Checking In On Likely One-Bid Leagues

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on January 15th, 2016

When the Ivy League tipped off last Friday night, it was official: Conference play was underway everywhere, in power conferences and low majors alike. While only a handful of games in March will ultimately matter for those teams in leagues without legitimate at-large candidates, the regular season will still define the favorites to win automatic tournament bids in the smaller conferences. Some leagues have a clearly defined top dog, while others have a handful of teams battling for that status. Either way, if you like March chaos, there are low major teams out there you should absolutely be rooting for to hold serve and earn their way into the field. Here are a few of the team you should be getting familiar with now — whether because of star players, a proven core of seniors, or a collection of “red line” upsets against Power Five schools.

With the dynamic Dallas Moore at the helm, North Florida is looking pretty good for the Big Dance. (AP)

With the dynamic Dallas Moore at the helm, North Florida is in good shape. (AP)

  • America East  You probably already know about Jameel Warney, the unquestioned Stony Brook leader, but the rest of Seawolves also have a nice veteran core around Warney (30th in the nation in experience per KenPom). Stony Brook has also been close to scoring a signature victory for the league, leading much of the way at Vanderbilt in November before succumbing in overtime. Unbelievably, the Seawolves have either won the regular season title and/or been in the conference tournament final for six straight seasons, but they are still seeking the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. Albany has been the most frequent tormentor, and the Great Danes have matched Stony Brook’s 3-0 start to league play so far this season. Looking for pole position in the America East? The two teams’ first meeting is next Friday on Long Island.
  • Atlantic Sun – You probably heard about Ben Simmons’ destruction of North Floridabut did you know the Ospreys had two players (Dallas Moore and Beau Beech) score 31 apiece that night? As a team UNF hit NINETEEN threes against LSU; on the season they’ve connected on 43.4% of their triples, good for 8th in the country. They scorched Illinois in a 12-point season opening victory and legitimately own one of the best offenses in all of college basketball. They lost in a play-in game last March, but a return trip to the Dance may include a spot in the field of 64 for the Ospreys and their dangerous offense.

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Dynamic Career of John Brown Ending on a High Note

Posted by Ray Curren on January 8th, 2016

To casual college basketball fans, the mention of John Brown often elicits a quizzical look of recognition with an inability to place the name in the proper cerebral file cabinet. Wait, he plays for one of those really small schools, right? High something. High Top? High Tide? The dude with those sick dunks that show up on the SportsCenter Top Ten a few times a season? Is he still playing? To paraphrase noted philosopher Zed of Men In Black fame, Brown is often “a rumor, recognizable only as deja vu and dismissed just as quickly.” Except there are no flashy thingies that can erase YouTube (at least not yet), and you can spend a decent portion of your evening lost in Brown dunk highlights.

One of the best leapers in the history of college basketball, John Brown is looking to end his senior year on a high note. (AP)

One of the best leapers in the history of college basketball, John Brown is looking to end his senior year on a high note. (AP)

It’s High Point, of course, whose most known export prior to Brown’s arrival was its furniture. Nestled a few miles southwest of Winston-Salem and southeast of Greensboro, it’s also within shouting distance of ACC towns Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, meaning that very few mainstream media members notice High Point home games at the Millis Center (capacity 1,750) or its plight in the Big South. Until he does this. Or this. According to the university, Brown — now a senior — has appeared on SportsCenter’s Top Ten plays a total of 10 times in his career, and his alley-oop against Coastal Carolina in 2014 has been seen by 2.5 million people and counting. (ed. note: the school has even developed its own John Brown microsite)

“They want to see the dunks, and there are some people who just know me through that, but there are a lot of people that do their homework and know I’m more than that,” Brown said. “I’m glad I’m just a click away most of the time, though.” Brown has been much more than dunks for coach Scott Cherry‘s Panthers the last four seasons. He was the 2013 Big South Freshman of the Year, the 2014 Big South Player of the Year, and was barely edged out by Charleston Southern’s Saah Nimley last season for another POY award. Brown is second among active Division I players in scoring (1,937 — behind only Evansville’s D.J. Balentine), and should become High Point’s Division I career scoring leader by the end of the season. And that’s not really Brown’s biggest strength. At 6’8″, 210 pounds, the athleticism and quickness that allow him to pull off remarkable dunks also make him an outstanding defender: He has averaged 6.7 rebounds for his career along with 148 blocks and 156 steals.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Big South

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

Big South Tournament

Dates: March 4, 6-8

Site: HTC Center (Conway, SC)

bigsouth

What to expect: Charleston Southern and High Point claimed the top two seeds but positioning probably won’t matter all that much this week. As recently as early February, seven of the Big South’s 11 teams were tied for first place, each showing an ability to defeat (and be defeated by) any other team in the conference. In fact, only once since 2010 has the top overall seed in this tournament actually reached the NCAA Tournament – a testament to the league’s remarkable parity. Both the Bucs and Panthers, along with Winthrop, Radford, Coastal Carolina and perhaps others are good enough to claim the automatic bid. Count on several close games, a few sizable comebacks and maybe even a buzzer-beater, but don’t count on any one team.

Favorite: High Point. High Point is the Big South’s highest-rated team in KenPom and has its best and most athletic player in 6’8’’ forward John Brown. Before losing in triple-overtime at Charleston Southern on Saturday, the Panthers were also the league’s hottest team, having won five games in a row.

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Northern Iowa vs. Wichita State Headlines Set of Decisive O26 Weekend Games

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 28th, 2015

We’re just days away from the postseason, yet several leagues with imminent conference tournaments remain up for grabs heading into this weekend. Let’s take a look at the most crucial match-ups on tap – games that will decide top seeds — highlighted by the de facto Missouri Valley championship game on Saturday.

Atlantic Sun

  • Stetson (9-20, 3-10) at North Florida (19-11, 11-2) – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Saturday. North Florida completed a sweep of Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday and can clinch the No. 1 seed – and home court advantage in the A-Sun Tournament – by beating Stetson on Saturday. KenPom gives the Ospreys a 96 percent chance of doing just that.
  • Florida Gulf Coast (21-8, 11-2) at Jacksonville (9-21, 3-10) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Saturday. After losing at home earlier this week, Dunk City needs some help. The Eagles should handle lowly Jacksonville on Saturday, but then it’s a matter of hoping Stetson pulls off the stunner later that night.

Big South

High Point and Charleston Southern will square off for the Big South's top seed. (Laura Greene / hpenews.com)

High Point and Charleston Southern will square off for the Big South’s top seed. (Laura Greene / hpenews.com)

  • High Point (22-7, 13-4) at Charleston Southern (18-10, 12-5) – 4:30 PM ET, Saturday. After all the craziness and parity (earlier this month, seven teams in this league were tied for first place), the Big South championship and top seed come down to this one game. High Point breezed past the Buccaneers in January and will earn its second straight outright conference title (third overall) if it beats them again, but Charleston Southern – led by 5’8’’ point guard Saah Nimley (20.8 PPG) – is 12-2 at home this season and owns the tiebreaker should it win. Plus, who knows – this game could also decide whether Nimley or High Point’s John Brown (18.2 PPG) garners Player of the Year honors.

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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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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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Tip-Off Marathon: The O26 Menu

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 17th, 2014

Tonight kicks off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, a jam-packed, 24-plus hour slate of basketball featuring numerous mouthwatering options for O26 fans. And with many of these games serving as important resume-building opportunities, you better come hungry. Let’s check out the menu.

Appetizers/Starters

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

R.J. Hunter and the Panthers take on Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. (AP Photo | Gerry Broome)

  • UC Santa Barbara at Florida Gulf Coast – 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Tonight. We are not even sure if this is formally part of the Marathon, but what better way to whet your appetite than by watching Alan Williams take on Dunk City? After logging 22 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas on Friday, UC Santa Barbara’s 6’8’’ center gets a shot at the Atlantic Sun favorites in Fort Myers – the first of two contests between the Gauchos and Eagles this season. Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer is among the better point guards in the country, while his running mate, Bernard Thompson, is a conference Player of the Year candidate. Both squads could wind up dancing in March.
  • Georgia State at #14 Iowa State – 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Tonight. Certain to be one of the most popular appetizers on the menu, this game features a loaded underdog taking on a top-15 team in one of college basketball’s best environments. The Cyclones better be prepared for Georgia State, which boasts a pair of Bluegrass State transfers – Ryan Harrow (Kentucky) and Kevin Ware (Louisville) – and arguably the Sun Belt’s best player, guard R.J. Hunter (18.3 PPG in 2013-14). Hilton Coliseum will be rocking, as always, but perhaps maybe its magic will work in the Panthers favor, instead of the other way of around.
  • #22 SMU at #13 Gonzaga – 11:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tonight. This is one of those fill-you-up-before-the-entrée type items, a hearty match-up of Top 25 units with high expectations. SMU took a serious hit when forward Markus Kennedy, the team’s best player, was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester, so Gonzaga is in great position playing at home. Still, even though Mark Few’s bunch looked utterly dominant in its opener against Sacramento State (with newcomers Byron Wesley, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 44 points), the Bulldogs must come out and execute against Larry Brown’s defensively-tough Mustangs. Kevin Pangos vs. Nic Moore is one of the best point guard match-ups of the young season.

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Top of the O26 Class: A-10, A-Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC & SoCon

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region of the U.S: the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC and Southern Conference. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues and the Midwest region conferences.

Top Units

Which mid-major will make the most noise this season? in Rush the Court's Polls on LockerDome

Atlantic 10

  • VCU – 2013-14 record: 26-9 (12-4). Shaka Smart has led VCU to four straight NCAA Tournaments including a Final Four run in 2011, and yet this might be his most talented bunch to date. Perhaps his most highly motivated, too. After suffering a bitter, never-should-have-happened defeat to Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64 last March, preseason all-conference picks Treveon Graham and Briante Weber return, along with several other key pieces and Smart’s best recruiting class. Graham, a 6’6″ forward, is poised to break the school scoring record this season, while the quick-handed Weber looks to build on the career steals mark he already shattered – it’s like the guy was built for HAVOC. The presence of forward Mo Alie-Cox, backcourt contributors JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson, and a trio of heralded freshmen – including four-star Terry Larrier – makes this team more than ready for a tough non-conference slate. Expect a bunch of wins, an A-10 title and big things come March.
VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Dayton – 2013-14 record: 26-11 (10-6). Last year’s Cinderella should be top-three good in the A-10, but it may need some time to rediscover the magic. Gone is Dayton’s best all-around player, Devin Oliver, its most important big man, Matt Kavanaugh, and two productive guards. Luckily, Archie Miller’s tendency to use a deep rotation last season – 10 to 12 guys a game – should pay off; this year’s newly-anointed starters all saw quality minutes in 2013-14. Among them will be Scoochie Smith, who steps in as starting point guard following the transfer of Khari Price. Smith’s ability to open up the offense, along with the continued emergence of forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, will be important factors. Dyshawn Pierre and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert should lead the way, but it is the (probably large) supporting cast that will determine the Flyers’ ceiling.

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O26 Storylines: Regular Season Champs and Potential Cinderellas

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Week is in full swing. For the O26 conferences, it’s more than halfway over. Eight automatic bids have already been handed out as of Monday night. Let’s take a look at this week’s storylines before Sunday’s Selection Show.

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Should one-bid leagues send their regular-season champion to the NCAA Tournament?

It’s in the best interest of one-bid leagues to send their best team to the Big Dance. That increases the likelihood of an upset, and thus more exposure for the school. We’ve already seen seven teams that won their respective conference’s regular-season title fall in the conference tournament. Enjoy the NIT, fellas. Belmont (Ohio Valley), Davidson (Southern), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Green Bay (Horizon), High Point (Big South), Iona (Metro Atlantic) and Vermont (America East) all were #1 seeds in their conference tournaments, and all probably were legitimate threats to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, those leagues will be represented by weaker teams that don’t have much upset potential. Those top seeds aren’t rewarded for season-long excellence. Instead, they’re being punished for one slip-up. It won’t change because there’s no way any league’s going to want to lose the exposure that comes along with their tournament title game being broadcast on ESPN. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see those teams dancing, and as a result, we have a watered down NCAA Tournament field. Matt Norlander made an interesting argument here.

Which one-bid leagues boast NCAA Tournament representatives that could pull upsets?

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Conference Tournament Primer: Big South Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 5th, 2014

It’s day three of Championship Fortnight and with three more conferences tipping off today, what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the Big South, NEC and OVC get started.

Dates: March 5, 7-9
Site: HTC Center (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)

2014 big south bracket

What to expect: Chaos. The Big South Tournament might be the most unpredictable conference tourney in the nation. Just two games separated first place from seventh place in the league standings, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise for any of those teams to earn the automatic bid. Remember that Liberty, a squad that finished 6-10 in the league a season ago, won last year’s bid. With the parity in this conference, it could be just about anybody. Pick a name out of a hat for this one.

Favorite: High Point. The Panthers won the league by a single game with a record of 12-4. They could have been a legitimate Cinderella threat had former Florida Gator Allan Chaney not had his career cut short in December due to heart complications. Still, the regular season champion features sophomore John Brown and his 19.6 PPG and his 7.9 rebounds per contest on the inside, and won’t be easy to beat.

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O26 Buzz: This Week’s Top Storylines

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on December 13th, 2013

Every Friday throughout the rest of the season, the Other 26 Microsite will dig into some of the top storylines featuring those leagues from the previous week. 

1. O26 Teams Make Statements Against Power Conference Teams

George Washington's Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

George Washington’s Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)

  • Saturday: New Mexico cruises at home, handing Cincinnati its first loss, 63-54; Green Bay’s Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes each contribute 20+ points to defeat Virginia, 75-72
  • Sunday: Maurice Creek’s buzzer-beater lifts George Washington to a big win at Maryland, 77-75

  • Tuesday: After trailing nearly the entire game, Gonzaga surged ahead late to win at West Virginia, 80-76
  • Wednesday: North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorklund scored 26 points to lead the Bison over Notre Dame, 73-69

Near misses: Arizona 63, UNLV 58; Xavier 85, Bowling Green 73 (OT); Washington State 67, Idaho 66; Kansas State 64, South Dakota 62; Xavier 63, Evansville 60.

2. Chances For More Statements to Come

With only a few weeks remaining before conference play gets into full swing, opportunities are winding down for Other 26 teams to trip up power conference opponents. Some of this week’s most intriguing match-ups:

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The Other 26: Let the Madness Begin

Posted by IRenko on March 2nd, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

As the calendar turns to March, let us declare: Let the Madness begin. The NCAA Tournament is still three weeks away, but the fight to get there begins in earnest this coming week, as 12 mid-major conferences will kick off their tournaments. The Big South and Horizon League will have the honor of kicking things off on Tuesday night, with their first round tournament games. Ten more conferences will follow suit with the first auto-bids being awarded a week from today in the Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley.

We’ll be back next week with updates on all the action, but until then, there is still the homestretch of the regular season to attend to. So let’s move on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and (regular season) games to watch this week.

Top 10

RTC -- TO26 (3.2.13)

Honor Roll

The Honor Roll is our weekly fixture highlighting the teams, players, and performances that impressed us in the past week.

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