Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 63, #11 Gonzaga 60

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Little came easy for Michael Gbinije tonight, but the Syracuse star found a way to lead the Orange past Gonzaga. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Gonzaga attacks Syracuse zone creatively. The Zags had great ball movement early on, which helped them build an early 18-8 lead. Guards found Kyle Wiltjer (23 points, five rebounds) on flashes to the post, Domantas Sabonis (19 points, 17 rebounds) on quickly conceived entry passes, and Gonzaga was generally patient in attacking Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. That ball movement disappeared in the last five minutes of the first half and first five of the second, as the Syracuse length and constant pressure finally began to force a few Gonzaga turnovers. But Gonzaga emerged from a Mark Few timeout with renewed purpose, and despite shooting just one free throw in the first 37 minutes of the game, rediscovered their offensive flow. One especially effective tactic employed: the use of a quicker tempo to find Sabonis for post touches before the zone was fully set.
  2. Gonzaga meltdown or Syracuse heroics? Or both? It wasn’t pretty, but Syracuse advanced on the back of Michael Gbinije and some timely plays on both sides of the ball. Gonzaga channeled their inner Northern Iowa in coughing the ball up twice on their own side of halfcourt in the last two minutes, but give the Orange credit for creating pressure and then taking advantage of the Zag miscues. Gonzaga’s nine-point lead with 6:30 to play was erased once and for all when Gbinije came up with a loose ball and layup with 22 seconds to play to put the Orange up one. This will go down as a Gonzaga collapse, but don’t overlook Syracuse’s role in making it happen.
  3. Orange win with ugly offense. Jim Boeheim admitted that offense was a major problem for the Orange tonight. Offensive struggles are nothing new for a Syracuse team ranked outside the top 50 nationally in offensive efficiency, but tonight was an unusually ugly winning performance. Syracuse shot just 36 percent from the floor and 33 percent from long-range, while Trevor Cooney was the only player on the Syracuse roster who made more shots than he missed (5-9 from the floor). The Orange did make 14 of their 16 free throws (compared to just 4-5 for Gonzaga) and only turned the ball over nine times, eight less than the Zags.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Secrets to Sweet Sixteen Success: Factoids on Each Team

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 24th, 2016

With a weekend full of brackets busted and buzzers beaten now behind us, the NCAA Tournament turns to a new and exciting chapter. Gone are the small school darlings and Cinderella dreamers hoping to make the most of the Year of Parity; remaining are a host of blue-bloods with a wide range of expectations and capabilities. The bracket hasn’t played completely chalky with stalwarts like Michigan State and Kentucky sitting at home and some double-digit seeds still alive. But rather than welcoming new faces to the Sweet Sixteen, it was Indiana that dispatched Kentucky and the low-seeded outsiders crashing the party are the likes of Syracuse and Gonzaga, the closest thing we have to a MINO (mid-major in name only?). March Madness has its storied traditions and history, but each team, each season, and each match-up is a unique snowflake with a lot of interesting context. Let’s examine something special about the run of each of the 16 remaining teams as we head into the second weekend.

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas. Senior Perry Ellis may have just put together one of the most under-the-radar All-America campaigns in modern history. The evolution of his game has been a revelation for Kansas this season, and he’s not slowing down, with games of at least 17 points in every game this March. As but one example, Ellis made as many threes this season as he did in his prior three.
  • Maryland. The Terrapins’ quest to finally be recognized and treated like a Big Ten program becomes a little stronger with each ensuing NCAA Tournament win. They still hold the ultimate bragging right among conference teams — The last Big Ten team to win the National Championship was Maryland (as an ACC member) in 2002.
  • Miami. Jim Larranaga has proven to be a godsend for the Miami basketball program. In just five seasons, he’s already become the only coach to take the Hurricanes to multiple Sweet Sixteens. If Miami can top Villanova tonight, the Hurricanes would make its first ever appearance in the Elite Eight on Saturday — uncharted territory for Miami but not for Larranaga (George Mason, 2006).
  • Villanova. Though rivalries of Philadelphia basketball run deep, the casual fan in the City of Brotherly Love has enjoyed a successful long-term run. With Villanova’s two wins last weekend, a team from Philly’s Big 5 (Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn) has advanced to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play in 10 of the last 20 years. The residents of Hawk Hill or North Philly may not be especially thrilled for their friends from the Main Line, but the levels of success and respect among the Philadelphia schools make their common bond that much more special.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. Michigan State’s shocking first round loss to Middle Tennessee State sent reverberations throughout the entire bracket, but especially within the Midwest Region. The loss rendered meaningless all the pre-Tournament talk about Virginia’s poor fortune in drawing the Spartans in their region, as the Cavaliers are now a clear favorite to advance to Houston. Tony Bennett’s team handled business in dispatching Hampton and Butler in the first two rounds. Getting two more victories will be no cinch, but Virginia should arrive in Chicago with no shortage of confidence.

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there's little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

With Michigan State out of the bracket, there’s little doubt that Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia are favorites to advance to the Final Four. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #11 Gonzaga. If the name on the front of the jersey wasn’t Gonzaga, this really would be a beautiful Cinderella story. With non-existent at-large hopes, a talented mid-major sweeps through its conference tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field and wins its two first weekend games as a double-digit seed. Cute story, right? Except when it’s Gonzaga, a program that has been to 18 straight Tournaments with wins in each of the last eight and is coming off an Elite Eight appearance. After beating #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah by a combined 39 points, Mark Few’s team heads to Chicago as a dangerous team – and a likely favorite in its Sweet Sixteen matchup with Syracuse. Beating the Orange won’t be an easy first step, but if the Zags can advance to a regional final against either Virginia or Iowa State, forget their uninspiring regular season and double-digit seed line – this team has the talent and pedigree to break through to deliver the program’s maiden voyage to the Final Four. Wouldn’t that be a Cinderella story, of sorts?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #11 Gonzaga 82, #3 Utah 59

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Who Saw This Gonzaga Run Coming? (USA Today Images)

Who Saw This Gonzaga Run Coming? (USA Today Images)

  1. Domantas Sabonis/Jakob Poeltl matchup. It was a battle of true big men the likes of which college basketball rarely has these days. Both players clearly have NBA futures, but the battle was clearly won by Gonzaga’s Lithuanian big man on this night. Poeltl picked up two regrettable first half fouls and played just nine minutes in the first stanza, while Sabonis dominated regardless of whether he was in the game. Even when Poeltl returned to play big minutes in the second half, he was never a factor. In the end, Sabonis finished with 19 points (on just 12 field goal attempts), 10 boards, three dimes and even a three-pointer for good measure. Poeltl’s five points and four boards goes a long way to sum up just how effectively Sabonis dominated their matchup.
  2. Improved Guard Play. When Gonzaga was struggling to close games in the regular season against quality teams like Texas A&M, Arizona and Saint Mary’s, it was usually guard play that was the culprit. Today, the Zags’ guards were a complete strength. Redshirt freshman guard Josh Perkins was in control of the offense; Silas Melson was a terrific defender and glue guy; and Eric McClellan bounced back from a poor performance in the First Round to turn in his fourth double-figure scoring effort in March. Coupled with the group of established stars in the frontcourt, the Zags can play with anybody when the backcourt is contributing.
  3. Giving Away Extra Possessions. In their previous two games, Utah had turned the ball over 20 times each. Tonight’s total numbers weren’t so bad in that category (13), but those turnovers led to 20 Bulldog points (against just six for the Utes). Worse, the Utes compounded those struggles by allowing the Zags to outscore them 13-4 on second chance points. In a game decided by 23 points, combine the differences in points off turnovers and second chance points and you have… 23 points.

Star of the GameEric McClellan, Gonzaga. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were as good as they normally are, but when Eric McClellan plays like tonight, Gonzaga improves to a different level. McClellan did everything — attacking the rim and finishing in the paint; filling the lanes on the break; even knocking in some jumpers, including a couple threes. He wound up with 22 points on 12 field goal attempts and was a confident veteran presence in the half-court.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Gonzaga And Saint Mary’s: Excitement and Disappointment

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

In one way, it was the most predictable thing ever: Gonzaga appeared in its 19th consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship game and came away with a win to seal its 18th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But in another way, it was very different. For the first time since 2007, the Bulldogs’ flimsy resume meant that they absolutely needed to win the league’s automatic bid in order to ensure a trip back to the Big Dance (they ended up as a #11 seed that year and would have probably dropped to the NIT had they lost).

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The 2007 team went on to get run out of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana. But in a season without a bevy of elite teams, this year’s squad has great potential as a nightmare matchup for a higher seed. The veteran Zags frontcourt combination of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis is as talented a duo inside as any other in the country, while backcourt players Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins are playing the best basketball of their careers. The Bulldogs aren’t a deep team but they’re strong offensively, well-coached, and have significant postseason experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Lock Your Doors: Potential Bid Thieves

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 4th, 2016

No two words strike fear into the hearts of college basketball’s bubble-dwelling teams like “bid thieves.” The aptly named conference tournament crashers have a ripple effect on the rest of the landscape, impacting teams from leagues far beyond their own. When a team with no legitimate at-large aspirations wills their way into the field, another program’s season is suddenly viewed through a dramatically sadder lens (such is life in the NIT). A bid thief, like any good bandit, is sneaky and unsuspecting. If we all knew who they were at the outset of the conference tournaments, they wouldn’t be very effective thieves. Still, there are signs and symbols to look for. First and foremost, the pool of suspects all hail from a conference that has a team that owns a resume strong enough to merit an at-large bid. That means the potential bid thief population comprises second tier mid-major clubs and the also-rans of power conferences. From that group, at least one or two teams will almost definitely rise and dash the hopes of those on the bubble. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can spot some a caper before they become one.

Northern Iowa is peaking at just the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa is peaking at the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa

The Panthers are the perfect place to start, as they boast a textbook bid thief background. UNI has beaten North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Sounds like the beginning of an at-large case? Not exactly. Ben Jacobson’s club also had a stretch this season where they lost 10 of 15, including duds against Missouri State (KenPom #241) and Loyola (KenPom #185). They’ve been utterly inconsistent throughout the season, despite the aforementioned flashes of impressiveness. If the team that’s 4-1 against the KenPom top 50 shows up to Arch Madness, the Panthers are absolutely a threat to knock off Wichita State and steal the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid. UNI has won eight of its last nine (which includes a victory in Wichita), so everything could be breaking right for this thief to emerge in St. Louis.

Iona

If Monmouth fails to win the MAAC tournament, the Hawks would find themselves squarely on the bubble, even with that tidy list of non-conference wins (most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown). The MAAC tournament will be far from a cakewalk for Monmouth, with second seeded Iona looming as its toughest test. The Gaels and Hawks split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Monmouth came out on top in a wild, 200+ total point, trash-talking, slap-fight-inspiring battle in mid-January, while Iona returned the favor by beating Monmouth by 16 in a less remarkable affair. If the basketball gods are good to us, we’ll see these two square off again in Albany. Both play at a breakneck pace (each are in the top 30 nationally in possessions per game), as Iona is able to run with Monmouth in a way most teams can’t. They also may have the best player you don’t know about. Iona senior AJ English is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game and has multiple 40+ point games this season. An English-dominated conference tournament could mean a two-bid MAAC – a scary proposition for bubble teams everywhere else.  Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Mid-Major Disadvantage: The Power of the Power Conferences

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 25th, 2016

For the first time in recent memory, Gonzaga is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament. Throughout a season in which the Zags began in the top 10, they have experienced a variety of miscues (home losses) and misfortunes (Przemek Karnowski’s injury) that have resulted in a spot squarely on the bubble. Their ups and downs this year will lead the upcoming HBO documentary following Mark Few’s team around this month to look less like Ballers and more like Game of Thrones (For those without a friend’s HBO Go password, find some new friends.)

Kyle Wiltjer's Team Has Not Had the Season It Expected. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Kyle Wiltjer’s Team Has Not Had the Season It Expected. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

In eight games against the KenPom top 60, Gonzaga has gone 1-7 with four of those losses coming at The Kennel. Conversely, the Bulldogs are a perfect 20-0 in the rest of their games. In determining their status on the bubble, the Zags are in a difficult spot because of a combination of zero signature wins without any corresponding bad losses. Gonzaga’s national brand name makes it unique in how it can schedule, but most other mid-major programs don’t get the chance to notch resume-building wins nearly as often as their power conference peers. Michigan, one of the Zags’ primary competitors on the bubble, will play 13 games against the top 60 this season, including six opportunities at home (five games against Big Ten teams). A different mid-major on the bubble cannot use multiple opportunities late in the season to enhance its resume — it can only avoid bad losses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Preseason Rankings May Reveal Final Four Destiny

Posted by William Ezekowitz on February 12th, 2016

With March right around the corner, teams that rank highly in the Top 25 are daring to dream of a magical run to the Final Four in Houston. Because the NCAA Tournament is so matchup-based, it makes sense that most observers can’t realistically pick their favorites until Selection Sunday. But what if there were data that allowed us to eliminate a few upstarts before we even saw the brackets? Well, there are ways to do that. One oddity of college basketball is how important and even predictive the preseason rankings are. Nate Silver uses them as one of the tools in his formula for picking winners, a fact that should nearly legitimize them by itself. But the argument behind it makes sense: Preseason rankings are a good way of measuring the overall roster talent of a team (because what else are we going to rank teams on before we see them play?), so teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 should generally be accepted as talented teams. But how predictive are they when it comes to the Final Four?

Using data stretching back to the 2003 Final Four, we looked at the average Preseason and Pre-Tournament rankings of every Final Four team. For the purposes of getting an actual number for an average, we changed “not ranked” to “35,” which was somewhat arbitrary but seemed about right given that several teams just missed out in the “also receiving votes” category, while others came totally out of nowhere (Note: if we had used a higher number, the averages and standard deviations would have both been slightly higher, but not much would have otherwise changed). Here are the results:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.14 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-11 at 5.40.40 PM

Shockingly, preseason rankings appear to be just as predictive of which teams will make the Final Four as pre-Tournament rankings. This makes us wonder why we even bother with that pesky regular season! But are preseason rankings truly destiny? Iowa, Xavier, Oregon and West Virginia all figure to be in and around the top 10 for the rest of the season, but none of that group were in the Top 25 when the season started. Could teams like these make the Final Four? The short answer, according to historical trends, is probably not. Since 2002, only four teams have ever made the Final Four after being unranked in the preseason but ranked after the regular season (this distinction is important, as it eliminates such Cinderellas like George Mason and VCU), and only one team has done it since 2006. In fact, since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, there have been just seven teams to achieve the rare feat of being unranked in the preseason but in the top 10 at Tournament time — interestingly, none of those teams has made it past the Sweet Sixteen.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Best in the West: The 20 Best Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 26th, 2016

Here’s something we occasionally do: group all of the teams west of the Rockies (you know, the only part of the country, save Austin, New Orleans, Memphis and maybe New York City worth a damn) together, mix them up and see what order they shake out in. This means we’ve got all of the teams in the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West Conferences, plus some of the schools in the WAC and Big Sky. And normally, instead of just ranking teams the traditional way, we divide them up into tiers. The idea is that there may be two great teams that have serious Final Four dreams and then a significant fall off when talking about team number three. This year in the West? Not so much. Apropos of the rest of the nation, there are no elite teams. And on any given Saturday (or Thursday, or Wednesday), there’s a good chance whoever checks in a half-page down this list can play with the first team we mention. But still, here’s a best effort at placing the best in the West into tiers.

The Best of the Best: Legitmate Top 25 teams

  • Oregon (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – Since back in the middle of the summer, I’ve had the Ducks at the top of the Pac-12. With Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis added to the mix, the Ducks have long had the prospect of being, a deep, veteran, long, balanced squad. Some of those strengths (depth and experience, mainly) have been diminished with the season that wasn’t for Ennis (out for season with broken foot), but Dana Altman’s presence at the helm of a talented group should mean that this team’s best days are ahead of it. With the shot-blocking combination of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher along the backline and the perimeter defenders like Casey Benson, Dwayne Benjamin and Tyler Dorsey, this team still has a ways to go before it reaches it’s defensive potential, as it is just 69th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The defense has to improve, but if it does, the Ducks’ offense is diverse and explosive enough to drag them a long ways into March.
Hey, Did You Know That Bell Boucher Is A Type Of Banjo? And A Great Shotblocking Combo?

Bell-Boucher: Both A Banjo And A Great Shot-blocking Combo!

  • Arizona (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – A one-point loss at California qualifies as a good result in a West that mimics the national landscape by not having any one dominant team. Every one of the Wildcats’ losses has been a tightly fought contest, with a four-point neutral-court loss against Providence to join three conference road losses that came by an average of two points (and four total overtimes). In short, Arizona is, on January 23rd, six possessions away from a perfect 20-0 record, despite the absence of senior Kaleb Tarczewski for eight games, freshman Allonzo Trier for the last four games and junior Elliott Pitts for the last 13 games. While this is by no mean a vintage Arizona team, Sean Miller is the best coach in the West and you can count on him getting the absolute most out of a flawed roster.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

St. Mary’s: The Best Team No One Knows About

Posted by William Ezekowitz on January 21st, 2016

The Saint Mary’s Gaels have risen from seemingly nowhere to become one of the best teams in the country. Quite likely, they are the best team that you know nothing about. But you may be forgiven for your ignorance, because the revolution has rarely been televised. In the seventeen games the Gaels have played, they have appeared on national television (if you call ESPNU national television) just twice: once in November when they beat Stanford by 17, and then again on New Year’s Eve, when they beat BYU by 11. Now, here they are, poised to soundly defeat Gonzaga (that’s right, soundly) at home tonight—again on ESPNU—and yet no one knows about a thing about the Gaels. Let’s fix that.

The 2014-15 iteration of St. Mary’s was a perfectly good team. Led by All-Conference big man Brad Waldow, the Gaels narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament and instead settled for the NIT; it wasn’t the best season Randy Bennett has ever had at St. Mary’s, but it was perfectly respectable. The Gaels were graduating five of their top six players, though, and replacing them with the following cast: rising sophomore point guard Emmett Naar, who had looked good his freshman year but was never expected to carry the load; Boston College transfer Joe Rahon, who had a solid but unspectacular two years with the Eagles; four underclassmen reserves who had been asked to do very little last year; and a freshman class led by three star center Evan Fitzner and four guys no recruiting service had bothered to rank. A down year seemed imminent.

Saint Mary's Sophomore Emmett Naar Leads The Nation In Three-Point Percentage (Photo: SMCGaels.com)

Saint Mary’s Sophomore Emmett Naar Leads The Nation In Three-Point Percentage (Photo: SMCGaels.com)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

In a Season of Parity, the High Mids are Struggling…

Posted by Andy Gripshover on December 11th, 2015

A common thread as we move into the second month of college basketball has been that many of the top non-power conference schools not playing up to the gold standard they’ve set for themselves in recent years. While there are key differences among the following five teams, there are also some striking similarities as to why they have not been nearly as good as we’ve come to expect for these programs. Let’s first dig into the their status.

Wichita State and the Other Gold Standard Non-Power Conference Programs Are Struggling (USA Today Images)

Wichita State and the Other Gold Standard Non-Power Conference Programs Are Struggling (USA Today Images)

  • Gonzaga – The four year starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell is gone and big man Przemek Karnowski is hurt. The Zags are 6-2 but fell in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis – an event they were favored to win – to Texas A&M and before blowing a 10-point halftime lead last Saturday to Arizona to lose for just the 13th time in the history of the (new) Kennel. They almost lost for the 14th time on Tuesday to Montana in what would have been arguably the biggest upset in the history of the building, but scored the final five points to survive.
  • Wichita State – The Shockers have been the best program outside of a power conference over the past three seasons; winning 30 games in each season and including a Final Four appearance and a 35-0 start. They are just 4-4 this season, however, and went winless in Orlando over Thanksgiving weekend.
  • San Diego State – The Aztecs are back-to-back Mountain West regular season champs, having won at least one game in four of the six straight NCAA Tournaments they’ve made, but have already taken losses to Arkansas-Pine Bluff and low-major city rival San Diego and sit at 7-4.
  • VCU – The Rams differ from the rest of this group in one key way: they have a new coach in Will Wade. VCU is 5-3 to start his tenure in Richmond.
  • Harvard – Five consecutive Ivy League championships, four straight NCAA Tournament appearances… and now just 3-6? Northeastern, UMass, Boston College and Holy Cross have relegated the Crimson to the fifth-best team in their own state.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story