Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on November 28th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

 

Highlights and Lowlights From the Week (from highest to lowest)

Looking for high profile wins in the early season invitational tournaments and traditional home-away settings, the conference had some bright spots but overall the results were mixed:

Big man Cady Lalanne has been outstanding for UMass. (Maria Uminski/ Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

Big man Cady Lalanne has been outstanding for UMass. (Maria Uminski/ Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

  1. Massachusetts — The Minutemen were voted #24 in the AP’s Top 25 on the strength of their weekend at the Charleston Classic. Coach Derek Kellogg’s squad ran their winning streak to six with wins over power conference representatives Nebraska (81-65) and Clemson (62-56) and (then) #19 New Mexico over the course of the Charleston weekend. Center Cady Lalanne became the much anticipated low post beast, scoring 47 points on 17-of-36 (13-of-16 from the line) shooting while grabbing 35 rebounds over the three game run. He logged two double-doubles in the three game set. Chaz Williams is the guiding force for the squad (and he did not disappoint in Charleston either), but if Lalanne (along with Maxie Esho and Raphiael Putney) emerge as legitimate threats game-to-game, this Massachusetts squad will challenge for the conference title. Read the rest of this entry »
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George Mason Readies Itself For Upgrade in Competition This Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2013

Alex Moscoso is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the George Mason vs. Northern Iowa game on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, Northern Iowa came to Fairfax, Virginia, to play George Mason for the second consecutive year. Both teams are etched into the minds of college basketball fans because of some recent unforgettable moments in March. The Panthers have remained relatively intact since their stellar moment in 2010. Same coach, same league, and moderate success in the Missouri Valley. The Patriots, however, have experienced a sort of program face-lift since their Final Four run. They lost long-time head coach, Jim Larranaga, to the ACC’s Miami (FL) in 2011, and hired Paul Hewitt, the former George Tech coach whose career there produced mixed results, as his replacement.  They also upgraded their conference affiliation by moving from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10, starting this season. While Hewitt was in Atlanta, he relied on talented underclassmen, like Thaddeus Young and Iman Shumpert, to drive his program.  But this season at George Mason, he’ll need to rely on his slate of returning upperclassmen to transition into the A-10 and make a run at the school’s first NCAA Tournament under his watch.

George Mason's Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments.

George Mason’s Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments.

Hewitt has led the Patriots to 20 wins in each of his first two seasons, and they return nearly everyone of significance including redshirt senior Sherrod Wright, who averaged 16.6 PPG last year. Despite that success, Hewitt has not yet managed to earn enough quality or timely wins to make the NCAA Tournament. Now that George Mason will be in a higher-profile league, the tougher competition will give his team more opportunities for signature wins on its resume. So far this season, the Patriots have eked out a win against American and beaten Lamar handily. The visit by the Panthers represented their first test against competition comparable to what they’ll be facing in the A-10 most nights out.

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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Bad and the Ugly…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.

Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

The Bad

  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
  • Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.

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20 Questions: Who Are the Winners and Losers of Conference Realignment This Season?

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on October 29th, 2013

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While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.

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Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.

Winners

The ACC: When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Oregon State Beavers

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 26th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Oregon State Beavers

Strengths. Oregon State boasts one of the finest frontcourts in the conference. Starting the group off is senior Devon Collier, a strong small forward who can score either driving to the hoop or with a nifty little jumper. Senior center Angus Brandt missed the majority of last season after tearing his ACL in the fourth game of the year, and his ability to score from both inside and behind the arc took away a big threat from that team. Finally, there’s Eric Moreland. Moreland’s career in Corvallis has been an up-and-down one, including two “violation of team rules” suspensions in the past 10 months and a declaration for the NBA Draft (which he later pulled out of and decided to return). Now he is serving that second suspension and will miss the first 14 games of the 2013-14 campaign, but will provide a monster boost on both the glass and the defensive end of the court when he returns.

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Weaknesses. This team has very little experience on the bench. The backup point guard is Malcolm Duvivier, a true freshman who was originally in the Class of 2014 but reclassified to join the team immediately. Backing up Roberto Nelson at the two will be the newcomer that Beaver fans should be most excited about, Hallice Cooke out of St. Anthony High School (NY). And the best option to spell Brandt will be sophomore Olaf Schaftenaar, who shot a completely unnecessary amount of three-pointers his initial season in Corvallis, and at a 30.9% clip to boot.

Non-Conference Tests. A trip to College Park to face Maryland awaits Craig Robinson’s team just seven days after its season opener. DePaul isn’t exactly a “test,” but the Blue Demons present a challenge at home against the Beavers on December 1. The toughest stretch comes in the four games before Christmas break, beginning with a visit from Towson, a team that came from 19 down last year at Gill Coliseum to top the Beavers in overtime. After that they head to the Islands to face Akron in their Diamond Head Classic opener. Either Iowa State or George Mason will be on tap in the second game, and a solid group of choices, headlined by Saint Mary’s, are in play for the Christmas Day finale.

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New Memberships in the A-10 and Mountain West: Can These Leagues Sustain Success?

Posted by BHayes on October 10th, 2013

Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) is an RTC national columnist.

The tumult of conference realignment has hit few conferences harder than it has the Mountain West and Atlantic 10, but as we prepare to set sail on the 2013-14 season, both leagues again loom as the best college basketball has to offer outside the now “power seven” conferences. We touched on each league a little bit in yesterday’s Morning Five, but storylines abound in two leagues that have generated plenty of national buzz in recent years. Both are expected to maintain holds in the upper echelon of the mid-major hierarchy, but offseason membership changes have left things less certain than usual, especially in the A-10. The constant churn of programs jumping from conference to conference has left leagues in varying states of disarray, and 2013-14 finds both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 at a crossroads. The challenges are different in each situation, but with the relatively uncertain future of today’s college basketball’s climate, another strong season in comparison with the high-majors would go a long ways towards stabilizing each of these traditionally strong conferences.

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

This season’s iteration of the Mountain West is bigger, but is it better? The preseason poll released Tuesday offered confirmation of the general consensus surrounding newcomers Utah State and San Jose State: Stew Morrill and the Aggies should be a factor in the top half of the conference, while the Spartans, despite their eye-catching new floor, are likely to be MW doormats. But even if Utah State matches or exceeds expectations in their conference debut, the conference as a whole will struggle to replicate the success of 2012-13 – those good old days when the MW was number one in conference RPI (no typo). The trio at the top of this year’s preseason poll all have a chance at replicating, or even improving upon, their successful campaigns of a year ago.

The return of preseason MW POY Kendall Williams and first teamer Alex Kirk has left New Mexico as the conference’s presumptive favorite: the Lobos earned all but one of 24 first place votes. A talented but overhauled UNLV squad scooped up that final first place vote, while Boise State’s return of nearly every key contributor earned the Broncos enough acclaim to tie for second with the Rebels in the poll. The Morning Five highlighted another talented San Diego State roster that sits behind those three teams in the eyes of the media, and let’s face it — it’s probably time we start giving Steve Fisher the benefit of the doubt – the Aztecs are an annual factor out west. But behind the Aztecs and Aggies (Utah State was picked to finish fifth) lies much of the intrigue in this year’s MW. A season ago, the four non-Tournament teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Fresno State and Nevada) were all extremely competitive, especially on their home floors. Their strength was a big reason for that heady conference RPI. This year’s bottom half again appears feisty, with a couple of teams – Nevada (#9) and Fresno State (#8) appearing especially undervalued in the preseason evaluations. Nobody – inside our outside the league — is expecting the MW to finish atop the conference RPI again this season. But another solid campaign, on the heels of that banner season of a year ago, would be awfully sound validation of a league unprepared to leave the national consciousness anytime soon.

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Morning Five: 10.10.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2013

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  1. Wednesday was a bit of a weird college basketball news day, mostly filled with quotes, non-controversies, and Andrew Wiggins. Ever heard of him? Let’s start with Jesus Shuttlesworth combined with Butch McRae (bonus points for that reference), otherwise known as Kansas’ young superstar, Wiggins. His fantastic Sports Illustrated cover started making the rounds on social media Tuesday night and Luke Winn’s profile story (print or digital subscription only) released yesterday. The comparison he makes is with another couple of former Jayhawk stars who came to the Great Plains to make their basketball marks, Wilt Chamberlain in 1955 and Danny Manning in 1984. Wiggins is the third star in this line of succession, but as Winn writes in his supplemental Wilt, Danny, Andrew: 22 Thoughts column (available online), “It is not a pronouncement that Wiggins will have a Wilt-like impact.” It is, however, an informative and compelling read, but his 22 Thoughts piece might be more fun. Over the series of blurbs, Winn manages to reference Neal Cassady, shows a ridiculous looking drawing of a giant “Wilt” hand dunking a basketball, and reveals some Wiggins-related tweets from starstruck KU students that will have you cracking up at the absurdity of it all. Check out both stories, even if you are so cheap that you have to read the paper copy in the checkout line at the grocery store.
  2. As we all know, Kansas also picked up Kelly Oubre from the class of 2014 earlier this week. The commitment was notable in that it represented the third straight time that uber-recruiter John Calipari had been beaten out for an elite recruit (Wiggins, Emmanuel Mudiay, Oubre). While three times isn’t necessarily a trend, it is a bit odd considering Calipari’s prodigious record of recruiting success. Well, at least one explanation for the commitment was revealed on Wednesday, as Oubre’s father, Kelly Sr., told the Lawrence Journal-World that Self “doesn’t kick you out if you’re not ready.” Although he didn’t name who he was referencing with his barb, it was interpreted by the rest of the world as a shot at Calipari’s one-and-done program (he later told KSR’s Matt Jones that he meant nothing of the sort). Kentucky fans rightfully took umbrage at the allusion, pointing out that a number of talented freshman have in fact become sophomores at Kentucky (Terrence Jones, Alex Poythress, Doron Lamb, to name a few), but the damage was already done. Kentucky vs. Kansas again, anyone — this is getting pretty good.
  3. Or Kentucky vs. Michigan State? Wait, we already have that one on the schedule, coming on November 12, just over a month from now. The background on this is somewhat convoluted, but the gist of it is that a student at Michigan State’s September Madness reported that head coach Tom Izzo said that the Spartans were going to “kick Kentucky’s a–.” John Calipari of course caught wind of it, and did what he does even better than recruiting and coaching — he spun it to his favor. In two separate public venues over the last week, Calipari has made reference to the MSU comment and spun it back to his own players “not knowing” when they will play the other elite teams on their schedule. Leave it to some other enterprising reporter to poll the Wildcat players as to when they will play the defending national champions (answer: December 28), but suffice it to say that the marketing pitch is already in full blast this season. Like we said, non-controversies.
  4. Players don’t know when they play, and coaches don’t know who they play. Does anybody pay attention anymore? We’re only half-kidding. Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger published an interesting piece on Wednesday that revealed George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt and Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli didn’t even realize they were playing in the same conference (the Atlantic 10, if you’ve lost track) this season as recently as July. Even this week, Martelli mentioned that, as he waited for his train to Brooklyn, he wondered where his peer and longtime A-10 competitor Fran Dunphy at Temple was. Then he realized that Temple is now in the Big East, along with Xavier and one-year wonder Butler. Honestly, it’s going to take a while to get used to these changes for everyone. We really can’t blame them for this gaffe (but that doesn’t excuse the fictional Kentucky players that don’t realize who they’re playing).
  5. Some injury news to finish off a strange M5 on this Thursday (we warned you). Texas point guard Javan Felix underwent hip surgery last week and is currently on the mend with an indefinite timetable for his return. With all the pressure on the Longhorn basketball program given athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ recent disparaging comments, this is not good news for Rick Barnes. Felix is the most experienced returning guard on the team, and if he can’t go at 100 percent this season, Barnes is going to need to do the best coaching job of his entire career just to keep this team above water. Down at Florida, Will Yuguete and Eli Carter are still not ready to practice due to their injuries, but more importantly, Billy Donovan has reinstated senior guard Scottie Wilbekin to the team. Wilbekin has had found repeated trouble in his time at Florida, but he has satisfied his head coach in recent months to earn his spot again. The Gators are a tough team to figure this season — they bring in some excellent transfer and freshman talent, but the returnees more or less look like a collection of role players. We know they’ll be good, but can they become great?
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Morning Five: 05.13.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 13th, 2013

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  1. It seems like Rutgers cannot get anything right. Even the hiring of Eddie Jordan, which seemed like a no-brainer, has turned into a public relations disaster as Jordan never graduated from college. This is not at the level of George O’Leary and his fake degree with at an institution that never existed, but it is still an ugly mark against an institution that has already been dragged through the mud with its handling of the Mike Rice situation. From what the school is saying Jordan never represented himself as a graduate of the school and it was simply a media relations error. If that is in fact true and the school claims that it does not require its coaches to have college degrees (Who cares since they do not count against the APR, right?), this issue will probably be swept under the rug, but we imagine that opposing coaches will use this to recruit against Jordan by pointing out that if he did not bother to complete his college degree it seems a little less credible that he would make sure your son ends up with a college degree when his basketball career is over.
  2. It appears that the recruitment of Andrew Wiggins, the #1 high school player in (North) America, will be coming to a close as he is expected to announce his decision at 12:15 PM today. Many fans and several analysts have voiced their displeasure with Wiggins taking so long to announce his decision, but with the way that schools get put on probation and players or coaches leave it makes sense for the top player in the country (or any coveted recruit for that matter) to wait as long as possible to make their decision. Wiggins is set to decide between Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina. If Wiggins winds up in Lexington, you can be sure it will set off another round of hysteria about Kentucky’s incoming class. Interestingly, the most frequently cited destination we have seen from college basketball analysts is Florida State. If that were to happen, Wiggins would make the Seminoles a legitimate NCAA Tournament team and would create some very interesting match-ups against Duke and Jabari Parker.
  3. The Miami investigation is the mess that never seems to go away. The latest update is that Frank Haith‘s petition to question Bank of America employees on whether they gave unauthorized access to his bank accounts (allowing the NCAA to analyze his accounts) was denied by a federal judge in Miami on Friday. Based on what has been released about the case it appears that Haith will still be able to get the information if he decides to file a lawsuit, which he may be doing in the near future. If the NCAA did in fact illegally obtain Haith’s financial records it could be dealing with a very messy legal case and one that it cannot rely on its own jurisdiction to help it evade substantial penalties.
  4. Georgia Tech lost a pair of players over the weekend. The most significant was Julian Royal, who is headed to George Mason (announced via that Instagram picture) and will finally get to play for Paul Hewitt after Hewitt recruited him to Georgia Tech before moving to George Mason. On the surface, the addition of a player who was the odd man out in Georgia Tech’s rotation may not seem like a big get, but coming out of high school Royal was considered the best player in the state of Georgia and a player that Hewitt thought fit his system so perhaps playing for Hewitt in his system (and new scenery) will help Royal realize his potential. The other move from Georgia Tech was Brandon Reed‘s decision to transfer after his junior season. Reed, who averaged 5.2 points per game on 38.4 percent from three-point range last season, will graduate this summer as he also sat out a year after transferring from Arkansas State. As a result Reed will be able to transfer again without having to sit out a year if he picks an appropriate graduate degree program.
  5. We are still waiting on a few recruits from the class of 2013 to commit (see the big one in bullet #2), but a pair of highly rated recruits in the class of 2014 appear to have already made their choices. The more firm of the two commitments comes from Daniel Hamilton, a top 30 recruit, who verbally committed to play at Connecticut. The addition of Hamilton should give the Huskies a very potent backcourt for the 2014-15 season (when Rodney Purvis is eligible) as they will be looking to replace more experienced players. The other quasi-commitment comes from Chris Chiozza, who is a top-100 player, and appears to be headed to Florida with a formal announcement tomorrow. The news on Chiozza is not particularly noteworthy except for the fact that he is a high school teammate of Leron Black, a top-20 player in the junior class so perhaps Chiozza’s decision will offer some clue as to where Black is headed.
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Big East M5: 03.28.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 28th, 2013

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  1. Jim Boeheim retirement rumor-mongering has become something of a cottage industry in recent seasons, so it’s always relieving when the man himself can add some clarity to the things that bounce around the world of message boards and e-mail chains. In his Sweet Sixteen presser yesterday, Boeheim took the time to end speculation as to whether he will coach the team in the 2013-14 season: “There is no process. There is no process. I’m coachin’ next year, I kid around a little bit and everybody gets crazy when I do so I’m not going to kid around about it anymore, I’m coaching next year, thrilled, got a great challenge, looking forward to it.” That is, unless he isn’t: ”About September, if I don’t want to coach, I won’t coach.” That last little bit seems to open the door for a Jim Calhoun/Kevin Ollie situation, although Mike Hopkins has been the established head coach in waiting at Syracuse for years, so that type of manipulation seems unnecessary.
  2. Match-ups between elite programs like Syracuse and Indiana are always great fun for a variety of reasons. Because these types of schools dip into the same small pool of blue-chip recruits, a lot of these players have long relationships, and these back stories can only help build intrigue for the games. IU”s Victor Oladipo spent a lot of time on Wednesday talking about his relationships with Syracuse’s DMV-area forwards Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair. Oladipo is very close with the entire Grant family, and descibed Jerami as a “little brother” while calling Fair a “good player” who is “a real cool dude to chill with.”  Much of the pregame speculation on the Syracuse end of things has been about whom Oladipo will be tasked with guarding. That assignment may very well be Fair, who has been SU’s most consistent scorer all season.
  3. The Marquette-Miami game has its own built-in storyline heading into tonight’s Sweet Sixteen bout. Hurricane assistant Eric Konkol coached guard Trent Lockett, who has come on as a big factor in the backcourt for the Golden Eagles, at Hopkins High School. Both took an unconventional road to this NCAA Tournament match-up. Konkol found himself in the high school ranks after coaching under Jim Larranaga at George Mason while his wife worked on a degree at the University of Minnesota. He rejoined Larranaga in 2010, moving with him to Miami. Lockett spent his first three years at Arizona State, where he averaged over 13 points per game as a sophomore and junior before transferring to Marquette. Lockett had a big game in the Round of 32 against Butler, scoring 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting and grabbing six rebounds.
  4. Dueling articles are always fun. Think Progress‘ Travis Waldron penned a piece called “The University of Louisville is Everything That’s Wrong With College Basketball“, where his basic thesis is that because Louisville is the most profitable college basketball program but their basketball alumni don’t all matriculate to the NBA and make millions of dollars within a year or two, they’re evil… or something. I’m not a fan of using someone’s alma mater and inherent biases to try to invalidate their arguments, but when Waldron brought up his Kentucky background a lot of things were cleared up. SB Nation‘s Louisville blog Card Chronicle writer Mike Rutherford responded with his own post: ”The University of Louisville is Not Everything That’s Wrong With College Basketball“, and I think he sums things up pretty well in response to Waldron – “You forgot the #BBN hashtag as your signature.”
  5. Alas, this year’s sprint towards NIT glory was not to be for the Providence Friars, who fell in the quarterfinals to Baylor in Waco last night.  The Friars had big performances from the usual suspects - Bryce Cotton led the team with 23 points while Vince Council and Kadeem Batts were close behind with 21 and 20 points, respectively. Kris Dunn was the only other Friar to score, however, and Baylor took advantage of Providence’s limited depth to cruise to a 79-68 victory. With Providence now out of the NIT, the three remaining Big East teams in the NCAA Tournament are the conference’s last representatives in postseason play this season.
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RTC Championship Previews: Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by CNguon on March 8th, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

CAA Tournament Matchups/Predictions

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QUARTERFINALS

#4 George Mason vs. #5Drexel, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. — If you were to tell me last March that Mason and Drexel would meet in the first round of the CAA tournament, I would have said, “Really? What happened? Did four teams become ineligible for the tournament while the Patriots and Dragons underperformed?” And the March 2012 version of me would have been strangely prescient. But this is a heavyweight bout in Round 1, and the winner could certainly take the whole fruit basket. The teams split two regular season matchups, with each road team winning. Mason blew a 20-point first-half lead in its loss, but for the most part, both games came down to the final eight minutes, when the teams traded leads. This one should also go to the wire —and I’ve got Mason barely holding on in a thrilling opener to the weekend.

Pick: George Mason 62, Drexel 61

#2 Delaware vs. #7 Hofstra, Saturday, 6 p.m. — Hofstra, in this writer’s opinion, is the only team of the seven incapable of winning the tournament. Which means that Delaware, which hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2003, should finally make the final four. The Hens have weapons all over the court, while Hofstra counts on the same few players to log big minutes and try to make something happen. There won’t be many blowouts this weekend, but this game has a chance to be over quickly if Delaware shoots the ball well in the first half. Hofstra’s best gameplan is to limit possessions, remain within striking distance, and catch some second-half breaks. The Pride can hang around, but won’t seriously threaten.

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CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

Spotlight On…

Diagramming A Winner: It was featured on SportsCenter under the header “Small School Buzzer-Beaters,” but JMU coach Matt Brady didn’t see a replay of his team’s game-winning alley-oop against Delaware until Monday morning, long after his team arrived back in town after a four-hour bus ride home that was undoubtedly more pleasant because of said play (fast-forward to 2:04):

After viewing it a number of times, Brady was happy to break down the play that lifted his team into second place in the CAA. Below is his analysis:

We do have an end-of-the shot-clock lob play for whoever may be on the court – typically it’s Andre Nation – but knowing that they would have it scouted or that they could have guarded it with just one defender, out of the timeout we kind of changed that play around. We took everybody from the strong-side, the ball-side of the court – we took them out of the play. We had Rayshawn [Goins] duck in on the weakside block, the block farthest from the ball. Most importantly, we had A.J. [Davis] start inside of Andre Nation towards the baseline, and we wanted to wrap him away from the ball and back around the corner that was empty, in hopes that it would draw attention. And to be honest with you, I didn’t see the play until [assistant coach] Rob O’Driscoll showed it to me this morning. It seemed to draw a lot of attention. It worked the kids executed it well. I think the underrated part of the whole play, to be honest with you, wasn’t the design of the play or the finish or A.J.’s hard cut. Really, [it was] the pass. Until I saw it this morning – it was a fabulous pass. It was not an easy play. And it’s not something Devon [Moore] always wants to do because he’s sometimes leery of a turnover, but in that situation he’s interested and eager to make the pass. But in that situation, what a great pass.

It was Kyle Anderson guarding Andre Nation. So I don’t know if we necessarily even needed to wrap A.J., but we wanted to do that to create some confusion. And I do think when A.J. wrapped, it actually pulled Kyle Anderson from in front of Andre Nation guarding the rim. They went to switch. They went to switch and they both ended up behind. But the most interesting part of the play, and Rob showed it to me again this morning, was that immediately upon Andre Nation’s dunk, Kyle Anderson gave Devon Saddler a death stare, like, ‘You son of a gun, I can’t believe you missed that!’ They were supposed to switch, but that’s why we did what we did.

Andre Nation really had the easiest part of the play. He’s gonna get all the credit, but really, the credit should go to A.J. and Devon.

I didn’t get the chance to speak with Kyle Anderson about the miscommunication, but Saddler made it seem like it was Anderson’s fault, saying that he didn’t switch when he was supposed to. That’s for UD head coach Monte Ross to sort out. The Dukes are just happy their clutch lob worked so perfectly.

Power Rankings

This week, we spend ample time celebrating the league’s top talents, but this week’s power poll will focus on X-Factors – the players whose teams’ success hinges on their production from game to game:

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CIO… the Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2013

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Mark Selig is the RTC correspondent for the Colonial Athletic Association. You can also find more of his written work at jamesmadison.rivals.com or on Twitter @MarkRSelig.

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  • Old Dominion Fires Blaine Taylor: After 239 wins in a dozen seasons, Blaine Taylor’s run as Old Dominion head coach finished Tuesday afternoon when athletic director Wood Selig announced that the school’s all-time leader in victories had been released. The decision came a day after Old Dominion lost to George Mason, dropping the Monarchs to a record of 2-20 overall and 0-10 in the CAA (including a 1-12 mark on their home court). Selig said in a press conference that the decision went beyond the team’s on-court performance but would not specify. National media outlets and blogs like Deadspin quickly tried to connect the dots between Taylor’s hazy radio appearance last month and his firing. ODU now turns to longtime assistant Jim Corrigan to steer the Monarchs for the remainder of this woeful season.
Blaine Taylor's firing is a sobering reminder that you never know when a mid-major coach's magic will run out. (Peter Casey/USA Today)

Blaine Taylor’s firing is a sobering reminder that you never know when a mid-major coach’s magic will run out. (Peter Casey/USA Today)

Composing The Perfect All-CAA Team

Around this time last year I thought of a fun column idea and put it to practice. My goal, as written then, was to “create the best roster 1 through 12, using just one player from each CAA team. Your team must consist of exactly three freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and three seniors.”

I figured it could be a yearly staple, and a task that fans and other writers could emulate and compare. Then VCU had to go ruin it by leaving the CAA for the Atlantic 10. That left us with just 11 teams, and an imperfect system. That’s no reason to scrap the whole thing, though. For this year’s version, let’s tweak the rules and allow for one of the classes to have just two members. We’re still choosing one player from each CAA squad, so our roster will be 11-deep – still plenty deep enough to do some damage. Coaches typically use an eight- or nine-man rotation, and in this ideal world with an all-star team, they certainly wouldn’t need to be any deeper. But the goal here is to be strong top to bottom, and not just stack the best eight while merely filling the other slots with loose ends.

Below is my roster. Feel free to debate it, challenge it and make one that’s better:

  • Freshman:  R.J. Hunter, guard, Georgia State: Hunter isn’t just the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year in the CAA, he’s becoming a legitimate Player of the Year candidate. He’s fifth in the CAA in scoring (17.3 points per game), and leads all freshman guards in field goal percentage (44.5%). “I’ve seen him do some special things,” pops Ron Hunter said after R.J. scored 38 against Old Dominion on Saturday. “When he gets on a roll, he’s incredible.”
  • Freshman: Andre Nation, guard, James Madison: The ubiquitous 6’5” guard is another player who should earn superlatives outside the rookie realm. Coach Matt Brady said Nation is “as good as a freshman defender as there is in the CAA,” and the truth is that Nation is one of the best defenders in the league, period. He’s also second among freshman in scoring, averaging 9.1 points per game.
  • Freshman: We’ll leave this space blank, under the new rules of the game.
  • Sophomore: Damion Lee, guard, Drexel: The reigning Rookie of the Year has made the leap as a sophomore, and he’s now one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. Just ask George Mason guard Sherrod Wright, a fellow expert in bucket-making. “You can’t give him open looks,” Wright said after Lee scored 29 in a comeback win over the Patriots last week. “Any type of open look, he is going to make.” In terms of NBA potential, Lee ranks up there with Hunter as the top bets in the CAA.

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