with their sport driving the decisions (or lack thereof), but it’s also exasperating on the basketball side as we’re merely along for the ride. If there’s any solace we can take from the seemingly seasonal Big 12 expansion talks, it is that the programs mentioned most frequently each have considerable basketball juice to bring to the table. Football may steer the ship in terms of overall revenue potential, but the hoops programs at BYU, Cincinnati and Connecticut would certainly make basketball even more competitive than it already is, with invested fan bases and strong histories in tow. Let’s take a closer look at each.

BYU

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

  • The Lowdown: The Cougars may not be as nationally relevant as they were when NPOY Jimmer Fredette was rewriting the school’s record books twice a week, but there’s still a lot to like about this program. Head coach Dave Rose has led BYU to NCAA Tournament appearances in eight of his 11 seasons at the helm, although they’ve only advanced to the Round of 32 twice and the Sweet Sixteen once in those chances. They play a very entertaining brand of offensive basketball, pushing tempo, valuing possessions, and knocking down threes. That might suggest a finesse style in the vein of Hoiberg-era Iowa State, but they also crash the defensive glass with complete abandon, ranking among the upper echelon in defensive rebounding rate on an annual basis.

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With such a high level of success and an entertaining blueprint to match, the Cougars have transformed the Marriott Center into a fortress, losing just four conference games there over the last three seasons. BYU regularly ranks among the top 15 schools in attendance, topping every current Big 12 program other than Kansas.

  • Recent Big 12 Meetings: The Cougars are incredibly tough to beat at home, but Iowa State did just that in November 2014, winning a 90-88 thriller in Provo. Just five days later, though, BYU exacted revenge on the Big 12 with an 86-82 win over Texas in Kansas City. Going back even further than that, BYU also lost to Iowa State in Ames in 2013 and dropped a pair of games to Baylor that same year — once in Waco and then in New York in the NIT semifinals. Read the rest of this entry »
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Lock Your Doors: Potential Bid Thieves

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 4th, 2016

No two words strike fear into the hearts of college basketball’s bubble-dwelling teams like “bid thieves.” The aptly named conference tournament crashers have a ripple effect on the rest of the landscape, impacting teams from leagues far beyond their own. When a team with no legitimate at-large aspirations wills their way into the field, another program’s season is suddenly viewed through a dramatically sadder lens (such is life in the NIT). A bid thief, like any good bandit, is sneaky and unsuspecting. If we all knew who they were at the outset of the conference tournaments, they wouldn’t be very effective thieves. Still, there are signs and symbols to look for. First and foremost, the pool of suspects all hail from a conference that has a team that owns a resume strong enough to merit an at-large bid. That means the potential bid thief population comprises second tier mid-major clubs and the also-rans of power conferences. From that group, at least one or two teams will almost definitely rise and dash the hopes of those on the bubble. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can spot some a caper before they become one.

Northern Iowa is peaking at just the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa is peaking at the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa

The Panthers are the perfect place to start, as they boast a textbook bid thief background. UNI has beaten North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Sounds like the beginning of an at-large case? Not exactly. Ben Jacobson’s club also had a stretch this season where they lost 10 of 15, including duds against Missouri State (KenPom #241) and Loyola (KenPom #185). They’ve been utterly inconsistent throughout the season, despite the aforementioned flashes of impressiveness. If the team that’s 4-1 against the KenPom top 50 shows up to Arch Madness, the Panthers are absolutely a threat to knock off Wichita State and steal the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid. UNI has won eight of its last nine (which includes a victory in Wichita), so everything could be breaking right for this thief to emerge in St. Louis.

Iona

If Monmouth fails to win the MAAC tournament, the Hawks would find themselves squarely on the bubble, even with that tidy list of non-conference wins (most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown). The MAAC tournament will be far from a cakewalk for Monmouth, with second seeded Iona looming as its toughest test. The Gaels and Hawks split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Monmouth came out on top in a wild, 200+ total point, trash-talking, slap-fight-inspiring battle in mid-January, while Iona returned the favor by beating Monmouth by 16 in a less remarkable affair. If the basketball gods are good to us, we’ll see these two square off again in Albany. Both play at a breakneck pace (each are in the top 30 nationally in possessions per game), as Iona is able to run with Monmouth in a way most teams can’t. They also may have the best player you don’t know about. Iona senior AJ English is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game and has multiple 40+ point games this season. An English-dominated conference tournament could mean a two-bid MAAC – a scary proposition for bubble teams everywhere else.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 01.12.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 12th, 2016

morning5

  1. The big news over the weekend was UNLV‘s decision to fire Dave Rice resigning at UNLV. On one hand the news isn’t exactly showing as Rice had brought in good recruiting classes, but failed to produce the type of success you would hope to have at what should really be the premier program in the Mountain West. On the other hand, the decision to fire a coach (everybody knows this was forced) in early January without a major scandal is quite unusual. In the end, Rice’s 98-54 record simply was not good enough or more specifically his 38-28 record after starting his time with a 51-19 record. The big question is who will take over after Todd Simon‘s stint as interim coach. One name that we have seen floated out there is former NBA coach Mike Brown, which would certainly fit the criteria of being a (fairly) big name with experience coaching superstars that might appeal to recruits. He also might be as good as UNLV can get because despite what some in the fan base might think it probably isn’t any better than a top 30 or 40 coaching position.
  2. Last week couldn’t end soon enough for Arizona as they not only lost both of their games (UCLA and USC), but they also lost Allonzo Trier for 4-6 weeks after he broke a bone in his right hand in Saturday’s quadruple-overtime loss to USC. Trier, who led the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game, is the third significant player for the Wildcats to miss time this year as Kaleb Tarczewski recently returned from injury and Ray Smith is out for the season after tear in his ACL in October. Despite this latest injury, Arizona still has the potential to win the Pac-12, but their road just got much tougher. The bigger question will be whether Trier will be healthy and back to form when March rolls around.
  3. Much of the talk about the economics of college sports has focused in on the pay of coaches, but as The Washington Post points out the salaries of “Power 5” conference commissioners (or more specifically the increase in salaries) might be even more noteworthy. While the average pay of $2.58 million might not seem like that much compared to the money that some coaches make, the increase in their pay over the past 14 years by 258% is more notable as well as many of the nice perks they get with the job. We can understand the rationale that they have more on their plate now with conference realignment and their own cable networks, but it is still a pretty cush job. The one thing that we would love to see included in an analysis like this is what CEOs of organizations with similar revenue figures make.
  4. The announcement that Larry Krystkowiak was putting a temporary halt to the UtahBYU series because of concern that it was becoming too intense has been widely criticized as an overreaction to incidents that happened in two of the past three meetings. To be fair, both of the incidents were the result of actions by BYU players (Nick Emery this past year and Erik Mika two years earlier), but we are not sure that the potential risks of further incidents happening is high enough to put a hold on one of the best rivalries in college basketball. For now, Utah has canceled the 2016 game and there has been no public talk about restarting the rivalry after that. We are not sure why the schools couldn’t at least do something like what Cincinnati and Xavier did after their famous “Zip ‘Em Up” game where they played on a neutral court for two years. We’ll admit that even that seems a little ridiculous, but it’s better than suspending the rivalry.
  5. One of the major criticisms of the college coaching ranks is how underrepresented minorities are in comparison to what you see on the court/field. As a result, a group of minority coaches (National Association for Coaching Equity and Development) is pushing for an “Eddie Robinson Rule,” which would be similar to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule, that would require all universities to interview a minority candidate for any coaching or leadership opening. While this seems good in theory as we have seen in the NFL this can often be simply paid lip service and it’s unclear how much impact it would have without adequate enforcement.
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Blame the System for Utah Bailing on the BYU Rivalry

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 7th, 2016

In a joint statement last night, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak and athletic director Dr. Chris Hill casually let it leak that the school will break its existing contract with BYU in backing out of next season’s meeting in Provo. That’s bad enough, but the pair made matters worse by claiming the decision was a result of escalating intensity in the rivalry that creates “the potential for serious injury.” The curious timing and Krystkowiak’s sudden concern for everyone’s safety made the excuse look especially flimsy — but thankfully, Twitter was quick to call out Utah’s shenanigans. Yet amid all the well-deserved scorn that was heaped the school’s administrators, there is one thing they deserve credit for. That is being brave enough to do what every other Power 5 coach and athletic director wishes they could do — find a defensible way to stop playing quality mid-major opponents on the road.

It's Inexcusable That Such a Great Basketball Rivalry is Ending (USAT Images)

It’s Inexcusable That Such a Great Basketball Rivalry is Ending (USAT Images)

Do not be deceived — that is what this decision boils down to. BYU has a long history of accusations levied against it for playing dirty in basketball and other sports. But despite the various incidents cited in Utah’s statements, this isn’t about player safety. It isn’t about animosity between the two programs (although it certainly exists). It isn’t because either program has done anything worth cancelling one of the country’s most entertaining hoops rivalries. It is because Utah, now headstrong and comfortable with its status in the much-richer Pac-12, has nothing to gain from playing a very good BYU team in Provo next season. The actual reasons for this maneuver are so transparent to be almost offensive, and the statements from both men were so patronizing in blaming BYU that it is easy to see why Cougars’ head coach Dave Rice was so fired up about the decision. In the end, the cost to Utah will only be $80,000 in a guarantee fee, a few bad days of publicity and some lingering bad blood with its rival down the road. All of which will seem like a small price to pay when next season’s game with BYU is replaced with a home game against an overmatched Big Sky team and Utah mops the floor with them.

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Morning Five: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 4th, 2015

morning5

  1. Jim Boeheim finally heard from the NCAA in his appeal of his nine-game suspension that was supposed to coincide with the start of NCAA play. Unfortunately for Boeheim, it was not the ruling he wanted as the NCAA decided to start the suspension immediately with the Syracuse‘s next game, which is against Georgetown on Saturday. Boeheim will still miss the same number of games, but will only miss three ACC games. Boeheim is also not allowed to have any contact with his players during that time. Many pundits have chimed in claiming that it is unfair of the NCAA to wait so long to make a decision that begins so quickly. We can agree with that to a degree, but as usual we tend to side with Luke Winn on his thoughts about Boeheim and the reaction to the NCAA’s decision.
  2. BYU freshman Nick Emery has been suspended for one game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor late in their game on Wednesday. For his part, Emery apologized to Taylor and basically everybody else in attendance. The one-game suspension is an automatic suspension by the NCAA and the West Coast Conference issued a statement calling it “unacceptable”. Interestingly, BYU has not issued a comment on the matter and Emery will not face any additional punishment from the school (apparently, punching your opponent isn’t a violation of the Honor Code).
  3. Stephen Curry may be putting together one of the greatest offensive seasons we have ever seen in the NBA and he is the most famous person ever to go to Davidson (ok, he’s probably the only reason most of the country has even heard of Davidson), but that doesn’t mean the school is going to break its rules for him. To be honest, we weren’t even aware that Davidson had not retired Curry’s jersey yet (they probably could have done it after he led them to the Elite 8 his sophomore year and before he returned for his junior year), but the school has a policy that it only retires the jerseys of players who have graduated (Curry says he will eventually go back and get it). While we applaud Davidson for sticking by this (something other more prominent programs in the state did away with years ago), we have to wonder how long they will wait if Curry doesn’t go back and get his degree.
  4. For a program that has been so successful over the past few years Villanova tends to fly under the radar. This year is no different as despite their high rankings in the polls we don’t see them on TV that much as the featured game of the night. So there is a chance you might not have seen (or possibly even heard) of Jalen Brunson yet despite the fact that he was one of the top recruits in the class of 2015. Lee Jenkins has an excellent piece about Brunson and how his father’s career and the struggles he had helped shape Jalen into the player he is today. It’s well worth your time even if you don’t see Brunson play much during the regular season because you could be seeing a lot of him in March.
  5. We usually don’t touch on media matters here in the Morning Five outside of TV contracts and things like that, but we thought Ed Sherman’s article on the changing landscape of media access to be fairly interesting. The concept/complaint is not particularly new and it is part of the reason that you won’t find as many in-depth pieces as you used to see (also a reflection of the desire of the public to read short pieces instead of more intricate stories). Sherman focuses on college football, but we are sure the issues are the same in college basketball. One of the things that Sherman doesn’t talk about, but is worth mentioning is that many schools are trying to brand themselves as media entities and control the message and the way their student-athletes and program is presented to the public.
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Other 26 Previews: West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on November 11th, 2015

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

2015-16 Projected Order of Finish

Same As It Ever Was in 2015 as Gonzaga Won Another WCC Trophy

Same As It Ever Was in 2015 as Gonzaga Won Another WCC Trophy

  1. Gonzaga (35-3, 17-1 in the WCC)
  2. BYU (25-10, 13-5)
  3. Saint Mary’s (21-10, 13-5)
  4. Pepperdine (18-14, 10-8)
  5. San Diego (15-16, 8-10)
  6. Santa Clara (14-18, 7-11)
  7. San Francisco (14-18, 7-11)
  8. Pacific (12-19, 4-14)
  9. Portland (17-16, 7-11)
  10. LMU (8-23, 4-14)

Player of the Year

  • Kyle Wiltjer, 6’10” senior forward, Gonzaga

Rookie of the Year

  • Anthony Townes, 6’6″ freshman forward, Pacific

All-Conference First Team

  • Kyle Collinsworth, G, BYU, 6’6″, 210
  • Jared Brownridge, G, Santa Clara, 6’2″, 190
  • Josh Perkins, G, Gonzaga, 6’3″, 185
  • Stacy Davis, F, Pepperdine, 6’6″, 235
  • Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga, 6’10”, 240

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Ranking the Pac-12 Top 20 Non-Conference Games: Part II

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 22nd, 2015

Early today we unveiled our list of spots #20 through #11 in our list of the top 20 non-conference games featuring Pac-12 teams this season. Below we list the top 10 while getting increasingly pumped for some actual games.

10. 11/16 San Diego State at Utah – A rematch of last year’s snoozer as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, this has almost every chance in the world to be another knock-down, drag-out, back-alley rock fight. All the warning signs are there: an early season contest; two teams who love to go deep into the shot clock; adjustment to the new 30-second shot clock; freshman point guards; defense-first coaches. It’s a good thing that this game is early in the marathon lineup because if it tipped off at around mile 20 or so, you might be tempted to pack it in. Still, two Top 25-caliber teams squaring off means I’ll be watching.

Nobody Mistook San Diego State/Utah '14 For A Beautiful Game; Expect More Of The Same in '15 (Gregory Bull, AP Photo)

Nobody Mistook San Diego State/Utah ’14 For A Beautiful Game; Expect More Of The Same in ’15 (Gregory Bull, AP Photo)

9. 12/3 – Kentucky at UCLA – After watching UCLA lose by a literal bazillion last year (I mean, I didn’t actually see the final score, but based on those first five minutes I assume it was something like: Kentucky, a bazillion, and UCLA, 44), I’m hesitant to put this game so high. But it is a game between two of the blue-bloods in our sport and there will be plenty of talent on both ends of the court. Even if this game turns into another blowout, I’d like to do everything I can to encourage more of these kinds of games.

8. 12/19 UCLA vs. North Carolina in Brooklyn – See above. After watching UCLA roll over and quit against the Tar Heels  in last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, I’m hesitant to put this game this high. But… well, you know the rest. Read the rest of this entry »

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Where 2015-16 Happens: Reason #30 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2015

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2015-16 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 13. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#30 – Where Sextuple Triple-Double Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-14 and 2014-15 preseasons.

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