David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Drexel-Tennessee State game tonight in Nashville.
Early in the 2011-12 season, Bruiser Flint’s Drexel Dragons got off to a woeful start, losing four of their first six before a remarkable finish led to a 29-7 record, the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship and a run to the quarterfinals of the NIT. With nearly everyone returning from last year’s squad, the Dragons were touted as the odds-on favorite to repeat in the CAA, with their stiffest competition, VCU, having moved on to the Atlantic 10. Unfortunately for Flint, this season has started even worse than last year, as Drexel dropped to 2-6 after yet another disappointing loss, this time to a heretofore underachieving Tennessee State squad Tuesday in Nashville. The question surrounding this team is whether it can repeat last year’s turnaround.
Bruiser Flint’s Team Has Not Gotten Off to a Good Start This Season At All
Led by preseason CAA player of the year Frantz Massenat and sophomore guard Damion Lee, Drexel has a potent backcourt that can score consistently. In their third game of the season, though, the Dragons lost senior guard Chris Fouch, who was the team’s leading scorer in the early going (16.7 PPG). Fouch, who led the Dragons in scoring as a sophomore, appeared ready to return to that form after finishing fourth on last year’s team. “Chris brought a little more toughness to the team, which we miss a little bit,” Flint said. While Lee and Massenat are capable scorers, neither is particularly adept at creating his own shot. Massanat (4.7 APG) is a pass-first point guard who can penetrate and get to the basket, but, at times has trouble finishing, and can struggle against quick guards. Lee works hard to come off screens, but is not going to overwhelm defenders off the dribble. Moreover, Fouch was the team’s best three-point shooter, hitting nearly half of his 25 attempts through the team’s first three games. Without Fouch, the Dragons have made only 34% of their attempts from long range, with Lee shooting a paltry 28.9% from behind the arc.
Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.
A Sunny New CAA Destination: After more than a month of negotiations, the CAA announced Friday that it will add the College of Charleston as a full-time member beginning next July. C of C, located in a prime tourism spot, will be the Colonial’s 10th full member once Old Dominion and Georgia State are gone (it will also be the southernmost, and strangely enough, the westernmost in longitude). Charleston, coached by Doug Wojcik, went 19-12 last season, and should fit into the top half of CAA basketball after leaving the weaker Southern Conference. Commissioner Tom Yeager said he isn’t necessarily done shopping for new members, but won’t pull the trigger on any school unless it’s the right fit.
Four Hofstra Players Arrested, Suspended: Hours after the Charleston announcement was made, this less cheerful news broke: Jimmy Hall, Shaquille Stokes, Kentrell Washington and Dallas Anglin were arrested and charged in six burglaries that took place on Hofstra’s campus. They are charged with stealing laptops, cell phones, and money in October and November. All players pled not guilty, but each is suspended from school until the case is resolved. Putting aside the more important societal issues, it’s a big blow to coach Mo Cassara’s team. Hall, an early Rookie of the Year favorite, was the Pride’s second leading scorer and top rebounder. Stokes, a Hawaii transfer, averaged 10 points per game in his first year with the Pride.
Another Weak Week: The CAA continued its brutal non-conference stretch by going 3-13 this week (not including the one intra-conference game between William & Mary and Old Dominion). The CAA has won just 40 percent of its games this year (32-47 combined record outside the conference) and looks like a definite one-bid league. Who’ll get that bid? No one has stood out thus far. While there’s still plenty of season left, the majority of the non-conference portion will wind down at the end of the month. The CAA has done nothing through November, though, to earn it much respect nationally.
Tim Rusthoven is putting together an excellent junior season for William & Mary, but without winning the conference tournament, he may not get a chance to play on the big stage.
George Mason (5-3) – Maryland was just a bit too big, fast, and defensively imposing for George Mason, who played the Terrapins tight in a neutral-site game last weekend. Still, the Patriots can build on some things from that defeat. They turned the Terps over 19 times and limited future first-round draft pick Alex Len to 12 points. Freshman Patrick Holloway has emerged as a wild card for the Pats, hitting four threes and scoring 17 points in that game against Maryland. Unfortunately for Holloway, his three double-digit scoring games have come in the Patriots’ three losses. Still, the skinny hometown guard is stealing minutes from more veteran players and could really flourish once CAA play comes around. Holloway had announcers comparing him to Stephen Curry . Read the rest of this entry »
This Weekend’s Lede. Rick Majerus’ Passing Looms Over Action-Packed Weekend. This space is typically reserved for a general overview of the weekend’s on-court action. Common practice won’t suffice this weekend, not after college basketball witnessed the passing of a true coaching legend. Rick Majerus was one of the brightest basketball minds of his generation. Anyone with even the faintest knowledge of recent college hoops history will mourn the loss of not only a sideline legend and master strategist. They will forever long to appreciate the inexplicable character traits, the brusque disposition, the measured charisma, the almost juvenile passion for the game – they’ll seek to understand all of it. In truth, no one will every truly encapsulate Majerus’ legacy, though many brilliant reactions were penned following Saturday night’s news. (Here’s my brief take). The best we can do is pay homage and seek to remember the many ways in which he impacted the sport we love. So as we move to recapping the weekend, take a moment to appreciate the legacy of one of college basketball’s most unique individuals. Know that Majerus, if healthy and able, was not ready to slide away from the sport’s center stage. Majerus was a grand attraction unto himself; his lasting work, cut short by heart problems, will forever be remembered as unfinished business. RIP.
Your Watercooler Moment. An Unforgettable Majerus Moment.
The personal side of Rick Majerus was always a divisive subject. Stories of his abusive and demeaning behavior towards players tarnished his legacy. His grizzled disposition wasn’t for anyone; many players transferred away from his programs. More often, you hear coaches and players talk about how much Majerus loved the game, how many players he helped and how his sideline eccentricities were all part of the Majerus coaching experience – the sometimes inexplicable measures he took to get the most out of his players. Whether you briefly remember this highly emotional press conference following the Billikens’ Round of 32 loss to Michigan State in last year’s NCAA Tournament, or if you’re just seeing it for the first time, let it serve as a poignant snapshot of the emotional grip Majerus forged with his players. He was about so much more than Xs and Os, and Saint Louis senior Brian Conklin hammers that point home with this passionate postgame speech. Conklin teared up not just because his team lost, but because it was his last chance to play for Majerus. Keep some tissues nearby.
Also Worth Chatting About. The End of Kentucky’s Home Win Streak.
It’s unrealistic to expect another run of national dominance from this Kentucky team (Photo credit: US Presswire).
The idea that John Calipari could reboot his team for another dominant national championship season always felt like a bit of a stretch. The similarities between this year’s UK team and last year’s transcendent group aren’t all that difficult to make out. The 2012-13 Wildcats are, crazy as it seems, normal freshmen. Last year’s Anthony Davis-led cast were legendary talents that, when assembled, somehow projected greater collective value than the sum of their individual blue-chip credentials suggested. Of course this season’s one-and-doners fly near the top of every recruiting ranking and NBA Draft board projection, just like last year’s team. But this group is not impervious to the typical rigors of college hoops first-year players. They can’t block out brutal road environments – as Notre Dame proved Thursday night. They aren’t talented enough to create offense on the fly. They aren’t selfless enough to accept defined scoring roles this early in the season. And they most certainly are not good enough to overcome a 29.6 percent shooting night, not even at unassailable Rupp Arena. Baylor went into Lexington and stunned the blue and white diehards, a feat unachieved thus far during the Calipari era. That’s a monster-sized win, no doubt. But this was just as much about Kentucky’s shooting woes as it was Baylor’s disciplined defense. This is a bad mark for Kentucky, but it’s not time to sound the alarms in Big Blue Nation just yet. Maybe this won’t be another dream season, but the Wildcats will round into form. It’s just going to take longer this time around – after all, they’re just freshmen.
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.
Looking Back: Strong Starts
The Rest of the Mountain West – Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings. But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season. Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.
Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)
Gonzaga – Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
I was extremely lucky to be sitting courtside for the first truly great game of this young college basketball season last Tuesday night in Brooklyn where Indiana defeated Georgetown in overtime to win the Legends Classic. IU head coach Tom Crean called it an “epic November battle” and boy, was it ever. The level of play displayed by both teams was incredible for this early in the season, something media row couldn’t stop buzzing about. It was as well-played a game I have seen in quite some time and the atmosphere in the building made it all the more special. Most folks thought we’d be seeing Indiana against UCLA in the championship game but it’s funny how fate works out. The Hoyas proved to be a much better opponent than UCLA and gave IU all it could handle. I’ll give you some of my thoughts on each of the four Legends Classic teams, starting with Indiana: You could call me a skeptic because I didn’t have Indiana pegged as a sure-fire Final Four team but the Hoosiers proved they’ll be in the thick of it come March. Indiana’s offensive attack is second-to-none in college basketball and I love the balance this team has. Jordan Hulls is as pure of a shooter as you’ll find but his leadership and defensive improvement are two things that can take Indiana to the next level. Hulls was all over the floor on both ends and Indiana’s best player in the two games at the Barclays Center. Crean has so many weapons to choose from including Hulls, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and more. Oladipo’s athleticism is terrific while Zeller is Mr. Steady. Even Will Sheehey adds a spark off the bench with his leadership and intensity. Where does IU have to improve? Two areas stood out to me.
Georgetown Players Had No Reason to Hang Their Heads (Washington Post)
One, Zeller needs to get more touches. Part of that comes from him needing to work harder for position and demand the ball but it wouldn’t hurt if Indiana’s guards looked to him some more. Second is tightening up their defense. The Hoosiers showed a zone for a large part of the game and Georgetown took advantage with spectacular ball movement. Indiana is a better defensive team this year but it’ll have to tighten that up some more in order to win a national championship. I was overwhelmed by Georgetown’s ability to move the ball and get good shots. This shouldn’t be a surprise given past Hoyas teams but this may be John Thompson III’s best unit not in terms of talent but in terms of basketball IQ. The Hoyas probed Indiana’s defense with precision and overcame a talent disadvantage to the point of almost knocking off the top team in the land. Markel Starks is the most improved Hoya but Otto Porter is their undisputed leader and star player. Porter worked the high post all night against IU’s zone to rave reviews and was a strong presence on defense as well. Even in a loss, Georgetown established itself as a Big East contender. UCLA and Georgia rounded out the Legends Classic. The Bruins are an absolute mess defensively and the lack of hustle and intensity is a major red flag. Shabazz Muhammad made his debut and scored a lot of points but didn’t “wow” anyone. Kyle Anderson seems lost offensively and isn’t having the impact many thought he would. Jordan Adams looks like a future star but this team needs to start defending and playing with a purpose if it has any intention of saving Ben Howland’s job. Things are not pretty in Westwood, especially after Sunday night’s stunning collapse and defeat at the hands of Cal Poly. As for Georgia, it was clearly the worst of the teams in this event. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs are a terrible team but I would be surprised to see them in NCAA contention. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a very good scorer but his shot selection leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t think Georgia is as bad as early losses to Southern Miss and Youngstown State would seem to indicate but I don’t see this team winning more than seven or eight games in the SEC. They do play hard and didn’t back down against two blue-blood opponents.
Two of the 10,000+ people in the seats at the Barclays Center last Tuesday night were Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, two Indiana freshmen currently serving out a nine game NCAA suspension for receiving impermissible benefits. Both players lost their appeal to have the suspension shortened and will not be eligible until Indiana’s game against Butler on December 15. This all stems from $6,000 to $8,000 in impermissible benefits received via Indiana Elite AAU coach Mark Adams, an individual deemed an Indiana donor because of a total of $185 in donations he gave to the university over 20 years ago, ironically before either of these two players was born. On this surface this seems like a severe miscarriage of justice, especially in light of Shabazz Muhammad’s outcome after a shady recruitment. Muhammad only had to sit out three games for UCLA while Mosquera-Perea, a four-star forward who is expected to contribute off the bench for IU, and Jurkin, a 7’0” center, have to sit out nine games (roughly 29% of Indiana’s regular season). Maybe it is. But look a little deeper and the situation gets murkier. Adams has a VERY close relationship with Indiana, so much so that the NCAA deemed it “unique access and continuous involvement.” As a result, Indiana has suspended its relationship with Adams until next July. Adams lived with Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin in Bloomington on multiple occasions according to published reports and has been involved with some former Indiana basketball players as well. Benefits provided to the players include, among other things, plane tickets, housing, a laptop and a cell phone according to a report in USA Today. It’s hard to make a decision when you look at the facts of the case but my hunch is the NCAA has more on these two players that it isn’t willing to make public. If that’s the case, it’s a shame. Transparency is not the NCAA’s forte and further feeds the criticism of the organization. The bottom line, from my perspective, is that I believe a suspension is warranted. Should that suspension be nine games based on the available facts? I don’t think so. Something more along the lines of what Muhammad received seems appropriate in this case. Read the rest of this entry »
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report after attending the DirecTV Classic over the weekend in Anaheim.
The field at the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim this weekend was anything but classic. The play was ragged at times, there were more than a couple of teams working through the growing pains of major roster overhauls, and so coming up with a coherent all-tournament team was no easy task. But, in the end, we come away with what looked like the most likely outcome going into the holiday weekend – a California win. It wasn’t always easy for the Golden Bears and it certainly wasn’t always pretty, but they leave Anaheim with a 6-0 record on the year with three serious tests ahead of them in the coming weeks. Below, we’ll run down some brief takeaways from each team that participated here this weekend and, at the end, give you what I came up with for my DirecTV Classic all-tournament team.
Justin Cobbs Averaged Better That 19 Points, Five Rebounds and Four Assists On His Way To Earning Tournament MVP Honors (Getty Images)
California – We knew about Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs coming into this tournament, and while each had their bumps and bruises along the way, their strong performances in Anaheim were no surprise. The bigger questions for this team involve their frontcourt play and their depth, and Mike Montgomery got some promising answers this weekend. Up front, the trio of David Kravish, Richard Solomon and Robert Thurman were largely solid all weekend. Solomon had 12 points and nine boards against the biggest and most athletic team the Bears played all weekend, Georgia Tech, and was very good in the other games. And, he can get better. Kravish and Thurman each had their moments as well, but it is Solomon who has the ability to transform the Cal front line from merely acceptable to an actual team strength. As for depth, Monty definitely has gone with a solid seven-man rotation now, with point guard Brandon Smith and versatile freshman wing Tyrone Wallace seemingly taking turns manning that third perimeter spot. Throw in Ricky Kreklow when he returns from his foot injury, and there’s plenty of talent here for the rigors of the Pac-12 schedule. Cobbs and Crabbe are the established stars here, but there is plenty of upside potential too in Solomon and Wallace.
Pacific – The surprise team of the tournament, the Tigers, in the midst of head coach Bob Thomason’s retirement tour, sent Xavier to the consolation bracket on Thanksgiving, then handled Saint Mary’s before running into a Cal team that was too much for them. There are a lot of nice pieces here – the Tigers played 11 players in each game of this tournament – but more than one opposing coach this weekend attributed at least some of their early success to Thomason’s coaching, especially with the extra practices the team got this summer as a result of their international trip. As Randy Bennett put it, “they’ve just got more stuff put in than the rest of the teams here.” With no one standout talent on this squad, this team is going to be tough to game plan for on a nightly basis, but this is still probably a team that winds up in the middle of the Big West standings this season. Read the rest of this entry »
Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. Battle 4 Atlantis Meets Expectations. The debate over this year’s best early-season exempt tournament was never a debate. The quality of teams assembled for the Battle 4 Atlantis far outstripped every other event across the nation. The field generated a considerable amount of hype, so the potential existed for at least some level of letdown. With a tantalizing Duke-Louisville final looming, the proceedings in the Bahamas have not disappointed. Each game provided a different dramatic twist – from Northern Iowa’s near-upset of Louisville to Andre Hollins’ 41-point outburst against Memphis to Duke’s deft maneuvering of VCU’s havoc defense. Not only did the tournament bring us great teams, it supplied a remarkably clean brand of basketball, which no doubt owes itself to the NCAA rules allowing coaches to work with their teams over the summer. Even if the championship doesn’t live up to your expectations, the rest has been thrilling to observe. Whether or not the Battle 4 Atlantis can compile the same elite field next year remains an open question. But come on, this needs to be repeated on an annual basis – in the Bahamas or otherwise.
Your Watercooler Moment. Punishment Does not Meet Offense In Sean Woods Case.
By now, you’ve seen the video clip numerous times, read the multitude of columns written in its aftermath, and listened to the talking heads debate Sean Woods’ sideline behavior during the second-half of Morehead State’s 81-70 loss at Kentucky Wednesday night. Any rant on coach-player misconduct has the potential to branch off into 1,500-word category, but I’ll condense my thoughts into a simple statement: the behavior Woods exhibited has no place on a collegiate sideline. It’s inappropriate and cruel, callous and cold-hearted. His actions demand no less than a 5-10 game suspension and a genuine public apology. Yet after berating one of his players on a public stage, reducing him to tears, Woods’ actions merit a mere one-game punishment. Morehead State needed to send a message; a one-game absence doesn’t do nearly enough to accomplish that goal. You can understand Woods’ getting caught up in the moment, what with a potential victory over defending national champion Kentucky on the line, not to mention the prospect of beating his former alma mater. But to lose your cool in a public setting and channel your frustration over a blown lead into the denigration of one of your players is patently disrespectful. And it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen Woods exhibit poor sideline conduct before. He notably chewed out junior center Chad Posthumus during a Nov. 12 game against Maryland. Woods’ repeated behavior merits stern punitive action. Missing one-game won’t lead to any meaningful change in sideline decor. This situation demanded harsher repercussions; Woods has shown a repeated inability to restrain his temper. Here’s to hoping that university’s minimal wrist slap will prompt a change in Woods’ demeanor.
Your Quick Hits…
Two of Nation’s Hottest Teams Roll Into Old Spice Final. Many felt heading into this season that this very well could be Mark Few’s best Gonzaga team since taking over in 1999. That sentiment feels especially true after the Bulldogs’ 5-0 start. And the scary part for the rest of the WCC and mid-major nation at large is that Gonzaga hasn’t even been tested yet. They handled an improving Oklahoma squad, 72-47, Friday night and enter Sunday’s Old Spice Final riding a powerful wave of momentum. They could face their biggest challenge yet in Davidson, who has posted consecutive wins over Vanderbilt and West Virginia and features a formidable frontcourt duo in Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks. Make no mistake, Gonzaga and Davidson are two of the best mid-majors in the country, and you can expect to see both playing and (pending seed and matchup) advancing in March. Sunday’s final provides a nice showcase game for two teams who should cruise through their respective league schedules. Enjoy it. Read the rest of this entry »
Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.
Beating The Older Cousins: Last season the CAA lost all seven games its teams played against squads from the more powerful Atlantic Coast Conference. This year? The Colonial topped their previous mark on Day One of the college basketball season when George Mason won a home game against nearby Virginia. The CAA again took it to UVA when Delaware topped the Cavaliers in a Preseason NIT game. Here are the remaining opportunities for CAA-over-ACC upsets: William & Mary at Wake Forest; Delaware at Duke; George Mason vs. Maryland (in D.C.); UNC-Wilmington at Georgia Tech; Old Dominion vs. Virginia (in Richmond).
Some “D’s,” Please: While the sample size is obviously tiny, there have already been some fragile defensive performances by Colonial teams. James Madison allowed 100 points against Shabazz-less UCLA, allowing the hot-handed Bruins to shoot close to 70 percent in a 63-point half. Hofstra also allowed an opponent, Marshall, to hit the century-mark – granted that game went to two overtimes and the Pride still won. Monmouth also plopped 91 on Hofstra, that time in a regulation Pride loss, and Purdue scored 83 against it. Not to be outdone, UNC-Wilmington let Richmond score 101 in an ugly loss. Perhaps most disappointing defensively is Drexel, which is allowing 70.3 points per game just one year after holding opponents to an average of 56.1.
Tribe Rising: William & Mary is 3-0 for the first time in 20 years. Sure, the Tribe’s opponents haven’t been tough (Hampton, Liberty and High Point are a combined 2-6), but any time you accomplish something for the first time since Bill Clinton was elected for his first term, it’s worth mentioning. Tony Shaver’s club was picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the CAA this season, but it’s shown no lack of firepower. Three of the league’s top five scorers thus far are from W&M.
It Didn’t Take Long For Tony Shaver And William & Mary To Turn Some Heads. (AP/Scott K. Brown)
Tonight’s Lede. Mini-Tournaments Abound! Few events typify the diffuse nature of non-conference competition in college hoops more than mini early-season invitationals. You have stacked fields like the Battle 4 Atlantis, replete with national championship hopefuls and quality mid-majors battling it out in a tropical locale. Then you have events like the South Padre Invitational, where the most anticipated match-up will pit annual bubble denizen Northwestern and Illinois State. Not to take anything away from Jackie Carmichael and the Redbirds, but come on – yuck. Several of this year’s events tipped off Thursday, and while the early-round match-ups may lack for intrigue, their occurrence brings the promise of quality contests in the later rounds. Even if the first-round competition didn’t quite sate your hoops palate, there were some intriguing bouts scattered about the ledger, with conference and national contenders taking the floor in various spots around the country. These little tourneys may not tout Champions Classic-level prestige, but they’re exciting enough to spark the interest of most college hoops fans. What do you say we dig into some of these mini-tourneys’ first-round tilts?
Your Watercooler Moment. Flaws Exposed in Oklahoma State’s Overtime Win Over Akron.
So much of Oklahoma State’s Tournament potential rides on Nash and Smart (Photo credit: AP Photo).
Few teams count two top-10 recruits in their starting lineup. Even fewer combine that youth with effective complementary pieces and offensive firepower at every position. Oklahoma State, with sophomore wing Le’Bryan Nash and freshman guard Marcus Smart, fit the description. Based on Thursday’s near-loss in overtime to Akron in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, it seems the Cowboys have some fine-tuning to do before they can be considered a realistic contender in this season’s deep Big 12. The book is out on Nash: He’s an effective but inefficient scorer (last season, he took 29.3 percent of available shots and used 29.0 percent of possessions yet posted an ugly 89.2 offensive rating, per kenpom.com). The early returns on Smart are just about where you’d expect them to be: The talent is there, but the attention to detail is not. If Nash and Smart, who combined for 34 points and 16 rebounds Thursday, can bring it all together, and junior Markel Brown can provide consistent scoring from the perimeter, this is a dangerous team. Whether that if-statement translates to the affirmative – and whether the young duo can guide the Cowboys into NCAA Tournament territory, which is probably the threshold postseason benchmark to ensure the continuation of coach Travis Ford’s tenure – will largely fall on the shoulders of Nash and Smart.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Another Key Loss for Oklahoma State?There were significant concerns about Oklahoma State’s depth heading into this season. With swingman Brian Williams done for the season, and point guard Cezar Guerrero leaving the team for family issues, the Cowboys’ bench was already very thin. Those concerns may reach new levels of immediacy if senior JP Olukemi’s apparent left knee injury, suffered during the Cowboys’ game with Akron Thursday, proves serious. Olukemi spent much of the second half with his knee wrapped in ice. For Oklahoma State, losing him would be a major blow. He’s an explosive scorer and a fantastic perimeter complement to Nash and Smart. On a more personal level, you can’t help feeling for Olukemi, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL and was granted a waiver to play out his final year of eligibility after a long and presumably anxiety-filled waiting game with NCAA folk.
Late-Game Mismanagement Costs Purdue.Transition is the fitting byword for Purdue’s 2012-13 season. Gone are Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson, the heart and soul of Purdue’s recent outfits. In comes a new freshman class, which features three-top 100 players. The future is promising for the Boilermakers; Matt Painter will have his team challenging the top levels of Big Ten competition sooner rather than later. This year, the goals are more realistic, more focused on development and transition. Purdue’s inexperience proved costly Thursday night as the Boilermakers saw their seven-point lead evaporate in just over a minute’s time, thus sending their 2K Sports Classic semifinal contest into overtime, at which point Villanova — thanks to a pair of huge threes from James Bell — took over. Chalk this one up to youth — a veteran team with multiple years’ playing experience does not let that one slip away. For Purdue, the silver lining is plain: the young Boilers can take this performance, and use it as a reference point for future growth. The Boilermakers’ short-term outlook is far less promising than the long-term. Last night was a confirmation of the fact.
2K Sports Classic Provides Marquee Drama.In what amounted to arguably Thursday’s best matchup of power conference teams, Alabama needed a late three from Rodney Cooper to advance to Friday night’s championship round. Cooper’s shot was huge – it halted Oregon State’s valiant second half run. More impressive was Alabama’s guard play, namely Trevor Lacey and Trevor Releford. We know the Tide are going to lock you down; that’s what Anthony Grant’s teams do. They defend. The picture is less rosy on offense for Alabama. The development of a potent guard combo like Releford and Lacey could be just what the doctor ordered. And about that defense – Alabama’s suffocating defense produced produced 17 turnovers to Oregon State’s nine. It’s only November, and much Alabama has plenty of work left on the nonconference ledger before they can start thinking about Kentucky and Missouri and Florida, but this has the makings of another defensive-minded Tide team. Their identity is a timeless quality under Grant.
The “Other” Freshman Shines for N.C. State.With all due respect to Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren wants the spotlight just as much as you do. That’s the impression you got watching Warren, the less-heralded member of Mark Gottfried’s prized 2012 recruiting class, steal the show in N.C. State’s win over Penn State in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-off. Warren mixes a savvy low post game with a high basketball IQ and range out to the three-point line, as comfortable to mix it up on the low block as he is spot up from deep (Warren connected on three of four three-point attempts Thursday). For all of Purvis’ lottery talent, Warren’s diverse inside-out game could be the more productive asset. Throw Warren, likely lottery pick C.J. Leslie, and interior enforcer Richard Howell in the same frontcourt, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find teams capable of matching that size and talent.
Kansas Needs A Go-To Scorer; Hello Ben McLemore.Trap games arrive in many different shapes and sizes. For Kansas, coming off a three-point loss to Michigan State in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, Chattanooga pounced on the Jayhawks’ sluggishness to jump out to an eight-point halftime lead. Then Kansas realized it was playing Chattanooga, shrugged off its shaky start and ripped off a 27-4 run in a 12-minute second-half stretch to silence the Mocs. An update on Ben McLemore: the hype – which amplified throughout last season and over the summer as tales of Mclemore’s athleticism and natural scoring ability surfaced in droves – is legitimate. Bill Self told CBS’s Jeff Goodman this week he had yet to find a player with a “killer instinct”, a Thomas Robinson-type lead option who he can hand the ball to in crucial moments. McLemore’s 24-point, eight-rebound effort could fashion an answer.
Rethinking the Big 12 Hierarchy.All early-season caveats apply here, but it’s hard to argue Baylor hasn’t looked and played like the Big 12’s best team so far this season. The latest tour de force came Thursday night against an improved Boston College team, when Pierre Jackson’s 31 points on 10-15 shooting overwhelmed the Eagles and served and provided more fuel to the notion this could be Baylor’s best team under Scott Drew. It’s not just about Jackson – freshman Isaiah Austin has all the physical tools of Perry Jones III and all the intangibles he never had. To reiterate: It’s way too early to make any bold proclamations about conference races. At this point, we can come together on the concept that Kansas may not, as many posited throughout the preseason, cruise to a ninth straight conference title. Baylor feels like a viable contender.
… and Misses.
Another Tough Loss for Georgia. The source of Georgia’s problems is no huge mystery. It involves sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the lack of proficient scoring talent around him. How else can you explain the McDonald’s All-American throwing up 21 shots and making just five of them in a losing effort, the Bulldogs’ second straight defeat in the Legends Classic after falling to Youngstown State Monday. It only gets harder from here for Georgia, with either UCLA or Georgetown (depending on who wins their first round matchup Monday) waiting in Tuesday’s semifinal at the Barclays Center. Pope is a very talented player whose high-end NBA projection borders on lottery-pick status. He is the driving force of all of Georgia’s offensive sets. Through three games – which, admittedly, is a small sample – Georgia’s 41.2 effective field goal percentage ranks 256th nationally. For that to improve, coach Mark Fox needs to find ways to get other players involved offensively.
The Bulldogs need a secondary scoring option to surface alongside Caldwell-Pope (Photo credit: US Presswire).
Cancun not Kind to DePaul. Not all bad losses are created equal. Often times the better team plays down to its competition and loses by a small margin. Less common is the underdog blowout, when the putatively weaker opponent rises up and dominates its more prominent opponent. Gardner-Webb saw an opportunity in DePaul in the first round of the Cancun Challenge, and took it to the Blue Demons. Talk of progressive changes under Oliver Purnell has been constant. This marks a setback in that progress, even if, in the grand scheme, a menial non-conference loss won’t in any drastic way alter DePaul’s season – especially because they’re unlikely to land in a favorable postseason tournament. The baseline expectations are low for DePaul, but an outcome like this stains the rest of your non-conference season. Big East play has not yet arrived, and already DePaul is turning into everyone’s punching bag.
Drexel’s 0-2 Start Recalls Last Season’s Tournament Miss. The main charge against Drexel’s NCAA Tournament resume last season was its lack of quality non-conference wins. Sure, the Dragons won 25 of their last 27 games (the losses coming to Georgia State and VCU), but their shortcomings out of the CAA loomed large in the selection committee’s eyes. Drexel looks poised to romp through the CAA yet again, especially now that their schedule doesn’t feature a home-and-home with VCU. But after losing their first two games out-of-conference, the Dragons are in the early stages of piecing together a Tournament dossier similar to the one that left them on the wrong side of the bubble cut line last March. Bruiser Flint’s team needs to score some respectable victories before CAA play, or else Drexel will be left feeling much the same way it did at the end of last season.
Dunkdafied. How about Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes with authority and-one?
Thursday’s All Americans.
Pierre Jackson, Baylor (NPOY) – The lightning-quick point guard knifes through the lane in a flash, drops dimes on a pivot and finishes with pop. His season-high 31 against Boston College is the type of performance that makes people stand up and take notice.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State – The chances Murray State rolls out another 20+ win streak to start the season are slim. The Racers are undefeated so far, though, and Canaan’s 26 points and six assists in a 20-point win over Auburn are a strong indicator Murray State will be making headlines for a second straight year.
Jordan Adams, UCLA – In the illustrious history of UCLA basketball, no freshman had ever scored 20 or more points in his first three games, until tonight when Adams went for 25/3/4 assts in 22 minutes off the bench.
Jud Dillard, Tennessee Tech – Anytime someone scores 34 points, that’s an impressive feat unto itself. Accounting for 11 of your team’s last 14 points in a two-point win brings that huge night into a game-deciding context.
Ryan Anderson, Boston College – In a losing effort, Anderson stood toe-to-toe with Baylor’s vaunted front line and finished with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting – this after notching 29 points in the Eagles season-opening win over Florida International. This three at the half was typical of his afternoon.
Tweet of the Night. Following D.J. Byrd’s questionable flagrant foul call in the final minutes of regulation against Villanova, which keyed the Wildcats overtime-forcing comeback, Purdue coach Matt Painter was understandably livid. ESPN Senior Basketball Recruiting Analyst Dave Telep apparently felt Painter’s pain.
Brian Otskey is a regular contributor for RTC. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
In what seems to have become an annual November ritual, fans and members of the media tend to overreact in making bold statements about teams and players after just one or two games have been played. While I recognize that is the nature of the “what have you done for me lately?” society we live in, fans and the media alike must take a step back. While some early season wins may appear to be huge and some losses head-scratching, we all must remember that the college basketball season is a long, evolving process. The NCAA Tournament doesn’t begin for another four months. Most teams will play 12 non-conference games before they begin 16 or 18-game conference schedules. It’s OK to say something nice about a team that came up with a great early season win or to be skeptical of a school coming off a loss you might never have expected, but making statements such as “Florida State is a bust because it lost to South Alabama!” is just plain foolish. While a loss like that certainly gives you pause, we’ve seen this movie before time and time again in November, especially as the college season has started earlier and earlier over the years. A loss to South Alabama is hardly a definitive indicator of how Florida State will perform in 2012-13. It’s just one of 30+ games the Seminoles will play this season. With that said, I do have a couple of questions about FSU. One, does the team miss the steady point guard presence of Luke Loucks from a season ago (nine assists, 17 turnovers against USA)? Two, is Leonard Hamilton’s defense not as strong as we are accustomed to seeing? South Alabama shot 9-of-15 from deep and Buffalo shot 50% overall from the floor in FSU’s second game on Monday. Those are examples of legitimate concerns, but not affirmative statements about how Florida State’s season will turn out. The Seminoles have plenty of time to come together and fix their weaknesses. Just don’t bury Florida State, or any other team for that matter, before Thanksgiving for crying out loud.
How Much is FSU Missing Luke Loucks Right Now? (Reuters)
There were quite a few of those aforementioned head-scratchers over the first four days of the season. In addition to Florida State, teams such as Mississippi State, Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida, Purdue, Drexel and Georgia all started the season on the wrong foot. Other schools including Oklahoma State, Texas and Providence struggled with inferior opponents but managed to hang on and win. In some circumstances like those faced at Mississippi State, Virginia, Georgia and Purdue, these are teams rebuilding after critical personnel losses. While it’s unfair to blast their November performance, these losses could be a sign of things to come. On the other hand, you could say a team like Drexel just had a bad night. The Dragons are a talented bunch and the overwhelming favorites in the depleted Colonial Athletic Association. Above all, however, the worst loss of them all belongs to North Texas. The Sun Belt favorites, who boast the talented Tony Mitchell, lost to Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday night. What does this mean? Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it underscores how important it is for teams to put forth maximum effort every time out. The instances in which a team can get away with an off night have shrunk over the years due to parity and better talent assembled on non-power six rosters. When trying to analyze a team at this early stage of the season, don’t dismiss a disappointing loss but don’t throw the team under the bus at the same time. There is a very long way to go. Read the rest of this entry »
There exists in college basketball a certain romanticism that distinguishes it from every other sport. It shines through in March, when the sport’s preeminent end-of-season tournament provides a glimmer of hope for Division one teams, no matter how small, unknown or minimally-funded, to break through on a national stage. For the mid-majors, this is prime time. Unlike their high-major counterparts, the little guys’ path to the field of 68 is restricted. Most smaller leagues only receive one Tournament bid, which is normally decided through conference tournaments. It’s what makes championship weekend – when one-bid leagues fight tooth and nail for that coveted Tournament bid – such a compelling series of high-stakes contests. It’s also why predicting each smaller league’s participant(s) is inherently difficult. In a do-or-die knockout setting, anything can happen. So when I look back on my five mid-major Tournament breakout picks (the subject of the following list) five months from now, I’ll probably be kicking myself over a lack of informed judgment and insight. The hope is that at least one of my designated team breaks the field and makes some noise once there. If not, well, that’s why the NCAA Tournament is such a spectacle – because you just never know.
A word of caution: you’ll notice the list fails to include teams from the A-10, Missouri Valley, C-USA, West Coast Conference or Mountain West. I chose to exclude those leagues not because I don’t think any of their teams are capable of making NCAA Tournament runs; it’s quite the opposite actually. All three will likely send multiple teams to the Big Dance, so I’ve decided to leave them out for the sake of novelty. With that out of the way, we March on (pun totally intended).
A future lottery pick, Mitchell leads a strong North Texas squad (Photo credit: US Presswire).
If this is the first time you’re hearing the name Tony Mitchell, it will not be the last. Mitchell (6’ 8’’, 235 pounds) almost certainly would have been a first round pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Instead, he’s back for his sophomore season after missing out on an NCAA bid last season when North Texas fell to Sun Belt upstart Western Kentucky in the conference tournament final. It’s a shame, too – no offense to Western Kentucky, but there is not a single person who wouldn’t have enjoyed watching Mitchell in a potential #1-#16 matchup with Anthony Davis and Kentucky. We aren’t always that lucky. Anyway, with Mitchell back in the fold, the Mean Green are more than capable of broaching the field this season, and the talented forward isn’t the only reason why. Point guard Chris Jones and swingman Jordan Williams, both double-digit scorers who were declared ineligible in January due to academic issues, are cleared to take the court again this fall. Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin returns for another season. Off-guard Alzee Williams, who averaged 15.8 points per game over his final 10 games, will stabilize the backcourt. The deep guard rotation will prevent teams from keying in on Mitchell, who should only improve in his second collegiate season. We will get an early taste of North Texas’s Tournament bona fides on November 9, when the Mean Green take on Creighton in Omaha. Mitchell vs Doug McDermott to kick off the 2012-13 college basketball calendar? Yes, please.
Strange League Makeup: Perennial contender VCU left for the Atlantic 10, leaving 11 teams in the CAA, but only seven of those squads will participate in this year’s league tournament held in Richmond. Outgoing Old Dominion and Georgia State are ineligible under CAA bylaws, while UNC-Wilmington and Towson are ineligible for any postseason play because of low APR scores. College of Charleston recently approved a move from the Southern Conference and will likely join next season.
Can Bruiser Take The Dragons Dancing? Drexel’s 12th-year coach has won 199 games with the Dragons, but Bruiser Flint has never brought the team to the NCAA Tournament (his last Tourney appearance was in 1998 with UMass). The Dragons, champions of the regular season last year, are the favorites to repeat and this time also win the conference tourney now that VCU isn’t around to boast what was essentially home-court advantage at the Richmond Coliseum. Flint has had his share of headaches in the Virginia state capital, but a lot of them would go away if he could just snip that Coliseum net.
Frantz Massenat Leads The Dragons As Preseason Favorites. (AP)
Multiple Bids? That seems to be the question every year in the CAA, a conference that sent multiple teams to the tournament in 2011, 2007 and 2006. Without VCU – a fringe Top 25 team – that appears unlikely. But a team like Drexel could theoretically build itself a strong enough at-large résumé and then get upset in the CAA Tournament. It would take a big season from a George Mason or Delaware to have the Colonial flag waved at multiple NCAA sites, though. Old Dominion, ineligible for the league title, created a rugged enough non-conference schedule for itself to be an at-large consideration, but the Monarchs probably aren’t talented enough this year to breeze through that slate.