NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Wednesday Night

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Bennet Hayes on March 18th, 2015

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The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament continues tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 66 to 16 in the next five days… let’s analyze the final two play-in games this evening.

#16 Robert Morris vs. #16 North Florida — South Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

North Florida Will Play Their First Division 1 Postseason Game Wednesday. Don't Be Surprised If They Parlay Their Debut Into A Friday Matchup With Duke.

North Florida Will Play Their First Division I Postseason Game Wednesday — Don’t Be Surprised If They Parlay Their Debut Into A Friday Matchup With Duke. (ActionNewsJax.com)

Robert Morris, tournament champions of the NEC, will take on Atlantic Sun regular season and tournament champions North Florida in Dayton tonight. This game will play undercard to the “Dayton in Dayton” drama (co-starring Boise State) set to unfold later. The winner will make the move into the 64-team bracket to take on Duke in Charlotte on Friday. Robert Morris had to know it was headed to Dayton the moment the Colonials upset St. Francis (NY) and earned the automatic berth, but North Florida might be surprised at its appointment in Dayton. After a 23-11 season that featured a December victory at Purdue, the Ospreys are now the first Atlantic Sun team to ever receive the First Four assignment. An RPI in the 160s had to be the incriminating component of the North Florida resume, even as their KenPom ranking of #127 values them ahead of an Eastern Washington team that netted a #13 seed. The Ospreys’ big lineup – five of seven regulars are 6’6” or taller – will serve them well against the smaller Colonials, but it’s 6’1” Dallas Moore who makes North Florida go. The all-Atlantic Sun performer averaged 15.4 points and 3.9 assists per game in leading UNF to that pair of Atlantic Sun titles. Expect Moore and the Ospreys to look by the bracketing slight and embrace the unique opportunity that a First Four can offer. Just three days after accepting the program’s inaugural NCAA Tournament bid, North Florida should be in good shape to snag its first Tournament victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: North Florida

#11 Boise State vs. #11 Dayton — East Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.

Dayton gets to play at home in tonight's First Four. (ESPN.com)

Dayton Plays at Home in Tonight’s First Four. (Getty)

These teams are very similar in two notable respects: Both overcame key personnel losses early in the season and both were rooked by the Selection Committee. Dayton – which dismissed two of its most important frontcourt players back in December – somehow became the last at-large team above the cut-line, despite most bracketologists projecting the Flyers as a #8 or #9 seed. As a result, Boise State – which lost shooting guard Anthony Drmic less than one month into the season – must now win a true road game (at University of Dayton Arena) in order to advance. If this matchup were played on a neutral floor, it would be hard to figure which squad has the edge; the Broncos and Flyers are ranked 39th and 40th in KenPom, respectively, and each sits firmly among the top-75 teams in America in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Boise State’s Derrick Marks (19.3 PPG) will be the best offensive player on the floor, a supremely talented scorer with a vastly-improved outside shot (44% 3FG), while Dayton boasts an entire lineup of guys adept at beating opponents off the dribble and earning trips to the free throw line (third-highest free throw rate in college hoops). Considering the Flyers’ utter lack of depth and relatively short turnaround, Boise State would probably have the slight leg up under normal circumstances. But home court advantage is a very real thing, and Dayton fans come out in bunches. Look for Archie Miller’s group to ride that support to its fourth NCAA Tournament victory in the last two years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Dayton

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Semifinal Saturday Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback on March 15th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn this weekend. He filed this report after Saturday’s semifinal action.

No Bid Thieves Among Us

With four opponents and three NCAA-bound teams left in the field, the chances for an NIT-bound team to play on Saturday were a given. Which team that would be, however, was not decided until Rhode Island crushed George Washington in the evening quarterfinal session on Friday night. Rhody’s burgeoning bid steal attempt ended at the hands of Dayton on Saturday in a game that was not decided until there were 20 seconds left. Davidson, unsteady in its A-10 Tournament debut in the quarterfinals, was saved by a Jake Gibbs drive and bucket in a one-point win on Friday before falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals on Saturday. That means Dayton and VCU will meet today (1:00 PM ET) to determine which team will take the Atlantic 10’s automatic bid. Of the three widely-recognized NCAA-bound teams, Dayton and VCU seem to be securely on the #8/#9 seed lines. Only Davidson appears in slight danger, located on the #10 or #11 lines depending on whose bracket you consider.

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Archie Miller Once Again Has Dayton Peaking in March (USA Today Images)

Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley made the obligatory argument for an NCAA bid after his team’s loss. The Rams have the 10th-best defensive efficiency in Division I basketball, no losing streak longer than two games, a 20+ win season, etc. All are legitimate points, but he failed to mention Rhody’s RPI (#60), a strength of schedule ranking of #161, an 0-6 record versus top 50 teams and a 3-2 record versus teams ranked between #100 and #200. In the end, Hurley tacitly acknowledged that his Rams were a bit short: “If that’s [the NIT] where we end up landing we will be thrilled with that.” Expect the Rams along with conference-mates Richmond and George Washington to have at least one home game when the NIT field is announced on Sunday night. All three NIT-bound teams are projected as squarely on the #4 seed line or higher, making them very secure in that field. Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg removed his team from consideration for a CIT/CBI bid, leaving St. Bonaventure, the remaining unclaimed team with a winning conference and overall record, waiting for a phone call Sunday night.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Second Round Review

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on March 13th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Making Their Case

The forecasters say three conference teams — Davidson, Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth — are comfortably in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. Meanwhile three other teams — George Washington, Rhode Island and Richmond — are projected as a #4 seed or higher in the NIT. In an ironic twist all too common for the Atlantic 10, the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Davidson, holds the lowest projected NCAA seed (#11) while the highest projected NCAA seed, Virginia Commonwealth (#8), fell to fifth in the conference race. While the projected NIT contingent are all comfortably “in,” none appear on anyone’s NCAA “First Four” or “Next Four Out” lists. Short of a win on Sunday, the destination for those three teams will not change.

Jordan Price (#), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Jordan Price (#21), who scored a game-high 28 points Thursday afternoon against UMass, will likely need to show that type of production again against Davidson. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

For the nine teams not penciled into either of the premier postseason tournaments, Wednesday and Thursday at the Atlantic 10 Tournament have become the moment of truth. Saint Louis and George Mason did not make it out of Wednesday night. It also ended poorly for a Massachusetts team that came out on the short end of a 77-69 game against La Salle. When asked about a potential CBI or CIT bid, UMass coach Derek Kellogg declined. NIT or bust. For Saint Joseph’s, last year’s tournament champion, the season ended at the hands of St. Bonaventure. With a 13-18 record, Phil Martelli’s Hawks will recuperate on Hawk Hill and plan for next season. The Bonnies must continue to win in order to work their way into the postseason conversation. They could steal an NIT bid if they can gather two more top 100 wins (which they will have to do to advance to the Sunday game). Taking down Dayton and then either George Washington or Rhode Island should do. Having compiled an 0-4 record versus that competition, however, and with star point guard Jaylen Adams sidelined, the odds are good that they will watch the game from the comfort of their dorms in Olean, New York. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on February 25th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Where They Stand

The conference regular season is two weeks away from finishing. Using possession-based offensive and defensive efficiency differences, three distinct tiers in the Atlantic 10 have emerged. The top five teams (see table below) — Davidson, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond and Rhode Island — have separated themselves from their nine conference-mates by an efficiency margin that will not disappear over the next four games. Richmond and Rhode Island present “Nitty Gritty” profiles that read “NIT” rather than “NCAA,” and Massachusetts, lodged in the middle tier but possessing a winning conference record and an non-conference schedule strength ranked second in the league, will test eyeballs and gut-checks. Those three aside, however, the conference records and efficiency margins are behaving more than in seasons past. This is not the conference that sent six teams to the NCAAs last March, but lacking any clear locks (Virginia Commonwealth might be the only team that could lose out and still draw an at-large invitation) the A-10 has three solid candidates for the NCAA Tournament and three more bubble teams. Reviewing the remaining games indicates that bids for the bubble will most likely come at the expense of the conference’s three strongest candidates.

Table01150223

These Teams Can Make the NCAA Tournament If…

  • Virginia Commonwealth (21-6, 11-3) — The Rams have to stay healthy and not lose to George Mason (RPI #221). Losing Briante Weber was a blow, but the recent two-game skid happened while senior wing Treveon Graham, coach Shaka Smart’s penultimate go-to guy, was sidelined with a ankle sprain. The three-game bounce back came with Graham in the lineup. In a one possession game when a score is necessary Smart will give Graham the ball and call for a clear out. VCU’s offense and defense took a step back during much of the season, but Graham’s numbers (usually coupled with one from an assortment of complementary parts, especially Mel Johnson and Moe Alie-Cox) have been strong enough to carry the team against most opponents on most nights. With one of the more challenging four games slates remaining (Richmond, Dayton, Davidson and George Mason have a combined conference record of 31-25, 0.554), the priority is to not lose to GMU. A 3-1 finish (24-7, 14-4) is probably optimistic, but anything less would put the Rams into tie-breakers with at least one other conference team. VCU holds the tie-breaker over Rhode Island (the most likely tie), but a loss to Dayton would give the Flyers the tie-breaker and should the loss come to Davidson, the Rams and Wildcats would have to muddle through the next set of tie-breaker rules to determine the #1 seed in Brooklyn. The Rams have been a regular fixture in the conference tournament championship game since joining the conference in 2012, but have yet to win either the regular season (and take the #1 seed in the tournament) or the tournament championship game.

Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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Mike Lonergan Has GW in the Mix for an A-10 Title

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 8th, 2015

When someone says that a game in early February is a “must-win,” they’re almost certainly guilty of hyperbole. But George Washington’s overtime win over Dayton at the end of last week had the feeling of such a game. Coming into the night on a two-game losing streak, the Colonials were in danger of falling out of the bubble picture, but now they remain in the running for an at-large bid and perhaps an Atlantic 10 championship. The moment almost got away from them, though, as they let victory slip from their hands twice in the final seven minutes. First, GW allowed Jordan Sibert to send the game to overtime by giving him enough space to knock down a three. That was followed by a blown five-point overtime lead and unlikely win after Joe McDonald put back Kethan Savage’s blocked shot at the last second. It was an exciting game that now puts Mike Lonergan‘s Colonials within striking distance of a regular season A-10 championship — something his program hasn’t experienced in nine long years.

Mike Lonergan has the Colonials In contention for an A-10 championship (GW Hatchet / Jordan Emont)

Mike Lonergan has the Colonials in contention for an A-10 championship. (GW Hatchet/Jordan Emont)

The DC area native cut his teeth as an assistant at Maryland before becoming the head coach at Catholic University and later Vermont. George Washington hired him to return to the District in 2011 after dismissing Karl Hobbs following a stretch of disappointing seasons. During Lonergan’s four-season tenure in Foggy Bottom, his trajectory mirrors his previous stops. A 10-win opening season led to 13 victories the next, followed by 24 with an NCAA Tournament appearance — the school’s first since 2007 — last season. Lonergan has had to deal with a top-heavy Atlantic 10 this year — Davidson, Rhode Island, and UMass have joined Dayton and VCU among the top tier – and the loss of two critical seniors from last year’s team, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood. But with one month left in the season, his team is once again closing in on 20 wins, sits just on the verge of the bubble, and is only one game behind the Rams (both VCU and Rhode Island) for first place in the conference. If George Washington can get past a bad Duquense team on Wednesday night, that will set up a Valentine’s Day match-up at home against a vulnerable VCU squad with first place on the line. Lonergan was able to get the better of Shaka Smart’s group last season at home, and hopes to do it again in pursuit of his first A-10 regular season championship.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on January 13th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

How Last Week’s Games Determined Which Teams to Watch

Games last week confirmed that three undefeated teams — Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton and Rhode Island — have emerged as the teams to beat, while three others –Fordham, St. Louis and Saint Joseph’s — will struggle for the next nine weeks. For our three winless teams, the fact that each has played at least one contest against the group of VCU, Dayton and Rhode Island means there is a clear separation between those three and the other 11 teams in the conference. Saint Joseph’s third loss was, for example, to Duquesne, which carries two losses of its own (Dayton and Rhode Island). Phil Martelli’s squad may spring a surprise or two in February, but the youthful Hawks still have a lot to learn. Saint Louis lost a lot to graduation but a preseason shoulder separation to forward Grandy Glaze took even more experience away from Jim Crews’s team. Glaze had surgery last week to correct the separation and will not play again this season. Fordham’s points for/against margin is running at -36 through three games (-12 per game), a clear indication that the Rose Hill Rams are still “rebuilding” well into Tom Pecora’s fifth season. Their prognosis is not good.

Archie Miller might be the most important returnee of the entire A10 conference. (AP)

Archie Miller’s Dayton club in right in the mix. (AP)

Virginia Commonwealth, which beat Davidson last weekend, faces a road challenge at Rhode Island this week and it will also get a visit from George Washington before the end of the month. Those three games represent the Rams’ biggest tests until the middle of February. Win those two and it is reasonable to think that the Rams could be 11-0 in conference play when they pay GW a return date. Dayton beat St. Bonaventure by 17 points, negating the Bonnies’ height advantage with a scorching 14-of-24 night from beyond the arc. The Flyers will face a Davidson squad on January 20 that also lives and dies by the three. A win at Davidson and at UMass beyond that would mean coach Archie Miller’s team could also enter February undefeated (8-0) in conference play and in good shape for an NCAA bid. Rhode Island, the least experienced of the three top-tier teams (average 1.4 years of experience, ranked #267 nationally), has the toughest path through the rest of the month, with games versus VCU and Massachusetts this week followed by a home date with George Washington on January 31. Win those three and the chances are good that the Rams will also sport an 8-0 conference record going into February. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on January 7th, 2015

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Changing of the Guard

The BCS conferences may have soaked up most of the ink spent covering conference realignment, but the Atlantic 10 has undergone three realignment-triggered makeovers in the last decade. The long term triumvirate of flagship programs — Massachusetts, Temple and Xavier — were divvied up by the bigger fish, resulting in a conference footprint that has stretched far away from its New England, Middle Atlantic and Rust Belt roots, now creeping southward into North Carolina and westward to the Mississippi River. Temple, along with the football-playing remnants of the Big East, formed the American Athletic Conference, while Xavier, along with Butler (who paused for a cup of coffee in 2012-13) joined up with the basketball-first schools of the Big East. The Atlantic 10 in reaction brought in Charlotte (which has since returned to the C-USA), Davidson, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Louis. The three Philadelphia members — La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Temple — gave the conference a Philadelphia-centric feel through the 1990s and 2000s, as at least one of the three schools took (or shared) the regular season title (or the tournament title) in 10 of their last 15 seasons together. As Temple and Xavier took their leaves to greener pastures, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Louis (with a challenge from resurgent Massachusetts) have stepped into the vacuum.

Could Mike Lonergan and George Washington truly challenge VCU for the conference crown? (Getty)

Could Mike Lonergan and George Washington truly challenge VCU for the conference crown? (Getty)

Non-conference returns hinted change was at hand, and the games of the conference’s first weekend offer a tentative confirmation. Consider that St. Bonaventure soundly beat Massachusetts, an NCAA Tournament last season, 69-55 in Amherst. Rhode Island, whose 29-63 record over the past three seasons was the nearly the mirror opposite of host St. Louis (81-23), beat the Billikens 65-53 at Chaifetz Arena (where the Bills have a 36-10 record over the last three seasons). Davidson opened its inaugural season in the Atlantic 10 with a resounding 81-67 win over visiting Richmond even as George Washington broke its road skid with a 64-60 win on Hawk Hill. Virginia Commonwealth is still the team to beat. Shaka Smart‘s program returned to the Top 25 this week in both national polls, coming in at #20 in the AP and #21 in the USA Today/Coaches polls. VCU will, however, have to contend with new challengers, two schools south of the Mason-Dixon line and two from the northern and eastern edges of the footprint, as the Rams try to win the conference title in their third season as a member.

A-10 News & Notes

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Morning Five: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 5th, 2015

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  1. The biggest news in college basketball this weekend came from the sidelines as Cincinnati announced that Mick Cronin would not coach the rest of the season and serve in an advisory role while dealing with what has been described as a non-life-threatening arterial dissection. Cronin has been out since finding out about the condition on December 19. While it appears that Cronin expects to return to his sideline duties at some point, but in the interim associate head coach Larry Davis will serve as the head coach. At Butler, they removed the interim title from Chris Holtmann and made him the head coach officially replacing Brandon Miller, who took a medical leave of absence just prior to the start of the season. Very little information about Miller’s condition has been released, but we wish him the best in recovering from whatever he is dealing with. Holtmann has lead the Bulldogs to an 11-4 record this season and appears to have the program headed in the right direction after a disastrous first season following Brad Stevens’ departure.
  2. While the coaching announcements stole the headlines there were also quite a few major developments involving significant players. The biggest news comes out of St. John’s where sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan (14 points per game) is taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with “personal and family matter” although some reports indicate that it might be related to disciplinary issues. At Stanford, freshman Reid Travis (7.5 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game) will be out indefinitely with a stress fracture. At Virginia TechJoey van Zegeren (9.8 points and a team-leading 5.3 rebounds per game) was suspended indefinitely apparently as the result of an incident (or incidents) at practice. As for Dayton, nothing seems to be going right for the Flyers this season with the latest misfortune coming in to the form of point guard Ryan Bass having to miss the rest of the season due to concussion-related symptoms following a concussion in an early November practice.
  3. It might have been a rough week for the SEC in college football, but things are starting to look a little bit better for the conference in basketball. We all know about Kentucky and Florida even if the latter has been awful this season, but we will have to start keeping an eye on LSU starting next year. The Tigers, who already have the consensus #1 player in the class (Ben Simmons) coming in, appear to have added another five-star guard to their backcourt with Antonio Blakeney‘s commitment to LSU. You may remember Blakeney as the recruit who committed to Louisville before backing out soon after in a move that some recruiting analysts publicly claimed was driven by shoe companies (Blakeney plays for a Nike AAU team; Louisville is an adidas school). If that was in fact the reason for Blakeney backing out of his Louisville commitment then LSU fans can feel safe. If not, they might not want to get too excited quite yet.
  4. Texas got a big boost this weekend with the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who had been out the past six weeks after breaking his left wrist. Taylor, who had been averaging 15 points and 3 assists per game this season before his injury, had 8 points, 4 steals, and 2 assists, but also showed his rust with 6 turnovers. Although Texas managed to go 8-2 without Taylor, they clearly were not the same team without him as evidenced by their losses to Kentucky and Stanford. With Taylor back in the mix, the Longhorns might be the favorites in the Big 12 and should be a Final Four threat.
  5. As you may have noticed this has been a rough year for Kobe Bryant, who is climbing up the all-time NBA scoring list while being on a losing team and setting all kinds of new standards for inefficiency. That didn’t stop Bryant from opining on the state of basketball in American and laying the blame on AAU programs and the culture around them. While we agree with many of Kobe’s comments, we don’t see him offering many solutions outside of scrapping it for a European-style club system, which we are certain wouldn’t fly in the US with the established interests. Mike DeCourcy, who has never been known to mince words, also went after Kobe pointing out that for all the shortcomings of the American system we still manage to produce the best basketball in the world by far.
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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 30th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

George Washington’s Big Week

Mike Lonergan‘s George Washington squad swept its three games at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu last week to bring home the Atlantic 10’s lone early season invitational trophy this season. In the process the Colonials had to defeat 3-4 Ohio, from the MAC, 6-3 Colorado, from the Pac-12, and 8-1 Wichita State, from the Missouri Valley Conference. Given the team’s early season stumbles — versus Penn State, Seton Hall and Virginia — such an outcome was not preordained. Although George Washington carried legitimate expectations into this season, those losses had dampened enthusiasm about the team’s long-term prospects. Lonergan’s tandem of junior guards — Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage — had been a big part of the reason for the disappointment.

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have a big week coming up. (USATSI)

Mike Lonergan and George Washington have a big week coming up. (USATSI)

While Savage managed two strong efforts in Hawaii, different players scored the team-highs in each of the team’s three games. Junior center Kevin Larsen‘s 19 points paced GW in its 77-49 opening round win over Ohio (he also grabbed 15 rebounds to pace the team in both categories); McDonald’s 14 points spurred the Colonial’s 53-50 comeback win over Colorado; and Savage’s 12 points led the 60-54 upset over the top-10 Shockers. The key to these wins was not finding more offense from his pair of juniors, but instead that the Colonials’ defense was outstanding — the best that Ohio and Wichita State have faced so far this season (and second-best for Colorado). That three such stalwart defensive performances were posted on a neutral court has to be very encouraging for Lonergan’s team heading into conference play. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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