O26 Weekly Awards: Harvard, Jalen Cannon, Jim Les & Rice

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 10th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Harvard. One could argue that Harvard’s season was at stake against Yale on Saturday, or at least close to it. The Crimson, 4-1 in Ivy League play, faced the prospect of falling two games back of the undefeated Bulldogs and severely damaging their hopes for a fourth-straight outright conference title. A victory for Tommy Amaker’s group would even up the records with a return game in Cambridge still ahead on March 6; a loss, and Harvard’s NCAA Tournament destiny would no longer rest in its own hands even if it did beat Yale next month. This was about as “must-win” as it gets in early February.

Harvard regained control of the Ivy League on Saturday. (Robert F. Worley / The Harvard Crimson)

Harvard regained control of the Ivy League on Saturday. (Robert F. Worley / The Harvard Crimson)

Yet the pivotal showdown would have been even direr for Harvard had it not been for some late-game heroics the night before. Trailing Brown by two with only a few seconds left, it took reigning Player of the Year Wesley Saunders corralling his own miss and banking in a shot at the buzzer just to send Friday’s game into overtime. In the extra period, the Crimson controlled things – ultimately winning by two – and Saunders finished with a career-high 33 points. “We’ve had these kind of games against Brown,” Amaker said afterwards, referring to his team’s third overtime victory in as many seasons against the always-pesky Bears.

Call it ‘survival,’ call it what you want, but a win is a win – and Harvard made the most of its second life the following night in New Haven. After an ugly 20 minutes of basketball (Harvard took a 16-11 lead into the locker room), the Crimson held on to their advantage throughout the second half, beating the Bulldogs 52-50 in their own house. Saunders again led the way, scoring 16 points and hitting two clutch free throws in the closing seconds, and in a matter of 24 hours Amaker’s team went from the brink of disaster to re-establishing control of the Ivy League. “We’ve taken these kinds of shots from the other teams the last few years; we’ve been up to the challenge,” he remarked afterward. With Harvard returning home for six of its final eight contests – including the Yale game in a few weeks – the Crimson’s ability to take those shots and respond when it mattered most has put them in good position to retain the conference crown and return to the Big Dance.

Honorable Mentions: St. Bonaventure (2-0: at Davidson, vs. VCU); Boise State (2-0: at Utah State, vs. San Diego State); Ohio (2-0: vs. Akron, vs. Eastern Michigan); Vermont (2-0: vs. Maine, at Stony Brook); IPFW (2-0: vs. South Dakota State, vs. Oral Roberts)

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Checking in on… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James (@ivybball) on February 6th, 2015

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @ivybball.

Looking Back

  • Home Unsweet Home – We’re over a quarter of the way through the 2015 edition of the 14-Game Tournament and an alarming trend just will not yield. Home teams are just 6-9 (0.400 – lowest of any conference in the nation) in league games thus far this season with both Cornell-Columbia and Harvard-Dartmouth splitting their travel partner series by winning on the other’s home floor. While Yale managed to sweep its travel partner showdown with Brown, it followed the same pattern, blowing out the Bears in Providence by 18 before trailing Brown at the final media timeout at home only to come back and win by four. The Ivies also rank last nationally in two other categories that many equate with a game’s appeal – offensive efficiency and percent of close games. Teams are scoring just 0.96 points per possession in league play (over five points per 100 possessions worse than the national average) and have combined for just two close games in 15 tries (13%).

    Despite Yale's best efforts, the Ivy League as a whole has been struggling to put the ball in the hoop. (AP)

    Despite Yale’s best efforts, the Ivy League as a whole has been struggling to put the ball in the hoop. (AP)

  • Channel Surfing – It took until just a couple weeks before the first back-to-back weekend in league play, but the Ivies finally locked down their television deal for the 2014-15 campaign. Five league games will be shown on CBS Sports Network, starting with Dartmouth’s visit to Yale this Friday, while another six will be shown on the American Sports Network, which is a syndicated network, using deals with other stations to carry its product to market. While the deal was a late victory to keep Ivy games on television after the NBC Sports Network deal expired last season, neither of the league’s two marquee matchups between Harvard and Yale will be featured on CBS Sports Network and the first meeting this Saturday will be relegated to Ivy League Digital Network.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Yale (15-6, 4-0 Ivy) – After a rough end to the non-conference slate saw the Bulldogs drop three of four tight contests, Yale has taken three-straight games in league play – all of which were within a possession or two after the final media timeout. More importantly, though, the Bulldogs have already survived three of their seven league road games and now get six of their next eight at home, as they attempt to put the title chase out of reach before visiting Harvard in the season’s penultimate game. While the 4-0 Ivy start has been impressive, there are some underlying concerns. Yale has allowed opponents to shoot 37 percent of their shots from three and has benefited from an unsustainable opposition hit rate of just 27 percent. Also, the Bulldogs are doubling up their opponents on free throw rate – a metric that was far less lopsided in non-league play. Yale is getting 31 percent of its points in Ivy play from the free throw line, which would be tops in the nation and a greater than four-standard deviation outlier if it occurred over the whole season. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Weekly Awards: Albany, Saah Nimley, Ben Jacobson & Dartmouth…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 27th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Albany. Last Monday, Albany learned it would be without leading scorer Peter Hooley indefinitely following the junior’s decision to return home to Australia to be with his ill mother. While the move was understandable and even encouraged by head coach Will Brown, it left the Great Danes – in the thick of an America East title race – without one of their most important players… just in time for a road trip to Stony Brook. With the preseason conference favorites on deck before games at Hartford and against UMBC, the week suddenly spelled ‘gut-check’ for Brown’s group. And boy, did they respond.

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Not only did the Danes beat Stony Brook in the face of long odds (KenPom gave the home team an 82.3% win probability), they did so convincingly, jumping out to an early 10-point lead and never looking back. The team’s other top Australian, forward Sam Rowley, stepped up with 16 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks – outworking America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney underneath – and Albany scored 19 of its 64 points at the free throw line. Defensively, Brown’s 2-3 zone baffled Stony Brook all night long, holding the Seawolves to a season-low 0.77 points per possession. The final margin: a whopping 17 points. “I thought it was a gutsy effort tonight,” Brown said after the dominant victory.

But the week (and the winning) was far from over for the Danes. Next up was a trip to Hartford on Thursday to battle a talented-if-underachieving Hawks team also vying for a top-four seed. That game, tabbed as a coin-flip, played out much the same for Albany; Rowley was excellent (22 points, eight rebounds) and the team rolled, 62-53. The cherry on top for Brown’s short-handed unit came on Sunday, at home against UMBC, when four players scored in double-figures and the Danes again won big, topping the Retrievers by 14. A week that began with difficult news and could have gone in the opposite direction – again, Hooley leads the team in scoring – ended with Albany standing alone and undefeated atop the standings, in prime position to grab the America East Tournament’s top seed – a spot that means more than ever in 2014-15.

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Who’s Got Next? Carlton Bragg & Chris Lewis Goes With Harvard

Posted by Sean Moran on January 21st, 2015

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Kansas Lands Its First 2015 Recruit

Kelly Oubre committed to Kansas shortly after taking his official visit during the school’s 2013 Late Night in the Phog event, but after hosting a number of five-star players during this year’s version, no immediate commitments were forthcoming. That wait ended a couple of weekends ago when five-star forward Carlton Bragg selected the Jayhawks. Bill Self has logged top five recruiting classes in each of the past two years with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid featured in the 2013 class and Cliff Alexander and Oubre last year’s class. It was only a matter of time until Self got started building his star-studded 2015 class.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

No surprise that Bill Self is racking up another stellar recruiting class. (Getty)

Bragg is a 6’9” power forward who plays for Villa Angela – St. Joseph (OH) High School (one of the top programs in the Buckeye State), and is currently ranked as the No. 12 player in the country and the No. 3 player at his position. The athletic forward started to climb up the rankings during the summer before his junior season and continued to improve from there, resulting in strong interest from the likes of Self, John Calipari and John Groce. Bragg’s versatility should blend in nicely with Kansas’ high-low offense given his ability to convert short hook shots, but he is also very comfortable stepping outside and knocking in jumpers from 15 to 18 feet. While he does have nice form and touch on his jumper, Bragg also has the tendency to fall in love with it, something Self will work with him on correcting. On the defensive end, Bragg moves his feet well and can defend the pick-and-roll while also protecting the rim with his quick leaping ability. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Midseason Awards: Jeff Jones, Kyle Collinsworth, 10 All-Americans…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2015

With conference play having begun in most leagues across the country, it‘s time now to pass out some midseason superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next couple months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones – Old Dominion. The Old Dominion basketball program took a sharp turn in 2013 when – after more than a decade of sustained success – the school fired its longtime coach, Blaine Taylor, during a 5-25 campaign in which the coach’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. In came Jones after spending 13 seasons at American, and immediately things turned around as the Monarchs went 18-18 last season and reached the CBI semifinals. But perhaps even the most optimistic Old Dominion fan couldn’t have envisioned how quickly the team would go from the dregs of the CAA to the cream of Conference USA; at 12-1 with wins over LSU, VCU, Georgia State and Richmond, the Monarchs have cracked the Top 25 and should be in the at-large discussion by season’s end. How has Jones orchestrated such a sharp turnaround? Campbell transfer Trey Freeman has helped. The 6’2’’ point guard paces the team with 16.4 points and 3.5 assists per contest, with Jones calling him “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached” after the team’s victory over LSU in November. The success has been the result of more than just Freeman, though, as the Monarchs have thoroughly bought into Jones’ system, predicated on patient offense and tough man-to-man defense – the latter of which has held opponents to 0.91 points per possession so far, the best mark in C-USA. Likewise, Jones deserves credit for his ability to seamlessly integrate both Freeman and George Mason transfer Jonathan Arledge into a deep cohort of returnees. The head man said in an interview recently (regarding his first year at the program), “We just needed to make people understand it would take some hard work [and] it would take some time, but we were going to just try to be as patient as we could moving forward.” “Time” and “patience,” sure, but it’s taken not even two full seasons for Jones to completely revamp and re-energize things in Norfolk; and for that, he earns our Midseason Coach of the Year honors.

Honorable Mentions: Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa; Bob McKillop – Davidson; Porter Moser – Loyola (IL); Keno Davis – Central Michigan; Mark Few – Gonzaga; Eddie Payne – USC Upstate

O26 Midseason Player of the Year

BYU's versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

BYU’s versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Kyle Collinsworth – BYU. It feels a little weird deeming Collinsworth O26 Midseason Player of the Year when his teammate, Tyler Haws, is college basketball’s third-leading scorer. But remember how BYU looked last March without Collinsworth after he went down with a torn ACL? The Cougars were crushed by Oregon in what should have been a competitive #7/#10 NCAA Tournament match-up. The point guard’s versatility, defense and toughness – not to mention eye-popping numbers, which we’ll get to in a moment – make Collinsworth the glue that holds BYU together and the player worthy of our midseason honor. “He is a really effective player in so many different areas of the game,” head coach Dave Rose said recently. At 6’6’’, there are few players (perhaps no player) who do what Collinsworth does: Not only is he the facilitator for the nation’s ninth-most efficient offense, but he also serves as BYU’s best rebounder and defender, leading the team in assists, rebounds and steals. At this point, the junior’s impressive across-the-board averages (13.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG) are overshadowed only by his record-setting triple-double pace. With three already under his belt, Collinsworth needs just one to tie and two more to break the single-season NCAA mark. That all-around ability has allowed Rose to utilize a four-guard lineup in recent weeks, a move that’s enabled BYU to hit its stride just as WCC play heats up – evidenced by the team’s 99-68 drubbing of San Francisco on Saturday. “Kyle’s a big reason because he can rebound as well as any guard in the country. To have him on the floor, you have a guard that’s a great rebounder,” Rose noted. With Collinsworth healthy and playing at an incredibly high level, the Cougars should return to the Big Dance this March.

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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James (@ivybball) on January 4th, 2015

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @ivybball.

Looking Back

  • Rising Tide Keeps Rising – Despite a rocky start to the 2014-15 campaign, the Ivy League is poised to set more records in terms of league quality. Currently, the league sits at No. 13 both in the Pomeroy Ratings and the Massey Composite Ratings, a broad survey of all of the different ranking systems available for college basketball. The Ivies have also cracked .500 in their average Pythagorean Winning Percentage, which means that if all of the league’s teams played a national average team on a neutral floor, the league would be expected to finish with better than four wins for the first time in the modern era. Finally, both Harvard and Yale are sitting in the top 60 of the RPI and if both could post an 11-3 or better finish in Ivy play, each would finish in the top 50, marking only the second time in the modern era that two Ivies finished that high (2011: Harvard and Princeton).

    Yale coach James Jones has faced a dilemma with his rotation so far this season (New Haven Register)

    Yale coach James Jones is a big reason why the Ivy League has improved so much over the last couple of seasons. (New Haven Register)

  • A Month To Remember – While some disappointing defeats have likely postponed #2BidIvy for another season, one-bid leagues are more often defined by their best days than their worst — and there were plenty of “bests” in December. Yale kicked things off with a buzzer-beating win over Connecticut and Brown followed shortly afterward with a stunning upset of crosstown rival Providence. While the victories over high major programs stopped there, the solid performances didn’t. Princeton led California for 30 minutes before falling by 10, and Columbia hung with Connecticut deep into the second half until the Huskies buried enough threes to put the Lions away. All of this was done without help from Harvard, which had its best shot for a “name” win at Arizona State, but fell by 10 after only mustering 18 second-half points. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Rewind: Kentucky Flexes Muscles, Rough Pac-12 Weekend, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 29th, 2014

Never a dull week… Never a dull week, I tell you. The holiday season was supposed to be the last down time for college basketball, but this past weekend – the last without wave after wave of important conference games – was anything but silent. From a clash at the summit in Kentucky to another stunner from Texas Southern – yes, really – it was another fine weekend on the hardwood.

Weekend Headliner: Kentucky 58, Louisville 50.

If it was going to happen, it was going to happen here; at least, so it seemed. Only one game stood between Kentucky and a feeble SEC slate. Only one major challenge remained. Only Louisville. And thus, there’s no place to start but here when rehashing the final 2014 weekend of college hoops. Because it – a Kentucky loss – didn’t happen.

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

John Calipari’s team further cemented itself atop the collegiate basketball landscape with an ugly but effective victory over its bitter rival. The most striking thing about Saturday’s game was the difficulty Louisville had finding shots and scoring on the offensive end. If a top-five team with an All-American forward and an electric home crowd looked overwhelmed, how must other teams feel? The Wildcats’ smothering defense held the Cardinals to an ice cold 26 percent shooting and 0.85 points per possession. Most importantly though, Kentucky was able to do exactly what makes its defense so special: It forced Louisville to take an inordinate number of contested mid-range jumpers. A whopping 34 of the Cardinals’ 58 field goal attempts (58.6 percent) came from between five and 20 feet from the basket, an area from which they’ve shot 29 percent on the season. This was a significant departure from Louisville’s standard shooting distribution, and its a big reason why they had such trouble with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

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RTC Weekly Primer: A Calm Before the Storm

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 23rd, 2014

Every Monday (and sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week. Let’s break down Christmas week.

Is it a false phenomenon? Or is it a commonly used idiom based on fact? If you’ve ever experienced the actual calm before the storm, you know it’s the latter. Suddenly, everything becomes still. The wind dies down. Leaves merely rustle, yielding to the multifarious sounds of life. It’s all very serene; eerie even. This is the calm. But then… BAM. In an instant, the storm hits. It comes out of nowhere. Rain pours. Thunder crackles. Wind swirls. It’s a complete departure from what you experienced moments before. The calm before the storm is a real thing. That’s also why it’s such a great metaphor. Right now, we are experiencing the calm before the storm. After a decent weekend of college basketball, everything has gone still. The flurry of games has died down. A few birds chirped on Monday night (hi, Temple!); leaves will rustle, a dog or two will bark on Tuesday; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be silent. And then on Saturday – BANG – lightning will strike. Thunder – Kentucky and Louisville – will rumble. And just as suddenly, come next Tuesday, all hell will break loose. Conference play will be upon us.

Want some thunder and lightning? Tune in when these two coaches go at it. (AP)

Want some thunder and lightning? Tune in when these two coaches go at it. (AP)

THREE FOR THE MONEY

Kentucky at Louisville | Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2

Just as it’s pretty difficult to argue that Kentucky isn’t the best team in college basketball right now, it’s pretty difficult to argue that this isn’t the game of the season. The biggest story from here on out will be the Wildcats and their chase of perfection, and the team with the best chance to beat them from now until mid-March is the one they will face this Saturday. Louisville can nip the narrative right in the bud. Not only is this a must-watch game in terms of fan interest and magnitude, it’s also an intriguing proposition from an analytical point of view. Because it hasn’t yet been done and because this team is unlike any we’ve recently seen in college basketball, nobody really knows what the blueprint might be for beating Kentucky. But one of the potential strategies –full-court pressure — is something that Louisville is likely to employ. Rick Pitino has several pesky, quick guards at his disposal, and although speeding the game up could backfire, getting easy points from turnovers and keeping Kentucky from finding any kind of rhythm is one of the few ways to score against its defense. Louisville’s size disadvantage everywhere on the floor means that it will need to hit outside shots, something it hasn’t been able to do consistently yet this season (27.5% from three), and even that might not be enough. Still, never underestimate the power of teams playing at home in rivalry games.

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RTC Rewind: Drubbings, Drama, and Misfortune in Michigan

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 22nd, 2014

If you’re a fan of the sport, you know the feeling: of the impossible-to-keep-up-with, full slate of games; of the constant twists and turns; of the incessant storylines. It’s the feeling of conference play. It’s the feeling of a mid-January Saturday. It’s the feeling of a day on which college basketball is king. In an awkward, premature way, that’s kind of what this past Saturday felt like. It didn’t have the same intensity. It didn’t have the same weight or meaning. But, if you were so inclined, you could have plopped yourself on a couch and let college basketball gloriously eat away your entire day. And given how the day and the games played out, you would’ve been happy with your decision.

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford’s UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

Or, at the very least, happier than Steve Alford.

Headliner: Insanity in Philly. They used to meet at the Garden on Fridays in mid-March. They used to battle on Big Mondays in February; on Saturdays in January. Rather unfortunately, they no longer do. But whereas for others, conference realignment has terminated great rivalries, Syracuse and Villanova play on. And even if they do so in mid-December, we should all be thankful that that is the case. Saturday showed us why.

Saturday also showed us why you NEVER, EVER LEAVE A BASKETBALL GAME EARLY unless the result is entirely out of question. Hundreds of spectators had already filed out of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia when undefeated Villanova trailed unranked Syracuse by five with 17 seconds to play. The Orange had led wire to wire, and it appeared as if the Wildcats’ valiant comeback attempt would fall just short. But then chaos ensued. Josh Hart hit a 3. Trevor Cooney fell down. A pass intended for Rakeem Christmas was broken up. Players scrambled. The ball found Ryan Arcidiacono. He found JayVaughn Pinkston. He found the basket. The place exploded. Villanova students jumped up and down, mobbing each other out of sheer joy. When overtime began, they hadn’t yet stopped. There were still five extra minutes to play, but, even though Jay Wright’s team still hadn’t held one lead all game, the result seemed inevitable. Villanova was going to stay unbeaten.

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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to Watch

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RTC Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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O26 Weekly Awards: SFA, John Brown, Marvin Menzies & NJIT…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 9th, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks’ season began (in earnest) with a home loss to Northern Iowa – the team’s first defeat in its own building since February 15, 2012 – and a pair of road losses to Xavier and Baylor. All respectable games to drop, sure, but the latter two weren’t even close, as SFA was bludgeoned by margins of 18 and 16 points, respectively. They certainly weren’t the types of outcomes people expected after last season’s 32-3, Round of 32 campaign – especially with Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker back in the fold. But after a pair of easy victories in the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend, the Southland favorite had a chance to get its swagger back – and climb above .500 – with two tough-but-winnable games last week at Memphis and home against Long Beach State.

The result? Swagger has been restored.

Stephen F. Austin is our O26 Team of the Week. (Getty Images)

Stephen F. Austin is our O26 Team of the Week. (Getty Images)

Not only did the Lumberjacks beat Memphis on Tuesday, they held the Tigers to their lowest point total in FedEx Forum since the 2009 Conference USA Tournament. Not that SFA was necessarily scorching the nets either, but midway through the second half its ball movement picked up dramatically and the perimeter shots started falling, prompting a 23-6 run over the game’s final 10 minutes. It was as if Underwood’s group found another gear – one that it has yet to shift down from. Following Memphis, SFA returned home on Friday to face a Long Beach State unit coming off wins over Xavier (who beat the Lumberjacks, if you remember) and Nevada in its previous two contests. KenPom predicted a single-digit outcome; the Lumberjacks had other plans, beating the 49ers down by 29 points in a wire-to-wire victory, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that Parker scored only four of those. They crushed LBSU on the offensive glass, took away the three-point line and forced a bunch of turnovers, all key ingredients in the recipe for a blowout. Now, SFA (which also popped Ouachita Baptist by 24 on Sunday) is looking almost as good as it did last year. And without another difficult non-conference test remaining on the schedule, could it achieve similar success, too… another 29-game winning streak, anyone?

Honorable Mentions: Harvard (3-0: vs. Northeastern, at Vermont, vs. Boston U.); Yale (2-1: at Bryant, at Connecticut, at Florida); New Mexico (vs. New Mexico State, at Valparaiso); Idaho (2-0: at Washington State, vs. UC-Davis); Fairfield (vs. Manhattan, at Quinnipiac)

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