O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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O26 Power 13: WCC Teams Reign Supreme

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2016

With the start of the regular season now just a few days away, it’s time to examine the O26 programs we think will shine in 2016-17. The school atop this list should come as no surprise.

1. Gonzaga  West Coast. No Kyle Wiltjer (20.4 PPG) or Domantas Sabonis (17.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG) this year? No problem. Like a true power program, Gonzaga simply reloads, adding three high-major transfers — guard Jordan Mathews (California), forward Johnathan Williams III (Missouri) and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) — along with several elite recruits to an already-talented lineup. Williams-Goss, a second team All-Pac-12 performer in 2014-15, should be a legitimate contender for WCC Player of the Year, while Mathews (41.6% 3FG in 2015-16), Williams (7.1 RPG in 2014-15), and McDonald’s All-American big man Zach Collins add scoring pop and defensive strength to the roster. With guard Josh Perkins (4.1 APG), rim-protector Przemek Karnowski (now healthy) and several other contributors back in the fold, Gonzaga’s ceiling appears higher than ever.

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary's meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

2. Saint Mary’s — West Coast. Based purely on returning production, Saint Mary’s should probably top this list. The Gaels welcome back everyone from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, including All-WCC point guard Emmett Naar (121.6 Offensive Rating) and forward Dane Pineau (126.2 Offensive Rating), arguably the league’s two most effective players at their positions. But really, the offense is everywhere. Forwards Even Fitzner (8.7 PPG) and Calvin Hermanson (10.9 PPG) each shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc on 130-plus attempts. Joe Rahon (10.7 PPG, 4.5 PPG, 5.4 APG) is among the most versatile guards in the conference. Center Jock Landale — one of five Aussies on the roster — scored 8.0 PPG in just 14.5 minutes per game last season, and should see more of the court this year. This might be Randy Bennett’s best team yet in Moraga. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Miami 65, #11 Wichita State 57

Posted by Chris Stone 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:

Miami's Angel Rodriguez Led His Team to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Miami’s Angel Rodriguez Led His Team to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. The Shockers are gritty and tough, but so is Miami. After the Hurricanes jumped out to an early 27-6 first half lead, Wichita State fought back using offensive rebounding and turnovers to take a one-point lead on a Ron Baker three-pointer with 10:26 remaining. It was what we’ve come to expect from a Wichita State team that is never completely out of it. Miami’s response, though, was noteworthy. The Hurricanes could have wilted under the pressure, but they held strong behind impressive performances from Sheldon McClellan (18 points) and Davon Reed (10 points).
  2. Angel Rodriguez went from Hurricane to drizzle to Hurricane. Rodriguez started the game on fire for Miami, scoring 16 points in the first 10 minutes without missing a shot. But then things turned for the worse. As the Shockers made their eventual comeback, Rodriguez was nowhere to be found. He didn’t attempt a shot for the rest of the first half and didn’t make another field goal until there was just 2:05 left in the game. During that drought he also committed five turnovers, but he woke up to close out the game, scoring the Hurricanes’ final 10 points (including a dagger three to push the lead to seven). This performance only reinforces the idea that a good Angel Rodriguez is the Hurricanes’ most important factor this March.
  3. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, it’s been a pleasure. The Shockers’ two senior guards have been college basketball mainstays for the past four seasons, helping Wichita State to a Final Four, an undefeated regular season and another Sweet Sixteen. Throughout the weekend, it’s been clear that opposing coaches and players hold VanVleet and Baker in high regard because of how they play the game. What’s next for the two guards is uncertain, but their time at Wichita State sure was fun while it lasted.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Wichita State 65, #6 Arizona 55

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 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:

Gregg Marshall calls out to his team during its win over Arizona on Thursday. (Credit: AP/Charles Krupa)

Gregg Marshall calls out to his team during its win over Arizona on Thursday. (Credit: AP/Charles Krupa)

  1. It’s time to quit talking about if Wichita State deserves to be here. In the lead up to the NCAA Tournament there was an interesting debate about whether the Shockers should be in the field — in large part because the answer would help define how the Selection Committee makes its decisions. Now that they’re here, that debate can end. Wichita State is a very good basketball team (something we already knew), just as capable as nearly any team in the field of making it to Houston. Now the question is whether future committees can start getting seeding right by using metrics as a better arbiter than resume.
  2. The Shockers have the best defense in the country. This isn’t that bold of a statement given that Wichita State has the top-ranked defense nationally, according to KenPom, but the Shockers had critics because of their weak league. On Tuesday, Wichita State held Vanderbilt’s top 50 offense to 0.72 points per possession. They then one-upped themselves tonight by completely shutting down an Arizona offense that ranks in the top 15. The Shockers play a stingy man-to-man defense that creates turnovers (23 percent turnover rate, fifth nationally), doesn’t allow offensive boards (23.6 percent, fourth) and protects the paint (41.7 two-point percentage, seventh). If they do make it to Houston in two weeks, their defense will be the reason why.
  3. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for Arizona. The Wildcats started the year ranked in the top 15 of both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll before climbing into the top 10 with a 12-1 non-conference record. Unfortunately, Arizona couldn’t get it going away from the McKale Center during Pac-12 play, finishing 12-6 in the conference before bowing out in the conference tournament semifinals. The additions of Allonzo Treier, Kadeem Allen and Ryan Anderson were supposed to result in more than a first round exit for the Wildcats. Sean Miller has is still searching for that elusive first Final Four.

Star of the Game: Sean Miller’s soaked dress shirt captivated Twitter audience after the he sweated completely through it with eight minutes remaining in the first half. It even drew the attention of Gregg Marshall’s son, Kellen, who hollered across the court at Miller to let him know that Men’s Warehouse is having a two-for-one sale tomorrow. On the court, it was the Shockers’ stellar defense that starred more than any one player could.

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Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine 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, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

Region: South

Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4, 15-3 Big 12). Who else? With perhaps his least talented squad in recent memory (from an NBA perspective), Bill Self led Kansas to yet another Big 12 regular season title – its 12th in a row – and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks enter the Dance on a 14-game winning streak and its 30 wins include victories over Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia (twice), and Baylor (twice). One of only two teams with four losses, Kansas possesses such a complete resume, such a cohesive roster, and such strong advanced metrics that it’s hard not to consider the Jayhawks odds-on National Championship favorites, much less favorites in the South. Self’s group ranks #1 in KenPom – with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers near the top – and boasts one of the country’s best players in 6’8” forward Perry Ellis (16.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG). Scoring is seldom an issue with Ellis, Devonte’ Graham (44% 3FG) and Wayne Selden Jr. (13.3 PPG) in tow, and nearly every player on the roster plays consistently stingy, team-oriented man-to-man defense. Even if it faces a high-talent opponent like #4 seed California or an experienced, spread-you-out club like #2 seed Villanova, Kansas easily remains the best bet from the region to reach Houston.

Expect more smiles from Kansas in the coming weeks. (Nick Krug)

Expect more smiles from Kansas over the next few weeks. (Nick Krug)

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (29-5, 16-2 Big East). If you’re down on the Wildcats, don’t be. Sure, they lost to Seton Hall in the Big East title game, and yes, their recent NCAA Tournament record isn’t great – Jay Wright’s team has not reached the second weekend since 2009 despite being a #2 seed or better three times. But if past performance is no sure indicator of future results, then there’s also no reason to think that Villanova – with one of college basketball’s most balanced rosters – cannot make a very deep run. The Big East regular season champions rank among the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with five players averaging more than 9.7 PPG and a true rim protector in 6’11’ senior Daniel Ochefu (7.8% block rate). The bottom half of the South is not swelling with raw talent, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the Wildcats and their spread attack to push deep into March.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Temple (21-11, 14-4 American Athletic). Temple’s inclusion as a #10 seed seems to be proof that the committee simply didn’t give a darn about advanced metrics – nor quality non-conference wins, for that matter. The Owls enter the NCAA Tournament as the lowest-ranked at-large selection in KenPom (#86 overall) by a staggering 26 spots, with perhaps their best non-conference victory being a five-point neutral court win over 8-23 Minnesota. If its KenPom number holds, Temple will finish the season as the lowest-ranked at-large unit since Colorado State in 2012 (95th). Yuck.

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State Your Case: Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 9th, 2016

It’s an all-too-familiar story: Several of college basketball’s most promising mid-majors – potential bracket-busters that made mincemeat of their conferences during the regular season – bulldoze their way into March, only to see their dreams of an NCAA Tournament appearance crushed during Championship Week. Nice to know ya; enjoy the NIT; better luck next year. In fact, of the 11 conference tournaments completed so far in 2016, only one top seed (Chattanooga) has managed to clinch its league’s automatic bid. Luckily, for a few of the unfortunate champions, this season may offer new hope. An exceptionally weak bubble, combined with some strong Other 26 resumes, has enabled several teams from non-power conferences to remain in the at-large conversation. In the spirit of election season, let’s allow these candidates to state their cases leading up to Selection Sunday.

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (kwch.com)

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (kwch.com)

Wichita State

  • The At-Large Argument. Advanced metrics love the Shockers more than any other team on the bubble, and it’s not close. KenPom currently ranks Wichita State #11 in the country – ahead of Miami (FL), Arizona and Xavier, among others – thanks in large part to its second-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency. Sagarin is not quite as high on Gregg Marshall’s group, but he still ranks the Shockers among the top 25. For the sake of comparison, fellow bubble comrades Syracuse and Ohio State do not fall within the top 40 of either ranking. On top of that, the Shockers are a classic example of a team the NCAA Selection Committee might – and perhaps should – judge differently now that they are at full strength. Three of Wichita State’s eight losses came without All-American Fred VanVleet, who missed four games in late November with an ankle injury. In two of those losses, the Missouri Valley champs didn’t have starting center Anton Grady either, who suffered a nearly career-ending injury against Alabama – a game they lost by just four points. There were other injuries, too. Now healthy, Wichita State seems to be a genuinely better basketball team. Oh, and did we mention that non-conference victory over Utah?

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Shock Therapy: Finding a Cure to Wichita State’s Ills

Posted by Chris Stone on December 23rd, 2015

It’s been a rough first month of the season for Wichita State, as the preseason top-10 Shockers have struggled mightily in non-conference play. After ankle and hamstring injuries to point guard Fred VanVleet and five losses in their first 11 games, the Shockers aren’t even receiving any votes. VanVleet was absent for three of those defeats and Gregg Marshall‘s group managed to pick up two nice non-conference wins over UNLV and Utah once he returned, but their loss on the road to Seton Hall last weekend raised continued concerns about the Shockers’ postseason hopes. Wichita State has just one game to go before Missouri Valley play begins, so Marshall will need to right the ship quickly if his team wants to make its fifth straight NCAA Tournament. The solution, though, begins with identifying the problem. So, what’s the matter in Wichita?

Fred VanVleet will stay smiling as long as he stays healthy. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

Fred VanVleet will stay smiling as long as he stays healthy. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The obvious place to start is with the injuries to VanVleet, the Shockers’ on-floor captain of the ship. It’s easy to attribute three of the team’s losses to those injuries given that VanVleet didn’t play in those games, but Wichita State also lost twice this season with him in the lineup. Dating back to October, the senior has been dealing with injuries that have affected his ankle and hamstring. The result has been a clear lack of explosiveness that has contributed to a nearly 20 percent drop in his shooting percentage at the rim. According to hoop-math, VanVleet has converted on just 34.5 percent of his layups this season. Time to heal, though, appears to be the optimal solution. VanVleet scored 13 points in the Shockers’ dominant win over Nevada on Tuesday by forcing the issue and getting to the foul line 12 times. “That’s the most burst I’ve shown in a while,” he said afterward. His head coach agreed: “That’s the best he’s looked to me,” Marshall said. VanVleet hinted that his recovery is still a work in process, but it’s one that appears to finally be showing some improvement on the court.

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Throw Out the Leftovers: Four Teams Finding Trouble During Feast Week

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 1st, 2015

In theory, what we know as Thanksgiving week but ESPN has christened “Feast Week” should be a relatively easy time for a highly-ranked college basketball team. Board a plane and head somewhere sunny. Throw on a polo or a Hawaiian shirt if that’s more your style. Win a few games, maybe lose a tough one against another top team. Have some turkey before heading home to continue your season. For many schools, this is exactly what happened. Kansas, for example, went out to Maui, learned that Chieck Diallo was cleared to play, had some fun, and won the tournament. But for several other teams, their Feast Week did not go as planned. Four formerly ranked teams had a rude awakening in the midst of their early season tournaments, with more questions raised than answers.

LSU

Ben Simmons Needs to Find More Aggression (USAT Images)

Ben Simmons Needs to Find More Aggression (USAT Images)

The Bayou Bengals might have the best player in college basketball in Ben Simmons, but the problem is that his teammates aren’t exactly playing as if that is the case. During the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, Simmons posted two impressive stat lines in the Tigers’ two losses. Against Marquette, he finished with 21 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists. He followed that up with four points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against NC State. (Ed. note: LSU continued its swoon on Monday night in a 70-58 loss at College of Charleston where Simmons logged 15 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and committed seven turnovers.)

In both games, Simmons showcased the high-level talent that has NBA scouts drooling. He leads all of Division I basketball in rebounding and has flashed elite passing ability for a player his size. If the Tigers are going to win more games, however, Simmons needs to be a bigger scoring threat. Against NC State, he only attempted six shots from the field while teammates Tim Quarterman and Antonio Blakeney took 20 and 17 shots, respectively. Some of this discrepancy is likely because of Simmons’ great vision leading to good shots for teammates, but neither player was able to capitalize. Simmons was more aggressive offensively in the previous game against Marquette but he chose to pass to open teammates on two separate occasions in the Tigers’ final possession. He’s only a freshman, of course, but if LSU is going to contend in the SEC or make some kind of a run next March, it will be on the back of a more aggressive Ben Simmons. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Never-Too-Early Top Five (and More)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 15th, 2015

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Okay, so that may seem a bit far off, but it’s never too early to gin up a little excitement for the sport we love. Let’s examine a few O26 teams that are sure to make some noise in 2015-16.

Top Five

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Photo : Getty Images Sport)

Wichita State will be right back at it in 2015-16. (Getty Images Sport)

  1. Wichita State. Fred VanVleet is back. Ron Baker is back. As is Gregg Marshall, much wealthier after a sizable pay raise. With one of the country’s top backcourts and most sought-after coaches rejoining the fold, it almost goes without saying that Wichita State – on the heels of three-straight program-defining seasons – should be very good again next season. Of course, the Shockers will have to adjust to life without guard Tekele Cotton (9.8 PPG) and big man Darius Carter (11.4 PPG), but the late-season development of Evan Wessel (12 points against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament) along with forward Shaq Morris (4.7 PPG) should help mitigate those departures. So too should the addition of Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp and a solid recruiting class. Expect another year of big things from Wichita State next season.
  2. Gonzaga. Gone are WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos, guard Gary Bell Jr. and wing Byron Wesley (10.6 PPG). Still, barring an early leap to the NBA, Kyle Wiltjer (16.7 PPG), Domantas Sabonis (9.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and center Przemek Karnowski (10.9 PPG) are each returning for what should be one of the top frontcourts in America. Sophomores Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, both former prized recruits, bring plenty of talent (if youth) to the backcourt, where senior Kyle Dranginis will likely help both guys blossom. Throw in very good depth – like 6’8” Angel Nunez, who was granted another year of eligibility – and you quickly see why the Bulldogs could be top-15-worthy next season. Oh, and did I mention that the Zags are in contention for Drexel transfer Damion Lee (21.4 PPG), the nation’s fifth-leading scorer? Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 NCAA Tourney Reflections: What Went Right & What Went Wrong

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 13th, 2015

Now that we’ve all had some time to decompress, let’s look back on a few of the successes, failures, and shining moments for O26 squads this March.

What Went Right

Ron Hunter provided one of the iconic moments of March. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Ron Hunter provided one of the iconic moments of March. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • The #14 seeds Came to Play. The NCAA Tournament wasted no time producing its madness, thanks largely to a trio of plucky #14 seeds. In a span of roughly three hours on the first Thursday afternoon, two #3 seeds were toppled and another narrowly avoided defeat – immediately satisfying our expectations of chaos. First, UAB – the youngest team in the Dance – overcame an early 12-2 deficit against Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State, stormed back, and knocked off the Cyclones by one, 60-59. Shortly thereafter, Georgia State, trailing Baylor by 10 points with under two minutes left, staged an improbable upset of its own, punctuated by R.J. Hunter’s game-winning three-pointer and his father’s subsequent antics. Even Northeastern had a shot to beat Notre Dame with 30 seconds to play. “They took the bullet, not us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said afterward, referring to all the #14-on-#3 crime elsewhere around the country. Before most of America had time to leave the office, a few of the month’s most exciting and improbable results had already played out. And it was pretty awesome.
  • Ron Hunter’s One Shining Moment. After tearing his Achilles in the Sun Belt championship game just a few days earlier, Georgia State coach Ron Hunter provided the signature moment of opening weekend in the Panthers’ upset win over Baylor. The fifth-year head man literally fell off his rolling chair following his son’s (R.J. Hunter) go-ahead three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left, then – completely overwhelmed by joy – bent over and placed his head in his hands as the clock expired. The emotional father/son press conference afterward further added to the drama: “It was a great game, but I’m not going to coach, I’m going to be Dad right now… This is my son. Proud of him.” Not only was it among the biggest victories in Georgia State program history, but it earned Ron Hunter a TBS guest analyst spot during the following weekend.

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