RTC Conference Primers: #12 – Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2011

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.  You can find him on Twitter @wildjays.

Reader’s Take I


Top Storylines

  • Back to Multiple Bids?: The Missouri Valley Conference is getting a little more attention entering this season than in the past, and rightfully so.  Six of the top ten scorers in the league are back along with four of the top five rebounders.  The league is looking to have the impact it had back in the 2005-06 season, when it sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament.  Since then, only the automatic qualifier from the MVC Tournament has advanced to The Dance. With so many talented upperclassmen, there could be an opportunity for The Valley to get closer to that status of six years ago.
  • Kyle Weems or Doug McDermott?: There are a lot of people that have probably forgotten that Kyle Weems of Missouri State was the MVC Player of the Year last season with all the buzz that Creighton’s Doug McDermott received over the summer.  Going into 2011-12, one hotly-debated topic is whether Weems can repeat or if McDermott will build upon his MVC Freshman of the Year performance.  McDermott was only the second freshman in the 100-year-plus history of the MVC to get first team all-conference honors.  Weems tried to lead Missouri State to the NCAA Tournament, but came up just short.  Due to the personnel losses by the Bears, including their coach, and all of the returning players for the Bluejays, can Weems surprise the “experts” and have even better success to repeat?

Kyle Weems May Be The Best Player In A Resurgent MVC This Season. (MVC-Sports.com)

  • New Ford Center: Evansville will start the season in a new downtown arena, the Ford Center.  They open it in style with in-state powers Butler and Indiana visiting to start the season.  This building represents the continual facility improvements for the Missouri Valley Conference member schools.  Creighton started the trend with the Qwest Center (recently renamed CenturyLink Center).  Northern Iowa followed suit with its own basketball building in the McLeod Center.  Missouri State opened JQH Arena a couple years later and in Wichita, a new arena was built to complement Koch Arena as a place where the Shockers can play a game or two a year.  Southern Illinois spent almost $30 million to renovate SIU Arena.  So if you are looking for a conference that keeps upgrading the basketball environment like a major conference, this is where you should go.
  • Scheduling Philosophies: In the past, the MVC member schools would hold back a game on their schedules to try to get a home-and-home series against a high-major school.  Although this has worked out in the past, it sort of backfired this season.  As a result, many of the final games scheduled for each team will come against a non-Division I school, and in other cases, a game was not even scheduled, leaving a gap between the end of the regular season slate and the conference tournament.  Creighton and Illinois State chose to schedule one game fewer than the number of games they could have scheduled while the rest of the schools scheduled the likes of Loras College, Emporia State, Upper Iowa, Maryville and others as a regular season game on the schedule.  With almost 350 teams in Division-I, that isn’t a good sign for a non-major, major conference.

Predicted Order of Finish

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RTC Summer Updates: Missouri Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 27th, 2011

With the the NBA Draft concluded and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The latest update comes courtesy of our MVC correspondent, Patrick Marshall.

The summer has been a busy one for the Missouri Valley Conference. They are hoping the 2011-12 season will be one that sees the conference become a multiple-bid league again.  They haven’t had multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament since the 2006-07 season.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

  • Coaching Changes: The MVC only had two coaching changes in the offseason.  First, after leading Missouri State to its first MVC regular season title, Cuonzo Martin was lured away from the Bears to Tennessee.  He was replaced by Purdue assistant Paul Lusk, who weeks earlier might have been in line to succeed Matt Painter had Painter left Purdue to become the new head coach at Missouri.  He has Valley ties as a player at Southern Illinois in his college days, where he helped the Salukis to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.  On the flip-side, Bradley head coach Jim Les was fired after nine seasons with the Braves.  After taking Bradley to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2005-06 season, he had trouble getting the team back to that level.  Les was replaced by Kent State head coach Geno Ford.  These moves have caused a bit of a frenzy as Kent State filed a lawsuit against Bradley due to the way they hired Ford.  Les has since been named the new head coach at UC Davis (where his son currently plays), and he too has filed a lawsuit of his own against his former school disputing the settlement he was paid from his dismissal.  Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson were speculated for many jobs over the summer, but they both chose to stay with their respective schools.
  • Creighton’s International Duo: Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique have had a summer to remember.  McDermott spent the end of June through the middle of July playing for the Team USA U-19 squad helping the team to a fifth place finish in Latvia.  McDermott led the team in three-pointers made, was second in minutes, and third in scoring for the American team during the FIBA Championships.  McDermott’s frontcourt counterpart Echenique is currently in Venezuela as a member of his nation’s national team.  Echenique and his teammates will try to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in Argentina at the beginning of September before he returns to Creighton for the fall semester.
  • League Talent: There have been several different examples of decisions made by the league’s top talent this offseason.  First off is the 2011 MVC Player of the Year, Kyle Weems.  Weems earned his degree from Missouri State, and with a year of eligibility remaining, he could have easily decided to transfer to a different school to play right away, especially with a new coach coming into town.  Instead, he decided to stay in Springfield for his senior season.  In an opposite move, Bradley’s Sam Maniscalco was a senior last season for the Braves, but he spent much of it recovering from an ankle injury.  Early last season it was decided that he would shut things down and apply for a medical redshirt, which he received.  Then came the firing of Les.  During Maniscalco’s redshirt season, he was able to complete his degree.  With a year of eligibility still remaining and a new coach coming to town, the all-MVC player decided to transfer and finish his college career at Illinois.  Finally, you have Drake’s Ravonte Rice.  A runner-up for the MVC Freshman of the Year last season, Rice has not kept it secret that he isn’t necessarily happy at Drake, but that he isn’t going to transfer… at least not yet.  This is a pivotal year for the Bulldogs, as two years worth of the conference’s best recruiting classes are now sophomores and juniors that have had marginal success.  How Drake does this year could determine whether Rice stays or goes.

Despite a coaching transition going into his senior year, 2011 MVC Player of the Year Kyle Weems will stick it out for the Bears. (Missouri State University)

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Missouri Valley Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

Postseason Preview

The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament will be a dogfight this season as a lot of teams feel like they have a great chance at winning it all.  The top six seeds all have legitimate shots at winning.  Games are not always about who has the best players, but who ultimately gets the best matchups.

 

  • Who’s HotMissouri State is definitely the team to beat.  They are on a roll with six straight conference wins to end the season.  A lot of teams have troubles matching up with the Bears as Kyle Weems plays more like a guard than a forward.  If everything goes like it has the past couple of seasons in the MVC, then you will see Missouri State heading to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Who’s NotNorthern Iowa is definitely the team who, despite the decent seed, is really struggling right now.  Ad nauseam we have talked about the loss of O’Rear to the Panthers, but it is apparent they have not found someone to patrol the paint like he did.  Losing six of their last seven doesn’t help either.  If Creighton uses their frontcourt to their advantage, then the Panthers will likely be out after the first round.
  • Watch Out ForIndiana State.  The Sycamores are tougher than people are giving them credit for and could surprise Wichita State as both teams are incredibly deep and match up well with each other.  Indiana State took them to triple-overtime at Koch Arena, which is as tough as any place in the nation to win a game.  The Shockers have struggled to finish out the season, and were a few seconds away from finishing the season 0-3.
  • Tournament Prediction—In what could be considered another down year for the Missouri Valley Conference, there is a small chance that if Missouri State and Wichita State met in the finals of the MVC Tournament that both teams might make it into the NCAA Tournament.  However, with their conference tournament occurring a week before all the major conferences play their conference tournament, it is very likely the selection committee will have forgotten by then about the MVC tournament runner-up.

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Checking in on… the MVC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

  • Indiana State On The RiseAfter a rough start in non-conference play, the Sycamores have been improving, jumping out to an early 4-1 record in conference play.  A lot of it has been without Jake Kelly and Dwayne Latham.  First year head coach Greg Lansing is seizing the opportunity to move Indiana State up in the pecking order in the league.
  • Early Season Wins On The RoadMissouri State is building up big road wins early this conference season against the top teams in the league.  The Bears already has wins in their back pocket at Northern Iowa, at Creighton, and at Wichita State.  It may be the way Cuonzo Martin handles his bench.  With the way thing are going with Missouri State winning on the road, they are setting themselves up for having the biggest advantage once February comes around.
  • Not A Guard League This SeasonThe Missouri Valley Conference has been known historically as a guard-oriented league, but several teams are relying on their frontcourt players to lead them along:   Missouri State’s front line of Kyle Weems and Will Creekmore, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Kenny Lawson, and Gregory Echenique, and Southern Illinois’ Gene Teague, Mamadou Seck and Carlton Fay are examples of players that are carrying their teams that are not necessarily guards.
  • Player of the Week—Carlton Fay, Southern Illinois—This week, Fay was instrumental in the wins against Bradley and Illinois State in averaging almost 20 points a game for the Salukis.  He had 33 points against Illinois State, including two free throws at the end to seal the win.  They will need him to perform big to keep
  • Newcomer of the Week—Doug McDermott, Creighton—It may seem like this is a little biased, but facts are facts—McDermott has been consistent week to week.  This week he averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds a game in the three games played this week.  A close second is Mamadou Seck from Southern Illinois, but he only had two good game performances this week.  McDermotts three solid games put him over the top.

Power Rankings (Record) (Conference Record)  (Last week’s rank)

  1. Missouri State (13-3) (5-0) (2)— It is looking more and more like the team to beat this season is Missouri State.  The Bears have gone out on the road and improved from their 1-17 record over the past two seasons to 3-0 so far this season.  Against Creighton this week, it was about making adjustments at halftime, which resulted in easy layups.  Against Wichita State, it was getting out to an early lead and just taking it to the Shockers before holding on to the victory.   They now host Southern Illinois and put their 17-game home winning streak on the line.  They are in this for the long haul.
  2. Wichita State (13-3) (4-1) (1)— The Shockers in some respects has sort of flown under the radar  as they probably haven’t been talked about as much as other teams, especially with the success of Missouri State.   They had an easy start with games against Drake, Bradley, Evansville and Illinois State, which are a combined 3-17 in conference play.  The loss against Missouri State on Sunday may be a wake-up call to them.  Their next big test will be at Creighton on Wednesday night.  They may have found the point guard they have been looking for in Demetric Williams.
  3. Creighton (12-5) (4-1) (3) — The Bluejays suffered from inconsistent play at the beginning of the week.  They played a solid first half against Missouri State, but blew an 11-point lead in the second half at home and were outscored 47-26, and did not defend their home court.  The first half against Southern Illinois wasn’t much better, but Creighton rebounded with a come-from-behind overtime victory at Southern Illinois and held on for a win at Evansville.  Kaleb Korver has finally come around in his scoring with career highs at Southern Illinois and Evansville.   Wichita State comes to town and a road trip to surprising Indiana State will be important to them to try and stay in the top half of the league.
  4. Indiana State (9-7) (4 -1) (8)— Right now, the Sycamores are the surprise of the league.  Although the wins have come against the bottom of the league and mostly at home, they are still sitting in a good situation.  They destroyed defending champion Northern Iowa 70-45.  Indiana hopes their defense will be the thing that helps them win on the road.  They will already have the return game with Bradley on Wednesday, but then will host Creighton on Sunday.  They could be in the top three next week.
  5. Southern Illinois (9-7) (3-2) (4)— The Salukis’ up-and-down season continues.  They did get wins against Bradley and Illinois State, but couldn’t put rival Creighton away down the stretch with Carlton Fay missing key free throws toward the end of regulation.  Fay rebounded with 33 points including a three pointer with 12 seconds remaining to help secure the win against Illinois State.  Right now they are just a middle of the pack team and road trips to Missouri State and Northern Iowa will not be easy.
  6. Northern Iowa (10-6) (2-3) (5)— The Panthers got their first conference win against Evansville, but were destroyed by Indiana State on Friday night.  Lucas O’Rear then broke team rules and was suspended for the Bradley game on Sunday.  Northern Iowa has some problems to solve if it wants to be in any type of contention down the stretch.   The biggest problem is three-point shooting.  They are shooting the same number of shots, but fewer of them are going in.  If the Panthers hit better than 34% from three, then they are 6-1.
  7. Drake (7-9) (2-3) (9)—Drake has lost three of their last four games and are having problems hanging on to the ball and rebounding—many fundamental things that are needed to win games.  One positive is the performance of Aaron Hawley and Ben Simon off the bench. They will head to Evansville before battling Wichita State at the Knapp Center.
  8. Evansville (7-8) (1-4) (6)— The Purple Aces are reeling, losing all three of their games this week.  It probably has not helped that three of the first five conference games have been on the road.  Colt Ryan and Denver Holmes were quite the duo last season, but Holmes has been pretty quiet this season and hopes he is turning things around.   Drake and Illinois State are on the slate this week.  It is very possible the bottom four teams in the league right now will battle it out for those positions.
  9. Illinois State (8-8) (0-5) (7)— Tim Jankovich knew that he had some rebuilding to do, but probably didn’t expect to start 0-5 in conference play.  They went 0-3 this week and just missed defeating Southern Illinois on Sunday.   The Redbirds have now lost against all of the top teams in the league.  They get Northern Iowa and Evansville this week at home—they are hoping the schedule can help them get some wins.
  10. Bradley (6-10) (0-5) (10)— You wonder if Jim Les would like to start the season over, as nothing seems to be going right for them.  The Braves are still looking for their first conference win, and at this point, it isn’t looking good.  Fans and beat writers are trying to stay positive about the Braves.  I guess one other positive thing to look at is at least Carver Arena got a good review.  They host Indiana State and Missouri State this week.

A Look Ahead

Some great games at the right time this week, as conference play enters the second week.  It will be more intense with three games for each school between Tuesday and Sunday.   

  • 1/12—Wichita State @ Creighton (Local TV—KMTV and Cox-Kansas)— This is actually a pretty good non-rivalry where both schools really do not like each other.  These two teams always play their best against each other.
  • 1/12—Southern Illinois @ Missouri State (No TV)—Both programs are on opposite sides of where they used to be a decade ago, but Southern Illinois wants to stay in contention.  They have to beat Missouri State to stay in the race.
  • 1/16—Creighton @ Indiana State (Fox Sports Net)—The Sycamores have been the surprise in the league so far. They would like to continue that run against the Bluejays.
  • 1/16—Missouri State @ Bradley (ESPNU)—At the beginning of the season, this looked like a key matchup, but now Bradley is just trying to not finish last in the MVC.  At the same time, this would be a loss that the Bears do not need for their conference run.
  • 1/16—Southern Illinois @ Northern Iowa (Local TV—WSIU and PSN)—The Panthers and Salukis are trying to claw their way back in and both teams are searching for answers to get some wins.
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Checking in on… the MVC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2010

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent  for the Missouri Valley Conference

A Look Back

  • Finals Make a Slow Week—The Missouri Valley Conference was quiet for the most part this week as teams had less time on the practice court and fewer games to be played due to finals.  Each team only played once this past week except Wichita State and Northern Iowa.
  • Schedule AnomaliesSpeaking of scheduling, a few schools have had some extended time off.  Bradley has not played since their December  8 loss at Duke, but the Braves play two games this week before Christmas.  Southern Illinois has had 11 days in between games since the December 11 loss at Western Kentucky.   Indiana State lost to Purdue this past Saturday and does not play again until conference play begins on December 29.   In addition, the winning percentage of The Valley as a whole is at its lowest since 2003.  These are not good times for this league.
  • Echenique’s DebutCreighton fans have been waiting for almost a year for Gregory Echenique to step on the court for the Bluejays.  In his debut on Saturday night, Echenique scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and tallied three blocks in 18 minutes of action.  Two games against Western Illinois and Samford will let Echenique get more court time before conference season.
  • Player of the Week—Kyle Weems, Missouri State—Weems has shown a lot of consistency in the non-conference season and his 26 points and eight rebounds led the way in the Bears’ win against Saint Louis this week.
  • Newcomer of the Week—Kenneth Harris, Evansville.—Harris was instrumental in Evansville gaining a victory against Middle Tennessee this week with his 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds.  The Aces had to hold on after blowing a 21-point lead in the final twelve minutes of the game.

Power Rankings (Record) (Last week’s rank)

  1. Wichita State (8-2) (2)—The Shockers played twice this week with a warm-up game against Alabama A&M before hitting the road with what amounted to basically a road game against LSU.  Garrett Stutz hit a three-pointer with eight seconds to go to give Wichita State a two-point lead and they held on for the win.  I know I had Toure’ Murry as the MVC Player of the Year this season, but he is really struggling as of late, including a 3-12 performance against LSU and five turnovers.  Tulsa comes to town before the holidays to close out the non-conference slate.
  2. Missouri State (7-3) (1)—Missouri State earned a nice win against Saint Louis on Saturday, and only fall in the rankings due to the competition they played this week compared to Wichita State.  However, I still think that overall, Missouri State is still slightly ahead of the Shockers.  The Bears play Arkansas State in a rematch of the opening round of the NIT-Tipoff.  Defensive intensity is still something they are working on.
  3. Northern Iowa (7-3) (4)— Northern Iowa heads to Las Vegas this week for a great opportunity to get a couple of wins against the top conferences in the nation.  However, even though Indiana and Colorado have potential this season, they still aren’t the top teams in their respective conferences.  At the same time these could be significant wins come March.  Kerwin Dunham has been absent lately because of plantar fasciitis.  Injuries are not good for any team trying to make the postseason.
  4. Illinois State (7-3) (3)—The Redbirds might have an opportunity here come conference play.  They didn’t win against the toughest teams in their non-conference slate, but Tim Jankovich has had a nice opportunity to play a lot of players and lineups to prepare for conference season, including Blake Mishler.  They close out on the road at UNC-Wilmington on Monday.
  5. Creighton (6-4) (5)— Creighton gets a chance to solidify their rotation with a couple of buy games this week before Christmas.  Even though Gregory Echenique looked good on Saturday night, they barely beat a bad Idaho State team, which shows they still have a ways to go.
  6. Evansville (5-4) (7)—The Purple Aces created a lot of unnecessary drama on Saturday with their win over Middle Tennessee, who they met for the second time this season.  Evansville appears to have a lot more potential than the likes of Southern Illinois and Indiana State at this point.  They definitely won’t end up in the cellar.
  7. Southern Illinois (5-5) (6)—The Salukis have not played since December 11 and may have to shake the rust off against Northern Illinois before preparing for conference play.  One thing I know they probably have been working on is rebounding.  But they are still looking for that leader they have not had since Bryan Mullins was there.
  8. Indiana State (5-6) (8)—The Sycamores battled Purdue this past weekend, but just came up short in their final game of the non-conference season.  They now have until December 29 to prepare for Bradley in their conference opener which now looks like a winnable game.  They also have two very capable players in Jake Kelly and Dwayne Lathan, but they have put a little too much pressure on themselves.
  9. Bradley (4-5) (9)— The Braves are still recovering from their blowout at Duke and will play two games this week against Jackson State and Detroit. Jim Les has the opportunity to finalize his rotation and hopefully find the players that will ultimately replace Taylor Brown and Sam Maniscalco who are both out for the season with injury.   Now add backup point guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards to the injury list with a sprained knee.   Dodie Dunson is now the only option at point guard for Bradley.
  10. Drake (4-5) (10)— Drake came up short against their in-state rival Iowa, but have a couple games this week against Dartmouth and Chicago State.  A loss to either of these teams could mean disaster for this young team.  They also have to understand how to break the press.

A Look Ahead

There are only a couple games before the holidays and the start of conference season that are of significance.

  • 12/21—Tulsa @ Wichita State at Intrust Bank Arena (Local TV)—After the thrilling victory against LSU on a neutral court this past weekend, the Shockers leave their normal comfy confines of Koch Arena to instead play downtown at the brand new Intrust Bank Arena against the always tough Tulsa.  This could end up being their best win of the non-conference season.
  • 12/22—Detroit @ Bradley (No TV)—With the injuries Bradley has had to deal with this season, this game will be an interesting one to see if they can pull out what might have looked like a guarantee win at the beginning of the season.
  • 12/22-23—Northern Iowa at Las Vegas Classic (CBS College Sports)—The Panthers head to Las Vegas right before Christmas to play a couple of games.  They open first on Wednesday against Indiana and then play either Colorado or New Mexico on Thursday.  These could be two great wins for Northern Iowa after the slow start they have had this season and set them up with some great confidence before the start of conference play.
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Checking in on… the Missouri Valley

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2010

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

A Look Back

  • ACC Beatings: The Missouri Valley Conference was featured this week in a pair of games on Wednesday night—a sort of ACC/MVC challenge.  It wasn’t much of a challenge for Duke and North Carolina to dispose of Bradley and Evansville both by over 25 points.  Fans love the idea of the matchups, but the end result on national TV may not be the best for the league.
  • Missouri State Quietly Consistent: Everyone anointed Wichita State the preseason favorites.  Some thought Creighton was ready to break out even with a new coach.  There were others that said Northern Iowa would just reload.  But very quietly, Missouri State has strung together the most consistency so far.  They put up over 100 points last weekend against Central Arkansas and rode a four-game winning into Saturday’s game with Oklahoma State.  Granted, they haven’t won against the best teams they have played (Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Tulsa), but are at least not losing to teams they shouldn’t.
  • Scoring Drought: The Missouri Valley Conference against Iowa, Duke and North Carolina this week were only able to score as many as 49 points.  Against Iowa, Northern Iowa’s cold shooting woes only garnered them 39 points.   Evansville hosted North Carolina but could muster only 49 points while Bradley went to Duke and only put up 48.  The conference was 4-6 this last week because they could not score any points – aside from a few “Power Six” foes, the MWC played good defense, as reflected by the opponent scoring totals.
  • MVC As A One-Bid League: It is becoming clearer that the MVC is going to be a one-bid league this season.  Through Saturday’s games, the league is an unimpressive 49-38.  A lot of losses have come against teams the league has no business playing at this point.  As Kyle Whelliston wrote this week, the Valley needs to start playing regularly against teams in leagues currently around them to bring the league back up.
  • Player of the Week: — Dwayne Lathan, Indiana State: Lathan is starting to come on for the Sycamores.  Against DePaul last week, Lathan had 24 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.  If Indiana State is going to surprise people this season come conference play, Lathan will have to carry the team on his shoulders.
  • Newcomer of The Week — Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott is the only consistent newcomer right now.  He continues the start of his career of scoring in double figures in every game he has played and is currently ahead of pace on Creighton’s all-time leading scorer, Rodney Buford.

Power Rankings (Record) (Last week’s rank)

  1. Missouri State (6-3) (1)—Missouri State is on a roll right now (outside of Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State) and seem to be the most consistent in the league routing Central Arkansas 101-61 with six players in double figures.  Will Creekmore, who is one of only two players in the league to score in double figures every game this season is dealing with a dislocated finger on his non-shooting hand.  With Adam Leonard struggling and having health issues, Creekmore will be needed to team with Kyle Weems to keep their pace going.
  2. Wichita State (6-2) (2)—The Shockers have been flying off of everyone’s radar after their failure at San Diego State.  Their problem right now is that they play in spurts but cannot put together a long stretch of consistent play.   They have a game against Alabama A&M on Monday to try and get more consistency before taking on LSU after finals.
  3. Illinois State (7-3) (3)—Illinois State still has a ways to go, but they are still sitting towards the top this week because the rest of the league does not want to play any better.   Against Ohio, D.J. Cooper, a player who ISU head coach Tim Jankovich tried heavily to recruit, torched the Redbirds for 29 points including the game-winner.  Justin Clark is hoping to get on track.  He was 0-for-17 from three point range before hitting one against Ohio this week.
  4. Northern Iowa (4-3) (5)— Speaking of the three pointer, the Panthers were 6-30 from the arc against Iowa in their 51-39 loss on Tuesday.  Northern Iowa is 1-22 all time in Iowa City and are probably glad they don’t come back for another couple of years.  With a rebuilding team like Northern Iowa, they take one step forward and then two steps back.  The Panthers made it 19 wins in a row at home by beating Morehead State Saturday night.
  5. Creighton (4-4) (7)—The Bluejays have lost to a top 25 team, a potential top 25 team, the coach’s former team and their in-state rival in a span of two weeks.  After the loss to Nebraska on Sunday, the new coaching staff probably suffered their first negative reaction from fans during the transition to Greg McDermott.  Kenny Lawson will get some help down in the post with Gregory Echenique becoming eligible at the end of the first semester this week.  Echenique wants to live up to the expectations many have already put upon him.
  6. Southern Illinois (5-4) (8)— Southern Illinois won two straight this week before heading to Western Kentucky.    The Salukis will not play another game for 11 days.  It will be interesting to see whether the time off will help them regroup before conference season.   What has emerged for Southern Illinois is their frontline of Carlton Fay, Gene Teague and Mamadou Seck.  Lowery made the tweek to the lineup by starting Seck and it appears to be paying off.
  7. Evansville (4-4) (4)—Evansville started their week off with a one-point loss to Air Force in the MVC/MWC challenge, but then had the opportunity to take on North Carolina.  The Tar Heels ran out early against the Purple Aces and didn’t look back.  Clint Hopf and Tyler Zeller are both local products, but never faced each other until this game.   Evansville hopes to rebound against Middle Tennessee this week as they finish up a same season home and home with them.  The Aces lost to Middle Tennessee in their first meeting this season.
  8. Indiana State (4-5) (9)— After being called out for lack of toughness in the loss against Wyoming last week,  they bounced back to beat DePaul for the first time since 1979—In the Final Four with Larry Bird with the Sycamores.  Indiana State is slowly climbing the ladder as they appear to be coming together as a team.
  9. Bradley (4-5) (6)—Bradley is in shambles right now.  The Braves have lost five in a row after starting out 4-0 and the blasting at Duke this week has not helped things.   They have to put the pieces back together and Jim Les thinks that, “They are close to turning this thing around.”  One bright spot was the emergence of freshman Walt Lemon, Jr.  leading Bradley in scoring against Duke.  Their next game is not until December 20.
  10. Drake (3-4) (10)— Drake broke a three-game losing streak with a gutsy win at Eastern Michigan last week.   Drake returned to the Knapp Center for the first time in a month with their game on Sunday against Boise State.  Frank Wiseler is gradually coming back from his Achilles injury that he suffered over the summer.  With the Valley suffering like they are, don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs are able to take advantage of things once conference season rolls around.

A Look Ahead

With finals week this week, there are limited choices, but some games worth paying attention to once the weekend arrives.

  • 12/18—Idaho State @ Creighton (ESPN Full Court)—Many Creighton fans had this date circled on their camera for the debut of Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique.  The Bluejays specifically tried to schedule three games between now and the conference opener on December 29 to get Echenique some playing time.
  • 12/18—Iowa @ Drake (Local TV)—The battle for Iowa supremacy concludes as the Hawkeyes visit the Knapp Center.  The Bulldogs need this win not only for them, but to help the conference profile.
  • 12/18—Indiana State vs. Purdue at Conseco Fieldhouse (Big Ten Network)—The Sycamores and Boilermakers get together for the Boilermaker Blockbuster which was revived for the first time since 2003.
  • 12/18—Wichita State vs. LSU in Bossier City, LA (Local TV)—This closes out a three-game series between these two teams where each team played on their home court and the final game of the series was at a neutral site.  But in reality it is basically a home game for the Tigers in this one.  Wichita State needs this one to get a key win on their resume.  LSU is not the answer, but they are still a Power Six conference team.
  • 12/18—St. Louis @ Missouri State (No TV)—This is a rare A-10 vs. MVC matchup in this one.  Both teams want to make noise in their respective conferences, so this should be a good game, but too bad it is not on TV.
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Checking in on… the MVC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 6th, 2010

Patrick Marshall of White & Blue Review is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference.

A Look Back

  • MVC/MWC Challenge: The Missouri Valley Conference and the Mountain West Conference hooked up again this season for a “challenge” series between the two conferences.  Last season, the Valley won the series 5-4.  This year has been a completely different story, with the MWC shellacking the Mo Valley 8-1 in last week’s games.  Missouri State did not participate in this year’s challenge because the Mountain West Conference only has nine teams. With the Bears performing well this season, maybe the conference is second-guessing their methodology.
  • Maniscalco Out for the Season: First, it was Taylor Brown who was declared out for the season for Bradley due to some cardiac condition that requires him to rest.  Now it is point guard Sam Maniscalco who has been shut down for the season because of slow recovery from ankle surgery during the offseason.  With two key players no longer in the mix for the Braves this season, the faithful in Peoria may have a frustrating year.   With Duke in the wings this coming week, you can bet the line is changing for that game.
  • Valley Troubles Against the Power 6: The Missouri Valley Conference is still showing signs that it has not risen up to a multiple bid conference once again.  Over the past two weeks, the losses against the Power Six conferences have continued to mount— Purdue,  St. Johns,  Notre Dame and Connecticut, to name a few.  The Valley is 3-11 against the power conference teams.  There are a few opportunities yet for some nice wins, but there aren’t many left.
  • Drake Doesn’t Love Alaska: Drake spent their Thanksgiving up in Alaska as a part of the Great Alaska Shootout.  They were destroyed by St. John’s in the second night of competition.  In their final game against Weber State, the Bulldogs had a one point lead with less than six seconds left.  They were then called for a technical foul after slamming the ball on the ground after a foul was called.  Drake walked away from the tournament 1-2.
  • Questionable Losses: Not only are member schools losing against the power conferences, they are also losing against beatable teams like Eastern Illinois and Middle Tennessee.  The other problem is games on the road.  The Valley is a disastrous 2-17 in true road games so far this season.  On the flip side, the MVC is 25-6 at home.
  • Player of the Week: Will Creekmore, Missouri State. Creekmore has been the most solid player for the Bears and maybe even in the Valley so far this season.  He is one of two players in the conference that has scored in double figures in every game played this season so far.  In his last four games against Pepperdine, Pacific, Arkansas-Little Rock and Central Arkansas, he has averaged 12.5 points and nearly six rebounds per game.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Doug McDermott, Creighton – McDermott is the other player in the league to score in double figures in every game played this season.  He has been the only player honored for newcomer of the week honors by the conference for the first three weeks and the true freshman has been a needed force for the Bluejays, who have struggled to have veteran players step up and make an impact.

Power Rankings (Record) (Last week’s rank)

  1. Missouri State (6-2) (4): The Bears have been the most consistent team so far this season.  They closed out the NIT Tip-Off with wins over Pepperdine and Pacific along with Arkansas-Little Rock last week to get their twelfth straight win at home.  This is the same Arkansas-Little Rock team that beat up on fellow conference member Illinois State.  The freshmen are being integrated nicely into this team.   A big game against Oklahoma State is on their slate this week.
  2. Wichita State (5-2) (3): The trip to the Maui Invitational was not what the Shockers hoped for.  They were minutes away from knocking off eventual tournament champ Connecticut but gave away the game late.  They finished with two wins against Chaminade and Virginia, but they were not Michigan State and Kentucky. Wichita State has very few chances to build a nice non-conference resume, especially since they lost a big one to San Diego State, a game which some Shocker fans weren’t even able to watch.
  3. Illinois State (6-2) (5): The Redbirds have one more win than Wichita State and Missouri State, but all their opponents, save UNLV, have an RPI under 200 except for UNLV. Against the Runnin’ Rebels, they suffered their worst loss ever at Redbird Arena, an 82-51 throttling. An NCAA Tournament surprise from last season, Ohio, is on the schedule for Illinois State this week.
  4. Northern Iowa (4-2) (7): The Panthers are starting to gel together after a tough loss against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  They gave Iowa State their first loss this past week and extended their home winning streak to 18.  They also garnered a win in the MVC/MWC Challenge against TCU.  They have to leave the friendly confines of the McLeod Center and head to Iowa this week.
  5. Evansville (3-3) (6): Evansville has moved up in the list with their victory at Butler last week.  Head coach Marty Simmons lost so much weight during the offseason that he is now using his old suits as a part of a Share a Suit program launched in Evansville.  They have a nice opportunity to make some noise at home against North Carolina this week before a matchup with lowly Maryland-Eastern Shore.   Roberts Stadium will be sold out when the Tar Heels come to town.
  6. Bradley (4-4) (1): After starting 4-0, the Braves have dropped four straight to halt the positive momentum.  This is a bad time for Bradley to try and build some team chemistry; the injury bug might just save Jim Les and give him another year or so.  They have been jinxed with injuries almost every year under his tenure.  They head to Cameron Indoor this week to take on the Duke Blue Devils before taking on end of the semester finals.
  7. Creighton (4-4) (2): Creighton had three winnable games slip away from them this past week against Northwestern, BYU and Nebraska.   Kenny Lawson has not played well as of late, averaging less than eight points per game on 9-25 shooting his last three games. The Preseason Player of the Year has not had a smooth start into his senior season.  The uneven play of the Bluejays concerns head coach Greg McDermott.   A home game against St. Joseph’s  will close out a tough stretch for Creighton before Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique becomes eligible.
  8. Southern Illinois (4-4) (8): The Salukis have started off strong in most of their games, but do not have enough to sustain it for 40 minutes and their offense is really struggling which is prompting changes in the lineup.  The Salukis finished the last 7:34 of the game against New Mexico without a field goal and trailed by as much as 18 in the second half.  Their high-profile games against Illinois, Purdue, and New Mexico did not turn out as hoped and now they have to use the rest of the non-conference season to see if they can put together a team that will not finish last in the conference.
  9. Indiana State (3-5) (10)—The Sycamores finally played their first home game last week, going on the road to battle Notre Dame and coming up short.  After the slow start, they are starting to do better in their execution.   DePaul comes to town this week, but it will only be ISU’s second home game this season.
  10. Drake (2-4) (9)—Drake has lost three straight games and have to go on the road again this week to Eastern Michigan.  Though it is a winnable game, the Valley schools have not been very good on the road and don’t bode well for a team that really needs a win.  Their sports information director abruptly resigned, too.  I hope it wasn’t because of the basketball team.

A Look Ahead

There are some big games this week with a mini MVC/ACC Challenge along with some other nice games.

  • 12/7—Northern Iowa @ Iowa (Big 10 Network)—The Panthers took out one in-state rival in Iowa State last week.  They will now go on the road to take on the Hawkeyes, who almost squeaked one out against ACC foe Wake Forest last week.
  • 12/8—DePaul @ Indiana State (Local TV)—Neither school has a very good record, and both probably will not contend for their conference championships this season.   However, for the Sycamores, it is still a game against a power conference school.  It could help the conference as a whole.
  • 12/8—Bradley @ Duke (ESPN2)—Before the season started, this game looked like a great opportunity for the Braves to see what they were made of and if they would be a contender in the Valley this season.  But with two All-Valley players out for the season, Bradley is a shell of itself and this one could get ugly on national television.
  • 12/8—North Carolina @ Evansville (ESPNU)—Roy Williams brings the Tar Heels to Evansville in the second of a three game series for a chance for Tyler Zeller to play in front of hometown fans.  There is a reason they are playing against the Sycamores instead of Indiana, Butler or Louisville.
  • 12/11—Missouri State @ Oklahoma State (Local TV)—The Bears open this three game series down in Stillwater.  This is a great opportunity for Missouri State to up their profile and could be a key victory for them on their resume come March.
  • 12/11—St. Joseph’s @ Creighton (Local TV)—Creighton University’s president is retiring from Creighton in July.  Guess who is coming in to replace him?  The current President of St. Joseph’s, Timothy Lannon.  He plans to be there for the game as well as Bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
  • 12/11—Southern Illinois @ Western Kentucky (Fox College Sports)—Their new four game series starts up in Bowling Green.   Both of these teams were known as mid-major powerhouses over the past decade.  The Salukis are nowhere near where they used to be, but the Hilltoppers are still pretty good.  These teams always have great games against each other.
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Ten Burning Questions On The 2010-11 Season

Posted by zhayes9 on November 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

With the season tipping off on Monday, there’s a few questions rolling around the minds of college basketball fans regarding the upcoming season. Let’s tackle the ten most pressing questions, from Duke’s expected dominance to a battle at the top of the Big East and one special freshman:

It's prudent Johnson does even more with Hummel out

1. What’s Purdue’s season outlook without Robbie Hummel?

Purdue fans don’t need to read another rehash of Hummel tearing his ACL for the second time in eight months, so we’ll skip the gory details. With that setback in the past, the question now becomes: is Purdue still a legitimate contender to cut down the nets in Houston? The short answer is probably not. Hummel was the most important piece to the Boilermakers’ puzzle — a gritty, tough-minded, versatile scoring threat and can rebound and defend. The haunting memory of Purdue’s 11-point first half performance against Minnesota in the absence of Hummel is still fresh in some minds. The hoppers off the Boilermakers bandwagon have been countless, the injury considered so devastating that ESPN’s Andy Katz dropped Purdue from #2 to #23 in his Preseason Top 25.

Although the impact of Hummel’s injury shouldn’t be diminished, it is in no way a crushing blow to Purdue’s entire season and absolutely does not deserve a 21-spot decline in the preseason polls. Take a step back and remember that Matt Painter still has two all-Big Ten players on his roster even in a grueling year for the league- preseason All-American center JaJuan Johnson and scoring guard E’Twaun Moore. Those are building blocks the majority of major conference coaches would bend over backwards to have at their disposal. Point guard Lewis Jackson is finally 100% and ready to build on an encouraging freshman season before his foot injury. Kelsey Barlow is a multi-positional threat while secondary players D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith have practiced for weeks knowing they’ll be thrust into a larger role. Most of all, it’s Matt Painter’s insistence on defending aggressively in the halfcourt keeps Purdue in any contest no matter the talent differential.

This isn’t Purdue unexpectedly thrown into limbo when Hummel tore his ACL last February. The Boilermakers enter the season knowing who must step up to prove the doubters wrong. Even in an unforgiving Big Ten, I expect Purdue to be a mainstay in the top 15 all season long.

2. Who is this year’s first round Cinderella?

If you picked Ohio over Georgetown in last year’s NCAA Tournament, congratulations. That’s a pick you brag about to your buddies for years. The majority of the tournament pool participators did not have such a keen eye for upsets, though. Searching for this year’s preseason candidate to shock the hoops world and knock off a major conference powerhouse as a #13 or #14 seed? Look no further than the Southern Conference and the Wofford Terriers.

Start with the fact they took Wisconsin down to the wire last March in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Sure, the Badgers play a style that can produce closer outcomes against weaker opposition, but degrading that accomplishment is unfair. It’s the building block for what could be a special 2010-11 campaign with Noah Dahlman, Tim Johnson, Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs all back in the fold. Don’t overlook the urgency factor with ten seniors and juniors knowing this is the Terriers last chance to secure a NCAA Tournament victory.

Ranking #41 in the nation in defensive efficiency a season ago, head coach Mike Young has instilled a lockdown mentality on that end of the floor. Dahlman returning is also a huge deal.  The best player in the SoCon, Dahlman is a double-double threat and extremely efficient scoring the basketball. He’ll be a handful for Wofford’s first round opponent and one of those names that won’t soon be forgotten around the college hoops landscape. Young challenged his team with a brutal schedule with road games at Minnesota, Clemson, Xavier, South Carolina and VCU in the non-conference, so we’ll see fairly quickly whether the Terriers can challenge stiff opposition this season.

3. How many games will Duke lose this season?

Couple Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith’s decisions to return for their senior years with a down year in talent around the ACC and the potential is there for a remarkable season in Durham. Although the ultimate goal will only be reached in March, the Blue Devils could run off a season similar to what Kansas and Kentucky did in 2009-10. The backcourt is the best in the nation with Smith, Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins all expected to see minutes (not to mention Singler’s guard-like skills), a group that should allow Coach K to run, run, run, run and run some more. Prepare yourself to see Duke total 100+ points on more than a few occasions this season.

Just how good can Duke really be? Do they have a chance to go undefeated? With a frontcourt that lost key cogs Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, it’s extremely unlikely. If one of the Plumlee brothers falls into foul trouble and Duke has to play the inexperienced Ryan Kelly or freshman Josh Hairston too many minutes, a forward-oriented squad may knock them off. I have two games circled as losses for Duke: at NC State and at Virginia Tech. If the Wolfpack could pull the upset last year with a cellar-dwelling team, they have a fighter’s chance to beat Duke again with Lorenzo Brown, Tracy Smith, Ryan Harrow and C.J. Leslie. The contest in Blacksburg should produce a raucous environment with the Hokies granted a golden chance for a signature win that has evaded Seth Greenberg the last couple seasons.

Other possibilities include the CBE Classic when Duke runs into Kansas State or Gonzaga in the final. Of course, the Blue Devils could fall to North Carolina in Chapel Hill on the season’s last Saturday, but I expect Duke to squeak by with a memorable win. It was immediately a possibility when Singler opted to return for one last hurrah that Duke would lose only two or three games all year long. Barring injury, I predict they’ll do just that.

4. Could the Pac-10 actually be worse?

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Mike Rosario Will Fit In Well At Florida

Posted by jstevrtc on April 19th, 2010

This was a done deal late last week, but rising junior Mike Rosario, recently of Rutgers, is transferring to Florida.  He’ll sit out the mandatory transfer year and start his third season of basketball in the fall of 2011.

Rosario can fill it up, and he'll fit in well at UF. (W. Perlman/Star-Ledger)

Rosario was a highly regarded high school star at the legendary St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, listed as the ninth-ranked shooting guard in the nation as a high school senior and a four-star recruit overall. That promise was definitely realized in his freshman year at Rutgers in 2008-09 as Rosario contributed 16.2 PPG and 3.5 RPG.  But he really came to our attention last summer during the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.  Rosario averaged 24.0 PPG playing for the team from Puerto Rico, and while his team finished a respectable fifth place out of 16 teams, Rosario was one of the stars of the tournament.  A game-tough, gritty guard with a knack for scoring, he displayed that knack all over the French U19 team, lighting them up for 54 points and leading PR to a come-from-behind one point victory in that game.  His average of 24.0 PPG led the tournament (which was won by the USA, by the way).

Rosario will fit in well at Florida.  Billy Donovan doesn’t have a quick trigger when it comes to yanking players after they take a bad shot, and Rosario occasionally can put up a questionable one.  Consider, though, that Rosario was asked to carry a lot of the load in the impotent Rutgers offense last season, and his 16.7 PPG last year made him the Knights’ leading scorer, over four points higher than second place Gregory Echenique.  Given a year to gain his bearings in Gainesville, practice with the likes of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, and learn Donovan’s way of doing things, Rosario could give Donovan one of the top backcourts in the game in 2011-12.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 5th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. More than the countless Big East tournament runs at the Garden, or the contention for conference regular season titles on a yearly basis, or reaching upper-echelon status in college basketball playing with no flashy All-American recruits, Jamie Dixon is proving his worth as a coach this year more than ever. Few teams lost as much talent, leadership, and production as senior point guard Levance Fields, dominating big man DeJuan Blair and outside threat Sam Young. The departure of these three mainstays plus two projected starters for 2009-10, Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown, beginning the year MIA prompted many preseason prognosticators (including myself) to deem Pittsburgh a non-contender in the rugged Big East. My mistake, Jamie. The Panthers just finished one of their most difficult Big East road stretches of the year with two statement victories at previously undefeated Syracuse and at fringe-ranked Cincinnati. Sophomore Ashton Gibbs is taking his experience from playing under Dixon at the U19 Games to good use, running the Pitt offense with superb efficiency, shooting the ball lights out from deep and breaking the all-time Pitt record for consecutive free throws made in the process. Brown has his academics in order and used his athleticism to make a few back-breaking baskets against Cincy last night. Dixon provides stellar defense and outside shooting. It remains to be seen whether Pitt can stay at the top of the Big East with less talent than the other squads, but we do know that Dixon’s team will play smarter and tougher than any opponent. And that always gives them a fighting chance.

2. The most significant win this New Year’s week had to be Purdue running away from West Virginia to remain unblemished and surpass the Mountaineers as a projected #1 seed at this stage of the season. Purdue and coach Matt Painter have constructed their program unlike many of their other counterparts atop the rankings on a weekly basis. There’s no Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Devin Ebanks or John Wall walking through the doors of Mackey Arena to play for the Boilers for one or two years; instead, their 2009-10 highly ranked squad features a group of players that have been together for three straight seasons, such a rarity in the age of one-and-done players and the glorification of NBA riches. This specific group of players- Robbie Hummel, Chris Kramer, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Keaton Grant- have practiced and played together for three straight years now, stepping up the ladder slowly but surely in the college hoops landscape. They took the Big Ten by surprise in 2007-08 before falling in the second round to Xavier and climbed up another step by reaching the Sweet 16 a season ago. This year they hope to reach the top and cut down the nets in nearby Indianapolis with a group of kids that have been through the ups and downs of a college basketball season together more than once- a group of lightly-recruited but tough-minded individuals that will utilize defensive intensity and offensive efficiency to reach the ultimate goal Hummel, Johnson, Moore and others been striving for since arriving in West Lafayette.

3. Think about this for a second: Despite losing three four-year starters that all played 30+ MPG and notched 10+ PPG, Marquette coach Buzz Williams would probably tell you that his Golden Eagles should be staring at a 12-2 (2-0) record with wins over top-ten Villanova and West Virginia and another top-25 team in Florida State. Typical of young, inexperienced squads, Marquette has simply been unable to close games this season against stellar competition. If Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler don’t miss two front ends of 1-and-1 opportunities, Da’Sean Butler’s game-winning shot never happens and Marquette has the second most impressive road win in the country this season (just behind Pitt stunning Syracuse). Up two Saturday against Villanova, Johnson-Odom again stepped to the line up two points and 2:35 left on the clock. Both of those attempts bricked, and, couple that with a bunny missed by Butler at the buzzer, the Golden Eagles again fell just short. Rewind back to November in the Old Spice Classic where Marquette held a 30-18 lead at half against FSU and a 10-point cushion midway through the second half, but squandered the lead. I haven’t even included the NC State game where Marquette lead by 11 at the intermission. Closing out games has been a devastating problem for Buzz Williams’ squad this season, and these close losses could very well cost Marquette a spot in the field come March if they’re sitting on the bubble.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida

big-east-logo

WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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