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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 15th, 2015

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

Top Five

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

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

  1. Wichita State. Fred VanVleet is back. Ron Baker is back. As is Gregg Marshall, much wealthier after a sizable pay raise. With one of the country’s top backcourts and most sought-after coaches rejoining the fold, it almost goes without saying that Wichita State – on the heels of three-straight program-defining seasons – should be very good again next season. Of course, the Shockers will have to adjust to life without guard Tekele Cotton (9.8 PPG) and big man Darius Carter (11.4 PPG), but the late-season development of Evan Wessel (12 points against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament) along with forward Shaq Morris (4.7 PPG) should help mitigate those departures. So too should the addition of Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp and a solid recruiting class. Expect another year of big things from Wichita State next season.
  2. Gonzaga. Gone are WCC Player of the Year Kevin Pangos, guard Gary Bell Jr. and wing Byron Wesley (10.6 PPG). Still, barring an early leap to the NBA, Kyle Wiltjer (16.7 PPG), Domantas Sabonis (9.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and center Przemek Karnowski (10.9 PPG) are each returning for what should be one of the top frontcourts in America. Sophomores Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, both former prized recruits, bring plenty of talent (if youth) to the backcourt, where senior Kyle Dranginis will likely help both guys blossom. Throw in very good depth – like 6’8” Angel Nunez, who was granted another year of eligibility – and you quickly see why the Bulldogs could be top-15-worthy next season. Oh, and did I mention that the Zags are in contention for Drexel transfer Damion Lee (21.4 PPG), the nation’s fifth-leading scorer? Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #4 Maryland 65, #13 Valparaiso 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

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

Three Key Takeaways:

Melo Trimble and the Terrapins won another close game.  (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Melo Trimble and the Terrapins won another close game. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

  1. Melo Trimble and Dez Wells won the game. Just as they did throughout the regular season, Maryland’s freshman/senior duo carried the bulk of the offensive load and made winning plays late in a close game. When Valparaiso had a chance to take the lead at the six-minute mark, Trimble stole the ball and made a nifty pass to a wide open Damonte Dodd under the basket. After the Crusaders pulled within one at the two-minute mark, Wells came up with a big offensive rebound and putback – plus the foul – to extend Maryland’s lead to four. Together, those two accounted for 26 of the team’s 65 points and six of its nine total assists. Mark Turgeon’s group is now 12-1 in games decided by six points or fewer, in large part because of its talented backcourt.
  2. But Trimble’s not the only freshman who stepped up. Trimble is one of America’s premier freshmen and he was awesome today. But another first year player – 6’6” forward Jared Nickens (5.8 PPG) – also came up big, knocking several key shots when Maryland’s offense was otherwise sputtering. The New Jersey product scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, including four three-pointers that gave the Terrapins their seven-point lead at the break – an advantage they never conceded.  Although Trimble, Wells and Maryland’s team defense will continue to lead the way, ancillary pieces like Nickens could ultimately be the difference between reaching the second weekend or going home on Sunday.
  3. Another ugly final possession. How many times do we see it? A team has a chance to tie or win the game – shot-clock turned off – but its indecision and willingness to settle prevents it from finding a good look. For the Crusaders, it was obvious they were trying to free sophomore Alec Peters (18 points) for an open shot – just as they should have – but when Maryland bottled him up, point guard Keith Carter froze and didn’t know where to turn. Turgeon and his defense deserves a lot of credit for keeping Peters under wraps, but man, some of these final possessions are difficult to watch.

Star Player: Melo Trimble (14 points, 10 rebounds). The sensational freshman recorded his second-career double-double and made several moves – on defense, off the dribble, distributing the rock – that left people shaking their heads in disbelief. Trimble is a future pro and among the better players in college basketball.

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Bracket Prep: Valparaiso, Robert Morris & North Dakota State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 11th, 2015

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winners.

Valparaiso

Valparaiso is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years. (horizonleague.com)

Valparaiso is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in five years. (horizonleague.com)

  • Horizon League Champion (28-5, 13-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #59/#66/#73
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +6.9
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12

Strength: The Crusaders are an excellent defensive unit equipped with one of the best interior defenders at the mid-major level in 6’10” center Vashil Fernandez; the senior led the Horizon League in blocks per game (2.9 BPG) and boasts the sixth-best block percentage in college hoops. His ability to protect the rim – along with good complementary size around him – enables Valparaiso to prevent quality looks (or often any looks) on the inside. Bryce Drew’s group held Green Bay to just 36.8 percent shooting from inside the arc and 0.75 PPP on Tuesday night, their 44 points the lowest Horizon League championship total since Butler limited Milwaukee to the same mark in 2011. Valparaiso is also a very good rebounding team, with its offensive and defensive rebounding percentages ranking among the top 50 in America.

Weakness: Valpo suffered the highest turnover rate in the Horizon League this season and can be streaky offensively. On top of that, freshman guard Tevonn Walker – the team’s third-leading scorer (10.5 PPG) – was injured in the conference semifinals and may not be healthy in time for next week’s NCAA Tournament opener. Defensively, the Crusaders are less dominant when Fernandez is not on the floor, which – considering he only plays 24. 7 minutes per game – means there are periodic stretches of vulnerability.

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Conference Tourney Primers: Horizon League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 3rd, 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 – starting with tonight’s action.

Horizon League Tournament

Dates: March 3, 6, 7, 10

Site: First round is at campus sites; quarterfinals and semifinals are at Athletics Recreation Center (Valparaiso, IN); championship is at a campus site (seeded team hosts)

horizonleague

What to expect: Valparaiso came up big at Cleveland State last Friday, clinching the outright conference title and earning the right to play in its own gym. That’s good news for the Crusaders, which rolled to a 26-5 record and went undefeated at home in conference play. The bad news? There are several strong challengers – Green Bay, Cleveland State and Oakland – each good enough to make a run at Bryce Drew’s club, even on the road. The senior-laden Phoenix, led by Keifer Sykes, will be an especially tough out.

Favorite: Valparaiso. The Crusaders are an exceptional defensive unit, only once surrendering more than a point per possession at home during league play. They boast the 14th-best interior defense in college hoops, thanks largely to the presence of 6’10” center Vashil Fernandez – the conference’s best shot-blocker. And if Sykes is the Horizon League’s best overall player, then forward Alec Peters (16.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG) can’t be far behind. Throw in home court advantage and you see why Valparaiso is the team to beat.

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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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Horizon League Breakdown: Valpo on Top With Work to be Done

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 20th, 2015

Valparaiso’s victory over Green Bay last Friday was big, no matter how you slice it. The Crusaders held home court, avoided being swept by the Phoenix, and maintained their full game lead on both Green Bay and Cleveland State with less than two weeks remaining in the season. Still – with the top overall seed and both double-byes in next month’s league tournament yet to be determined – the result was far from a coronation. Let’s examine the key matchups, possible tournament scenarios and general outlook heading down the stretch.

The Top Four

Alec Peters and Valparaiso are in the Horizon League driver's seat. (Valparaiso Athletics)

Alec Peters and Valparaiso are in the Horizon League driver’s seat. (Valparaiso Athletics)

  • Valparaiso – 24-2 (11-2). It’s quite simple for Valparaiso: win out and the championship is yours. Of course, with a pair of difficult road games left – including Cleveland State to end the season – that might be easier said than done (the Crusaders barely snuck by the Vikings back in January), but Bryce Drew’s group has been remarkably consistent in 2014-15 and sophomore forward Alec Peters (17 PPG, 6.6 RPG) might be the league’s most dynamic player, aside from Keifer Sykes.
  • Cleveland State – 16-11 (10-3). After starting the year 6-8, Cleveland State got its act together in conference play and now has a legitimate chance to claim a share of the title. It won’t be easy – a road trip to Green Bay and Milwaukee beckons, before closing the season against Valparaiso – but if the Vikings can knock off the Phoenix tonight, they will own a sweep over the reigning champs and be in excellent position to emerge with a top-two seed in March.
  • Green Bay – 21-6 (10-3). Green Bay can avenge two of its three league losses by beating Cleveland State at home tonight and taking down Oakland on February 28th.  KenPom gives the Phoenix about a 53 percent chance of winning their final three, but if Wednesday night’s drubbing of Detroit is any indication, those odds might actually be better: Greg Mays dropped 34 points, Keifer Sykes (nursing a thumb injury) flirted with a triple-double and the preseason favorites won by 20.
  • Oakland – 14-14 (9-4). The Grizzlies will be hard-pressed to finish first or second, but they did lock up a top-four seed by beating Wright State on Wednesday. That guarantees a bye in the Horizon League tournament, which is pretty good for a team picked seventh in the preseason.

What’s At Stake

Seeding matters immensely in the Horizon League, considering the top four seeds receive byes to the quarterfinals, the top two head straight to the semifinals, and the top overall seed hosts both the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. Likewise, the highest remaining seed hosts the conference championship game. As it stands, those top four slots are locked up – Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Green Bay, and Oakland – but the double-byes and tournament host have yet to be determined.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Pepperdine, Keifer Sykes, James Whitford & Miami (OH)…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 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

Pepperdine. Entering last week, you know how many WCC teams had beaten BYU in the Marriott Center since it joined the conference in 2012? Four, and Pepperdine wasn’t one of them. In fact, the Waves had lost their previous three contests there by an average of 25 points per game. So when Marty Wilson’s team went to Provo and beat the Cougars in wire-to-wire fashion on Thursday night, yeah, it was kind of a big deal. The six-point win turned heads and garnered Pepperdine some positive national attention for the first time in a long while (the game was on ESPNU). And as for the Waves’ encore victory at San Diego on Saturday? That win may have propelled Wilson’s club into the upper echelon of the conference.

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Defense has been Pepperdine’s M.O. this season and it put that stinginess on full display against BYU. The Waves, which entered the contest tops in the country at taking away the three-point line, held the oft-scorching Cougars (15-of-28 threes in their previous game) to just 23 percent (6-of-26) from behind the arc. BYU’s high-scoring, hyper-efficient attack had trouble finding consistent offense all night long, ultimately winding up tied for its lowest point total of the season (61 points). “We talked about our discipline and our toughness and we showed that from the tip,” Wilson said afterwards. Yet, his best coaching move of the night had nothing to do with an instilled mindset or strong defensive principles. Instead, it was probably his decision to bring top scorer and rebounder Stacy Davis (15.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG) off the bench for the first time. The 6’6’’ junior responded with a 23-point, eight-rebound performance that included a couple big free throws to ice the game. “They got us a little bit out of rhythm and they got us to take tougher shots out of our sets,” BYU guard Anson Winder said after the game, summing it up perfectly. “They scored on the other end and it’s hard to beat a team when you can’t stop them from scoring.”

But Pepperdine wasn’t done. Despite having not won back-to-back WCC road games since 2007, the Waves promptly travelled to San Diego two days later, put forth another excellent defensive effort and beat the Toreros by 12. No San Diego player – not even Johnny Dee, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer – ended up with double figures, as Bill Grier’s crew mustered only 0.75 points per possession. In a matter of three days, the team that had been picked seventh in the preseason outdid the second and fifth-place picks in their own gymnasiums. Now at 4-1 in WCC play and cracking the top-100 in KenPom, Pepperdine appears to have staying power among the top half of the WCC.

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Revisiting the Wildly Upsetting Weekend: Yale, Green Bay, NJIT, USC Upstate & North Florida

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 8th, 2014

It looked like the upset of the weekend on Friday night: 3.5 seconds on the clock, Yale down two to Connecticut; junior guard Jack Montague slipped to the far corner in front of his own bench, caught the baseline inbounds-pass and drilled a game-winning three-pointer to knock off the defending champions in their own building. The loss was the Huskies’ first in 68 games against intrastate opponents, and the shot – complete with frenzied, ecstatic hugging and hands-on-head dejection – was something of an iconic early season moment: six-foot-nothing Ivy League guard with a Shakespearean last name hits clutch shot to upend a dynastic blue-blood program.

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Little did we know, the best was yet to come. From noon ET to a little after 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, four more substantial, O26-over-Power-Five upsets would take place, including one truly for the ages. Let’s revisit and lends some perspective to each of them.

Yale over Connecticut, 45-44 – KenPom win probability: 81.1% UConn; Spread: UConn (-8.5). Yale coach James Jones said afterwards: “I told the guys in the locker room, no matter how old they get, if they get Alzheimer’s or dementia, they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.” However hilarious and slightly morbid a thought, the 16th-year head man is right – the finish was spectacular, and the outcome awfully impressive considering that Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright played nearly the entire game. There had been a growing consensus that Yale could beat the Huskies if Boatright didn’t play – he injured his ankle against Texas and his status was questionable on Friday night – but when the point guard suited up (and was throwing down pre-game dunks beforehand), expectations for the Bulldogs were diminished. Still, Yale had already established itself as the second-best team in the Ivy League; a tough, well-balanced, top-100 KenPom unit capable of hanging with Tournament-caliber opponents. And it showed as much in taking it to the Huskies from opening tip, exploiting defensive lapses, outmuscling Connecticut on the glass (Yale collected an incredible 95.8 percent of its defensive rebound opportunities) and making smart decisions in the game’s waning moments. Big man Justin Sears led the charge with 12 points and 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and Montague sealed the deal in the memorable final seconds.

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Mid-Makeovers: Which O26 Units are Poised for a Turnaround?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 12th, 2014

With the season now only a few days away, let’s look at five teams in great position to improve considerably this year – and in some cases, even compete for a conference crown.

Detroit – Horizon League – 2013-14 record: 13-18 (6-10). After finishing eighth in the Horizon League standings in 2013-14 (out of nine teams) and graduating its top rebounder and second-leading scorer, Evan Bruinsma, Detroit was picked third in this year’s preseason poll. Why such high expectations? The simple answer is twofold: Juwan Howard Jr. is back, and a wave of talent joins him. Howard, a 6’5’’ senior who led the Titans in scoring last season (18.3 PPG), should be one of the best players in the conference this year, even if his numbers do not drastically improve. He was probably relied upon far too heavily a season ago – the wing took 20-plus shots on six different occasions – so this year’s additions should help reduce the pressure and enable Howard to score more efficiently. Those reinforcements – transfers Chris Jenkins (Colorado) and Brandan Kearney (Arizona State), along with redshirt freshman Paris Bass – will bring depth at small forward and provide supplemental offensive punch. Add that to the trio of quality guards in the backcourt, plus 6’10’’ Penn State transfer Patrick Ackerman down low, and Ray McCallum’s team should rediscover its winning ways this season.

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Courtesy of Detroit athletics media relations)

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Detroit athletics)

Lafayette – Patriot League – 2013-14 record: 11-20 (6-12). Lafayette forward Seth Hinrichs missed 10 games in the middle of last season because of a knee injury, and the Leopards proceeded to lose all 10, including their first eight league contests. When he returned to the lineup? Fran O’Hanlon’s group won eight of its last 12. Needless to say, the 6’7’’ senior – a versatile wing who can stretch the floor – is enormously important to Lafayette’s success. With virtually the entire roster back alongside him, including now-seasoned point guard Nick Lindner and sharpshooter Joey Ptasinski (43.5% 3FG), Hinrichs (16.3 PPG) should make the Leopards legitimate Patriot League contenders and put himself in discussion for conference Player of the Year. A postseason berth is more than possible for the Patriot’s most offensively-efficient unit.

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Morning Five: 05.22.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2014

morning5

  1. As we head into Memorial Day weekend, the long summer of college basketball purgatory awaits — June, July and August are fun months for many other reasons, but getting your college hoops fix isn’t one of them. Message boards and social media will remain active, of course, and we’ll do our part here from time to time as well, but at the end of the day, we’re all daydreaming about how next season will play out. The Sporting News waited a little longer than most outlets to release its post-early entry Top 25 for the preseason, but the timing works because it gives us something to chatter about. Perhaps the most surprising selection here is that TSN went against the grain in choosing a team not named Kentucky as its overall #1 team, but there are a few other surprises scattered about the list (particularly at #5). If you need a comparison Top 25, here’s RTC’s version from about a month ago.
  2. One of the teams looking to reload after losing Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to next month’s NBA Draft will be Kansas. With another elite recruiting class headed to Lawrence, however, headlined by star forwards Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, the Jayhawks populate most pundits’ preseason top 10s. Bill Self’s squad might find itself rising in everyone’s mind by October, as Kansas on Wednesday added another impressive piece to the class in Ukrainian guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk — good luck pronouncing that one — a tall but talented shooting guard who has been favorably compared with former Michigan star Nik Stauskas. With a ton of frontcourt talent on board as well as Wayne Selden and now Mykhailiuk joining the program, Self only needs to figure out his point guard situation in order to roll out another big-time National Championship contender.
  3. Speaking of one-and-dones, seemingly everyone who has a stake in the game is sick of them. Whether you’re in favor of going back to the preps-to-pros of the multi-year NFL model, people seem to agree that something needs to change. For the good of the game and all that. The Pac-12 on Wednesday took its own shot across the bow of the NBA’s dominion by releasing a letter addressed to ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC schools suggesting as one of its key reforms the following admonition: “Address the “one and done” phenomenon in men’s basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.” Of course, the NBA, under the new leadership of Adam Silver, appears to have prioritized a two-and-through model for its next round of player negotiations, but there’s certainly no guarantee that such a change in rookie eligibility will occur. But freshman ineligibility as a measure of pushback? It would only serve to further marginalize college basketball as a major American sport. 
  4. Remember Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s former VP of Enforcement who was run out of the organization on a rail after the disastrous investigation of Miami (FL) athletics and the influence of Nevin Shapiro? After a 14-month hiatus doing consulting work, she’s back in college athletics, now as the new Deputy Commissioner of the Horizon League. Her new responsibilities will include oversight of the league’s 19 championships, student-athlete development, finances, corporate sponsorship and branding, all interesting and important aspects of an organization that has little to do with her previous role involving enforcement. Still, her breadth of experience and without question also her ties to the inner workings of the NCAA right down the street from HL offices are attractive qualities, and everyone deserves a second chance to prove their value and integrity. We wish her and the conference well on their new endeavor.
  5. Some transfer news from the midweek: Creighton picked up Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow; Michigan State’s Russell Byrd plans to play at NAIA school Master’s College; and the nation’s top returning scorer, Niagara’s Antoine Mason, is on the move for his final season of eligibility. All three will be eligible to play next season (Kreklow and Mason are set to use the graduate transfer exception next season, while there is no transfer penalty for Byrd to drop to the NAIA), but it is the free agency of Mason that might be the most interesting of this group. The 6’3″ guard and son of former New York Knick Anthony Mason will no doubt be a hot commodity in coming weeks for schools seeking to add some immediate scoring punch to their backcourts. The caveat with Mason, of course, is that he’s a high-volume, low-efficiency guy who took as many shots as he liked for a 7-26 MAAC team last season. If a high-major coach can get through to him to cut way back on his three-point attempts (28.6% on 168 attempts last season) and focus on driving the lane to draw fouls and get to the line (where he shoots a much nicer 72.8%), then Mason could become a key contributor on a contender next season.
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 73, #15 Milwaukee 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova will need to be better on Saturday in order to beat Connecticut.  (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Villanova will need to be better on Saturday in order to beat Connecticut. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

  1. Villanova can’t shoot like this and expect to go anywhere. Three-point shooting is a big component of the Wildcats’ offense, and they were absolutely awful from behind the arc tonight. After starting an ice-cold 0-of-17, Villanova finished just 4-of-23 from distance. James Bell, the team’s most relied-upon shooter, went 0-of-8. It proved to be alright against Milwaukee, because the defense was stout – holding the Panthers to 28.6 percent shooting from the floor – but the Big East regular season champs will not get away with similar results against Connecticut on Saturday, especially with the Huskies’ strong interior defense.
  2. We didn’t learn much about the Wildcats. Following Villanova’s Big East tournament loss to Seton Hall last week, no one really knew what to make of the Wildcats heading into the Big Dance. Sure, they are a #2 seed and yes, they won 28 games this season, but nothing really jumps off the page about this team. Are they a Final Four contender or a flawed group susceptible to an early upset? Unfortunately, nothing about their ho-hum victory over the Panthers answered that question. They never looked dominant – their lead wasn’t blown open until the last five minutes – but they also never looked truly threatened. The jury’s still out on these guys.
  3. Can they contain Shabazz Napier in the same way they contained Jordan Aaron? Milwaukee guard Jordan Aaron is no Shabazz Napier, but he is a solid player who can create his own shot and score in bunches. Villanova shut him down tonight, limiting the senior to just six points on 1-of-15 shooting. Whatever blueprint they used against the Panthers’ best player, they might want to consider using against Napier this weekend as well.

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O26 Superlatives, Part I: AmEast, ASun, Big South, Horizon, MAAC, NEC, OVC & Patriot…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 5th, 2014

In Part I of our three-part series, we pass out 2013-14 superlatives to the best teams, performers and performances from eight different O26 conferences: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Horizon, MAAC, NEC, OVC, and Patriot. In alphabetical order:

America East

Brian Voelkel and the Catamounts led the way in the America East. (Photo/burlingtonfreepress.com)

Brian Voelkel and the Catamounts led the way in the America East. (Photo/burlingtonfreepress.com)

  • Team of the Year – Vermont (21-9, 15-1). After starting the season 4-8, the Catamounts won 17 of their final 18 games, walloping nearly everyone in the league and capturing the America East title. The veteran team now looks poised to reach the NCAA Tournament, where it will be a serious upset threat.
  • Player of the Year – Brian Voelkel – Vermont. Voelkel is one of the most fascinating players in college basketball. At 6’6’’, the senior is a small forward who rebounds like a true big man and distributes like pass-first point guard. His numbers are both strange and excellent: 6.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists a game, with a free throw rate that ranks first in the country.
  • Coach of the Year – Pat Duquette – UMass Lowell. The River Hawks began their first year in D-I hoops 1-11 before winning nine of their final 16 games, finishing the season 10-18 overall and 8-8 in league play. Duquette is trying to build a program from the ground up, and 2013-14 was a great first step.
  • Upset of the Year – Duke over Vermont, 91-90. Okay, so this wasn’t actually an upset – Duke won! – but for a few minutes on a Sunday night in November, the Catamounts captured the imagination of the sports world, NFL fans included. Some Cameron home cooking, er, I mean a late foul on Clancy Rugg ended the bid, but it was one mighty effort.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – Ahmad Walker – Stony Brook. An athletic freshman, the 6’4’’ Walker made the SportsCenter Top 10 with an awesome (and important) ‘oop against Binghamton.

Atlantic Sun

  • Team of the Year – Mercer (23-8, 14-4). Sure, the Bears lost a couple games down the stretch and wound up sharing the A-Sun title with Florida Gulf Coast instead of winning it outright, but their 23 overall wins – including non-conference victories over Seton Hall, Denver and Ole Miss – was unmatched in the league.
  • Player of the Year – Langston Hall – Mercer. The 6’4’’ senior was a key scorer and superb distributor for the league’s best team, averaging 15 points per game and sporting a top-40 assist rate of 33.1 percent, just ahead of Shabazz Napier. Hall scored at least 24 points six different times and notched four games of 10-plus assists.
  • Coach of the Year – Bob Hoffman – Mercer. Hoffman will likely set his career mark at Mercer for wins in a season and is guaranteed a third-straight postseason appearance, perhaps this time in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Upset of the Year – East Tennessee State over Stephen F. Austin, 66-58. On November 23, Murry Bartow’s Buccanneers topped Stephen F. Austin at home. Guess how many games the Lumberjacks have lost since then? You got it – zero.
  • Dunk (or Dunker) of the Year – FGCU’s Bernard Thompson is probably the Dunker of the Year, but check out this alley-oop by USC-Upstate’s Torrey Craig. Woah.

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