Harvard’s Wake-Up Call Might Not Be So Bad

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 20th, 2014

Let’s make a few things clear about Harvard and its probably-gone at-large hopes. For one, if the team is worrying about an at-large selection come March, it probably means it lost two or three games in Ivy League play – which would be problematic on its own. For another, Tommy Amaker’s group is no stranger to faltering unexpectedly in the non-conference: in 2012, the Crimson lost to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Fordham; in 2013, it fell at home to Vermont; and last season, it suffered a 15-point defeat to sub-.500 Florida Atlantic. Each year, Harvard’s at-large aspirations took a severe hit before conference games even began, and each year the team responded by winning the outright Ivy League title. Sunday’s turnover-filled loss to Holy Cross is only different in that it happened just three days into the season, before anyone could even blink. With everything still left to play for – a league title, a Tourney birth, seeding implications – the much-hyped Crimson may have received the wake-up call it needed and was eventually going to get anyway. Now it must figure things out on the court before the schedule ramps up in coming weeks.

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Harvard needs to bounce back after falling to Holy Cross on Sunday. (Robert F Worley/The Harvard Crimson)

Siyani Chambers is probably the best point guard in the Ivy League yet the Crusaders’ pressure defense completely got the best of him on Sunday, turning him over a career-high nine times and holding the junior to just one point. As poorly as Chambers played, though, his track record suggests that he’ll be just fine going forward; the bigger problem might be his backcourt running mates, or lack thereof. Both he and Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders (24 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday) are going to play a lot and produce a lot, but nearly every other guard is an unproven commodity. Program mainstays Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry graduated in the offseason, stripping the team of its best perimeter shooter (Rivard shot 43% 3FG as a senior and holds the school’s all-time three-point record) and a solid all-around guard who could spell Chambers at the point (Curry was the team’s floor general before Chambers arrived in 2012). Corbin Miller (45% 3FG in 2011-12) – who missed the past two years due to an LDS mission – should fill some of the void left by Rivard, but true freshman Andre Chatfield looks like the only other guard receiving rotational minutes early on. As a result, not only is Harvard very thin in the backcourt from an injury-risk standpoint – losing Chambers, Saunders or Miller would be devastating – it also seems less-equipped to handle opponents that necessitate a guard-heavy lineup like Holy Cross. Too much pressure was placed on the pair in that game. Amaker has a ton of options when it comes to mixing and matching frontcourt guys, but far fewer when it comes to the backcourt, so the continued development and emergence of players like Miller and Chatfield will be crucial as the season progresses.

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Morning Five: 04.03.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 3rd, 2014

morning5

  1. Fans in the AAC can start working on their cell phone and texting jokes as Houston hired Kelvin Sampson to be its next coach. Sampson was successful at both Oklahoma and Indiana before a variety of issues that have been documented in great detail before derailed him leading to a five-year show-cause penalty in 2008. Sampson has spent the last six years floating between jobs in the NBA and was serving as an assistant for the Houston Rockets so he might not even have to move for his new job although he might be moving into a bigger house with the upgrade in his salary. Much like the Bruce Pearl hire this has to be considered a huge get for the program, but we have to wonder how long he will stay there..
  2. After what has to be considered a successful first season for Steve Alford things are looking pretty good at UCLA. However, accusations by a spurned sports agent that he provided former Bruin Tyler Honeycutt with impermissible benefits could halt that progress. The school had previously investigated the matter and said that the NCAA ruled the case closed, but with the new documentation they will have to investigate the matter further. This is the second such incident involving UCLA in the past two years (Shabazz Muhammad being the more well-known case), but we wouldn’t consider it an issue with the school. Our bigger question is why do these issues typically arise with mid-level players and not the real stars?
  3. With many of the bigger jobs being filled or in the process of being filled the attention on the coaching carousel shifts to the mid-tier schools. One example of this is North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Morton, who is reportedly interviewing at Florida Atlantic and Marshall. Morton has led the Eagles to better records in each of his five seasons culminating in a NCAA Tournament appearance this season. His move might not move the needle nationally, but it could lead him to an even bigger job in the future.
  4. Chane Behanan cannot seem to avoid getting in trouble. The former Louisville forward, who was kicked off the team for marijuana use, has already enrolled at Colorado State, but took a trip back to Louisville this week. At 1 AM on Wednesday morning he was cited, but not arrested for marijuana possession after a police officer smelled marijuana in a car in which Behanan was a passenger. Behanan reportedly admitted to having a marijuana cigarette. Although he was not arrested he will have a court date later this month. Avoiding the whole social discussion regarding the legalization of marijuana one has to question Behanan’s maturity at this point for getting arrested for something after he has already been through so much.
  5. Next season could be a rough one for Missouri after Jabari Brown announced that he would enter the NBA Draft. Brown joins fellow junior Jordan Clarkson in potentially leaving Missouri early although both could withdraw their names from the Draft by April 15 depending on what they hear. Brown was a first-team All-SEC player this season and led the conference in scoring at 19.9 points per game. Like Clarkson, Brown is also projected to be a second-round pick so it would seem to make sense for him to return, but it would not be the first time that we have seen a player leave early for that type of fate.
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Morning Five: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 3rd, 2014

morning5

  1. The immediate fall-out from the aftermath of Thursday night’s New Mexico State-Utah Valley game appears to be over, but we are guessing the consequences of this and other similar incidents will be dealt with in the off-season. If you haven’t seen the incident, the footage of court rush and fans fighting with players is pretty jarring. New Mexico State’s K.C. Ross-Miller was suspended for two games and Renaldo Dixon was suspended for one game by the Western Athletic Conference. Dana O’Neil is one of the few to voice her support of the fans and places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the players involved. We are not sure which way the WAC or other conference will go on this, but it will certainly be a topic that will be hotly debated.
  2. We have seen a lot of strange things in March over the years, but this year’s SWAC Tournament has to be pretty high up there. As a result of the APR rules four SWAC teams are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, but after discussing the matter with the NCAA all ten  of the teams in the SWAC are still participating in the conference tournament. Prior to this teams that had been barred from the NCAA Tournament did not participate in their conference tournament, but the school presidents voted to include all ten teams most likely to help increase ticket sales (Alabama State President Gwendolyn Boyd is one of two to vote against it). Now the winner of the conference’s automatic bid will be the team that is eligible for the NCAA Tournament and makes it the furthest in the conference tournament. If there is a tie (such as if two ineligible teams make the finals and only the losing semifinalists are eligible) then the higher-seeded team will be given the automatic bid. If that team happens to be the conference tournament champion, nobody will notice. If not, we could have a very weird championship celebration.
  3. It probably goes without saying that March is our favorite time of year, but over the past few years the change from February to March has also left us with a feeling of sadness since February 28 is Dean Smith‘s birthday. Normally that would be a time for celebration, but with Smith’s dementia and deteriorating health it brings our annual story on Smith and his difficulties from John Feinstein. Although sports fans (and college sports fans in particular) can harbor some of the biggest grudges we cannot think of anybody speaking out against Smith on a personal level. Many prominent coaches have legacies of piling up wins on the court, but Smith’s legacy is one of the few that extends beyond it.
  4. With its win over Syracuse on Saturday, Virginia clinched the ACC regular-season championship. Except the ACC does not recognize a regular-season champion. The rationale behind that decision is complex, but Shane Ryan’s column on why the ACC does not formally recognize its regular season champion does an excellent job of explaining the history behind it. Essentially what it boils down to is the other schools in the conference standing up to North Carolina and Dean Smith, who wanted the NCAA bid awarded to the winner of the regular season. The article also includes a few amusing anecdotes about North Carolina’s fixation on hanging up banners that others don’t recognize including its ridiculous 1924 Helms banner.
  5. Whenever a lower-tier program hires a big-name coach such as what Florida Atlantic did with Mike Jarvis six years ago we often hear about how that coach is going to turn the program around. However, more often as is the case with Jarvis that typically doesn’t happen. After six seasons (five of which were losing seasons) at FAU, Jarvis announced that he will resign at the end of the season. Jarvis says that he is making the move to explore other opportunities, but sources close to the situation say that Jarvis was going to be fired and the school gave him the option to resign instead. With Jarvis turning 69 just after the season ends, we would expect this is the last head coaching stop for Jarvis. If it is, he will finish with a 422-312 record with nine NCAA appearances in 25 seasons at Boston University, George Washington, St. John’s, and FAU.
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O26 Weekly Awards: American, Juvonte Reddic, Chris Mooney & FAU

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 30th, 2014

From half-court shots and buzzer-beaters to reverse alley-oops and posterizing dunks, it was one heck of a week in O26 basketball. And for several players, coaches and teams, it might have been a defining one. Let’s pass out some awards to those who stood out from the rest of the pack.

O26 Team of the Week

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American has reason to be confident after last week. (American University Athletics)

American University. No team in college hoops made a louder conference statement than American did last week, and perhaps no other program has exceeded expectations to the extent the Eagles have this season. With only two returning players who averaged more than seven points a game a year ago, just one returning senior, and a new coach to boot, D.C.’s other, other school (in terms of basketball notoriety, at least) was picked to finish ninth of 10 teams in the Patriot League and entered 2013-14 ranked 288th in the KenPom rankings. Merely finishing .500 or better in the conference would have probably been deemed a success, which is what makes American’s 9-0 start in Patriot League play such an unexpected and wholly remarkable feat. And after their three most recent resounding victories, it’s clearer than ever that the Eagles are no longer just a nice story in a revamped league — they are the team to beat.

First was the absolute shocker. On Wednesday night, American hosted preseason favorite Boston University in a contest that was supposed to be relative toss-up, the Eagles having the slight edge at home but most expecting the game to go either way. From about the five minute mark onward, however, it went only one way: Mike Brennan’s group absolutely eviscerated the Terriers, scoring 1.32 points per possession behind 11-of-14 three-point shooting and 71.4 percent shooting overall, recording assists on 22 of 30 made baskets and winning by a whopping 30 points. “Our chemistry is starting to grow,” guard Jesse Reed noted afterwards, in a massive understatement. The 86-56 final was BU’s worst loss since November 2012 and its first Patriot League defeat this season, giving American sole possession of first place near the halfway point. It was an impressive achievement, no matter how you slice it.

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Missed Chances Leave AAC With Precious Few Quality Wins

Posted by CD Bradley on December 10th, 2013

The AAC has missed several opportunities for quality wins early in the season, which will increase the difficulty of getting four or five teams safely into the NCAA Tournament come March. As it is finals week for many schools, we get a bit of a breather at the one month mark before wrapping up most of the non-conference slate and opening league play over Christmas break. There are enough games left that team RPIs are still of little use as a comparison metric, but there is RPI value in examining where the conference stands relative to other leagues. After Monday’s lone AAC game, the league currently ranks ninth in conference RPI, with just the barest of leads over the West Coast Conference one spot behind.

Shabazz Napier's game winner over Florida gave the AAC one of its best wins in the season's first month. (AP)

Shabazz Napier’s game winner over Florida gave the AAC one of its best wins in the season’s first month. (AP)

“[T]here’s no question in my mind that six teams will come out of this league to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said at AAC Media Day in October – and he’s hardly the only coach who has overstated his conference’s prowess – but history suggests otherwise. Only once since 2000 has a conference ranked as low as ninth in the RPI sent even four teams to the tournament, but here’s the interesting part: Those four teams included Louisville and Cincinnati (along with UAB and Charlotte) from Conference USA in 2005, and Louisville made it to the Final Four that season.

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Who Won the Week? MCW, Chicago State, Not Jerry Jones…

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2012

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Chicago State

The Cougars found themselves a home. Amid the constant turmoil found during this extended period of conference realignment, Chicago State has managed to go from the schedule conglomerate of the Great West to an actual conference in the WAC. (Let’s ignore the fact that the WAC would lose its automatic bid if the historically black university didn’t join its ranks.) Granted, the Cougars are 0-8 in Division I play this season, but their campus lies atop a recruiting hotbed, and they could easily snag many a player who falls through others’ cracks, especially now that they offer the same chance at an automatic NCAA Tournament bid that about 250 other schools promise every season. This move makes sense for both parties, but it should help save Chicago State from the fate of Winston-Salem State, another HBCU that tried to make the move to Division I but failed before retreating back to Division II.

(Related winners: The WAC. Related losers: None.)

LOSER: Florida State

Hamilton Hasn’t Been Smiling Much This Season (Photo Credit: Glenn Beil / Democrat).

The Seminoles have had an extended run of success in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one unseen for that program since the Hugh Durham era in Tallahassee, but that’s threatening to fall apart in Leonard Hamilton’s 11th season roaming the Florida State sidelines. FSU is currently riding a three-game losing streak, and last week’s losses to Mercer and Florida were both ugly in their own ways. Falling 61-56 to a team from the Atlantic Sun is ignominious in its own right, but especially so for a team riding a school-record four-year NCAA Tournament streak. Having only one player score more than seven points in the process is even worse. But the Seminoles actually managed to one-up that loss with an embarrassing 72-47 loss to rival Florida, this time where no Florida State player scored more than 10 points. Michael Snaer, the scoring guard who helped lead the team to three wins in the last two years in the NCAA Tournament, scored 17 points between the two games on 5-of-17 shooting while having five assists and seven turnovers. This is foreboding for a team many picked to finish in the top half of an ACC that has often looked lackluster during the start of the season.

(Related winners: Florida; Mercer, but more so had the Bears not gotten shelled by Denver later in the week. Related losers: The ACC, Snaer.)

WINNER: Greg Gantt

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Morning Five: 11.29.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 29th, 2012

  1. The announcement that Louisville is heading to the ACC should not come as too much of a surprise given how far the Big East has fallen, but it is still huge news when one of the top 10 programs historically in college basketball and a top 25 program in college football (for now) moves conferences. The loss of Maryland to the Big Ten will have an impact on the conference (mainly the loss of the Duke-Maryland rivalry even if some members do not view it as much of a rivalry), but we cannot really view this as anything other than a major upgrade on the playing fields for the ACC. With the reported size of the Big Ten’s upcoming football contract it makes you wonder why they wouldn’t go after Louisville instead of Maryland (we think the impact of the D.C. media market is highly overrated).
  2. With the power conferences fighting over the marquee programs and the losing conferences pillaging the lower conferences for their top programs, the lower-tier conferences are often forced to do what essentially amounts to dumpster diving. Such is the case of Conference USA, which is reportedly set to add Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State in 2014 to offset the losses of East Carolina and Tulane to the Big East. From a basketball standpoint this could be a slight win for Conference USA given the strength of the Middle Tennessee State program right now, but from an overall financial standpoint it is a considerable downgrade. Given all the movement we have seen in the past few days we would not be surprised to see much more in the near future.
  3. There has been so much going on with conference realignment and the NCAA’s investigations into incoming freshmen that we had almost forgot that Myck Kabongo was still sitting out until we heard that the NCAA is expected to release a statement about his eligibility later today with the likely punishment being a 10-game suspension. Kabongo’s eligibility issues stem from a trip he took to Cleveland earlier this year that was reportedly financed by a professional agent. If Kabongo is given the 10-game suspension he would not be able to return until the team’s game on December 19 at home against North Carolina and would allow him to play the entire conference schedule, but would mean he would miss the team’s upcoming games against Georgetown and UCLA.
  4. Normally we would have plenty of jokes about Joshua Smith, who has decided to stop playing for UCLA, but with all that has been going on with the Bruins lately we are seriously questioning whether Ben Howland has any control over this program. Outside of the recent ugly losses, this is the second high-profile departure from the program in the past week (Tyler Lamb was the other). Smith has apparently not decided whether he will stay at UCLA or transfer to another school to finish up his basketball career. If this is in fact the last that we have seen of Smith on the basketball court, this sequence will be his enduring legacy.
  5. We didn’t expect Clemson to be very good this year and their hopes of surprising us and other analysts took a hit when senior guard and leading scorer Milton Jennings was arrested for possession of marijuana early yesterday morning and he was suspended by the team for the third time in the past 13 months. From the details we have seen (he was arrested after police noticed the smell of marijuana when responding to a call about someone removing a smoke detector), it sounds like a relatively small violation in comparison to some of the other drug arrests that we see, but since it is Jennings’ third suspension in just over a year we are inclined to believe that this may be the last that we have seen of Jennings in a Clemson uniform.
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North Carolina Still Figuring Out Its Center Position Before Heading West…

Posted by KCarpenter on November 11th, 2012

Kellen Carpenter is an RTC correspondent and ACC microsite writer. He filed this report after the UNC-Florida Atlantic game in Chapel Hill on Sunday.

North Carolina looks deep. In its 80-56 victory Sunday afternoon over the Florida Atlantic Owls, UNC showcased a scary depth and commitment to defense. Nine players played double-digit minutes, Florida Atlantic shot only 27.9% from the field, and the bench shined in what was an almost perfectly balanced effort by the starters and reserves. The bench contributed 39 out of 80 of North Carolina’s total points, with particularly good scoring games by Joel James, who scored 11 points, and Brice Johnson, who racked up 12 points in 12 minutes.

Joel James Appears to be the Strongest Candidate For UNC’s Center Position (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)

This of course brings up the still unanswered question of who will be the long term starter at the center position. Desmond Hubert started the first half of this game, but once again James earned the second half start. In 14 minutes of action, Hubert contributed zero points, three rebounds, two blocks, and two turnovers. Compared to the double-figure scoring efforts by James and Johnson (as well as eight rebounds for James and four for Johnson), it would be very strange if Hubert continued to start. James actually played more minutes than Hubert in this effort, and Johnson’s soft touch around the basket looks very impressive. With Roy Williams‘ stated trepidation about the defensive implications of playing Johnson and John Michael McAdoo at the same time, James seems like he may be North Carolina’s newest starter before too long.

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Who’s Got Next? Williams-Goss Goes With Washington, Pollard Poised To Pick

Posted by Josh Paunil on May 31st, 2012

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 are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Lead Story: Top-100 Nigel Williams-Goss Commits To Washington

Class of 2013 Point Guard Williams-Goss Is A Great Pick-up for Washington.

Huskies Off To A Good Start In Junior Class. Class of 2013 point guard Nigel Williams-Goss announced his commitment to Washington yesterday via Twitter and a player blog on National Recruiting Spotlight, giving the Huskies their first verbal in the junior class. Williams-Goss chose the Huskies over Harvard, Oklahoma, UNLV, and UCLA and held offers from a plethora of other schools including Missouri, Arizona and his hometown Oregon Ducks. The Findlay Prep point guard is a standout on the defensive end and has good stop-and-go quickness. He also has terrific range on his three-point shot and is a good passer with matching court vision. Williams-Goss already has plans to hit the recruiting trail for Washington and has named Class of 2013 standouts such as shooting guard Isaac Hamilton and power forwards Aaron Gordon and Marcus Lee as his targets. Head coach Lorenzo Romar is also chasing after shooting guard Jabari Bird and power forward Jordan Bell, among others. Gordon is a Washington lean and Bird is interested in the Huskies so if Romar can close out on those two, Washington looks to have a very good recruiting class in 2013 in the making. Washington fans will have plenty of opportunities to see Williams-Goss next year as his Findlay Prep team will likely play in multiple televised games on the ESPN family of networks.

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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 January 28th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Now off to the best start in program history, Middle Tennessee has its sights set on more than just a Sun Belt East Division title. Instead, the Blue Raiders have positioned themselves for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, especially if they can win at Vanderbilt in an out-of-conference tilt this weekend. At 20-2, MTSU has not lost in league play yet, and it leads preseason favorite Florida Atlantic by four games in the win column. Joe Lunardi from the vaunted four-letter network has the Blue Raiders in the NCAAs as a #12 seed, so they may actually have a little breathing room if they fail to win the SBC tourney. Of course, this is all moot if they stumble down the stretch in conference play.
  • A lot of teams have beaten Lousiana-Monroe this season — 19, to be exact. But during the Warhawks woeful 2-19 season, no team has come close to what Troy did to them last weekend. The Trojans, never shy to jack up three-pointers under coach Don Maestri, tied an NCAA record by making 11 straight three-pointers in a 91-63 victory. Overall, Troy made 15 threes, and that streak of 11 threes ties marks set by Niagara and Eastern Kentucky in 1997. The statistics get better and better, too. Troy made almost as many threes (15) as twos (15), and Justin Wright tied his career-high with four made treys. And as for the Warhawks? They made a measly six three-pointers.

Power Rankings

East

  1. Middle Tennessee (20-2, 9-0):  Nothing has changed since our last update two weeks ago. The Blue Raiders, who entered the season as a questionable pick in the East because of offensive concerns, are far and away the best team in the Sun Belt Conference. It’s to the point where Middle Tennessee can no longer judge itself purely by the wins it amasses. Rather, it looks as though this team could beat just about anybody when March rolls around. That’s because the Blue Raiders hound opponents on the defensive end and have the size of a major-conference squad. Bruce Massey has also played terrific basketball on both ends of the floor, as he’s been a catalyst for this team’s 20-2 start.

    Bruce Massey (13) Has Been A Catalyst For Middle Tennessee

  2. Florida Atlantic (9-12, 5-3): With a few close victories over rival FIU and Western Kentucky, the Owls are back on track. Unlike North Texas last season, which fell from preseason consensus favorite to middle-0f-the-pack, FAU actually has a chance to turn this thing around in 2011-12. It’s not dead yet, but it may need to run the table from here on out to have any chance of catching Middle Tennessee. Point  guard Ray Taylor still doesn’t look like the Player of the Year candidate he should be, but he’s starting to play better after a tough start to the season. If he gets his game going, this team could make a late push. Read the rest of this entry »
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