O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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Rhode Island & the Atlantic 10 Searching For Answers

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 12th, 2016

The phrase mid-major is thrown around a lot by those of us who watch this sport. At some point we got lazy and decided to classify every school outside of the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC as mid-major programs. While leagues like Conference USA and the Mountain West would not have fit the mid-major description in the early-to-mid 2000s, their basketball reputations have taken a dive in recent years as schools have relocated. Meanwhile, the Atlantic 10 has produced 52 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2000, the most of any conference outside the Power Six. As the preseason pick to finish second in the league, Rhode Island, much like the league it plays in, finds itself in an uncomfortable mid-December position.

Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews scored 31 points in Saturday's loss to Houston, one point shy of tying a career high. (Photo courtesy of GoRhody.com)

Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews scored 31 points in Saturday’s loss to Houston, one point shy of tying a career high. (GoRhody.com)

Although projecting the fortunes of this program is one of the tougher queries in college basketball, we have written in this space that 2016-17 could finally be the Year of the Rams. Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s recent basketball history is riddled with disappointment. Despite accumulating six 20-win seasons since the 1998-99 season — including four in a row from 2008-11 — the Rams have not appeared in the NCAA Tournament over that span. A healthy combination of returnees E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, in addition to improving depth and a jam-packed non-conference schedule, led many pundits to believe in the preseason that Rhode Island’s breakthrough was imminent.

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This is the Year: Rhode Island Might Finally Go Dancing

Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on November 28th, 2016

He may have been born into a basketball family with a future Hall of Famer for a father and an NBA lottery pick for a brother, but Dan Hurley did not have a silver whistle to expedite his way to the top of the coaching ladder. After finishing his playing career at Seton Hall in 1996, Hurley began his career by leading the junior varsity squad for his legendary father, Bob Hurley, Sr., at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City (NJ), where he had played alongside brother Bobby Hurley a few years prior. He went to Rutgers a year later, serving four years there as an assistant before heading to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark (NJ). The youngest Hurley compiled a remarkable 223-21 record at that prep program over nine years, and when Wagner, a NEC team coming off a 5-26 season in 2009-10, came calling, Hurley accepted the challenge.

Now in Year Five, Dan Hurley has the Rams in line for a big season. (NJ.com)

Now in Year Five, Dan Hurley has the Rams in line for a big season. (NJ.com)

Hurley had almost become the coach at Marist a couple years prior, but decided — even though some snickered — Wagner was a better choice. Two years and a 25-6 season with the Seahawks later, Hurley was finally — some 17 years after beginning at the lowest rung of the coaching ladder — ready for a shot with a big-time program like Rhode Island. While rumored in the interim to be in contention for the St. John’s and Rutgers jobs when they opened, Hurley and Rhode Island seem to be made for each other. When Hurley was just beginning as an assistant at Rutgers in teh late 90s, the Rams were riding Jim Harrick, Cuttino Mobley and Tyson Wheeler to within one game of the Final Four in 1998, losing to Stanford by two points in a heart-breaker. Read the rest of this entry »

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Previewing Tight Races in the Mid-Majors: Part I

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 2nd, 2016

In this NCAA Basketball preview season, we are bombarded with lists. One common list is that of the trendy mid-major ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting college hoops world. Unfortunately, some of these high-quality teams find themselves in the same conference staring each other down for scarce March Madness bids. No mid-major is ever guaranteed an invitation to the Field of 68, of course, no matter how impressive it looks in November and December. Just ask the 2015-16 iterations of Monmouth and St. Mary’s about that. In this preseason post we will analyze several mid-major conference races that should be two-horse races, with details on each team, why they will (or not), and a bonus sleeper who isn’t yet in the conversation. Part I covering the WCC and Atlantic 10 will publish today. Part II on the Ivy League and MAAC will release later this week.

West Coast Conference—Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga

It's always fun when these two guys get their teams together

It’s always fun when these two guys get their teams together. (AP)

St. Mary’s

  • Who they are: Randy Bennett’s team came out of absolutely nowhere last year to become an offensive juggernaut, and the Gaels return every important piece from that 29-6 team. All six returning perimeter players are above average three-point shooters, with junior Aussie guard Emmett Naar looking an awful lot like the next Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Rahon acting as a capable secondary playmaker. On the inside, Dane Pineau is ruthlessly efficient and productive, and his backup Jock Landale is no slouch either. The Gaels play at a glacial pace and they don’t beat themselves.
  • Why they will win: This is going to be one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball once again. Last year’s team went 29-6 and last year’s team is essentially this year’s team with another year of experience. The Gaels could be second weekend good.
  • Why they will lose: If we learned anything last year, it is that St. Mary’s has no margin for error with Gonzaga also in the conference. The defense has to be good enough to compete and the outside shots have to fall. Otherwise, the Gaels may be on the outside looking in once again.

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Rhode Island Loses Hassan Martin in an Injury-Filled Season

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2016

The announcement from Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley on Wednesday was short but hardly sweet: Starting forward Hassan Martin is done for the rest of the regular season. The consensus all-conference player has tendinitis in his right knee that caused him to log only 10 minutes in the Rams’ 11-point loss at Davidson on Tuesday, and although it’s unclear how long he’ll be out, the school does not expect him back in action prior to the start of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Coupled with the loss of EC Matthews in Rhode Island’s first game of the season, Hurley has now lost the services of the two players he was most counting on to propel his team into the conference elite.

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

It was Bad News Wednesday for Hassan Martin and Rhode Island. (Getty)

Hurley retooled his offense to cover for the loss of Matthews, turning to the trio of Fore McGlynn, a fifth-year senior from Towson, and two developing sophomores, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell. Martin, who shared frontcourt playing time with transfer Kuran Iverson, fifth-year senior Earl Watson and freshman Nicola Akele, had already missed two previous games with an ankle sprain, while Garrett and Iverson missed games because of injury back in January. Although Hurley has described his 15-13 squad as exceptionally “resilient,” the loss of Martin for at least the next few games has drastically lowered expectations for the home stretch. Touted as the sleeper team during Atlantic 10 Media Day last October, the Rams will do well to finish .500 in league play and earn the #7 seed at the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 10th, 2016

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

The “Rs” Are Out of Step

The table below shows that 12 of the conference’s 14 members have efficiency differences consistent with their conference records, but Rhode Island and Richmond have bucked that trend for different reasons. For the Rams, blame injuries, as Rhody’s roster has been a patchwork since E. C. Matthew’s season-ending injury 10 minutes into its opening game. Since then, three stalwarts — Hasan Martin, Kuran Iverson, and Jarvis Garrett — have missed at least one game each, leaving the Rams with a 5-5 record despite Dan Hurley’s efforts to add depth to the rotation. It may be time for Hurley to seriously consider throwing the switch on development for next season when he should have his nucleus of Matthews-Martin-Iverson healthy and conditioned for a serious run.

Table01160210

Richmond’s strange placement comes from a strong offense (as the table indicates, 111.2 points per 100 possessions) combined with a very weak defense that yields 109.8 points per 100 possessions. As the table above indicates, the bottom five squads — UMass, Duquesne, St. Louis, Fordham and La Salle — continue to separate away from the rest of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on January 6th, 2016

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Three Things We Learned in the First Weekend

  1. Davidson won’t repeat as the regular season champion. The Wildcats are 1-4 away from the Belk Arena so far, including their 97-85 loss to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. With away games still to come versus Dayton, George Washington, VCU, Richmond and Fordham, along with tough home games against VCU, Saint Joseph’s and George Washington, Davidson could lose as many as eight conference games over the next two months.

    Despite his elite coaching prowess, it doesn't look like Bob McKillop and Davidson will repeat at conference champs this time around. (Tim Cowie/DavidsonPhotos.com)

    Despite his elite coaching prowess, it doesn’t look like Bob McKillop’s team will repeat at conference champs this time around. (Tim Cowie/DavidsonPhotos.com)

  2. A strong defense, some unanticipated player development and a favorable conference schedule means Saint Joseph’s should follow its 6-1 December with a 7-2 January. The players appear to be “getting it” — meaning head coach Phil Martelli’s approach to the game — and it shows in the Hawks’ defense and team-oriented approach to offense. St. Joseph’s field goal shooting still needs to improve, but the team is already showing up in a number of midseason brackets. If all goes well this month, February’s schedule features a handful of more difficult games that will ultimately determine whether the team is a legitimate contender for the conference title.
  3. It was a 69-63 loss, but Fordham’s players and fans are optimistic. The road venue was the Smith Center in Washington, D.C., and the Rams, down 15 at the half, managed to climb back in and stay within three possessions of the Colonials through the remainder of the game. The players are buying into what first year coach Jeff Neubauer is selling, as Fordham carried a 9-2 record into conference play and is on track to win between six to eight Atlantic 10 games. If the Rams hit inside that window, they will post their first winning season since 2006-07. A winning program in the New York City metropolitan area provides a huge boost to the conference’s overall profile, and correspondingly, Neubauer’s recruiting. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 22nd, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Breaking Down the Non-Conference Season

As KenPom’s eighth-ranked conference, the Atlantic 10 is securely in the top 25 percent of Division I basketball, well above the next conference (the WCC) and at the head of the Basketball-First group of conferences that typically expect at least two NCAA Tournament bids every season. The A-10 has drawn at least three bids every season since 2007 and this year should be no different. The non-conference composite record again shows that the league is capable of competing with the elite conferences while dominating (to varying degrees) the other 24.

Table01151221

(Note: The conference is 4-0 versus non-Division I teams. No conference members have games scheduled with teams from the Big West, the Mountain West, the Summit and the WAC).

The conference’s overall winning percentage sits at 68 percent going into the Christmas break, with its splits reflected by the level of the competition. The A-10 has a winning record against five of the top seven conferences, but poor showings against the ACC (3-10) and Big East (2-6) account for most of the losses against the elite leagues. The Colonial Athletic (6-6) and the Missouri Valley (2-4) conferences account for 10 of the 11 losses to its peer conferences. And the conference won 90 percent of its games scheduled with the bottom nine leagues, but the OVC strangely enough accounts for two of those three losses. While a solid finish to the non-conference season will help and the Selection Committee has emphasized that conference comparisons are not part of its selection calculus, the league’s overall record should help A-10 members when conference play resumes in January.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 24th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the Rush the Court correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

The Best Kept Secret in Division I

Counting the four games played Monday night, the Atlantic 10 conference has compiled a 40-11 (0.784) record against their opponents through the first two weeks of the season. Every conference schedules its share of cupcakes and the A-10 is no exception, as nearly 38 percent of the slate — with a 15-0 record in those games — comes from conferences ranked in the lower third of Division I and Division II basketball. Versus the seven elite conferences and the A-10’s four fellow basketball-first conferences, league teams have played 25 percent of their schedule and compiled a 10-6 (0.625) record. Results are particularly impressive versus the SEC (2-0), ACC (3-3) and the Big 12 (1-0) Conferences. Distracted by the plethora of upsets, the World Wide Leader gave George Washington’s 73-68 win over then #6 Virginia a little less than a full news cycle before moving on to other upsets.

The Atlantic 10 has started the season off well so far. This week gets a lot tougher for Dan Hurley and Rhode Island - as well as the rest of the A10. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The Atlantic 10 has started the season off well so far. This week gets a lot tougher for Dan Hurley and Rhode Island – as well as the rest of the A-10. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Lacking an early season tournament win — Virginia Commonwealth, the conference flagship since Shaka Smart brought the Rams into the league in 2012-13, took two close losses, the first to Duke by eight points and the second to Wisconsin by one point. Saint Joseph’s split its Hall of Fame slate last weekend, dropping a semifinal game to Florida on Saturday before bouncing back versus Old Dominion in the consolation game Sunday. Dave Paulsen took his George Mason squad to the finals of the Charleston Classic, beating Mississippi and Oklahoma State before losing in the finals, 83-66, to #12 Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »

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Other 26 Previews: Atlantic 10 Conference

Posted by Joseph Dzuback on November 12th, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

As the Carousal Turns

After two quiet offseasons, three Atlantic 10 programs filled head coaching vacancies last spring. This matched the turnover rate from the 2012 offseason, the highest in over a decade. Two programs, Fordham and George Mason, released their veteran coaches, Tom Pecora (14 years, the last five on Rose Hill) and Paul Hewitt (18 years, the last four at GMU) respectively, in an effort to change the trajectories of their programs. Meanwhile, Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart left of his own accord for Austin to take the reins of the Longhorns’ program after Rick Barnes’ resignation. Changing their historic pattern of looking exclusively in the metropolitan New York coaching pool, Fordham athletic director Ed Roach turned westward and after a brief (and unsuccessful) courtship of Robert Morris’ Andy Toole, hired Eastern Kentucky head coach Jeff Neubauer. Neubauer, a collegiate point guard and 1993 graduate of La Salle, is no stranger to Northeastern basketball. Neubauer took his Colonials to five postseason tournaments (including two NCAA tournament appearances) during his 10-year tenure at Eastern Kentucky.

Former Bucknell head man Dave Paulsen is just one of many new coaches in the A10 this season. Paulsen will look to lead George Mason to a postseason berth. (The Daily Item)

Former Bucknell head man Dave Paulsen is just one of many new coaches in the A10 this season. Paulsen will look to lead George Mason to a postseason berth. (The Daily Item)

George Mason athletic director Brad Edwards hired Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen after a two-week search. Paulsen, a veteran head coach of 21 years, brings a 134-94 Division I record (highlighted by two NIT and two NCAA appearances) to a Patriots’ program that sorely misses the days of Jim Larranaga. Virginia Commonwealth athletic director Ed McLaughlin’s task was to find, in Smart’s successor, someone who would continue the momentum that the rising star head coach had established. His candidate pool came down to several former Smart assistants, and Tennessee-Chattanooga’s two-year head coach Wade Wilson fit the bill. Wilson’s variation of Smart’s HAVOC system (called CHAOS) carried the Mocs to two second place finishes in Southern Conference play (27-7) and a 40-25 overall record.

Predicted Order of Finish

Season previews have consistently identified three or four squads as the strongest contenders to earn the regular season title (and winning the conference tournament title, taking the NCAA automatic bid), but the conference-wide averages for returning points and minutes (above 70 percent in both cases) suggest that this season will not feature a dominant leader like from 2004-08. Expect another two or three team dogfight like the more recent conference seasons. It’ll be worth brushing up on the tie-breaker rules again this season. Projected conference record are shown in parenthesis; Atlantic 10 coaches poll rankings are shown in squared [] brackets. Read the rest of this entry »

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