It’s day three of Championship Fortnight and with three more conferences tipping off today, what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the Big South, NEC and OVC get started.
Dates: March 5, 7-9 Site: HTC Center (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
What to expect: Chaos. The Big South Tournament might be the most unpredictable conference tourney in the nation. Just two games separated first place from seventh place in the league standings, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise for any of those teams to earn the automatic bid. Remember that Liberty, a squad that finished 6-10 in the league a season ago, won last year’s bid. With the parity in this conference, it could be just about anybody. Pick a name out of a hat for this one.
Favorite:High Point. The Panthers won the league by a single game with a record of 12-4. They could have been a legitimate Cinderella threat had former Florida Gator Allan Chaney not had his career cut short in December due to heart complications. Still, the regular season champion features sophomore John Brown and his 19.6 PPG and his 7.9 rebounds per contest on the inside, and won’t be easy to beat.
New Butler coach Brandon Miller was probably already facing an uphill battle replacing Brad Stevens. Not only did he have to contend with a conference change from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East and the departure of several key seniors, but he was also facing Stevens’ considerable shadow. Now he will have to do all of this without Roosevelt Jones, who was perhaps the team’s top returning player, is out for the season after tearing ligaments in his left wrist during the team’s trip to Australia. Butler was going to have a tough time dealing with all the changes and now doing so without Jones might be too much for Miller (or even Stevens if he had stayed) as the Bulldogs seem destined for the bottom of the Big East this season.
The NCAA has found itself in quite few politically unpopular situations over the years, but they may have topped themselves with their latest act–taking a year of eligibility away from a Marine veteran for playing games on the base. The latest poster boy for the NCAA’s ongoing quest for bad publicity is Steven Rhodes, a 24-year-old freshman at Middle Tennessee State, who just finished a five-year stint with the Marines and was planing on coming back to play college football. Unfortunately his plans have been put on hold as the NCAA has ruled that Rhodes has to sit out this season. Although Middle Tennessee State is not the typical site for major NCAA stories, we have a feeling that this will turn into a national story in the near-future.
The start of the college basketball season is getting very close, which you will be reminded of with the onslaught of college basketball previews that you will see online once the college football season starts and we are pretty much ready for the season to start, but one name–Chris Walker–remains in limbo. Walker, one of the top players in the class of 2013, is still waiting for clearance from the NCAA, but it appears that the NCAA Clearinghouse is reviewing his grades now. We have no idea how long it will take the NCAA to review his grades, but they will need to clear him by this coming week for him to be eligible to play this fall, but if he is eligible by December he could enroll at Florida and play the second half of the year. If neither of those options work, we get the feeling that he might pursue the Ricky Ledo option.
When Shivaughn Wiggins announced that he was transferring from Mount St. Mary’s we figured it would not take long before he found a new home and it only took a few weeks as he announced that he was transferring to Coastal Carolina. Wiggins, the NEC Rookie of the Year, averaged 9.6 points per game last season and should be a huge pick-up for Coastal Carolina when he is eligible to play in the 2014-15 season. If you are looking for a more in-depth evaluation of Wiggins’ potential impact on the team, check out the breakdown put together by Big Apple Buckets.
Out of all of the Candid Coaches questions that CBS has released the one about which elite 2014 prospect will struggle the most in college is certainly the most controversial. We won’t pretend to know much about any of the 2014 prospects at this point outside of recognizing a few names, but it will be interesting to see if these anonymous comments will affect their ranking at all and whether it might scare off a few coaches. We doubt that it actually will, but we imagine that several of the prospects listed here (and more specifically their parents) will be concerned about that. While this is interesting on some level and will certainly make its way around the message boards we are actually more interested in seeing this come out for the incoming freshman since we will be able to judge those evaluations right away.
Sun News: In what was billed as the biggest game in Coastal Carolina history, Clemson did its part to make the night memorable for the Chanticleers. In an unseemly collapse, Clemson lost to Coastal Carolina on the road as a follow-up to last year’s home loss. With a final score of 69-46, the Chanticleers were convincing in their win over the Tigers while Brad Brownell’s team looked nothing more than hapless. Milton Jennings went 2-of-16 from the field and had five turnovers in 31 minutes, a throwback performance for the forward who seemed on the cusp of a solid offensive year. This game raises some troubling questions about the Tigers’ ability to merely compete in the ACC this season.
News & Observer: Texas delivered the other big ACC loss of the night, pulling away from a North Carolina team that threatened to rally but never held on to any momentum. UNC played a lethargic brand of turnover-heavy basketball that resulted in easy baskets for the Longhorns and a furious Roy Williams. Texas has had a disappointing season so far, dealing with the NCAA-imposed absence of Myck Kabongo and a loss to lowly Chaminade in the Maui Invitational. Yet against the Tar Heels, Texas looked sharp. Meanwhile, in Chapel Hill, it’s safe to assume that the players and coaching staff are going to have to rethink the team’s approach or else North Carolina will likely continue to look lost on the basketball court.
Wilmington Star News: While Duke easily won its last game against Cornell, the match-up came with a tinge of disappointment. Marshall Plumlee, the third of the Plumlee brothers, was set to make his Duke debut after a stress fracture had robbed him of the opening games of the season. Plumlee was on the court for about two minutes before returning to the bench with a “slight sprain.” The forward will likely sit out the next game against Elon as a precaution, but there has yet to be any indication whether this injury is serious. It wasn’t the debut that Plumlee wanted, but as long as this new injury doesn’t keep him out for long, I’m sure he will have other chances to make an impression on the court.
Fox Sports South: It’s hard to make too much of this, because it seems like this has happened often in recent years, but Miami has put together a nice string of victories and appears to finally be a legitimate contender for the conference title. The Hurricanes have looked good before, only to wilt under the weight of the conference schedule. Yet, the early returns are convincing: Miami looks really good. While experience suggests that we can’t be sure about this team, the bouquet of victories against Michigan State, Massachusetts, and Charlotte is very respectable.
Washington Post: The heavier players lost weight and the skinnier players gained muscle. In essence, that’s the bare bones of what a coach wants out of his strength and conditioning coach. At Maryland, the team and staff are working hard to do far more than meet this low standard. Kyle Tarp has done a remarkable job transforming the bodies of the Terrapin players and his methods and results seem like something that lots of other programs should seek to emulate (perhaps especially whoever ends up with former UCLA center Josh Smith).
Fall tournaments are fun, but they often seem to happen in a vacuum, or at least half-empty gyms on distant islands. The lack of a rowdy audience or a vicious crowd takes away one of the greatest joys of college basketball: the true road game. There is nothing quite as exciting as a team going to face their opponent on hostile terrain. It’s more challenging, riskier, and almost inevitably more fun. So, let’s check the schedules of the teams in the ACC and see who is diving headfirst into danger.
These Tourneys Are Fun, But They’re Not Hostile Venues
A quick note: semi-neutral site games are okay, but they lack the necessary zest. Sorry, Duke vs. Davidson in Charlotte. Likewise, though there are some truly fun ACC-Big Ten Challenge games where the ACC team is on the road, these games are starting to border on routine. I’m sure North Carolina State at Michigan will be a big time game, but it doesn’t quite have that sense of risk that is essential. Finally, I’m not including Virginia Tech or Wake Forest‘s away game against UNC Greensboro‘s Fighting Wes Millers; the Greensboro Coliseum is hardly unfamiliar ground for ACC teams.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.
It was a brutal week for the TO26 top 15, as the top four teams lost five games combined. Read on to see how that shuffled the rankings. After the revised top 15, we look at the top 10 results of the past week, sorting through both the headline-grabbing upsets and the big games that may have slipped past your radar. Then we preview the top 10 games of the coming week, which includes a bounty of top matchups this Saturday and several small conference teams putting their first-place records on the line against their stiffest competition.
It’s a slow basketball week in the Atlantic Coast Conference as students presumably take exams and wrap up their semester by focusing on their academics. Or play a lot of video games. Something like that. In any case, there is only one interesting matchup the entire week and thank your lucky stars — it’s going down tonight.
The Only ACC Game Between Sunday and Saturday
Florida International at Maryland at 7:30 PM on ESPN
Okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly a great game, but it’s all we have until Saturday so let’s try to look at the interesting parts about it. Isiah Thomas‘s team is not a good one. Despite a season-opening overtime win over George Mason, the team has only managed to win two more times. Two-point wins against the likes of Coastal Carolina and Stephen F. Austin aren’t impressive, but at least they are wins. FIU also has more than a couple of bad losses on the books including losses to Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and NAIA school Texas Wesleyan, a school best known in athletics for it’s dominance/scholarships in table tennis. Maryland should win this game to get its third win in a row. The reasons why the Terrapins don’t take this in a walk? The few strengths of the Panthers align well with Maryland’s weaknesses. The Panthers are a good offensive rebounding team while Maryland struggles on the defensive glass. Likewise, outside of the remarkable Terrell Stoglin, the Terrapins guards have had trouble maintaining control of the ball while the Panthers have been fairly effective at forcing turnovers. It’s a long shot, but if FIU gets easy buckets off turnovers, a good number of second chance shots, and gets hot against Maryland’s indifferent defense, they have a reasonable shot at the win. Otherwise, the Terrapins should dominate every other facet of the game, and, provided they take the game seriously, should win easily.
The Big East is expected to announce today that it will add five schools to its football lineup starting in the 2013 season, and the lucky ‘winners’ are quite literally all over the country. Boise State, San Diego State, Central Florida, SMU and Rice Houston will join the league in two years, with BSU and SDSU opting to join as football-only members, while the other three come on board in all sports, including basketball. We honestly never thought we’d see a day where the mighty hoops conference that Dave Gavitt created among a number of small private Catholic schools in the northeastern corridor would ever become a safe haven for the likes of a Methodist school, Phi Slama Jama, and a Florida commuter school, but the times they-are-a-changin’. Think of it this way — at least we’ll get to see more of Matt Doherty on national television.
Shouldn’t we just go ahead and pre-write the story where UCLA’s Reeves Nelson is permanently booted from the team? For the second time in the young season, the moody Bruin forward was suspended indefinitely by head coach Ben Howland for “conduct unbecoming a UCLA player.” The latest incident that drew Howland’s ire had to do with Nelson’s apparent laughter/smiling on the bench as Texas stormed back to beat his team on Saturday afternoon. If you read the comments from some of Nelson’s teammates and Howland in the LA Times article, you get a strong sense that the enigmatic forward is unlikely to figure it out. It would probably make the most sense for UCLA to move on in trying to rebuild its program without Nelson acting as a regular distraction, but we’ve been surprised with how much patience the head coach has shown with him.
Let’s stay in the Pac-12, also known as the conference of unhappy players, apparently. Merely one day after Arizona head coach Sean Miller noted that his freshman point guard, Josiah Turner, may get the start in tonight’s key game against Florida, the young player was suspended for that game for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Recapping the league’s recent player woes, we already know about UCLA’s Nelson. Arizona’s Sidiki Johnson and Oregon’s Jabari Brown didn’t even make it to their first semester break before deciding to transfer. Utah’s Josh Watson has been suspended indefinitely, as has California’s Richard Solomon. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson still has not been cleared by the NCAA to play this season. Things have already been a disaster on the hardwood for this conference; it appears that the instability of the league carries over to its personnel as well.
It’s rather hard to believe that he’s been around this long, but Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellispicked up his 700th career victory on Tuesday night against The Citadel. Nearly 80 of those wins came as the head coach of NAIA’s Cumberland College, but his 622 as the top man at South Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and CCU puts him currently at #8 on the list of active coaches, ahead of such names as Rick Pitino and Mike Montgomery. Ellis always struck us a little bit as a guy who would be happy so long as he was coaching anywhere, but he’s turned the Chanticleer program into a powerhouse in the Big South (64 wins in the last two-plus years), and with a solid core led by Anthony Raffa and Chris Gradnigo, we don’t think he’s going to retire anytime soon.
President Barack Obama made headlines on Tuesday with a speech he gave in Osawatomie, Kansas, yesterday, when he referred to the steadily-shrinking American middle class as having reached “a make or break” moment in its history. Harking back to a speech given 101 years ago by Teddy Roosevelt in the same spot, Obama stated that the crisis of income inequality and opportunity in America was the “defining issue of our time.” We won’t speculate on the merits of his argument, but it’s curious that he delivered one of the more notable speeches of the third year of his presidency immediately after meeting Kansas head coach Bill Self. Perhaps the leader of the free world felt so burned by KU’s NCAA Tournament meltdowns the last two seasons that it stirred up the orator in him to make a compelling speech.
Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference. You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.
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.
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.
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.
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor and the Patriot League correspondent. Each week he will examine the other 26 non-power conferences in college basketball. You can find him on twitter @KLDoyle11.
Well this is refreshing, isn’t it? College basketball on the tube every night, several Other 26 teams already knocking some ranked BCS teams off of their high horses, and a whole lot of goodness upcoming with more early season tournaments and games. There is not a specific theme that has made itself apparent to open the season — I will usually try to hone in on a theme during the introduction of each column — but business has been usual to open the season. We have seen two major upsets with Long Beach State and Cleveland State shocking Top 10 teams — both have crawled into our Top 10 as a result — and we have not seen The Jimmer all over ESPN routinely hitting shots from 35 feet, something that was all too common last year. Rest assured though, as more and more games are played, storylines and themes will naturally develop. For now, let’s dig into the Top 10 teams for the week.
Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference. You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.
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 CarolinaTar Heels on ESPNU. EddieBiedenbach’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
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
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.
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.
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 Carolinastandout 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 Libertyto 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?
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.