RTC Conference Primers: #22 – Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by nvr1983 on October 13th, 2010

Rush The Court is actively seeking a correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a correspondent, please contact us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

a sun

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Belmont (16-4)
  2. East Tennessee State (15-5)
  3. Lipscomb (13-7)
  4. Campbell (12-8)
  5. Jacksonville (11-9)
  6. North Florida (10-10)
  7. Mercer (10-10)
  8. USC-Upstate (7-13)
  9. Kennesaw State (6-14)
  10. Stetson (5-15)
  11. Florida Gulf Coast (5-15)

All-Conference Team

  • Markeith Cummings (F) – Kennesaw State (17.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG)
  • Adnan Hodzic (C) – Lipscomb (22.7 PPG and 9.1 RPG; last year’s A-Sun POY)
  • Mike Smith (G) – ETSU (15.3 PPG and 7.7 RPG as a sophomore; injured last year)
  • Josh Slater (G) – Lipscomb (17.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 5.2 APG)
  • Ian Clark (G) – Belmont (14.9 RPG and 3.3 RPG; last year’s A-Sun Freshman of the Year)

Adnan Hodzic: The dominant force in the Atlantic Sun (Credit: AtlanticSun.Org)

Sixth Man
Tommy Hubbard (F) – ETSU (13.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG)

Impact Newcomer

Fred Landers (F) – UNF. Normally we would go with Lester Wilson, a forward out of Knoxville who decided to stay in Tennessee when he signed with ETSU, but the glut of perimeter players on the Buccaneer roster will probably limit Wilson’s playing time. Landers won’t have such a problem at UNF where he should get plenty of playing time at power forward and should contribute immediately for a team with an anemic offense where their leading scorer only scored 9.0 PPG.

What You Need To Know

  • Last year the conference regular season championship was mess with four teams having identical 14-6 conference records. That kind of parity should not be an issue this year as it seems like two teams (Belmont and ETSU) have separated themselves from the rest of the field.
  • After responding surprisingly well to losing five seniors last season, Belmont returns a team that should be the dominant team in the conference for the next two to three seasons with only two seniors on this year’s roster. Clark should be the driving force behind their push to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. You might remember the Bruins from their last trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2008 when they lost to #2 seed Duke by a single point in the opening round.
  • While the Bruins will be relying on underclassmen, the Buccaneers will be relying on a strong group of seniors led by Mike Smith, a guard who was injured last year after only four games. Many expected the Buccaneers to fall apart after losing Smith, but they rebounded to make win the Atlantic Sun Tournament and make it to the NCAA Tournament before losing to #1 seeded Kentucky.
  • If you are looking for a sleeper, keep an eye on Lipscomb who could be a threat with what might be the best 1-2 punch in the conference with Hodzic and Slater. If the Bisons are going to surprise Belmont and ETSU, those two will need help from Jordan Burgason (12.8 PPG) and Brandon Brown (10.4 PPG).

Predicted Champ

Belmont (NCAA Seed: #14). With their solid performance in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year last year, Rick Byrd should expect to make a trip back to the NCAA Tournament this year if they are able to overcome ETSU and Lipscomb.  Even though the Bruins will rely heavily on Clark and Mick Hedgepeth (11.6 PPG and 6.5 RPG), they will need to get production out of Scott Saunders and Jon House on the inside and  steady perimeter play from Drew Hanlen, Jonny Rice, and Jordan Campbell to win the Atlantic Sun.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part four)

Posted by rtmsf on October 12th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Four: SCHEDULING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: Lang has been the beat writer for Liberty University since 2005 after having spent eight years as the Sports Editor at the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.

Last time we talked about the difficult process that mid-major basketball programs go through when putting together their non-conference schedules, and we’ll get more of that here. When teams have a hard time finding quality opponents who are willing to come to their place, their choices get relegated to playing insanely tough opponents (like with Long Beach State who we discussed last time), playing a ton of road games as is normal for many mid-majors, or watering down the schedule with teams in the bottom reaches of Division I and even lower divisions of basketball. At East Tennessee State, for example, they had trouble finding anybody to come to Johnson City to play them, with Tennessee Tech and NAIA-school Milligan College the only non-conference home games on their schedule.

It's Tough When Scheduling NAIA is a Viable Option

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Yup. That’s all we’ve got is two non-conference home games, and one of those in a non-DI school. But we just really struggled, more this year than I ever have as a head coach, to get home-and-homes started. And again, to get games is easy. To go on the road is easy. To get people to be willing to play you at home is not an easy thing.

Chris Lang, Beat Writer for Liberty, Lynchburg News & Advance: Between Liberty and Virginia or Virginia Tech, the biggest difference is scheduling. They can’t get anyone to come here to play men’s basketball games. There’s a reason they play three or four NAIA or non-DI’s a year, because you can’t get anyone. If you’re Coach Layer, you can take money game after money game, but do you want to put your team through that and never get a chance to play at home and get used to your home court? I know for this year’s schedule they have five non-conference home games and only two of them are against Division I teams. They got George Mason and William & Mary to come here, but it is very difficult.

The difficulties in scheduling, and specifically the difficulties in getting home games, lead to problems in terms of winning games. No matter the level of competition, it is hard to win on the road. So, the more road games a team has to play, the more likely losses can begin piling up.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: The thing is, the leagues at mid-major level are just so balanced, and you can’t get non-conference home games, so in order to have a great year, you have to either dominate your league or win a lot of non-conference road games. And over time, those two things have been very difficult to do. It is hard to dominate a league that is so balanced where every night you can get beat. And non-conference road games are very difficult to win. So it makes having that 22- to 25-win year hard -– you had better be really, really good. And that’s why you see so many of the mid-majors at the end of non-conference play under .500 and so many of them hovering around .500.

And when mid-major programs lose games early, whether they be against big BCS teams on the road or in tournaments 0r even in their home games, it can hurt the confidence of the players, and it can diminish the support of the fans.

Bartow: The fans just have to be realistic. As a head coach, you don’t want to come out in the paper and be negative, you don’t want to come out and say, “hey fans, we’re going to lose a lot of these games,” but fans have to be realistic, fans have to understand the big picture. Again, when I go into these games, I hope we can win them all, I hope we can go undefeated, but I’m also old enough and experienced enough as a head coach to know when you go in and play Kentucky or Ole Miss on the road or Dayton on the road, chances are, you’re going to lose those games. So you just have to understand the big picture of what you’re trying to get done and fans have to be understanding as well.

At Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they worked their way through a rough 0-11 start to last season during a tough non-conference stretch featuring 11 straight road games with eight of them against BCS conference teams, before being able to turn it around and eventually earn their way into the NCAA tournament.

Is the UABP Model of Scheduling the Right One?

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Our team was good about it. You come to school and you want to play against tough competition. We started 0-11, but our minds were always positive. One thing we did last year that was maybe a little different than the year before was to just focus on our academics and the guys understood that their number one goal when coming to college was to get a degree. So we focused on that and it kept a lot of tension off of the 0-11 stretch for our guys.

The Arkansas-Pine Bluff model, a model similar to Long Beach State’s plan, is to play tough teams to toughen your squad up for conference play and the postseason. And many coaches found at least some validity to such a plan.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part three)

Posted by rtmsf on October 5th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Three: SCHEDULING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: Williams has been the AD at Portland for six years now following a five year stint as the head of licensing and product marketing at his alma mater Notre Dame. Williams was a two-time All-American offensive lineman with the Irish before starting 44 games in the NFL.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.

Last time out, the topic was recruiting. This time around, we’ll take a look at how mid-major programs feel about putting together their non-conference schedules and the different strategies that are used in order to line up games. It’s a part of the sport that doesn’t get talked about a whole lot, but it can have a big impact on how the program is perceived, and in turn, can impact a program’s ability to recruit successfully. One theme emerges as pretty unanimous: this is not a part of the job that is a lot of fun.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: It’s brutal.

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: It is tough. Recruiting is number one certainly, but scheduling is not an easy thing.

Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: It really is, next to recruiting, the hardest thing we do in trying to run a basketball program.

It's Not Easy to Get Teams to Visit Places Like the Chiles Center (Portland)

While just about everyone at the mid-major level agrees that the scheduling process ranges from unpleasant to demoralizing, each program is able to develop their own strategies for filling in a schedule.

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: Different programs have different philosophies. You have home-and-home series where a school will come to your place one year and you agree to go to their school the following year. There are guarantee games where the larger school will pay you to go play them or you can pay a smaller school to come play you. And there are tournaments. There are different ways to do it.

To begin with, a school has to decide what it wants from its non-conference slate, and what it can reasonably get. Non-conference schedules are generally filled in with a combination of home-and-home agreements (where each school in the game will agree to play one game against the opposing team on their own home floor and the opponent’s home floor), guarantee games (where one team, usually a bigger school, will pay another team to come to their arena for a game), early season tournaments and other neutral-site events. At Long Beach State, they have shown over the past couple of years that they aren’t afraid to take on a scary-looking schedule. Last season they played the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, with games at Notre Dame, Texas, Kentucky and Duke and neutral site contests against Clemson, West Virginia and UCLA. It doesn’t get any easier for the 49ers this season, with road trips to Washington, Utah State, North Carolina and Arizona State combined with neutral site games against St. Mary’s and Clemson (with two others to be determined by the results of an early-season tournament), and a home game against San Diego State.

Brown: We try to play some home-and-home series with teams in our region and then Coach (Dan) Monson’s philosophy is, given that the way our conference is set up and that every year only one team from our conference is going to the NCAA Tournament, his philosophy is to go play bigger schools so that when we get into our conference or into the NCAA Tournament, we’re not shell-shocked. We’ll play three guarantee games against three bigger schools, three BCS conference schools, where they’ll pay us to go play them. We also like to get into a tournament because they can guarantee three games where they only count as one game against your schedule. Like for instance last year, we were at the 76 Classic in Anaheim and this year we’re going to the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: As far as Coach (Jim) Larranaga’s philosophy, he looks for balance in the schedule. You’ve got to play a certain amount of home games, a certain amount of road games and some sort of preseason event that is on a neutral site. I think that’s the key thing for us.

Balance in the schedule is the ideal for most mid-majors, mixing a handful of tough games with games against teams that they should beat, and finding a relatively equal number of road games for every home game on the schedule. But it is hard to achieve balance in a schedule when it is very difficult to get high-major and BCS-conference schools to come to your place, especially when you’ve had some previous years of success.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part two)

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Two: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State – Miles starts his third year in Long Beach following a seven-year stretch at Boise State where he was the primary media relations contact for the basketball team.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.

Last time around, we heard about the challenges mid-major schools face in competing for recruits and the importance of player development at the mid-major level. This time, we’ll look at some of the more practical questions to be answered when recruiting, such as what types of players coaches are going to be looking for and where they are going to find them. If you’re in a talent-rich area, you may not ever need to go outside of your region to find players, but the bigger pool of talent from which you are able to draw, the more likely you are to be able to land talented players.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: We’re in a great location. We sit right in the middle between Philadelphia and New York City. We’re about 35 miles from Philadelphia and about 50 miles from New York City, which also puts us two hours from Baltimore, maybe three hours from Washington DC, within three hours of Virginia, we have a couple of kids from Delaware, so again we’re in a location that allows us to recruit regionally. I think most coaches will tell you that they want to take care of their back yard, but how big your back yard is changes for everybody. If you’re in the Midwest and there are not as many players within a two-hour radius of your school, then obviously you have to change your approach. But in our situation we are able to do the majority of our recruiting close to home.

Locating Talent is Extremely Important

Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin: As far as location, we try to bring in student-athletes within about a six hour radius from us, we’ve been more successful doing that, but saying that, we kind of go where we know people, where people can help us and we’ve been able to be successful because of our contacts.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: Coach (Dan) Monson’s goal is always to get the best player in Long Beach. That’s his number one goal. That’s how we got Larry Anderson. Casper Ware is a local kid, T.J. Robinson happened to come from Connecticut, but he came because we were recruiting Larry Anderson who was at a prep school and we saw T.J. But, with this team this year we had a lot of returners, so they were trying to find pieces that would fit with this team, with all these returners they had certain needs and they may have been a little more particular about who they wanted. Three years ago when Coach Monson and his staff came here, they needed players, and it didn’t matter what position. And I think this year maybe more they wanted to recruit to a position or to a skill set.

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: We prefer to recruit locally, but really, it is all based on need. Certain classes are stronger than others: 2012 looks to be stronger than the 2011 class, as an example. And then there might be times when you have to recruit for need, like you need a point – it’s not just about recruiting a position, like you need a guard or forward – you might have more specific needs, like you need an athletic, guard-the-rim post-player, they may not need to be a great offensive post player. Or you might need a post player who can pick-and-pop and hit the three, but isn’t that great on the block. Or you might have a bunch of 6’4/6’5 athletes who are drivers/slashers, but you need to find a guy that can hit the three. If a player can do it all, they’re not going to come to our level. Sometimes we just need to find guys that can fit a need. In this case, we got some really good kids out of state and if we have a need and don’t think that need can be best filled out of the local area, we go to wherever it is we can get it.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: There are some years where we sign a number of guys from the area and other years where it’s a little bit different, but yeah, our base is the local area. Last year we brought in two kids from the DC area. Obviously we want to stay with that as much as possible, but there are times when there is just not enough volume in your area when you’ve got to get five or six kids in a year, which we’ve had to do. You know, we had to get 10 guys in two years and so sometimes when there’s not as much in the area and you’ve got to get quality, you’ve got to go to places out of the area, and I think that’s where TV has helped us as well.

Schools like Long Beach State and George Mason have easy access to major metropolitan areas. Obviously, not all schools enjoy such a location, and as a result cannot rely entirely on getting recruits from their local area.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Part One: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.

First up: recruiting. This is the biggest, most pressure-packed area in college athletics. No matter how good coaches are at the X’s-and-O’s, they need players to execute their plans. At the mid-major level, the likelihood of a coach winding up with a ready-made pro is minuscule, so coaches have to find diamonds-in-the-rough, and, perhaps more importantly, develop their players over the course of their careers. Not only do schools at this level have to compete with other schools of similar size, if they find themselves competing with  a higher-level school for the same prospect, they may have to make a decision as to whether or not continuing to recruit the player is a worthwhile use of time. And the schools have to make the most of every advantage they can find in order to land the best student-athletes for their institution.

Recruiting Players Takes on Many Forms

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Obviously, if you’re a college basketball coach, the most important part of your job is making sure that you’ve got good players.

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: There are a lot of things that go into recruiting. It comes down to what that kid is really looking for and what that kid wants out of college.

Bartow: There are so many things that go into it. There is no question that the relationship is critical, whether that’s with the head coach or an assistant coach. But that is very pivotal in the decision, building the relationship with not only the prospect, but a mom or a dad or whoever is going to be helping them make that decision. And certainly the product you’re trying to show them is important. Fortunately, I think I’m in a situation where I think we’ve got a good product, but there are a lot of things that are important: the school, the community, the housing, the fan’s support of your program, how many times you’re potentially going to be on TV and what conference you’re in, your history, the success you’ve had and how many times you’ve been to the NCAA tournament recently. So there are a lot of things and certainly different things are important to different players. For instance, we’ve been to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, and for some prospects that is very, very critical and important, and for others that might not be so important. So there are different things for different prospects.

When George Mason broke through to the Final Four in 2006, they were the first big mid-major success story in the NCAA Tournament since, arguably, Larry Bird’s Indiana State team made it there in 1979. Sure, there have been other non-BCS schools to get to the Final Four (Memphis ’08, Louisville ’05 and Marquette ’03 all came out of Conference USA, and Utah ’98 out of the WAC are all examples of non-BCS teams advancing to the Final Four, but none of those teams can really be considered a mid-major given their substantial basketball budgets), but Mason, an 11-seed and one of the last teams into the tournament that season, is clearly the first “modern” mid-major Cinderella story. While their success opened some doors recruiting-wise, new challenges arose as well.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: I don’t think anything has gotten easier since the Final Four, but it has been different for sure. I think we’ve gotten some good players, but you’ve got to caution yourself against those with superficial interest, people who will put you on their list because it sounds good, but they’re really not considering you because they are too far from home or whatever. You still want to make sure you’re getting guys that really want to be there and they’re hungry. Sometimes when you have success there are certain kids who are really attracted to the success and maybe not as attracted to working, almost like they’re feeling, “hey, if I get a scholarship over at George Mason, that’s it, I don’t have to work anymore.” But the guys that helped us get there, they signed with George Mason when it wasn’t as fashionable and they were driven to succeed. The one thing that the Final Four appearance has done for us is that it has helped us get involved with guys who maybe we previously couldn’t have gotten involved with. It helps us get into homes in different areas. You know, our school is much more of a household name nationally, and we’ve become a stronger name in our area as well. I think it has been good, but you also have to be careful with it too.

For mid-majors, a lot of the big-name recruits (McDonald’s All-Americans), are out of the question in all but the rarest of circumstances. This season, point guard Ray McCallum, Jr. chose Detroit over BCS schools like Arizona, Florida and UCLA, a decision which would have been startling were it not for the fact that his dad is the head coach there. For most mid-major programs, these players aren’t even in consideration. To make up for that, mid-majors have to find players that fly under the radar of some of the bigger schools and guys who are willing to put in the hard work to improve.

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Opening Round Questions Still Unanswered

Posted by jstevrtc on July 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences and an occasional contributor.

The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Committee met this week in Chicago, and the biggest item on their agenda was to decide on the format of the new 68-team tournament. In deciding to expand from the 65-team tournament, which has been the rule for the last ten years, to 68 teams in time for the 2011 tournament, the NCAA has committed itself to four opening round games.  The questions of who will play in those games, however, and where those games will take place, among other logistical issues, are still to be decided. While it doesn’t look like a decision will be announced this week, outgoing committee chairperson and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has spelled out three possible options for who will compete in the opening round games:

  1. The teams that would be the 16th and 17th seeds in a bracket, or those teams seeded at spots 61 through 68 in the overall field — likely teams from the historically one-bid conferences,
  2. The last eight non-automatic qualifiers or the teams generally referred to as bubble teams — generally teams from a mixture of BCS leagues and mid-major conferences, or
  3. Some combination of the first two options, with the most talked-about scenario being the last four bubble teams playing in a couple of games and the lowest seeded automatic qualifiers (seeds 65-68) playing in the other two.

While it is still within the realm of reason that additional options could arise (maybe the lowest seeded automatic qualifiers each match up against one of the bubble teams), the answer will likely be one of the three options above. And, frankly, option three is a bit of a copout, so the decision between options one and two comes down to something of a battle between the big power conferences and the less influential conferences that nonetheless make up the bulk of Division I. And neither side wants to play in those games.

Should a conference champ be sent to an opening-rounder and have a better chance to make more money, or should their performance be rewarded with a spot in the main draw?

“I think that if you are an automatic qualifier, you should not be in a play-in game,” said Winthrop head coach Randy Peele when we talked with him earlier this week, and he’s had experience with the opening round game as the coach at a school that has now appeared in two opening round tournament games, including last season’s loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  Peele’s sentiment was echoed by Michael White, the Associate Athletic Director for Communications at East Tennessee State University. “For teams like ours that come out of a league with one tournament bid, and to have to earn it by winning our conference tournament, we don’t want to have to be sent to a play-in game.”

Even the term “play-in game,” used in reference to the single opening round game played in Dayton for the last ten years, is a divisive one. The NCAA has gone to great lengths to make sure that game was referred to as the “opening round game,” despite it commonly being referred to by fans and media as the play-in game. “The way the NCAA markets the first day is critical,” said ETSU’s head coach Murry Bartow. “They shouldn’t be marketed as play-in games, where you’re not even in the tournament until you win that game.”

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.18.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • Duke and guard Nolan Smith don’t think they’ll have an easy path to Indianapolis even though all the “experts” agree that Duke has the easiest road to the Final Four of the number one seeds. Smith said, “This is the NCAA tournament, there’s no such thing as an easy path.”
  • California, who was considered by many a lock to make the Tournament, was not feeling at ease after the first three brackets were announced and their name was yet to be called. Head coach Mike Montgomery thinks with his team at full health they will be a very tough out for anyone in the tournament.
  • If there was any doubt that Old Dominion was coming in confident against Notre Dame it should be washed away after reading this New York Times article on their upset victory. I know it is obviously after the fact, but Frank Hassell, ODU’s leading scorer, said “We really weren’t worried about them or Luke (Harangody). We were worried about us.”
  • Another “after the fact” article, but here is a nice interview with Baylor head coach Scott Drew on being in the NCAA Tournament and how he handles each game. Baylor survived a scare from Sam Houston State, which is a big deal because the #14 seeds were on their game today, and it’s Baylor’s first NCAA Tournament win in 60 years.
  • With Omar Samhan in foul trouble Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett went to his bench to look for someone who might be able to fill the void, and he went to a player used sparingly during the regular season. The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the freshman’s role in SMC’s big win.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at Villanova’s stingy victory over Robert Morris and Jay Wright’s decision to bench star guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher to start the game. Wright also said “If we can win this next game and get some practices, we’ve got a chance to be better. But I don’t know if we’re ready for this next game.” That’s music to the ears of all Saint Mary’s fans. What has happened to the Villanova Wildcats?
  • Overall the South Region is exactly what everyone though it would be, which is that its Duke’s region to win. With Baylor and Villanova both struggling against double digit seeds it looks as if the Blue Devils are now the heavy favorites. However, the NCAA Tournament is all about surviving and advancing, one day your team can beat a #14 seed narrowly, the next thing you know they’re in the Final Four (ex: Villanova 2009).

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.17.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • President Barack Obama picked Kentucky to lose in his bracket’s final game but Coach John Calipari is worried about just getting momentum. “Land the plane. Survive and advance,” Calipari told Chris Low of ESPN. “That’s all we’re thinking about. We’re not worried about the score and who scores and what. Just land the plane and move on.” To that end, East Tennessee State lost by ten to Pitt last year as a #16 seed in the first round. Can they be the first to pull off the historic upset?
  • Perhaps both Texas and Wake Forest should just throw out their recent struggles.
  • Temple is only favored by 4 points over Cornell. Meanwhile Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon has worked with both coaches and is rooting for both.
  • Would professors at Wofford dare to not pick the Terriers over Wisconsin in their office pool? And apparently message boards hounded Badger junior Tim Jarmusz earlier this season as he moved from starting forward to coming off the bench.
  • Washington’s Isaiah Thomas has a broken bone in his shooting hand, which is why he wears a glove.
  • Last year Marquette’s players shaved their heads in solidarity, but this time they got a different haircut.
  • New Mexico’s Darington Hobson is predicting a run to the regional finals. Meanwhile the New York Times has a great profile on Montana’s Anthony Johnson.
  • Is this Mike Anderson’s best coaching job at Missouri?
  • West Virginia is looking to beat Morgan State after losing to Dayton as a #6 seed last year.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.16.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • The first “upset” of the tournament occurred in the South Region when SWAC champion Arkansas Pine-Bluff took down the Big South tournament champion Winthrop, 61-44. The Golden Lions earned the right to play top seeded Duke on Friday night.
  • When #9 Louisville takes on #8 California on Friday night, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino says he’ll be ready for the Bears’ “organized chaos.”  There is also an interesting quote in the article from Cardinals’ guard Edgar Sosa that says he has heard Cal referred to as “poor man’s Marquette”.
  • Utah State’s leading scorer, junior guard Tai Wesley, broke his nose in the WAC tournament final on Saturday when the Aggies got pounded by New Mexico State.  He will play in the Aggies’ upcoming game versus Texas A&M, but you have to wonder what kind of effect it will have on USU’s star. On TAMU’s side, they will have Dash Harris back in the lineup after he missed the Big 12 Tournament with a bone bruise in his right wrist. Head coach Mark Turgeon said that if his team wants any chance to win this weekend, they will need Harris healthy.
  • Fran McCaffery is not letting his Siena team think they can beat Purdue by just showing up in Spokane on Friday. He says Purdue is by far the best team Siena will face all season even without Robbie Hummel. You’d have to think a Butler Bulldogs fan would think otherwise.
  • Here is an interesting article from The Times-Picayune which highlights the #3 Baylor vs. #14 Sam Houston State game. Not only are the two teams from Texas, but they have two New Orleans natives returning to their home town for the first round. Star senior guards Tweety Carter (Baylor) and Ashton Mitchell (Sam Houston State) both played their high school ball in The Big Easy.
  • Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer about his team’s lackluster play in first round games the past two seasons. Wright said “we’ve survived first-round games, but we really haven’t played well in first-round games.”

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

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First Round Game Analysis: Thursday Evening

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Thursday evening games.

7:10 pm – #8 Northern Iowa vs. #9 UNLV  (Oklahoma City pod)

The Midwest Region’s first game of the tournament features two teams battling for the privilege of going up against Kansas in the next round. What press there is about Northern Iowa, Jordan Eglseder gets most of it. UNLV will also have to watch out for senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, a streaky three-point shooter who’s had five straight games in single figures and is due for a run. It was thought at the beginning of the year that UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and Oscar Bellfield would do a little more sharing of the scoring burden for the Runnin Rebels this year, but it’s been Willis who’s shouldered most of the load. At 17.5 PPG, he averages a full seven points more than the Rebels’ next leading scorer, sophomore forward Chace Stanback. Both of these teams take good care of the basketball and, even though neither of them is going to give the scoreboard operator much of a workout, the game itself should be a good one between two teams of similar talent. We hope all these guys get to enjoy the trappings of the tournament… because it won’t last long, sorry to say.

The Skinny: In a game played in the mid-50s (both in tempo and era), look for UNI to make the key plays down the stretch to win this one by four.

7:15 pm – #1 Kentucky vs. #16 ETSU  (New Orleans pod)

If any #16 seed is going to be the first to topple a top seed in this bracket, here’s your best shot. East Tennessee State was in this exact position one March ago and took #1 Pittsburgh to the wire. In fact, the Buccaneers trailed by just three points with 2:47 left in a contest usually reserved for monumental blowouts. ETSU was expected to rebuild after losing four starters from the Atlantic Sun champion of 2008-09, but the Bucs pulled off two upsets in the A-Sun Tournament and toppled Mercer in a true road game, meaning ETSU and former UAB headman Murry Bartow are dancing for the second straight campaign. One player who may give the top seed Wildcats some trouble is a 6’4 wing named Tommy Hubbard that has finally harnessed his talent and is one of the most improved players in the nation. Let’s be honest here, though: Kentucky should roll over the underdog Bucs. The Big Blue has more athleticism and pure ability than any team in the field, never mind the A-Sun champion that finished the season with 14 losses. No guard can come close to contain the blazing speed of John Wall. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson should have their way on the boards. Even a few breathtaking alley-oops could be in store for the ESPN folks to feast on. Last year Cal State Northridge gave John Calipari’s Memphis team a real scare in the first round. Expect the Kentucky head coach to learn from that game and have his squad prepared to blow the doors off ETSU from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

The Skinny: Kentucky will spend most of the game up 20+ before calling off the dogs Cats to win by fifteen or so.

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Bracket Prep: Cornell, Winthrop, ETSU, Murray State

Posted by rtmsf on March 7th, 2010

As we move through the next eight days when automatic bids will be handed out on a regular basis, we’re going to break down the teams for you so that you can start thinking about your bracket ahead of time.  The pearls of wisdom are meant to help you better understand what these teams are good at and how to make fair comparisons between them — all too often, the capsules you see have a lot of information in them, but very little of it is actually helpful.  If you have additional ideas, leave them in the comments.  For the good/bad matchups, we’re not necessarily saying that Team X will win; we’re simply pointing out that in an ideal situation, some of that team’s strengths will be more likely to manifest against those particular opponents — so save the emails.  As of Sunday morning, there have been four auto-bids handed out.  Here are those primers.

#1. Cornell Big Red (27-4, 13-1 Ivy) – automatic qualifier

NCAA Seed Range: #11-#13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom:

  1. Cornell is the nation’s top three-point shooting team, hitting 43.4% of their attempts from deep and scoring nearly 39% of their total points from outside the arc.  The Big Red hit twenty in their bid-clinching game against Brown on Friday night.  They have five players who have made 30+ this year; you simply cannot leave these guys open.
  2. In their five games against BCS teams this year, Cornell was 2-3.  The wins were against Alabama in Tuscaloosa and St. John’s in NYC. Digging deeper, though, we find that two of the three losses were to #1 seeds Syracuse (by 15) and Kansas (by 6).  In those losses, Brandon Triche and Sherron Collins tore them up, exposing a vulnerability to athletic, scoring point guards who attack the basket.
  3. The core trio of Jeff Foote, Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale will not get rattled — they’re all seniors playing in their third straight NCAA Tournament.  They have proven they can score with anyone; the problem will be if they are matched up against a team that is equally offensive minded, as the Cornell defense has trouble getting stops.

Good Matchups: Wisconsin; Gonzaga

Bad Matchups: Baylor, Georgetown

#2. Winthrop Eagles (19-13, 12-6 Big South) – automatic qualifier

NCAA Seed Range: #16

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 03.06.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 6th, 2010

Folks, it’s March and we’re now approximately eight days until Selection Sunday sets the sports world on fire.  By our count, there are about twenty teams fighting for half as many at-large spots, and this weekend’s games will have increased importance in the all-too-important ‘sniff test.’  The NCAA Selection Committee is made of humans just like the rest of us, and if they see a couple of teams look great on tv this weekend, it could be the little extra push needed to earn a Dance card next Sunday.  But it’s not just about those so-called bubble teams; it’s also about positioning.  Which team will step up in the last week to grab the likely one remaining #1 seed, along with Syracuse, Kansas and Kentucky?  Who will be able to secure a top four regional seed in order to play closer to home?  There are so many questions unanswered still remaining.  Today is the last Saturday of the regular season, and as always, we’ll be with you on Boom Goes the Dynamite throughout the day.  Below are the key games we plan on keeping an eye on — of special note is that three more automatic bids will be delivered today, in the Big South, Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley Conferences.

  • Noon – West Virginia @ Villanova on CBS – RTC Live
  • Noon - Texas A&M @ Oklahoma on ESPN
  • Noon – Cincinnati @ Georgetown on ESPN360
  • 1 pm – Tulsa @ Memphis on CBS College Sports
  • 1:30 pm – Maryland @ Virginia on ESPN360
  • 2 pm – Kansas @ Missouri on CBS
  • 2 pm – Syracuse @ Louisville on ESPN
  • 2 pm – Notre Dame @ Marquette on ESPN360
  • 2 pm – UConn @ USF on The Big East Network
  • 2 pm – Notre Dame @ Marquette on The Big East Network
  • 2 pm – South Carolina @ Vanderbilt on ESPN2
  • 4 pm- UCLA @ Arizona State on CBS
  • 4 pm – Texas @ Baylor on ESPN
  • 4 pm – Big South Championship: Winthrop vs. Coastal Carolina on ESPN2
  • 4 pm – Virginia Tech @ Georgia Tech on ESPN360
  • 6 pm – Tennessee @ Mississippi State on ESPN
  • 6 pm – Atlantic Sun Championship: ETSU @ Mercer on ESPN2
  • 8 pm – OVC Championship: Murray State vs. Morehead State on ESPN2
  • 9 pm – UNC @ Duke on ESPN
  • 9 pm – New Mexico State @ Utah State on ESPN360

We will be back at 11 AM for our continuing coverage so check back then and feel free to comment or ask questions in the comment section.

11:00: Nice showing by the Duke student for GameDay. Not going to be Kentucky because of the smaller student body and smaller arena.

11:10: Ugh. Speedo guy segment coming on GameDay. I will be switching the channel for a few minutes when that segment is going to start. Way to show segments that your audience will be interested in. Would they do a “Bikini girl” segment or would that not be PC?

11:20: Coach K does not approve of “Speedo guy”. I think we have finally found something that UNC fans will agree with him on. Seriously ESPN. Why are you featuring this idiot?

11:25: Be back in 5 minutes. Tell me when it is over.

11:30: Back again. Knight does not look amused, which amuses me.

11:40: Hey Lunardi. We had Zach Hayes on this over a month ago. This is why you don’t want a 96-team tournament. Also DeCourcy was right on expansion.

11:45: So Sherron Collins was a great athlete in high school, plays video games, and like macaroni. I’m glad we found that out. Why can’t GameDay do legit segments like the one on the Syracuse zone they did earlier this year?

Noon: Hubert picks UNC. Big surprise. Knight and Bilas are calling for a Duke beat down. I’d go with something in between the two.

12:05: Three interesting games on right now none of which is the FSU-Miami game that ESPN2 decided to show over Cincinnati-Georgetown. The best of the three games is clearly the West Virginia-Villanova game, which we are doing a RTC Live for so be sure to check that out.

12:15: Interesting news: Both Luke Harangody and Austin Freeman will play today according to Seth Davis and Jeff Goodman respectively.

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