Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

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Georgia State Still a Work in Progress Despite High Expectations

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 27th, 2014

Georgia State entered 2014-15 with unusually high expectations and national attention, especially for a Sun Belt program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 14 years. Guards R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow landed on several Top 100 lists, Louisville transfer Kevin Ware was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, and numerous publications tabbed the Panthers as an eventual Cinderella threat. After being blown out by Iowa State in the Tip-Off Marathon and losing to Colorado State, though, those expectations – or at least that attention – may have cooled a bit, replaced instead by slight concerns about what might be missing. While the team’s 83-78 victory over Oakland on Wednesday probably won’t allay those concerns, it did make one thing clear heading into December: the Panthers can win games on talent alone against mid-major competition, but they are still far from a finished product.

Georgia State is still finding itself in 2014-15. (Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications)

Georgia State is still finding itself in 2014-15. (Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications)

There seemed to be a tacit assumption entering the season that Georgia State’s backcourt would automatically improve with Ware entering the fold, despite the loss of senior point guard Devonta White. The problem with that assumption – though understandable, considering his name recognition and high-major cachet – is that Ware is not a point guard, nor is he ready to be a consistent, impact player. In the loss to Iowa State, the junior scored just four points in 32 minutes and never really asserted himself in any noticeable way on either end of the floor. Wednesday was a much different story, as he poured in a season-high 15 points (13 in the second half) and made several big plays late, but he still had several very quiet, very tentative stretches. White, on the other hand, was a relied-upon playmaker who finished his career ranked third in school history in points, assists and steals; he facilitated, scored and was a major reason Ron Hunter’s club was 23rd most efficient offense in basketball last season. Although Harrow (21.4 PPG, 5.2 APG) has been very successful playing on the ball in White’s stead, the departing guard’s sure-handed production has been missed, and will continue to be missed, until Ware finds his place.

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2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Top of the O26 Class: C-USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on November 3rd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Southern region of the U.S: Conference USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region and Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region.


Conference USA

  • Louisiana Tech –2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3) – Two straight seasons Louisiana Tech has won its conference (C-USA in 2014; WAC in 2013), and two straight seasons the Bulldogs have been upset in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Is the third time a charm? Louisiana Tech is undoubtedly the favorite to take the C-USA crown, but can it come through when the games matter most? After flirting with some other opportunities, head coach Michael White is back, as are guards Alex Hamilton (14.5 PPG), Raheem Appleby (11.2 PPG) and Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (7.8 PPG, 7.7 APG). The big question mark is in the frontcourt. If the Bulldogs can get some decent play there, they might be able to finally break through.
Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C Bristow)

Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C. Bristow/AP)

  • UTEP –2013-14 record: 23-11 (12-4) – If there’s a team to challenge Louisiana Tech for the league title, it’s most likely UTEP. After a strong start with a win against Tennessee and a four-point loss to Kansas last season, the Miners stumbled down the stretch and were unable to win the league tournament on their home floor. There’s reason for optimism heading into 2014-15, though. Head coach Tim Floyd brings back a talented frontcourt duo of Julian Washburn (13.1 PPG) and Vincent Hunter (12.3 PPG), and talented recruit Omega Harris should help fill the void in the backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Conference Tournament Primer: Sun Belt Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-16
Site: New Orleans Lakefront Arena (New Orleans, LA)


What to expect: Georgia State won the regular season Sun Belt title by five games and will be the clear-cut favorite in New Orleans. The Panthers are lethal on the offensive end, led by a pair of guards – coach’s son R.J. Hunter and Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow – who average more than 17 points per night and rarely turn the ball over. They rank among the 25 most efficient offenses in the country, a scoring prowess that enabled them to win 14 straight games earlier this year (school record) and finish 17-1 in the conference. However, the top seed has not won this tournament since 2009, including a recent stretch of three-straight champions seeded fifth or worse, and talent does exist elsewhere — Louisiana-Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton is a legitimate NBA prospect, while his frontcourt teammate Shawn Long averages 19 points and 10 boards a night. Arkansas State and the Ragin’ Cajuns both gave Georgia State trouble in the regular season. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, has a chance to win this tournament for the third straight year. Any one of those three could spoil the Panthers’ outstanding run.

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O26 Superlatives, Part III: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt & WAC…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 12th, 2014

In Part III of our three-part series (click here for Part I and Part II), we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from six different O26 conferences: Big Sky, Big West, Southland, SWAC, Sun Belt and WAC. In alphabetical order: 

Big Sky

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

Davion Berry and Weber State finally edged Montana and won the Big Sky. (Photo by Weber State)

  • Team of the Year – Weber State (17-11, 14-6). After winning 55 games in the previous two seasons, this was the year – the most parity-driven in recent memory – that Weber State outlasted Montana and won the Big Sky. The Wildcats now host the conference tournament, which could mean a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
  • Player of the Year – Davion Berry – Weber State. Narrowly edging out Montana’s Kareem Jamar and North Dakota’s Troy Huff for our Player of the Year, Berry averaged 19 points per contest, distributed the ball effectively, shot almost 40 percent from long range, and led his team to a title.
  • Coach of the Year – Tyler Geving – Portland State. Portland State was picked to finish ninth in the conference, an outlook that became even worse when senior Aaron Moore, averaging nearly 12 points per game, was dismissed from the team in early January. After the Vikings lost four straight close games in the middle of the Big Sky season, Geving deserves credit for leading his guys to a 5-1 finish and a fifth-place tie in the league.
  • Upset of the Year – Northern Colorado over Kansas State, 60-58. Until last Saturday, Kansas State was pretty much unbeatable at home this season: Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State, and George Washington — all these teams left Manhattan without a win. But you know who did manage to leave Manhattan with a win (aside from Baylor)? BJ Hill’s Bears. Gotta love early November.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Jaron Nash – North Dakota. Nash goes baseline, emphatically stuffs it with one hand, then salutes the home crowd. Great stuff.

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Can Georgia State Separate From Muddled Sun Belt Pack?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 16th, 2014

Preseason expectations for the Sun Belt ranged anywhere from Western Kentucky winning the league and Georgia State tying Louisiana-Lafayette for fourth to Georgia State grabbing the top spot just ahead of the Ragin’ Cajuns. And while there wasn’t much agreement on the order of finish, almost all pundits and prognosticators acknowledged that several teams had enough talent to make it a hotly contested conference race. It’s played out that way in the early going — six teams are .500 or better and even some in the bottom half of the league have beaten contenders. Only one squad stands undefeated, though, and if its 23-point road thrashing of Western Kentucky last week is any indication, Georgia State might be poised to emerge as the Sun Belt’s clear-cut best.

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers have looked dangerous in the early going. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Wade)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers look dangerous in the early going. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Wade)

After suffering a couple heart-breaking losses and beginning the season with a disappointing 3-6 record, Ron Hunter’s team has won seven straight games, at times playing stretches of dominant basketball. Along with the one-sided showing against WKU, the Panthers also beat East Carolina on the road and pounded South Alabama on its home floor in recent weeks. The key for Georgia State is (and will continue to be) its offense, which features multiple scoring options who each have the ability to erupt for huge nights. Point guard Devonta White and off-guard Ryan Harrow — a Kentucky Wildcat a year ago, if you remember — are quick, skilled ball-handlers capable of beating defenders off the dribble and penetrating the lane with regularity. Once there, Harrow can finish or draw fouls like few other guards in the Sun Belt, while both he and White are excellent distributors: Each maintains a sparkling 28.2 percent assist rate, good enough to be ranked in the top 125 nationally. A main contributor to that rate is the fact that they often kick the ball out to two of the best wings in the conference, coach’s son R.J. Hunter and former Virginia Tech transfer Manny Atkins. R.J. — a highly recruited player who received offers from Cincinnati and Iowa, among others — is a dynamic scorer, expert from the outside and able to use his size and fluidity to shoot over smaller guards, while Atkins plays a bit more physically but is equally well-equipped from behind the arc.

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Morning Five: 04.01.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 1st, 2013


  1. We are nearly at the finish line as we have whittled the field down to four. The Regional games were not exactly things of beauty as outside of two games (Michigan-Kansas and Ohio State-Arizona) the games were not particularly exciting. Hopefully next weekend provides a little more drama, but there should be no shortage of story lines with one semifinal pitting Syracuse against Michigan (possibly Boeheim’s last run and Michigan’s first trip since the Fab 5) and Louisville against Wichita State (winning for Kevin Ware and the Cinderella trying to make history). We are sure that more story lines will come out as the week progresses, but we hope that they aren’t in the form of investigative journalism revealing some scandal.
  2. And the coaching carousel goes around and around. The big domino from the weekend was Steve Alford backing out of his brand new 10-year extension at New Mexico to take over at UCLA. Of course, that opens up a spot at New Mexico where the school is looking for a replacement. If Alex Kirk has any say in it the next coach of the Lobos will be Craig Neal as Kirk has reportedly threatened to graduate over the summer and transfer to UCLA if Neal is not named the next coach of the Lobos. UCLA may have landed its man, but Minnesota has not found a coach yet as they were rebuffed by Flip Sanders.  Meanwhile former Minnesota coach Tubby Smith is reportedly under consideration to be the next coach at Texas Tech (must have something for former Kentucky coaches). With USC reportedly targeting Andy Enfield we could likely see another spot open up although we doubt that Dunk City will be that attractive of an opening despite their run this year.
  3. The coaching carousel may have dominated the off-court news, but the bombshell of the weekend came from Arsalan Kazemi who claimed that Rice Athletic Director Rick Greenspan repeatedly directed racist comments at Kazemi and two other players from the Middle East while Kazemi was at Rice. That treatment was reportedly the basis for the hardship waivers that Kazemi and another player (Omar Oraby) used transfer to Oregon and USC respectively without having to sit out a year. Kazemi is not talking about those comments at this time, but in documents obtained by Sports Illustrated he claimed that Greenspan repeatedly referred to the Axis of Evil and Al-Queda when talking to the players. Rice, which obviously didn’t support the hardship waivers, has come out and strongly denied these claims, but it is not a good look for any organization much less an institution of higher learning. The NCAA has also refused to discuss the case citing privacy concerns, but we would hope that they did a decent amount of investigating before granting a waiver for such a claim.
  4. The decision by Ryan Harrow to transfer from Kentucky should not come as much of a surprise given his poor play this season and the tsunami of talent coming into Lexington next season that would essentially eliminate his minutes. While Harrow’s decision to transfer to Georgia State raised a few eyebrows initially it made much more sense when he revealed his reason for transferring there was to be closer to his father who is still recovering from a stroke. Harrow will reportedly attempt to use a family hardship waiver to avoid sitting out a year before playing for Georgia State. While we wish Harrow the best in his career and more importantly his father’s recovery the use of hardship waivers in situations like this feels strange to us. If your family member is doing so poorly that you need to move closer to assist with their care we aren’t sure how playing college basketball is going to help them recover.
  5. The college basketball epicenter of the universe has probably been somewhere around Louisville, but if you are looking for the epicenter of college basketball recruiting you need to head east to Washington, DC as the area has produced a ridiculous amount of talent recently. The article focuses quite a bit on the famed 2004 All-Met team, but the talent extends well beyond that year. The amount of talent and the lack of success of some college teams in the area has become a hot button topic and is probably responsible for the firings of some coaches in the area. The level of talent also probably means that some potential sleepers could be found there who may not be quite NBA-level talents, but certainly good enough to play Division I and will have had experience playing against great talent even before they get to college.
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RTC Championship Previews: Colonial Athletic Association

Posted by CNguon on March 8th, 2013

CIO header

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

CAA Tournament Matchups/Predictions



#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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