News like that which came out of Bowling Green, Ohio, yesterday is nothing less than extremely disappointing from a societal standpoint. Ignorance, of course, knows no bounds, and it’s clearly alive and well in northwestern Ohio. The Toledo Bladereports that a swastika along with the words “white power” were written in chalk sometime Saturday night outside the home of Bowling Green head coach Louis Orr, an African-American. A former star at Syracuse in the 1970s, Orr has been the head coach at the MAC school for the last five seasons, owning a 76-82 record. A city police representative stated that no direct threats were made against Orr and his family nor where they in danger of “immediate harm,” but that’s more or less like putting fancy lipstick on a pig. Much like the pig, these actions by a coward (or group of them) are disgusting and have no place in modern American society.
A little recruiting news leaked out about Jabari Parker last night, but not the kind anyone wants. After narrowing his list to five schools a couple of weeks ago — BYU, Stanford, Duke, Michigan State, and Florida — there was some hope that the nation’s top prospect in the Class of 2013 (according to some) would be ready to make his choice during the November 14-21 signing period. Alas, no dice, according to his father. Parker is planning on taking all five of his official visits in coming weeks, with his final trip to Provo ending on November 20. With just one day to then narrow his list from five schools to one, the 6’8″ forward has decided to put off his verbal commitment until December at the earliest — meaning, of course, that no pen will touch paper until next April. Also, the recent decision by the Church of Latter-Day Saints to allow its members to begin serving their missions at the age of 18 could also play a role in Parker’s (a practicing Mormon) recruitment. Although we can’t imagine that the talented young player would preclude his manifest destiny into the NBA for an additional one or even two years, it must be considered as a factor in the analysis.
The Colonial Athletic Association held its Media Day in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday, and it is certainly strange to not see VCU represented among its now-11 members. Without the Rams to get in the way, the league’s coaches and media voted Bruiser Flint’s Drexel Dragons as the top team in the league, with Delaware, George Mason, and Old Dominion following behind. Junior point guard Frantz Massenat, an all-CAA first teamer last season when he averaged 14/3/5 APG while leading the Dragons to a 29-7 overall record (16-2 CAA), was selected as the preseason CAA Player of the Year. Delaware in the second slot in the preseason standings is surprising because the Blue Hens have been so bad for so long since joining the CAA in 2001 (only two winning conference seasons) that it’s hard to believe that they may have finally turned the corner (they probably have). Good for them.
With a number of schools changing conference affiliation every six months or so, conference realignment remains a dominant factor in the college basketball landscape. Will the Big East soon lose its distinction as the most consistently good hoops league to the ACC? Perhaps so, given that three of the league’s premier teams – West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh – will have departed for new conferences after next year, the latter two headed south to the ACC. It begs the question why some schools even consider sticking with their current leagues if they have offers on the table to join a more flourishing conference or – for the mid-majors of the world – the Atlantic 10. But Tuesday’s news that the CAAwill disallow departing schools Georgia State and Old Dominion from competing for a conference championship next season sheds some light on the drawbacks of bolting for greener pastures. Not only will these two schools be forced to pay a hefty exit fee of $250,000, but both must wait out a lame duck season in their current leagues without a chance to play for a conference championship. This is especially detrimental to the Monarchs, a team which finished fourth in the CAA last season and should have another good team next year. ODU essentially will waste a year of basketball competition that could significantly affect player focus and development and potentially result in transfers from young players who don’t want to wait two or three seasons for its transition to Conference USA to run smoothly.
Blaine Taylor’s ODU Monarchs won’t have much to play for in the CAA next season (AP Photo)
As we mentioned earlier in today’s Morning Five, it’s been surprising that other conferences haven’t imposed similar restrictions on departing schools. How crazy would it be if Syracuse and Pittsburgh were unable to compete in the Big East Tournament next season? The CAA has a long-standing rule that migrating schools are not allowed to compete in their postseason tournament, and conference commissioner Tom Yeager says that the universities fully understood the punishments when they decided to bolt. “The conference bylaws were well understood and evaluated when the institutions made their decision to withdraw from the conference,” he said. “We desire to have those institutions that are fully invested in the continued prosperity of the conference represent the conference as its champion.” So now, unless ODU puts together one of the 37 most impressive at-large resumes in hoops next season (highly unlikely), the Monarchs won’t have a realistic shot at the Big Dance despite a flourishing young roster. This puts in perspective how fortunate VCU is to have received immediate acceptance into the Atlantic 10. The Rams won one, and nearly two, games in the NCAA Tournament last season after winning the CAA Tournament (firmly on the bubble at the time). Shaka Smart’s team likely would not have qualified for the Big Dance had it not have played so well to win the league tourney.
There are many coaching hires where the logical process makes normal and complete sense to everyone – a longtime assistant is promoted to the top job; a big personality moves on to a school to match his ego; a mid-major guy is looking for more resources and talent. Occasionally, though, a random hire has everyone around the industry scratching his head wondering what they missed. It’s not very often that you’ll see a career assistant coach — mostly at the collegiate level, at that — make the jump to NBA head coach, but that’s exactly what St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap did this week. Other than a handful of games when head coach Steve Lavin was out with prostate cancer last season, Dunlap has spent the last six seasons as an assistant, and the extent of his head coaching experience came at Division II Metro State from 1997-2006. Dunlap reportedly beat out more prominent names such as Jerry Sloan, Brian Shaw, and Quin Snyder for the position, and although according to Jeff Goodman everyone knows he can coach, this is a real gamble on the part of the GOAT as part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
If a player only sets foot on your campus for the better part of eight months, is it OK for an alumnus to claim that star as one of his own? That’s the question posed by Grantland’s Bryan Curtis as a Longhorn considering the provenance of one Kevin Durant, one of the NBA’s brightest stars but a player who probably wasn’t around Austin long enough to even witness the bats on Congress Avenue Bridge. Curtis ultimately settles on the answer “yes,” – shocking, we know – but he actually digs up some thoughtful and relevant examples of other prominent Texas grads who were early entries into the work force well before it was fashionable. A couple of those names? Walter Cronkite and Michael Dell.
Stop the presses, but Fab Melo has decided to speak about his suspensions last season at Syracuse. If you recall, the Big East DPOY was suspended twice during the season, including a devastating NCAA Tournament suspension that essentially killed the Orange’s realistic chances at a national title. The reason: (drum roll) academics. Melo is touring around the country in an effort to improve his draft stock, and he decided to talk about his time away from Jim Boeheim’s team during his sophomore year this week. To wit, “They ask, I explain (what) happened — that I came from another country and until four years ago didn’t even speak English.” This is all fine and well, but if we were an NBA scout, we might be willing to look past one indiscretion — but dropping the ball during the most important month of his collegiate career is an altogether different story. Did he forget how to stay eligible between the first part of his sophomore year and his second? Or did he realize he was going to be a millionaire soon and decided to stop caring about classes? That’s the question that should be asked — whether the answer is relevant to his future prospects as a ball player isn’t for us to decide.
With all the bad blood surrounding conference realignment, we’re actually surprised that we haven’t seen what the CAA has decided to do more often. The league announced on Tuesday that departing members Old Dominion and Georgia State – both of which will remain in the league in 2012-13 – will not be eligible to compete for conference championships next year. The CAA’s Council of Presidents voted unanimously to uphold a longstanding rule meant to dissuade schools from jumping ship. VCU, which will join the Atlantic 10 next month, will obviously not be impacted, but this goes to show that conference realignment at its core is something of a bloodsport, and memories of such influential people at the highest levels tend to not easily erase.
We sorta love it when in-state rivalries are exacerbated through the local media, and NC State is only the latest and greatest to use the old standbys — billboards and television ads — to make declarations of grandeur based on nothing more than marketing, spit, and perhaps a little duct tape. Whether you measure it by success or fans, there’s virtually no possible way to justify an assertion that the great state of North Carolina belongs to NC State, but hey, whatever gets the juices running (and it’s still funny). Of course, even if NC State has won the last 10,000 football games against UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest combined, that’s still not what matters in the Tar Heel State any more than Auburn beating Alabama in basketball matters a lick. Kudos to NC State for giving it a shot, but nobody is fooled.
As we move through Championship Week (the second half of Championship Fortnight, of course), we’ll continue to bring you these short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. In this post, we’ve got the MVC, MAAC, and CAA champions ready to go…
The Bluejays Celebrate Their First MVC Title Since 2007 (Omaha W-H/M. Miller)
Missouri Valley Champion (28-5, 17-4)
RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #21/#35/#24
Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.5
Likely NCAA Seed: #5-#7
Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.
With Creighton’s MVC Tournament victory over Illinois State on Sunday, the Bluejays sit at 28 wins and are just one win away from tying the most in its history. Given that Greg McDermott’s team has one of the best players in the country along with a talented and experienced group of complementary players, it’s not inconceivable that the school could reach 30 wins to break the record. Should Creighton advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1974, it would represent the culmination of a year that CU fans, some of the best in college basketball, have dreamed of for some time. This team is capable of getting there.
The primary reason they’re capable has a lot to do with the scoring wunderkind known as the coach’s son, Doug McDermott. The sophomore wing can quite literally score from anywhere on the court — his 23.2 PPG includes a ridiculously efficient 61.2% field goal percentage (49.5% from three) and he has an array of moves by which he finds open looks all over the floor. The offense quite clearly runs through him, but his supporting cast of guard Antoine Young (12.5 PPG, 4.5 APG) and Gregory Echinique (9.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG) provide additional punch when needed.
The problem for Creighton lies with its defense. Contrasted with an elite offensive unit (#5 nationally), the defense is downright ugly (#186 nationally). Creighton could arguably end up with the biggest disparity between the two ends of the court in the entire tournament field, excluding a crazy #16 seed perhaps. This means that matchups for the Bluejays are exceptionally important because they will only win by outscoring another team, not by stopping them. Ideally, Creighton would find itself in a first game matchup against an equally bad defensive power conference team such as Northwestern or Mississippi State. Getting past that one, they’d then face a team like Florida or even Duke to give themselves a fighting chance to get into a gunner’s delight showcase with the other team. If Creighton, however, sees a team like Wisconsin or Georgetown up ahead, they’re going to have trouble breaking through for that elusive 30th win.
Last Night’s Lede – Not a single power conference team played on Monday night and there were only 12 total games played, yet it ended up being one of the best nights of the entire season. Why’s that? Because it was the first full night of Championship Week, in which all games taking place from here on out will come during postseason tournaments. Monday saw four conference tournament finals take place – two at 7:00 PM ET, two at 9:00 PM ET – on ESPN or ESPN2, and each game came down to the final possession. The four championships were decided by 13 total points and included three overtime sessions. There was also important action taking place in other mid-major tournaments, so let’s jump right into it…
Your Watercooler Moment – VCU Returns to the Tournament
Brad Burgess and VCU Shot Their Way Back to the Big Dance (Washington Examiner/L. Alvarez)
Last year’s unbelievable Cinderella story has guaranteed itself a place in the Big Dance once again this year. Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams were squarely on the bubble heading into Monday night’s CAA Tournament final, as was their opponent, Drexel. A hard-fought game in which VCU led by double-digits for much of the game wound up being close at the end and came down to the final possession when Drexel guard Frantz Massenat’s three for the tie hit the back iron. VCU earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and there’s not a single team in the bracket that wants to face Shaka Smart’s team in the first game next week. The Rams got 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals from Darius Theus while their star Brad Burgess had just six points. Drexel, which had just eight assists compared to 18 turnovers, now must sweat it out on Selection Sunday with a very strong conference showing but some weak overall profile numbers such as the #226 strength of schedule that won’t be pleasing to the NCAA Tourney committee. Don’t be shocked, though, if Drexel ends up making it so that you’ll see both of these teams playing again next week.
Tonight’s Lede. Friday night is usually reserved for the likes of the Ivy League and the MAAC, but that’s not the case during Championship Fortnight. With eight mid-major conference tournaments in action and 22 more teams eliminated from national title contention tonight, there were plenty of reasons to stay interested. Furthermore, we were treated with some compelling Ivy action as well as another look at one of the surprise teams of not only the Big East but also the entire country this year. Let’s jump into it…
Your Watercooler Moment. Cooley Than You.
Jack Cooley Is One of the Big East's Biggest Surprises This Year (US Presswire)
Just four days after Jack Cooley’s worst game of the year — a two-point, zero-rebound outing at Georgetown — the junior center returned to the lineup with a vengeance tonight, going for a 27/17 masterpiece on 10-15 shooting from the field to lock his team into a double-bye at next week’s Big East Tournament. The fact that we just wrote the previous sentence — that Notre Dame finished in the top four of the Big East standings and received a double-bye — is nothing less than phenomenal and a testament to the vast improvement of Cooley and several of his teammates this season. After losing its top three players to graduation (Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott) and injury (Tim Abromaitis), nobody expected the youthful Irish to do much of anything this year. Instead, Mike Brey’s team is now locked into the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament and owns the only victory of the season over the Syracuse juggernaut. We’re not completely sold on the Irish making a deep run into March Madness, but the fact of the matter is that Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in the country given that he’s pushed his team to six straight 20-win seasons and will make the NCAAs for the fifth time in six seasons.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Harvard Keeps Hope Alive. It’s seemed a foregone conclusion for months that Harvard would win the Ivy League’s automatic bid this season and earn its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in over six decades. After last weekend’s home loss to Penn, however, the Crimson and Quakers were locked in a tie with two defeats each in the loss column. The Ivy doesn’t do artificial tiebreakers — like last year’s Harvard-Princeton classic, they decide their ties on the court. With alumnus Jeremy Lin watching from the stands in Morningside Heights tonight, Harvard barely survived Columbia in a nail-biting game that went to overtime. Penn kept the pace with an easier win over Brown, but HU will travel next to Cornell while the Quakers still have a home game against Yale before its rivalry game at Princeton on Tuesday. With one more win Saturday, the Crimson are at least guaranteed a berth in the Ivy playoff game again, but they probably do not want to tempt the basketball gods by losing that one.
On Saturday night, the only two undefeated teams in the CAA faced off in a battle for first place, as Georgia State visited George Mason. Only one team could, and did, emerge victorious, as Mason held off the Panthers for a 61-58 win. But given the gulf that separated these two teams coming into the season, the result was a meaningful “win” for the coaches of both teams, each of whom has had something to prove during the early part of the CAA season.
At the start of this season, George Mason and Georgia State had little in common. Mason won 27 games last year, won the CAA regular season championship, and earned a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Georgia State went 12-19, finished in the bottom half of the CAA, and had its season promptly ended in the CAA Tournament — by George Mason. Mason has been a perennial CAA contender over the last several years and pulled off a miracle run to the Final Four in 2006. Georgia State has been a perennial also-ran since joining the CAA in 2005 and hasn’t played a single national postseason game of any kind. Mason, returning three starters from last year’s squad, was picked to finish second in the conference this year. Georgia State was picked to finish second to last.
Mike Morrison and George Mason Edged Georgia State for First Place, but the Panthers are "Gonna Be Around to Stay for a While"
About the only thing the Patriots and the Panthers shared was an offseason coaching change. But the circumstances of the two coaching changes were considerably different, one resulting from success, the other from futility. Jim Larranaga, who built the Mason program and led the Patriots on their improbable Final Four run in 2006, left for the higher profile of the ACC, landing a coaching job at Miami. Mason, in turn, landed a coach with a high profile ACC pedigree and his own Final Four experience to replace him: Paul Hewitt, who took Georgia Tech to the Final Four in 2003. Georgia State’s coaching change was the result of four subpar seasons turned in by Rod Barnes. To replace him, the Panthers went deep into the Summit League, where they found Ron Hunter, who had been coaching at IUPUI since well before it was a Division I program.
I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Sunday’s BB&T Classic.
New year, new team. Somebody tell the press. “Half the questions from the media, even now, December 4, are about last year” said VCU coach Shaka Smart after Sunday’s 75-60 win over George Washington in the first game of the BB&T Classic. “In our mind, last year’s over, and it’s not gonna win us any games this year.”
Way Too Early to Count Out Shaka Smart's VCU Rams
Fair enough, Coach. But while VCU can’t carry over any wins from last season, what it has replicated is the same style of play that took the Rams on their historic run to the Final Four. Just like last year, this year’s team relies on a frenetic, turnover-generating defense with heavy ball pressure. And just like last year, the offense is not built around a super-efficient field goal percentage. Rather, the Rams will try to beat you with second-chance points and three-point shots.
Despite losing four starters to graduation, VCU showed on Sunday just how effectively the current team can execute this approach. Against a GW squad undergoing its own transition — from coach Karl Hobbs to coach Mike Lonergan — VCU generated 17 turnovers and turned them into 21 points. They torched the Colonials from the three-point line on 12-24 shooting. And while GW did a better job of keeping the Rams off the offensive glass in the second half, VCU built a 17-point first half lead on the strength of a 39% offensive rebounding rate.
Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!
#27 – Where So Nice, He Had To Do It Twice Happens
We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 seasons.
Game #170. Let’s hand out a bid, shall we? It should be a mammoth battle tonight in the CAA, as two very good teams square off in Richmond.
Most everyone expected George Mason, the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular season champ, to be playing for a spot in the NCAA field when the league’s postseason tournament began. But that’s why they play the games. With a home advantage at the Richmond Coliseum, Virginia Commonwealth stole GMU’s thunder behind a hail of three-point buckets and a shifting defense the Patriots just couldn’t solve. The No. 2 seed in the tourney, Old Dominion, showed why it went 14-4 in the conference by punishing Hofstra in the other semifinal behind 21 points from center Frank Hassell. Now the upstarts and the last heavyweight left will battle for the CAA’s automatic berth in the Field of 68 on Monday night in the CAA Championship. The two split in the regular season, with each winning on the road. That bodes well for Old Dominion. But don’t look past the suddenly confident VCU Rams, who enjoy a raucous home-court advantage and All-Conference talent to boot. Join us tonight, live, from Richmond Coliseum at 7 p.m. ET.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at email@example.com.
This Week’s Topic: Many of the small conferences are starting their tournaments this week. Which one do you find the most compelling in terms of the possibility of upsets and/or creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee in a little over a week? Also, pick a relatively unknown team that you’d like to see make a run through their conference tourney so that America will get to watch them play on the big stage in March Madness.
Walker Carey, RTC contributor.
I think the Horizon League Tournament is the small conference tournament that is the most compelling in terms of creating chaos for the NCAA Selection Committee. In my mind, Butler, Cleveland State, and Milwaukee are the only teams that have the capability of winning the tournament. If Butler loses (which is very possible), it will be very interesting to see how the committee will view the Bulldogs’ resume. I tend to believe that Cleveland State will win the Horizon League championship because they have the best player in the league on their team in senior guard Norris Cole. I would enjoy to see the Vikings make a run to the Horizon League championship and shake things up in the tournament like they did when they were a #13 seed and upset #4 seed Wake Forest two seasons ago. With Cole, I think this is very possible for Gary Waters’ Cleveland State squad.
John Stevens, RTC editor.
I’ll take the Colonial. You’ve got six 20-win teams out of twelve, and you’ve got to figure George Mason has a bid locked up with Old Dominion looking good, as well. Let’s say someone like Drexel (a 20-9 team with a resume that includes a win at Louisville, mind you) gets hot and wins this thing. Could we be looking at a four-bid year for the Colonial, with James Madison or VCU sneaking in as a function of the soft bubble this year? And how can you not root for William & Mary, a team that’s never been to the NCAA Tournament, after the fantastic case they made for at-large inclusion last year? As far as a team I’d like to see make a run, I’ll go with Morehead State. It wouldn’t be much of a run, of course, since as a 2-seed they earned that weird double-bye in the OVC Tournament and only need to win two games (same situation as 1-seed Murray State) to claim the title. But the world needs to see Kenneth Faried play at this level one more time. He and the Eagles won a preliminary round game in 2009 before getting cooked by 1-seed Louisville, and two NCAA Tournament games for the Fabulous Faried just doesn’t seem like enough.
Danny Spewak, RTC contributor.
Vermont won the America East Conference by one game and rightfully earned the top seed in the tournament by avoiding slip-ups against the league’s lower-tier teams. You’ll want to keep an eye on this tourney, though, because Vermont hasn’t exactly faired well against the top of the AE. Second-seeded Boston University swept Vermont this year, including an overtime win Sunday. And the third seed, Maine, routed the Catamounts on their home floor back in January. The Black Bears, a preseason favorite, have since collapsed and lost seven of eight games to finish the season. Regardless, either team could still pose a threat to Vermont’s NCAA tourney hopes at some point during the next week. For sympathy’s sake, I’d like to see Weber State win the Big Sky this March and pluck a spot in the Big Dance. How can you not feel bad for this program? Two years ago, the Wildcats ripped through the league with a 15-1 record but slipped to the NIT. Last year, Anthony Johnson’s legendary performance helped Montana stun the regular season champs again. Finally, 2010-11 appeared to be “The Year,” with two-time POY Damian Lillard returning for his senior year. Naturally, he broke his foot and played just 10 games this year, and he’ll now wait on the status of a medical redshirt. It’d be nice to see the third-seeded Wildcats win three games for their tragic hero.
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.
As we near the weekend, more of the higher profile Other 26 conferences are beginning their postseason tournaments. In the east, the CAA, MAAC, and Southern Conference all get going with matinee affairs between Georgia State and UNC-Wilmington in the CAA and UNC-Greensboro and Davidson in the SoCon. Out west, the West Coast Conference kicks off their first round in what looks to be a very competitive tournament with St. Mary’s recent struggles and the resurgence of Gonzaga.
Colonial Athletic Association
The Favorite: Behind Cam Long and Ryan Pearson, George Mason has dominated the CAA and is the clear favorite to win the league. Old Dominion will be a tough challenger for the Patriots though.
Dark Horse: There have been many instances throughout the year that Virginia Commonwealth looks to be just as good as George Mason, but ending the year losing four straight games in the CAA will not instill confidence in many people. The Rams’ ability and talent is clearly there, and if they can string some wins together they can win the CAA championship.
Who’s Hot: George Mason winning 14 straight CAA games makes them easily the hottest CAA team.
Player to Watch: One of the most decorated players in Hofstra basketball history, Charles Jenkins is the best player to don a CAA uniform this year. The senior from Queens, NY is averaging 23.2 points per game.
First-Round Upset: William & Mary over James Madison. After having a very successful 2009-10 season, the Tribe has largely struggled this year, but is entering the CAA tournament having win two of three games. They have also split the season series with JMU this season winning the last game 73-67 and losing the first one 84-79.
How’d They Fare?Old Dominion, as a #11 seed, defeated Notre Dame 51-50 and then fell to Baylor in the second round.
Interesting Fact: The last time the CAA sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament was in 2007 when Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion went; it appears as if the CAA will be a multi-bid conference this year.