Bracket Prep: Albany, Tulsa, Texas Southern

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2014

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As we move through the final stages of Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners. 

Albany

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

For the second straight season, Albany surprised the America East and is going dancing. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  • America East Champion (18-14, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #210/#195/#199
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. For the second straight year, Albany capitalized on its home court advantage in the America East non-championship rounds before pulling off a road upset in the title game. That means the Great Danes – instead of league champion Vermont or preseason favorite Stony Brook – will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts or Seawolves would probably have been more serious upset threats (especially Vermont, once projected in the 13-seed range), but Albany is among the more experienced teams in the country and did go dancing last season, which never hurts.
  2. The Danes’ identity lies on the defensive end, where they held opponents to under one point per possession in conference play. Will Brown’s club switches between man defense and a stout 2-3 zone that gave Stony Brook all kinds of issues on Saturday, including a six minute stretch where the Seawolves failed to make a single field goal early in the second half. Albany is anchored inside by 6’10’’ center John Puk, whose defense against America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney showed he’s capable of holding his own against skilled big men – the kind he’ll surely face in the NCAA Tournament. Offensively, the team is led by Australian shooting guard Peter Hooley, who averages nearly 16 points per game and shoots 40 percent from behind the arc. Fellow Aussie Sam Rowley is the team’s leading rebounder and was the go-to scorer on Saturday – he averages 11 per night – while speedy point guard DJ Evans and small forward Gary Johnson also score in double figures.
  3. With an adjusted tempo of 63.3 possessions per game and an average offensive possession length of 19.3 seconds, the Danes look to methodically execute in the half-court and control the pace. The vast majority of their shots are taken from inside the arc – besides Hooley and Evans, no player has attempted more than 50 threes on the season – and they are proficient both at drawing fouls and making their free throws; Hooley ranked second in the conference at 86 percent from the stripe. Ultimately, though, Albany wins with its defense, preventing opponents from getting easy looks and cleaning up misses at a high rate. In their upset of Vermont, the Danes allowed the Catamounts to corral just 20 percent of their misses.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Conference USA

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with another conference tourney tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, Conference USA gets started.

Dates: March 11-15
Site: Haskins Center (El Paso, Texas)

2014 cusa tourney bracket

What to expect: Four teams tied for first during the regular season at 13-3 — Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, Middle Tennessee, and Southern Miss — and they’ll be seeded in that order here. Without much of a chance for at-large bids, the C-USA tourney should be a dogfight between those top four. Semifinal Friday should be a doozy if the chalk holds. The automatic bid winner could be a potential Cinderella in the big bracket.

Favorite: Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are the top seed, having won four straight and eight of their last nine games. Tech gets it done on the defensive end, ranking 22nd in the nation in defensive efficiency (94.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Bulldogs aren’t too shabby on offense, either, ranking second in Conference USA in league games with 110.1 points scored per 100 possessions.

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O26 Superlatives, Part II: CAA, C-USA, MAC, MEAC, MVC, SoCon, Summit & WCC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 10th, 2014

In Part II of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: CAA, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, SoCon, Summit and WCC. In alphabetical order:

Colonial Athletic Association

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

The Blue Hens outworked the rest of the CAA for much of 2013-2014. (The Post and Courier)

  • Team of the Year – Delaware (22-9, 14-2). Not even early– and late-season suspensions of two of Delaware’s best players could stop the Blue Hens’ run to a CAA regular season title. Monte Ross’ up-tempo club raced off to an 11-0 start in conference play, amassing a large enough lead that preseason favorite Towson was never able to catch up.
  • Player of the Year – Jerelle Benimon – Towson. You want beastly numbers? How about these: In 32 games, the 6’8’’ Benimon averaged 18.9 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, recorded an NCAA-best 20 double-doubles and reached the free throw line 258 times, good for sixth in the country.
  • Coach of the Year – Monté Ross – Delaware. Ross found a way to keep things together, to keep winning after guard Devon Saddler – the team’s leading scorer – missed seven games due to suspension early in the season and Jarvis Threatt – the team’s third-leading scorer – was suspended for the entire month of February.
  • Upset of the Year – Northeastern over Georgetown, 63-56. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, miles from Boston or Washington D.C., Scott Eatherton and the Huskies pounded Georgetown in the paint and pulled off an unexpected upset. Alas, it was another full month before Bill Coen’s bunch wound up back in the win column.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Johnathan Burroughs-Cook – College of Charleston. Burroughs-Cook cares not that you are D-II school or that he is playing in a preseason game—he will still annihilate your attempt to draw a charge.

Conference USA

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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

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  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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