2019-20 RTC16: Week 16

Posted by Walker Carey on March 9th, 2020

The final week of the regular season saw the resolution to many conference championship battles. In the SEC, #7 Kentucky secured the outright championship last week. In the Big 12, #1 Kansas clinched a share of the league title with a win over TCU on Tuesday and earned the outright crown with a win at Texas Tech on Saturday. The ACC saw #4 Florida Statewhich was picked to finish fifth in the preseason — take home the outright league title with wins over Notre Dame and Boston College coupled with #15 Louisville falling at Virginia. #14 Oregon used comfortable home wins over California and Stanford along with some help via UCLA and Arizona State losing to earn the outright Pac-12 title. The Big Ten and Big East races ended with three teams earning the privilege to hang a banner. #8 Michigan State, #13 Maryland and Wisconsin shared the Big Ten title while #9 Creighton, #10 Villanova and #12 Seton Hall split the Big East crown. This regular season was defined by the unexpected, so be on high alert for some surprises as the postseason hits its stride later this. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Goodbye February, Hello March!

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on March 3rd, 2020

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Three words that the entire college basketball community has been waiting for have finally been spoken. Take it away, Jon…

The look back at what transpired on the court last week begins with a piece of history, thanks to Dayton. Two minutes and ten seconds into the Flyers’ weekend game against Davidson, Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher missed a jumper. It would end up being the Flyers’ only miss from inside the three-point line for the entire game. Anthony Grant’s team would go on to make 27-of-28 from two-point range in their 82-67 win over Davidson, which, incidentially, also clinched the Atlantic 10 title.

Dayton leads the nation in effective field goal percentage and two-point field-goal percentage this season, and the Flyers are in position to become just the fifth team to shoot above 60 percent on their two-point attempts over the past 15 seasons. Dayton’s 59.7 percent effective field-goal percentage has only been topped in the past 15 seasons by the Lonzo Ball UCLA team of 2016-17. Of course, Dayton shooting those high percentages should not be surprising when Obi Toppin is doing this…

Big Ten-leading Maryland began the week by trailing Minnesota by 16 points at the half. Down by a pair with the clock winding its way towards zero, the ball made its way into the hands of junior Darryl Morsell. The Terps had gone 5-of-27 from beyond the arc before Morsell found the range for his first made three of the game…

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Ten Questions to Consider: Will Rematches Lead to Similar Results?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 28th, 2020

The end of February and beginning of March is upon the college basketball world. As the number of days remaining in the regular season dwindles to single digits, the importance of each game grows. Here are 10 questions I have for some of the meaningful match-ups this weekend:

  1. Coming off of its late rally against Minnesota, will Maryland be ready for a full 40 minutes of Michigan State? (Michigan State @ Maryland, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) In the earlier match-up between these two teams in East Lansing, Maryland jumped out to an early 15-point lead before falling behind 60-53 with 3:24 to go. Anthony Cowan’s heroics from deep ultimately saved the Terps and led to pole position atop the Big Ten. It was a game in which Michigan State made just 21 percent of its three-point attempts.
  2. Will Penn State’s bench be a difference-maker as it looks to sweep Iowa? (Penn State @ Iowa, Saturday, Noon EST, Big Ten Network) The Nittany Lions’ bench is averaging 21.6 points per game over the team’s last five games. In their win against Iowa earlier in the season, the Penn State bench scored 46 of the team’s 89 points, while Iowa’s bench managed just eight points of its own.
  3. Will Marquette get productive showings from anyone other than Markus Howard? (Seton Hall @ Marquette, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox) In the first showdown between Markus Howard and Myles Powell this season, each dynamic scorer finished with more than 20 points (Howard: 27, Powell: 23). For Marquette, though, the rest of the team went just 3-of-11 from inside the arc, 6-of-19 from beyond it, and 4-of-9 at the charity stripe.
  4. After dropping its last two road games at NC State and Wake Forest, how does Duke fare at Virginia? (Duke @ Virginia, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) As Rush the ACC noted earlier in the week, Duke on the road has been a very different looking team compared to Duke at home. In Duke’s nine road ACC games, the Blue Devils have trailed after the opening 10 minutes in eight of those games. At home, Tony Bennett’s team has held its ACC opponents to an average of just 9.4 points in the opening 10 minutes of action.
  5. Can UCLA slow the Arizona offense again and gain a big win for its resume? (Arizona @ UCLA, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN) In UCLA’s win at the McKale Center earlier this month, the Bruins held Arizona to just 52 points on 25.4 percent shooting from the field. It was the worst home shooting night in Arizona history. The Bruins limited Arizona freshman Nico Mannion to a season-low five points on 2-of-14 shooting.
  6. Will any defensive changes for Saint Mary’s work in slowing Gonzaga? (Saint Mary’s @ Gonzaga, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) In Gonzaga’s lopsided win over the Gaels earlier in the year, Corey Kispert’s jumper at the 8:03 mark of the first half pushed the lead to 22 points as Gonzaga led 34-12. Mark Few’s squad made 16 of their first 17 shots from the field. The only thing that slowed Gonzaga in the opening minutes was turnovers, as the Bulldogs committed seven in the first 10 minutes.
  7. Will Auburn be able to win the battle of the backboard and free throw line on the road at Rupp? (Auburn @ Kentucky, Saturday, 3:45 PM EST, CBS) In Auburn’s home win over Kentucky on February 1, the Tigers were +11 in free-throw makes (33 FTM), +20 in free-throw attempts (44 FTA), +14 on the glass, and won the turnover battle. On the season, Kentucky has averaged 9.6 more made free throws at home than its opponents.
  8. Can Michigan keep winning on the road? (Michigan @ Ohio State, Sunday, 4 PM EST, CBS) After dropping its first four road tests in league play, Michigan has won its last four Big Ten tests away from the Crisler Center. In its loss against Ohio State earlier in the season, 31 of Michigan’s 60 field goal attempts were from three-point range, its highest three-point rate on the season, a rate much higher than its season average.
  9. Has Stanford stabilized itself after its tough midseason stretch? (Colorado @ Stanford, Sunday, 6 PM EST, ESPNU) The Cardinal have won three straight games after a stretch where it lost seven of eight. Stanford takes on a Colorado team it lost to earlier in the month. That match-up is remembered for a scary scene involving Oscar da Silva’s head injury. Since returning from the injury suffered in that game, da Silva has scored 15 or more points in each of his four games.
  10. Can Davidson ruin Dayton’s quest for A-10 perfection? (Davidson @ Dayton, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) Bob McKillop’s Wildcats are shooting an Atlantic 10 best 37.3 percent from beyond the arc in league play while also holding opponents to a league-low 44.2 percent on field goal attempts from inside the arc. Slowing Dayton is easier said than done as the Flyers lead in the nation in effective field goal percentage and two-point shooting percentage.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Will the Wild and Crazy Continue?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 7th, 2020

As February moves along, the college basketball season hits a key weekend of rivalry matchups and games among conference foes. From teams battling for conference superiority to schools looking to fight their way back to the right side of the bubble, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend:

  1. Will Saint Mary’s be able to get the necessary stops against Gonzaga? (Gonzaga @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN) After finishing as KenPom’s top-ranked offense last season, the Zags find themselves in the top spot once again this season. In last season’s three match-ups between WCC foes, Saint Mary’s struggled to slow Gonzaga inside the arc, as Gonzaga made 61.6 percent of its two-point attempts. In Saint Mary’s loss last weekend at BYU, the Gaels allowed the Cougars to shoot a blistering 57.9 percent from the field.
  2. Can Villanova claw its way back into the Big East title race? (Seton Hall @ Villanova, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, FOX) Villanova has lost two straight contests, including a home loss last weekend at the hands of Creighton. The Wildcats last lost consecutive home games during the 2011-12 season. In three career games at Villanova, however, Myles Powell has scored an average of nine points per game and has made just 4-of-20 shots from beyond the arc.
  3. Quite simply, which Purdue team shows up? (Purdue @ Indiana, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN) The Boilermakers are 10-2 at home, outscoring opponents by an average of 20.4 points per game. On the road, though, Matt Painter’s squad has gone just 3-8, scoring an average of 18.8 fewer points per game away from home. The Boilermakers travel to Bloomington this weekend, where they will look to grab a victory for the fourth straight time.
  4. Can Illinois remain perfect at home? (Maryland @ Illinois, Friday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Terps escaped with a victory over Illinois earlier this season despite trailing by seven points with under four minutes remaining. Illinois will need Kofi Cockburn on the floor to try and slow a red-hot Jalen Smith — the Illini star played a season-low 21 minutes in the first match-up while hampered with foul trouble.
  5. Is Davidson the team Atlantic 10 front-runners do not want to see on their schedule? (Davidson @ VCU, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) While Davidson remains iffy defensively, its offense is clicking. Senior guard Jon Axel Gudmundsson is shooting 37 percent from three-point range over his last five conference games after starting league play making just 4-of-28 (14.3%). The preseason pick to finish second in the league could be clicking at just the wrong time for its opponents.
  6. What will Mick Cronin’s first trip to the McKale Center look like? (UCLA @ Arizona, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) The Bruins head to the desert winners of four of their last five games, but UCLA’s Jalen Hill and Cody Riley will be put to the test down low by Zeke Nnaji. Tyger Campbell will also be challenged by Nico Mannion, who has several inches on his counterpart.
  7. Will there be any lingering effects of the last match-up between Saint Louis and Dayton? (Saint Louis @ Dayton, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) First, Saint Louis led by 13 with 7:40 to go, then Dayton found itself up five with 1:59 left. Saint Louis tied it at the buzzer in regulation, but came up on the short end of the stick because of Jalen Crutcher’s overtime winner at the buzzer. The Billikens’ duo of Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French combined to grab 12 offensive boards in the first match-up.
  8. Which Big East team adds an important win to its resume? (Providence @ Xavier, Saturday, 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Providence began the season with a very poor non-conference season and has since turned things around in league play. While Xavier entered Big East play at 11-2, it has gone just 4-6 since. Providence’s leading scorer Alpha Diallo (12.8 PPG) is averaging just 7.6 points per game over his last five contests on 13-of-44 shooting from the field.
  9. In a crazy year of college basketball, would North Carolina beating Duke really be THAT crazy? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) For starters, Cole Anthony is back, and while he has not been efficient since his return, he has enough talent to take over any game. With Brandon Robinson out with a recent injury, even more will be on the plate on Saturday night for Anthony. In the last 13 match-ups between these teams, six games have been decided by five points or fewer, and the margin of victory has been more than 10 points only once over that stretch.
  10. Can Texas add its name to the bubble with a win over the Red Raiders? (Texas Tech @ Texas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN2) As of Thursday night, Shaka Smart’s Longhorns sit at 3-6 against Quad 1 opponents and 1-2 in Quad 2 games. With wins at TCU and Oklahoma State in precarious spots on the edge of Quad 1, Texas needs to take advantage of its remaining home opportunities against quality opponents.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Bumps in the Road Lead to Weekend of Opportunity

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on January 17th, 2020

With each passing week, familiarity breeds competitive action everywhere one looks. This weekend provides opportunities for players and teams to overcome some of their recent struggles. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s action.

  1. How does Cassius Winston respond following his subpar game against Purdue? (Wisconsin @ Michigan State, Friday, 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After averaging 24.8 points per game through his first five Big Ten outings, Cassius Winston was held to just 10 points in Michigan State’s blowout loss at Purdue. Winston failed to make any of his five three-point attempts and tied his career-high by committing nine turnovers.
  2. Will turnovers help Eric Musselman pick up his first marquee SEC win? (Kentucky @ Arkansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks squad ranks among the top 20 in opponents’ turnover rate, having forced 86 more turnovers than they have committed through 16 games. Kentucky comes in after a loss at South Carolina, a game in which the Wildcats were -6 in the turnover battle. On the season, Kentucky has forced just one more turnover than they have committed.
  3. “No Place Like Home” – Will returning home be what fixes Maryland’s recent struggles? (Purdue @ Maryland, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Maryland returns to College Park where the Terps are a perfect 10-0 on the season. As Mark Turgeon’s seat heats up, Maryland will need more scoring from someone other than Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. On the most recent 0-2 road-trip, Maryland’s three other starters totaled just 20 points on 7-of-33 shooting in 144 minutes of game action.
  4. After struggling to slow Clemson’s Tevin Mack and Aamir Simms, how will Duke fare against ACC Preseason POY Jordan Nwora and Steven Enoch? (Louisville @ Duke, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke’s top-10 defensive efficiency ranking has been aided by blocking 15.2 percent of its opponents’ shots, as their opponents have taken 46.3 percent of their field goal attempts at the rim (7th nationally). In its recent loss at Clemson, Duke only managed to block two shots.
  5. Can BYU make enough from beyond the arc to challenge Gonzaga in Spokane? (BYU @ Gonzaga, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) A finger injury will keep BYU’s Yoeli Childs from playing against Gonzaga. Without Childs, the Cougars will look to rain threes against the Zags. BYU enters action Thursday night with five players who have made 20 or more three-pointers and a team three-point percentage that ranks well inside the top 10 nationally (39.6% 3FG).
  6. Can Auburn be the latest team to end a lengthy losing streak at a certain venue? (Auburn @ Florida, Saturday, 1:30 PM EST, CBS) Last weekend it was Baylor winning at Kansas and Clemson overcoming history at North Carolina. This weekend, Auburn has a chance to end a 12-game losing streak at Florida. During this streak, the Gators have won eight of those games by 15 or more points.
  7. Is it time to start taking Stanford seriously as both an NCAA team and Pac-12 threat? (Stanford @ USC, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Behind a top-20 defensive efficiency ranking and a top-10 effective field goal percentage, Stanford sits at 15-2 (4-0 Pac-12). When the Cardinal avoid turning the ball over, they have been lethal from the floor, led by the outstanding play of freshman guard Tyrell Terry and the sharpshooting of Spencer Jones (46-of-102 from beyond the arc on the season).
  8. Can Minnesota ends its struggles on the road and pick up a quality win against Rutgers? (Minnesota @ Rutgers, Sunday, 1 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Golden Gophers are 1-6 away from home so far this season as they head to Piscataway to take on a Rutgers team that is a perfect 12-0 there. While Rutgers owns a top-10 defensive efficiency, the Knights can struggle offensively, especially from deep. Minnesota, on the other hand, comes in with Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu combining for 104 points over their last two games,
  9. Can Arizona find scoring beyond its “Big Three” freshman? (Colorado @ Arizona, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, FOX) The freshman trio of Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green are averaging 43.8 points per game and are the the only three Wildcats averaging more than nine points per game. Seniors Dylan Smith and Chase Jeter continue to be plagued by bouts of inconsistent play.
  10. Can St. Louis find its interior defense that was present in the non-conference season? (Dayton @ Saint Louis, Friday, 7 PM EST, ESPN2) The Billikens have held opponents to a two-point field-goal percentage of 42.1 percent on the season, a rate that ranks among the top 20 in the nation. That said, through four Atlantic 10 contests, Saint Louis opponents have managed to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from inside the arc. The recent lull will be tested by the nation’s best shooting team from inside the arc, Dayton, at 62.1 percent.

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What’s Trending: Roster Shake-ups, Big Shots and the Wacky Side of College Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 23rd, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The week began with Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon making a decision to have hip surgery and redshirt this season. While it might be a decision that many within the Hawkeyes’ program saw coming, it’s a decision that will have a lasting impact on the ceiling of the team this season…

A day after Bohannon made his decision, the injury that kept Cole Anthony out of the Tar Heels recent loss against Wofford was revealed. Anthony, suffering a partially torn meniscus, will miss four to six weeks of action. While North Carolina ended its four-game skid against UCLA over the weekend, their play on the offensive side of the floor was suspect – shooting just 41.8 percent from the field and turning the ball over 17 times. After finishing each of the past four seasons with a top 10 offense, Roy Williams current squad sits outside of the top 60.

Days after the news of Anthony’s injury came the surprising move of another star freshman as James Wiseman decided to leave Memphis. In just three games as a Tiger, Wiseman averaged 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Dealing with the wrath of the NCAA which led to his “suspension,” Wiseman’s decision allows him to prepare full-time for the 2020 NBA Draft.

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCSouthRegion).

South Region

Favorite: #2 Kentucky (29-5, 16-2 SEC). It’s hard to pick a true favorite when examining the top three seeds in this region, as North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA will all garner buzz as Final Four candidates. However, the Wildcats get the RTC nod as region favorites after a dominant SEC Tournament title run. The Tar Heels are the more experienced unit, but it’s possible that no team in the field can match the talent of these young Wildcats. At the very least, Malik Monk (20.4 PPG) and De’Aaron Fox (16.1 PPG, 4.8 APG) make up the scariest backcourt – freshmen or not – in the entire country, and we’ve heard that guard play matters a little bit this time of year. The Wildcats loom as a favorite in a top-heavy region.

Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have Kentucky rolling into this NCAA Tournament (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Should They Falter: #1 North Carolina (27-7, 14-4 ACC). The Tar Heels enter the NCAA Tournament with less momentum than Kentucky, but the ACC regular season champions have proved plenty dominant all season long. Whether it was during a three-game romp to the Maui Invitational title in November, or its perfect campaign at the Dean Dome, North Carolina sprinted past opponents like so many other Roy Williams coached teams have before. Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) evolved into the go-to offensive weapon many thought he would never become, while Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have manned an extremely effective frontcourt operation. The Tar Heels’ notation as secondary favorites in the region should not be perceived as a slight; this is a very good team that at worst is the 1B to Kentucky’s 1A.

Grossly Overseeded: #5 Minnesota (24-9, 11-7 Big Ten). If you are trying to make sense of Minnesota’s placement on the #5 seed line, do not look at the committee’s S-Curve for clarification. The Gophers are closer to a #4 seed than a #6 at #18 overall, and the slew of teams right behind them – Notre Dame, Iowa State, SMU, Cincinnati – all feel significantly more deserving/scarier than Minneapolis’ favorite team. As is always the case in situations like these, it’s important to note the merit of Minnesota’s season – Richard Pitino turned last year’s disappointment into success faster than any Gopher fan could have hoped – but a #5 seed this is not. Middle Tennessee State stands to benefit, and you don’t have to dig deep into the memory banks to recall a Blue Raiders’ March takedown of a Big Ten foe.

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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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O26 Power 13: WCC Teams Reign Supreme

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2016

With the start of the regular season now just a few days away, it’s time to examine the O26 programs we think will shine in 2016-17. The school atop this list should come as no surprise.

1. Gonzaga  West Coast. No Kyle Wiltjer (20.4 PPG) or Domantas Sabonis (17.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG) this year? No problem. Like a true power program, Gonzaga simply reloads, adding three high-major transfers — guard Jordan Mathews (California), forward Johnathan Williams III (Missouri) and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) — along with several elite recruits to an already-talented lineup. Williams-Goss, a second team All-Pac-12 performer in 2014-15, should be a legitimate contender for WCC Player of the Year, while Mathews (41.6% 3FG in 2015-16), Williams (7.1 RPG in 2014-15), and McDonald’s All-American big man Zach Collins add scoring pop and defensive strength to the roster. With guard Josh Perkins (4.1 APG), rim-protector Przemek Karnowski (now healthy) and several other contributors back in the fold, Gonzaga’s ceiling appears higher than ever.

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary's meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

2. Saint Mary’s — West Coast. Based purely on returning production, Saint Mary’s should probably top this list. The Gaels welcome back everyone from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, including All-WCC point guard Emmett Naar (121.6 Offensive Rating) and forward Dane Pineau (126.2 Offensive Rating), arguably the league’s two most effective players at their positions. But really, the offense is everywhere. Forwards Even Fitzner (8.7 PPG) and Calvin Hermanson (10.9 PPG) each shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc on 130-plus attempts. Joe Rahon (10.7 PPG, 4.5 PPG, 5.4 APG) is among the most versatile guards in the conference. Center Jock Landale — one of five Aussies on the roster — scored 8.0 PPG in just 14.5 minutes per game last season, and should see more of the court this year. This might be Randy Bennett’s best team yet in Moraga. Read the rest of this entry »

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