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.
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.
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.
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-Pressrevisited 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.
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 Manningagreed 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.
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.
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.
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 »
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
A Look Back
For months now we’ve heard talk of a merger, in some form or another, between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Monday, we got a clearer picture of what that will look like, as it was reported that the remaining members from those two conferences will join together in a newly named conference, beginning as early as the 2013-14 season. So, here we are in the middle of yet another great Mountain West basketball season, and we’re faced with the eventuality of the MW going away.
We’ve known (but tried to forget, at least temporarily) that Boise State’s stopover in the conference was a short-term thing, as they would be headed to the Big East, but the fact that San Diego State would be sending its football team with them (because, you know, San Diego just screams East!) and sending its other sports to the Big West was a low blow. TCU already had plans to head to the Big East (Texas, frontier of the wild, wild East!), but reneged on that and chose a more suitable landing spot in the Big 12. But, with Nevada and Fresno State set to move to the conference next season, it looked like the MW was well on its way to guaranteeing survival in pretty solid shape. Now, however, we’re looking at a future where teams like UNLV and New Mexico are going to be shoehorned into a new conference with teams like Rice and Marshall (not to be confused with Dave Rice and Anthony Marshall).
In short, it has been an extremely fun ride in the MW, specifically over the last five years or so, but that wild ride is coming to an end. Maybe the next ride will be even more fun and exciting than this one has been, but it is hard to imagine a mid-major basketball conference that can survive the subtraction of such great rivalries as SDSU/UNLV, Utah/BYU, and UNLV/BYU and not skip a beat.
Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming Appear Headed To A Still-To-Be-Named New Conference
But, let’s put all that behind us for the next month or so. Right now we’ve got high quality basketball to salve those wounds. First and foremost, this past weekend marked the start of the second half of the MW schedule, and we were treated to another excellent battle between the two teams at the top of the conference. You can read more about UNLV’s win over SDSU below.
Elsewhere, New Mexico won its fifth straight in an absolute slugfest (and some would say abomination) with Wyoming, while Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit in a loss at TCU and their RPI continues its downward spiral; two weeks ago they had an RPI of #18, last week it dropped to #24 and today it sits at #30. Couple that with a rather unimpressive schedule that features only an upset of SDSU as any kind of quality win and I’m considerably less bullish on their NCAA chances today that I was two weeks ago.
Lastly, Boise State won its first conference game of the year, knocking off an Air Force team that had quite a shakeup, as head coach Jeff Reynolds was fired last Wednesday and replaced by assistant coach Dave Pilipovich. We’ll have more on this below, but this marks the second time in as many seasons that a MW coach was let go in the middle of the season, a trend is not particularly appealing.
Team of the Week
UNLV – In a short week like this, when each team only played one conference game, it is easy to just pick the team that beat the best team as Team of the Week. And that honor goes to the Rebels, who knocked off San Diego State and created a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »
Evan Jacoby is a regular RTC contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
The college basketball landscape incurred another major shuffle on Tuesday, as Memphisis reportedly headed to the Big East for all sports beginning in the 2013-14 season. At this point, geographical alignment is a non-factor when it comes to conference separation, so fretting over the fact that a school in western Tennessee will be a part of the ‘Big East’ is simply a waste of time. Instead, looking at this deal from a basketball competition angle shows that the move is a benefit for both parties.
Josh Pastner Will Likely be Coaching Memphis in the Big East in Two Seasons
Memphis, an elite basketball program with the third-best winning percentage of the past decade, gets to join a top tier conference that provides enough guaranteed challenges and limits the amount of difficult non-conference scheduling that the team must make. Playing teams like Connecticut, Villanova, and Marquette every year will greatly boost the Tigers’ overall profile each season so they don’t have to schedule as many pre-conference contests against Tennessee, Michigan, Louisville, and Georgetown like they did this year. Meanwhile, the Big East Conference is adding an upper echelon basketball school to help replace the impending departures of West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. Memphis has reached the NCAA Tournament in six of the past eight seasons, including a Final Four run and two Elite Eight appearances in the last six years. Memphis is also a C-USA school, the conference that once harbored Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul, and South Florida. So the Tigers have familiar ties to several current Big East schools that make it a logical fit.
Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
Head coach Larry Eustachy hasn’t led a team to the NCAA Tournament since his two-seed Iowa State Cyclones were upset in the first round of 2001. But the Southern Miss basketball program has waited even longer, as it’s been 21 years since the Golden Eagles went dancing. This season, the combination of Eustachy’s guidance and a collection of veteran players have USM in prime position to earn a ticket to the Big Dance, whether as the champion of their league or an at-large selection. On Wednesday night, the Golden Eagles snapped a 17-game losing streak against Memphis by defeating the Tigers, 75-72, to earn sole possession of first place in Conference USA. A program that has never won an NCAA Tournament game is well on their way to having a chance to do so this season.
Larry Eustachy is Back in Control of a Potential NCAA Tournament Team (AP/S. Coleman)
Southern Miss (20-3, 7-1 C-USA) has quietly put together a solid resume this season, and Wednesday’s win was the signature victory they needed to justify their sparkling record. The Golden Eagles have only lost to undefeated Murray State in Alaska, at Denver in its first ‘real’ game, and at Memphis by two points earlier in the season. The Denver loss appears rough, but the Pioneers are actually a top 100 RPI team at 16-6, 6-3 in the Sun Belt, and it’s never easy to play a true road game at the start of the season. Meanwhile, Southern Miss has been flawless in the rest of its conference games and also boasts road wins at Colorado State and Arizona State and home victories over Ole Miss and South Florida, both of which are above .500 in the SEC and Big East, respectively. Tally it all up and the Golden Eagles have a spectacular RPI of #11, which is music to the NCAA Tournament committee’s ears.
Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Two previously Top 10 teams (UConn and Indiana) are in major slides right now and have a chance to regain confidence with road wins tonight, though both are in very difficult spots. Also, perhaps the biggest game of the C-USA season takes place this evening. Here’s what to look for:
#22 Indiana at #20 Michigan – 6:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (****)
Can Indiana Stop Trey Burke's Dribble Drive Tonight? (AP Photo)
The Hoosiers have lost four of six games and are rapidly descending in the rankings. However, they are coming off a 103-point scoring performance in a win over Iowa and they hung tough at Wisconsin in their previous game before coming up short. If Tom Crean’s team is really turning the corner in the Big Ten, then they need to prove it tonight with nothing other than a victory. Cody Zeller has been outstanding in conference play and will be the go-to man tonight against a suspect Wolverines interior defense that allowed the freshman to go 8-10 with 18 points in their first meeting, a slim Indiana win at home. IU has been efficient offensively lately without being overly reliant on the three-point shot, which is a good formula on the road. But their chances at winning tonight really boil down to their ability to stop Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s penetration, as both players have the ability to carve up soft defenses. Indiana has an insanely high 110.4 defensive efficiency in conference, which will not cut it tonight. An improved defensive effort, however, will give them a great chance to win.
The Wolverines have held serve at home this season at 12-0 and will look to feed off the Ann Arbor crowd. As discussed above, this game is all about Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. for Michigan. The two guards are the only players in double-figure scoring (14.1 PPG and 15.2 PPG, respectively) and should have plenty of opportunities to penetrate a weak Indiana half-court defense. If they are making plays and setting up Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz for open threes, UM is right where they want to be. Michigan has played much better defense at home this season and should not allow Indiana to shoot the lights out like they have been able to in some games.
It’s probably getting repetitive, but this game completely comes down to Indiana’s defensive intensity in the half-court. Michigan has the advantage at home and is a four-point favorite, but this would be no upset if Indiana won. If early in the game you see Burke bouncing the ball for 20 seconds during possessions and struggling to get into the paint, you’ll know IU is doing a good job on the perimeter. Prediction: Michigan comes through with a slim victory.
Connecticut at #15 Georgetown – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)
This week, I’ll be asking the board to support a proposal to allow conferences — not mandate anyone, but allow conferences, not individual institutions — to increase the value of an athletic grant in aid to more closely approach the full cost of attendance. [...] We are going to create a model that would allow — probably… up to $2,000 in addition to tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies.
Interesting. A couple of grand may not seem like much considering the astronomical dollar figures that schools make on the backs of these players, but it’s not insignificant either. A two-semester school year encompasses roughly nine months for an athlete: dividing that figure by 39 weeks results in an allowance of roughly $51 per week. What college student couldn’t use a little shy of ten bucks a day to buy pizza, fill up his gas tank and occasionally join his buddies for an evening out to the movies and some greasy spoon afterward? It seems a pittance given the figures going into the coffers of the power conference schools, right? But therein lies the problem.
Now that we’ve spent the last six weeks reviewing most of the Division I conferences, let’s take a look back at the entire list with the summer #1 power ranking for each as we head into the fall… [ed note: to see all of the Summer Updates in order of release, click here]
There are many, many things to love about college basketball, but one of the best parts of being a fan is to glance at your team’s schedule for the upcoming season and quickly locating the two, three or four ‘big’ games on the slate. The mind’s eye wanders with anticipation of a season filled with opportunities to lord over the fans of the schools one hates the most, whether longtime conference foe, annoying regional rival, or up-and-coming frenemy. Those ‘rivalry games’ on the schedule are often just as intense and in some cases more important than the other 30+ games combined — just ask Carolina fans how important it is that the Heels beat Duke, or Tennessee fans how badly they want the Vols to beat Kentucky. In the absence of any other major successes in a given season, that one victory can carry the day for an entire fanbase through the offseason.
Pitino & Calipari Elevated the Memphis-Louisville Rivalry
Some of the very best such rivalries in the game today involve pre-conference matchups between regional rivals where the fanbases simply do not care for one another. Kentucky-Indiana. Wisconsin-Marquette. Missouri-Illinois. Gonzaga-Washington. Cincinnati-Xavier. BYU-Utah State. Any Big Five game. A few others have either been lost to the dustbins of history for any number of reasons, or never got started to begin with. Maryland-Georgetown. Connecticut-UMass. Ohio State-Cincinnati. Memphis-Louisville. Ah yes, that one. With today’s announcement that the former MVC/Metro/Great Midwest/Conference USA powerhouses will meet this coming December as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout, one of the grand old rivalries of the sport will soon resurrect from the dead.
The game, on December 17 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, will represent the first of a two-year home-and-home series that we hope the schools have enough sense to continue. They have not played since the Cardinals left CUSA for the Big East in 2005, the longest such drought in nearly fifty years between the two schools; and while the press releases all state that Louisville owns the all-time record against Memphis, 51-34, the insider nugget is that the two schools are deadlocked at 24-24 since the 1980-81 season. In the modern era, this rivalry has been one of the most competitive in the entire landscape of college basketball, and the two fanbases are already juiced for the opportunity to see their old enemies again.
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.
With three conference tournaments concluding last night, it is only appropriate that five more get underway today. Conference USA and the Southland Conference are two of the most balanced leagues in the nation, while the WAC and Mountain West were just the opposite as they were dominated at the top. The SWAC is always a bit of a mystery come Championship Week and tournament time, but Texas Southern is the class of the league this year and will no doubt do their best to bring respect to the league if they are fortunate enough to advance to the Dance.
The Favorite: UAB won the regular season title with a 12-4 record, but that means very little in the ultra competitive CUSA this season as five teams are just behind the Blazers. There is something to be said though about UAB’s strong play down the stretch and the steady play of Jamarr Sanders and Cameron Moore. These reasons alone amidst several injuries that Mike Davis‘ club has overcome makes UAB the slight favorite over the rest of the bunch.
Dark Horse: Southern Mississippi is one the teams that are nipping at UAB’s heels. Although they fell in their last three games of the regular season, Larry Eustachy’s squad proved throughout the year they can beat anyone in the conference. Having Gary Flowers roam around the pain never hurts either.
Who’s Hot: UAB has won their last four games and seven of eight heading into the tournament. As well as UAB is playing, it would be very easy for that to stop on a dime. Throughout each week during the conference schedule, it appeared that one team in CUSA was emerging as the top dog, but they would quickly fade. Can UAB keep their streak going all the way into the NCAA Tournament?
Player to Watch: Papa Dia, Southern Methodist’s senior forward all the way from Senegal, is enjoying the best season of his career as he is averaging 18.5 points and 9 rebounds a game. In each of the previous three seasons, SMU has been below .500; Dia and his teammates clearly have something to prove in this tournament.
First-Round Upset: Central Florida over East Carolina. UCF was the nation’s favorite story in the early going as they jumped out to a 14-0 record with wins over Florida, Miami (FL), and Princeton. The Knights then went onto lose eight straight games, thus proving that their early success was a fluke. Now, UCF has won five of seven games and if they can regain that success they had in those 14 games, a victory over East Carolina is absolutely within reach.
How’d They Fare? After going 7-9 in the conference, Houston caught fire in the tournament to surprise everyone by winning the title. In doing so, the Cougars stole a bid from a team on the bubble and earned a #13 seed in the Tournament where they lost to Maryland 89-77. UTEP—the team Houston beat to advance onward—was trounced by Butler as a #12 seed.
Interesting Fact: The last team to win an NCAA Tournament game hailing from Conference USA not named Memphis was Louisville in the 2005 Tournament. The ‘Ville advanced all the way to the Final Four that year where they lost to Illinois 57-52 in the semifinals. Both UAB and Cincinnati also won Tournament games that year.