AAC M5: 11.21.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 21st, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Sometimes, when you are afraid you won’t have enough news to fill the Morning Five, you have to pray to the College Basketball News Gods. They don’t always listen to your prayers, but when they do, they always answer them by sending Richard Andrew Pitino to save the day. After Louisville demolished Hartford on Tuesday night, Pitino could have just answered questions about the Kevin Ware speeding ticket by expressing his disappointment and moved on. Instead he took the time to make vague insinuations that the story only broke because a Kentucky fan tipped off the media outlets. It can’t be proven, but given the nature of this rivalry, absolutely no one would be surprised if Pitino’s suspicions were totally true. Ware’s suspension rumors from the summer were also supposedly started by someone in Big Blue Nation and let’s not pretend like Louisville fans are any nobler. They would be direct messaging every national college basketball writer in the country if they thought they could get Julius Randle suspended or even looked at by the NCAA. I’m not a proponent of trading in gossip but this is also partially what makes the rivalry between the teams so fun… so… uh… work those phones Cardinals’ and Wildcats’ fans!
  2. It’s a little bit surprising to hear that former Boston College coach Al Skinner never even bothered to call Shabazz Napier and at least feign interest just in case his preferred targets fell through. Napier wasn’t exactly a can’t-miss prospect coming out of prep school, but he did play in the Eagles’ backyard and was probably worth at least a phone call. Skinner’s loss (it is really Steve Donahue’s loss since he actually tried to recruit Napier but was too late) was Jim Calhoun’s gain as Napier has built himself into a conference player of the year candidate and the Huskies’ most important player. Napier gets a chance to indirectly exact his revenge tonight as the Huskies and Eagles square off at Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Classic. Donahue has a pair of solid sophomore guards in Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon, just don’t think for a second that either one of them is going to be able to stop Napier.
  3. The coronation of Troy Caupain as Cincinnati‘s point guard of the future will have to wait at least one more game after last night’s underwhelming performance. I won’t pick on the members of the media who were already starting to sing his praises because I was singing them just as loudly after his excellent all-around game against Appalachian State. But the beginning of the breakout that was supposed to happen against Campbell last night never materialized as Ge’Lawn Guyn played most of the minutes and Caupain missed the only two shots he took from the field to finish with one point, one rebound, one assist and one steal in just 14 minutes. I will readily admit that my itchy “breakout performer” trigger-finger got the best of me on this one, but I am not jumping of the Caupain bandwagon quite yet. Caupain is still more than a week away from his 18th birthday and he is already part of an AAC team’s rotation. He will undoubtedly have bouts of inconsistency throughout the season but he has a lot of room to grow and he is going to do that by playing a lot.
  4. The theme of the week for Temple is patience. Coach Fran Dunphy is preaching it. The student newspaper is preaching it; and star forward Anthony Lee is preaching it too. Although the Owls were picked to finish fifth in the preseason AAC coaches poll, it is now fair to wonder whether that prediction has more to do with the respect for Dunphy than it does with the Owls’ actual abilities. The outlook from KenPom is far less favorable (for those without the subscription, he is predicting the Owls finish 10-18) and the team is going to need to grow up in a hurry if they want to prove the prognosticators wrong. They have the pieces and a good amount of talent, but right now they aren’t particularly good in any facet of the game. They have been particularly bad from behind the three-point arc, shooting just over 26 percent from downtown, and they also rank near the bottom nationally when it comes to forcing turnovers. The hope is that some of this will improve as the team gets more comfortable and more experience, they just better hope that happens before its too late.
  5. I’m fine with giving Houston‘s TaShawn Thomas conference player of the week honors, as he has dominated in all four games this season. I am not fine with hyping Houston as a contender, however, not at least until they play someone even remotely worthwhile. They are still a bad defensive team, and while the offense is improving, it still isn’t that efficient and certainly not enough so to help them beat conference foes. The schedule doesn’t get any better against Howard, which rates as one of the worst teams in the country, so expect Thomas and Danuel House to get theirs in an easy win.  But the Cougars get a shot at Stanford at the Barclays Center on Monday and if they can beat the Cardinal, then I will consider to start to take the team seriously.
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ACC Game On: 12.29.11 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on December 29th, 2011

Last night we got the first glance of how Maryland will play with a full complement of players, and frankly, it looks pretty good compared to the shaky team that started the season. Point guard Pe’Shon Howard managed 11 points on only three field goal attempts while contributing eight assists and six rebounds against overmatched Albany. Meanwhile, Alex Len scored 14 points on nine shots while grabbing a team-high eight rebounds and three blocks. Both players demonstrated a bit of rust, turning the ball over a combined 11 times, but it’s easy to predict that to improve as both players get more live-game experience with their teammates. If these two can mesh with the rest of the team, the Terrapins become a much more dangerous team.

A Surprisingly Competitive Game

  • Yale at Wake Forest at 7:00 PM

The days of the ACC running roughshod over the Ivy League seem to be coming to an end. With a ranked Harvard team taking on a pitiful Boston College team, the honor of the ACC largely rests in the hands of Wake Forest. If this game was in Connecticut, I’d pick Yale in an instant, but in Winston-Salem the game is more evenly matched. Yale is a legitimately talented team with the height and skills to match up against the Demon Deacons. Both teams rely heavily on getting to the free throw line and though this isn’t true 99% of the time people say it, this game may come down to who can make the most free throws.

For Fans Only

  • Harvard at Boston College at 7:00 PM on ESPN3.com
  • Elon at North Carolina at 7:00 PM on ESPNU
  • Campbell at North Carolina State at 7:00 PM
  • Georgia Tech at Fordham at 8:00 PM on CBS College Sports

All of these games look to be fairly lopsided affairs, though the one game where the ACC is an underdog (Boston College against Harvard) has the spice of regional rivalry and role-reversal power dynamics. The North Carolina State game will give Wolfpack undergraduates and Campbell Law students an excuse to yell at each other in their shared Hillsborough St. bars. Fordham is not a very good team, but they are playing at home against an inconsistent Georgia Tech team. The Jack Wooten Classic gives another former Tar Heel an excuse to return to the Smith Center, but beyond the appeal of watching a former walk-on serve as an assistant coach, this game should turn into a rout very quickly.

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Checking In On… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2011

Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference.  You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.

Reader’s Take:

The Week That Was

  • Major Conference Assault… Big South teams threw down a few notable upsets since our last report: Presbyterian over Cincinnati 56-54 (Big East), Coastal Carolina over Clemson 60-59 (ACC), Campbell over Iowa 77-61 (Big Ten), and UNC Asheville over Utah 87-65 (Pac-12). Add that to Coastal Carolina’s victory over LSU (SEC), as noted in the last update, and the Big South has wins over teams from five of the six BCS conferences (regrettably no games against Big 12 teams remain, 0-2 in the only chances).
  • Temporarily Perfect… For the first time in conference history, two teams opened the season with five straight wins. Coastal Carolina and Campbell each reached 5-0 before dropping game number six (Campbell to Creighton and Coastal to FIU).
  • League Play Begins… Again this season, Big South Conference play gets a December preview before beginning in earnest on New Year’s Eve.  Most teams will get two chances to notch an early conference win, with games  on Thursday 12/1 and Saturday 12/3.  High Point and Asheville are the only two teams who will have just one game against a Big South foe this weekend.

Power Rankings:

1. UNC Asheville – (3-4/0-0)  The record gives an illusion of a lackluster start, but two of those losses were to top five programs (UNC & UConn) and another was to ACC foe NC State.  The one the Bulldogs would probably like back is the two-point loss to College of Charleston. Of course, this team also obliterated Utah by a healthy 22-point margin. Asheville is fine, and the tough early tests should only serve to get the squad ready for the games ahead.

2. Coastal Carolina – (5-1/0-0) While we figured any reports of CCU’s death were greatly exaggerated, getting early wins against both LSU and Clemson certainly opened some eyes.  The other contests on the Chanticleers’ schedule don’t offer much to go on so far, but even without some of the big-name players of past years, the two-time defending regular season champs are not going away anytime soon.

3. Campbell (5-1/0-0) - Rocketing up the charts, I present the Fighting Camels of Campbell. Okay, I was fooled before in thinking this team would be a middle-of-the-pack bunch this year because they are bringing it! Led by highlight-worthy senior Eric Griffin and rapidly-ascending freshman Trey Freeman, Campbell may well have something to say about the Big South race this season.

4. VMI (3-2/0-0) – The Keydets have knocked off equal and lesser competition so far, with losses to larger out-of-conference foes Air Force and Ohio State, those games also being the only ones with VMI held under 80 points.  Led by Keith Gabriel and ESPN Top 10 dunker Stan Okoye, VMI is still running and gunning. We will soon see if they can outpace conference foes this year.

5. Presbyterian College (3-3/0-0) – The Blue Hose got deserved recognition and attention for grabbing a win at top 20 Cincinnati in a demonstration of what can happen when they are clicking. A team that has seen the bottom of the standings in recent years should be no worse than the middle of the pack this season, and could frustrate several league foes along the way.

6. High Point (2-4/0-0) – They may not have the most attractive record to date, but the Panthers have been in every game they’ve played right down to the end.  Three of the four losses have been by only four or five points (the other was a 12-point margin). So while High Point has more losses than wins to show for November, the team has also demonstrated a little more fight than they have gotten credit for in the last couple of years and that could be important against familiar opposition in conference.

7. Charleston Southern (3-2/0-0) Saying your most impressive win of the year is against Stetson may not be shaking the pillars of college hoops, but the Bucs do bring a three-game win streak into league play after an 0-2 start, and that’s a very good sign for CSU. Bump them up for now, but see what comes out of the first week of December for a better barometer.

8. Liberty (2-5/0-0) – Ummm…dropping far down, at least for this week, is Liberty.  The Flames have lost four straight, and not exactly against a murderer’s row.  LU still has a fair chance to be in the mix this season, but the early skid does not offer much to go on. That said, the Flames have come back strong after slow starts before.

9. Radford (3-4/0-0) – What gives?  Radford has lost three in a row since the last report and moved up two positions?  Believe me, it says more about the other teams than it does Radford. We still think the Highlanders will have a rocky road to travel this season, and will likely finish at or near the bottom, but for now, slot them here.

10. Gardner-Webb (3-5/0-0) – Well, the record isn’t pretty, but some of that is deceptive. Yes, GWU is 3-5, and yes, that includes a four-game losing streak, but Bulldogs had to deal with five games in nine days at the Hoosier Invitational–and still had enough in the tank to pull out an overtime victory on that ninth day (76-74 over Chattanooga). So it’s bad, but it’s not ALL bad.

11. Winthrop (1-5/0-0) – Honestly, this is a “how the mighty have fallen” moment.  Winthrop was the class of the Big South for years, and has found a way to matter in the postseason even when not playing from the top, but things have taken a turn this year.  Winthrop needs a remedy–and fast.  Their lone win came at the expense of Central Penn, a 107-68 thrashing. Outside of that game and a four-point loss to Drake, Winthrop has not seriously challenged its opponents, losing by 12, 21, 22, and 23.  To be fair, two of those losses were Virginia and Marquette, and the Eagles were close for much of the Virgina game before being blown away down the stretch, but there aren’t many genuine positives to latch onto yet this season.

Looking Ahead

There are other games, sure, but the headliners right now are the conference pairings.  Here are some key ones to look for…

  • Liberty — at Campbell 12/1 & at Coastal 12/3… a very tough 1-2 punch to take for Liberty, facing two early power teams on the road, but a sincere measuring stick for where the Flames really stand.
  • VMI — at Coastal 12/1 & at Charleston Southern 12/3… if you’re looking for entertaining basketball, you should find it on VMI’s road trip, with plenty of running, and threes, and dunks…defense may be optional in these games.
  • Winthrop — at Presbyterian 12/1 & at Gardner-Webb 12/3… talk about measuring sticks–is it the old guard or the up-and-comers who will prevail?  Has Winthrop really fallen that far or was that an illusion?

Caught on Film

I’m not sure it gets much better than this–I can honestly say that it just doesn’t matter how many times I watch this dunk by Campbell’s Eric Griffin: the take-off from the Big South logo just shy of the free throw line, the posterizing of the unfortunate NC A&T player, the sheer vertical involved, you name it…I am spellbound each and every time.

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Checking In On… the Big South Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2011

Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference.  You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • New Gym, Part One: YES… UNC Asheville got its opportunity to show off the new Kimmel Arena with a marquee match-up against the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on ESPNU.  Eddie Biedenbach’s Bulldogs played with a tenacity befitting their nickname, hanging tight most of the way before falling, 91-75.
  • New Gym, Part Two: NO, but that’s OK… Coastal Carolina had once hoped that this past Tuesday would be the chance for the Chants to unveil their own shiny new room, but delays in construction may mean that’s a year away.  No matter: CCU welcomed LSU from the SEC to small Kimbel Arena in Conway — then proceeded to pull off the 71-63 upset.
  • Meet The New Member, Same as the Old Member: Campbell is back in the Big South.  The Fighting Camels were a founding member of the conference and played hoops with the Big South from 1983-94.  CU was 129-128 in those seasons–and stays on the plus side with wins in the first three games this year.

UNC Asheville Opened Up Its New Digs, But With A Loss To North Carolina

Power Rankings

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RTC Conference Primers: #26 – Big South Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2011

Mark Bryant, Big South Director of Multimedia Development and writer of BigSouthSHOUT, is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference. You can find him on Twitter at @BigSouthSports

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Mountain High Expectations: Will UNC Asheville hold serve as the favorite, now that the team is no longer in its typical role as the scrappy underdog?  Observers and opponents will not have their focus elsewhere this year, and Asheville will be showing off a new arena, no longer in the extra-cozy confines of the Justice Center which always provided a significant home court edge.
  • New to the Big South: Some familiar names to SEC fans have found their way to the Big South.  Mamadou N’Diaye, who played for Cliff Ellis at Auburn, will join Ellis on the Coastal Carolina bench, and B.J. McKie, who played at South Carolina when Barclay Radebaugh was an assistant there, will be part of Radebaugh’s staff at Charleston Southern.  Meanwhile, Radford is the lone school with a new head coach, as Mike Jones comes in to lead the Highlanders.  Campbell, a founding member of the Big South, rejoins the conference for the 2011-12 season.
  • Tourney Turnover: Changes to the Big South Championship format will allow all ten eligible teams into the field (Presbyterian College has one remaining year of transition to Division I and cannot play in the postseason).  Championship Week will be a wild ride, with the #7 & #8 seeds hosting the #9 and #10 seeds as “play-in” games on Monday night to get into the straight eight-team bracket.  The winners will be reseeded as the #7 and #8 seeds for the quarterfinals to allow for traditional pairings (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5).  Wednesday and Thursday of that week will be the quarterfinals and semifinals, all planned for the top seed’s home, with the Saturday final at the home of the higher surviving seed.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Summer Updates: Big South Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big South correspondent, Mark Bryant.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

  • New Kids On The Block:  The most obvious changes from last hoops season to the one upcoming are the new faces in the Big South Conference. First and foremost, there’s a whole new team to account for this year, as the Campbell Fighting Camels have returned. CU was a founding member of the Big South in 1983, but left in 1994. Now the boys from Buies Creek are back where they belong, nestled in among more geographic rivalries and familiar old foes. And while it’s not as dramatic as a whole new team, plenty of eyes will be on the new head man at Radford, where Mike Jones will be in charge of a rebuilding process for the Highlanders.
  • Old Faces, New Places: And while every conference sees plenty of shuffling among assistants from year to year, the Big South had a couple notable arrivals–particularly for those who have followed SEC hoops in the past. Charleston Southern added former South Carolina standout B.J. McKie to the coaching staff. McKie joins coach Barclay Radebaugh, who was on the USC bench in BJ’s days as a guard to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, up the beach from Charleston, Coastal Carolina and head coach Cliff Ellis have added their own familiar name in Mamadou N’Diaye, who played at Auburn for Ellis before launching his NBA career.
  • Changes of Scenery: Big South basketball locales will take on different looks both at home and away this year, as UNC Asheville and Coastal Carolina are putting the finishing touches on entirely new facilities, while several schools are hitting the road less traveled and going abroad.  Summer trips will take Presbyterian College to Italy, Gardner-Webb to the Bahamas, and Liberty to Belgium and France, plus once the season begins, we will see Winthrop head off to the Virgin Islands.

What do Asheville's Matt Dickey (2) and JP Primm have in store for an encore after last season's NCAA Tournament bid?

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Circle of March III

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2011

Three more conference tourneys kicked off last night, and that meant more eliminations from the national title race.  From the Atlantic Sun, OVC and Patriot League, let’s bid good tidings to Kennesaw State, Campbell, Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky, Colgate, Holy Cross, Army and Navy — there are now 302 schools still alive.

Coming next: a big night, as thirteen more teams will be eliminated from the national picture this evening.

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O26 Primers: Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley & Patriot League Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 2nd, 2011

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.

Three more conferences get their tournaments underway tonight which means that several more teams will have their dreams of advancing to the greatest Dance in the world dashed, while others will inch one step closer to winning their conference championship. Tonight the Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Patriot League tournaments all get underway. Belmont and Bucknell are the obvious favorites to win their respective conferences, but the Ohio Valley is a little unclear with Morehead State and Murray State butting heads at the top, and Austin Peay not too far behind.

Atlantic Sun

The Favorite: Belmont is the clear-cut favorite to win the league this year and advance to the Tournament for the first time since 2008 when they nearly upset Duke. A surprising setback at Lipscomb is the only loss that prevented the Bruins from going a perfect 20-0 in league play.

Dark Horse: Not surprisingly, Lipscomb is the dark horse to win the A-Sun. Although they have a rather pedestrian 12-8 record within the league, they were the only team to knock off Belmont. Plus, they boast one of the best players in the league with Adnan Hodzic as the senior forward from Bosnia is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds a night. In their victory over Belmont, Hodzic tore up the Bruins going off for 26 points.

Who’s Hot: Winning 19 games in conference and not losing to a team located outside the state of Tennessee makes Belmont the hottest team in the Atlantic Sun. To be honest, it would be a real shock if the Bruins were not the last team standing come March 5.

Player to Watch: With Mike Smith—the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year from ETSU—sidelined with an injury, there is no clear player to keep an eye on during the tournament. Lipscomb’s Josh Slater, however, is someone to definitely keep tabs on. Most of the attention is focused on Adnan Hodzic, but no one in the A-Sun can fill up the stat sheet quite like Slater who averages 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists.

First-Round Upset: Campbell over East Tennessee State. ETSU looked to be one of Belmont’s biggest threats in the conference tournament, but the Buccaneers have been decimated by injuries to two of their top players: Mike Smith (ankle) and Micah Williams (shoulder); their status for ETSU’s first game is uncertain. Campbell is one of the coldest teams around having lost eight of their last nine games, but lost by just seven points to ETSU in their last meeting.

How’d They Fare? ETSU was a 16 seed and was ripped apart by Kentucky 100-71 in last year’s Tournament.

Interesting Fact: Dating back to the 2005 Tournament, the highest seed the Atlantic Sun team has received in the NCAA Tournament has been a 15. Assuming Belmont wins the league this year, that will all change.

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Atlantic Sun Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. The A-Sun is among the first of the conference tournaments to tip off, with action set to begin Wednesday.

Tournament Preview and Prediction

The top two seeds play Wednesday, giving them a day off before playing in semifinal matchups Friday night. While weird stuff happens in March, there’s nothing to suggest that Belmont or ETSU should lose against Kennesaw State or Campbell, respectively.

On the other hand, a North Florida upset of Jacksonville or a Mercer victory over Lipscomb wouldn’t come as a surprise. The Ospreys’ season would be made by beating their crosstown rivals and the Bears are as hot as anyone not named Belmont in this league.

Regardless of who wins those games, though, it would be a real surprise if Belmont and ETSU didn’t play for the championship as they were clearly the league’s best teams. Strangely enough, the one fly in the ointment might be if Lipscomb survives Mercer on the Bears’ floor and gets a third crack at its Nashville rivals in the semifinals. All bets might be off at that point, but there’s a reason Belmont was 19-1 in the league this year. It had the best team and could win any type of game – fast, slow or moderately-paced. Look for the Bruins to win the A-Sun tourney and perhaps win an NCAA Tournament game with the right draw.

A Look Back

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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A Look Back

  • Belmont Clinches: By knocking off East Tennessee State, 68-58, Thursday night in Nashville, the Bruins clinched the regular season title and the top seed for next month‘s conference tournament in Macon, Georgia. Belmont also gained no worse than an automatic bid to the NIT should it somehow stumble in Macon, which looks doubtful. Easily the deepest, most physical and most talented team in the A-Sun, the Bruins could face tough semifinal and championship challenges in Macon but also appear well-equipped to handle them. Of course, weird things happen in March.
  • Bear Essentials: Back on January 31, Mercer senior forward Brandon Moore went down for the season with a torn ACL, joining teammate Jeff Smith on the sidelines. Instead of going back to their Georgia cave and whimpering in pain for the season’s remainder, though, the Bears fought back. Granted, a schedule larded with home games against A-Sun slugs didn’t hurt, but give Mercer credit for ripping off four straight wins and improving to 9-7 in the league, clinching a spot in the conference tournament. Bob Hoffman probably deserves a few Coach of the Year votes for this little surge.
  • Player of the Week: Mike Smith, East Tennessee State: Smith won the award for the fourth time, the most in recent A-Sun history, by averaging 25 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in homecourt wins over Jacksonville and North Florida. The clear favorite for A-Sun Player of the Year, Smith is in the league’s top five in scoring and rebounding. Just missing the gold medal were Campbell’s Eric Griffin, who scored 22.5 points per contest against Lipscomb and Belmont last week, and Markeith Cummings of Kennesaw State, who rattled off three 30-point games in a four-game span to fuel the Owls’ first extended burst of competence this year.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (24-4, 16-1)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. USC Upstate, 2/24 at Mercer
These guys are good. How good? Consider that they can fall behind North Florida by 11 with six an a half minutes left, as they did earlier this month in arguably their worst game of the season, and still rip off a 20-2 run to steal a 69-67 win. The Bruins have gotten everyone’s best shot for most of the conference season and have only slipped up once — in the second half of a January 25 loss at Lipscomb. Stat geek alert: Guard Kerron Johnson ranks sixth in Division-I in steal percentage (percentage of possessions that a player notches a steal while in the game) according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. On most teams, Johnson would start. Here, he’s backing up ultra-steady Drew Hanlen.

2. East Tennessee State (19-10, 14-4)
Next Week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 at Campbell
Remember two weeks ago when we warned that the Buccaneers could slip up on their road trip to Florida Gulf Coast and Stetson and you probably guffawed? That was before they somehow didn’t score in the last 5 minutes, 38 seconds and blew an 11-point lead in a brutal 55-54 loss at Stetson. While coach Murry Bartow was correct in nothing that the game affected nothing as far as the team’s NCAA hopes, since this league will only get one bid, it might keep this team from beating out the Big East’s 13th place team for a spot in the CBI or collegeinsiders.com tourney. That’s why ETSU couldn’t afford to take that loss.

3. Jacksonville (17-8, 11-5)
Next week: 2/18 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/20 vs. Mercer, 2/24 at Florida Gulf Coast
A third-place team might normally rate some consideration for the conference tournament. Not so with the Dolphins, who are 0-4 against the league’s big boys — Belmont and ETSU — with an average defeat margin of nearly 16 points. What that says is that this team beats the people it should and simply doesn’t have enough height or offensive punch to overcome the superior foes. Jacksonville’s only chance of winning the A-Sun tourney is to have one of the big boys lose along the way and hope that when they have to play the other that it either has a hot-shooting game or the other team can’t find the bucket.

4. Lipscomb (16-10, 11-6)
Next Week: 2/19 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/24 at Kennesaw State
Senior guard Josh Slater had one of the season‘s unique triple-doubles in a Thursday night win over USC Upstate, finishing with ten points, 12 assists and ten steals. It was the first triple-double in the Bisons’ Division-I era and the first time any A-Sun player notched 10 steals in a game against a Division-I foe since 1997. Lipscomb’s task is to build momentum for the conference tournament, when it might earn a third crack at Belmont in the semifinals. One gets the feeling that might be the only way the Bruins don’t win the A-Sun tourney.

5. Mercer: (12-15, 9-7)
Next Week: 2/18 at North Florida, 2/20 at Jacksonville, 2/24 vs. Belmont
Ball control has been the Bears‘ strength during their unexpected run into the league‘s middle of the back. In their last seven games, they are averaging just nine turnovers per game and have had four games with fewer than ten, including a six-turnover performance in Tuesday night‘s 57-55 win over Kennesaw State. It’s helped that senior guard Mark Hall, who’s not been known as a scorer in his Mercer career, has suddenly started draining three-pointers as though he were former Bear great James Florence. Hall drilled five in a Feb. 10 OT win over Stetson and added three against Kennesaw State.

6. North Florida: (10-17, 7-9)
Next Week: 2/18 vs. Mercer, 2/20 vs. Kennesaw State, 2/24 at Stetson
Guard Parker Smith is the nation‘s top scorer among players who haven‘t started a game, but he‘s been locked in a deep, dark forest lately. Since dropping 30 points on Belmont February 5, he’s not been able to ignite this team off the bench, going 2-for-13 in a Sunday loss at East Tennessee State. Coach Matthew Driscoll has been more concerned with Smith’s performance in other areas, feeling that the sophomore isn’t doing enough on the defensive end. As presently constructed, the Ospreys aren’t good enough to win many games unless all their key players are contributing.

7. Kennesaw State (8-18, 6-10)
Next week: 2/18 at Jacksonville, 2/20 at North Florida, 2/24 vs. Lipscomb
Welcome to the season, Owls. What took you so long? Finally, this team has decided to play hard on defense and share the ball on offense, much as folks expected they could in preseason. While it might not be enough to get them a decent seed in the A-Sun tourney, they could be a tough out for somebody in the first round. Sophomore Markeith Cummings has been arguably the league’s hottest player besides Smith, scoring 30 points in three of his last four games. Forward LaDaris Green has channeled his inner Kenneth Faried with five straight double-doubles.

8. Campbell (12-15, 6-11)
Next week: 2/19 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. East Tennessee State
Indulging in a farewell swipe at the A-Sun, Camels coach Robbie Laing said one reason his team is struggling is because they don‘t have a travel partner and therefore always catch fresh teams, such as when they lost 78-57 to Belmont February 12 by allowing the last 16 points. Another reason Campbell is struggling is its inability to consistently score the ball as it’s been held under 70 points in 12 of its 17 conference games. While the recent absence of guard Lorne Merthie (knee) hasn’t helped, the simple truth is this team hasn’t played very well since the middle of December.

9. Stetson: (7-21, 5-12)
Next week: 2/21 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/24 vs. North Florida
Thursday night‘s 64-61 home loss to Campbell was a gut punch for the Hatters, which are in ninth place in the league and would miss the conference tournament if it started tomorrow. Officially a game behind the Camels, Stetson was swept in the season series, so it would lose any tiebreaker. Turnovers and poor foul shooting have hampered it in many of the close losses they’ve had lately. Those are things young teams traditionally struggle with and they have bitten the Hatters hard.

10. Florida Gulf Coast: (6-19, 3-12)
Next week: 2/19 vs. Campbell, 2/21 vs. Stetson
The Eagles‘ season is down to five games as they‘re ineligible for the conference tournament. All they can do is serve as spoiler for the likes of the Camels and Hatters, who visit Ft. Myers in the league’s riveting battle for eighth place and the last spot in the A-Sun tourney. One piece of good news for FGCU is that underclassmen such as Anthony Banks, Christophe Varidel and Chase Fieler have led the team in scoring in 14 of the last 15 games. The January departure of Reed Baker might have been the best thing to happen to this team because Varidel wouldn’t have gotten enough playing time to average 16.7 points per game in the last 13 games had Baker stuck around.

11. USC Upstate: (4-23, 3-14)
Next Week: 2/19 at Belmont
Coach Eddie Payne finally blew his stack after a listless loss to North Florida February 11, saying his team lacked leadership and didn‘t know how to win. If that remark was designed to light a fire under his young squad, it didn‘t work, as it promptly lost to Jacksonville and Lipscomb by an average of 14.5 points. The one ray of sunshine in Spartanburg has been the recent play of Ricardo Glenn, who had 16 points and nine rebounds in a 16-minute burst of excellence against Jacksonville. Glenn, Torrey Craig and Babatunde Olumuyiwa will comprise one of the league’s top frontcourts in 2012-13.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide fluke or trend. This week, we zero in on Kennesaw State sophomore LaDaris Green, who has recorded five consecutive double-doubles, including a 14-point, 13-rebound effort at Mercer Tuesday night. The verdict is trend. The 6’9 Green is active enough and is playing the most consistent basketball of a career which still has two-plus years left. As he matures and gets stronger, he should only improve.

A Look Ahead

Belmont has won the league and ETSU will likely finish second, but there‘s still much at stake in terms of momentum and positioning as A-Sun teams head down the homestretch.

  • Mercer could still catch Lipscomb for fourth place if it wins out, including a home game next week with the Bisons. As long as they don’t slip out of fifth, though, the Bears will likely host Lipscomb in the A-Sun quarterfinals March 3.
  • Campbell has a chance to seal a spot in the conference tournament despite its recent struggles. Its schedule (at Florida Gulf Coast, ETSU, USC Upstate) looks favorable and it has a tiebreaker on ninth place Stetson.
  • Kennesaw State has a brutal ending to its regular season (at Jacksonville, at North Florida, Lipscomb, Belmont). The Owls could play decently and lose all four, and if they do, it could open the door for Stetson to beat them out for the last spot.
  • Belmont tries to keep its momentum going for the A-Sun tourney as it hosts USC Upstate Saturday night before a regular season-ending road trip to Georgia, where it plays Mercer and Kennesaw State.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic Sun

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Bucky Dent is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference.

A Look Back

  • Bruins Beaten: Just when Ken Pomeroy‘s metrics rated Belmont with a 53 percent chance of running through the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 20-0 record, the Bruins were beaten January 25 at Lipscomb. And not just any loss, either. A come-from-way-ahead loss in which they led by 18 in the first half before the Bison reeled them in down the stretch and won 73-64. Not that it seems to have bothered the Bruins too much, however, as they’ve won three straight, including a 76-70 decision at Jacksonville Thursday night in their last difficult road assignment of the regular season.
  • Bucs Draw Closer: Unable to beat Belmont head-to-head last month, East Tennessee State stayed within striking distance by winning the last three games of its season-long five-game homestand. It did so without injured senior Justin Tubbs, cutting its rotation down to eight players and no reserve guards. Then again, it had Mike Smith and Micah Williams and that was more than enough, especially against the league‘s Murdered Row — USC Upstate, Kennesaw State and Mercer. Smith and Williams combined to average more than 46 points per game in those three victories.
  • Player of the Week: Mike Smith, East Tennessee State: Smith is making this little ceremony his private show, winning the award for the second time in a month and just missing out on it the third time to Belmont‘s Ian Clark. All Smith did was score 25.7 points per game, grab 7.0 rebounds and notch career highs in points during consecutive wins over Kennesaw State and Mercer. Just missing the gold medal was Florida Gulf Coast freshman Christophe Varidel, who bombed in a career-high 29 points during an epic triple-OT win at Stetson (more on that later) and averaged 20.7 ppg last week, and Micah Williams, who was good for 22 ppg in three victories.

Power Rankings

1. Belmont (21-4, 13-1)

Next Week: 2/5 at North Florida

Here‘s to Rick Byrd, the classy coach of the Bruins who reached the 600-win mark January 30 at home against Stetson. The son of legendary Knoxville sportswriter Ben Byrd, Rick has built a program which will be around for the long run. Ten of the 11 guys who play regularly for this team will be back next year. Belmont’s bench is so good and deep that it leads the nation in assists per game, steals per game and three-pointers per game. Most teams in this league go to the bench and just hope to survive. The Bruins go to the bench and expect to increase the lead — and often do.

2. East Tennessee State (16-8, 11-2)

Next Week: 2/4 at Florida Gulf Coast, 2/6 at Stetson

No Super Bowl parties for the Buccaneers, unless they hold one on the trip back home from DeLand, Fla., where they play Stetson in a game that will end about an hour and a half before the Packers and Steelers kick off SB XLV. But they are looking like the one team in this league which could keep Belmont from hosting a Selection Sunday party next month — especially the way Smith is playing. The senior is making a good case for A-Sun Player of the Year, doing whatever it takes to win games. As Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said after watching Smith torch the Bears for 28 points on 14 shot attempts Monday night, “Un-stinking-believable.”

3. Jacksonville (14-7, 8-4)

Next week: 2/5 vs. Lipscomb, 2/8 vs. North Florida

The Dolphins pulled out all the stops for Belmont‘s visit Thursday night, throwing open the gates to Veterans Memorial Arena for their yearly free admission night courtesy of a seafood restaurant. The season’s largest crowd — 5,240 — couldn’t quite do enough to keep Jacksonville from confirming again that it’s just a notch below the Bruins and ETSU in the A-Sun pecking order this year. Foul shooting again hurt the Dolphins as they were 14-23, which looks positively Rick Barry-esque compared to the January 26 numbers at North Florida — 11-26. Talk about your fishy smells.

4. Lipscomb (15-9, 9-5)

Next Week: 2/5 at Jacksonville, 2/10 at Campbell

So much for the Bisons having finally figured things out. After beating Belmont and then scoring a pair of easy wins, they laid a mutant of an egg at North Florida, trailing 35-19 at halftime and losing 72-62 to cement their reputation as the league’s most mercurial side. Adnan Hodzic had what may be the worst game of his career, going 1-8 from the floor and scoring just two points in 24 minutes. Lipscomb appears headed for a fourth place finish, which could mean a conference tournament semifinal against crosstown rival Belmont.

5. North Florida: (9-14, 6-6)

Next Week: 2/5 vs. Belmont, 2/8 at Jacksonville

While Lipscomb is harder to figure out than calculus, the Ospreys are easier to read than Ryan Leaf‘s eyes on 3rd-and-11. On the nights they shoot the ball well and at least battle to a stalemate on the boards, they win, like Thursday night against Lipscomb. The overall record doesn’t suggest it but they have taken another step forward in coach Matthew Driscoll’s second year. On the nights when Parker Smith is hitting from three-point range and they‘re getting a little inside scoring, this team can beat anyone in the league besides Belmont and ETSU.

6. Campbell: (11-11, 5-7)

Next Week: 2/5 at Mercer, 2/7 at Kennesaw State, 2/10 vs. Lipscomb

Eric Griffin has become this team‘s top offensive option these days, averaging 17 points over his last six games and making better than 63 percent of his field goal attempts. Griffin was slowed by injuries early in the season but is having the impact coach Robbie Laing hoped he would. On the other hand, junior guard Lorne Merthie couldn‘t hit water if he fell out of a boat, making one bucket in a two-game trip to North Florida and Jacksonville. It’s that type of inconsistency which keeps this team mired in the conference’s middle and makes it unlikely they can do much of anything in the A-Sun tourney.

7. Mercer (8-15, 5-7)

Next week: 2/5 vs. Campbell, 2/10 vs. Stetson

One day, someone needs to match the Bears against Virginia Tech and get it on TV so the nation could see which coach has the most creative facial expressions — Bob Hoffman or Seth Greenberg. Watching Hoffman Face rule the sidelines on a recent Monday night at ETSU made for two hours of great theater. Watching Hoffman’s team persevere in the face of serious adversity — senior forward Brandon Moore and senior guard Jeff Smith have suffered year-ending knee injuries in an 11-day span — and still play hard is a tribute to his ability to get a team to believe no matter how steep the odds.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (5-15, 2-9)

Next week: 2/4 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/6 vs. USC Upstate, 2/10 at Kennesaw State

On the same night that Lipscomb ended Belmont‘s hopes for a 20-0 run through the conference, the Eagles and Stetson played one of the season‘s most remarkable games. FGCU won 111-103 in triple overtime as it marched to the foul line 60 times, fouling out five Hatters in the process, and survived buzzer-beating threes to end regulation and the first OT. Forward Anthony Banks took just nine shots from the field but still scored 24 points, going 14-24 at the foul line. Varidel, who’s more than filled in adequately for the departed Reed Baker, is averaging 16.9 points over his last eight games.

9. Stetson: (6-17, 4-8)

Next week: 2/4 vs. USC Upstate, 2/6 vs. East Tennessee State, 2/10 at Mercer

Young teams will have rough patches, but coach Derek Waugh is probably agonizing pretty hard about this one. The Hatters have lost six straight, including that crazy triple OT contest against FGCU in which they were eight seconds from a double OT win before Varidel drilled a 3-pointer. Stetson’s first-shot defense has waned lately as opponents are back to 46 percent from the field. It will have to start paying better attention to the little things or it might sit out the conference tournament for a second straight year.

10. Kennesaw State: (5-17, 3-9)

Next week: 2/7 vs. Campbell, 2/10 vs. Florida Gulf Coast

The Owls were embarrassing in a 93-62 loss at ETSU Jan. 29, regularly refusing to stop the ball in transition, help out a beaten teammate or close out on open jump-shooters. It‘s hard to believe this was a team which not only started with high expectations, but also hammered Georgia Tech back in mid-November. Right now, if the conference tournament were beginning, this team would miss it. With talented players such as Markeith Cummings, Spencer Dixon and LaDaris Green around, that just doesn‘t add up.

11. USC Upstate: (3-19, 2-10)

Next Week: 2/4 at Stetson, 2/6 at Florida Gulf Coast

The Spartans finally ended their 13-game losing streak Monday night with a 12-2 run in the last four minutes that beat Kennesaw State. Freshman forward Torrey Craig’s 27 points against Kennesaw marked his 13th straight game in double figures. He’s just about the only consistent source of offense for this team, which continues to shoot less than 40 percent from the field and score less than 60 points per game. Upstate announced that its January 10 snow-out with Florida Gulf Coast — as we expected — would be rescheduled for February 28. With neither team eligible for the conference tournament, that was an easy call.

Playing the Percentages

Every week, we‘ll take a look at an intriguing stat around the conference and decide between fluke or trend. This week, we eyeball the up-and-down work of ETSU‘s Isiah Brown, who in three straight games:

  • Didn‘t take a shot in 32 minutes against USC Upstate and scored just one point, but had 10 rebounds.
  • Went for 17 points and 12 boards against Kennesaw State.
  • Scored just four points in 18 minutes against Mercer before fouling out on a technical less than three minutes into the second half.

The word is trend. Brown has been inconsistent throughout his career and this three-game set is emblematic of it.

A Look Ahead

  • While Belmont and ETSU try to maintain their position, others try to improve their seeding for next month‘s tournament.
  • Lipscomb looks for revenge and tries to get back on its feet when it plays Jacksonville Saturday in the Dolphins‘ cozy campus hideout, 1,500-seat Swisher Gym. The winner figures to finish no worse than third in the league and the loser will probably wind up in the same half of the draw with Belmont.
  • North Florida tries its luck with Belmont Saturday night and then rematches with Jacksonville Tuesday night. The Ospreys and Dolphins put on one of the worst free-throwing displays ever in their first meeting, combining to miss 29 of 54.
  • Mercer tries to pick up the pieces without Brandon Moore when it hosts Campbell Saturday. The good news for the Bears is that they‘re starting a four-game homestand, all against beatable teams, so they should be able to piece together enough wins to clinch a conference tourney berth.
  • ETSU tries not to screw up its road trip to central Florida. There‘s no real reason for it to lose against either Florida Gulf Coast or Stetson, but the Bucs tend to mix in a clunker when it least makes sense. So stay tuned Friday night or Super Bowl Sunday just in case.
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The Week That Was: Jan. 25-Jan. 31

Posted by jstevrtc on February 1st, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor 

Introduction:

It’s Feb. 1. That means there’s only 40 days left until Selection Sunday, or 40 days left for teams to build up their resume so their bubble doesn’t pop. We’re sure there are going to be a lot of heated discussions about teams hovering within that last four in-last four out zone over the next six weeks. Heck, here at TWTW, we’ll probably change our opinion on certain squads three  or four times until the end of the regular season. It should be a crazy six weeks, but we know it’s going to be fun.  

What We learned

After a weekend that saw 13 ranked teams lose (and the entire top 25 go 22-20 for the week, as Seth Davis pointed out on SI.com) the chic thing to do is talk about the gigantic bulging central part of the bell curve that symbolizes this college basketball season. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of who’s good and who’s bad on a weekly basis, as a team is liable to have a monumental win one night and then lose to a lesser school a few days later. Let’s use Georgetown as an example. Just over two weeks ago the Hoyas were a mess at 1-4 in the Big East and losers of four of their previous five games. Now, they’ve won five in a row, including recent triumphs at Villanova and at home against Louisville. Georgetown isn’t the only school that enjoys playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Check out this paragraph from Davis’ Monday column

“Texas can lose at USC and then win at Kansas. Tennessee, which should be this movie’s poster child, can win at Villanova and Pitt (at the Consol Energy Center) and lose to College of Charleston and Charlotte. Louisville loses at home to Drexel but beats UConn on the road. Providence loses to LaSalle but beats Louisville and Villanova. Auburn loses to Samford, Campbell and Presbyterian, but it beats Florida State, which later beats Duke. What, you didn’t know Presbyterian was better than Duke? And on Sunday, St. John’s (which lost to Fordham) blew out Duke.” 

Given all this uncertainty, can anyone honestly say with any assurance that there’s a clear-cut elite set of teams? Ohio State might be undefeated, but the Buckeyes have had their fair share of nail biters over ho-hum teams (Michigan, Penn State, and most recently, Northwestern). TWTW would like to put its eggs into Texas’ basket. The Longhorns are this week’s Team du Jour, having torched four ranked teams in the last 13 days, but you wouldn’t be shocked if Texas didn’t have a hiccup or two to an unranked team before the season’s end, would you?

This Tristan Thompson-Nathan Walkup Encounter Accurately Summarizes Texas' Throttling of the Aggies Last Night (B. Sullivan/Dallas Morning News)

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