O26 Power 13: WCC Teams Reign Supreme

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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O26 At-Large Watch: Early Season Games With Late Season Impact

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 7th, 2016

With March still several months away, it’s impossible to know which non-conference match-ups will actually prove critical once Selection Sunday arrives. But we here at the Other 26 microsite can certainly take an educated guess. Here are 11 pre-January contests that we think may play a significant role in deciding which O26 contenders will be in position to earn at-large bids on March 12.

Princeton will have several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

Princeton has several opportunities for resume-defining wins. (goprincetontigers.com)

  • Princeton at Brigham Young – November 14, 10:00 PM EST, ESPN2. BYU essentially struck out in non-conference play last season and wound up paying the price on Selection Sunday. The Cougars’ margin for error may be even slimmer this year. As it stands, Princeton (#39 RPI in 2015-16) is probably BYU’s best non-league opponent, making this Tip-Off Marathon home tilt critical for Dave Rose’s offensively gifted group. For the Tigers — who also play VCU, California and Monmouth in the season’s first two months — a victory at the Marriott Center would be a giant feather in their non-conference cap.
  • San Diego State at #14 Gonzaga – November 14, 11:59 PM EST, ESPN2. If the Mountain West has another down year, San Diego State could find itself with a very hollow resume come March even if it lives up to its preseason billing. The Aztecs simply don’t have many opportunities for quality non-conference wins. Luckily, the bulk of their roster back, and the addition of two power-conference transfers should enable one of the nation’s most effective defensive teams to become more impactful on offense. Which is to say that Steve Fisher’s group should be able to compete with a talented-but-unproven Gonzaga unit, especially early this season. A win in the Kennel would be huge.

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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 9th, 2016

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

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

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

Wichita State

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

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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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