Morning Five: 04.09.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 9th, 2012

  1. Sometimes the coaching carousel is a strange creature. Later today, Trent Johnson will be announced as the next head coach at TCU. This would not be that notable except that Johnson is leaving LSU to take the job. Johnson has compiled a respectable 226-184 record in stops at Nevada, Stanford, and LSU, but that number is slightly inflated by three exceptional seasons at each stop where his team went 25-9, 28-8, and 27-8. Outside of those three seasons his record is 146-159. Now it may not be fair to exclude those three seasons because we could just as easily exclude his 9-20, 11-20, and 11-20 seasons, but it does point out some degree of inconsistency within his programs. Although Johnson still had a job at LSU perhaps he feared for his long-term security or had some issues with the administration there. In any event it does make an interesting situation when a coach left LSU to take over at TCU for a coach who went to Ohio, which is just about the exact opposite of what you would expect for most sports.
  2. After coaching at Florida International for three seasons Isiah Thomas was fired by the school on Friday. Thomas, who was a NBA legend as a player, but much less successful in his career afterwards, went 26-65. The initial thought that was perhaps with his name recognition and ties to Chicago he could bring in the type of players that would turn the school’s basketball program around. Unfortunately that was not the case and the team stumbled to a 8-21 record this season. Thomas appeared to be disappointed with the school’s decision and stated that he had been told he would get five years to turn the program around instead of the three years that he was given.  Thomas like most coaches who are fired claims that he was on the verge of turning the program around with several key incoming recruits. It will be interesting to see if the incoming coach will be able to keep those recruits and how Thomas will be viewed if those recruits can live up to his claims.
  3. After being led by Charlie Coles for sixteen seasons before he stepped down one month ago, Miami (Ohio) is set to introduce John Cooper as its next head coach. After being turned down by Arizona assistant coach James Whitford, the Red Hawks elected to pursue the Tennessee State coach, who led his team to the OVC championship game just three years after taking over a team that went 14-16 his first season. Perhaps, the most memorable moment of Cooper’s brief tenure at Tennessee State was their win over Murray State earlier this year giving the Racers their only loss of the regular season. Cooper will have a difficult task of following Coles, who was an icon within the program and the MAC. Fortunately for Cooper and the Red Hawks, we do not expect them to play Michigan any time soon.
  4. Later today, Eastern Illinois will introduce Jay Spoonhour as its next coach. Jay is the son of the well-known and well-liked late Charlie Spoonhour, who died of complications related to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis earlier this year. Spoonhour’s coaching experience has been limited to time as an assistant at several programs and some time as a head coach at the junior college level including a national championship in 2001. His only head coaching experience came in 2004 when he acted as an interim coach for his father while at UNLV and went 6-3 during his brief run.
  5. Outside of the transfer of Trey Zeigler to Pittsburgh there was some significant player movement as a few players announced that their plans for the NBA Draft. In one of the more surprising decisions we have seen, Khris Middleton has decided to leave Texas A&M forgoing his final year of eligibility. Based on what we have seen on mock drafts/draft boards Middleton is probably a late first/early second round pick. Given his injury issues this season, we figure it would have been better for Middleton to spend another year in college showcasing his skills while he is healthy, but perhaps Middleton thought it would be better to get a contract before another injury occurs. The people of Columbus have reason to celebrate as sophomore Deshaun Thomas has decided to return to Ohio State. Thomas, who had a huge NCAA Tournament, was projected as a borderline first round pick. Now with Jared Sullinger out of the picture perhaps Thomas can showcase his skills on a more regular basis. With Thomas returning expect to see the Buckeyes in the top 10 next season as they return most of their offense outside of Sullinger and have the potential to replace some of his productivity with one of their two primary recruiting targets–Amile Jefferson or Tony Parker. The last piece of news comes from Alabama where Tony Mitchell and Charles Hankerson Jr were granted releases by the school. While we expect Hankerson to transfer we are uncertain on Mitchell, who could consider entering the NBA Draft although we would advise against it. The more likely scenario is that Mitchell, who had discipline issues at Alabama, could be headed to another school.
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Sun Belt Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by CNguon on March 3rd, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Tournament Preview

Sun Belt Tourney Outlook (by seed)

  1. Middle Tennessee (25-5, 14-2): The heavy favorite to win the tournament, the Blue Raiders have a decent computer profile in case they falter. Still, Kermit Davis won’t want to leave anything to chance.
  2. UALR (15-15, 12-4): The Trojans won the tournament last year out of nowhere. This year, they can’t sneak up on anybody.
  3. Denver (21-8, 11-5): By far the scariest team in the league right now. If you watched them play back in November and December, you probably thought they’d win this league running away. Now, they’re starting to play like that again.
  4. Louisiana (16-14, 10-6): Yes, the ULM loss is ugly, but this team must simply forget about that and move on.
  5. North Texas (16-13, 9-7): The Mean Green are in a different position in the tournament this year as opposed to 2011. Back then, a senior-laden team was on a mission—a mission that fell short in the final seconds thanks to UALR. These young guys are a little more happy-go-lucky, though, which could be to their benefit.
  6. South Alabama (16-11, 8-8): The Jaguars are one of the league’s most surprising teams, finishing .500 despite bringing in an entirely new backcourt. Ronnie Arrow definitely has a major sleeper here.
  7. Western Kentucky (11-18, 7-9): UALR could have a difficult time with WKU in the quarterfinals, especially since the Hilltoppers have nothing to lose and have played well lately.
  8. Florida Atlantic (11-18, 7-9): Despite this season’s disastrous results, four wins in four days are all Mike Jarvis needs to forget all about it.
  9. Arkansas State (12-19, 6-10): The Red Wolves probably aren’t as bad as their record suggests, since they’ve lost a lot of close games and have competed somewhat against the top of the league.
  10. Florida International (8-20, 5-11): In DeJuan Wright’s last stand, maybe his teammates will rally for him.
  11. Troy (10-17, 5-11): The Trojans closed the season with two straight victories. That counts for something.

Reader’s Take

 

The Year That Was

  • After entering the season in the shadow of East favorite Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee dominated the Sun Belt Conference and ran away with the division.
  • The slumping Owls fell well short of expectations, but Kermit Davis’ team played masterful defense and pounded the ball inside to LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton. This was supposed to be a team with major offensive question marks. And this was supposed to be a program that could never get over the proverbial hump. This season, though, Davis finally elevated the Blue Raiders to the top.

    After Entering The Season In The Shadow Of East Favorite Florida Atlantic, Kermit Davis' Middle Tennessee Crew Dominated the Sun Belt Conference (Getty)

  • No team experienced more turmoil than Western Kentucky, which fired Ken McDonald after a lackluster start. Even with one of the league’s youngest squads, Ken Harper took over and immediately instilled a new confidence in his players. Apparently, he impressed somebody at the top. The school gave Harper the reigns as the full-time head coach after originally tabbing him as an interim replacement. Harper led WKU to three wins in its final four games, including an upset of Middle Tennessee in the season finale.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock lost Sun Belt Player of the Year Solomon Bozeman to graduation, and the 2011-12 season did not begin with much fanfare. UALR struggled through a difficult non-conference schedule and as Denver flew high in November and December, it appeared the reigning Sun Belt tourney champs may fall flat. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The Pioneers used a late surge to finish with 11 conference wins, but UALR edged them for the West title by playing good old-fashioned Steve Shields basketball all winter.
  • We said before the season not to anticipate immediate dominance from Tony Mitchell at North Texas. Again, we couldn’t have been more wrong (that’s a theme here, as you’ve probably noticed). Mitchell averaged a double-double in his first season of collegiate basketball to help keep the Mean Green afloat despite the ineligibility of Chris Jones and Jordan Williams. If Mitchell stays another year, look out.
  • Louisiana-Monroe will not compete in the Sun Belt tourney due to a poor academic rating, but it closed the regular season with one heck of a victory. It’s so significant and shocking, in fact, that it’s worthy of inclusion in this section as a part of the overall landscape of the Sun Belt’s 2011-12 season. It was one of those scores that simply makes you shake your head: ULM 78, Louisiana 60. That happened this weekend. In Lafayette, mind you. And remember, ULM has lost 26 games this season. This is the kind of stuff they make Hollywood movies about. Just consider the storylines: 1) it was a rivalry game 2) Louisiana is one of the league’s better squads 3) ULM’s seniors will never play again and the team cannot compete in the postseason 4) it was on UL’s home floor 5) brothers Steven (ULM) and Darshawn (UL) McClellan were playing against each other 6) ULM won by 18 points and 7) ULM has, um, 26 losses this season! By the way, Steven and Darshawn both scored in double figures. Steven may have won, but Darshawn’s team is playing this weekend, so he’s got bragging rights there.

Tony Mitchell's Outstanding Season Earned Him Player of the Year Honors (Denton Record-Chronicle)

Sun Belt Conference Awards

Player of the Year: Tony Mitchell, North Texas

In some ways, we’re almost hesitant to give this award to a freshman. But Mitchell earned this. He averages a double-double, he’s the best shot-blocker in the league and he changes the game by simply stepping on to the court. Who else in this league can grab 20 rebounds one night, block six shots the next night and then score 30 points the next night? In a league with several terrific stars, Mitchell is an incomparable talent.

Coach of the Year: Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee

Surprisingly, as much as a slam dunk as this pick may seem, it’s hard to pick against Steve Shields at UALR or Joe Scott at Denver. Still, Davis crafted a team with a lot of new parts into a big winner. He got the most out of Dendy after he transferred from Iowa State and he molded his guards into a really solid unit. In the end, this team played its tail off. It showed.

First-Team All-Conference:

  • D’Andre Williams, UALR, Guard: A quintessential leader, this man was the driving force behind the Trojans’ surprising West title this season. They don’t make them like D’Andre Williams anymore: solid, gritty, defensive-minded and able to make his teammates better in every way.
  • DeJuan Wright, FIU, Guard: The senior may actually be the league’s most underrated player, despite leading the league in scoring. How’s that for bizarre?

    D’Andre Williams (far left), DeJuan Wright, Chris Udofia and LaRon Dendy Rounded Out the Sun Belt First Team

  • Chris Udofia, Denver, Forward: Finally, we got one right—we chose Udofia to break out this season, and he certainly did. But frankly, it wasn’t hard to see this coming. As a sophomore, he simply built on his success as a reserve the year before, and with more consistent playing time he became a stud on both ends of the floor.
  • LaRon Dendy, MTSU, Forward: Chosen by the league as the Player of the Year, Dendy could put a scare into somebody in the NCAA Tournament. He matches up well with any major frontcourt.
  • Tony Mitchell, UNT, Forward: Let’s pray he comes back for another season.
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Checking In On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on February 24th, 2012

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Surprise, surprise: Middle Tennessee is your East Division champion. Reeling off four straight victories after that lone loss at Denver on national television earlier this month, the Blue Raiders tallied 30 assists in a 94-61 win at Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday night. That’s downright unheard of. They also made 10 three-pointers and allowed 15 players to appear in the game. Kudos to Kermit Davis for sharing the love.

    Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee Are On The Brink Of Joining The NCAA Tourney Party (AP)

  • It’s official: Ray Harper is no longer an interim head coach at Western Kentucky– he got the full-time gig. The move adds a little stability to an increasingly unstable program in Bowling Green after the rocky tenure of previous head coach Ken McDonald. Harper, who served as an assistant on McDonald’s staff, won two national championships as a head coach in the Division II ranks. His team has responded relatively well to him, despite youth and major adversity.

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (25-4, 14-1): With a top-40 RPI and a decent computer profile, the Blue Raiders could actually sneak into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. Kermit Davis certainly won’t want to bank on that, though especially since Middle Tennessee lacks that elusive signature victory. As a biased observer of the Sun Belt, it’s clear this team belongs in the Big Dance. Watch these guys play for 10 minutes and you’ll understand that. Unfortunately, the selection committee needs to be able to quantify success, and a few wins over Loyola Marymount, UCLA, Belmont, and Mississippi won’t get the job done. This is all a pointless debate if the Blue Raiders take care of business in Hot Springs though.
  2. South Alabama (16-10, 8-7): Here come the Jaguars: with six victories in their last seven games, they have locked up the two-seed in the East Division. South Alabama completed a sweep of Florida Atlantic by edging the preseason favorites in overtime on Thursday, a symbolic victory in more ways than one. If you are looking for a trendy upset pick in the Sun Belt Tournament, here’s your team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in On… the Sun Belt Conference

Posted by dnspewak on December 31st, 2011

Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for Sun Belt Conference. You can also find his musings online at Sun Belt Basketball or on Twitter @dspewak.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • There’s not much excitement to report from the Sun Belt’s first night of conference play on Thursday, but UALR looks like the big winner with a road win at North Texas. The Trojans, who have struggled on the road under Steve Shields in recent years, had lost all six away contests during non-conference play, but a double-double from forward Will Neighbour and stellar guard play helped grind out the victory over the Mean Green. That will probably be a theme this year in the wide open West Division, where only Denver has established itself as a power. The Pioneers, by the way, handled Troy at home in their opener. East leader Middle Tennessee also held off a pesky Florida International team in Murfreesboro, and Western Kentucky escaped in overtime at Louisiana-Monroe.
  • With the second semester underway, the much anticipated debut of Tony Mitchell at North Texas hasn’t disappointed anybody. Although Mitchell struggled with foul trouble in the loss to UALR on Thursday, he has already showcased his freakish athleticism by throwing down dunk after dunk during his first four games. In wins over Jackson State, Grambling and New Orleans, Mitchell averaged more than 13 points per game and looked more than comfortable on the court. Even in a loss to LSU, Mitchell scored 11 points in 27 minutes after earning the start for Johnny Jones. He’s still improving at this point, but Mitchell should be a different player by early March.

Kermit Davis Has His Middle Tennessee Squad In Mid-Season Form (AP)

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (12-2, 1-0) — Congratulations, Kermit Davis: you are now the winningest coach in MTSU history. Davis won his 165th game against FIU on Thursday, but more importantly, his team looks like the runaway favorite in the East after completing an impressive non-conference run. Two months ago, suggesting another division champ besides Florida Atlantic would have seemed insane, but Davis finally may have turned the corner with this program. This team is physical, nasty and downright intimidating, especially on the defensive end with LaRon Dendy and Shawn Jones as the shot-blockers. These forwards rebound well and they don’t give an inch in the paint, and on the other end — Dendy in particular has emerged as a back-to-the-basket scorer. There was never a question that MTSU would defend this season, but Bruce Massey, Marcos Knight and the rest of the guards have also answered every offensive concern Davis had in the pre-season. Middle Tennessee looks like a machine on offense right now, and that’s because it shares the ball as well as anybody in the Sun Belt.
  2. Florida Atlantic (4-9, 0-0) — Don’t give up on the Owls. Sure, the record doesn’t look pretty, but Mike Jarvis challenged this team by taking his players to every city imaginable: Seattle, Washington D.C., Hempstead (N.Y.), Tampa, Lawrence, Starkville, Sunrise (Fla.) and Cambridge. That’s a lot of plane trips and bus rides, so it’s not surprising that the East Division favorite stumbled. It’s not encouraging that Jarvis’s squad could not pull even a single road upset over the likes of Kansas, Mississippi State, Miami or Harvard, but this team has not looked intimidated in any of those contests. It fought admirably in a double-overtime loss to the Hurricanes, using a frantic comeback late in regulation to shock UM. And the good news is, all-league point guard Ray Taylor is starting to play better after an early-season slump, and freshman Omari Grier has cracked into this loaded backcourt as the team’s best outside shooter. When FAU kicks off Sun Belt play on Saturday at Louisiana, don’t expect it to roll over and die. Read the rest of this entry »
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Who’s Got Next? Indiana Recruiting Violation; Many Commitments and De-commitments

Posted by Josh Paunil on October 13th, 2011

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing or different things you’d like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Lead Story: Indiana Self-Reports NCAA Rules Violation

Tom Crean Made a Mistake in the Recruitment of Gary Harris.

Indiana Commits Violation While Still On Probation. Indiana, who is still on probation until November 24 for major rules violations under former head coach Kelvin Sampson, self-reported a secondary recruiting violation recently that involved head coach Tom Crean visiting Class of 2012 shooting guard Gary Harris the day after the contact period ended. According to Indiana’s self-report, assistant coach Tim Buckley discovered the violation later that day and reported it to the Indiana compliance office. The school then contacted the NCAA that same day. Indiana docked itself two days on the recruiting trail as punishment for the violation after consulting with NCAA enforcement representative Chris Strobel. Although the potential penalty for a minor violation like this will likely have minimal impact on IU, one can’t help but wonder what was going on in Crean’s head. You know you’re on probation, you know this rule inside and out, and one of your commits has been associated with rules violations within the last six months. When you’ve been in the spotlight this much for potential rules violations, it will only hurt you. The ironic twist in all this is that Crean did this to get an upper hand in recruiting, but in all likelihood it will set him back since multiple prospects have told RTC in the past that they have completely stayed away from schools that were just thought to be committing violations, not to mention schools that were actually penalized like Indiana. By next week’s column, we should have a better idea of any possible sanctions the NCAA may impose.

What Troy Williams Is Saying

Class of 2013 standout small forward Troy Williams talked to Blue Grass Hoops about his visit and why the Wildcats are standing out right now.

Read the rest of this entry »

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2011 NIT Season Tip-Off Bracket Announced

Posted by nvr1983 on July 20th, 2011

Earlier today the match-ups for the 2011 NIT Season Tip-Off were announced. Unlike many preseason tournaments where the team that will advance is already pre-determined in this tournament you actually have to win to advance, which apparently is a novel concept for preseason tournaments. Like most preseason tournaments it features early-round games at a regional host site with a team from each region advancing to a different destination (in this case Madison Square Garden) for the semifinals and finals.

Scoop and the Orange hope to be back at Madison Square Garden

The host teams for the regional sites (November 14-16) will be Syracuse, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and Stanford. Here are the match-ups for each site for the first round (full bracket here).

  • Syracuse versus Manhattan and Albany versus Brown
  • Virginia Tech versus Monmouth and George Mason versus Florida International
  • Oklahoma State versus Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Oral Roberts versus Texas-San Antonio
  • Stanford versus Fresno State and Colorado State versus Southern Methodist
The winners of the first round games in each region will play against each other with the team and the winner of that game will advance to play in Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and finals (and consolation game for the losers of the semifinals) on November 23 and 25. The losers of the first round games in each region will meet on campus sites on November 21 and 22.
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Morning Five: 01.17.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 17th, 2011

  1. When we reported on Angel Garcia leaving Memphis to pursue a professional career in Spain approximately a month ago, we jokingly noted that it could be the start of a new trend. It turns out that we may be onto something as Kansas State recently announced that Freddy Asprilla, a transfer from Florida International, had opted to leave the school to pursue a professional career overseas. While it appears that Asprilla was having some difficulty to adjusting to playing under Frank Martin, his AAU coach states that the real reason he turned pro was to earn money to support his ill mother. We wish Freddy the best of luck in his professional career (particularly if the latter is true).
  2. We usually don’t pay attention to mock drafts or player ratings until the end of the season when players are deciding whether or not to go pro, but Chad Ford’s most recent Top 100 caught our eye because of how the top players are rated: (1) Perry Jones (talented, but very inconsistent — four points in a loss at FSU followed by zero points in a close win over Texas Southern); (2) Kyrie Irving (phenomenal, but injured with a toe injury that apparently cannot be described); (3) Harrison Barnes (the preseason #1, but very disappointing so far); (4) Enes Kanter (a talented inside player, but banned from playing this year); (5) Terrence Jones (phenomenal this season); (6) Jared Sullinger (your current national player of the year favorite). Outside of the dominance of freshman in the top six, we are struck by the fact that the two most productive players are rated below an inconsistent big man, a point guard with an injury that nobody can figure out, a massively disappointing freshman, and a Turkish big man who was given the NCAA’s equivalent of an individual death penalty.
  3. The New York Times takes a look at something that we mentioned earlier this season and we expect that many of you have also considered–the Kalin Lucas you see post-injury is not the same player you saw last year. We aren’t sure if it was just poor editing on the part of the The New York Times, but we were surprised by the fact that Tom Izzo was, in fact, surprised to realize that Lucas wouldn’t have the same explosiveness he had last year after a relatively short period of rehab. Our question all along has been how long will it take Lucas to return to a reasonable representation of what he was last year. The answer to that will likely hold the key to whether or not the Spartans can turn around their season in time.
  4. It technically isn’t college basketball, but we are assuming many of you tuned into ESPN2 on Friday night to catch Michael Gilchrist and Austin Rivers square off. Both players had solid games, but in the end Gilchrist and his St. Patrick team (ranked 2nd nationally) were too much for Rivers and his Winter Park squad. We are assuming that plenty of Kentucky and Duke fans tuned in to watch two players who are expected to be the next superstars for their programs. One thing that struck us was how so many of the St. Patrick players looked to at least be college players at some level while the Winter Park players looked more like high schoolers.
  5. Finally, in light of the struggles of many highly ranked teams on the road this season, we found the question — How many points is Cameron Indoor Stadium worth? — posed by Gary Williams to reporters on Friday to be particularly interesting. We know that the Vegas odds-makers probably have a number at least for general home team advantage if not team-specific home court advantages. So our question to you is how many points is the home court worth at some of the toughest places to play in country?
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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2010

Daniel Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

A Look Back: News and Notes

  • The wait is over for Florida International. Jeff Goodman of FoxSports reported Tuesday that freshman forward Dominique Ferguson, a consensus top-100 recruit, is eligible for the second semester. Earning a start in his debut against Florida A&M Wednesday night, Ferguson missed nine of 12 shots from the field. Coach Isiah Thomas’ other high-profile freshman, point guard Phil Taylor, likely will not join the squad this season after also sitting out the first semester. But after adding Ferguson to the mix with six new transfers from the Division I and juco ranks, Thomas should have more than enough to work with in the East division.
  • Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald dismissed point guard Ken Brown after nine games because of a “violation of a team academic policy.” Brown led the team in turnovers and hadn’t been the answer to WKU’s point guard problems, but he also led the team in assists and may have been the Hilltoppers’ quickest guard.  He appeared to have a bright future with the program, but his departure will now mean more minutes for sophomore Jamal Crook. Freshman Snap Peters, who’s played the point sparingly early in the season, will also see time at the position.
  • Troy’s leading scorer, Vernon Taylor, went down with an injury in a win over Western Michigan Tuesday. He missed Troy’s loss to Idaho State Thursday night, but he’s not expected to miss extended time.
  • The SBC must have ACC-syndrome. That’s the only explanation for why Florida Atlantic began conference play Dec. 16 with an 82-77 overtime win at Troy, two weeks before the rest of the Sun Belt kicks off. FAU won at Louisiana-Monroe three days later and now sits at 2-0 in the league. League competition begins for everyone else next week.

Shoutout Section

  • Ray Taylor is his old self again. Suspended for the season opener because of disciplinary problems, the FAU point guard did not start his first game until the SBC opener at Troy. He’s made the most of his return to the starting lineup, averaging 18.3 points per game during the past three contests. Considering he’s barely left the floor in those games, it’s obvious that he’s back on coach Mike Jarvis’ good side.
  • Taylor’s teammate, Brett Royster, isn’t scoring very much this season. At 7.6 points per game, he’s hardly worthy of our pre-season First-Team All-Conference selection, right? Not exactly. The reigning SBC Defensive Player of the Year has actually elevated his game defensively and has blocked an astonishing 26 shots in his past five games. Excluding Dominique Ferguson, who’s only played one game, Rosyter leads the Sun Belt in blocks by nearly two per game. And among players who have appeared in at least 10 games, Royster is fourth nationally in blocked shots.
  • Denver freshman Chris Udofia scored a career-high 14 points in a win over Northern Colorado Dec. 18. He followed up that performance in another victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff with 10 points in 22 minutes. Teammate Travis Hallam, a former high school rival of Udofia’s, had high praise for the freshman’s freakish athleticism in a television interview with Fox Sports Net after the UNC victory. Udofia’s minutes should continue to increase into league play.
  • Augustine Rubit is on fire. He’s recorded a double-double in three of South Alabama’s past four games and has grabbed at least 12 rebounds in each of those contests. Rubit tallied 18 rebounds against Georgia Southern and 17 against Alcorn State. And he’s only a freshman, too.

Quote of the Week

“That sad thing is that it was two of our, supposedly, better shooters in Regis (Huddleston) and Travis (Lee). They were just terrible from the 3-point line. They couldn’t hit a shot. I don’t know what the reason was, but if they hit any shots at all, we win the game. I’m not putting the blame on them, I don’t think any one person loses a game, but they could have won it for us.”

–Troy coach Don Maestri after a 77-73 loss to Idaho State

Power Rankings

East

1. Western Kentucky (5-7): Louisville just put up 114 points on WKU—at home. Ken Brown’s off the team. And the Hilltoppers are two games under .500 and blew every opportunity to bolster their resume against top competition by losing games to Minnesota, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Memphis and Murray State. It may be overkill to use the word “disastrous,” but that’s the term frustrated WKU fans may use to describe the non-conference season. In fact, Hilltopper Haven, one of the main message boards for Western Kentucky, polled its users about the fate of coach Ken McDonald—and 24 of 32 respondents want to “fire him immediately.” The 5-7 start hasn’t been pretty, and watching Louisville make 16 three-pointers had to have been discouraging. The fans are frustrated with a perceived lack of effort, but we’ve got a message for them: stay patient. WKU has one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the nation, and the only thing we’ve learned from these first 12 games is that Western Kentucky won’t be making the top-25 any time soon. If the shaky play continues next week, it’ll be time to be worried.

Up Next: Jan. 1 at Arkansas State, Jan. 6 vs. Denver, Jan. 13 at Troy

2. Florida Atlantic (8-6, 2-0): It wasn’t easy, but Florida Atlantic found a way to open the Sun Belt season with two road victories. After outlasting Troy in overtime Dec. 16, FAU escaped Louisiana-Monroe three days later with a 60-58 win after Tommy Sykes missed two free throws with 0.2 seconds on the clock. Known for its high-flying offensive attack, Florida Atlantic is showing the ability to win games at slower tempos this season. This is a different team defensively than last season, which has helped FAU grind out wins even when it hasn’t done the job offensively.

Up Next: Dec. 30 vs. Manhattan, Jan. 3 vs. Florida Memorial, Jan. 6 vs. South Alabama

3. South Alabama (5-5): The Jaguars didn’t fare very well against SEC and Big East schools early in the month, but they’ve responded with a three-game winning streak by defeating Houston Baptist, Georgia Southern and Alcorn State. Those three teams have a combined five victories, but USA will at least enter conference play with a little momentum. Augustine Rubit’s mini-tear has helped, but we’ll see if the freshman’s 6 foot 6 frame holds up in conference play. He did have 15 points and 14 rebounds against Louisville from the big, bad Big East.

Dec. 27 vs. Mobile, Dec. 30 at Arkansas State, Jan. 2 vs. Middle Tennessee

4. Florida International (5-6): Former Kentucky and Illinois guard Alex Legion has joined the team for the second semester, and freshman stud Dominique Ferguson is now academically eligible. So how can we rank the Golden Eagles fourth in their own division? There are still question marks for Isiah Thomas’ team. It has beat only three Division I schools this season and most of its roster is either a junior college or D-I transfer. Legion signed with Kentucky out of high school as a big-time recruit, but he’s never caught fire during his career, and Ferguson had never played a game until Wednesday night. Thomas, who finished 7-25 in his first season, is another unknown as a college coach. Still, if all the pieces come together for FIU, there’s no telling how good this squad could be.

Up Next: Dec. 28 at Utah Valley, Jan. 2 at Louisiana-Monroe, Jan. 6 vs. Arkansas State

5. Middle Tennessee (4-8): Kermit Davis’ team took a bit of a tumble during the past two weeks, losing four straight games. Middle Tennessee fell apart in a 15-point loss to Furman Dec. 12 and then lost at Evansville by two points– after beating the Aces at home earlier in the season. The Blue Raiders have struggled to find consistent scoring, but their 4-8 record is a little deceiving. They’ve lost in overtime twice, lost to Evansville on a buzzer-beater and have been blown out in only three losses.

Up Next: Dec. 29 vs. Tennessee State, Kan. 2 at South Alabama, Jan. 5 vs. North Texas

6. Troy (2-10, 0-1): The Trojans can’t play without leading scorer Vernon Taylor much longer. If he’s back for the start of Sun Belt play, his team can’t be taken lightly on any night. Despite the horrid record, Troy hasn’t been a pushover for anyone. Florida Atlantic knows that as well as anyone after the Trojans forced overtime. Coach Don Maestri’s track record can’t be questioned, and this team showed signs of life in an overtime win at Western Michigan Tuesday. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of firepower on this team at the moment, especially without Taylor.

Up Next: Dec. 23 at Utah State, Jan. 6 at Louisiana-Lafayette, Jan. 8 at Arkansas-Little Rock

West

1. North Texas (10-2): LSU doesn’t have Shaquille O’Neal, Pistol Pete or Tyrus Thomas on its roster anymore, and the Tigers will probably slide to the bottom of the SEC West this winter. But that doesn’t make North Texas’ 75-55 win in Baton Rouge Wednesday night any less satisfying for anyone involved. Against the inexperienced Tigers, the grizzled Mean Green veterans dominated from start to finish and won the game with stifling defense and efficient offense. North Texas missed just one free throw and held LSU to less than 37 percent from the field. That has to please coach Johnny Jones, a former LSU point guard. North Texas has now ripped off three straight wins after a humbling loss at Sam Houston State by recommitting itself to the defensive end.

Up Next: Dec. 28 vs. Panhandle State, Dec. 30 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, Jan. 1 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

2. Arkansas State (4-8): The record hasn’t exactly reflected it yet, but Arkansas State is improving with each week. After starting 1-6—a stretch that included a 33 point loss to Belmont—ASU has won three of five games, with two respectable losses at Georgia and Missouri State. This team still has issues. Most notably, Donald Boone hasn’t been the scorer we all expected him to be. And this team still can’t quite put everything together. In stretches, Arkansas State has played very well: in second-half rallies against UGA and Missouri State, in an overtime loss to Memphis, and in the first half of the season opener against Mississippi.

Up Next: Dec. 28 vs. Central Baptist, Dec. 30 vs. South Alabama, Jan. 1 vs. Western Kentucky

3. Arkansas-Little Rock (7-6): Steve Shields has won four division titles at UALR, so last season’s 8-22 record was an anomaly. That’s evident here in 2010-11, as the Trojans are one of the league’s more improved squads. After losing at Oral Roberts by 26 in November, Arkansas-Little Rock got revenge with a three-point win in Las Vegas Wednesday night. At 7-6, UALR has overachieved with solid point guard play, leadership from its four seniors and an improved defensive effort. The Trojans have lost only once at home, to Mississippi.

Up Next: Dec. 23 vs. Stetson, Dec. 30 at North Texas, Jan. 2 at Denver

4. Denver (4-9): The team that donned the Denver uniforms in November is not the same team that’s playing now. The Pioneers have won two straight games and cannot be taken lightly in SBC play. Joe Scott’s teams normally run the Princeton offense as effectively as anyone, but early in the season it hadn’t been crisp enough for his liking. In two home wins over Northern Colorado and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the entire offense has improved. Chris Udofia’s giving Denver a lift off the bench, and the three-pointers are starting to fall—DU made 10 against UNC and nine against Pine Bluff. Travis Hallam, who’s scored at least 17 points in the past three contests, also seems to be developing into a go-to scorer.

Up Next: Dec. 30 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Jan. 2 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, Jan. 6 at Western Kentucky

5. Louisiana-Lafayette (2-9): Bob Marlin finally has a full team. With Josh Brown and Travis Bureau back in the lineup, ULL beat Lamar and lost by just six points to a New Mexico State team that beat the Rajun Cajuns by 16 on their home floor in November. Thanks to a rash of personnel issues, Louisiana-Lafayette suffered through a seven-game losing streak before beating Lamar, but Marlin’s squad may have seen the worst of its season. Much like Don Maestri’s Troy squad, it’s hard to bet against the proven success of Marlin. As his players continue to get acclimated to him—and as they get healthier– there’s a chance for ULL to move up the standings.

Up Next: Dec. 30 at Denver, Jan. 1 at North Texas, Jan. 6 vs. Troy

6. Louisiana-Monroe (4-9, 0-1): After letting the game get out of hand early against UTEP in a blowout loss, the Warhawks responded with two encouraging performances last week. First, they nearly knocked off East contender Florida Atlantic in its SBC opener. Then, they edged Northern Colorado at home, holding one of the nation’s better three-point shooting teams to just 33 percent from beyond the arc. ULM was even able to win the game with do-it-all guard Fred Brown on the bench for much of the game due to foul trouble. He took only six shots and scored 10 points, allowing for forward Lawrence Gilbert to explode for 28 points. That’s great news for a team that must find other options besides Brown.

Up Next: Dec. 29 at Stephen F. Austin, Jan. 2 vs. Florida International, Jan. 4 vs. Union

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ATB: ACC Takes Early Lead 1-0

Posted by rtmsf on November 30th, 2010

We’re Back.  These After the Buzzers dropped off a little bit over the long holiday weekend, and for that we apologize.  Still, we’re working through some ideas as to how we want to set them up, so if you have any suggestions for improvement or additions/deletions, we’re all ears.  So long as it doesn’t take us all night to do and it sounds reasonably interesting, we’ll consider it.  Hit us up in the comments.

The Minnesota Defense Wasn't Tight Tonight (MST/R. Tsong-Taatarii)

Your Watercooler MomentACC 1, Big Ten 0.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that Minnesota was without defensive stalwart Al Nolen tonight — the Gophers still came into this home game as a fifteen-point Vegas favorite, and Tony Bennett’s Virginia team hadn’t exactly shown any signs of breaking through after a 1-2 trip to Maui last week.  A 39-18 second-half run by the Wahoos fueled by 77% three-point shooting  (10-13) erased a ten-point halftime deficit and had Tubby Smith fuming after the game about his team’s shoddy defense.  So what is the teachable moment here?  Perhaps that Minny wasn’t quite as good as their 6-0 record with wins over a UNC team in disarray and a West Virginia team still finding itself would have led us to believe?  Or that ACC teams just find ways to win these ACC/Big Ten Challenge games year after dastardly year?  Well, that’s certainly true, and the Big Ten now finds itself in a serious hole going into Day Two of the event considering that this game was a supposed lock for the midwestern league.  In looking at the remaining ten games, Ohio State on the road (@ FSU) and Illinois/Northwestern at home (vs. UNC and Georgia Tech, respectively) become must-wins, with the hope that Iowa and/or Michigan can break through versus Wake Forest or Clemson on the road.  If we were laying odds at this point as to which league will win this challenge, we’d go heavily on the ACC — that’s how important the Minnesota loss tonight at home was.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

  • Jacob Pullen’s 241st Trey.  With Pullen’s second three of the evening tonight in an easy win against D2 Emporia State, Pullen became the all-time leader in made threes at the school.  He already has 1,618 points in his career and is well on his way to becoming the all-time leading scorer at the school (he needs to average 17.8 PPG the rest of the way, assuming 28 more games).  Here’s the question, though — is Pullen the greatest player in program history?  The greatest guard?  Mitch Richmond and Rolando Blackman were awfully good players at K-State, but Pullen could eclipse both of them with a first-team all-American type of a season and a deep Tournament run.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s Return.  In two games back from suspension against admittedly weak competition, LD has averaged 22 PPG, 5 RPG, 4 APG, and 4 SPG while shooting 10-19 from deep.  We know that Dunn can bomb away, but only seven of his shots have been from within the circle; he may want to mix it up a little more as we get into the heart of the season.
  • Blake Hoffarber’s Jumper.  He shoots them in volume like JJ Redick once did down on Tobacco Road, but every time he puts one up, we think it’s going in.  He’s been somewhat “off” so far this year, but after a 5-11 performance tonight, he’s still at 38.7% on the season.  Of course, this is down from last year’s nearly-automatic 46.7% from deep, but we figure he’ll catch fire soon enough.
  • 8-0 Before December.  There are only thirty D1 teams remaining with a flawless record, but did you know that Cleveland State has already racked up eight wins before November is out?  The Vikings have mostly feasted on a steady diet of mid-level teams, but with a win already against Iona (who beat Richmond), CSU may be looking at a strong season in the Horizon League.
  • Wichita State’s Balance.  One of the most effective shooting teams that you’ll find, Gregg Marshall’s Shockers utilize a cadre of ten players who average between 14-25 minutes per game, nine of whom tally at least four points per contest.  Even though WSU came out of Maui with a 2-1 record, it was the Shockers who arguably played tournament champion UConn the toughest among their three wins.

… and Misses.

  • Those Ridiculous-Looking McDonald’s Stairs at The Barn.  Minnesota’s Williams Arena is a grand old barn, the fourth oldest building currently in use in Division 1 basketball.  And we certainly understand that sponsorships will happen and must happen, even at grand old barns.  But those McDonald’s stairs in the camera view on each side of the scoring table look ridiculous and are embarrassing for a program of this stature.  Maybe it would be ok if the “M”  used was the same configuration as the Gophers’ “M,” but it’s not.  Please, please get rid of this travesty.
  • USC Basketball.  With four losses to the likes of Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and TCU already under its belt, Kevin O’Neill’s team is already in serious trouble this season.  The Trojans have games coming against #20 Texas, #4 Kansas and #15 Tennessee in the next three weeks, and even with Jio Fontan returning on Dec. 18 for the KU game, we’re not sure that this dysfunctional unit will recover.

Tweet of the Night.  Yeah, this is more or less what we thought too when told that TCU was becoming the seventeenth Big East basketball school.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Recruiting Rumor Mill: 10.11.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 11th, 2010

After a few weeks of huge commitments this week was a little more quiet as it seems like most of the big pieces have committed with the exception of Quincy Miller, LeBryan Nash, and Adonis Thomas, but don’t forget that none of the currently committed players have done more than verbally commit and we all know how fickle teenagers can be so we could see some minds change between now and Signing Day. Having said that there were a few notable commitments this week and other news worth following.

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Morning Five: 08.09.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on August 9th, 2010

  1. Jim Calhoun has to appreciate the support shown by many of his former players as the cloud of an NCAA investigation looms over Storrs, support that was evident on Saturday as many of his UConn family showed up to play in a benefit game for the Jim and Pat Calhoun Cardiology Center.  Heck, we’d pay $20 to watch Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor, Caron Butler and Rudy Gay in an alumni game, especially for a good cause.  The word “family” above is not used lightly, as Butler can attest to in speaking about his coach: “I’ll just sum it up like this.  He’s the closest thing to a father that I’ve ever had.”
  2. It just won’t go away.  Karen Sypher says her trial was unfair because Louisville is a small enough town to feel the influence of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.  ”I know now there is no justice system,” she told the AP.  And she also says that there was evidence in her favor that her defense attorney didn’t use, and that it will come out later.  Sypher will be sentenced on October 27th.  We’re fine with Pitino facing no disciplinary action from U of L, since this is a family matter more than anything else, but we’re still evaluating AD Tom Jurich’s statement calling his coach a “grand ambassador” of the program…
  3. SI’s Luke Winn gave us stat nerds the warm-and-fuzzies when he broke out some serious numbers to predict some possible breakout players in the sophomore class for 2010-11 (a taste — Nebraska’s Christian Standhardinger makes the list).  His 2008 version yielded eerily accurate results to the point where we have our current crop of RTC interns investigating if there are some prop bets in Vegas on this topic.  And Luke, if you’re reading…yes, we’ll give you a cut.
  4. Seton Hall announced on Friday that Ole Miss guard Eniel Polynice will be joining the Pirates as a transfer student next season.  Polynice will not have to sit out the typical year for transfers, taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows early graduates to play their fourth season of eligibility elsewhere if their current school doesn’t offer postgraduate work in their field of study.  Polynice, a communications major who graduated in the spring from Ole Miss, sat out the 2008-09 season as a redshirt student.  He is a very nice late summer pickup for new Hall head coach Kevin Willard, who will need some experienced players to keep uber-gunner Jeremy Hazell under control and tutor a deep incoming class of freshmen.
  5. If we were the president of Florida International University (and just to be clear, we’re not), we’d immediately call head coach Isiah Thomas into our office for a sitdown about a little something called focus.  Coming off a 7-25 season that finished on the high note of nine straight losses, you would think that if Thomas were fully committed to his current job, he wouldn’t be taking on part-time work as a paid consultant for the NBA team he helped destroy, the New York Knicks   The Miami media, to put it lightly, is not amused.
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Checking in on… the Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2010

Laura Hathaway of the Clarion is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

Current Standings

East Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. Troy                                    (12-5/17-11/W4)
  2. Middle Tennessee               (12-5/18-12/W2)
  3. Western Kentucky             (11-6/18-12/W5)
  4. Florida Atlantic                  (10-7/14-14/L2)
  5. South Alabama                     (8-10/16-14/W1)
  6. Florida International          (4-13/7-23/L7)

West Division (conf/overall/streak)

  1. North Texas                          (12-5/20-8/W7)
  2. Arkansas State                     (11-6/16-12/W1)
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette              (10-7/13-15/L1)
  4. Denver                                   (9-8/16-12/L1)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe                  (6-11/11-17/L3)
  6. New Orleans                          (3-14/8-20/L2)
  7. Arkansas-Little Rock             (3-14/7-21/L6)

News and notes

Western Kentucky’s A.J. Slaughter was named conference player of the week. He has now received this honor three times this season and also was picked as the preseason player of the year. In his senior year, Slaughter has shown why he was picked as such,as he had four straight 20-plus point performances in the last few weeks. Western Kentucky will be a force in the conference tournament as always. Despite their third-place conference record in the SBC East, their overall record is the second best in the SBC and they play much harder teams during non-conference play.

The Sun Belt Conference tournament is fast approaching at with one more night of conference play and several games that shouldn’t make too much of a difference. The standings probably won’t change at all either except for Troy and Middle Tennessee. If Middle Tennessee beats Florida Atlantic and Troy loses to Arkansas State, then the seed positions for the conference tournament might change a bit. The Troy versus Arkansas State game will be a good matchup and an important final regular season game.

Some easy wins will be for Western Kentucky against Florida International and Denver, on their home court, versus Louisiana-Lafayette. Denver has struggled on the road this season, losing nearly every game away from home so it will be a positive note for them to end regular season play at home with a win. Unfortunately, the Pioneers will have to take the road again for the conference tournament in Arkansas. This will be a huge factor in their performance. It is a shame for senior and star Nate Rohnert that the team plays so poorly on the road, because in reality they are better than many of the SBC teams. It’s a mystery as to why they can’t perform on the road. One that will have to be answered next season perhaps.

You can pretty much forget about New Orleans, Arkansas-Little Rock, Florida International and Louisiana-Monroe now. If any of these teams survive the first round of the conference tournament, I would be surprised. A good matchup though for a season closer will be the New Orleans versus UALR game, since the teams have almost exact records.

For the conference championship I’d like to see a match-up between West Division leader North Texas and East Division Western Kentucky. These two teams have the best overall records and a game against each other would be fun to see in the tournament. The Mean Green did it. They pulled off leading the West Division again. Early in the season, they had the lead, lost it and now have it back. Something changed in the last half of the season and North Texas pulled it together and took the top spot just in time. For awhile, I wasn’t sure if Denver or Arkansas State who would clinch that spot instead.

It will be interesting to see which team (if any) can beat Western Kentucky and prevent them from going to the NCAA Tournament again as the SBC representative.

Upcoming games

All games are on Saturday, Feb. 27

  • North Texas v. Louisiana-Monroe              1 p.m.
  • Middle Tennessee v. Florida Atlantic          6 p.m.
  • Louisiana Lafayette v. Denver                     6 p.m.
  • New Orleans v. Arkansas-Little Rock           7 p.m.
  • Western Kentucky v. FIU     7 p.m.
  • Troy v. Arkansas State                                  7:05 p.m.

Wednesday, March 6 through Friday, March 9

  • Sun Belt Conference Championships in Hot Springs, Ark.
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