What’s Trending: Closer and Closer to February

Posted by Griffin Wong on January 28th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host. 


This past Saturday’s game in Lincoln was Nebraska’s #AveryStrong game to raise both money and awareness for victims of pediatric cancer. Avery’s father is Chris Harriman, a former Nebraska assistant who is now at New Mexico. Avery, seven years old, has already suffered through and beaten Leukemia three times. It’s pretty cool to see Nebraska continue its tradition of honoring Avery, even though his father is no longer in Husker red.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Pepperdine, Keifer Sykes, James Whitford & Miami (OH)…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Pepperdine. Entering last week, you know how many WCC teams had beaten BYU in the Marriott Center since it joined the conference in 2012? Four, and Pepperdine wasn’t one of them. In fact, the Waves had lost their previous three contests there by an average of 25 points per game. So when Marty Wilson’s team went to Provo and beat the Cougars in wire-to-wire fashion on Thursday night, yeah, it was kind of a big deal. The six-point win turned heads and garnered Pepperdine some positive national attention for the first time in a long while (the game was on ESPNU). And as for the Waves’ encore victory at San Diego on Saturday? That win may have propelled Wilson’s club into the upper echelon of the conference.

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Defense has been Pepperdine’s M.O. this season and it put that stinginess on full display against BYU. The Waves, which entered the contest tops in the country at taking away the three-point line, held the oft-scorching Cougars (15-of-28 threes in their previous game) to just 23 percent (6-of-26) from behind the arc. BYU’s high-scoring, hyper-efficient attack had trouble finding consistent offense all night long, ultimately winding up tied for its lowest point total of the season (61 points). “We talked about our discipline and our toughness and we showed that from the tip,” Wilson said afterwards. Yet, his best coaching move of the night had nothing to do with an instilled mindset or strong defensive principles. Instead, it was probably his decision to bring top scorer and rebounder Stacy Davis (15.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG) off the bench for the first time. The 6’6’’ junior responded with a 23-point, eight-rebound performance that included a couple big free throws to ice the game. “They got us a little bit out of rhythm and they got us to take tougher shots out of our sets,” BYU guard Anson Winder said after the game, summing it up perfectly. “They scored on the other end and it’s hard to beat a team when you can’t stop them from scoring.”

But Pepperdine wasn’t done. Despite having not won back-to-back WCC road games since 2007, the Waves promptly travelled to San Diego two days later, put forth another excellent defensive effort and beat the Toreros by 12. No San Diego player – not even Johnny Dee, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer – ended up with double figures, as Bill Grier’s crew mustered only 0.75 points per possession. In a matter of three days, the team that had been picked seventh in the preseason outdid the second and fifth-place picks in their own gymnasiums. Now at 4-1 in WCC play and cracking the top-100 in KenPom, Pepperdine appears to have staying power among the top half of the WCC.

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MAC Primer: Sifting Through a Crowded Pack of Contenders

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 2nd, 2015

According to KenPom’s average efficiency rankings, the MAC is currently the 12th-best conference in college basketball, behind the Mountain West and Missouri Valley and just ahead of the Ivy League and Big West. But unlike most other mid-major conferences in its class – Harvard in the Ivy; Wichita State in the MVC; Green Bay in the Horizon – there’s no clear-cut favorite, or even clear pecking order in the MAC; seven of its top eight teams are ranked within 57 spots of each other. As conference play tips off this weekend, let’s take our best shot at separating true East and West Division contenders from those squads likely to fade in the muddled MAC pack. Remember, the top two seeds in this league receive a triple-bye in the MAC Tournament.

Teams to Believe In: MAC East

Justin Moss and the Buffalo Bulls should compete for the MAC East crown. (Chad Cooper, The Spectrum)

Justin Moss and the Buffalo Bulls should compete for a MAC East crown. (Chad Cooper, The Spectrum)

  • Buffalo. Buffalo lost three seniors from last season’s 19-10 unit, including MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea, yet – at 8-3 – looks to be legitimate. The Bulls are currently the conference’s highest-ranked unit in both KenPom and Sagarin (71st and 49th, respectively) with its three losses all coming on the road to respectable opponents – including Kentucky and Wisconsin, of which it led both at halftime. Bobby Hurley’s defense is much-improved from an efficiency standpoint (allowing well under a point per possession), and big man Justin Moss has almost immediately morphed into a poor man’s (or even a middle-class man’s) McCrea, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per contest. Likewise, guard Lamonte Bearden has emerged as one of the conference’s top freshmen (9.4 PPG, 4.0 APG). And while Jarryn Skeete’s scorching-hot three-point shooting (50% 3FG) may come back to earth a bit (the guard has missed the last two games with an injured ankle), the fact that preseason all-MAC East forward Will Regan has considerably underperformed to this point makes offensive improvement seem more likely than regression.

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A Soft December Just What the Doctor Ordered For Michigan State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 19th, 2014

Michigan State’s non-conference schedule has been defined by missed opportunities – first against Duke, then Kansas, then Notre Dame – and now, for the first time in years, it will enter Big Ten play with virtually zero quality wins of note. Only Texas Southern and the Citadel remain before the conference opener against Maryland beckons on December 30, the final two contests in an exceedingly soft five-game stretch that’s sure to leave the Spartans’ resume short on substance. And yet, as Wednesday night’s 20-point victory over Eastern Michigan showed, this light period might be the best possible scenario for Tom Izzo’s club. With two players returning from injury, Branden Dawson on the mend and the offense still finding its identity, December offers the crucial break Michigan State needs to round into form.

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

Freshman Javon Bess should provide added depth for the Spartans. (J. Scott Park | MLive.com)

On the one hand, Wednesday night marked an important step forward for the Spartans. Freshman Javon Bess – an expected contributor who missed the first month-plus with a foot injury – made his debut, logging one point and five rebounds in nine minutes of action. Izzo was high on Bess in the preseason and seems confident that the 6’5’’ wing will add an important, unique dimension it’s been lacking. “We’re missing a tough guy, and he [Bess] brings that to the table,” the coach said afterward. Likewise, sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III contributed 14 minutes in just his second full game back in the rotation. But while both players should provide needed depth in the coming months (especially Bess, whom Izzo thinks is “going to be an Alan Anderson-type”), neither appears to be game-shape enough yet to significantly contribute. Bess looked very raw during his brief second-half stint – understandable, considering the layoff – and Ellis, though aggressive, appeared clumsy and lost on several possessions. Luckily, with the team’s soft slate and eight days off prior to Maryland, Izzo has the luxury of slowly working them back to form: “Now we have time for practice.”

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Can Michigan Survive This Storm?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 10th, 2014

Last weekend was not a good weekend for John Beilein’s Michigan team. Most notable among the afflicting issues was a ground-shaking loss to NJIT, the biggest upset by point spread (NJIT was a 24.5-point underdog) in college basketball in over seven years. If that wasn’t bad enough, Oregon and Syracuse both lost convincingly at home, rendering the Wolverine’s two biggest wins of the young season that much smaller. It was about as traumatizing as a December weekend can get for a Big Ten team in the Top 25, but come Monday, it was only the pain of the weekend that was over. We found out on Tuesday night that the mini-nightmare was in fact just beginning when the Wolverines sputtered to 42 points and yet another embarrassing home loss, this time to Eastern Michigan. The second loss was the lowest point total submitted by a Michigan team since the season finale in Beilein’s first season at the helm. With many things clearly unsettled and a trip to #3 Arizona on tap for this weekend, the Wolverines find themselves at a crossroads. Will this unsightly string of four days prove to be nothing more than a surprising blip on the radar, or is it the first sign of a team incapable of matching the standard set by its recent predecessors?

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn't Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday.

After A Weekend Loss To NJIT, Caris LaVert And Michigan Didn’t Think Things Could Get Any Worse. They Did On Tuesday. (AP)

At some point, personnel losses have to take their toll. In the last two offseasons, Michigan has waved goodbye to all five players who took to the Georgia Dome floor for the opening tip of the 2013 National Championship game. Trek Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary: all gone, all with eligibility to spare. That gives the Wolverines more early entrants in the last two drafts than any other program in America, Kentucky included. Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton currently form a nice perimeter-based nucleus for Beilein’s squad, but there isn’t a program in America that wouldn’t feel the effect of those unplanned defections.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 10th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the MAC and the MEAC get started.

Dates: March 10, 12-15
Site: First Round: Campus sites; Second Round, Quarters, Semis and Championship: Quicken Loans Arena (Cleveland, OH)


What to expect: The MAC’s power pendulum has swung numerous times this season, so it’s difficult to tell which contender has the best shot in Cleveland. Buffalo came on strong in the second half of the year and might boast the league’s most dominant player in Javon McCrea, a double-double machine who recently set the school’s all-time scoring record, while Western Michigan enters the event having won 10 of its last 11 games. Toledo, meanwhile, set a school record with 26 overall wins and will get a triple-bye (yes, a triple-bye) all the way to the semifinals, along with the Broncos. More likely than not, one of those three clubs will emerge as champion. Still, don’t be surprised if one of the conference’s other up-and-down challengers – like recent NCAA Tournament representatives Ohio and Akron – put together a run and leave with a trophy.

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Murderers’ Row: Five of the Most Ruthless O26 Non-Conference Schedules

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 26th, 2013

Both Long Beach State’s Dan Monson and Oakland’s Greg Kampe are on record in saying that their philosophy of building extremely difficult non-conference schedules, among other things, helps with recruiting—players jump at the chance to play on the biggest stages against schools that never gave them a look. Other cited reasons include: checking player egos, identifying team weaknesses early in the season, and, of course, the influx of revenue those games produce. And while all of those interests appear legitimate—it’s hard to argue with two guys who have made multiple NCAA Tournament appearances apiece—there reaches a point, whether it’s in Rupp Arena or the Dean Dome or during a trip to the McKale Center, when one has to beg the question: Is it worth the agony? With that in mind, let’s examine the five most brutal O26 non-conference slates this season.

Oakland. Kampe’s schedules have been reliably absurd over the last decade, and this year is no exception. How about this for a road trip to start the season: games at North Carolina, UCLA, California and Gonzaga… in a 10-day span. The Golden Grizzlies ended up losing all four, with only the California tilt being close, and two players—starting point guard Duke Mondy and forward Dante Williams—were arrested during the west coast trip and forced to miss several games as a result. A couple of neutral court contests and a game at Western Michigan later, Oakland was heading home for Thanksgiving with a dismal 0-7 record. Now sitting at 4-10, the good news for the Grizzlies is that they are back to full strength and demonstrating a level of resilience, even pushing Michigan State for 40 minutes in the Palace of Auburn Hills last weekend. Travis Bader, the most prolific three-point shooter in college basketball, has also begun heating up; the senior hit 21 shots from behind the arc over his past three games.

Greg Kampe and the Grizzlies face a gauntlet schedule.

Greg Kampe and the Grizzlies face a gauntlet schedule.

Notable non-conference games@North Carolina (L), @UCLA (L), @California (L), @Gonzaga (L), Ohio (W), @Indiana (L), N-Michigan State (L).

Long Beach StateMonson probably did not expect he would have to dismiss two key contributors before the season started when he created this non-conference deathtrap. But that’s exactly what happened when Tony Freeland and Keala King, who combined for 20 points per game last year, were kicked off the team last May. Perhaps the 49ers coach would have avoided the trip to San Juan for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic or backed out of agreements with Arizona or Missouri or another (or two) of LBSU’s talented non-conference opponents. But then again, probably not. The man loves facing elite competition, and his team’s 3-9 record so far this season is clear evidence of that. By the time the Niners enter conference play in January, they will have played eight KenPom top 100 foes, including five in the top 50. That seems like a recipe for a lot of losses, especially after the graduation of star forward James Ennis. One positive note for Monson’s club, however, is that UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb became eligible to play last Thursday night just in time for a home tilt against USC, in which he scored 20 points and helped snap the team’s nine-game losing streak. Brighter days are ahead.

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Big East M5: 12.07.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 7th, 2012

  1. Some of the speculation circling the Big East‘s media contract negotiations sound fairly dire, but conference officials and commissioner Mike Aresco remain optimistic. While the league expected to sign off on a deal around $100 million in value, the major hits that the conference has taken in both school departures and in the restructuring of the football postseason system has left the Big East very solidly in the sixth spot, behind the other five power conferences. CBS Sports.com reported that the conference’s deal may only come out to $60-$80 million, well short of original expectations. The Big East is now trying to add value by negotiating with multiple potential media partners, and discussing structures that would pit bigger name schools against each other more often in basketball: “The media companies really like that idea, and so do our basketball schools… It’s the kind of thing that will strengthen our conference.”
  2. In order to teach his team the value of defense, Rick Pitino dusted off some DVDs from all the way back in the mid-2000s and showed his team the play of past Cards such as Andre McGee, Earl Clark, and Terrence Williams. Pitino seems to be stressing the zone this year, which has been a trend throughout the Big East. Obviously, Syracuse has been playing nearly-exclusive zone since the mid-90s, but Louisville has started playing more of the defense over the years, and even Georgetown has added the 2-3 to its repertoire this year (to great success). Jim Boeheim has used his zone to give his team easy offensive opportunities for years, as well as to bait opposing teams into strings of bad possessions, and other programs are catching on. Of course, Pitino isn’t the only coach adding some new weapons to the arsenal that other teams have featured. Boeheim put Syracuse in a Pitino-esque full court zone-press for virtually all of the team’s game against Eastern Michigan. Just as one might assume these old coaches can’t be taught new tricks, they steal one from their rival’s bag.
  3. One of Connecticut‘s  major struggles this year has been generating any kind of presence down low. Enter:  Enosch Wolf. The 7’1″ German center had a breakout performance in the Huskies’ loss to NC State at Madison Square Garden earlier this week, scoring 12 points and pulling down nine rebounds. While Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels continue to struggle, if the Huskies can get serious production out of Wolf, it takes a lot of pressure off of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, a duo who currently account for 47% of UConn’s total offense.
  4. After only averaging 10.3 minutes per game in 2011-12, Michael Carter-Williams has emerged as a star for Syracuse, averaging 11.5 points and leading the nation with 9.5 assists per game this season. The rangy sophomore has flirted with a triple-double on a few occasions this year, coming one assist shy at Arkansas and three rebounds away against Eastern Michigan. “MCW” has four double-digit assist games, and also averages 3.7 steals per contest. When he was recruited, few knew much about the then-three star Carter-Williams, but he quickly shot up the recruiting boards to eventually become a McDonald’s All-American, and at 6’6″, Syracuse fans salivated at the thought of him playing at the top of the zone. That potential seems to be coming to fruition, and if Carter-Williams can consistently knock down his jumper this season, he may develop into another high draft pick for Syracuse very soon.
  5. Coming off of a poor showing in an 82-49 loss to Florida, Marquette takes on in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday. Wisconsin, which under Bo Ryan is known for the swing offense, has transitioned into more of a Princeton-offense style team this season, a switch which concerns the Marquette staff. The team was used to seeing the Badgers on a regular basis but will be fairly unfamiliar with how Wisconsin plays this season. They may be without Josh Gasser, but Buzz Williams still thinks that Wisconsin is an extremely dangerous team: “I think offensively, as they’ve figured out how to play without Josh and as they’ve become more accustomed to their new offensive system, I think they’re getting better.” Despite the change in system, Wisconsin still beats teams in the same ways: efficient, well-rounded shooting from three-point range, and aggressive man-to-man defense that prevents other teams from doing the same. A win in this rivalry game would really help take the bad taste from the Florida loss out of Golden Eagles fans’ mouths.
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Big East M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 6th, 2012

  1. Teams that wear various shades of orange from ‘T’ states should probably quit scheduling Georgetown. In their last two games, the Hoyas gave up a combined 77 points against Tennessee and Texas. Georgetown is still finding its way on offense, but the young Hoyas have bought into what John Thompson III is selling on the defensive end. Georgetown is currently 21st in the country in giving up 56.1 points per game, and while Texas and Tennessee are far from world-beaters this season, holding any major conference team to 40 points is impressive. The Hoyas will need to get some of their other guys to step up as a scorer, as forward Otto Porter can’t afford to carry the whole load when the Big East rolls around, but Georgetown looks to be a dangerous team going forward.
  2. The Syracuse bandwagon is filling up quickly this season, but don’t expect Jim Boeheim to hop into the driver’s seat anytime soon. During his press conference following Syracuse’s win over Eastern Michigan, Boeheim went on a long, unprovoked diatribe about the expectations surrounding his team in the early season. Syracuse fans have been relatively spoiled by unprecedented regular season success – the Orange are 97-16 since the beginning of the 2009-10 season, and take up real estate in the top five of the polls on a regular basis. Boeheim doesn’t appreciate the attitude that these non-conference games are all automatic wins for his team, and he used the press conference to express this sentiment: “Anybody that we play can come in here and beat us. To just assume that we’re going to win games is the most arrogant thing that I have ever seen in my life. It’s nothing but arrogance. And I don’t like arrogance. And I don’t like arrogant people.”
  3. The Cincinnati Bearcats have flown under the radar so far this year as one of the quietest really good teams in the country. Cincy entered the year with perhaps the highest expectations the program has had in years, and have not disappointed yet. After a 7-0 start, the Bearcats find themselves at #11 in the latest AP poll. They have yet to play a real juggernaut of an opponent, but wins over Iowa State, Oregon, and Alabama all look very good on the resume. The Bearcats are getting tremendous production from their three top backcourt players Sean Kilpatrick (19.9 PPG), Cashmere Wright (15.3 PPG), and JaQuon Parker (10.9 PPG), who are each shooting over 40% from beyond the arc. The Bearcats are currently 11th in the country scoring 82.7 points per game, and could end up being one of the most fun teams to watch in the Big East this season.
  4. Many Big East squads are involved in intense rivalries, but some, like Providence-Rhode Island, slide a bit under the radar despite being quite heated. John Rooke of GoLocalProvSports has penned a great piece about the 123-or-125 game series (depending on whom you believe) over the years. Through various events like the creation of the Big East, which saw Rhody left out, to the recruitment of Sly Williams, the PC-URI game continues to grow in magnitude. It may not have the national panache of a Syracuse-Georgetown or a Cincinnati-Xavier, but to diehards in the ‘Ocean State,’ it means just as much.
  5. You’re too much sometimes, internet. As you may have noticed, a nasty rumor about Jay Wright made its way through various message boards and the Twittersphere earlier this week. The good news is that the entire sordid situation appears to be completely false. The bad news is that Jay Wright, who as a neutral observer seems to be one of the classier guys in the sport, had his name dragged through the mud for no reason other than someone was bored on the internet. We’re all so lucky to have this incredible shared space for discourse on things like college basketball, let’s not sully it by buying into and spreading inflammatory rumors.
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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Mid-American Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2012

Ethan Back is the MAC correspondent for RTC.

Top Storylines

  • Will Ohio Be Able to Reach the Sweet Sixteen Again? After an extremely successful season that ended in an overtime loss in the Sweet Sixteen against ACC power North Carolina, Ohio will look to make another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Bobcats have a lot of hype to live up to, as they return all of their significant contributors from a season ago, including standouts D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt. Not all of the personnel returns from a season ago, however, with former head coach John Groce now at Illinois, but new head coach Jim Christian will look to keep momentum going.

Ohio’s D.J. Cooper Hopes To Follow One Head-Turning Season With Another. (AP Photo/T. Dejak)

  • Toledo’s Postseason Ban: Toledo has a very solid core intact from the 2011-12 season, so it’s a real shame that the Rockets won’t be able to qualify for postseason play due to its academic problems. Luckily for the Rockets, two of its best players (Rian Pearson and Julius Brown) are underclassmen, so they’ll still get a chance to win the MAC Tournament in future years, assuming they stay in school beyond the 2012-13 season.
  • East vs. West: Last season, the East had five teams finish with a winning record, whereas the West had a measly one. This clear imbalance within the MAC doesn’t have serious ramifications, as the conference tournament seeds are not based on division, but for the sake of self-respect, the West will hope to have a better season than it did last year.
  • No More Zeiglers: Winning games hasn’t been an easy task for Central Michigan these past two seasons, as its 12-20 conference record during that span indicates. It won’t be any easier this year after the firing of head coach Ernie Zeigler led to the transfer of his son and the Chippewas’ leading scorer Trey Zeigler to Pittsburgh. New head coach Keno Davis brings great experience to the program, but his first season on the job will likely be a rough one.

Reader’s Take I

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