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

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  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

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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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Conference Tournament Primer: Horizon League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2014

Championship Fortnight is under way, and 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 as they get started. Today, the Horizon League and Atlantic Sun tip things off.

Dates: March 4, 7, 8, 11
Site: First Round: Campus sites; Quarterfinals and Semifinals: Resch Center (Green Bay, WI); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)

Horizon

What to expect: Green Bay was far and away the best team in the regular season, amassing a 24-5 overall record and notching a high-profile non-conference victory over ACC regular season champion Virginia. Led by 7’1’’ center Alec Brown — an NBA prospect with an outside shot — and high-flying point guard Keifer Sykes, the Phoenix should take care of business on their home floor. Brian Wardle’s bunch has been playing some of its best basketball of the season since losing to Milwaukee in early February, securing four its final five wins on the road and dominating opponents by more than 15 points per contest. Still, watch out for Cleveland State and its lights-out three-point shooting — fourth-best in the country at 40.8 percent — as well as defending champion Valparaiso; the Crusaders took down Green Bay earlier in the year. The top seed stumbling at home is not unprecedented for this tournament, but seems unlikely this time around.

Favorite: Green Bay. The team is confident, talented and playing at home. Put simply, anything short of a championship would be hugely disappointing for the Phoenix.

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Among Possible Cinderellas, Green Bay’s Ceiling Higher Than Most

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 1st, 2014

Oakland’s Greg Kampe screamed and scolded and tried everything he could to stop Green Bay’s second half surge on Thursday night, but it was ultimately futile—the Phoenix was just too talented, too relentless, too good for the Grizzlies to handle for 40 minutes. In fact, with a dynamic point guard and an NBA-caliber center leading the charge, Brian Wardle’s club might end up being the Horizon League’s most serious NCAA Tournament threat since the great Butler teams of yesteryear. And not just a one-off threat, either. If it can take care of business in the conference tournament, this bunch has legitimate second weekend potential in the Big Dance.

Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix are capable of doing damage in the Dance. (USAT)

Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix are capable of doing damage in the Dance. (USAT)

For one thing, Green Bay has the bodies and athleticism to hold its own against a lot of high-major behemoths. Alec Brown—the aforementioned future pro—is a 7’1’’ big man who can be as effective on the perimeter as he is on the low block. Which is to say, all around really effective. Against Oakland, Brown shot 4-for-7 from the behind the arc, including a quick-release transition three, and improved his mark to nearly 47 percent on the year. He’s even more lethal in the paint (shooting well above 50 percent), and is anything but a one-way player: Brown’s block rate is good for 32nd in the country and he’s already broken his own school record for blocked shots in a season three different times. And while the senior might serve to improve on his rebounding, Jordan Fouse and Greg Mays are more than equipped to fill any void that exists on the glass. The pair of athletic forwards are fine compliments to Brown, adept at cleaning up misses and throwing down jams. Fouse, for example, racked up nine rebounds (four offensive) and shot 6-for-6 from the field against the Grizzlies, including a thunderous alley-oop dunk to accentuate the Phoenix’s 11-0 run out of the halftime break. The frontcourt’s size and athleticism is uncharacteristic for a program of Green Bay’s stature, fully capable of giving an unwitting or under-prepared high-major opponent all kinds of fits in a few weeks.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Wyoming, Billy Baron, Brian Wardle & George Mason…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2014

We are officially less than one month from Selection Sunday (hooray!), so standout performances (and dreadful upsets) are now more impactful than ever on conference races and NCAA Tournament aspirations. Let’s pass out some awards to the best of the best from the O26 last week.

O26 Team of the Week

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Highlighted by the upset over San Diego State, Wyoming had a stellar week. (Jeremy Martin/AP)

Wyoming. The Pokes began the week with their biggest home win since joining the Mountain West in 1999, and ended it with their greatest defensive effort in that same span. On Tuesday night, Wyoming notched its first victory over a top-five team in Arena Auditorium in 16 years by defeating San Diego State, 68-82, to end the Aztecs’ 20-game winning streak and prompt a well-deserved rushing of the court. Not only did the Cowboys out-shoot, out-defend and out-energize Steve Fisher’s club, but they did so with style, eschewing open jumps shots (their offense is predicated on burning the shot clock and finding the best look possible) in favor of wide open dunks, time after time down the floor. At one point, as they opened up a double-figure lead midway through the second half, the team was exuding such high-flying swagger and cool confidence that it became hard to tell if you were watching  this year’s Wyoming club or last year’s Florida Gulf Coast. And when SDSU made a late charge to pull within four at the under-one minute mark, in a moment where it seemed the league powerhouse was going to exert its will, Nathan Sobey went ahead and threw down a transition slam — what else? — to bury the Aztecs for good. The last time Wyoming knocked off a team that highly ranked, the year was 1998, the opponent was Rick Majerus-led Utah, and the Cowboys’ head coach was… Larry Shyatt. The first time around.

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O26 Game of the Week: VCU Visits Saint Louis in Defensive Clash

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 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.

Virginia Commonwealth (19-5) at Saint Louis (22-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game punctuates what could be a decisive week in the Atlantic 10. If VCU can take down George Washington on Wednesday night, it will claim sole possession of second place and remain just two games back of Saint Louis heading into Saturday. A victory would pull Shaka Smart’s club within a game of the top spot, setting the stage for a crucial rematch on March 1st; a loss would give the Billikens an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league, nearly guaranteeing a second-straight regular season title. And conference implications aside, this game offers each team—both stingy-defensive units with second-weekend potential—the opportunity to notch a resume-bolstering victory just one month out from Selection Sunday. A lot will be at stake in Chaifetz Arena.

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If last year was any indication, Saint Louis should have no problem handling VCU and its HAVOC defense, which is predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition. In their only regular season meeting of 2013, the Billikens—who run a slow-paced, ball-control offense—broke the Rams’ press time after time down the floor, committing just eight turnovers and getting countless easy looks under the basket. In turn, VCU was unable to get anything in the way of transition buckets—a huge problem against a dominant half-court defense adept at taking away the three point shot, the Rams’ next-best scoring method. Saint Louis coasted to a 14-point home victory in that one and validated it a month later in the A-10 Championship game, again staving off VCU’s pressure on its way to claiming the league’s postseason crown.

So, then, what hope could the Rams possibly have this year, on the road against virtually the same team? Well, for starters, the Billikens have been skating on the thin ice in recent weeks. Three of their last five games have been one possession contests in the final minute of regulation, including an overtime home victory over then-winless George Mason. They won all three—part of a current 16-game winning streak—but showed slight vulnerabilities on defense and at times struggled to score. If Saint Louis continues playing with fire, odds say it will eventually get burned. Plus, this season’s Billikens aren’t quite the offensive team they were a year ago (scoring at a modestly lower rate), and VCU is even better on defense. Anytime a middle-of-the-pack offense meets an elite defense, the former is probably going to have trouble at various points in the game. Of course, the same can be said for VCU’s offense and Saint Louis’ defense, but the point remains: the Rams certainly have a chance. And if they do manage to pull one out on the road, the A-10 will become a whole lot more interesting.

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In Case You Were Out Friday Night: Green Bay and Billy the Kid

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 18th, 2014

If you hit the town Friday night to enjoy a few beverages or catch up on Oscar-nominated flicks and you missed the Horizon League/MAAC double-header on ESPNU, allow us to catch you up on a couple storylines that emerged from two excellent basketball games.

Alec Brown and the Phoenix can play with anyone this season. (Courtesy: Green Bay Athletics)

Alec Brown and the Phoenix can play with anyone this season. (Courtesy: Green Bay Athletics)

Green Bay has tremendous potential. Green Bay withstood another monstrous dunk  by Jerran Young to beat Wright State on Friday night and move to 4-0 in the Horizon League, marking its eighth straight win overall. Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes again led the charge for Brian Wardle’s club, combining for 42 points and controlling the game from start to finish, even as the Raiders made numerous mini-runs throughout the second half. Now 14-3 and with metric rankings that scream ‘dangerous mid-major’, it’s time to start asking the question: Just how high is the ceiling for the Phoenix? If the team’s recent play is any indication, the answer might be “really, really high” — as in, NCAA-Tournament-victory-or-victories high. For one, there probably isn’t another inside-out combination as productive and dynamic as Brown and Sykes at the mid-major level. Brown is a legitimate NBA prospect (scouts were in the building on Friday night) whose athletic, 7’1” frame and ability to shoot from the perimeter (50% from three) — when he’s not dominating the paint — make him unstoppable on most nights. Sykes, meanwhile, is a quick, explosive point guard whose skills as a distributor are surpassed only by his scoring prowess — he dropped a career-high 34 points against Milwaukee last week and had 32 against Wisconsin in November. The rest of the group — players like the athletic forward Greg Mays and rebounding/defensive maven Jordan Fouse — complete a Green Bay team well-rounded enough to sit 42nd overall in KenPom’s rankings, having already beaten ACC-contender Virginia and pushed Wisconsin to the wire earlier in the season. Sure, the Phoenix could go on to drop several Horizon contests, lose in the league tournament and miss the Big Dance altogether. But it’s just as easy to see this team winning the conference, embracing the role of disrespected underdog and pulling off an upset or two in March.

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O26 Mid-Season Awards: Gregg Marshall, Chaz Williams, Jon Severe and Others…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 9th, 2014

With non-conference action all but wrapped up and league play already going in earnest, it‘s time now to pass out some mid-season superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn some national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next two months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall has Wichita State off to a 15-0 start this season. (Jamie Green/MCT)

Gregg Marshall – Wichita State. Could the Shockers actually outdo themselves from a year ago? Even with expectations high coming into 2013-14, very few could have predicted the kind of start Wichita State has had to this season, fresh off its Final Four run last March. Monumental success of that type often breeds sluggish beginnings or even major letdowns the year after, which is what makes Marshall’s coaching job so impressive — his team has not missed a beat. The Shockers have jumped out to a 16-0 record that includes wins over BYU, Tennessee, Saint Louis and Alabama, the latter two coming on the road and all of them despite losing key seniors Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead to graduation. Together with preseason MVC Player of the Year Cleanthony Early and NCAA Tournament hero Ron Baker, Marshall has inserted Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton into the lineup — complementary pieces a season ago — along with JuCo transfer forward Darius Carter to create a starting five arguably more efficient and consistent than last year’s group. They are balanced (four players average in double figures), deep, and rarely lack focus from night to night. And while the early winning has generated a lot of buzz about Wichita State possibly going undefeated in the regular season, its coach won’t let the commotion deter his team’s one-step-at-a-time approach. Marshall recently said, “I’ve always said you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Right now, we’re not thinking about eating the entire elephant. We’re thinking about our next meal.” That mentality has earned Marshall our award for mid-season O26 Coach of the Year.

Honorable MentionsSteve Fisher – San Diego State, Derek Kellogg – Massachusetts, Tod Kowalczyk – Toledo, Mitch Henderson – Princeton

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Big East M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013

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  1. New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
  2. Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
  3. One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
  4. Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG:  “Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: “[Creighton’s] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton’s] product is shown nationally.”
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC‘s] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
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