O26 Game of the Week: Saint Louis-VCU Pt. II, Iona-Manhattan & More…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 27th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Saint Louis (25-2) at Virginia Commonwealth (20-7) – 6:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday. Yes, this was our Game of the Week just two short weeks ago and yes, the Billikens all-but-clinched the Atlantic 10 crown by winning on their home floor. So why does the second iteration once again headline the week? Well, for one thing, it was a really good basketball game the first time around. Saint Louis held serve in Chaifetz Arena, sure, but not before VCU forced 17 turnovers and battled back from a double-figure deficit to make the final two minutes thrilling — it took a Rob Loe three-pointer with around 30 seconds left to ice it for the home team. And the defenses lived-up to their dominant billing, each limiting the opposing offense to well-under one point per possession on the afternoon. Even if you had tuned in for just five minutes of action, the high level of play and serious potential of both teams would have become quickly evident.

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

The Billikens and Rams will battle in Richmond this time around. (Chris Lee, AP)

And that’s the overarching reason why Saturday’s tilt — this time in Richmond — is the main event in an already-loaded week; Saint Louis-VCU isn’t merely a marquee A-10 match-up, it’s a marquee national match-up. Everything at stake in a high-profile power-conference game is also at stake here: perception, NCAA Tournament profile, late-season momentum, bragging rights, and in the case of the Billikens, a very long winning streak. Jim Crews’ bunch has reeled off 19 straight victories over the course of three full months, last losing way back on December 1 to still-undefeated Wichita State. Shaka Smart’s group, meanwhile — fresh off a painfully-close road loss to UMass last Friday — has not dropped a home game in more than a year, obliterating visiting opponents this season by nearly 17 points per contest. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object in Verizon Wireless Arena, and the basketball-watching public will be the beneficiary. KenPom has the home squad pegged as 62 percent favorites, which is to say, it’s more or less a toss-up. Tune in on Saturday — Round II should be great.

Four More to Watch

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O26 Weekly Awards: New Mexico, Jeremy Ingram, Donnie Tyndall & ECU…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 26th, 2014

Think about it, folks: this time next week, it will be March. Let that sink in for a minute… Now let’s take a step back and give some recognition to several of last week’s top performers and performances.

O26 Team of the Week

The Lobos made it loud and clear that they're legitimate. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

The Lobos made it loud and clear that they’re legitimate. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

New Mexico. If the Lobos made one thing abundantly clear last week, it’s this: They are every bit the team we thought they were back in the preseason (they are who we thought they were!). While San Diego State has captured the lofty rankings and national media attention for much of 2013-14, New Mexico — once favorites to win the Mountain West — has lurked under the radar for the better part of three months, amassing plenty of wins but not many headlines. But after a pair of statement victories in a four-night span, over two of its biggest rivals? That all changed in a hurry.

Entering last Wednesday’s game at UNLV, head coach Craig Neal was confronted with the challenge of having to focus his team on the task at hand without looking ahead to Saturday’s enormous tilt against San Diego State. Not necessarily an easy task, but an especially important one considering that the Runnin’ Rebels had more or less handled New Mexico in its own gym just one month earlier. Lucky for Neal, he never had to worry much at the Thomas & Mack Center — his senior point guard Kendall Williams took any possible questions about “focus” and immediately extinguished them with a flurry points. Williams nailed a three in the first minute of the contest to give the Lobos an early lead, then helped his team maintain that advantage for the remainder of the night by notching 29 points — including 17 in the first half — along with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. The outcome was never in question, and what made the 68-56 final even more impressive was the fact that New Mexico, not especially known for its defense, held UNLV to a paltry 31.7 percent from the field. Now the Lobos could look ahead.

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Raheem Appleby’s Injury a Huge Blow for Louisiana Tech

Posted by Adam Stillman on January 16th, 2014

Louisiana Tech’s promising season just came to a screeching halt. The Bulldogs were the Conference USA favorite and held legitimate hopes for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament prior to yesterday. Those goals might appear a bit lofty now after it the school announced on Wednesday that leading scorer Raheem Appleby will miss 6-8 weeks with a severe ankle sprain. The junior guard boasts some impressive numbers, averaging 16.1 points and 2.1 assists per game this season. Appleby hurt his ankle a week ago while driving to the basket during Louisiana Tech’s 84-64 victory against Florida Atlantic, and he missed all of the Bulldogs’ subsequent 85-51 victory on January 11 against Florida International. Now the best-case scenario for the 6’4″ guard appears to be a return for the Conference USA Tournament during the second week of March. This is a really tough blow for a Bulldogs squad aspiring for a long postseason run.

Raheem Appleby's injury is a big blow to Louisiana Tech's NCAA Tournament hopes. (ncaa.com)

Raheem Appleby’s injury is a big blow to Louisiana Tech’s NCAA Tournament hopes. (ncaa.com)

Louisiana Tech still harbors at-large aspirations — even with a #98 RPI — thanks in large part to a resume-enhancing road win on December 30 at Oklahoma. That 102-98 overtime victory looks even more impressive now that the Sooners are ranked #25 in the RPI. The Bulldogs also have another top 100 win against St. Bonaventure (#83 RPI). Louisiana Tech’s losses have come to national title contender Oklahoma State (#11 RPI) in Oklahoma City, at Saint Mary’s (#52 RPI) and Louisiana-Lafayette (#94 RPI). While that last loss doesn’t help, the Bulldogs still have an outside shot at an at-large bid. Should Louisiana Tech exit the C-USA gauntlet nearly unscathed — maybe a loss or two — with a subsequent defeat in the Conference USA Tournament championship, the Bulldogs then present an intriguing argument for a bid.

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Big East M5: 03.27.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 27th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. If nothing else, fans of the current Big East are going to have plenty of channels to catch their favorite schools on when the schools all go their separate ways. The ACC is taking over Big Monday and should have an increased presence on ESPN, the Big East (Catholic edition) will be on FOX, and the soon-to-be-the-conference-formerly-known-as-the-Big-East just inked a deal with CBS, which will get first dibs on the conference’s games through 2019-20. Oh, and West Virginia seemed to be on ESPN like every week this year… so good for the ‘Eers.
  2. Louisville was the number one overall seed in 2009, much like it is this year. That team hoisted both the Big East regular season and tournament trophies, and made a run to the Elite Eight before falling to Michigan State. That team featured excellent former Cardinals like Terrence Williams, Andre McGee, and Earl Clark, and apparently those guys won’t stop talking about that season. Peyton Siva would like to reclaim bragging rights over the 2009 squad with the one trophy they weren’t able to claim — a national title. “I don’t know a lot (about 2009), I just know T-Will and Dre were on it and they always brag about being the No. 1 overall seed… Our whole goal for the year — they had Andre’s picture on the wall from that ’09 team — is to take him off the wall.”
  3. Otto Porter is a finalist for the Naismith Award this season, and for good reason. A very good argument can be made that there was no player more important to his team this season, and it showed in Georgetown‘s best games — Porter scored 33 points in front of over 35,000 raucous Syracuse fans to stun the Orange at the Carrier Dome — as well as their worst — Porter could only muster 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting in Georgetown’s shocking loss to Florida Gulf Coast last weekend. While Porter is up against stiff competition for the Naismith Award, he already has accolade in his back pocket as Basketball Times has named the forward its National Player of the year.
  4. Expansion fever — catch the excitement! Today in schools moving conferences, the old Big East continues it’s mission to restore the halcyon days of mid-2000s Conference USA. Brett McMurphy reports that Tulsa will become the 12th member of the conference, calling the addition “imminent.” According to McMurphy, the Golden Hurricanes will join up in 2014 with Tulane and East Carolina, who will be elevated to full-member status to balance the conference numbers and fill the critical role of having basketball-playing Pirates in the league.
  5. The Journal-Sentinel sat down with former Marquette great Brian Wardle, currently the head coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay, to discuss the state of Warriors basketball. Wardle was obviously thrilled with the success that the program has had under Buzz Williams, and before him, Tom Crean, stating that MU has entered the ranks of the elite in college ball. “The level that Marquette basketball is at now is an elite level that it has not been in for a long time… they’ve gone to three Sweet Sixteens in a row, a Final Four, everything takes time to build. Nothing happens overnight. You’ve got to go through some failures to succeed. You’re seeing Marquette in the Sweet Sixteen every year with the Michigan States, the Dukes, with Kansas.”  There is no denying the success that Marquette has had recently, though dropping the ‘e’ word seems a bit strong.  Until Marquette makes a few more Final Fours or captures a national title, they’re a rung or two below the nation’s elite schools, at least to me. However, they’re not far behind, and with the consistent success that Buzz Williams has had with the program, it may only be a matter of time until they break through.
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Does the Xavier Loss Reveal the Arc of Memphis’ Season?

Posted by Will Tucker on February 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Memphis and Xavier in Cincinnati.

Xavier outlasted Memphis, 64-62, in a game that exposed systemic weaknesses in Josh Pastner’s team fewer than three weeks from Selection Sunday. The Tigers entered the Cintas Center tied for the nation’s longest winning streak and boasting top-20 rankings in both the national polls and RPI. Their visit to Cincinnati represented the first of three consecutive road trips against potential RPI top-100 opponents, opportunities to combat the perennial whispers of “paper tiger” that pepper discussion of their Conference USA record. It also represented an audience with Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee and strong proponent of the “eye test,” as Mike DeCourcy tells us.

(Credit FOX Sports Ohio)

Xavier exposed Memphis’ vulnerability on the defensive glass (Credit FOX Sports Ohio)

They faced a Xavier team hung over from a crushing VCU comeback that all but eliminated its hopes of an at-large bid, and a student section reduced by the diaspora of spring break. Moreover with starting point guard Dee Davis injured, the Musketeers would field one primary ball-handler against the Tigers’ athletic press. It was against that backdrop that Memphis showed up and did all it could to reinforce the criticisms of its detractors. The Musketeers set the tone early with ferocious intensity under the basket and on 50/50 balls. They made Memphis look like the team with nothing to play for in the first half as they ran out to a 30-21 lead. The languid effort struck a chord with Josh Pastner: “Our energy level stunk that first half, and I believe in energy… We were minus-five in 50/50 balls at halftime –– first time in a long time that’s happened.” The Musketeers outrebounded Pastner’s team by 11 in the first half, and an six-rebound advantage on the offensive boards helped establish a 12-0 disparity in second-chance points. Memphis went to the locker room with zero points off five Xavier turnovers and only two fast break points.

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CAA Decision Shows Why Conference Realignment is More Complex Than You Think

Posted by EJacoby on June 20th, 2012

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 CAA will 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.

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Morning Five: 06.13.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 13th, 2012

  1. Last night the NBA Finals between Miami and OKC began in Oklahoma City, and aside from the fact that Thunder fans have the look and feel of college fans (that tends to happen when you’re the only professional franchise in a traditional college sports state), we found the former collegiate talent on the floor just as compelling. Many NBA fans are not college basketball fans and vice versa, but we’d encourage any of our college-only readers to spend some time this week and next getting a look at how well former collegiate stars such as Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, James Harden, and even Nick Collison have acquitted themselves as pros. This piece we published yesterday takes a look back at some of the accomplishments of these and several other players during their amateur days, with the general sentiment that folks like us will especially this year’s version of June Madness.
  2. While on the subject of basketball in the great state of Oklahoma, there’s more coming that way. Conference USA has decided to move its 2013 conference tournament to Tulsa in light of Memphis’ decision to join the Big East beginning in the 2013-14 season. Although we certainly understand the incentive of the league to punish Memphis for its disloyalty, it feels a bit like cutting off the nose here to spite the face. The last time the C-USA Tournament was held in Tulsa in 2010, the attendance numbers were somewhat disappointing and the Golden Hurricane had a solid squad that year. Whether new head coach Danny Manning will be able to fire up the locals enough to make this decision a success next March is an open question.
  3. It’s never too early to start thinking about next season, and Jeff Goodman is the type of guy who has already played out 2013 in his head before most of us see it on the horizon. In this post he outlines the 55 best non-conference games that are already on the schedule for next season. The top game on his list is a rematch of the first half of the 2012 Final Four, but we’re actually more interested in a certain Champions Classic game that involves a couple of schools that do not play each other regularly. In case you’re wondering — and we know you are — Kentucky vs. Indiana is still nowhere to be found on this list.
  4. Providence appears to be on the way up the standings of the Big East with a top recruiting class coming in for Ed Cooley next season, featuring Ricardo Ledo in the backcourt. For that reason, Friar guard Gerard Coleman began looking elsewhere despite averaging 13/5 last year as a sophomore, and he has decided to resurface 3,000 miles across the country at Gonzaga. Mark Few is getting an athletic scorer who tailed off considerably last year as the losses piled up in Providence, but one who will no doubt benefit from a year watching the game from the bench to better learn about good shot selection (42.4% FG; 23.8% 3FG).
  5. The men’s basketball NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is one of the most scrutinized bodies in all of American sports. Each year the group of dignitaries is shuttered away in an Indianapolis hotel and expected to produce a perfectly balanced and justified bracket to satisfy millions of college basketball fans around the country. The task is a herculean one, fraught with time-sensitive pressure and an overwhelming fear of mistakes. Now that the BCS has decided to move to a four-team playoff in college football, the topic of a similarly situated selection committee is on the table. But, as ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich writes, there is no consensus among college presidents and other NCAA insiders as to how the four lucky teams should be selected. The one thing we can rest assured of is this: future Selection Committee members should just go ahead and change their addresses, because there is an enormous difference between being the first school left out of a 68-team field and a four-team one.
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Morning Five: 05.04.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 4th, 2012

  1. In just the last three days, the Atlantic 10 has added Butler, the Mountain West has eviscerated the WAC with its additions of San Jose State and Utah State, and now Conference USA has finished it off as a major conference by grabbing Louisiana Tech to go along with the A-10’s Charlotte and the Sun Belt’s North Texas and FIU. There will be a quiz on all of these moves in mid-August. What does this mean from a college basketball perspective? Probably not much. Neither Charlotte nor Louisiana Tech have been relevant in a long time, and although North Texas made the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and 2010, winning in the Sun Belt is less challenging than it will be dealing with UTEP, Tulsa, Southern Miss, and UAB in a revamped Conference USA.
  2. A little under two years ago we touched on an ESPN story about a high school basketball player named Jerry Joseph who may have actually been a 22-year old named Guerdwich Montimere. It was a bizarre story at the time, and it got only weirder as ultimately Joseph/Montimere was convicted and sent to prison for sexual assault on an underage high school student and tampering with government records. In a recent column for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Wright Thompson attempted to connect all the dots of the saga in a meaningful way, putting a story behind the story of a wayward young man who no doubt got lost in the hype and fame of being the big man on campus. Great read.
  3. Illinois fans caught a glimpse into the mind of one of their incoming transfers when Sam McLaurin, a senior at Coastal Carolina who will take advantage of the one-year graduate school exception, announced (via Twitter, of course) “F— it im going to Illinois #illinination” on Thursday afternoon. McLaurin, a 6’10” power forward who averaged 10/8 last season, will provide some additional frontcourt depth in the wake of Meyers Leonard’s departure to the NBA. He later apologized for his choice of words (“Hey everyone sorry about my language last night. I was just extremely excited to be apart of #illinination”), but we doubt anyone from Waukegan to Carbondale will care much so long as he can bring his numbers every night next season.
  4. In one of the stupider bits of news to come out of our game this offseason (and there are plenty of candidates), Kentucky and Indiana have apparently decided to not renew its annual rivalry that dates back a half-century. The crux of the issue appears to be that UK wanted to move the series back to a rotating neutral site arrangement (likely splitting time between Indianapolis and Louisville, as it did from 1991-2005), while IU insisted on keeping the home-and-home series that had been in effect for the last seven years (and, of course, prior to 1991). If you read the tea leaves, and Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart suggests as much, it was John Calipari not “thrilled about going back to Bloomington” that appears to be driving this ridiculous decision. Look — we understand that a national championship coach typically gets what he wants when he wants it, but as Andy Glockner argues very well in this piece, that doesn’t mean that he’s right for wanting it. College basketball loses when rivalries like these end, and this is especially true now that IU under Tom Crean appears to finally be coming back around. Fix it.
  5. What’s this, a MAY version of Luke Winn‘s Power Rankings? That’s right, now that the NBA Draft deadline has passed and we have a better sense of where the top recruits are headed next season, Winn put together a list of 16 teams that mimics the RTC Top 25 (released Tuesday) at the very top, but has some significant differences with respect to where we ranked schools such as Syracuse, Michigan State, and Arizona. As always, you’ll learn quite a few things that you didn’t already know about people, places and things surrounding the game, so make sure to check it out before you head into the weekend.
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Morning Five: 05.02.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 2nd, 2012

  1. The biggest non-Amare Stoudemire basketball news on Tuesday was that the Atlantic 10’s courtship of Butler appears to have finally resulted in a match. ESPN.com reported last night that Butler will formally accept an offer today to join the league in 2013-14, replacing Temple in all sports. As one of the few truly elite mid-major basketball programs unaffiliated with a top 10 conference, this represents a major coup for the A-10 going forward regardless of whether the league is also able to also poach VCU and George Mason from the CAA. Butler’s admission helps to bolster the midwestern footprint of the conference, along with existing members Xavier, St. Louis and Dayton, and it will allow Brad Stevens an entree into the fertile recruiting grounds of the mid-Atlantic with multiple trips to the East Coast cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington each year.
  2. The other conference realignment news that shook out on Tuesday related to another Atlantic 10 school, Charlotte, and whether that school will be on the move in coming days or weeks as well. The school rejected an offer to join the Sun Belt on Tuesday and reportedly did so because it anticipates an opportunity to join Conference USA after it adds a football program next year. Where this would leave C-USA is really anybody’s guess, as the conference is slowly but surely maneuvering toward an incomprehensible 30+ team behemoth (with the eventual pairing of the Mountain West). Whoever wrote the law of unintended consequences when all of this conference realignment stuff (re)started a couple of years ago could not have predicted this morass.
  3. In the 2008 presidential election, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky voted for Republican candidate John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama by a 58% to 41% margin. That 17% victory margin will be put to the test on Friday when the thing that Kentuckians love more than anything else in the world — their national champion Wildcats — will visit the Obama White House to honor and celebrate the school’s eighth NCAA trophy. Of course, these events are rarely political in tenor (apologies to the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas), but that hasn’t stopped full-time politicos from speculating that both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), who refused an invitation, and the White House, are playing partisan games in scheduling the event on Kentucky Derby week (which occurs Saturday). Is this an election year?
  4. Tuesday was a busy day in the world of comings and goings, but the most disheartening news is that college basketball will not get another year of Tim Abromaitis at Notre Dame. Abromaitis had petitioned for a sixth year of eligibility because he tore his ACL in November after playing only two games last season — he also had taken a redshirt year in 2008-09, meaning that he ultimately only suited up in South Bend for three full seasons. In other news, Tennessee’s Renaldo Woolridge (aka SwiperBoy) will spend his last year of eligibility at USC, no doubt spending his free time outside the gym over on the Sunset Strip pitching his audio wares.
  5. It was 10 months ago when Michigan recruit Austin Hatch lost his family, his dog and very nearly his own life in a horrific plane crash that left him with a severe brain injury and the possibility of a very restricted way of life. The Detroit Free-Press revisited his story on Tuesday and found that although there are still many steps to go, Hatch’s doctors say that his rehabilitation has been “as successful as anyone they have seen.” Hatch still plans on attending Michigan in a little over a year, and says that he keeps in touch with head coach John Beilein a couple of times a month. He hasn’t yet been cleared to play basketball, but he has the spirit and will to believe that he’ll get back on the court eventually. Considering how far he’s already come and with 17 months before his first collegiate practice in Ann Arbor, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get there and become one of the best stories in all of amateur athletics.
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Analyzing the Illinois and Tulsa Coaching Hires – Exciting New Fits

Posted by EJacoby on March 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

More coaching vacancies continue to get filled across the country, as it became official on Thursday that Ohio head coach John Groce was hired for Illinois’ coaching vacancy and Kansas assistant Danny Manning agreed to become the new head coach at Tulsa. The Illini coaching search had been a major news story of the past few weeks, but Tulsa’s job had also been open for quite some time since earlier this month. Both hires come as somewhat of a surprise and make for exciting new eras for the Fighting Illini and Golden Hurricane programs. Here’s a look at how each coach might fit in.

Illinois

Groce Parlayed a Sweet Sixteen Trip Into a Big Ten Job (credit: Chicago Tribune)

Bruce Weber experienced a tragic downfall at Illinois during this past season that included ugly performances by the team during Big Ten play and painful press conferences filled with admissions of poor coaching tactics. What started off as a perfect fit for Weber, a man who brought the Illini to the National Championship game in his second season, never developed into a comfortable pairing. Weber was unable to bring in the top recruits that the previous Bill Self regime had (whose players were the ones that Weber coached to the Final Four), and even when some big names eventually came to the program, Weber never developed their talents as expected. As a result, a program that has brought in a total of nine RSCI top-80 recruits since 2009 just completed a terribly disappointing 17-15 campaign, and Weber is long gone.

Bringing in Groce certainly is not the big name that some people were expecting when this job became free. CBS and Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis both stated that Illinois is a top 10 coaching job, and some other media members echoed that belief. But perhaps the job has lost a bit of its luster in recent years, as several top candidates decided to pass up on the opportunity to stay at their current mid-major programs, including Shaka Smart of VCU and Brad Stevens at Butler. It took Ohio’s magical run to the Sweet Sixteen before Groce came into the picture, and while he may not have been the school’s first target, he should be a great fit in Champaign.

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ATB: Power Conference Round Up – All Leagues Now in Tournament Action, Big East Works Overtime

Posted by EJacoby on March 9th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime

Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)

The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
  • Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.

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ATB: Bids Earned From Montana to Brooklyn While Power Conferences Do Battle…

Posted by EJacoby on March 8th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. The Big East Tournament continued in the early afternoon, but nothing crazy has happened in New York City, yet, with all favorites moving on to Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Big 12 and Pac-12 tournaments also got underway on Wednesday, but all of the top seeds had byes until later rounds. The most exciting action once again took place in the smaller conference tourneys, providing more do-or-die action with Big Dance tickets on the line. We start with the best game of the night, which took place in the Patriot League:

Your Watercooler Moment. C.J. McCollum Outduels Mike Muscala for Lehigh Victory

C.J. McCollum Put the Team on his Back to Send Lehigh Dancing (Getty Images/R. Martinez)

The Patriot League final took place on #1 seed Bucknell’s court, and the home team’s star player went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the conference’s leading scorer made a few more plays for the road team. C.J. McCollum, the league Player of the Year who put up ridiculous numbers this season, again ran wild for the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 29 points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, doing it all for Lehigh including hitting 10-13 free throws with several of them in the final four minutes. Mike Muscala had a monster double-double for Bucknell, but he could not convert on the team’s final couple of possessions and didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Lehigh held on to win, 82-77, and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Brooklyn Represents the Northeast Conference Once Again. LIU-Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, and not even the NEC’s best defensive team could slow down the Blackbirds on Wednesday night. LIU defeated Robert Morris, 90-73, on Wednesday night to capture its second consecutive NEC title. The Blackbirds head back to the NCAA Tournament where they last were disposed of by North Carolina in a high-scoring round one game. Expect much of the same for an LIU team that has high-flying forwards (Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere each average about 17 points per game), but doesn’t play a whole lot of defense. The attacking style worked in the NEC, but could it work as a #15 seed in the NCAAs? Regardless, Brooklyn will be in the house for the Big Dance. Read the rest of this entry »
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